this is a love song, not an apology: in praise of quitting

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This is a proclamation of praise to quitting,
And to the quitters everywhere,
Which is also me.


And this is a love song and not an apology.
Because I am so tired of the pathologizing and condescension quitting garners.
The way we speak of it (and it’s familiars of leaving, ending, concluding, saying no, walking away) is as if it is an unsightly and significant in stature character flaw.

 

I mean, after all, (warning: inspirational sentiments ahead):

A Quitter Never Wins and a Winner Never Quits.
Or, Pain is Temporary. Quitting lasts Forever.
Or, When you Feel Like Quitting, Think About Why You Started.
Or, Quitting is the Easiest Thing to Do
Or, If You’re Still Trying, You Haven’t Failed.

 

Fine print:
Winning is not always what we imagine it to be and not inherently the most valuable experience.
Some pain lasts for as long as we are alive, and quitting can open us up to what we always wanted anyways.
Why you started may no longer be relevant as we are prone to change.
Quitting is the easiest thing to do is not a true statement.
Failing is part of life and not the worst thing possible. Not by a long shot.


 

There is the high value we culturally place on longevity rather than the life experienced or life given within the relationship or work or encounter or endeavor.

For example, when you are at a wedding and they are doing the dance where everyone who is married/partnered gets up to dance, and then the DJ calls out, "if you’ve been married more than a day, keep dancing," and the newly married couple smiles and takes their seat, and then the DJ says "more than a year keep on dancing," "more than five years," and on and on it goes until the couple who has been together the longest is still on the dance floor while everyone else has taken their seat. . . no one ever asks if staying married the longest means anything other than years. I’ve never heard or seen another version of this where the DJ calls out, “if you are fulfilled and strengthened in your relationship keep dancing.” It’s not the game. The game is how long you can last, a marriage of many years spoken of as a success and thing of immense value, more than the experience of the relationship itself or how it felt or what was learned. Which is not to say that a thing or relationship of decades cannot be the most extraordinary life affirming experience of being human; only that longevity alone does not carry or create these qualities.

This applies to other things worth giving one’s life to as well: work, writing, creation, children, inventions, discoveries. There are to be sure, things we can only know and learn through being with a thing or person through time, in the showing up over time. Still, this does not make those things known and learned somehow more important or significant, though our culture and the language we use says otherwise.  We love the one who did not quit, even using this terminology for those with cancer and illness, implying that if they don’t quit/refuse to stop fighting they will “beat” the disease, never questioning how dehumanizing such an orientation toward life might be. And then wonder why we also seem so confused as to how deeply hurting and lonely we feel and how we inherit a complete unwillingness to acknowledge death and to grieve. Because in case you forgot, we don’t ever quit.

I do.
I love it actually.

Longevity is not a sin or a failing or a success or a win. It is, rather, something that lasted a long time. Commitment and devotion are beautiful things. So is having a "no" and knowing when to leave.

So I do.
I love it actually.

Maybe because survivalism taught me how to cut my losses in order to make it through, and the legacy of that is knowing that quitting is sometimes that which gives life.
Maybe because I also have worked for some time now with the dying, after losing those I did not and still do not know how to be here without, and this has a way of informing every experience of the living. I do not assume there will be more time. I do not believe I will get to finish everything and end my life with only rest or sense of mastery or quiet completion. I do not believe there are gold stars handed out at the end for how much I was willing to sacrifice or how well I martyred myself and did without in the name of either virtue or success. I do not believe in promises of permanence. And so, I come to fall in love with quitting, because in the presence of the leaver in me there is also the lover in me, the one who knows life is so very short and I will waste none of it on optional suffering or soldiering through that which offered an open door out.


Everything ends.
Everything changes.
This is one of the few givens and guarantees in life.
To quit something is to acknowledge this and dwell within it with agency, and courage, and creativity, and honesty.


So I do.

I quit jobs when it is time to leave, and say good-bye when it is time to leave.
I quit homes and I quit names and I quit reading books I don’t like and no longer feel the need to finish till the end just because.
I walk out of movies and I don’t finish meals that aren’t delicious and don’t wear clothes that feel uncomfortable for who I am or have become.
I quit obligatory conversations and assumptions and degree programs and lovers.
It hurts. It heals. It undoes me. It gives me life.

There are a great many things to love in this life.
And there is no time to waste.

 

Quitting, as I am learning lately, is also a way of letting yourself love reality. To love yourself and your life for its own sake, without a wrapped up waiting for outcome or waiting for rescue or waiting for what is not real.

In addition to quitting some work and ways of being and leaving a place I’ve loved for a long time because it just wasn’t working anymore and it’s so exhausting to try to force something that isn’t happening or that is only ever effort, and quitting programs and degrees and even some loves, I also discovered that I was quitting holding out for the escape plan and quitting waiting for chronic pain and illness to leave and quitting living as if there was something up ahead that was going to be my own version of the land of milk and honey. To just stop. To set it down. To quit. Because in all the working that is really a form of waiting, I will miss my whole life. My real and human and broken and crashingly beautiful life.

It was the most tender and sublime and relieving kind of rest, just this being fully in reality rather than my brain scanning and searching for the way out. It was, it is, full bodied relief. Quitting is like that, this wide open space where we can see and feel and hear and breathe and be again. It is both disentangling and the deepest immersion possible. It is a form of stillness that is also something like ecstasy.

