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


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.

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.



I made a decision to take the summer off, to “take a break” because something in me had already broken and so I needed to allow myself to have all of me just for me, to see what wanted to be mended and what wanted to be laid to rest.

It happened.
I have come undone.
Which, it so happens, is one of the most exquisite human experience I have touched and tasted and known in this body of mine. Brutal. And exquisite.

I lost and left so much.
I gave over to the fall.
Welcome to the ground. It is a solid and stunning place from which to build and live a life.

It was not self-care as much as survival, the exhaustion of depletion so complete after months of serious illness and years of chronic illness that it came down to doing what was necessary to fight to save my own life. Which meant for the first time in my life not fighting at all but rather giving over and going so soft everything I once knew slipped out and I found my whole and altered self, coming back to me. Intimate and unrecognizable. Held.  

I am not ready yet to re-emerge in full, and I do not yet even know what that will look like for me.
What I do know is,
Everything has changed.
And the learnings are like wild flowers in cracks of concrete of the city that loved you back, meteor showers and mouths shaped like warm refuge, salt water and mangoes and no longer being alone.
They are fresh and far before me and ink themselves onto and into me as ways of being,
my own self, reclaimed.

Here are the beginnings of my undoing and repair:

  • My life, my decisions, my pleasure, my memory, my relationships, my body, my parenting, my values, my art, my sexuality. None of these require approval from another to be real and valuable, and I will not waste any of my life in explaining, justifying or defending.

  • There is nothing to fix. There is nothing to smooth over, no need to play nice, no gold stickers for martyrs, no reward for inserting oneself into other people’s stories insistent on putting out fires that want to burn. There is nothing to understand, no magic key that unlocks other’s assumptions and turns tides toward a bridge you are required to build and cross alone just to open yourself to another’s violence. You are allowed to opt out, and stay out, and tend to your own flesh and want and heart still beating.

  • Liking and being liked is not the currency I value as I do care and compassion.
    So perhaps we are not required to like everyone, as if liking is moral or a thing that makes one a better person. You can choose to not be an asshole while still not liking some people or most people.

  • Years ago, after so much work and both help and violence at the hands of the healing industry and helping professions, I radicalized in such a way that I refused to pathologize my own survival, my own ways of being, the impact of trauma, my experience of being human. I walked away from words and labels and categories that claim health and wellness and illness and promises of cure. I wanted to simply learn to stay with myself, even in the leaving. That was what love looked like to me. And it too changed everything. These past months I have come to experience the expansion of this. If I refuse to pathologize what I have done to survive, why would I pathologize what feels good? I am having experiences of the tactile diamond sharp clarity, and my body knows what it wants and needs. And it not necessary to have a whole story around it that explains the why or defends the assumed misunderstandings. I trust myself. I trust my body. This is what it wants and needs. This is what feels good. So the answer is yes.

  • We get to change our mind.

  • We are allowed to not return every email or phone call or text or message. Allowed to not read them at all. Allowed to make our own decisions about communication, and with whom, and how often. Very little is actually urgent. And love does not necessarily mean absolute access at all times or every answer being yes.

  • I have work I want to do in this world, that matters to me, that is also how I support and sustain myself. I show up with the whole of me at any given moment, and honor the space of walking into unknowns and creation with another. I have love to give and art to make and coffee to drink at diners all over.

    And, I am also not a thing to consume. My time and life and personhood is not a product to ingest or a thing that can be taken whenever the moment or mood strikes.  As those of us in sex worker communities often say, “You are buying an experience, not a person.” This is true for other forms of labor as well.  And all matters of consent. A yes to one thing is not a blanket yet to other asks, situations, times. Just because we show up in certain spaces, does not mean anyone gets to have full access to us in any space they choose. Boundaries are beautiful.

  • It is always okay to not want to talk about it. Now. Or ever.

  • It is also okay to want to give language to things and then discard them all and start again.

  • Life is full and rich and often times so very hard. Bodies have their own needs and take much of the day's energy when in pain. Loving richly and in the way that feels good to me often is slow and thick as the jungle green of Mexico. I can love many, but intimacy is only possible with few. And it takes times.

    Right now, I have space for only three things. And not a whole lot else. It doesn’t mean I don’t love beyond that. But it does mean that knowing and naming this is staying in reality and staying with myself, not asking myself to be more or different than I am to appease some idea or ideal of what is sold and told to me as community. Though I see article after article about the need for the village and the importance of community, and know that we cannot make it through this life alone and need one another desperately, I am also wary of the assumption that communal or community or gathering round large groups is always the answer, as it often places a higher value on extroversion and those who are filled and fueled by engagement with others and often ignores that the price for care is abandoning onself and the price of community is often the inability to dissent. I have deeply loved and been loved and supported by my people for the last twenty years.  I also am not obligated to give my time and engagement or performance of a capacity to be intertwined with multitudes instead of my small in number humans who I hold as close to me as my own heart valves clapping open and closed underneath rib cage.

  • Despite what I have been told again and again, forgiving others is not always the thing that feels good or that allows me to move forward with my life or that grows my love. Apologies are fine, and I am not required to accept them. In some cases I do not forgive and this saves and gives me life.

  • Surprising yourself is one of the great wonders of being human.
    There are all these old stories I have carried my entire life. They are not untrue. They are also not complete. To stand here in an unknown, so filled as to be emptied entirely, is to not know and to surprise myself with the woman I am discovering. So much is lost here. So much is possible. How gorgeous really, to be such a mystery in our own evolution.

  • So I like juicing now. And float tanks. And staring at the wall while writing a novel in my head. And the place I only ever wanted to live in alone I now want to enter in with another. And for the first time ever, nothing has to change or be different and there is space enough for all of me, known and unknown.

  • It is okay to disappoint others. It is okay to not be what others want you to be.  Other people’s expectations and assumptions belong to them, and are not a script you are required to play out.

  • I have been doing the work of repair. I have shown up for myself with more truth and integrity and unwavering presence in all things than I have ever known or experienced. And this I know this as true. I will never again turn against myself by asking my younger selves to betray themselves. There is much in life that must be done that I don’t like or want to do.  And there is also so much done and chosen out of fear within obligation and the need to play by rules not of my making, and we are done with that now. The hunger strike is over. I will not abandon myself.

  • In this, much is lost. And to my surprise, it feels strangely good. Because it is congruent, where the insides match outsides. And there is no pretending. No performing. No need to hold the breath just to make it through.

  • I am carrying the most beautiful secret.
    Growing things in the dark. It is so stunningly beautiful here.
    I don’t want to share them.
    I don’t have to.
    I am allowed this. You are allowed this.
    To not want to speak of something before it is ready.
    To write all the words away from reading eyes.
    To nourish and nurture in the oceanic vastness.
    To fall in love with your own self this way, and how such intimacy doesn’t want the intrusion of all those watching and waiting eyes. 

These are the days of taking back the years that the locusts have eaten.
My time belongs to me.
My body belongs to me.
My love belongs to me.
My knowing and unknowing belongs to me.
My sleep creased face first thing in the morning and my willingness to walk away from work and trust that the world will not crash if I let my own self collapse into my own arms.
My words and my silence and my slow dancing and my stillness.

