“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.
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.
“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 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.
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.
I was born into a complex relationship.
There was no choice but to embrace multiple perspectives.
You said truth is an aesthetic and my heart skipped a beat.
Neptune has taken residence in my seventh house. It will be there until I die, and longer. It means boundaries will dissolve – escapism of the best kind. This requires awareness, in all the ways awareness can be interpreted.
My leisure has run away with my intentions.
I am delighted that I cannot control that fact.
Thursday I ran my fingers over the white picket fence posts so I could feel something solid. Like the first signs of spring, it takes a while to recognize life returning from a winter of discontent.
I sat up, spine straight, in the oasis of the Redwood park. It felt good; right. The ferns danced from the wind of man-made machines. The landscape is preemptively changing. I choose to see joy in change, in evolution.
When I am lost, I return to what I know.
This current journey of (re)discovery has yielded results unexpected. To quote Gloria Anzaldúa, “For if she changed her relationship to her body and that in turn changed her relationship to another’s body then she would change her relationship to the world.” Anzaldúa was a seminal force in my understanding of the potential and the power of having a sense of self shaped by feminism.
When I first found her words, Gloria’s naked honesty about del otro lado resonated with how I was beginning to make sense of how my childhood landscape of isolation did not have to equate desolation. I found a language and an epistemology that planted seeds of joy in the shadows of my repressed desires and restrained possibilities. Her intimate and radical belief in an inclusive identity, a rejection of fragmentation, was revolutionary. More so as an identical twin. I returned to her words a month ago, through an impulsive purchase in a Portland bookstore, and once again found solid ground to stand.
When I was in Portland, a stranger asked me, “What’s the upshot?” I think the answer is change, which implies transformation.