In the spaciousness that comes from quitting. In the loosening that comes in leaving. In the freedom and thrill that comes from walking away from that which does not serve and strangles life. In the waves of relief and grief that come in letting this be your real life without holding out for the promised land (of finally finding the one, or getting the promotion or your marriage suddenly meeting your needs after years of starvation, or losing the weight you’ve been told your whole life is the answer, or getting the degree, or escaping to a place where no one can ever find you). In the presence of your own power in knowing and naming your own endings and your own unresolvables and your own finite and temporal and terribly rare and stunning life.

In this, there is desire that gets to wander its way toward the unknowns.

I am intimate with that which I want and that for which I will give my life, and that for which I am hungry, that which feeds and sustains. I quit everything else. And I don’t need to go chasing or beating down doors for the rest to arrive. Because I also quit asking myself to live for anything but reality. But this I do know. There is space here. Space to want and to know that when and wherever we can, our yes comes clear. May we follow where it leads, with pleasure and clearness and the solid ground of a reality, from which life comes and returns, again and again and again.


P.s.
If you need a permission slip, here is one for you:

You don’t have to stay.
You don’t have to keep fighting to make it work.
You don’t have to force and pound your way into the next iteration or the next thing.
You don’t have to convince others or yourself.
You don’t have to explain, justify or defend.
You don’t have to keep showing up for something that has already left.
You don’t have to believe the narrative given long ago that said what lasts longest is most valuable.
You can. You are allowed to. To stay as long as you want and fight as hard as you want and to show up with everything you have and love it with all of you.
And, you are not required.
You are allowed to quit.
Quitting is not for losers.
It is for lovers, of this one and wild life.

shout out and love

shout out and so much fucking love for the resisters and rebels and the ones who refuse to follow the rules (which are really just systems that oppress and destroy life).

you are seen.
you are honored for your ways of being and naming names and whistleblowing and burning the whole house down.
thank you for continuing to call us to more.
you are loved and loved and loved.

 

shout out and strong heart muscles of love to the humans who raised themselves, parented themselves, finding ways of loving themselves beyond any map ever given.

to the ones who taught themselves, learned through fumbling and didn't have the educations of schools and love.

to the ones who did not just re-parent themselves but parented themselves for the first time, having never known what they needed when in young bodies.

to the ones who learned that home meant harm and who found a way to survive and i will never ever judge or condemn you for doing what you needed to.

to the ones who gave birth to themselves. to the trans and queer and non-binary humans. and to those who knew a kind of loss that made it impossible to be who you once were and so you did, you gave birth to your own self.

you have done and are doing the most exquisite work of parenting, of loving, of birthing. and i see you here. and i honor you.

 

shout out and thick as summer's green love to those who live (every. single. day.) with chronic illness and pain. 

who do the things asked of us humans in a day and week and life, and do so while hurting, while worn down from never getting relief or respite, while never having sleep be all the way restful because the pain wakes, while experiencing the brace and shudder that comes from trauma grooved into a body and brain. 

to the humans who make coffee and make art and make love, and in a body that the world has said is less than or not up to the task or else is disbelieved entirely because the expectation is that if something is wrong it can and should be fixed and cured and so your own body's insistence that this is not true becomes a thing others often want to not see or confront for fear the beliefs goading our never ending rush toward achievement will be revealed to be violence. 

to the humans who live alongside pain, and know it intimately, and make countless small decisions in every day as to where and how to give and show up and what to say yes to and no to, and do so while entering in with an entirely different reserve of daily energy than others in the same room. (thank you.)

to the humans who are not just "pampering" themselves when making choices to care for their body and personhood (and fuck those who are dismissive of what it takes, for real) but are living out what it means to do what you need to do in order to live and be here in the living with all the complications and contradictions and the pain that may lessen or spike high depending on the day or weather but never actually leaves.

i see you.
i honor you and all you do and all the ways you love yourself.
i believe you.
and i love you, i love you, i love you

 

shout out and rich love to the lost, to all those in the in-between, the liminal spaces, the not knowing. to the ones who are in transition and coming undone so as to build new, all flailing limbs and loves and how sometimes it is hard to breathe here. to the ones who are doing what it takes to swim to shore and get through to the other side, and how this is so very often not at all what you thought you would be doing and how it happens, that we surprise ourselves. to the ones who hold out open hands in the dark and take step after step.

you are loved.
you do not need to know or figure out or do different so as to make others feel more comfortable.
you do not need to tell stories of inspiration and after.
you are here. and you are seen.
you are valuable and vital.
and thank you, for existing in the unknown.

 

shout out to the ones who are angry, who are still angry, who know the taste of not okay and not over it and not willing to make nice so as to get the likes and lose the sound of your own voice. 

to the ones who love large and also are comfortable with being uncomfortable. who are willing to burn bridges and swallow strong the loss that comes. who know the hurt of being told to just get over it, and who choose instead to speak true. 

i love you.
i see you.
i'm here, eyes meeting winking across the room in acknowledgment of your humanity and mad respect for your medicine.

 

shout out and roaring soft love for the lovers. for real in the flesh lovers who bring all the good shivers, skin against skin and mouths to mouths and the way we are reminded here of what is holy in its inescapable humaness. to the ones who bring us back home to the body and the ones who know the place to touch and the one who knows our name, spoken and unspoken. to the ones we laugh with and tremor against and watch our worlds waken and widen in the falling ever further. 

you are righteous and magnificent and irreplaceable.
you are loved and beloved.
you are so fucking beautiful.

