On Memoir Writing & Lying Fallow

Four to seven very important things happened to me this weekend, though none of those things involve how I got stuck in an elevator last week, which is also an important thing, but I’ll save that one for later. That story involves why I won’t be saving the world.

  1. I finally accepted the increasingly LOUD and OBNOXIOUS voice saying I’m not ready to start working in the second creative career I’m building. Skill-wise am I ready? Yup. Can I train in it? Yeppers. Work? Nope. Why? That’s answered by the other important things.
  2. I attended a virtual workshop on writing tragicomic memoirs. My two natural writing styles alternate between serious-lyrical and humorous. Half the vignettes for my memoir are in the style of “Let’s laugh while we almost die!” and the other half are “I’M THE MOST MOROSE, MELANCHOLIC, ROMANTICAL FUCKING POET THAT EVER POETED IN ALL THE UNIVERSE FOREVER AND EVER THE END PERIOD.” I feel like I probably have to decide between the two for the memoir, and I don’t want to yet, so I continue writing vignettes in whatever tone they come out.

    But the tragicomic workshop was high guffaw times. The instructor, Elissa Bassist, is a sweet box of jokes in a human suit. Her handouts are the silliest handouts I’ve ever gotten and I now understand what I’ve been doing wrong all my life in creating for others Very Serious Resource Guides that severely lacked comedy. Mea culpa.

    So Elissa talked about writing her own tragicomic memoir, Hysterical, which I already want to give 5-Stars to and I haven’t even read it (yet). A major point for her was that it might be a better idea to save writing public material about your experiences until after the healing.

    Heeeeeeere’s the thing. What if, perchance, you’ve lived a silly little life of batshit fucked up horror? My traumas have trauma and they want their day in court, but the horror hasn’t signed the cease-fire yet, and actually it’s like, “If you want to get out of the fun house of horrors, you better find your own way out, kid, ‘cause I’m sure as shit not making it easier on you. In fact, I’m going to make it harder every month, for fun. They do be calling me the fun house of horrors for a reason. Smell ya later.” My trauma for some reason talks like it’s from the 90s.

    Oh. It is.
  3. Anyway, her other advice was the next important thing that happened to me. Because she also talked about writing the thing that you don’t see, that you want to see out in the world, and I personally prefer seeing people share what it’s like to go through a storm while they’re going through it. I want to see the messy, human clumsiness of it all. (Somewhere in the world someone is sharing a meme that reads, “I am the storm.”)

    Sure, everyone likes a comeback story where the lessons learned can be turned into nice little bite-size pieces of insight. But that’s not been my life. There is no end. My life is a series of missives from the moon about what it’s like being trapped on a planet with monsters.

    Which leads to a question Elissa shared with us that she once wrote to Cheryl Strayed who ran an advice column called Sugar. Her question was about feeling dejected about her writing, her life, and feeling like people would mock and misunderstand her. The whole thing is available here, but the critical part of Cheryl’s answer was this:

    How many women wrote beautiful novels and stories and poems and essays and plays and scripts and songs in spite of all the crap they endured. How many of them didn’t collapse in a heap of ‘I could have been better than this’ and instead went right ahead and became better than anyone would have predicted or allowed them to be. The unifying theme is resilience and faith. The unifying theme is being a warrior and a motherfucker. It is not fragility. It’s strength. It’s nerve…I want to know what you have inside you. I want to see the contours of your second beating heart. So write…Not like a girl. Not like a boy. Write like a motherfucker.”

    I actually am very fragile right now, but I am also the only one who can write like a motherfucker about my life, and at least for some of it, I don’t want to wait till it’s all just a fogged-up memory. I want to see the blood, you know?
  4. After accepting I can’t start working in my second creative career, I got a free whiteboard. I am calling it “The Whiteboard to Freedom.” What life has taught me to be very good at is pivoting. I’m good at pivoting in sportsball, but I’m also good at pivoting in life, and pivoting is important so no one calls foul on you that you’re traveling with the ball.