And within and washing through all of this, I am living and driving mile after mile with still wet hair and a body sore and at rest. I am living and writing true stories, making steak and martinis for dinner and disentangling from all the expectations that say what and who I should or should not be, falling in love again and again and working in ways that both matter and do not matter, change nothing and everything, all while breathing in and out on a curved planet that slowly spins around a flaming ball of fire that in these moments cast outrageous pink against a white sky which reaches out to whole galexies. Fucking gallexies. 

How is this not some kind of miracle then, this unexpected intrusion of beauty, to be here undone, human and alive?

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

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.


to you, my teacher

When I see you after all these years, right before walking into the hospital room where your body lays waiting and your lungs labor to breathe, I want to turn around and away. I want to not know this moment exists. It was years ago after all that we intersected, so I could learn after the fact, mourn you from the assumed secure perch of one who hears quietly of a teacher’s departure on a cold night in winter when the frozen breath looks like the cigarette smoke we used to inhale and exhale between lines of literature.

This is not what happens.
Because you have called me. You have told me. So I know not after the fact but in the happening.

You are dying.
I am afraid.

I have done this more times than I have fingers on my strong hands. I have watched those I loved die. I have learned of life taken and life no longer. I have sat in strange churches and stood in strange cemeteries. I have known the metallic taste in my own mouth when watching a body begin to suffer and I know the way my ribs seem to multiply in the afterward as if to make space for the hurt that swells beyond what a heart in a body can hold.

I also have done this for work. I have sat with the dying. I have read to the dying. I have prayed with the dying. I have laughed and watched tv and held straws up to dry mouths. I have midwifed. So I know what it looks like. I know what I am walking into when I knock and then open the door and this is why I don’t want to and also why I know I will. I will do this. I will not look away. I owe us, the space of you and me, this much I think.

You called me three days ago. I answered the phone, which I so rarely do but the part that knows responds without understanding and so I did. I answered the phone. And you said, “do you remember all those years ago when we read and wrote all those things, and hello, and I am dying.”

In the cracks of time between you calling and me walking into your hospital room, I have been unable to stop slipping into the leaking of salt water and of memory and of the words, all those beautiful words. How immediately and fully they, you, return to me.

You, messenger. You gave me Tender is the Night. You gave me Toi Dericotte. You gave me Toni Morrison. You gave me your much beloved The Godfather. You gave me critical and compelling analysis of popular fiction and its importance in the rooms where we speak of literature. You gave me T.S. Eliot and Little Gidding. You gave me, too, access to my own words.

It was at University and you were the first person who had ever really said, “You can write. Don’t stop.” And so I didn’t. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote, well beyond the assignments given. And in the doing of this, the bloodletting of words, one day I stopped cutting into my skin to leak out what hurt and never did so again. You were the one who helped me to understand I was free to set down the language of others who wanted to tell my story, that I could stop seeking understanding of their narrative and begin to speak my own way. In this way, you gave me life.

And now you own is ending.

When we met and spoke five years ago, after fifteen years of not seeing one another, I remember us comparing notes of sorts over drinks and strong coffee and we laughed hard and made confessions which I won’t repeat back to you but will hold instead in my own quiet for all my years, and I tried then. I know I tried, to tell you what it all had meant to me and I think I failed to find the words to say it, though when you called me three days ago I realize it is also true you had heard them all the same.

So I’m going to walk through the door and sit with you and not look away.
This is what I do.
Steady the throat that wants to constrict and the body that wants to bend into collapse and the fear that wants to run and run and run. And then I walk in and there you are. There we are.

"You came," you say.
"Of course I came," I say.
"But you didn't have to."
"No. I didn't have to. I needed to. Those are different things."
And you smile, in
repose of reverence. "Distinction within language"
"Yes," I say.
"So we're here. And it's in a fucking hospital."
"I'm sorry."
"Does this mean we are never going to have sex?"
"That was always true."
And we laugh, even though it is painful. 
"But finality is a
"Yes. Also true," I say.

And then we talk. Or you ask me to talk, to tell you things. About words. About the past. About memory. About falling in love with language. About nothing. Which is really about everything.

And then I read for a while. 
And we stop sometimes. And remember. Or are silent.
And then I read some more.

"Do you think any of this means anything?" you ask.
"What?" I say.
"This," you say.
"The words? The books? You mean is there determined
meaning or subjective interpretation?"
"No. Stop," you say. "This. Living. Doing all this. Do you think it means something?"

And I had tried, so much, to not dissolve or leak out over everything. To be here, with and for you. And I don’t know what to say or do then, except cry. And cry and cry and cry. And try to make the words from in between those spaces.

"I can’t answer that for you," I say. "But I know this. Your life means something to me. You changed my very life," I say. "And I knew it and did not know it then. But you did. You changed my life. You gave me life. And I don't know if that then has meaning. But I know I cannot separate my life now from yours.”

"Will you write this?" you ask.
"You mean me being here?" I ask.
"Yes. This. Will you write it?"
"Yes, I will write it."

Saying goodbye is hard in the way we try to write about later and in its happening only know as that which cuts through a body with unbearable love. It is one of the most devastating and beautiful human experiences. It is not always a think given or granted, and it is an undoing of wreckage and a great gift.

I read you lucille clifton's “blessing the boats.” And then we look at one another for a while. And then we say good-bye. 

I go to Mexico. I think of you. I come home. I think of you.
Winter deepens.
I wait. 
I see you have called.
Two days later, I receive the words that you have died.

You, my teacher.
My teacher, from all those years ago, who opened a portal to words, which were worlds, which gave life. My own life, given back to me, freed from the stories of others I once tried to tell as if they would save me from what had already happened.

The one who studied sentimentality and found meaning in what had been discarded from the volumes that speak with authority on what is and is not real writing, and questioned everything, and sometimes you sat on your desk when talking and looked up at a room full of people with this look on your face like you wanted to slap something strong into the complacency and performance of prestige, and then you would laugh, and run your hands through your hair, and start again.
You. The one who found me all those years later.
The one who wrote the markings on the pages of my writing that would rearrange the interior rooms and undo me in the unlearning and challenge me in the way that is love. It is real and true love, to believe another, to care more about their breaking free than protecting them from their own stories. 
The one who would once told me to cut my father's tongue from my mouth, and tell you the story again.
The one who did not seem to own jeans without holes in them and had hair that looked like the seventies never left you, even though it was nineteen ninety-seven.
The one who I loved.

You fucking died.

There is no place to put the grief and its insurmountable size.
And so we carry it. We live with and alongside it.
So I look into an unknown future, and I think, I will sit down and write, and I will catch babies who scream first cries, and I will remember. I want, of course, for you to somehow be able to see the writing that is yet to come, the story that waits for me in a thatched hut in the jungle of Mexico. The one where Susan speaks. The one that only I can tell, where the living words live. And you won't, even as the words would never come had I not stumbled into a room all those years ago, and fallen in love with survival and language and the permission to walk away and leave so as to live.

