Letter to Sonya

I’ve been putting off writing to you, writing about you, letting myself access my feelings about your sudden exit stage right. I’ve skirted my grief, I’ve tried talking to you about this big-ass elephant in the room with my eyes closed as though I might be able to find your spirit if I concentrate hard enough and then hold hard to your collar-bone or your writing wrist, or any part of you I have never even seen in person.

I’m afraid that if I don’t say everything I know about you/knew about you that I’ll vomit it up in my sleep and choke to death on it. The most important thing anyone needs to know about you is that you have a bigger hard-on for Beyonce than Jay Z. Haha. Just kidding, Jay Z’s was just a little bit bigger than yours. You love cheese (though I always secretly suspected you loved it less than I do), pizza, salsa, chips, but talking about any other food bored you. Or at least you said it did until this year you started to get kind of excited about cooking new things. You ridiculed me for my use of cloth napkins and we almost came to fisticuffs over it. But mostly that was because you ganged up on me with that guy who shall not be named and Jennie too. I only minded because I’m an awkward git who doesn’t always follow the joke and I wasn’t sure how to be cool in a situation that obviously called for being cool when I’m just not that cool.

I learned that sometimes when you get an idea or a joke in your head you’re like a gangling puppy who gets so excited you trip over your front paws and overwhelm people with your enthusiasm to the point that people push back. I was so happy to find I wasn’t the only grown-up who does that. For all you could sometimes accidentally bite harder than people expected, you were wickedly funny most of the time while still being the kindest person I’ve ever met. Sometimes I would read along with your conversations with others on Twitter and laugh out loud but not take part myself because I knew I couldn’t keep up and would ruin the jokes. Your humor was infectious and light and it was like a shot of morphine in a dark terrible world.

You loved SEX. SEX is good. Remember when we took part in that writers’ talk about sex in novels with other writer friends? That’s the first time I started getting to know you. I’m pretty sure when you heard me talk like sex is nice and all but not earth shattering you were stunned into disbelief. We were that different over the things that didn’t matter so much.

You love exercise, fitness, physical activity of all kinds, ACTION.

You loved those things. You loved animals more than most humans and this is something we always had in common. You could hear the world outside you, you couldn’t shut it out, and so much of the time it was torture. For me too. There have been few people in my life who could hear it all the way I could so finding out you heard all the pain in the world like I do made you a kindred spirit. I know that hearing one story about an abused animal could make you want to mother the whole world as strongly as you wanted to shut it the fuck down. Neither of us could do much more than witness and testify, which, honestly is much too religious sounding for either of us.

You were one of the kindest and most fierce women I’ve ever known. You lifted other women up all the time, every day. You reached into the darkness and lifted scared and weeping souls up into the light as though it was as ordinary as making a grilled cheese sandwich. Your reach has been long, your bright influence has been felt across a universe of unstable stars.

You had no patience for a multitude of stupidities. I loved that about you.

We loved all the animals, even the awkward ones. Even the snarly ones. The furless, patchy, greedy, toothy, grumpy, fluffy, little, enormous, clumbsy, graceful, and feral ones. There was no such thing as an unlovable non-human animal.

You loved cars. Fast cars. Vintage ones. Red ones. Porche ones. Whatever.

You loved unstintingly, without shade, without pause. The people you loved knew they were loved.

I know you loved me. I know you understood me and still loved me. You wouldn’t let me remain silent very long. Mother hen, reeling your flock in to check for fox damage. You were one of the best defenses against overwhelming despair of the magnitude that could lead to suicide.

So here we are. I know how hard you’ve tried hanging onto your meat-cage in the last couple of years. I know how fucking hard it’s been and I know that it’s your husband and daughters who’ve ultimately kept you hanging on even though you might not have even let them know quite how bad things have gotten in your mind and your heart. I know the people you most desperately wanted to protect, you held back the tides for the most. They might have preferred the flood.

I thought you’d made it past the brimstone burning at your heart. I thought you’d gotten past the gatekeeper of hope.

I can’t think of anything I might have done or said differently and yet I want to go back and do things differently.

I know that there was nothing anyone could have done in the moment you signed off. Not the power of God or the Devil would have had any effect in that moment. Not your family, not your friends. I believe you were overcome by the ugly noise of the world we live in. Maybe there was a different better medication you could have taken, maybe there were different choices all of us could have made all along the way, but I don’t think it would have mattered in the moment you said “ENOUGH”.

I can’t lie, Sonya, part of me is jealous. It’s not what I’m supposed to feel, but part of me knows that the ugliness can’t reach you now. Just like with my brother. I don’t believe in heaven or hell but the one thing I’m sure of is that the torture of everyday life goes quiet when you leave the shell of your body behind. I believe you’re at peace now. I’m not coddling myself with this belief. I’m not trying to fit a crown of kittens onto my misshapen head so that I can feel better about you being gone. Nothing’s really going to make me feel better about you being gone. A life of abuse and torture melts away when there’s no corporeal body left to hurt. The slights and torments of seeing with eyes that can be poked out, of hearing with ears that can be ruptured, and feeling with skin that can be burnt to bone can’t reach you where you are now and for that I’m thankful. You were too full of the world’s pain to bear any more.

