“Success is someone else’s failure. Success is the American Dream we can keep dreaming because most people in most places, including thirty million of ourselves, live wide awake in the terrible reality of poverty. No, I do not wish you success. I don’t even want to talk about it. I want to talk about failure.” — Ursula K. Le Guin, excerpt from her 1983 Mills College commencement address “A Left-Handed Commencement Address”
Mental maps are flashbacks of intertwined stories not to be confused with flash-forward dreams like visible clouds in the night sky backlit by 24-7 traffic lights, or knowing you are looking directly at an invisible full moon. I am sorry if this specificity of darkness is dense and complicated. I have historically avoided anchors of place in my writing because it feels safer to drift unmoored. It is entirely possible I do not want you to find me.
My past has too many inconsistent waypoints to map accurately—my mother is an unreliable narrator and my father’s sense of direction was absorbed as gospel, narrow and aggressive. Gathered, these scattered memories take shape as a specific form of isolation. The truth is, wrapping myself in distance feels like home.
This dark and expansive landscape I pull from is as familiar as counting landmarks on long drives back home, de facto mile markers such as wind-sculpted trees, mirage plateaus, and the occasional 4-way stop sign scarred with casual bullet holes. My expertise in understanding subtle changes as a sense of direction was earned honestly.
As an identical twin, separation is a practice of abundance. Do you recognize that gift in yourself?
Stars are born when clouds of gas called nebulae infinitely collapse. The center of this collapse, a result of carefully balanced external gravitational forces and internal rising temperatures, fuses into light brilliant enough to witness from Earth’s distance. In this nearly empty darkness, collapsing coordinates are not fixed either. All these simple steps broken into a discovery of self, in excellence and always in evolution.
“writing…is a process of relying on immediate pervasive feelings, not an escape from them…” — William Stafford, Writing the Australian Crawl. pg. 88
I haven’t found a way to say I love you that isn’t complicated, so I practice loving you every day. Sounds of terrorized children broke through all those hours of visual noise. Hope is a map. A place to begin.
The distance of decades doesn’t always make things quieter. Calendars are more form than function. I learned early and repeatedly that love must be earned, and value is measured by others. An intimacy of detachment.
Addicted to seeking approval is one way of saying yes unconditionally. Instead, imagine a private collection of silent hymns. These days, I take care to mend memories as a way to create acceptance. A public chorus swelled.
Broken into speculative practices, writing things down reinforces pleasure and importance in tandem. Together, through famine and fortune, what stands out is love. An oxygen where sacrifice is not born from competition.
Our inherited risks are not equal. This is an urgent incantation.
As visceral affect, I want to disembody and divest.
My father tracked weather patterns in free pocket-sized bank calendars.
Constrained, he archived basic data (temperature and precipitation)
occasionally punctuated with significance: two daughters born June 8th;
weight and height nearly identical.
His daily notes arranged into a practical devotion bound by time and repetition.
For point of reference, children and livestock born in storms were not isolated incidents. Shaping a landscape absent of variables, his pattern recognition became a survivor’s catalog.
Our futures signal forced reliance, an intimate risk. This is an urgent incantation.
As righteous affect, I want to feel god everywhere.
“But your pleasure understands mine.”
— Clarice Lispector, The Sharing Of Loaves
at 39,000 feet clouds rose like mountains
fading to dark as the blushing sun set
then black as the thinnest winter ice
we learned to turn our wheels into those slick black icy slides
when done correctly, such surrendering was active evidence of a survivor’s effort
in spring, we planted rosemary to remember our deepest buried beliefs
we harvested fresh-picked bundles and revised our most shadowed secrets
like wanting nothing but distant empty horizons and bodies that do not betray
we sculpted altered thoughts and declared them working dreams
trusting that our shared wishes for a braver future were coming true
“The sun and the moon call out, as it were, and the oceans call back. The oceans aren’t passive listeners but partners in an energetic conversation – resonance – that ultimately accentuates or diminishes the tide.” — Jonathan White, Tides: The Science and Spirit of the Ocean
“She’s keeping time with a mystery rhyme.” — Jesus and Mary Chain
I am still learning how to perform quick good-byes.
Never witness to a proper and graceful exit
during my formative years (too young to protest)
we were more often forced to be unreliable hostages.