The story of survival is a love story, rich with loss and tied tight to the breath of other beings.
We don’t get to here, wherever here is, alone.
Our lives intersect. Our bodies reach toward one another and ache for each other. Our days press close to the lived stories of intimate strangers. Our very cells and selves are changed in being human, together.

I cannot separate my life from yours. Isn't that the most terrible and beautiful thing possible?

Ten days before you die, I will find myself in a hotel room in a town somewhere whose name I don’t even know, and here I will sip gin and eat ice cubes and lean toward language as a way of locating you, wondering how any of this, and by this I mean the human existence of interweaving lives and bodies and stories, ever comes to be.

I will think of you while making a decision to leave and go be with one whose name is as close to me as my own. Because there is only this one life, and if the call comes, however it comes, I want to say that I will drive out and find her. 

I will think of you while my son and I tossed bags in the car and drive into the night with cups of hot coffee. Drive mile after mile to a Tribe Called Quest and Valerie June. I will think, this here is where something I could almost call truth lives, in this space between words, always becoming; and the moon that hangs so low and large to the curved earth I start crying, and my son says why, and I say, because it is the color of honey and have you ever seen it so completely I mean? The driving on roads late at night where it is only this moon and the dark and freight trucks and the cars are few and filled with longing or leaving, and secrets spill into the quiet. This. This is a world you too knew.

There are 6,987,000,000 humans on this planet, each having our own separate experience of being human, and under a sky that speaks one billion stars and that is just our galaxy. And in numbers and wide range of encounter possible, I am here human, intersecting with others in ways unimaginable and real. With you. In a thing so vast, my own heart beats and pumps blood and liquid revelation, and I get to be here alive. To know the woman I love. The man I love. the travel companion who once came from me and now tells me things like the numbers of aliveness and beyond into the sky I cannot see and still believe. 

And you, my teacher who is dying while I drive and drink moons.

Only three days after you died, I receive a book in the mail you had sent. Your book of T.S. Eliot, with your own hand writing in margins, and your message to me to find this page and these words.

“You are not here to verify,
instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
or carry report. You are here to kneel
where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more than an order of words, the conscious occupation of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying. 
And what the dead had no speech for, when living, 
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of living.
Here, the intersection of the timeless moment
Is England and nowhere. Never and always."


Goddamn it. I loved you before I knew how to love.
Beyond the language of living.

You can no longer hear me, and still, I speak to you. 

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

belonging to the body

                                                           "home" by Terri Fischer

                                                          "home" by Terri Fischer

The truth, is that it is a strange thing sometimes, this being embodied; living inside skin, falling asleep to the sound of the heartbeat, feeling love and affection for a thing and the instinct then, to reach out and touch, feel the ways things merge and maintain separateness, coming up against and crashing into, and in all of it knowing a sense of forever being held. Because here I am, in a body. my body. You.

I was supporting at a birth recently. I was there, holding the mom in my arms while she labored, counting through contractions, breathing up and down like climbing and descending. I was there, as she summoned every part of herself to push her baby into the world, and I was there when a whole new person was now here, alive. And it occurred to me, as if I had never really understood, that it is sometimes a hard thing to be born. Even when there are no complications. Even when all is well. Still, something in this baby had to choose to come, to be here, to at some moment in time, fully enter her human body and form, and be born into a world that was waiting for her. I had never before felt the separation part of this, the way i did that night. That to choose to be embodied, born to the world, meant to leave behind another thing. And it does. And this baby did. As did i. I came, and was born, into you.

And though i have at times fled as far as i could go, you, my body, have never left me.

My leaving was learned. Was survival strategy. Was choice to sever and disconnect, for fear that the feelings would devour and destroy.
It wasn’t just one thing. It was all the things. They were too many and too much. 
So i left.   
It was my way through, but it was so incredibly lonely.

I spent a long time trying to find my way, fighting my way, back to you. I fought to be here, in and with you. Fought like angry drunk impulsiveness, fought like hunters with ready arrows, fought like you fight for what you love, willing to do the unthinkable.
From the outside, it looked like I was hell bent on destruction. But it was me doing what I knew to do, to come back home.
Which i did.  It was a terrifying and costly thing. And dear god was that night was brutal. But it brought me back to you. And evacuations are over.

So i am here now.
Here, where i can travel through history and years, mapping my stories through the scars on my skin. Here, with stretch marks that show the way you were once home to my child too. Here, with less of you than once existed because cancer came and took without warning or waiting for permission. Where menopause changes things, skin and bone and even the heart changes they tell me. And none of this was my choosing, but we make do, and I’m here.
I am here. I am here. I am here.
Here, with my over active reflexes, the slightest tap of knee sending my leg jerking up and out.
Here, with my right eyelid that droops, and the thick vein on the soft inside of my left arm, and my tendency to bite my bottom lip.

And you. You have been the very place from which I know life, what it is to be human.
It is an extraordinary thing.

The contraction of pain, the way heart hurt is felt in every cell. The vulnerability of breaking and bleeding. The murky disorientation when waking in the middle of the night in the summer, eyes adjusting to the dark, feeling the heaviness of heat. The rush of water, cold, and how good it feels to stand there drinking, gulps full, first thing in the morning.

Tired muscles. The comfort of arms coming up from behind, wrapped around, holding close. Laughter. deep rest of stretch. The sting of needles etching image with permanent ink. The first time she touched me, and it was the smallest thing, but nothing could ever be the same again.
Walking, feet against ground. Bare skin against soft sheets. The heave of chest and pounding legs and fists in fits of grief and protest. Shivers. Ache. Ease. The way his chest of ribs pressed up against mine. The way it is to dance, ecstasy and slow salvation and uninhibited joy. The way the jaw loosens and languages and worlds come tumbling out.

All of this exists and is known in the flesh, in unapologetic incarnation.
There are all these things I do not understand about being human. But this I know. You have been so, so good to me.

Cancer is a bitch. I has taken parts of you from me. It has hurt.
Then three years ago we were there again, in the loss and the taking and the unanswerable questions.
It was one hell of a rough ride, even as it brings me ever more deeply into you.  

“Do you hate your body? Are you angry with it?” she asked me.
And I knew what she meant. Do i feel betrayed, let down, my own cells turned against me.
I wish things had never invaded, intruded, from the first time it happened so many years ago, to the cells that turn from clear to cancer. But the answer comes clear and without hesitation.  
“I love my body. i can’t bring myself to hate her. She’s too good. I belong to her,” i said.
I do. And i do love you.

I love you the way you love a wild thing, not meant to be tamed. I love you the way you love your origin myth, your beginnings, the salt water womb you once came from. I love you the way you love your best friend, having their back no matter what. I love you, as I love the heart you house. I love you as home, and as that which takes me to the edge of adventure and risk and welcome breaking open. I love you whole, complete. 

So i am here, writing you this letter.
And I think what I am really trying to say is,
I am born into you, again and again. For each time, for every time, for changing while never leaving, for always, thank you.
You have taken such profoundly good care of me.
And now I will take good care of you.