Your love was bigger than you could hold onto with your small frame. You filled rooms with it, you filled pages with it, you filled silence with it. No one could fill the empty spaces it left in you fast enough. We were all running fast with your heart trying to stitch the holes up with thread but it kept breaking and breaking and breaking apart in the eye of needles too small for our fingers to find in the dark.

Now that I’ve started writing to you I don’t want to stop because it will feel too much like a real goodbye. I can’t do that, can’t say goodbye to you.

There are a lot of people who don’t understand what kind of strong bonds can be made between people online. We know better how bonds between introverts actually thrive when we get to control the flow of conversation, walking away when we need to, coming back when we’re ready. We conduct what I think can legitimately be called endless threads of conversation. There’s no real beginning or ending. We just pick up the thread when we need to or want to and let it drop when we’re feeling raw and edgy.

You have been like a spirit sister to me. You find me when I’m lost, tease me when I’m too serious, inspire me to move forward when I’m at low ebb, and make me laugh hard just because that’s the best thing any of us on earth can do.

You confided in me and I cherished your trust because I know how hard it was for you to tell anyone what you were really feeling for fear you’d be a burden, cause pain to them, or scare them. I know the thought of hurting others emotionally caused you physical pain. There were times you knew you hurt someone without meaning to and it tortured you for days, sometimes weeks. And they never knew it, fucking idiots.

I was going to brave Texas and Texas weather, nail fashions, overabundance of cowboy boots, and dust to see you. If I could afford it I’d been flying down there now to say goodbye in person. It’s disgusting how money can be a hard barrier between friends in different states.

I was going to send you the seeds from the California poppy you saw a picture of from my yard (see above). I waited a month for seed pods to ripen and now they’re sitting on my desk going nowhere. In the last several months you’ve been photographing wildflowers and it hasn’t escaped my observation that they’re an apt analogy for people like you and me. Especially you. You bloomed hard and fierce and bright and got better and more beautiful after hard frosts and soil-cracking droughts. You rose up above the hard scrabble and opened your face to the world with a kind of fierce challenge. You shouted out over storms and through still mornings the same challenge every day that you were made of swords and meat and lean muscle (and probably pizza too), and that no one could get past you to hurt the ones you love the most.

And then, like a wildflower, you vanished from the landscape just as fast as you arrived in it.

“You are not awful and this is why I love you. (Feel free to engrave that on your urn)” were the last words you said to me. (<—-for anyone who knew Sonya this is pretty much an expression of UNDYING FRIENDSHIP. The only way that comment could have delivered more Sonya love is if she invited me to engrave that on a giant piece of cheese.)

I can’t be angry with you for leaving, but I’m gutted by your permanent absence. You made my daily life so much richer, so much better. Knowing you were out there holding your heart and soul up above the floodwaters gave me so much more courage than I had before, made me feel like I can do this impossible thing. And now I have to do the impossible without your example, without your laughter, without Fatcat and Fang. I might be just a little bit angry about that.

I love you Sonya.

Take Your Own Arrows

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I went to my first therapy intake in years the other day. All the hours of my life cried out to be seen and heard and accounted for. I’m never in therapy at my darkest moments so I come with some unintentional armor guarding my heart and my entrails. It takes so little to dent the anger-tempered metal.

It feels important to tell every psychologist that my dad once told me to vacuum the lawn and that though it filled me with doubt about the order of the universe I did it because I was too scared not to. The words always dry up in my throat because it’s ridiculous to tell anyone that I have, in true fact, vacuumed a lawn.

I know I could use a silent ear regarding Zeke’s death. I’m not sure what I can say when a thousand things are always trying to speak at once through me in a giant coagulating mess of noise. I miss him. I think the hardest thing is that I expected to die before him and yet, here I am. I would have taken every pain in his stead, but that’s not how life works. I have to take my own arrows, collect my own offal in pails arranged carefully under a thousand leaks in my body.

I believe our personal power and our greatest weaknesses always stem from the same source. The things that make us vulnerable also makes us strong. Perhaps I think of it in too simplified terms for some, but for me it comes down to the idea that light can’t exist without dark, that cold is meaningless without heat, and good has no context without bad. I even named my company after this concept; sugar and pith – the sweet and the bitter. I don’t believe in fairy tales because they’re obsessed with vanquishing the dark so that light can prevail, but morning is nothing without dusk. Fairy tales are incomplete stories, bastards of the truth which is ultimately more rewarding as well as devastating than fantasy.

