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.
Sipping coffee in the pitch darkness of morning, I’m sitting in my writing room staring at a stack of old laptops which are tucked on the bottom of a bookshelf which is full of paperback copies of my book of poetry, Luminae. Those laptops. It’s impossible to say just how many tired words about old thoughts they contain. How many photographs of a younger self, a more ambitious, lighthearted woman. Beaches, bikinis, cold white wine and cigarettes in bars when that was still something you could get away with. Moments of hope, mischief, and inspiration now collapsed inside a few black boxes sunk deep into the sea of many years ago. I’m not sure I’ll ever dive back into any of them, I mean who can remember all those old passwords and security codes and besides, what is there to see? What use would it be now? A girl moves on just to stay sane, lets go just to hold on to the best parts of what she can still believe in. Entire lifetimes discarded. Sometimes I think I write today just to make it to tomorrow. I scroll by the perfect faces on a screen and I wonder if they are trying to capture a self they wish they could know but don’t quite, a glimpse of happiness before they inevitably fade to nothing. There is a feeling stirred into the cooling coffee in the bottom of my cup, there is a fear which is thin like porcelain. It is fragile and rings high through the autumn wind in the trees as I sit alone by the yellowing light of a lamp on this gray couch. It is the sensation of time sliding away from me, time unnoticed and as soon forgotten. It is a life divided into parts, trapped inside a stack of black boxes in the dust of a girl gone by. A woman on edge, by herself with her selves inside of a room.
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.
Dark thoughts of bad behavior flicker in your mind along with fire flies trapped in jam jars in the hands of a mischievous child. We have been cut down to less than we are worth, it happens without our being aware of it. Hacks. Con artists. Scammers. One night stands. Old boyfriends, some you’ll never forget because every time your hear their name your heart pinches just a little bit with the pain of the recollection of lusty nights and tender love slashed apart at once. All you’ve lived through just to get through it and never ask for anything more ever again but to breathe without the ache in your chest. Google will finish your sentences for you if you aren’t sure what to say. I guess there’s nothing sacred left in this place if we are now reduced to prerecorded catch phrases, we hardly need brains anymore let alone writers, who would want to try to understand any of this sterile madness. The rich get richer and fast, baby. Faster than you can count your anxiety ridden self luckier than most but still fearful of losing it all in the blink of an eye. Pouring cold white wine into my favorite thin stemmed glass I think about how addiction runs in my family but only the ones who play it safe seem to die ahead of their time. It’s a cool afternoon in early autumn and the leaves are just barely changing from green to orange in the fading late day sunlight. If I told you I wanted to radically change this game called love, what would you say? If I told you this wasn’t enough even though it’s already more than I’m afraid I deserve, would you turn against me on a dime? Or would you find it in your heart to understand that I’m only human and humans are such complicated creatures to begin with, what do you expect? I have cravings just like everybody else. Some aren’t socially palatable but what of that? What of them— the ones who demand you live up to their polite expectations so they can feel like they have a handle on a world that is turning to dust right in front of their very eyes. I think of a writer I used to admire who could take words out of thin air and assemble them just so, and use them to do whatever he wanted with you. Without even laying a hand on you he could touch you, gut you, cut you, get you off. Have you any idea how hard it is to find writers like that anymore? We stumble, we search. Whiskey bottles in hotel rooms by the hour and chipped white wedding chapels on sweet green hills far away from here. As the tangerine sun sets behind a purple autumn sky, the liars and the cheaters hold in their hands every shiny broken thing they ever wanted. Are you jealous or disgusted or both? Sometimes the darkness wins. And the world has never felt so hungry. so empty. so angry wet and alive.