My history is threaded into core tensions
twisted thick as exploiting hospitality
and deep as ignoring consent. We would wait
silently at the host’s kitchen table in our winter coats
hoping with the start of a new story
that time would naturally come to an end.
Those years I learned how to be quiet enough
holding my breath into
I want to crack open, carefully
pull out ghosts and obsolete angels
examine where sweetness gathers as illicit responses
and rush into and out of why feeling loved is dangerous.
Deep in their roots all flowers keep the light. —Theodore Roethke
these broken pieces are their own ritual
spirals of coping mechanisms
I’ll give you something to cry about was a challenge, a threat, and a promise.
Your unmasked emotions always carried a visible regret.
These thoughts came through, wide-eyed and unaware of their tardiness.
Flowing the way water finds the least resistance, crooked and illogical.
first there were wild-maned horses on frantic wide open horizons
followed by scratched, then abandoned, lottery tickets turned city sidewalk confetti
both are remembered as tender memories so as not to tear open violently
in the same way a new moon rising is full darkness and as obvious
as even the smallest bird creating their own shadows in flight
“I knew the tension in me between love and power, between pain and rage, and the curious, the grinding way I remained extended between these poles – perpetually attempting to choose the better rather than the worse.” — James Baldwin
I read all the names of the sacred rivers and creeks
as roadside memorials blurred into permanent mile markers
horizon x distance = distortion
horizontally speaking it was a longing
pressure folding into seductive resistance
when you knew you were in trouble, what did you do next?
these days and for some time since
I move with spiritual abandonment
neglect now atmospheric radiance
habitual as landscapes
my divided thoughts are pulled to you
The voices most common to me end with the sound of a question.
It’s that curl at the end, a curiosity unspoken.
There’s a particular consciousness when I hear that familial cadence.
Prompts that possess risk and assumed uncertainty.
The sun was an escort that morning.
A morning with purpose and mummified mandarins.
This and other routines becoming orientations –
a private relationship with temporality.
In silence, I see violence.
In breath, I think sex.
In the pornography of my dreams,
you know you can’t fuck me like that
and then act like I’m fragile. That is
a subtlety best reserved for detachment.
His accusation that my hole was filled with everything
but god was profound, if only for its blind accuracy.
The contents of that enclave signifying nothing beyond
a persistence to reject his god that does not know love.
Wet ice formed on frosted car windows that late night I prayed
for him to save me. We were finally on our way home from somewhere
staying longer than they had wanted. Leaving behind one tension,
that kind of politeness, for drunken silence, his version, not ours.
Barbed wire fences reminders of distance from road to ditch.
Three years ago today, it was a nearly nude fashion show, and four years ago doing my own thing found itself on a “good things” list.
Do you know if the richest cities face west? What if we found settlement in a such a place?
Weeks form around us. Patterned reconciliations, memories of bus rides in other cities, different exchange rates. Those were my hard gained needs.
From your perspective, I cannot exist. Shifting your vengeance, a cruel blindness, that’s the type of aggression I inherited now abandoned for gentle privileges, useless hardwired knowledge, plotted along sensitive geographies. Navigating scripts, a dialect of claimed silences, lulling like waves like violence like survival. We have always carried this resistance, this method of rapture.
It’s harvest season.
Conscious of renewal,
we plan for what we need tomorrow.
This is the time of year to honor defeat
celebrate the shifting light
embody lived experiences
transform our perceptions.
We love fiercely, in this community.
It was the way you disappeared. There was a strategy to it.
I’d tile this chapter: collapsing just short of understanding. Every day forged into an act of hope, not to be confused with faith. The mountains, when revealed, were tucked into each other and clouds pale like bone. These people we’ve become feel unconsciously different. We are borderline confident.
Think about how many details we leave out when we tell stories about ourselves. Those intimate moments where spectacle meets nuance. All those ways we understand dimensions as coordinates – maps of contested margins. I don’t assume you read any of this, which is why I can be so matter-of-fact.
In fact every Sunday, until I found an alternative, I learned about the consequences of taking things literally, from a biblical perspective. It was my orientation to the world. Now, I find myself drawn to phrases like loving witness and learned that the prescribed strategy for getting out of disasters is to help yourself.