I need a therapist to help me swim to the bubbling sunlit surface of water from a thousand feet deep in the alien darkness full of changelings and dancing muscles. Can therapists do that?

The greatest gift in my life has been the long slow discovery that I’m not alone in this dark.

It’s peopled with a thousand spirits kin to me. When I stop struggling to swim and let the waves tow me under I can hear all of them speaking with buoyancy at the same time; with joy and love and the fear stripped from them like it was nothing more than thin streams flooding porous tidal stones.

Can there be reconciliation for as many selves as I have been?

 

Suicide Contagion

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I haven’t been able to truly write in ages. I don’t even know how long it’s been at this point. I just started to write again before my brother died. I was starting to work on Suicide for Beginners and then I was thrown into such a terrible wave of my own shock, depression, and grief that I couldn’t wade through without getting lost. So I drifted further away from the page until it felt dangerous to try to access this project.

You can retreat from things that call to you for a while, maybe even for years, but eventually their noise gets to be so loud you can’t hear anything else above them. I don’t feel ready to write about suicide and all the people who opened up their veins to take my survey and yet I feel an incredible responsibility to my tribe to sit down here and find my way because it isn’t just my thoughts and experiences needing sharing, it’s so many other people’s voices and experiences that need to be held up to the light of love and empathy.

I just heard the expression “suicide contagion” for the first time and it makes me feel incredibly angry and protective of my tribe. This is the same ignorance that made people believe that listening to heavy metal could make you commit violent crimes. It implies that people are so suggestible that a song or a tale of suicide can inspire a person to do something completely out of character that they would never have done if it weren’t for someone setting the example for them first.

Let me tell you that no one, NO ONE, commits suicide to be cool or make a point or to cease to exist unless they already had the urge, the impulse, or lacked the self preservation of mentally healthy people. So check yourself and your fucking dreams of contagion to explain away your heartbreak at losing a loved one to suicide.

I don’t honestly know if finishing my project will make a difference but what I do know is that I can’t sit back and not fight for all of us who struggle with depression and anxiety. So many of us are more scar than flesh. So many of us are hanging onto thin threads for lifelines even though we have, collectively, such an incredible long list of people we’d give our whole selves to protect and love.

Not sure I’ve ever truly deeply loved a person who wasn’t mentally compromised to some degree and brilliantly lovely.

There are so many things to fight for. None of us can fight for everything every day. What an overwhelming burden it is to live in such a broken world. What an overwhelming thing it is to live at all. What a terrible burden it is to be born and have to carry this heavy mantle of imposed expectation to make of this abbreviated time on earth matter to other people.

Suicide isn’t contagious. Mental illness isn’t contagious. If someone you love seems to “suddenly” succumb to the influence of some depressed person or is inspired to kill themselves because someone they admired killed themselves – you need to get honest and understand that this person you love was already dreadfully conflicted and haunted.

“Contagion” is an ugly word. “Suicide contagion” is a hideous and ignorant expression.

I don’t know how to safely access enough of myself to work on Suicide for Beginners but it’s abundantly clear that the work needs doing.

Tonight I tried to open my Scrivener files for “Suicide for Beginners” and there was nothing. I have to start all over. Maybe this is for the best even though it makes me want to punch things.

Good night, tribe. I won’t abandon you. You’re always here in my heart. We meet in strange dream landscapes experienced sleeping and awake.

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American People Deserve 3rd Season of Rosewood

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Dear Fox Broadcasting Network,

It has come to my grim attention that my favorite show, Rosewood, may not be renewed for a third season.¬† I don’t want to – (hyperventilates into paper bag) – be melodramatic or anything, I know we’re all getting exhausted by hyperbole these days, but cancelling Rosewood would be like taking a beautiful lotus flower and rubbing it into the dirt with a pair of creepy Vibram “shoes”. You’ve created a crime-based show (a huge demographic) that’s well written, beautifully cast, superbly acted, and engaging as hell. The only reason you could possibly consider cancelling this show is that you wish the ratings were higher. I get it, the reason you’re successful is that you brutally cut out anything that doesn’t get the highest ratings. Are you sure you’ve done all you can to promote this gem? I don’t think so because with a show this solid the only way it doesn’t get the best ratings is that you haven’t done enough work to get the word out. I’ve told everyone I know how great it is. I do this for free out of love but obviously I haven’t got the reach you have. Or the money. If you give us a season 3, I promise to work harder to promote Rosewood. In fact, I will write a smashing appeal to potential viewers today to tune in to the rest of this season. But you can do better, I know you can!

Some shows take more time to catch on. Especially if you’re doing something fresh like writing for a truly diverse cast with story lines that might challenge some people (gorgeous bi-racial scientist lesbian relationship – yo!) and, let’s face it, Morris Chestnut just might be too beautiful for some people to handle. But some things need that extra time, that extra push, for everyone to become as invested as I am. This may be one of those shows.