 

shout out and shots of tequila and devoted love to the single parents out there.

i see you.
working long hours and not knowing what to make for dinner or if there is even any food in the apartment from which to make dinner and wondering what the other people are talking about when they express concern over things like screen time and nonorganic produce. 
when you are sick, and still need to parent and still need to work.
when the kid is sick, and you still need to work and are trying to figure out who can watch your kid or if/how to not work and when do you decide to take them to the emergency room when the fever is too high and it's the middle of the night and you are so so tired.
when the overwhelming alone comes and takes up all the space in the space in the room.
when you feel something like relief or freedom that you don't have to reach agreement with another parent and can just do things as you do and love each other.
when you have cancer and still need to parent and don't know how much to tell the kid and how much to try to protect them.
when you want to give attention and care and some sort of ideal of what people call "presence" and what you have is cold pizza and piles of laundry and no idea what to do and unrelenting love.
when others look at you, ask questions, make assumptions, seem to think they know what they do not know.
when there is no backup plan, safety net, or even another person to say "it's your turn."
when you look at the kid and you think, you're so cool, and i get to be here for that and that makes us both lucky.
when your kid feels like this stranger and you don't understand anything.
when you realize in these moments that you just really like your kid.

i see you.
this is hard shit.
and sometimes amazing, yes?
i see you.
and me too.

 

shout out and magnificent love to the doubters,
the agitators,
the asker of questions,
the disbelievers,
the seekers,
the restless,
the unwilling to be sold bullshit wrapped in pretty paper,
the ferocious lovers of truth.

you are a lighthouse
and a voice often dismissed even as it illuminates our own blind spots and biases and desire to give over
to something outside of ourselves rather than wrestle with responsibility.

you are desperately needed,
now more than ever,
and here you are welcomed and received with wide open love.
thank you, for your work and your words and your ways of being.

 

shout out and legion love to the aces, the queers, the non-binary, the two spirits, the beautiful humans who live and love true to themselves.

to those who refuse the language and labels that constrain and demand conformity to the oppression of normativity. who listen to their own cadence and celebrate their own expression. 

you are honored and uplifted here. 
and i'm so deeply glad for you, your ways of being and living in this world. 
and i love you.

 

shout out and galaxies of love to the sex workers.
to the ones who earn their living through ways this culture has criminalized and othered and cast deep into the shadows so as to protect the fear that lives not out there but within. the ones who refuse to accept the definitions given and claim their own identities. the ones who do not look away. 

you are allowed your own experience of yourself, of your work, of your reasons and your whys and your ways. 
you are deserving of safe work environments and your rights to be protected and honored. 
you are not a problem to be fixed, but a human to be celebrated.

i am honored and grateful to know you as my own people.
you matter, so much.
you are loved. 
you are loved.
you are loved.

 

shout out and wild gratitude to the fact checkers,
the critical thinkers, the ones who expose the lies and who connect the dots and who examine deeply the bias we call belief.


you are essential and so often unsung,
and we are forever indebted for the ways you call us
to intellectual rigor and deep engagement and thoughtful inquiry into what is sold as certain even as it conceals and turns away from truth.
please don't every stop,
and thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

shout out and mad love for the teachers among us. the educators. the ones willing to take time to explain and illuminate and expose, to challenge and agitate and invoke. 

to the ones diving into research and fact checking and forever reminding us of the importance of intellectual rigor and critical thinking. to the ones who ask the questions and listen deeply and expose us to new words and worlds. to the ones who choose to engage and flesh out and find connections between things, and who stop and love enough to open the door and say "this way."

you are seen.
you are essential and honored and beloved here.
you are why some of us (why i) survived those years ago.
you are life.
thank you. thank you. thank you.

 

shout out and sublime love to the introverts.
to the quiet ones, strong as steady hands and soft as moths. 
the observers and the feelers and the ones who choose to go slowly and consider deeply and sometimes get all lost inside the loop running through the rivers of the mind and sometimes know the kind of stillness that comes only in solitude.
the ones who crave the deep waters of connection and need places and hours after hours all alone. 
to the ones with social anxiety and the ones who feel overstimulated in the chaos of crowds. to the radical artists who protest in creation and need the absolute seclusions of silence and a space all your own.

in a world that says do and quickly and loudly, everything a mad rush of urgency and performance and bigger and better and all the things screaming all the time, you are the ones who remind us of the power of quiet and the power of slow and the power of depth in all its intricacies and intimacies. we desperately need you in this world. 

even as you may not say much or show up visible in the expected ways
(because introvert),
you are seen here and you are heard here.
may you know you are valued.
you are loved.
you are honored beyond measure.

 

shout out and major love (and armfuls of lilacs)
to the ones who speak
truth.

who speak truth to power and speak truth when it is unpopular and speak truth when not believed. 
who speak truth even when shaking and uncertain of the sound of your own voice. who speak even as you are torn down with critique and sometimes treated with contempt and condemnation for doing so. 
who speak truth as if our lives depend upon it. because they do.

your voice is respected here.
your are loved here.
for your speaking, and your truth, and for you - thank you.