We are racing to the airport. I am anxious. She tells me her depression is incurable. So deep that strapping electrodes to her brain won’t help, or if it did, it would only be temporary relief. So deep that she can’t wash knives in the kitchen sink when the bottomless darkness sets in. She can see herself slashing herself to death, making the motions, trading hands to make the gestures of listening to those urges, one hand always on the steering wheel. She tells me she is no longer afraid to die and that is how she has been able to survive.
There’s no good place to start this except with a quote by Richard Hugo, “You owe reality nothing and the truth about your feelings everything.” I don’t have the right words to describe, accurately, my recent travels back east. The stories are too big, too real.
I tried to make room for these lived experiences in the time found between layovers. All those moving thoughts were supported by the background noise of airports and a soundtrack heard only by me.
I feel convinced by being witness to positive confrontation.
I’m storing a memory of the way the drapes, golden velvet from the ceiling to the floor, complimented the Bohemian crystal chandeliers in a room filled with the flurry of selfies and power. A memory heavy with pomp and a lot of circumstances. I want to remember, at will, what it felt like when I belonged and forget about the reasons why I believed I didn’t deserve to participate. Those memories are tender and should be taken seriously.
And the moment when the lights came back on to reveal a staged show for my anticipated arrival? That memory becomes an apt metaphor for this post that leaves me realizing I’ve told you nothing but the truth.
“But we can not move theory into action unless we can find it in the eccentric and wandering ways of our daily life.” – Minnie Bruce Pratt from S/He
I like how this quote has settled in my mind. I interpret the words wandering, action and daily life to my own understanding of who I am. I linger on the accuracy of eccentric to describe an intent of searching beyond the center and the active practice of valuing differences in order to evolve.
These days, long distance doesn’t have the same meaning. Information travels faster than ever before, even heavy news from home moves nimbly.
It is important to find ways to routinely calibrate where the center lies; I need to be reminded of how far I’ve wandered. Control is no longer a theoretical exercise lost in mindless wrong turns.
We can’t afford to forget how much we give away. Establishing this habit is how we’ll remember the way home.
The room had been painted a soft pink, the color of the inside of your mouth. A mouth that holds all the words you never release for fear of getting what you deserve; a sensitive fear that is a result of not knowing what you are worth.
We told each other only what needed to be said. I should have asked how you make happiness last and when you knew you wanted more than what is in front of you and when you let go after believing you’d never get it.
In the same way light forms around bridges, we move around our own barriers gracefully and with purpose.
This is, and always will be, the art of surviving.
She takes a loaf of bread, the shape and size of a toddler’s skull. Holding it vertically, she carves a slice two-fingers thick with a plastic butter knife. She stops mid-slice to answer her ringing phone. It was a friend whose name she had forgotten. There was no hello or how are you, just the beginning of a story about watching a man on the airplane lick the inside of a Ziplock bag clean. An erotic retelling of licking the insides over and over in an attempt to taste the way hot plastic feels when it melts from sitting in direct sunlight, an unconscious exhibition of witnessing solid shifting to liquid. She took the moment when breath makes silence to hang up and finished slicing her bread.
She carries the sins of her ex-husband and her father
bearing the weight of her complicit silence and denial of violations
transferring her penance through strudels, kuchhen, usually prune, and dumplings, savory.
She assumed responsibility for our care, just as she had done for my father
sheltering all four of us in a one bedroom with galley kitchen
occupying our despondent abandonment with movie marathons, all rated restricted.
She predicted my mother was never coming back to us or to our father
revealing her own resentment at the possibility of having that kind of freedom
submitting to the sum total of stubborn experiences and lack of choices, obstructions.
In the silence of consciousness I asked myself:
why did I reject my life? And I answer Die Erde überwältigt mich:
the earth defeats me.
I have tried to be accurate in this description
in case someone else should follow me. I can verify
that when the sun sets in winter it is
incomparably beautiful and the memory of it
lasts a long time. I think this means
there was no night.
The night was in my head.
Louise Glück | from “Landscape”
I want to lay to rest what I saw and felt when I went home almost a month ago. A home that was a desperate sanctuary during those teenage years of economic struggle, maternal abandonment, and good old fashioned repressions of thought, body, and spirit. I feel compelled to honor those sharp memories of family, community, and those intimate transgressions between loyalty and independence.
I’m old enough to know better that I should not force this process of internalization and still I desperately want to name these experiences. I don’t know how to own them.