In the last few months I have struggled hard to keep my spirits up. Rosewood is one of the shows I look forward to seeing every week. When I watch it I see a more hopeful reality. One in which most crimes are solved, science applied to dead bodies is cutting edge and cool, where community is a wonderful melange of race, age, and background in which people deal with their problems with grace and wit. And maybe some occasional (totally understandable) violence. Sometimes when I’ve had a particularly rough week I sit down and watch some earlier episodes just to be in a place I like with characters I find inspiring and engaging. This show makes all the bad news in the world just a little (lot) more bearable.

I feel I should at this point make a full disclosure: I hate sunshine, especially Florida sunshine, and cheerfulness. But even I, confirmed fan of winter weather and a permanent curmudgeon, find the beautiful colors on your show and Rosie’s cheerful demeanor endearing. This is almost certainly because the creator of the show (and writers) were smart enough to pair Rosie with Detective Villa, no less beautiful but way less annoyingly sunny. I love Villa so much.

Please give us a season 3 of Rosewood. You don’t owe it to me or anyone else, but it’s probably the most civic-minded decision you could possibly make this year to keep America hopeful, smart, and beautiful.

Sincerely,

Angelina Williamson

Feral kitten tamer and unknown writer.

 

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Angelina’s Guide to “Basic Good Manners”

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Here’s a picture of my cat and my feet all over the couch. Also, the principle behind my official guideline on “basic good manners” is inspired by my friend Debi who summed up good manners today as “don’t be a dick”. That’s pretty much the crux of having basic good manners.

Today I heard it suggested that putting your feet up on furniture, whether in someone else’s house or your own, is bad manners and that people who put their feet on any furniture have not been brought up well. It was also implied that I, uncouth Angelina, might not be capable of learning or comprehending “basic good manners”. This was all said by a person I have considered a friend for years. This is not the kind of shit you say to someone you like or respect in any way shape or form. Which is interesting because it is often thought that having good manners is a sign of being a respectful person.

At least, I guess it is in some circles, but it’s my opinion that the use of proper silverware, where you put your feet, whose hands you shake or don’t shake, whether you keep your hat on inside or not has nothing to do with real respect for others. It’s all a superficial social agreement that groups of people come to about what the “proper” way to behave is. Most of it is total bullshit. What you consider to be “basic good manners” is likely to be heavily dictated by regional, socioeconomic backgrounds, cultural, and even generational influence. So be careful how you throw your judgement around at people for having different ideas of what “basic good manners” are, you might actually be acting like a boner-fied* dick.

Angelina’s Guide to “Basic Good Manners”:

Fuck “basic good manners”. The most important thing you can do is treat everyone with kindness, respect, and generosity of spirit. This transcends “proper” social mores every damn time. What’s considered “proper” or “good” manners varies wildly depending on many factors, so large groups of people are always going to disagree on what this even means. Be kind, be respectful, and show generosity of spirit.

It boils down to not being a dick.

If you’re in the company of really religious people, try to be mindful and not swear like a motherfucker or talk about what a great drinking companion Jesus would have been, unless you know them to be cool with that kind of humor.

If you’re a really religious person in the company of an atheist, try to be mindful and not preach or expect them to not talk about what a great drinking companion Jesus would have been.

Don’t be a dick.

If your family is super casual and really likes to be comfortable and put their feet up on the furniture, invite your guests to do the same.

If you’re at someone else’s house, don’t put your feet up on the furniture if it’s all fancy and couches are white and uptight or if no one else is putting their feet on anything but the floor.

Don’t be a dick.

If you don’t know anything about using special forks or eating with a knife**, don’t worry about it if you find yourself in a fancy house where people like cleaning multiple utensils per person per meal, you’ll probably just do it wrong anyway.

If you are a family that uses many special utensils per person per meal and have a guest that eats with you but only uses a fork of one size for ALL THE DAMN DISHES, just be thankful you’ll have fewer dishes to wash and don’t look down on your guest for not being raised in a multi-sized-fork household.

DON’T BE A GODDAMN DICK.

 

*I did that on purpose.

**I was raised as a vegetarian – I don’t eat anything that needs to be sawn through, geez, give me a break!

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My Bones Are Torched Clay

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There is much to say that’s unsayable because my tongue has been cut down with grief. There’s so much left to do that’s undoable because my limbs have been rendered numb. The nightmares mean everything and nothing, they continue as they’ve always done and I live it like I’ve always done, these two lives of mine.

I can’t breathe most days because my time has always been borrowed and I’m reaching into minutes I don’t own and can’t have. I see this life drifting sideways and I know it isn’t really mine, has never really been mine. Some graceful mistake has delivered me to this place and any moment now it dissolves into an acid bath of empty wishes.