You. This web of cells and memory and feeling, bone and blood and heat. My house of belonging. My way of knowing. My resting place and my wrestling space.
I love you.

close to the bone

For a long time, my life was like being displaced in some way, transient and fractured, forever exiled from my own body. I could not be or become comfortable, because at any moment the next evacuation might occur, where the alarms inside the head short circuit and scream ceaselessly even though all you’re doing is sitting there waiting for the coffee to brew. But time bends and reality blurs, trauma shaking itself through a body long after the day when the breaking became one tremor too many. And when that happens, the psyche doesn’t even have time to pack bags or boxes and instead it just flees, leaving your limbs sitting in a chair, terrified and hollow inside the numb. I could not settle inside my skin because at many moment I might be evicted, as if the part of me that found myself in bed with another person had failed to communicate with the physicality of the flesh being suffocated, and so the way I knew to make it right was to evict my own Self so as to survive.

I lived dismembered and disjointed, which the larger world supported and even encouraged. At times I was even praised for it, for my capacity to soldier through even when in pain, and for my ability to disconnect and leave the constraints of the horribly human realities of bodies that curse and need and bleed. I learned how to leave quickly and cleanly, and I learned how to never relax because I could be required to abandon shelter at any moment. This is what was required to make it through to the other side. So this is what I did. And it also was so terribly lonely.

There was forever a vague uneasiness, trying to locate what was missing. I was restless and searching for some crucial and important piece. Which was me. I was homesick for myself, returned and belonging to the body. 

The homesickness was the compass itself, the only way I had to navigate, trusting that I would find my way to re-member what had been dismembered, restored to the flesh and bone which was and is my dwelling place and wrestling space in this lifetime. It took everything I had. It was costly and harsh and achingly beautiful as cherry blossoms when they begin to weep pink and fill the air was ecstasy. And it was worth it.

Cracked Open to Trust

To return to the body, reclaiming our rightful space, and live fully embodied is to accept the very real limitations and traumas and soft hurts of the innate vulnerability in being human. No longer is it possible to pretend we can transcend all suffering, control outcomes, find refuge in ideas and ideals. We are tethered to the earth in a way, reckoning with our most human and our animal skin, our inability to avoid wounding and be wounded, our arrogance in having once claimed we would create reality with our thoughts alone. This is much of what abuse, sexual assault, and cancer taught me. I learned how to fight and surrender my way back inside. I learned how to finally crack open to trust, trusting myself and my body, which is different than leaving it and different than liking it. But the war was over, and this kind of reconciliation to reality is a powerful liberation.

To leave the body was to be forever lonely. To inhabit my own body was to live close to the bone of realities that we often choose to ignore, to live opened to the flesh of our want and hunger and subtle awakening when even the wind blowing through fingers, as your hand slips out the car window while driving, can become a portal to what some people would call prayer.

So it is not all love and light on the other side of returning after evacuations are over. And yet, it is also the only way to have all of ourselves. To live embodied is to know your full capacity, the full range of motion, having access to every part of you, in every moment, to respond to life as it arises and retreats like ocean tides. Here we can feel the full range of our own feelings, volcanic and new-leaf soft. We have the open book of our own truth and innate knowing, our own needs and resistance and rebellion, our own wholeness. Here, present, alive. It does not make the unknowns and unknowables any less daunting and even frightening. But it does make them less lonely. For we are no longer exiled from our home.

The Messy, the Mystery, Giving God Entry

This way of being and inhabiting our lives is radically different than much of the historical, deeply embedded and ever present perspectives of many religions and spiritual paths. There is such a long history of human attempts to transcend the confines of the human body and ascend toward god, the divine, enlightenment. Embodiment is messy and it makes such complete sense that we would find ways of labeling self-abandonment and evacuating the body as spiritually superior, so as to not be faced with Mystery and vulnerability, which humanizes and heals. And yet even when in the realms of the gods, the results are often the same. At war with our embodied humanity, we seek salvation in the realms above and beyond, and yet in leaving what is present and real we become strangers to our own selves, separated and restless for home.

Rabbi Kotzker Rebbe once wrote the lines that are a poem that are a prayer, “Where is God to be found? In the place where he is given entry.”

Here is a story different than what we’ve been told. The gods found not in detachment, in leaving, in rising above, transcending our embodied humanity so as to become pure or freed from suffering. This is to know and wrestle with and love the angels and demons with our own bruised and sublime bodies, becoming more fully human, awake to our flesh and feeling. And fully present inside our own skin, we have all of us, giving the gods of our choosing entry into this life, this world, into the hands that hold and heal and the back that arches in pleasure and the terrible and terribly stunning edges we encounter when fully embodied and loving another being in their wholeness. Liberation need not be leaving. It can also be returning, into the messy and mystery of this evolving physical form, the life force of veins and bones, rooted and real.

that i might flight: 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. 


An Open Letter to the White Man Who Takes

An Open Letter To the White Man Who Takes,

To you, the one who wears your entitlement with the same self-assured ease as your cashmere coat and your ability to laugh at things that are not at all funny and your disbelief that you have ever had any advantages in life and so it must be something special in you, something earned, that lets you enter into other people’s places and bodies and lives and casually pick up their most needed things and walk out winking, deepened in your declaration that the world is indeed your very own oyster, all of it made just for you.

To the ones who stood in the front of the classrooms, giving out good grades in direct correlation with quality of cleavage. Who took hand jobs in exchange for access to education. Who corrected speech to put us in our place and rolled eyes when asked real questions. Who said "you are too pretty to be smart" and then "too smart to bother yourself with writing stories about domestic abuse because it is only women who will read that kind of drivel and if you want to make it (and you do want to make it, don’t you?) then you need to listen and learn from the greats," all of whom are white men. White men whom we never really mention had some woman somewhere taking care of them and doing their laundry and listening to their shitty first drafts and pretending to like it.

To the ones who beat my body into a mess of muscle and shivering skin. Who broke me until bleeding and left me to lie there. Who felt it acceptable to take all your rage or your confusion or your wounding, all your hatred or your fear or your own numb dissociation, and pound it into my own flailing protest and walk away unscathed and unseen. Because you could. Or because you wanted to. Or because you felt incapable of stopping yourself. You, who chose to do this, were allowed to do this, and left me with the medical bills and brain burned with the way your voice was mocking and the way you smelled on the back of the neck right where the rough of your hair gave way to pale skin.

To the ones who watched. Who said nothing. Who did nothing. Who looked away or walked away and now claim the status of one of the good guys, one of the not all men, because as you say you never took fist to face or held a woman down with your own hands. You only did it by doing nothing, by participating in the system that will, weeks or months or years later (and this only if she beats the odds by actually seeing her perpetrator arrested, charged, and on trial) blame the woman who was assaulted while you stood there silently in the other room and twisted the cap off another beer.

To the old (and sometimes young) ones in your uncomfortable looking suits who spends immoral amounts of money to run for office and then sit in seats of power and weigh the pros and cons of someone like me who once had a uterus getting to make her own decisions about the care of her own body. Who decide and demand that a woman should be required to give her body to grow a pregnancy into a possible birth of life, though you have never demanded the same of your own body for things like kidney or bone marrow or sections of the liver which also could keep a being alive who is already alive and here and in desperate need. Who tell me how pregnancy works and how abortion works and how rape works and how birth control works and tie down and bind up my own body with legislation and say it is for my own good.