The endless landscape connected by bridges and resistance shaped my core sense of self. I returned with an embodied joy in knowing conscious disobedience yields revolutionary results. I may have adorned myself with fancy theory and identities that I have fought to name in my own words but the class I was born into, that binding agent of perspective, is unescapable.
For now, I distilled these details:
my grandpa did buy a car with only silver dollars (two cars in fact!)
my value was defined by others who did not exist (husband and child)
survival is predicated on silent obedience of unquestioned rules
broken sidewalks paved a geography of constrained despair
if you look up and out, the clouds will guide you
I’ve always been this way
the consequences of choice matter and language continues to fail me
We joke about taking it all the way as the planets revolve around us. Facing one another, like borders, we exchange memories as cash and carry each others extremes to calibrate our balances.
In What Is Found There, Adrienne Rich notes that the core of metaphors are “resemblance in difference.” And Gloria Anzaldua said, “The resistance to change in a person is in direct proportion to the number of dead metaphors that person carries.” There is much to explore within these spaces of similarity and syncretistic juxtapositions. Metaphors are essential ingredients, catalysts really, that shape how we will tell others what we see.
Navigating aspects of a culture, one that feels more about reading and performing than being, only partially explains my reoccurring dreams of stairs. Traveling east to the prairie to fulfill a mission that will close a chapter of home that has few memories that aren’t seeped in melancholic filters may be another immediate interpretation. It’s equally likely, and as obvious, this vision is based on that lost time in Chicago. The recalled memory is only violent sound: bones on concrete.
The town where I was born has a museum that specializes in local history. The museum’s fame was ownership of a found prehistoric fossil. This piece of stone was remarkably well preserved, the spine of the evolved animal clearly intact. It turned out this grand jewel, this generational crowd pleaser, was actually a piece of broken feather from the statue of Sitting Bull, a Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux holy man.
Local assholes used to ram the monument with their pickup trucks knocking the bust of Sitting Bull’s head off its pedestal and they’d shoot into the Sacagawea monument for fun. We used to try to count all the bullet holes during those long summers we were lucky enough to visit my grandparents.
Grandma Nancy and Grandpa Pinky’s ranch was only a few miles from the monuments. Their house was a special and magical place. There were lamps that turned on by touching plant leaves and a dining table that was the go-to place to listen to the reporting of current events and visions of the future.
I remember summers where cousins divided themselves along the intractable wedge of Boy George’s sexuality while Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA blared from the back of pickup trucks that drove too fast down roads that were tire ruts imprinted on the rich prairie soil. We saw monsters rise from ponds and were oblivious to the violence around us.
I want to tell my dying grandfather that I will never forget that burned cowhide is the smell of money. I want to tell him that his house was a refuge, a site of culture and learning about a world larger than I could imagine. I want to ask him if he remembers the fossilized feather and if he heard any of those shootings.
That’s why we’ve learned to trust the sources that are closest to us; we assume them to be less distorted. There is catharsis in hearing our own voices.
Internalizing warm winter light’s revelations and recognizing our shadows are valuable endeavors this time of year.
I’ve recently calibrated how I think about boundaries; setting them and maintaining them. Initially, I saw boundaries as limiting. They had been described as methods to protect and ways to feel safe but that assumes too much maintenance on the individual end.
I am left wondering who holds the accountability.
We grow up learning about consent and boundaries the minute we start breathing. We learn the hard way or not at all.
I now see boundaries as better ways to make choices. They are not barriers but starting points. The borders that defined my early existence – rural, isolated, working poor, father’s anger, mother’s depression, lack, distance – so clearly shaped my understanding of choice and, what was often the case denial, that I feel no shame in coming to such an obvious conclusion so late in life.
I wish only to revel in this renunciation of limits.
If I tell you my identity, will you tell me what to buy?
Ask me questions. I want answers.
This time of year brings out a different kind of angst in understanding who I am. From pressures to BUY SOMEBODY SOMETHING to calibrating the dangers of assimilation (of all kinds), I appreciate everyone who has added to my voice and sense of agency.
I’m tempted to make promises that I can’t keep.
Oscillating between choice and denial has sparked new, and powerful, imaginary yearnings. I want that feeling of checking your assumptions; a feeling of being heard. Let’s practice justice everyday so that these memories are in our muscles, so that we are conscious when we fail.
