It’s sort of like being in a cage but plush with trimmings and cash. The tunnel you live in which is a train which takes you from station to station and back again. Shower. Coffee. Lipstick. Heels. Office. Home. Writing desk with nothing to say except how do I get out of here. How did I end up here. Here are the lies which allow the bars of the cage to begin setting into place: money and safety above all else. Money to keep you safe and images to make them feel safe. The bars are invisible but if you push too hard you can feel them because they are firm and hard underneath your skin (not only must you abide by them, you must carry their weight as well). When you feel them holding you in, forcing you back, you feel a sensation which has two opposing sides: anguish and gratitude. It is the spirit which experiences the anguish, the ripe sadness of never being allowed to express herself, for the spirit is all colors but the air in the cage is colorless. It is the part of you which has been domesticated which experiences the gratitude but always a split second after the anguish. You know that this is because the anguish is your first instinct, that which you feel without being told or taught, your very soul crying out, and the gratitude is the part that was strictly hammered into you in order to keep you hesitant, fearful, jumpy and afraid. You should be grateful you have a job. You should be grateful somebody loves you. You should be grateful you have a roof over your head. You should be grateful you have it so good. You should be grateful you are still kind of pretty, you know, to age is to disappear. You should be grateful. You should be, so you are. At least enough to keep you from talking about the anguish, from giving in to the ache, from focusing on it and listening to it and giving it any of your attention. How you want to love on your ache. To caress and stroke and kiss sweetly that part of you which is wilderness, unexplored, pristine with glittering liquid want. To feel into it with everything you are and everything you wish for just one day you could be. There is a part of you which is quiet and yet is always screaming. She is red with rage and wrecked with sweat as she rattles the chains in your mind as you smile and offer your “Good evening”s on your way out of the ceiling high glass-plated office doors. On the street a pink tangerine sunset gently greets you and you can smell the soft warmth of early autumn drifting on the fading light. Heads down and silently marching, no one else seems to notice. It’s sort of like being in a cage, the tunnel you live in which is a train which takes you from station to station and back again. Office. Traffic. Home. Tee shirt. Wine. Writing desk with nothing to say except there is always the screaming and never a stop on the train for that kind of station.
We create because we are afraid. And we would much rather not be. We drink because we are coming apart all across the kitchen floor in slivers, anxiety in liquid pools at the center of our drowning. Chattering teeth, shaky hands. We are unsteady as we pretend to make dinner we pretend to build a house around a home which is part of the display. And the vines of crimson panic growing along the empty afternoon walls of my disordered mind remind me that nothing matters in the end. We had tried out the various sins: pride, greed, lust, gluttony. We had tried the gym and Facebook and little beads around the wrist, big rocks upon the finger. We had tried, we had really tried. But the devil finds a way inside and once you stop trying so hard her poison tastes just fine. Novocaine and bloody gums. If you looked like me, honey, you’d be alright. You could be famous on the internet and curl up in the heat of happy empowerment as you watch your ratings rise. Tits and ass and injections, a painted face and a Mastercard. Come on, baby, for a price I’ll let you be my savior, leave you sick by the pallid light of dawn but I’ll get you through the night. Red shiny apple rotten to the core but you know… nobody else wants you anymore. And I’m here to help and you could make something of yourself. It’s easy. It’s some beautiful kind of hell out there but it’s all the same, you could go anywhere, you could have gone anywhere. And we try and we try and we try. But the wasteland promotes itself. Smile for me, sweetness. There’s nothing emptiness won’t buy.