To the ones who paid me to care for their children and upon returning left the wife at home to drive me to wherever I said I was going next and let their hand move from steering wheel to stick shift to the slip of skin of exposed thigh, and said "thank you for understanding and I’m always here for you if you need me," and when I said "you can just stop and drop me off here" and started to open the door, threw hands up in the air as if injured and said, “What? No hug goodbye?”

To the one who takes up so much space. Too much space. In the conversation. In the classroom. In the work meeting, the voice loud and insistent upon superiority for things banal and tedious in their boredom. At conferences and on panels and in the front of the room. On the subway, with your legs spread wide open as we trip over your feet and hold on hoping not to fall. In line at the grocery. On airplanes, placing both arms on shared armrests with complete disregard for the bodies sitting on either side. In positions of power and influence. On all the dollars we use and the painted portraits in all the buildings that preside over important decisions and all the statues built that I have to see and walk by when wanting to enjoy the heat of this city in the summertime and the way there is often a horse involved too or some kind of charge happening in case we forget the heroics of who you were.

To the ones who told me god hated girls, and punished the disbelieving, and cared about exposed knees and the status of my soul so much that it would take obscene violence to purify so as to be let into his good graces.  Who spoke to god, and spoke for god, appointed prophet and given all the keys to all the rooms and so there is no such thing as safety. Who entered into every thought, words in repetition, and in creating a world has the power to decide even the details and so it becomes difficult to know if my face or name even exists or if the erasure succeeded so completely I became invisible.

To the ones who decided, without my consent, what my earliest sexual memories and stories would be.

To the one who claims spiritual enlightenment and seeks solace in nature and works diligently to affirm your status of conscious and deeply present, but doesn’t pay child support on time or doesn’t pay it all because you chose to do something else with your life altogether. Who nourishes your body with organic food from the earth and makes sure to mediate in the mornings and feels sadness for those who care about consumerism and have given themselves over to the rat race, but don’t provide the health insurance for your children for which you are legally required to do so and choose instead to invest in correcting others when they speak, when I speak, because you are so sure your wisdom will open wide all the doors and women might then stop complaining so much or blaming so much or being so offensively demanding.

To the one who wears a white coat and has a title next to your name that allows you to decree what I should or should not do with my body. Who refuses to listen to me. To believe me. Who says, “maybe you just need to sleep more,” without even knowing that I cannot sleep more because I am working full time and a single mother and in graduate school and have had cancer twice and so now there is bone loss and arthritis taking over my left hip and I know my risk factors and I know my family history. It is MY body after all. I’m the one who has lived here in it for forty years. But please, why don’t you explain to me some more how all I need is a good night’s sleep.

To the ones who go to personal development retreats and use soft words and speak of the divine feminine and the sacred goddess, who close your eyes when speaking so as to let everyone know you are deeply feeling, and then question why I am so angry, wonder if it might help for me to just release some of those negative thoughts so as to open to the abundance possible in right thinking. Who want validation for your emotionally stunted performance of self-actualization without confronting the misogyny and white supremacy that is so thick it surrounds everything, and we are choking while watching you release your inhibitions and find you “true self.”

To the one who pressed close with your paranoia and fear of my own separate self choosing something besides you. Who woke me in the night to make accusations about what I had been doing in my sleep. Who blamed and threatened to harm the bodies of those I loved and sneered the word feminist with contempt and broke into my home and read through all my things, even the box of the oldest letters in a closet I had long forgotten about. Who demanded I account for where I had been and how I spent my time and who I had just been talking to. Who did all of this, and bludgeoned me with verbal assaults, and then said, “It’s just that I love you. It makes me crazy. I just love you. And no one else will ever love you as much as I do."

To the one who speaks over. Who explains. Who tells me I am wrong, and that I don’t understand, and then turns to the others at the table or in the room or around the conversation and says what I just said, and nods your head slightly as if to wait for recognition and accolades for the insight.

To the one who breaks legal agreements and finds loopholes, regardless of repercussions to others. Who commits fraud and attaches my name to money owed I never knew existed and then does some emotional healing work around understanding how you no longer need to feel indebted to others, after their bank accounts are emptied. Who asks questions and does not hear no or believe no or honor no, and instead stands there righteous in certainty that you alone know what is best, and the rest of us are limited in our thinking and closed minded in our ways of being.

To the ones who forced themselves onto me when I said no. To the ones who did not ever ask for a yes, ask if this is what I wanted, ask if this felt good, and chose instead to press and place their body into mine with an insistence that implies expectation and assumption of being owed. Owed. As if my body is a sacrifice or offering, the thing handed out as a consolation prize for the difficulty of being here human. 

                                                                    taking it: II

                                                                   taking it: II

To you.
The one of many.
And you. Yes, I am talking to you.
The one who knows you are part of this, and the one who will spit in my face denying it is your name located here in this letter, and the one who will read this and shake your head in disappointment at all those other men over there and not even consider for a moment that it is you.
To you.
The white man who comes and takes.
And takes and takes and takes.

You have taken my dignity, and my opportunity to learn and live and work in a safe environment, and the money I gave hours of my life earning with pride and love.
You have taken parts of my body, and my good credit record, and my ability to be with my own child.
You have taken my housing, and my name, and my no.
You have taken my sexuality and my memory and my range of motion.
You have taken the intimacies of my mouth and the stories I swore to bury and the hope of knowing what it is to not be afraid.

You have taken
what didn’t belong to you.
It never belonged to you.
It wasn’t yours.

(And it didn’t matter.
You took it all the same.)
Entitled and certain of all owed you, your life has taken from others, from mine, breaking in and breaking trust and breaking bank accounts and breaking agreements and breaking bodies.
And the systems allow you to, again and again and again.
And then turn and point the finger toward me, accusations made against me and my kind for all we have done to scrape by and survive your endless violent consuming of our own lives and beings and bodies.

You take.
And I have sat here, “taking it.”
Swallowing what is indigestible, gagging on my own repulsion and tremored terror at how deep the wounds and word go down.
Silencing the scream because I also need to keep my job or need to get in the door or need to do right by my child or need to stay alive long enough to leave.
Choking.on impossible choices so as to stay intact enough to crawl through toward survival even as we all know there are all these things taken and lost which will never ever be recovered or returned. It doesn’t work that way.
And while I’m sitting here taking it, I’m told I really should smile. I’m prettier that way. It makes people more comfortable and at ease. It shows I’m willing and ready to cooperate and be kind, which helps those who take what does not belong to them feel better about themselves and practice self-care for their self-esteem.

You take. And you leave.
I remain.
My body remains, and it wears the map of your pillage, all the places you came and took, where you tortured and terrorized, where you battered my no and decided what of me you wanted or needed and what you were free to discard.
My personhood remains, and it is marred and marked by fractures where something in me was severed from the assault of living in your presence, and though it is you who caused the injury, it is still my life and so I am the one left cleaning up the broken bits and pieces and mending, always mending, stitching together from resiliency and old library books and the bravery of longing.