 

shout out and all my roaring love to the orphan and alone.

to those with no ancestral stories or legacy that in any way can come with you into this lifetime. to the ones who do not know where you come from, or know but only in these strange cellular memories that we recognize but do not recall. or know only broken fragments of things before you were removed and life was different then, good and bad and sometimes both. or know but had to leave behind and cut the tie so severely and clearly so as to never be harmed by the violence that both gave you life and would seek to take your life.

to the ones who do not know or have belonging. to the ones who do not know where you come from or can in any safe way ever seek where you come from or where you come from no longer exists at all and so the orphaning is strange and real and you walk around wondering if it's called exiled or outcast or simply alone.

lineage can be powerful. knowing your own blood is sometimes the most beautiful thing. ancestry and knowing where you come from is for some humans a great honoring and a finding of solace, the deep knowing of how all things connect.
and it is not what everyone experiences as a human.

i am here speaking to and for the orphans and outcasts, to those who had to flee and those who had to fight to stay alive not out in the terrifying world but in the very home which birthed you. to those who never want to climb up and eat from the family tree, because the best thing that ever happened was your choice to cut it down and call it a graveyard. to those who simply do not know, cannot know, and so live both intact and full of longing for all your days.

this is for you.
i will just say thank you,
and i fucking love you.

 

shout out and wide rivers of love to those who love enough to say "no"
to have and hold a boundary,
to the infinite kindness of a clear ask and knife sharp wisdom of what is allowed and not allowed in a space or body or loving.
to the ones who chose to say truth however difficult or uncomfortable, rather
than appease or speak only to please with pretty language.
to the ones who risk being disliked in order to love strongly.

you are trustworthy and solid source.
you are teacher and strong medicine and truth.
you are honored here,
and loved and loved and loved.

 

shout out and buckets of love to those who live with depression, anxiety and complex ptsd and who get up in the morning and make coffee and feed the kids and stare out the window, wrapped in a fog, and for reasons both known and unknown find a way into the day breath by breath. 

you are seen.
you are valuable.
you are loved.

 

taking it: number one

"taking it"

said to and of women.
said to me
about me.

slut. baby killer. ugly. damaged goods. used up. fuckable. unfuckable. sloppy seconds. whore. feminist bitch. pig. dog. disgusting animal. piece of ass. crude. unattractive. sweet. not sweet. bossy. shrill. bleeder. dried up. hysterical. emotional. crazy. nasty. heathen. first to sin. the devils gate. [the one who] destroyed so easily god's image, man. seducer. the first deserter of the divine law. she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. a temple built over a sewer. asking for it. poisonous snake. defective. unfit. (because i cannot provide enough. because i work too much. to pay off another man's debt. because i love. because i had the audacity to say no). wife or prostitute. small and narrow breasts, and broad hips, [and] to the end should remain at home, sit still, keep house, and bear and bring up children. barren. weak. ballbuster. baby. vile. offensive. property. possession. uncooperative. unwilling to compromise. collateral damage. wrong for not coming forward. liar when i did. confused about the meaning of consent and in need of his explaining definitions to the women in the room.
too sensitive. unable to think for herself. demanding. needy. shit. domineering. angry. unhappy. a dissapointment. prettier when i smile. impure. broken. full of myself. opinionated. irrational. cold. cruel. too soft. reject. trash. hideous. hot body. freak. fallen.

but without being told
named by another,
this is a body. this is my body.

my hands have caught babies and held the dying, baked pie and hit hard the weight of
another against my will, soothed the sick and built with bricks. 
my hips have danced free and held my infant son and burned under the aftermath of illness. 
my mouth has sung hymns and kissed open and located the refuge of just right words. 
my legs have bought my own survival and hooked around another’s waist and walked and walked and walked.

 


Though many religions have a history of misogyny, I chose to take words from Christian history for this piece, as it is the most dominant (and in this one can make the claim the most oppressive) religion in the country where i presently live. Christianity, with its history and holidays and beliefs, is considered normative, and as such often remain unexamined and unquestioned.

"And do you not know that you are (each) an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the devil's gateway: you are the unsealer of that (forbidden) tree: you are the first deserter of the divine law: you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God's image, man. On account of your desert— that is, death— even the Son of God had to die." - Tertullian, from "On the Apparel of Women" book 1

"Woman is a temple built over a sewer." –Tertullian, cited in “the father of Latin Christianity”

"For it is improper for a woman to speak in an assembly, no matter what she says, even if she says admirable things, or even saintly things, that is of little consequence, since they come from the mouth of a woman. –Origen, from Fragments on First Corinthians, 7

"What is the difference whether it is in a wife or a mother, it is still Eve the temptress that we must beware of in any woman… I fail to see what use woman can be to man, if one excludes the function of bearing children." –Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo Regius, from De genesi ad litteram, 9, 5-

"As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active force in the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of woman comes from a defect in the active force or from some material indisposition, or even from some external influence." –Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica

"The word and works of God is quite clear, that women were made either to be wives or prostitutes." –Martin Luther, from Works 12.94

"Men have broad and large chests, and small narrow hips, and more understanding than women, who have but small and narrow breasts, and broad hips, to the end they should remain at home, sit still, keep house, and bear and bring up children. –Martin Luther, from Table Talk

"The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians." — Pat Robertson, from a letter written July 1992

"The Holiness of God is not evidenced in women when they are brash, brassy, boisterous, brazen, head-strong, strong-willed, loud-mouthed, overly-talkative, having to have the last word, challenging, controlling, manipulative, critical, conceited, arrogant, aggressive, assertive, strident, interruptive, undisciplined, insubordinate, disruptive, dominating, domineering, or clamoring for power. Rather, women accept God’s holy order and character by being humbly and unobtrusively respectful and receptive in functional subordination to God, church leadership, and husbands." –James Fowler, from Women in the Church, 1999.