I’ve lost so many living houses full of ghosts. I’ve married them and released them into the nebula where they always belonged and mourned the silence they left behind. I chased shadows until flooded with the high-beams of souls larger than myself and, frozen, gave myself up to the cold lights.

I’ve knelt on Masada and felt the sting of ancient bees where the spirit meets hot dust and thin hope. The heat makes the thinnest proclamations of love and throws you to the mat of truth faster than flood. High up where the air is thin you can’t catch your breath for love or money, you learn to crawl close to the ancient mosaics until you collapse into the sleep of the damned.

My bones are torched clay. My call is cracked and heavy, but you can hear me in your reflection if your heart is open and your soul sits perfectly still. When we’re alone in this silence I swallow your heartbeat like air and my desperate hold on this body extends beyond light.

When Self Care is the Hardest is When We Need it Most

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Cultivated purslane going to seed. I saved a bag of the seed. Hopefully it’ll grow true to the plant – not sure it will – this is what often stops me from saving seeds in my small garden, worries that the seed will not grow true. I don’t often plant hybrids, I do plant all OP (except for my beloved Sungold tomatoes, those are hybrids and might not even be OP) but I have a small garden space and often grow multiple varieties of a vegetable a year. Cross pollination in a small garden is a real issue. But I’ve decided to save a few seeds anyway. Purslane, red Orache, and summer squash this year.

I have not been taking good care of myself. For ten days we didn’t drink too much. Then we went right back to drinking lots of beer. I don’t exercise because of how much it always hurts my feet or something else. It’s always something. I have been eating way too much cheese. The only thing I do right any more is to drink lots of water. I also still eat a lot of produce, but this is largely cancelled out by all the cheese. I don’t sleep well (though I never do, so is that even worth reporting?) I’m depressed and anxious all the time without any breaks in it to come up for air. I wasn’t taking my meds regularly for a little while but at least I’ve really cracked down on that and for the last couple of weeks have been very consistent with taking them every day.

So little writing for all of 2016. This is the worst thing of all. I just haven’t been able to bring myself to the desk and be disciplined about writing no matter what. That’s why I’m here this morning. Earlier in the year I was working hard on my survey and by the summer time, when I started to actually sit down to write, all the energy I had was sucked up by work, which I quit, and then sucked up by trying to re-boot my business because Philip got laid off and I couldn’t find a job. No writing. Then I tried writing but it was all about my brother and grieving. Anyway, I got on a single track before he died and couldn’t get off it. Every time I sat down to write I would end up on the same track, saying the same things every single time. No matter where I started off, I’d end up in the same place. So I just stopped writing at all.

Yesterday I woke up really late and felt like garbage¬† because I stayed up ridiculously late and drank an insane amount of beer while watching Leonard Cohen videos on youtube. I was angry with myself and then I had a very rich, way too rich even for me breakfast that made me feel even shittier. So I got out into the garden. For over an hour. I pulled up all my tomato plants, the dying zinnias, the summer squash plants, and the woody rosemary that never recovered its last trim. I planted a baby rosemary in its place. I picked the first few ripe radishes which my mom said were almost too hot to eat. They aren’t a hot variety so it must have been the growing conditions. I also harvested a bunch of our everlasting spinach. I planted my boxwood plant in the side yard bed finally (I will be topiarying it), got our cape gooseberry planted too. I got completely covered with soil and for the first time in a long time I felt a little better.

Why is it so hard to get myself to do things I know are important to my mental health? Once out of the habit it’s so tough getting back into it. Yet when I do – I feel so much better. It’s creating the daily habit that has to happen. Once you do, it creates a momentum.

My body is really craving greens and vegetables. More than I’ve been eating. The other night I roasted some cauliflower, potatoes, and carrots with some rosemary salt. I ate a big bowl of them with ketchup but no cheese. It was so good! Another dish I made is one I’ve been wanting to make for a while – I made pulau rice. My friend Rohini gave me some of her favorite packaged spice mix and told me two methods of making the rice and it turned out so well! I didn’t have any frozen peas which I really wished I’d had but it still turned out great with carrots, onions, and potatoes diced small. Then I made a palak paneer to go with the leftovers. I have made paneer before but didn’t feel like doing that and I don’t know where to buy paneer in my city (probably could get it at one of the Asian markets but I haven’t checked yet) so I ended up using this cubed feta I had in the fridge. I hadn’t used much of the feta before because it was really dry and kind of chewy. Good flavor, but not what I wanted for my salad or couscous. So I used it in the palak and it was so good! It was tangier than paneer, but texturally very similar. I used a garam masala blend I made from scratch last year but never used. So it was a little old but it was really tasty!

That’s the kind of cooking I’m craving. I can’t be attempting totally authentic Indian food or Greek food, necessarily, but doing my take on them is where it’s at. At least my spice blends were authentic. (The one I made was from my vegetarian Indian cookbook by Monisha Bharadwaj) I especially love spinach dishes. Palak paneer, spanikopita, and spinach quiche are a few favorites.