That I will make it through, into the arms of the irrepressible movement of life where I will know the deepest love and stunning intimacy and artistic revelation, is clear to me. 
And, I will have to so do crawling and climbing through the wreckage of your brutality and ever present gaze and hand that reaches out to take just one thing more.

That is my one ask.



p.s. And figure the rest out yourself. God knows you have enough resources.

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.
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


The thick heat of August is when and where my birthday lands.  
This year held a threshold and soft opening into intimacy.
I am forty now.

It feels like the most beautiful arrival, like soft landing and solid ground, an opening to let loose the things which were ready and wanting to leave, a celebration for having come this far.
It feels like return and like the sweetness of the unknown, discovered, unfurling like a curled body unwrapping itself late in the morning and leaning toward sun and the taste of another’s skin. It feels like the work was worth it, and the wrestling with the unresolvable, and the knowing when it was time to lay them to rest, and live.

There are things I know now. Things I have learned, in struggle and in surrender and in embrace. Things I have found and cut openings in my own scars so as to taste and turn towards. Here, I name my own animals. Here, I let my own tongue speak. Here, I stand in the wreckage and the glory of this life, my life, and say thank you. 

And I wanted to share some of them, forty of them, with you.
What I know now. What I see now. What was here, the wisdom of a body speaking true, waiting to welcome me into what comes next.

1.  This earth. This world. This broken sky and the way the buildings go gold when the sun descends. This ribcage shaking with the underwater world of crying. This held out doorway of hope and this ache for the taste of blackberries and this scar that runs wide up the back. This hand that doesn’t know how to unclench and this breath that comes easy and gasping and steady. This. This is what is real, here, and alive. Whatever may or may not come next, above or below, this world here is my home.

2.  Being willing to make choices, the hard choices no one else may understand and the ones with no guarantee of outcome and the ones that remind you of the vow you will never break - this humanizes. Make choices and take risks and have regret and wake again, and choose to live.

3.  Honor your limitations. Let them become a net to catch you with kindness, sinking into the knowing that you need not do everything for everyone, even yourself.

4.  You are allowed to change your mind.

5.  There is honest (if hard sometimes to the heart) love in being willing to disappoint people so as to be true to your own voice and knowing and need. There is rich substance of sovereignty in not abandoning yourself in order to please another and pretend it is enough. The truth is sometimes rough to the touch and sometimes elegant as silk against smooth skin. Love it for its own sake. Do what is true. Speak what is true. This is what it is to be trustworthy, for your word to mean something real.

6.  It’s a voluptuous powerful thing, to know what you’ve given your life to. And everything else, all the ambition and striving and waiting and insisting and pounding against metal doors until the fist bruises and bleeds. All of this is laid to rest. You have already given your life to what you love and the paths uncross, clear.

7.  Know and enter the unanswerable questions, and do not try to answer them.

8.  You are not the possession of another. This is not the cost for belonging. And so you do not ever owe another your own self, as if intimacy is a transaction of putting out parts of you you in order to be fed. You, your time and your body and your presence and your capacity and the curve of your conversation, is not a thing another human has a right to or is entitled to. Love, and whatever of yourself you choose to offer out like undone origami all soft paper and wrinkled angular lines, is a gift. Every single time. Without question.

9.  Love what and whom and how you love. Feed your hunger to satisfied. Want what you want. Without apology.

10. There are many things you will not do or ever get to do in this life, and there is some kind of relief in this, the knowing and naming of it.  It means you don’t have to pretend you will get to it or chase the dream that drains, scampering around trying to fill a hole in the heart or insisting I can live another nine lives. It means you get to walk away from what is not yours or what no longer fits or what you once longed for and now can see only as a ghost of a dream of another woman, many years younger, learning who she wanted to be in this world. It means you get to be here, in this life right here and now, fully, deeply, and with all of you. No bullshit.

11.  Whatever it takes to listen to yourself, to hear yourself true, do that.

12.  Can you be good with yourself, no matter what happens or what is said about you or what the cards or planets spin of stories? Can you be good with yourself, solid, even when you don’t know what comes next or feel the weight of another’s expectation or forget the sound of your own name? Can you look in the mirror and see the stunning presence of your face, and love her for everything she had to do and could not do and say “I’m here, come on home to me.” Forget the measurements or ways of codifying and monetizing meaning. Can you be good with yourself, be a good home to yourself? This is the question that must always come first.

13.  It is ok to have needs. It is more than ok. It is human. And inevitable. And crashingly beautiful, the way it connects us to one another and reminds us of the silk strands of a web that work their way through creation and allows us to love and be loved.

14.  Your life will be forever changed the day you learn the power of a clear ask. And the strength of your own breath bringing you through. And the solid bones of a clear no. And the open space of a full yes, how it tumbles over grass and rocks like blue iris opened.

15.  No one else gets to define you for you, to tell you who you are and insist you accept their projection and pain veiled as insight and then say thank you. You are not theirs to assess or determine or decide. Others can and will think what they think, about you and themselves and the world. They will sometimes find or form stories, as we all do, that help them make sense of what hurts and in the process they will sometimes seek to brand you, leaving burn marks and the sound of your feet as you walk out of the room and into your waiting life.  

But in the quiet and crash of reality, we just don’t know. We don’t know what another person is going through, or what they fought through the night, the empty glass and the road trip west and the way the sun felt like salve after so much heavy rain. Another may come and tell you what they assume to be true about you. But they do not know. They do not know that someone from your past just died and now your old stories get to be rearranged, or that that the cancer came back, or that the shatter was sharp. They do not know that the love you always needed came and found you and everything, everything, changed. They do not know how it feels to be you, living in your skin, and what it took, to make the choices only you could make. They do not know. It is not their job to know, to assure you, to name you. So let them say what they will say, and just stay with yourself. There is nothing you need to go look for and figure out outside you, because you. . .you are the way. So stay, right here, breath after breath, finding yourself landed back home in your body, the love that will never leave you.

16.  You can and will discover capacity in yourself that exceeds what you were given or taught or knew from experience or exposure. I do not know the why of this, only that it is true.

17.  When the question comes (why?) you will know the answer.
18.  because my body is my own, belonging to me. 
19.  because I was not, a single time in all the many times, asking for it.
20.  because no is a complete sentence.
21.  because pleasure is my birthright and I know now just how good, good loving can be. 
22.  because creating consent cultures is how we unlearn and relearn the voice and body
       that knows what it knows and wants what wants without apology.
23.  because sex is not a dirty word. slut is not a dirty word. feminist is not a dirty word.
       woman is not a dirty word.
24.  because we are allowed our places of belonging without ownership and possession.
25.  because my body is my own, and I love her. 

26.  I used to worry that something was wrong with me for not caring so much what other people think of me. For not having much interest in confirming their ideas of who I am or am supposed to be. I used to wonder if this meant I had not yet learned the rules of the road for a culture I did not come from and stand always a whisper from the edge, as outsider invited in. I now know differently. There are many things I care deeply about. But what other people think about me is not one of them. This does not make me broken. It makes me free.