"Women will be saved by going back to that role that God has chosen for them. Ladies, if the hair on the back of your neck stands up it is because you are fighting your role in the scripture." –Mark Driscoll, from a sermon in 2008

that i might fly: a grief observed

"And if they were heavy, and even if no one else had them, and even if your children and their children didn’t have them? 
     Yes, I think so.

But you would still have arms and hands and legs, and you could still speak, but you had wings, too. You would want the wings, too? 
     Yes, I would want the wings, too.

And when you were walking around, people would stare at you, and they wouldn’t necessarily understand that you could fly? 
     I understand. I understand that they wouldn’t understand.

Or if people thought they meant something, something they didn’t really mean? 
     I would know what the wings were for.

And if you had them, forever—the forever, I mean, that is your life, you would still want them? 
     Yes, I would want them. I would take them, so long as I could fly.

that I might fly away
    that I might fly away where the ships
        that I might fly away where the ships of pine
                    wood pass between the dark cliff"

- from "Wings" by Susan Steward
 

"places i would fly away to"

1.     to the fields before they come and cut everything down, and you walk through stalks as tall as you and even taller. to the lake after dark, and the locusts loud and thick as heat. to the slowness, and the not knowing what comes next, and the creak of porch steps and swish of swings, bare feet pushing off and lungs pumping night air.

2.     to the bar in berlin where i learned how to forget.

3.     the store where they had all those beach shack t-shirts and necklaces of twine and shell, and everything smelled like salt and suntan lotion, and he said, “you don’t belong here.” and i laughed and said, “i belong almost everywhere.” and that was how it started, the day that turned into three days, that was where i saw wild horses pounding the shore of the ocean. that sight, the great strength of it and how it physically hurt inside to see something so complete. i would fly to there.

4.     the solitude of winter in vermont, walking up an iced path, trees making groaning sounds and i thought, the way snow falls is like hearing quiet, wet stillness that makes everything make sense in new shapes and constellations.

5.     i would fly to the origin of the origin myths.

6.     to the train station, where it came and went, and you were still standing there.

7.     the fire where a picture was burned, of a girl in a blue sweater, smiling. how without even knowing, someone gives you a new name.

8.     to the roof of the shed we hid on during kick the can, laying there trying not to laugh, breathing heavy, mouths close. to those moments, and how i did not know then, how soon he would die.

9.     i would fly to hecate, standing in her crossroads, triple faced, ruthless and relentless in her love. to la loba, sitting in the wilds of her wilderness, singing over my bones.

10.   to the place where we really looked at each other. where the other things fell away. and we knew what was real.

11.   to a room of my own where in just one door over, i can hear a young bob dylan writing songs, and in the room next to him, or maybe it’s out on the porch, i can hear florida scott-maxwell writing on a typewriter, giving life to last words. “You need only claim the events of your life to make yourself yours. When you truly possess all you have been and done, which may take some time, you are fierce with reality.”

12.   i would fly at night, when stars are like a cloak of interrupted stories, and you can breathe better there, space enough to find yourself between the in-between.

13.   i would fly fast across sky right in the moments when the spinning tilts toward sun and it breaks over the curve, eruptions of light.

14.   i would fly to 1998 and watch myself take flowers and leaves and place them into books to be pressed, returning them then to the library, like sending out messages in a bottle.

15.   to the place where the bruises are deep and long lasting, and the apology comes with promises to do better, only to turn it around and place blame for having caused your own harm. the place that was the reason for your leaving, terrible in its shaking as hurricanes, sweet as your own forgiveness. i would fly to there, and help her pack her bags and fly us away to a room thick with understanding, a greenhouse of plants and paper.

16.   to upstate new york, watching as snow came and fell around attic windows and knowing nothing could be the same again. and i wouldn’t even say anything. i wouldn’t change anything. i’d just sit there, and be in all of it, exactly as it was.

17.   i would fly over cities, and watch all the lights come on at night.

18.   i would fly to the deep of the deep, the hollow of the hollow, to the empty of the empty, to the center of the center.

19.   to a waffle house, where another me is working, pouring cups of bad coffee, going home to water her plants and play her guitar, when the summer heat comes in through open windows, and there is nowhere to go and no one to be.

20.   to the places where artists spray their revolution on brick and building. the secret ones. the masters and magicians, and from above, in quiet, i would watch them work, shake my head in some kind of wonder.

21.   to the place where we were all young and beautiful and unknowing. how we could not have imagined all that would come after. how we would not have believed the loss possible. how all worlds were waiting. how we did not know and could not know, and how i love us for this, the audacity of innocence. i would fly to them, to me, to us, and let us do what we would do.

22.   i would go back to the day he was born. and the day he stood at the window, jabbing his finger at the glass saying his first word, bird. and the sight of his little body and mohawked hair, sitting out on the deck in a chair just his size.

23.   i would go back to the creek in colorado and build another dam with sticks and leaves, rocks and rotting wood. and ask my grandmother what it was like to work in a one room schoolhouse and wear your hair in flapper pin curls.

24.   i would go back to the hotel room, and say just one more time. i love you.
i love you, i love you, i love you.

25.   i would fly to the time i was driving with no direction, and how i couldn’t stop crying, and i couldn’t stop driving. everything was ending, had already ended. i would fly to her. i would tell her to just keep moving.

26.   i would fly to the lake cottage, and the body at rest, and the best week of my life. the one i love.

27.   to the hospital operating room, and i would watch it all happen, and guard her in the unconscious.