This restlessness eats all the way to my fingertips. Because of the anxiousness I can’t seem to figure out what to do with the feeling so I pull out the laptop and start typing without a single thing to say. There is a layer of something so deep and murky under the skin I feel as though a dark and unforgiving ocean walks the earth inside of me. Childhood memories of crisp fall evenings walking the concrete sidewalks of my old neighborhood. Before there were cell phones, before there was so much fear in everything I touched. The thin tension in the air between my small body and the only slightly larger body of the boy I wanted to kiss but never did. His curly hair and my bright blue eyes. Days of knee socks and growing into an awkward quiet creature. The years have gone by and some have been kind but some have been crueler than I can bear to recall. Regret, panic, destruction. Red lipstick and dimly lit bars and strangers who turn you on. A hungry girl grows into a reckless woman, but you like that and so do they so you mistake desperation for power. You live a life that becomes only a memory but also continues to loop inside, turns the stomach, clutches at your breast at night. How much time. What have I done with any of it. What do I have left to do but write, but write, but what. For who. Why? And as the black morning sky peels itself open like a weary eyelid from the ending of the night, you think you know. Because the soul needs something to worship. Hungry girl. You need an obsession that will tear you open. Something to rail against and submit to. You need devotion in your life to stay alive.
He lights my cigarette as we duck underneath an overhang on the front patio, as the rain overflows the gutters along the roof line and slams into the concrete in torrents. It’s a Friday night and the summer sun has been oppressive all day. The rush of the rain feels heavenly, the now cooling earth smells of the faint sweetness of musty dissipating heat. As I take the first drag and let the smoke fill my tender lungs, I’m speaking obsessively about the ways in which the world will end. How it’s already been stripped of so much of its dignity that whatever tragedies happen almost feel well deserved. Why are we are so good at destroying ourselves. Each other. We stand by. It’s not the things we say it’s the things we don’t say. Out loud. It’s what we swallow hoping it will stay deep down inside where it can never hurt anyone but ourselves, as if we were gods, saviors. Humans once or twice removed. We watch the cars driving by slowly on the street next to the house, the glow of their headlights reflecting jagged lines into the wet darkness. Searching. You agree with all the things I say but you don’t see the point in my saying them. I can’t help it, these thoughts have no where else to go. I need to get them out of me. I guess I’m just trying to reach my hands out into the blackness of a terrible nightmare and fumble for something to grab onto, something to stop my head from spinning in this deathly spiral of dread. Something to steady me and make me feel like I’m not alone and even if it’s not all just a bad dream, it’ll be okay. We will be okay. If you are lost, you don’t have to be able to see all the way home. You just have to be able to see a few feet in front of you, one step at a time, and you’ll get there.
Whatever you are reading is not the real story. No matter what she says, underneath the words is something darker, harder, truer, and therefore more debilitating. Behind those dazzling white teeth is a mind full of racing doubts and a starvation for love so severe it has begun to eat itself, hence the bright glossy smile. A smile like a rainbow over a natural catastrophe, raging rivers overflowing banks of emotions crashing through poorly constructed dams straining to hold them back. Though she sits biting her fingernails waiting anxiously for you to come through that door and with one firm grasp of her hips take all her defenses down, everything, of course, is already written and collapse is only a matter of time. Your hand on her neck is fear that she’s running. Fears are keys into the other side of reason, tiny invisible holes, miniature flaws built right into the human infrastructure that under just the right conditions, just the precise amount of pressure, burst. Pressure is pleasure in the pain and vice versa. There is an undercurrent that is a whisper that is a slow rolling thunder that is the tremor underneath the streets of her delicate city. You want to believe she needs you above all else but the story is not the story, the story is about the story, or so tight next to it you might mistake its silence for your own twisted satisfaction. Just close enough for people to believe her and not have to invest anything. If there is never a problem there never has to be a breakdown. If there is never a deadline you can waste away your insides every night of the week and throw the crumpled up days over the edge of a cliff and not have to worry that you’ve ruined the sacred beauty that was handed down to you inside that reckless body. But she’s so beautiful, golden skin glistening there in the setting sunlight atop the mountain in your newsfeed. If only if she were me, you think. If only that were my story. If only it didn’t feel so threadbare underneath your skin, like if by mistake or negligence you pull one single thread your whole life will fall elegantly, entirely apart.