    Buuuuuut, this isn’t sportsball. No one’s gonna come running over throwing red cards in the air. If I want to travel with the ball, well, damn, I’m gonna do it. So the Whiteboard to Freedom is filled with a list of all the lateral skills I can be learning this year that will make both creative careers easier AND emphasizes the idea of doing “Only what gets you free.” We’re fresh out of fun, kids. Freedom’s the only thing on the table.
  5. Next important thing. I’ve been mostly haunting the library one town over, morning, noon, and night the past couple weeks. It took my agoraphobic self a couple months to get there, but now that I’m here, I’m here. But this weekend I had to go to another library for something, and walking inside, my vision doubled and the panic attack set in. AT A LIBRARY. My safe place.

    If my safe place doesn’t feel safe, how much less safe is a creative career going to feel where I have a lot of interaction with men, since it’s a male-dominated field? Nah. Gotta work on safety first. Then jobs.
  6. Which brings us to the second to last important thing. My confidence, self-esteem, optimism, and hope have plummeted in recent months. I know why it happened. I know what would have made it a lot better. I know that won’t be happening.

    There’s a gaping wound, and it’s infected, and for some reason, filled with ants. A Bandaid won’t cut it. It needed to be opened back up, cleaned out, stitched; then bandaged. So I’m gonna have to go the long-way around back to confidence, which means building safety in other ways back into my life.  

    Walt Whitman says, “Tone your wants and tastes low down enough, and make much of negatives, and of mere daylight and the skies.”

    I’ll be counting the costs of this year, of trauma, of serious mental illness for a long time.
  7. The final important thing. This quote from Melissa Febos’ craft memoir “Body Work” that I was reading while walking into the library today:

    “I want to feel on the page how the writer changed. How the act of writing changed them. Navel-gazing is not for the faint of heart. The risk of honest self-appraisal requires bravery.

    To place our flawed selves in the context of this magnificent, broken world is the opposite of narcissism, which is building a self-image that pleases you. For many years, I kept a quote from Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet tacked over my desk: ‘The work of the eyes is done. Go now and do the heart-work on the images imprisoned within you.’

    Listen to me: It is not gauche to write about trauma. It is subversive. The stigma of victimhood is a timeworn tool of oppressive powers to gaslight the people they subjugate into believing that by naming their disempowerment they are being dramatic, whining, attention-grabbing, or else beating a dead horse. By convincing us to police our own and one another’s stories, they have enlisted us in the project of our own continued disempowerment.”

I understand why people have to run away. I also know why I can’t. Not ever again.

So I’m pivoting for a while. Not running away, but focusing on lateral skills and safety-building. I’m letting the fields lie fallow, letting the nutrients replenish, gathering seeds for the next season. And I’m focusing on the fields of “Only what gets you free.”

My confidence and self-worth used to be a house of cards. I’d finally, finally managed to build them into a house of Popsicle sticks and Elmer’s Glue. The Universe took one mischievous look at my childish work, and blew it down, then laughed and said, “Cute try, kid. Come back when you’ve got something real to show me.”

Me: “Does that mean I have to write the memoir now?”

The Universe: “1. Get free. 2. Write the leaden weight in your stomach, the tightness in your chest, the double-vision-panic-attacks in your safe place, the crying every morning in your bed until you find the right song to listen to that lets you crawl out of it, unless you want me to slam every door in your face and keep fucking your life up forever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever, ‘cause I can do it, too. And I will. With impunity.”

Me: “So, the memoir?”

The Universe: *raises one brow* “Write like a motherfucker.”

This morning’s whimsy-esque song selections for getting out of bed and facing the world. Some days it takes more songs. Some days less:

“Best Day of My Life” – Tom Odell
“Little Boxes” – Malvina Reynolds
“Birdhouse in Your Soul” – They Might Be Giants
“Move Along-Acoustic Version” – The All-American Rejects
“Embryonic Journey” – Jefferson Airplane
“Nocturne” – Blanco White
“New Soul” – Yael Naim
“Enjoy the Ride” – Morcheeba
“Happy” – C2C (the music video has much fun dancing)

On social media, blogs, authoring, survivors, and creative work

“The Carnival of the Animals: XIII, The Swan” is the first song on the cello playlist. The deep vibratos always place me gently back into my body. I’ve been writing an essay that took me out of my body, and now two cellists are rebuilding my body around me.

I am taking a year off from Instagram and Twitter, and I have a backlog of a few dozen blog drafts and partial vignettes wanting revision. These two sentences were not originally related, but I will use some of my time for blogging on ye olde bloggity blog.