27.  There is so much suffering that is not optional in this lifetime, all the ways oppression is real and devastating and the most horrible things can and do happen. But all the other things, the optional suffering, the unconscious suffering. It has no inherent virtue, making you a better or more noble person. So you will learn over time, learn and relearn as many times as it takes, to choose to not remain for what is optional, free now to live your life in all its pleasure and protest.

28.  Be willing to be wrong. To acknowledge the ways you have been wrong, no longer interested in living saddled with the errors of confirmation bias, where we look around at the world only for evidence to prove our own assumptions and beliefs. For we are not always right. even when we feel we are. Even when we can "prove" it. Even when we wrap ourselves tight with certainty. And when the stakes feel high, it can feel so very hard to let down the insistence and open to the other. To listen. To look. To learn. To be educated. To tolerate discomfort. To see. To say, "I was wrong. I am sorry. Please forgive me." But it's where freedom lives.

29.  First marriages are good teachers.  It is ok to keep the learnings and leave the rest behind.

30.  People you love will hurt. And get sick. And lose work and parts of their being and body and those they love. And there is nothing in the world you can do to make it better, or take it away, or make it not happen. So you will sleep in a room with soft red light, and make music, and walk the dog, and choose love.

31.  At the age of forty, you will have lived through so much loss, your own body bearing the weight of woundings that can never be undone and your own memory choked with trauma that never resolves. You will have had and lived through cancer, twice. You will have watched a great many people die, many of them from a terror from which you still will never know why it was you found a way out and through, landing on a city street where you changed your name and listened to music fill the streets late at night, counting the concrete steps and your luck of impossible aliveness. You will have lost through all the leavings too, and there will be all these spaces inside you, like gaps, where they once would have slipped inside and now there is only the grief and then it is only memory of grief, missing the missing. It will hurt. You will not be able to return or go back or become what you once thought you were or would be. You also will come through.

32.  So there is this. Keep making decisions. The hard ones. The uncertain ones. The in the dark ones. Keep following the tread of curiosity and trust the voice that knows what it knows, beyond language or the ways of reason. Keep showing up, for the work and the wrestling and the water you submerge yourself into, swimming deep and fighting strong, tossed up to a shore of your own survival. Because you make it. You arrive. You know what it is to say no more. You let loose the need to understand or master or make meaning of brutality. You lay a thing to rest, which was everything it took to come from there to here. You taste and see and know that it, this flesh and fought for freedom and the home that is her, it is good.

33.  Stop finishing books you don’t like. Or eating to the end of a meal of food you don’t like. Or wearing clothing you don’t like (just because it’s in your wardrobe, doesn’t mean you like it. So you can stop wearing it. Or give it away to someone who does and stare there at your closet with only four hangers dressed with black and fringe and flannel, and a pile of torn jeans, and know that you live now in what is loved.) Stop completing and competing in conversations that have no ending because they are really arguments or attempts at control. Stop telling yourself will do things that you really won’t ever do. Because you don’t want to. And you don’t like them. And they only serve to weigh heavy on the paper of the list of to do’s, so you can just not do them and cross them off and call it complete and never write them down again.

34.  After trying things on and working around other’s ideas and ideals. After playing with possibilities and bending your back to become the shape of another’s unarticulated longing unaccepted in themselves and offered out to you. After setting up house and putting placemats on the table and then hearing your voice again, clear. After this, you will stop trying to do it, life, by someone else’s rules or ways. You will no longer ask yourself to huddle down and limp along and hope the hurt later leaves. You will no longer pathologize your own want and need and the names you choose for love. You will feel the words come, different and altered and fully now your own.

35.  You are the only one who can live your life for you.

36.  You can trust yourself,
       You can trust yourself.
       You can trust yourself.

37.  Let others have their own experiences. Their own opinions and ideas and stories about you. Their own needs and unanswered questions and knotted memory. They are allowed. It doesn’t mean they are yours or need to be yours. So let them have what is theirs. Respect them enough to take radical responsibility for their own lives. And tend to the arrow in your heart. Love yourself hard and well. Nourish your hunger. Honor your own exquisite boundaries. Take good care.

38.  This is your one life, your own life. Choose what feels good.

39.  You can and will learn new things. Even well past the point when you thought it was possible. You will take flying lessons and see the city lights grow small and then fade to a dark sky and open air. You will learn new sleep patterns and discover the cadence of your own language between soft sheets and the piles of inked paper. You will, decades after you had decided it was meant for you, run your hands across exposed brick and call it home. You will wake to realize that there are entirely new experiences that you will at the age of 39 turning forty, only now enter into, undone and set right inside. You will be surprised, not by the bad thing that was always waiting but the impossible possible. This falling. This whole body knowing. This safety. This unforeseen adventure. This love that gives you back your whole self.

40.  And after everything you’ve known and survived and held hesitantly in your large hands, your hunger and hope fragile as spider webs and strong as a hawk’s wings stretched wide. After this, you will only be able to locate yourself in the word lucky. Because here you are, all the constellations of things leading you to this. Not a plan or a purpose or divine intervention. Not because it was meant to be or forever fated. But this. Your life. And you are still here.

So open the drawer that once housed all the things you would never speak. Pull out the deck of cards that was your origin and everything you could not choose, all the odds against you. Splay them out in any and every order. Watch their faces find rest and their mouths spill secrets and wisdom. This, they say. Here, they say. Now. You. Her. Say yes. All things safe and found. All things made new.

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.


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

on telling the truth and the beauty of boundaries (and freedom from inspiration and vulnerability porn.)

telling our truth can be liberating, no longer hiding behind shame and
knowing the freedom of refusing to participate in the required silencing.
it feels really good, to speak what we want and choose, to own our stories.
it can be magnificent when our life marries imagination and creates art.
community organizing and activism is fed and grown through activating our own narratives and understanding how publicly sharing them brings us awake to the work to be done.

you don't owe your story to anyone.
your life is not a product of inspiration to be consumed. (you are far too complex and nuanced and beautiful for that).
telling our story in order to be perceived as wide open and vulnerable can end up feeling damaging.
not sharing things and choosing instead to allow them to remain private and nourish the interior creative life is not being "closed" but can rather be exquisite self containment and love, being our own home to return to.

we are surrounded by images that say "i'm so amazing. come be like me."
and then there is the vulnerability inspiration porn that says "i'm so exposed. i'm just like you."
and both end up feeling really off.

the truth is,
i'm not just like you.
because i'm me.
and you are you.
and as humans, we all have our own private and public stories, and we need each other.

you can be real and still keep things private. you can write down the bones and let words open windows to the centers of our stories, even the terrifying and the honor and the mysteries. and you get to have some things that only the smallest number of people will ever know and hold, because they are sacred this way.

vulnerability in our intimacies is sometimes the deepest healing and unexpected service.
boundaries are beautiful.
choosing your own terms of engagement, your yes and no, your public and private, your voice in all its range,
is powerful.
because your life matters, and it belongs to you.


cancer and two years later, love for the scarred and wonderful

to you, love. to me. to what this day in gray january is, wet and cold, scarred and wonderful.