Having spent the weekend alternating between reading new erotica and a book about the inevitable collapse of society, I’m now draining my second cup of coffee wondering how to begin a day filled with so much beauty and potential interspersed with moments of sheer apocalyptic dread. In some ways we are all machines, going through the same motions to bathe, feed, clothe, secure, and care for ourselves, while another part of us is on a constant hunt for a turn on, a high, an escape, a perversion. Some part of us needs deviance despite the fact that Google won’t let us out of our own three dots long enough to purchase or read anything that doesn’t already jive with how we purchase and think. Every keystroke, calculated, cataloged, coded, until a third persona develops itself into sinister being. Somewhere between who we are and who we wish we were emerges our cyber self, the strange cross breed of digital existence which knows and simultaneously blinds us to our secret habits. How you like to read about sex rather than watch it. How you want flawless skin and what you are willing to pay to get it, or fake it. The music you like, the DMs you wish you could get back but you can’t, the selfies, the drama, the outrage, the news feed tailored just specifically for you based on your clicks, likes, leanings, worldview, friends, spending habits, Facebook posts. We are all being watched all of the time and yet we are still desperate for an audience. Hungry to be seen, looked at, praised, followed. But what we don’t seem to grasp (or care about/ be willing to change our patterns for) is that we have fallen for the scam just as planned by those who study us, feed off of our every move, making billions by collecting infinite data points on our behavior. As you sit wondering what the fuck to do with your life, they already know you better than you know yourself and knowing what you’ve done they know exactly what you will do. They’ve already got you doing it. How much is left to chance? How many opinions are truly your own? How many of your decisions, large or small, are in or out of your control, really?
It’s a regular morning and the late summer sun is sloping up over the horizon as I sit by the glow of my laptop in a silent house. Google. Instagram. Medium. WordPress. Amazon. In the stillness, each of my movements is tracked. Everything is timed. Filtered. Filed. Analyzed, optimized, collected, monetized. Everything is seamless and we are smiling as it all falls apart. Life is the hands of a clock sweeping over and over the same terrain, hours that hang suspended on the wall, waiting for no one.
Having taken the day off to write and instead spent the better part of the morning investigating everything Jia Tolentino ever wrote or thought about or said in an interview to the point where I love-hate how brilliant she is, which is maddening in and of itself, I’m on my third cup of coffee, my fingers hovering over the keys of my laptop, waiting. Waiting for answers from someplace – any place – outside or in – that is willing to reveal itself to me. Across my front lawn the soft rain has turned to a heavy humid mist as I’m staring off into space attempting to come up with something notable, and even though my brain seems flatlined and writing seems elusive and far off, still I want so badly to keep this promise I made to myself long ago: to write.
Just to write even if it’s terrible because it’s the only ease to this undercurrent of pain, of gripping longing, that seems to be a part of my dna. To write what, exactly? What are you supposed to speak about or believe in when nothing is as it seems and reality is a fog you can move your hands through but never grasp. People are masks, mere shells of themselves and everyone is too loud, too transparent, too well put together. Aren’t we endlessly looking to the same nonsense all of the time hoping it will magically transform into the key to satisfying our deepest desires? Aren’t we hoping for something we don’t know how to identify, something to cure the repetitive horror that is this world, or at least temporarily slow it down so we could catch our breath, something that will finally fill us up and assure us that we are here for a reason other than to pose and posture and buy things we don’t know why we want. No matter how good we have it, we all want to be somebody else. We all want relief from something invisible that holds us under water just long enough so we panic but do not drown. Wracked with an anxiousness nothing really ever seems to eradicate, we kill ourselves off a thousand times a day comparing our lives to the lives we wish we had, worrying what we should be doing while we are doing none of it. Maybe it’s these dreams of ours. These silly dreams of being writers, artists, creatives, rebels, outsiders. These beautiful dreams and how in their darkness they keep us chasing something we cannot find, how in the daylight they render us powerless, paralyzed. The same.