There are a lot of unfinished fiction stories I might work on here and there, though I’m not putting a deadline on them. While I know I will finish the fourth draft of my novel, get it critiqued and polished at some point, I also view it as backstory at the moment. I can’t remember which author said this, but when she starts writing a book, her first 100 pages end up being backstory, and then the real story begins. The novel is a real story, and yet it’s also the backstory to the real story that needs to be told—the memoir I’ve been dabbling in since my teens.

I feel reality and truth and history pulling at me more and more these days. They are asking me a lot of questions. They are wondering how long it will take. They are telling me the time is almost upon us. They are telling me to get ready.

Now “Chopin’s Nocturne in C-Sharp Minor, B. 49” is settling my breathing, settling my mind. Maybe the body is almost rebuilt, for the moment.

For several years between my teens and early twenties, I kept an anonymous online journal. This was on top of a paper journal because some of us journal on steroids. There was always so much to say to me, myself, and I, and now there is so much to say to you, yourself, and ya’ll.

Here is where I get stuck:

I love memoir. I love personal essays and blogs and confessional poems. I love sharing my story and speaking up and using my voice “even if it shakes.” I have been a survivor activist since my teens when I went to my first Take Back the Night event. I was a part of feminist and queer/trans groups in early college that participated in direct action in Chicago. In my mid-20s, a local regional paper ran a front page profile on my work with youth in the outdoors, on how nature had been a safe, healing place for me growing up in an abusive home, and the future work I had hoped to do with survivors in the outdoors. I once spoke in front of a group of a few hundred college students about some of my story. I reported one form of abuse as a teenager and had to stand alone in a family that couldn’t support me. I had to end friendships with people who spread rumors about my life, who gave classmates information about me so they could cyberbully me while I was home from high school during the police investigation. Who needs enemies when I have such good friends? The point is that being a survivor, across all realms of life, and being an activist-advocate is one of the core facets of my identity

If I was staying solely within the writing field, I wouldn’t give a second thought about sharing so much of my life, which has always been my goal—to “air the dirty laundry” as we say in the violence prevention field. To help survivors feel less alone, myself included, by writing memoir and personal essays on top of fiction. But I’m building another creative career in a field where people aren’t always as open about their personal lives. I worry I might lose out on jobs if I’m open about my past and its sometimes significant impacts on my mental health.

This isn’t a small concern in an adult life where I’ve mostly been low income due in part to disability. What if I don’t get picked for jobs because prospective employers read my writing and discriminate? I think I’m also afraid of how people outside the literary reader community will engage with my story. There are some dark places on the interwebs and people whose moral compasses have lost the plot.

Yes, I wouldn’t want those jobs anyway. Yes, I do need to live, though. I’ve been spoiled to have mostly worked in mental health and trauma-oriented organizations as an adult. I didn’t have to be concerned about these things for the most part. Everyone was trained in understanding and destigmatizing mental illness and survivorship. That isn’t going to be the case in most fields. A part of me doesn’t want to do it. I don’t want to leave the safety of communities where I’m not an aberration. I want to cling to familiar safety and not let go.

But if I don’t do it, I won’t get to enjoy the work of that other creative field. I won’t get to see how good it could be. How it might all turn out better than I could have hoped for. A foreshortened sense of future is a common trait for complex trauma survivors. We struggle to see a future for ourselves. What is a future when you’ve been taught you’re worthless, when you’ve been taught you’re only use is what you can do for others, when you do not know if tomorrow will come?

I once lamented to someone about the disparate parts of my life and personality, about all the facets that seemed in opposition to each other. They might not have really understood at the time what I meant by it all, but they asked something akin to, “What if you’re a person who can be all those things?” I never told them how much that question meant to me, that they were the first person to say that. I had struggled all my life with the paradoxical aspects of my nature, wishing I could just be one thing or the other. I had never thought about just allowing myself to be them all. About just presenting myself as an “everything, everywhere, all at once” sort of person and not self-selecting out of the world, or not self-rejecting as we say in the writing community, but instead letting people decide whether or not they could handle all of me.