Can you feel the rush for the end?
We report back different memories. Like when we visited her in the mental hospital and learned how tradition is precarious security. She sadly handed each one of us a painted gold angel made of plaster, which I still carry with me as evidence. It was the only thing she could provide to us, a product of her extreme sadness. You said we baked chocolate chip cookies in the industrial kitchen and have no memory of her angelic presentation. We both agreed that she was never coming home again.
Did you hear that?
It was the collective sigh of those who bear their souls to empty rooms.
This week I did everything I wasn’t supposed to do and everything I wanted. Sometimes they were the same thing.
On Friday, I spent the day in a space designed and curated to invoke imagination. The plan for action called for disruption not-so-cleverly disguised as profit. Some bragged about organizing “cockfights” and others advocated for righteous indignation. The ferocity of their arguments were fueled by unconscious privilege and unchecked assumptions about who would benefit from that specific vision of change.
A call to home confirmed this truth: struggle and hope are symbiotic. Like fog on a window produced from warm bodies and breath, redemption is a process.
Do you think we can be radical anywhere? Even in spaces for the wealthy and in the streets?
I make positive: rejection and collaboration.
There are days where maintaining a perspective feels like a fascist project and other days when fracturing it feels barbaric.
I clear my mind: breath and absence.
Our public opinions are manufactured though seductive commentary and brazen keystrokes. What have we done by defining luxury as apathetic austerity? Oh Dakota, I thank you for those experiences to know how this rings true.
Operating from a belief of scarcity those who have – hoard.
The energy needed to perpetuate this obsolete system is fear, for which the supply is abundant. This is the real politics. For evidence, witness the events of dissent whose props were semiautomatic rifles and Chick-fil-A sandwiches.
Violence, blessed state violence, is the conduit for pro-life hypocrisy.
When the train emerges, I see the setting sun’s light accentuate
pastel houses and barren back yards.
I see beauty in the same way that blight and despair intensifies
hope and transcendence.
West Oakland West Oakland West Oakland
The softest and loudest parts of my body need my lips.
Show me your teeth and I’ll tell you a secret.
Tell me how you understand and what you see.
Narrating from experience connects but does not always bind.
I seek magic and want desire presented as enthusiasm.
I don’t need precise illumination just authentic submission to integrity.
I think about infinite loops
the golden rule
This season of sun and sweaters is ironic and familiar.
The prairie landscape, a shadowless ocean of empty and quiet disappointments,
propagated an innate knowledge that light can be seen for miles
even in the deepest flat darkness.
Erica Jong’s Is Sex Passé? rant was provocative. She certainly aroused me with her assertion that sex is a nostalgic trip for youth (she defines “youth” as mid-30s).
According to Jong, these youngsters are rebelling against their mothers old-fashioned quests for sexual liberation. She notes, “If their mothers discovered free sex, then they want to rediscover monogamy.” What does a rebellion of sons look like?
“Sexual passion is on life support” due to a desire to control the chaos in a depressing culture of war, conservative values, and persistent attacks on women’s rights. Ultimately, Jong calls for a feminism that unites both sexes which I wholeheartedly endorse. It’s her homogenous heterosexual perspective of rebellion (have babies) that I find limp and passé.
I’m a singleton again (which unknowingly is a great segway from above). I stood at the nexus of nature versus nurture; evolution versus status quo. Intentions are questioned and desires to understand how we can be so different go unanswered. There are assumptions we both operate under which creates the distance. I miss her.
I have a new address, new ID (with old address and sans glasses for some bureaucratic reason), and am living in my first apartment with a view; a deluxe apartment in the sky.
Leaving good friends, comforts, routines, and hard-fought marked territories has finally cracked the false bravado veneer that I had so carefully applied to propel myself into this new skin. It’s all part of the shedding process that has become my nomadic routine. There is familiarity in this angst.
Unwrapping newspaper from the coffee cups and strategically placing them on the new shelves that I should have wiped down but assumed were clean, reminded me of all the times we moved growing up. Making the makeshift bed crystalized how hard that must have been for my mother, four kids in tow. Annually, we’d pack up the horse trailer and drive from one nowhere to another equally desolate location.
With this innate and intimate knowledge, I unpack and find places to display the skills I’ve learned from the countless moves of my past. Like being double spooned, it’s going to feel familiar and comforting.