28.   to the stag at the edge of the forest that guards the dream world.  and because i have wings, this time, he will answer all my questions.

29.   to the house in the woods, where the door has the sign and it says, here all dwell free.

30.   to the coffee shop, dancing with the old man in a bathrobe to wilco singing "jesus" and how i didn’t know if the cancer was gone or not, and we were finding our own salvation.

31.   to all the people i’ve ever loved who died. and i’d ask for just one more day or cup of coffee or conversation or even a look. just one more look, our eyes locking across the room, silently saying all the things.

32.   to the big room with the windows and mirrors, dance steps painted onto hard wood. the click of shoes on ground. the fringe. the way my hair was short then, and lips were dark and smeared.

33.   i would fly to the still center, without which there can be no dance. and there is only the dance.

34.   to the screened in front porch and the rumble of the rock salt ice cream maker, and how certain i was that i could be saved, praying for rain so houses could not be painted, and breathing was so hard, but everything was still possible.

35.   to the place where the sea catches fire.

36.   to the place where the sky is an ocean.

37.   that i might fly toward and all the way inside the moment where you know. where there are no real do overs, and you have layers of feathers on your wings that speak of regrets and grace, and in this moment, you have not been given a way to make amends, but a chance to awaken. that moment. the one when you know that you do not get to go back, even if you can fly. that you do not get another ending, or beginning. that you do not get to every fully understand the why or what comes next. that moment when you know all this, and you still choose to be here in the living anyway. 

 

The Body Contains Multitudes

my body is not a sin.
it is not an apology.
it is not a product, or a possession or a piece of propaganda.
it is not a thing to take whenever you want, and spit back out, disgusted that i chose to speak while you grabbed and claimed consummation.
it is not a secret or mistake or limbed legacy.
it is not a piece of skin to quick and cover up, because as they say, everyone knows that if you look that way, dress that way, it can only mean one thing.

my body is neither broken nor whole. 
neither shameful nor source only of disease. 
neither fantasy nor fallen from the higher realms of spirit where it was once told to me i should abandon flesh and strive toward transcendent sky.
it is, rather, complex and intricate and intimate. 
it is source of pain and unexpected shivers of pleasure when moving
from cold of rain to steam of hot bath,
body submerged and breathing out like echoes into a
safe room where all the secrets live.
it houses scars, from fisted and turbulent trauma, stained assault,
sharp blades and skinned knees, and also loud laughter,
and a jaw that won't unclench, softness on the back of the neck
and mourning and ease of comfort to belong among my own bones and marked skin.


i have cut into my own flesh, to leak out trauma I could no longer contain in quiet, 
and then too there was the cut of the scalpel, swift and saving. 
i have lost uterus and ovaries, hormones and health,
live now with chronic pain and the intricate web of injuries
that linger as part of the cure.
the cancer came and was treated and left.
the wounds of the healing remain. 

i am forty, with the bones of a sixty year old.
i can no longer box or pole dance and i find myself flailing around
in search of some place to now thrash my own aggression and need to slink across a floor.
i sometimes still wake in the night, even after all these years,
shaking with the tremors of what happened
when my no meant nothing and i kept quiet just to stay alive.
what i did for my own survival still lives here, embodied, in me.
and i do not think that will ever change.
and perhaps i would miss it even, if it one day up and left, relocated into another room.
because though it speaks of horrors, it too is mine,
belonging to me.

as are the lines deepening around my mouth,
and the way sun sinks into my skin
and the sounds i make when ready and waiting, like a sharp intake of
breath that hovers there just inside the space between mouth and throat.

the body contains multitudes.
and this body. it is my own. 
in all its complexities. its ambiguities.
its wonder and its relief.
its remarkable strength and its unresolved woundings.
its falling in love and its feet, found sure here on solid ground. 

so here i am.
this body.
my body.
multitudes.
my home.

believing the body

The body does not lie.
And this seems at first glance like a straightforward sentence, a statement either true or not true, real or not real.

So which is it?

The body does not lie.
But not lying (the body telling the truth) is not the same thing as always knowing the language, knowing the meaning, knowing the translation of a voice submerged in flesh and heartbeats and blood that runs opaque as secrets through the veins.
So I want to say yes. It is true. It is true in and with, for and from me. The body does not lie.
Though I spent a lot of time, years that became decades that became a life, questioning and cajoling, asking my own embodied self to justify and explain and defend every murmur and cold scream.

I would have told you that the body, my body, spoke truth. But I had also pathologized myself. Told myself that trauma had changed me in a way that made my own body’s signals less reliable, somehow skewed in the direction of fear and clamping down closed.  For many years I lived with the roaring fragmentation of severe post-traumatic stress disorder, and this has a way of making time warp, the nervous system bent the shape of past harm, and it was here that I learned it can be possible to suffocate not from lack of oxygen but in the too muchness, lungs choking on air. Because of these things, I then made connections between dots to craft cohesive narratives and form a picture of what and why and how come. So the body would feel afraid or feel hesitant or feel guarded, would feel numb or feel vigilant or feel severed. And I would hear this, and though I wouldn’t tell myself I was straight out wrong (embodied lying), I would tell myself that it was somehow misdirected or the signals had become mismatched in a body once beaten and left for dead and so something in me was forever lost in confusion.