What I come back to is that day when I was 16 and I decided I wanted therapy so I wouldn’t be like my family, who hide and run from the truth, who refuse to heal or grow or change or take responsibility. That was the day I called a Children’s Advocacy Center, an organization created to handle minors disclosing child abuse in the hopes of not re-traumatizing them through the process.

There have been a lot of cages in my life, the longest and loudest one being silence. I can’t go back to that.

So I’ll try to be everything I am. I’ll be a [insert creative career I’m keeping secret for now]. I’ll be an essayist, poet, memoirist, novelist, short fiction writer. I’ll be a survivor activist-advocate. I’ll let the pieces fall where they may. I’ll make something new.

A Life of Crossroads and Backways

One of my favorite settings that shows up in narrative are those places of peculiar power and transition, with hidden natures that must be discovered and that just might take the character and reader off the beaten path and to where they really need to go—the crossroads moments and the backways that carry us through strange lands filled with the bizarre. Some of my favorite authors who play excellently with these settings are Neil Gaiman, Robin McKinley, and N.K. Jemison. They weren’t the first storytellers I encountered who showed me the power of these places, but their stories have become some of the most poignant for me.

Significant transitions in a story stem from moments of indelible shifts for a character in their understanding of who they are, their role in the world, and what must be done to complete their task. Sometimes these shifts arrive through a character’s experience with a crossroads moment (either literal or metaphoric) or travel by backroad where they gain new awareness of the hidden, liminal places within a world and themselves.

What most of us get a bit wonky about life is not realizing that we are actually 100% of the time in transition. It’s just that the seasons of greatest upheaval are so much more obvious and often painful, we don’t notice the numerous little shifts that are always at play in our lives.

This is actually good news—that life is always in transition. It means we’re always changing, and always can be changing. No one is truly stuck. True, our external circumstances might not be things we have much control over—this is something I’m well-acquainted with, but our interior world has much room for exploration, play, and yes, change.

Michael Krahn, Unsplash

When I feel stuck, I go back to one of my favorite images for stuckness—Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, where a group of prisoners are chained inside a cave and spend their lives watching shadows dance on the walls. The group brainstorms many ideas about what those shadows are, all kinds of outlandish options. The reader learns that if the group had only turned around, they would see the fire behind them and realize that the shadows were being cast from objects in front of the fire, and that in truth, there was an entire world outside the cave.

For Plato, the “turning of the soul” is the education that allows us to come to new knowledge about ourselves and the world and see beyond into what was previously hidden. To make change in our lives. To live a better, more truthful way.

I like to imagine moments that “turn the soul” as if you’ve gotten lost in the wilderness and you’re peering through the woods in only one direction, trying desperately to find the path when all you really needed was to turn around. There it would be, always there, that glimmering road laid out for you. Sometimes all we really need to do is turn around.

Forks in the road are a form of crossroads. For much of my older childhood years, I languished at such crossroads. I went through about a decade starting when I was around 11 or 12 through my early 20s struggling to decide whether I wanted to go into a helping field, like counseling, or study human evolution as a physical anthropologist (I had not really entertained the idea that I could go into an arts field). I can imagine myself sitting at that fork in the road, hands hanging limp at my sides, staring in increasing horror and panic down each road, completely unsure of myself and what I was meant to do.

I have immense compassion for that person. They were still being abused, and it’s rather hard to imagine a better life and make decisions when your daily focus is bound up in your own survival. Touché to this past year.

In the end, I decided to go into wilderness therapy. I’d been volunteering for a few years with an outdoor organization in Chicago that leads underserved youth on outdoor education and conservation trips when I finally learned about wilderness therapy as a job. To get to work and live in the outdoors while supporting other survivors and folks struggling with mental health? It sounded like everything I could have ever wanted.

And then, unfortunately, my physical health took a turn for several years, and I needed increasing medical care and had to say goodbye to that life. Yet, it’s led me to so many other interesting places on my journey—a backroads of sorts through strange lands I never would have found otherwise—performing professionally with other disabled dancers, the joys of a slower, more body-friendly life, and very specifically, learning to fully let go of the expectations society brandishes toward us all.

When you’re disabled, you really just can’t live up to society’s standards of productivity. It was very freeing to live more in the moment and be grateful and receptive and content toward any and all good, to all the small joys that might transpire that many tend to overlook as they seek the “big successes” society, family, or friends have convinced them of needing.