all day yesterday, i kept feeling the pull back, tugging at the sharp parts of my body.
all day today i have stood here, opened like a hymnal spilling sounds i know without knowing, tumbling through the skin's memory, traveling reckless and gossamer veins.

two years ago yesterday, i was preparing to go in for surgery, the first surgery, for the second cancer.
two year ago today i was going to the hospital, walking into the fire. two years ago today i had cancer in my body and inside it felt like things were breaking apart, a door not just unlocked or opened but altogether unhinged and the sound of my own heart beats were muffled and thudding like listening to the world above while submerged underwater.

i didn't know then how things would shake out and go down. i didn't know the grooves i would wear down deep in the road of my survival into living.

was it really only two years, so recent? was it really already two years, so long ago and far away?

how does time happen? what am i to do with all the other lives i feel like i am living somewhere else, parallel and intimate and veiled? do we become beautifully more bare as we age, gathering great losses until we have let go and had torn from us so much that we are diaphanous, transparent, slipping through all the times? or do we become more, richer, a kind of feast on everything we were forced to survive and were fortunate enough to have born witness to, that we swim in the tides of years blended into years? or is it both, together, merged and submerged in the living?

somehow, it has been two years today that i went into the cold room at the hospital and closed my eyes and waited to wake to something ending and beginning. and i want to cry. and i want to kiss things. and i want to smash my face into belovedness. i want to stand under running water for a long time, and i want to call up that which built the bridge that carried me to the other side and say thank you, and don't let us forget how horrifying and smeared with aliveness it was, it is. and i love you. love sent out ricocheting into the cold sky.

it is sometimes easy to love that which comes later. there was so much glory in the relief and the clear scans and the stars written on charts like successful treatment was a moral achievement and not blunt luck. there was so much that felt like the rush of life that came in with the luxury of purple flowers and beginnings. and dear god. it was so fucking beautiful. and how sometimes it can come to feel that what is valued is the after. the pretty pictures made long after the fact, when we use the words brave as if there was something noble in having suffered and survived and we want with desperation to know it will be ok in the end.

and so there will be no big statements about what anything means. because if there is meaning to be had, it has not yet to come find me. i just know it was brutal and bruised, and in its taking it left me altered, marks and memory which are mine now, belonging to me. i just know that at night i map out jacob's ladder, wrap paper wings around it, climb up and down again. i just know that it is true, that we cannot control what we pretend we do, that we cannot predict what we want to, and that being here alive in this body of mine is still the best thing i've ever known.

so today, is a love letter to being in the living.
i'm loving the one who didn't know what would come next, and who was tired to be here all over again, and who felt dark and light inside, a mouth learning to swallow the moon. the me sitting it in a hospital gown feeling skin stick to white paper waiting for the oncologist to walk in the room. i am loving the defiance and the discontent and the soft. letting the moment be what it was in its raw bite and vice and beauty. and how sometimes another can see us here, choose to not look away, and this a life raft that lets us save ourselves.

how do we make it?
how do we survive?
how we do we keep making art and meaning and love and revolution?
i want some smart answer, some clear concise page to pull from the volumes that tell us all where the promise sinks teeth into the disbelieving.
but i don't have something so lovely. i have this. only this.
everything is always dying and something, someone, somewhere is being born.
in all this, a thing so wildly vast, you are like no other that has ever existed.
how stunning. how magnificent. how much, you matter.
i love you. i love you. i love you.


surviving the wreck

for the one who woke this morning, uncertain how it is possible to have come this far and you stand in the space where nothing makes sense but there is still this. here. your own survival. your breath that filled lungs that expanded and your eyes adjusting, taking in the smooth arc of skin that curves from clavicle to the last rung of the rib cage. . .

i keep thinking of you.
though i do not know if it is intellectual thought as much as orientation, the way something in my body and bitten lip keep turning toward you, needing to know your location, needing to keep scanning the crowds and looking through all the languages until eyes lock and we land again, returned to the unnamed space where we silence neither the knowing of brutality nor the love lush as the greenhouse where you turned again to the light which is life.

the truth is, nothing i can ever say could ever make any of it better.
there is not a version of the story where the good measures so great that it ever takes away the horror or the holes left from when that which you loved and could not live without suddenly was taken.
there are no do overs, and this life seems not particularly interested in owing us anything.
the healing that sometimes happens is exquisite, shattering every idea i once had about how much a human heart can hold. against all odds, it is possible that sometimes our grief gives us our humanity, restores us to relationship.
but it does not return us to what once was.
so i refuse to meet you the morning when you wake to your own survival and tell you tales of the phoenix rising, the slick stories that carry the sheen of inspiration so as to quell the terror in the teller.
your life does not exist to make others more comfortable.
so just for now, just for this moment, i can offer this. even if nothing is ever made better, i love you and i will meet you in the room where nothing can be undone but for reasons known and unknown, you woke again this morning, breathing and beating life.

and i keep thinking of you. . .
the body that shows the map of injuries and knows a want like hunger and cannot bear to be touched lightly but only strong and sure, the way you might press down hard to try to stop the bleeding.
the haunting of hunting season and the hallowed spaces where you dug out the decay with bruised fists and the way sometimes still, even after all these years, you still feel the way two o’clock tastes on the mouth, filled with broken conquests and steam rising from the concrete. and somewhere in the space where shoulder blades attempt to touch in the chest opening, you still miss it.
the never being able to quite find the right language to say what really happened.
the wanting the relief of not having to explain.
the nightmares that never leave.
the reckless glory of a waterfall washing over you, the sound of it like a roar, and the way she brought you coffee in bed and the plant that hung there in the shower, spilling down like there was still time enough for everything that came after.
the scars that formed on the inside of skin, intimate and devastating, invisible to the rushing world.

i keep thinking of you.
I keep wondering how it is possible we survived.
i keep wanting to hold your face amid all the unthinkable things, and even in the moment by accident, how pulling on jeans over curve of hip and onto waist, i might happen to look up and see a reflection in the mirror, foreign and familiar, finally found.

what are we to do with all this loss?
what are to do with so much beauty?

this is for you.
for all the times you did not want to make it through.
for all the times you did things you never thought you could or would do, just to make it through.
for who you once were.
for who you became in the war you did not choose and the fight you found that saved you.
for the way the warm returned and the salted air changed your skin and you knew again how to let something hold you.
for you. to you. the one who swam to the other side, tossed to shore, waking in the morning to the sound of the city outside your bedroom window and knowing in the marrowed bone that all those things really did happen, and all of it will always be here in you, and so too is the sun and the moon and the stars. you are here in the living and the mango is sweet in the mouth and the dirt clings to feet and your belly breathes power.

for you.
this is not a victory march.
this is not an inspirational poem.
this is not about a bouquet of stories on the other side of loss that make it seem advantageous to know this name of suffering.
this is not a need for you to remember or retell.

this is simply me, standing here with an open boarder inside me and eyes that will not look away, saying thank you.
thank you for fighting and finding the way here, feet shaken and heart steady.
thank you for doing what it took.
thank you for your art and uprising.
thank you for giving a home to the sharp teeth or survival and holding the hurt in your lap like there is love enough even for this, even for the unthinkable, even for her, even for here.
thank you for choosing life.