It sounded like. . .
I know I am safe but my body doesn’t feel safe and I can’t relax or rest or stop tensing tight.
I know my body is braced and my jaw locked in protective defiance but it must be the haunting of the things that can never be undone, because she really loves you, because he would never intentionally hurt you.
I know I am not being attacked, but I feel silenced when they walk into a room.
I know I am cared for, but my body just can’t receive it (because of the past, because of violence, because of scars and stories of what happened and should never happen).
If you were really healed, you would be able to sleep better or you wouldn’t shake or you the dreams would one day just leave you alone.

The body does not lie, I would think and say and want so much to fall into.
But what I really told myself in my own responses to the language she spoke, was that my body could not be trusted, could not be believed.


(And I was not alone in this. I had others tell me this too. Tell me that though my feelings were real, my body was not based in reality. Because I had no reason to not feel safe. Because my skin was speaking about what happened years ago. Because they, the teller, were trustworthy and loving and so it must be my body that was wrong for not opening up and letting myself give over to their goodness.)

Then something happened. I had an embodied experience (hours and days and weeks of them) that let the cracks break wide enough and I slipped through, into the other side of something. My body began responding, began speaking, in a way that made all the other claimed confusion now the eloquence of clear truth. Here, I was safe. Here, I was loved as I had always needed to be loved. Here, I was known and known and known. Here, I was not asked to defend or prove or strive, to fix or mend or make better. I was not asked to be anything at all. I was not told I was safe. I was not told I was loved. I was not told I could trust. I was not told I should loosen my grip and let go, that my body was betraying me by not believing another. My body, all on her own, spoke. My body came to rest, the nervous system no longer ranting and raging. I felt safe, because I was safe. I could breathe with ease, because I was not being watched or monitored or assessed. I could hurt and be held. I could remember and not know the intrusion of interpretation. I could laugh and light up and feel my own skin on the inside of the thigh wake up with a whisper of a touch from a hand I know as intimately as my own while cloud cover came and passed over.

This re-writes everything about consent I once thought and named as known.

The body does not lie.
My own body had always been telling me the truth.
It is not important that I understand it all or make meaning or decipher the code. It does not matter if I articulate in verbal speech or classify it correctly or can give a list of reasons and whys. The body speaks. I believe her. It is this stripped down, clear and complete.

So it happens. You have an experience that lands soft and firm inside your whole body, and you know new. Your embodied truth had always been speaking true, and something shifts in a way where the inked key now knows where it belongs and the parts come untethered and you are complete. You keep thinking back, to that time, sitting there by the water, and how didn’t know why, could not in any way have explained or made it make sense. Because it did not seem reasonable or rationale. But you felt it so fully. “I am afraid,” you kept saying. “I am just so, so afraid.” And how you were told you did not need to be afraid. Told that you were safe (which is to tell the body it is lying). Told that it was hurtful to say you were afraid when they were, they assured you, so safe. And you tried more, for weeks and months and one time even for years. You tried and you worked to make it work, to not let the body’s language take over and to tell it that it misunderstood. Except, it doesn’t work. The body knows what it knows, and speaks as it speaks. And so later, and sometimes it is much later. Later, in a moment where your body now knows what it is to relax into a complete release, to come and to show up and to shudder and to have your whole self and be loved. Later, you will remember back to the lake, to the fear, to the inability to get your body on board with the decision you had made for how things were going to be. And you will remember what came after. How things you had shared in moments of opened trust were taken and used against you, hurled out as accusation rather than the intimacy of another’s story spoken. How you were now told you were unwell, pathologized as if your fear was a symptom of your own ailment and not a diagnosis of the reality of what was there in the room and the spaces between breathing. And then. Then you would remember. I was so afraid. Not of attack. Not of assault. Not because another was bad or cruel or seek harm. But because even so, even if and when there is love or desire, it was also true. It was not safe. You were afraid. Because it did not feel good.

The body does not lie.
Now, I go about the work of reconciliation, hearing in myself all the times I dismissed and told myself to get over it or carry on or soldier through or that I should be happy or that I should be grateful or that there was nothing to be afraid of or that I must be mistaken.
These past months, I’ve been making amends with this body of mine.
I love you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.
I’ve been doing the hard work of repair.
Never again will I not believe you.


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You can trust yourself. Real.
You know now what home feels like. Real.
It hurts when you open your jaw all the way. Real.
You can say whatever you want or need to say, and it is also true that you are not required to say anything at all. And still you will be known, will be loved, will be held in the heavy breathing and the whimper sounds made right before falling asleep. Real.
There are a great many things that can never be resolved, metabolized, made sense of. Real.
The body will still pound them through the blood’s memory and cell’s awakening. Real.
Not knowing you are alone can save your life. Real. Attaching in completeness, now no longer alone, will save your life again, the line drawn so clearly between before and after, altered. Real.
You are ticklish in undetermined and always different places. Real.
You will fight for your kin, your beloveds, and when you can no longer fight you will let your limbs be carried. Because we need each other. Real and real and real.
Your body was not lying. Your body was telling the truth. These are separate but connected things. Real.

Never again, I hear myself say under my breath, still shaking off the aftermath of not listening or dismissing or listening and telling myself I had somehow misunderstood. Never again.
Now, I believe myself. Now, I know different. Now, I breathe with a breath that belongs to me.
This is my body.
This is the body of the world.
This is the good body and the broken body and the body believed.
This is my home, my refuge and my resting place of return.
This is my compass and my north star.
My body. Which knows and is now known.



* Photography by Stacy de la Rosa

a good goodbye

 “It is true that those we meet can change us,
sometimes so profoundly that we are not the same afterwards,
even unto our names.” 
― Yann Martel, Life of Pi

And so she was for me. 