I can’t be on facebook as much as usual. I have way too many people I love on there to stop checking in and hanging out a little, but I’m skimming past political and ranting posts. I’m bypassing as many angry posts as possible. If I soak up any more of that I risk letting more passive suicidal thoughts to take root in my spirit and heart. I can’t afford it. If anyone thinks I’m a cop-out or don’t care about all the people hurting right now, all the scared people out there right now, all the abused and threatened people – then you don’t know me AT ALL. If there is anything in me to contribute to the world to make it a better place, to help people become safer – then I have to shut everything out for a while. Dead people can’t help make living people safer or heard or lift them up. That’s a fact.

Unless you’re religious, then I suppose you always turn to dead people to lift you up. But never the less, not even Jesus can vote or march or step in to literally give you a hand when you need one.

For mentally ill people to be of service to others, they have to take care of themselves and that often means shutting out the noise. That often means disengaging for long periods to recharge. Our batteries do not hold charges for very long.

I feel guilty so much of the time not being able to do more, needing to be in retreat mode so often. Honestly, when I’ve gotten myself to a better place, I don’t know that tackling political things is where I’m needed most anyway. I need to get back to my Suicide for Beginners book because those of us with serious depression and anxiety need intersectional support more than most people. We have a lot to offer others in empathy and action and support, but not when we don’t have enough of it ourselves. Depression and anxiety don’t give a shit about your gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation, they hit people across all lines, across all borders both literal and figurative.

I have to keep acknowledging the guilt that I’m not stronger than I am and keep letting it go. I’m strong in ways that aren’t necessarily evident. But if I don’t take care of myself, that strength is inaccessible to everyone, including myself.

So, if you’re like me and struggle with serious depression and anxiety, please let me entreat you to do a little check – are you practicing good self care? Or have you been neglecting it like I have? What is the self care you need to practice? (Feel free to literally tell me in the comments) If you’re not practicing much self care at all, or worse, like I have been doing – you are being self destructive (even if mildly), how about doing one thing for yourself today that you know will help you feel better and stronger that you’ve been neglecting to do? Don’t worry about ALL THE THINGS you should be doing, how about just do ONE thing today that you haven’t been doing?

Today I got up, grabbed my cup of coffee, and headed upstairs to my computer to write a post. A post that isn’t about death, or politics, or the hatred that’s consuming the world. I wrote about the thing I did yesterday that made me feel so much better for a little while. And in doing so, I have (today) done something else that I’ve neglected for so long I don’t even recognize myself anymore – I wrote a post before doing anything else. No matter what else I do today (or don’t do), I will have done something today that I need to do every day.

About the writing – I believe that all writers (and I believe this is true of all artists) sometimes must go through fallow periods. Periods of time when they aren’t writing but are just experiencing life. You have to recharge your writing brain. It used to be that I would write at least a blog post or a journal entry every single day even if I wasn’t writing poetry, non-fiction, or fiction. It was a discipline that kept my writing muscles flexed. But regardless of whether or not you continue to write little journal entries, there are periods of time where you must let ideas germinate, or invite new ones in by going out and doing things and getting out of your head. Just as fields must lie fallow to rest in order to regenerate and be able to support more demanding plants in a later season or year.

But I have lain fallow long enough. It is now unhealthy for me to continue to eschew the writing. I have to find my way back. But I can only think about today or I’ll crumble. Today I wrote.

Brace Yourself For Impact

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I present to you a windblown blurry selfie – my favorite affectation. I took this on the way to my brother’s memorial, already 12 25 days ago. Time is the weird mean bitch who used to bully you until you swore vengeance upon her and then forgot to actively visit vengeance upon her, but who you eventually scared the fuck out of (unintentionally) by cross-dressing and not caring about her opinion at all.

I wanted to write about the memorial but then I got desperately sad and wrote a desperately sad post instead. I realize that all this desperate sadness is part of the process of grieving. I’m listening to Madonna right now, that’s part of it all too. God help us all if I crank up Journey, though, nothing could make my brother turn in his “grave” faster than a big-ass Zeke tribute set to “Forever Yours”. He’ll forgive me for Madonna because she’s not Journey.

This is not a tribute post. This is not a sad post. This is not a desperate post. This is not a lot of things.

I used to read that Capricorns are late bloomers to most things in life. I think we can confirm this statement for at least one Capricorn. I have a small declaration to make since I have (so far) not killed myself or been killed by: a serial killer, influenza, arsenic poisoning, Ebola, the awesome power of crystals, typhoid, smallpox, recluse spider bite, fright, agent orange, the common cold, dismemberment, fungal infection, the government, septicemia, star-crossed love, math, microorganisms, KALE, undecided voters, solar heat, syphilis, bad poetry, the flagrant vagaries of soup, or by the dreadful weight of sleep.