This quiet is enough to split my mind into a thousand tiny shards of panic, come sit with me. Tell me, if you were someone else, and I were someone else, and somehow we freed ourselves of this disaster of a life where the truth is a game and everybody plays along but no one ever wins, would you go back to being who you were as a younger version of yourself? Try to do it differently? Or would you be yourself, now, only less fraught, less distracted, less afraid of what they think of you. If no one else were around, would you touch me and know I was really here with you, trying to help you see the beauty of your eyes as they look into mine with the heave of a swollen ocean, wide open, trapped inside a dilapidated warehouse. Shattered glass windows lining the floors of your aching soul. Aren’t you tired? No, I mean, tired of it all? The days circling decayed meat like buzzards as the pale sky stretches its empty arms out for endless miles over the dull barren landscape. As for me, I find my situation hard to put into words, which is strange as I usually think of myself as being somewhat good with words. But the funny thing is the closer you get to the heart of the thing the more deftly it eludes you. To be a writer- at least the kind I seem to be, there are infinite kinds- it’s sort of like a chase. There’s a cat and there’s a mouse and you’re both. I want to capture and kill as much as I want to run like hell and then hide behind the wall. Does that make any sense at all? To you? Are there things you chase even if only in your mind? Dreams you have about once again being your own, taking what you want and spitting out the rest. The world be damned, you answer only to yourself. Place your hands in my hands, feel the pulse in my wrist. Because this is it, beautiful. There’s no way out and no way back and you and I both know we are so very, very far from home. Heartbeat to heartbeat, body to body, a tear for a tear for every kiss you shouldn’t suck slowly out of me. But as the shadows slide down over the mad sweet sweat of another blistering day, you just can’t help yourself. The soft taste of you is damaged, familiar, poetic. You see, I know the trouble with those who’ve a way with words. We chase the things that we should run from.
Lying back in the grass, her body is covered with butterflies. A thousand tiny spiracles breathing out and in against her warmth. A quiet host of countless wings, still wishing she could fly. Away from the cold earth high up into the evening sky, higher and higher until with her own eyes she can read the dark secrets written in the crumbling caverns of the moon. The mysteries of time and love and eternity all revealed before her, resonating with a part of her which had already known, which had always known, but she had forgotten so long ago. All the many truths which had been taken from her, returned. As the night drapes over her, the tiny creatures take flight, leaving her one by one, flittering off into the ether until she is covered only in darkness. This girl with the flashing golden nocturnal eyes. Out here away from everything, nothing ever questions its own instincts. To hesitate is death, to doubt is a lethal compromise, a final and devastating mistake. The natural world respects not greed but vigilance. The songs of her soul in the blackness of midnight number more vast than all the stars strung out against the sky and she knows in the way the night wind is moving across the field that she belongs only to herself. That the choices she makes from the depths of her heart are all that was ever meant to be. Her body, her bones, her skin, her hands, her lips, are all the ancient texts ever written into being. In her nakedness, she runs freely, she swims in the moonlight, she presses herself to the roughness of trees, the coolness of rocks, she carves her name into the fallen logs by the stream. Her footsteps are offerings upon the earth, her scent left swaying in the willows. She takes herself in a bed of blood red roses, blooming in the dark, pulsing with the heat of a thousand suns, breathless. And by the first pale lights of the promise of dawn, she’s vanished.
Eyes clouded from some kind of hazy listlessness I can’t seem to escape in the evenings, I slip on an old tee shirt and tie my hair back before pouring my heart out in a beat up notebook like I used to do when I was a kid. It’s mostly just cathartic, a way to keep myself from going completely mental in a world which increasingly feels like it’s trying to off every single one of us, but something about keeping a journal has always made me feel like I have some semblance of hope. I’m not sure in what. Maybe in myself but I think also in something bigger than myself, in whatever it is which desires the words be put to paper. There is a grand mystery there, though most will deny it. As I listen to the end of this day, the clock is a pulse ticking off the edges of a life which now slides down the shadows on the wall. In the quiet I am most myself. I worry I have offered more of myself hiding behind the walls of this room than on the other side of them. I worry, I worry, I lose touch. But in the words I am most alive, most aware. In the stillness I begin to allow mad thoughts to come forward: the way even oceans drown inside those eyes of his, the cellular nature of annihilation and decay, the screams of the wild inside feral things. I imagine the sharp spires of the Notre Dame cathedral as it burned, the blazing fires of the coming season, and the shape of my legs when my love is lost inside the heavens between them. Dark secrets in the turning of the moon, revolution, the terrible sweetness in falling apart at the hands of yourself.