Apparently, without realizing it, I’d been meandering down one fork after all. So the next step in the image of the fork in the road is standing up, dusting yourself off, and simply walking down one road or the other. You can’t just sit there forever or nothing ever happens. Sometimes we can’t know which direction is most right. It’s ok to go a bit down the path, realize it’s not for you, and then turn around and go the other way. Quitting is actually one of the best things we can ever do for ourselves. And that other road is always there. Or, you start down that first path and find it’s where you’re meant to be.

When I get stuck these days, I’m getting quicker to ask myself things like: What is it I’m not seeing here? What are the truths that are missing? What’s casting a shadow, and what’s behind it? Is there another way to see through this situation? What agency do I have at this moment versus not? Is this a time when I can make a big external change or only a small external change? Is this a season where I need to focus more on the internal landscape while I wait for more ability to make external changes?

I’ve suddenly found myself able to read copious amounts again, but it’s had to stay in the realm of non-fiction. This past year has made me very keen on reacquainting myself with reality. So, non-fiction. I’m reading several books on creativity, a handful on various philosophies, and psychological texts, a few theoretical science books, and a plethora of poetry. One book on creativity that’s giving me the most food for thought is Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic. It’s the sort of book where every line feels underlineable.

“It isn’t always comfortable or easy—carrying your fear around with you on your great and ambitious road trip, I mean—but it’s always worth it, because if you can’t learn to travel comfortably alongside your fear, then you’ll never be able to go anywhere interesting or do anything interesting.” – Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic.

I’ve always had a lot of fear. More than was helpful most of the time, my first very public panic attack was in kindergarten, but I also had a growing need through my twenties to not constantly be held back by it. While Gilbert explores the call to creativity, she often weaves in a personal narrative about living with intense fears and phobias and how she makes space for them but doesn’t let them sideline her from the work she is meant to do. As she says, “…we simply do not have time anymore to think so small.”

When I was younger, I used to believe I could run away from my childhood traumas. If I could only move to that place, get this certification, or have these experiences, I could escape or be “healed,” and my past wouldn’t weigh so heavily. In trying those things, I found that my past was always there, running alongside me, waving and asking what was for dinner. It tripped me up until I realized my past had important things to say, too. All it wanted was for me to listen. Rather than continuing to run from it, it’s become a guiding compass.

Crossroads and backways might lead us far from where we thought we were going, but they also might lead us somewhere better if we’re willing to follow and entertain a while the uncertainties and mysteries of life still hidden from us.

Oliver Roos, Unsplash

P.S. Another book I’m rereading where the entire raison d’être is to explore the interior shifts we can make regardless of external circumstances is Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. A psychiatrist prisoner and survivor of Nazi camps, Viktor was called on to support other prisoners through their camp experience and due to his incarceration, he later developed a theory around personal meaning-making that goes against nihilism. Highly recommended.

The Artist and the Connector

I’ve been doing deep contemplative work all my life. During the CPTSD program I went to last year, I turned toward exploring what I realize is going to be a life-long journey of considering what being an “artist” means, and all the connotations thereof. Questions like: What is the artist? What roles does the artist hold? What can the artist teach us? What does it mean to be seen as an artist? What is it like to LIKE being seen? And what might a life of being witnessed, and of witnessing, look like for me as an artist rather than me as a mental health/trauma worker like in my old life?

One of the greatest joys of my life is listening to people talk about what makes them come alive. And also, to discover what is the thing beneath the thing. There are few core fears—we’re all just variations of them, and we’re all just variations of them. Maybe there’s nothing new under the sun, but you are.

In preschool I thought a lot about the edge of the universe. In third grade I started studying human evolution on my own. I was bored. I was intrigued by everything and not being challenged at school and my teachers wouldn’t give me extra work when I asked. In middle school I started studying neuroscience. In high school, quantum mechanics, poetry, transcendentalism, genetics, trauma, and mental health. I lost touch with some of those parts. Even my curiosity became suspect in the life I was living in my 20s. I’m finding those roads again. Those insatiable curiosities. And I’m figuring out how to weave them all together into this creative life.