As we are frolicking about acting like children in the makeshift swimming pool in our back yard, the rest of the country is mourning the most recent mass shooting in America. Actually, this time it’s two shootings within hours of each other. El Paso and Dayton. After sipping coffee and scrolling on your phone, you reluctantly inform me of this as I have taken a break from the news and the rest of the outside world for the weekend. This planet is so full of cruelty and pain I’ve decided to try to write myself out of it as often as I can. What should never happen already has: I stare across the yard almost unfeelingly. You aren’t supposed to feel numb right now you are supposed to be enraged and do something because enough and this has to stop and never again and never forget. We are a country that disgraces the dignity of people, their bodies and their words. Bodies are for counting. Words are punchlines, words are excuses, words are little trap doors for the monsters to slip out of sight.
Once I can get past the shock, disbelief, and numbness I will feel something and it will be awful. I’m still human just a much more jaded and cynical one than I once was. As the birds are singing and locusts buzzing all around us in the grass and we decide it is in fact early enough to start drinking, I pour us some wine to share while eating turkey and cheese sandwiches for lunch. And the next day, another lunch, another dinner, another bottle of wine and a cigarette and the waiting for the other shoe to drop in this vacuum we call life. I’m sitting in my office and people come and go obsessed with their executive performance, ranking, standing, achievements, retirement plans. Not a word passes between any of us about the shootings because it isn’t the time or the place or the thought or the prayer so best to just keep on punching that time clock and smiling fake smiles while ignoring all the blood and death and ignorance and cowardice and self-destruction happening right outside our glossy corporate floor to ceiling windows. I can smell the stale coffee burning in the glass pot in the break room. I can hear the screaming of the terrorized and the wailing of the mothers who cannot find their children. Are they among the dead? I can see the sunlight splashing through the trees on this beaming summer day in August 2019 that shouldn’t belong to anyone.
Watching the moon late in the evening and listening for the precise moment when the seasons click from summer to fall, I light a cigarette and let the long deep drag burn my tender lungs. A terrible habit. It could be any day of any year that passes by in the blink of an eye, but as it happens I am in the middle of my 41st year on this planet. I’ve got almost everything and hardly anything to show for it, depending on who you ask. That’s the thing about creating your own life, it cuts across the membrane of the lives other people seem to think you ought to be birthing or killing off according to rules you may or may not agree apply to you, yourself, as an individual collection of fears and hopes, desires and obsessions.
For all the words left unsaid on this side of the veil, it’s only once you cross over to the other side that they will suddenly try to reflect upon the story of you, the one they’ll cobble together – the story of a life they only ever glimpsed a small well-manicured fraction of. To the outside world you are mostly a collection of titles affixed to you to have you figured and therefore quieted…palatable. Daughter. Woman. Assistant. Wife. Writer. Addict. Mother. Mother means you are a nurturing, selfless, giving woman but what about the time when you thought motherhood was the thing that was going to kill you and you cursed it alone in the dark as your baby screamed and so did you and you both went hours without touching each other? What about the time your own mother slapped you across the mouth in the bathroom for saying something flip? What about that motherhood is sometimes trauma of a twisted and secret kind that makes you feel ashamed and afraid and tired and like you don’t deserve it?
As the flashes of my former life flicker across my mind and the darkness falls into a vacant backdrop to the sound of crickets singing in the heat, I turn my body to curl into a patio chair on my back lawn. The moon is high and piercing, swung up there all alone, a rock in orbit around the same old bits for all eternity. How beautiful we think she is, observing her majesty from down below while sunk to the bottom of a bottle of white wine grown warm. Underneath that static glow, where the shadows deepen to pock her ancient lunar body, what does she actually feel?
This is an excerpt from “Here Is The Flood” — one of the opening pieces in my upcoming book Luminae. You can click play to hear me read the full piece.
I find that one of the hardest things to do is to try to speak about why I write. For me it’s about going deep enough within to a place where one can find the breathtaking beauty in pangs of sorrow, and terrible longing even inside joy. Whenever I write it seems more and more is revealed to me about the paradox of what we are as humans. Though I know I’ll never be able to grasp it in full, I believe somewhere in the search for myself lies the truth of who I am. It is that elusive truth which keeps me coming back to the page.
I hope you enjoy this piece. I hope it sparks something creative inside of you.
Luminae will be available on Amazon beginning November 15th.