It’s been a long hot day, the kind that melts little pools of sweat along the collarbone and hangs in your throat like the imminent threat of suffocation. The truth is it’s been actual hell for decades and most of the time you can keep it together but not tonight. Tonight it’s all too heavy. All the ache in your chest from one day after another, each the crying same, all the useless steps to nowhere in particular, one foot in front of the other, the other, the other. The buzz of electric wires sizzling beneath white summer heat lightning, cicadas vibrating in the damp grass, the crackling static coming from the neighbor’s old television set as they watch some fuzzy black and white flick, has us both delirious with need. We’ve been drinking tequila since you got home from work and you crush your cigarette into an old faded shot glass with the Vegas strip etched along the side. When you press your fingers against my neck I fall still underneath your gaze, motionless, patient as a fragile animal who instinctively trusts the hand she prays will feed it. I watch your face as you move your mouth around words that sound like a song soft enough to be whispered to a child who is frightened of the night for reasons she cannot speak about, only run from in the manic flash of dreams. Wolves. Forests. Chain link fences. Spreading my arms out above my head, I’m floating in a sea of stars spinning in slow circles atop the blackness. You tell me to close my eyes as you sink your burning fingers into the river of my body, and as I open to offer you the entire universe I carry within me, you tell me even my most vivid desires are only imagination. That the world we inhabit between us is a world conjured from nothing but the purest of devotions which can never be held onto, nothing that will last beyond the glimmer of the dewy garden weeping at dawn. That I have nothing to fear as long as I remember this. Without these bodies, the hands and mouths we become in forbidden moments like these; without the pleasure we deny and offer each other, without the distraction we deliver to one another, we are nothing but a beautiful, unbearable tragedy. Your voice drifts in and out of my consciousness as I slip deeper in to the cyclical motion and become one with whatever the grand scheme of all transient things is meant to be. The rhythm of your gentle stroking aligns my body with the moonlight and all the oceans on all of the planets waiting out there yet to be discovered syncopate their tides to the sweet pain of our perfect little private destruction. I seep into the cosmic vastness, sated and not afraid of anything. For a precious sliver of a time I don’t even deserve, I am held and safe and I know for certain this is what death must feel like: the emptiness of endlessness without the fear.
Removing my top, I sit beside a cool stream and feel the summer air on my bare skin. With my mind full of the most recent atrocities committed at the encouragement of our nation’s top officials, I turn my face to the sky and watch as a perfect V of Canadian geese flies toward some distant destination, their cries sharp and haunting. Fall will be coming soon and becoming a Canadian has crossed my mind more than a handful of times in the past few months. Wanting to escape more immediately however, I take a long sip of the Sauvignon blanc I’ve brought with me in a pink thermos. My notebook and pen sit beside me against a tall oak tree, we are both open and ready for any kind of inspiration but for a long while the only thing that happens is the occasional butterfly and the stream rushing by, dazzling and beautiful in the sunlight. What stories can I possibly tell that would amount to anything. Where do I begin when inside I feel like a run down beach front hotel on some vacant island, abandoned save for a few seagulls soaring overhead, boarded up tight for the harsh winter.
I used to write in order to figure things out on the assumption that to figure something out – to break it down and understand it – would somehow ‘help.’ A quaint notion now. Now facts are fiction and the truth is no longer a beacon calling you home but a weapon used to nail you into the ground. Something in me feels like I did as a teenager who begins to see that the strict religion I was brought up in was really designed to keep me obedient inside a system built on lies and oppression. It happens gradually, you sort of get the sense that things are not as they seem. That ‘protection’ is just blind submission to a thing you are never meant to fully understand. You don’t ask too many questions. You are scolded for looking behind the curtain. But it’s too late. The curtain falls at your feet. You suddenly become fully aware of your own nakedness and theirs and while they search desperately for a way to cover up again – to go back to the way it was – you in your wild heart rejoice. You walk away gladly and forever, wanting to be naked always.
The truth had set you free so long ago. And you knew you believed in something so much bigger than they ever will, something that could destroy every horror and soothe every fear because life is a miracle and death is ever at your throat. If you can just let go of the lies and the madness. Inspired by a truth that seems to make my bones sing, I pick up my pen and scribble a few lines in my journal. Take another long drink of wine and lie back upon the warm soft grass. If only I could make them see. If only I could say the right words at all the right times and save just one other person from the unspeakable sadness they carry so deep inside.
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.