(The declaration is coming and doesn’t deserve such a big build-up)

I know there will be times when I’ll still want to kill myself (or at least to die suddenly), because that’s part and parcel of my mental illness and I accept that this is not something I get to shake off like it never was. This is a completely irrational fact of my life and I accept that this urge will come and go.

But I would like to make a declaration of intent, (if I may be so bold), and it doesn’t matter what fate or god or randomness (whatever you believe) has in store for me:

I want to get reasonably old. Just know that in spite of this wild encroaching darkness I’m constantly having to push back I want to grow old because I’ve been a late bloomer for everything in life and I believe, I truly believe, that I will make the most kick-ass old woman and I want the opportunity to prove this. So, when you hear me get sucked down into the darkness and I start talking like I want to go to sleep and wake up when it’s time to die, know that this is not my true fierce spirit talking but my mental illness rearing its difficult head. Let’s not call it ugly, this part of me, this part of so many people I love and respect. Let’s just acknowledge that sometimes our core being, or core self is superseded by our physiognomy against our will. Let’s just accept that our bodies and minds sometimes come ill-equipped for this particular earthly existence.

I was born old and have been getting progressively younger and more hopeful as I age*. I want to get old enough to surprise everyone in a way I wasn’t equipped to do when I was young and fresh-faced.

But listen, if I don’t get to age like I hope, don’t be sad for me. Don’t be so sad for me, at least, that cheese can’t reach you in that sorrow. I’m telling you my hopes, not my certainties.

I always thought my brother would die first between us three siblings. I wasn’t wrong. But I didn’t imagine he’d die of a heart attack. I thought he’d die in some crazy scrape he’d got into. The only real shock is that I’d started to think I was wrong. I’ll tell you what, you can’t take anything for granted. I didn’t need my brother to die to learn this. I always knew this.

(Shhhhhhh – I totally put “I’m Forever Yours” on!)

OH MY GOD, NOW YOU ALL KNOW I SOMETIMES LISTEN TO JOURNEY ROCK BALLADS.

(Pfft! You. Did. Not. Know. This. Fucker.)

(I promise I disrespect Steve Perry’s mustache attempts as well as all those mom-jeans and sleeveless shirts they wore – while simultaneously appreciating that dude’s voice and the rock ballad tradition that – SHUT THE FUCK UP, YOU MAY ALL GO FUCK YOURSELVES RIGHT NOW YOU BLOWHARDS)

Edwardian paper dolls, lemon and lime essential oils, David Bowie and Bonnie Tyler 45’s, sharply cut crystals, gold lame sports coats, Earl Grey tea, cigarettes, bleach, reaching deep into the icy Lithia waters to pull out drowned cignets, talking to the park benches… I mean talking ON the park be- fuck it – talking to the park benches and the pinchy tight moon from the merry-go-round that never stops. These are the memories rising to the surface tonight.

This is windblown me. My best self. The only self I want you to notice. I am invisible outside the wind machine, in the darkness of the stairs lifting people so far above the park of my remembrance that the only thing left of the time is the lingering slatternly scent of Paris perfume splashed against the leather Mercedes car seats striped with the the spare rigid lights of I-5.

Brace yourselves for impact.

 

*You mention Brad Pitt and I’m going to clock you, bastard!

 

When I was a ghost I was very small.

When I was very small I never told anyone’s secrets.

Except to the shrew in the rock-wall holding the roots of the bay tree together.

Got a lotta ghosts clinging hard to my bones in hopes of finding new digs.

I’m an empty house with no ladder for anyone to climb up into the light.

I remember the taste of wild berries in the cold wet smoky woods eaten under a rain saturated nylon tent through which the moon was distorted and diffused beyond recognition.

Don’t mind the blood here, I was born with my insides out.

I wish we could go back to Lithia Creek without the bruises.

My Advice To You, Old Thing

beautiful brother

My advice to you, old thing, is to never stop digging for Roman coins and arrowheads in the fallow fields. Never stop chasing butterflies or running from bees under the hot gold light of late afternoon. Never stop calling the Jerusalem crickets up from the center of the earth or we all might get too comfortable and cease to peddle the earth round in its necessary orbit. Never stop mapping the stars with your amateur telescope or we might all fall from the sky like deflated polyester clowns.

My advice to you, old thing, is to float your goddamn boat among the crowded crocodile waters without flinching or waving, like you’ve always done, hiding in the obvious infested waters until the cavalcade of teeth has gnashed itself so thin you can swim in your smooth fragile skin without a scratch to the island with the best coconuts. To the island of drums and gongs with no repercussions. To the island where your pale skin never burns and the sands always catch your bones in soft protective squalls.