I am readying for a goodbye.

In less than two weeks’ time, I will walk into a room, and swallow my life whole. I will stop to breathe, to locate that place where my wrist extends to aching arms. I will sit down next to a woman who has been constant and a keeper of my stories, who holds the pieces of me and creates space to climb upon a life raft that lets me rest and fill lungs full again, while swimming and sailing to the other side. I will let myself soak in every detail of that room, and her face, so it can live with me for as long as I need, which is forever. I will say thank-you, and I will say I could not be here without you, and I will say this. This here. This is what I wanted. This goodbye.

I’ve never had one. And thank you, for being here with me, even unto and perhaps most especially right here within, goodbye.

Leaving is its own animal, different than ending or completion of a creation.

(farewell. god speed. because it must be so.)

Running away and running to save your life and learning all the skills required to slip out quiet in the night unnoticed.
Keeping a body in a place even though you’re already a long time gone, and so the dull numb of absence comes to take up all the space in the barren cramped room.
Watching as the one you once loved has already left through decisions that break things beyond repair and yet they stay and they stay and they say they will forever stay and so finally you call it yourself, send the papers and pack your things, or ask them to move out and you reclaim your space again, drinking wine on the back steps while it rains July storms and the sky feels like freedom or forgiveness, and you wear the name leaver in the stories of others and do not stay around in the aftermath long enough to ever even correct them, as if that were even possible.
Knowing the end of a thing is coming and not being able to bear the devastation and so finding all the ways of leaving before leaving, because staying for completion would kill the part of you still beating breaths.
Lighting matches and burning buildings and bridges, not ever looking back. Because you needed to get the hell out of there, and there was no time to waste.
 

“I suppose in the end, the whole of life becomes an act of letting go,
but what always hurts the most is not taking a moment to say goodbye.” 
― Yann Martel, Life of Pi
 

These are leavings. I’ve done them all.
And none of them are goodbye.
 

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There is a weight carried in not ever having really had one, the good goodbye where love is lived and the ache of an ending and losing has space to be seen and said and the love is large enough and the presence spacious enough to hold this, hold the whole.  This never having had this, has been I now know, its own wound in the wearing down of so many leavings in a lifetime.

Because how we honor the humanity of one another matters.
How we end things matters.
How we loosen and let go matters.
The goodbye does not take away any part of the grief in the loss or make the ache an undone memory. Rather, it gives us back our memory and re-arranged self, all the parts and pieces that will never add up as understanding and only brush up against one another in gloriously inexplicable wonder.
This is its own true loving.

You were here.
I was here.
We are human.

We affect each other.
We mend. We tend to what cannot be healed and only held. We love. We learn. We play and we fight and we repair and we nourish. We un-cage what wants to be witnessed as that which once saved us and now lives under the collarbone half way hidden, forever ready. We become. We undo and unravel and we become homes for one another, make magnificent art.
Is there anything else so extraordinary?
 

“The world is not comprehensible, but it is embraceable:
through the embracing of one of its beings,”
- Martin Buber

 

I walked into the room twelve years ago, with an infant in my arms, and my own fire breathing heart and tangled in knots history of all the places harm can live in a body and all the ways we can know the impossible as possible. I walked into this room, which became a world which was a womb which we created, which gave me life. I could not have known what would happen, who I would be and become. How I would grow up. How I would know in my bones what cannot be integrated or even comprehended, and I would embrace it still. Embrace the world, through and in and with this being. How I would become fully human.

And now, in only a fistful of days, I will be entering into an ending.
This is not a tragedy. This is not a trauma. This is not a severed sudden loss that makes it impossible to go on into the living. This is goodbye.

I will say good-bye in the turning over of all those mornings when I brought my coffee and stared into the unknown, and all the words spoken that broke my own rules and washed my skin in the act of un-naming, and all the ways of silence that healed what can never be made whole.

I will say good-bye the way we sometimes submerge our whole face into warm sheets or lilacs in late May, to breathe deep something irreplaceable as it washes over everything. I will say goodbye the way we linger over last pages, not wanting the story to end. The way I bite my bottom lip until mourning smashes me open. The way light sometimes comes right before dusk and spills over brick and stone buildings, rests there suspended for those moments as if the sky was taking every longing you’d ever had into her expanse. The way my once young body always wanted, in heaves and strong legs and loud lungs and honesty.

I will say good-bye the way we hold vigil through the night, and the way we pound bodies against what bruises unseen, and the way it is sometimes to get into the car and drive open roads for hours and hours and hours, into the arms of your own life.

If there are open doors of entrances and hellos welcoming you with waiting arms, may you run to them, embrace them richly and wildly, collapse into them, grow strong in them.

If there is deep love and intimacy in your people, the faces of those you hold close and find home within, may it continue to nurture and nourish, enliven and awaken, for all your days.

If there is a goodbye on your threshold inviting you to the ending, of a love or work or way of being, what you once called home now known as a place where the bed is too tight to hold the all of you, or one who was teacher and gatekeeper is now leaving because it is time to leave and so you are standing there rocked with waves of griefs while she looks you in the eyes and points to your arm and says “the key is already and always yours,”  may the goodbye be fierce with reality, holy and inexplicably sweet, a dwelling place where you might hold your own heart beating. Even in the good-bye, even especially in the goodbye, staying here, with yourself, love after love, breath by breath by breath. 

 



* Photography by Stacy De La Rosa