My advice to you, old thing, is to play the whole song out to the bitter end. This is the place where golf balls disappear into the ether, the place we want to look but can’t even reach with flesh and bone because it’s two inches past the living. This is the place where Barbie dolls are abandoned for sick crowns of dense brush pocked with burrs that will bite into our skulls so hard we’d trade our souls to escape the pain. But those who hold fast, who play out the whole song to the bitter end, they’re the ones who reap the truth, the ones who will get to sleep the good sleep.

My advice to you, old thing, is to let your shackles crumble down around your spirit, let go, let it all fucking go now and don’t carry anything with you to your new life. You’ve watched attics burst into flame, you’ve felt citadels of trust crush down into layers of pain so bad you couldn’t speak of it again but in dissected parts. You invested in the silence like you invested in other people’s hopes and dreams. The truth kept coming, kept coloring your walls, your film, your canvas, your wheels. Let it all go now, let it all drift off like rain evaporating in the hot dry valley of death.

My advice to you, old thing, is to know the worth of your bones to those who are still living. The weight of them in our arms is heavier than the whole of the earth without you in it.

Blood is the Dual Source of Life and Strife

the fight night

I’m not sure what the statute of limitations is on realizing fresh that someone you loved will never walk through your door again and being abjectly sad about it. I’m tired of it already. But every time my life starts to feel almost normal again I realize it’s because for a second I forgot my brother is dead.

Then my brain chants “my brother is dead my brother is dead my brother is dead my brother is dead” and I want to shout this at everyone around me and I want all this to be over with. How people deal with loss like this over and over and over again is a huge dark mystery to me. One I know will visit itself upon me if I don’t die before everyone else at this point.

I’ve known many people who’ve died, folks, but I’ve never felt this way about it before. No anger, no feelings of unfairness or anything like that. This shit happens every day, and yet, this time it’s my brother and a part of me is also dead because of it.

This is the story of life, right? Everything about it is normal, rational, ordinary, and necessary. We all gotta do this thing where we let go of our skin and bones and become something new. Air, maybe, dust probably. We feed the fishes or the flowers or we pollute them with all the chemicals we’re pumped full of if we’ve been embalmed in the modern way. This is not an ad for ecologically sound burial practices, but it could be. My brother was cremated without being filled with toxins first.

I don’t want to cry any more. I know I’m going to cry some more. I know this is normal for most people. This is the story of loss. Our feelings erupt out of us at inopportune moments, we jockey for privacy and concealment in grief because it’s uncomfortable for everyone.

Zeke’s memorial is this Saturday and I’m terrified of it. I’m so tired of grief and realizing at weird moments that he’s dead, as though I hadn’t totally realized it before and my brain chants “my brother is dead my brother is dead my brother is dead my brother is dead my brother is dead” until I want to give myself an Appalachian lobotomy*.

It’s only been a month and a few days. Pretty fucking fresh still.

I love that my brother and I shared a taste for taking candid and distressing pictures of ourselves bleeding.

bramble legs

I have so many pictures like this I’m too tired to search for. Me bleeding. Anything bleeding. The Scenes my kid has left me to find where I’m looking for bodies stuffed in closets because of the giant pools of blood spatter he leaves me courtesy of his epic bloody noses. We both loved to take pictures of the underbelly of life. Around us, but also using ourselves as absurd disturbing subjects.

what's left at night

There’s a great photograph of Zeke sitting on a toilet outside with his pants down and smoking a cigarette. I love it. I don’t have a copy of it, but I cherish it because it captures his enjoyment of the natural theatrics and humor of life without an impeding vanity.

I admit that I will take a hundred selfies to get one that’s flattering. That’s vanity. But I also have taken and shared a million unflattering pictures of myself for the humor of it. Life’s a stage, so have fun with it and with yourself. Take yourself too seriously and you miss so many opportunities to let go and laugh, to discover and rediscover and then dig graves for our ability to revel in the ridiculous.

I’m not crying right now, for anyone who’s curious. I’m listening to Bob Dylan while I write this and am simply enjoying counting the things I had in common with my brother.

I have other brothers I will never know the same way.

I don’t have room to be sad about that right now. If any of them were to seek me out and want to know me I would throw my arms open to them, my world of little brothers, but I am separated from them by an expanse larger than mere oceans.

I truly thought I would be able to handle this mourning better than I actually am.

I’ll tell you what, though, it’s constant balm to me to know how deeply loved my little brother was by so many people.

I have to believe that he always knew, his whole life, how much I loved him because I never lost an opportunity to tell him and show him. Except between 1987 and 1989. I have to believe that he knew there was never a moment I didn’t value him and love him and wish I was cool enough to spend time with him outside the family paradigm. I wasn’t. He never chose to spend time with me outside the family paradigm.

It’s okay, it’s alright.

Goodnight.

 

*A quarter of my ancestors were uneducated Irish Appalachians so fuck you if you feel all offended. My mountain people were ignorant and seriously unhappy people who enjoyed visiting their misery on others almost for sport. So fuck them too.