Some of the most important work I’ve ever done is when I bear witness to another, whether silent or in words. When I get to pull out fears and truths they’ve buried. When I get to answer the question we all ask, “Am I alone?” with a resounding, “No,” in a moment of connection, whether with a friend in our deep belly laughs or by sitting with a person in one of the most traumatic moments of their life. The Spock side of my brain wants to say: what an incredibly illogical question when there’s 8 billion of us. How could you ever be alone? And yet, it’s one of our core fears. But it’s not being alone that is the problem.

It’s being cut off. From ourselves. From each other. It’s not knowing how to cross the divides—less the political and more the vulnerable emotional realities we inhabit, whether from chasms real and imagined, manufactured or natural. And being cut off is the point of oppressive systems because it’s how you keep the machine going. Separated. Fearful. Not together. Which is political.

And yes, these are questions that have been asked throughout the ages, that can be found in historic writings. We’ve always wondered if we’re alone—alone in the universe, alone in our lives, alone in our minds. And we are always forgetting to do the most transcendent, bizarrely plain machination of movement through vertebra and synapses and spinal fluid—we are always forgetting to look up.

These things are both more complicated than this and as simple. I’ve written pages and pages about these ideas the past several months. I imagine I’ll write many more over the years. All the things I’ve learned in my life have always been in pursuit of living a richer life, one with deeper meaning, of more profound connection. Of refuting the darkness and feeding it tea and sandwiches because we all get cranky when we’re hungry. And it’s been in pursuit of helping people remember. And of helping myself remember.

I look forward to how much more there is to learn, and of seeing the ways in which I’m going to combine all my lived experience, all my education and training, all my creative pursuits into a life that keeps asking these questions, and keeps bearing witness to the innumerable answers people are living. And maybe, when I’m very lucky, I’ll get to point people back to the truth: the disconnect is the lie. Connection is your birthright.

On Art, and Everything

Or this is how my brain works while contemplating an artist statement

Sometimes I can’t write fiction until I pour out truth. Much of my truth time is focused on trauma intersecting with art. Art art art I’m coming for you and you’re coming for me. Mutually assured joy.

Art is where I’m going. Art is where I’ve always been. It’s always been there. It’s the Care Bear dolls in the tree I put to sleep every night when I’m 3 and 4 because they are real, because imagination is ever possible when your mind is still more star stuff than lived in. It’s a kid taking off their shirt and their cousin says only boys can take off their shirt and knowing that’s not how it’s meant to work because I’m not just a girl, you duality keeper. It’s seeing that one kid win a drawing prize and thinking I could do that too. It’s realizing I’m too much a perfectionist in drawing, but not elsewhere.

It’s clothes mismatched, color too piercing, patterns too wrecked, and growing up always commented on and not understanding why, not realizing it’s a glorious kaleidoscopic autistic mind that goes a thousand miles per hour in a thousand directions and that’s maybe not how it is for everyone, so you live with your differentness commented on at every turn. And confusion. You just live with a lot of confusion toward this species around you.

It’s my own path. It’s not being allowed to skip a few grades because they want me to be normal. How’d that work out how’d that work out. It’s teachers not giving me extra homework when I asked so I took matters into my own hands, haunted the adult section at the town library. It’s researching throughout middle school whether I should skip high school, get a GED, and start college at 14. It’s deciding to only go to high school so I can play soccer ‘cause I do like chasing balls. And yet, it was never quite right, was it?

It’s missing a lot of school due to physical illness, due to mental illness, due to that police investigation, and then sometimes skipping school just to read everything I want, all the things USian schools don’t teach me because I will eat every piece of truth I can find bar fucking none. It’s dropping out of high school anyway, two months before graduation. It’s giving the best fuck you’s to bureaucracy and brains sucking on cinder walls and unimpressive suits and I’m an expert at doing the hard work of living and the hard good byes and I always do it so well.

It’s laughing now at 35 that I should have skipped high school. Motherfucking soccer and the promise of movement always luring me in.

I always promise movement because stagnant water will kill you, ya know? It’s just survival. It’s always been my own path. It’s the truth I’m always seeking. The insatiable curiosity because I’m always sure I can eat the world and know it all.

The only thing I know is true is art. The only thing I know is true. When we stare at art we weep the same. When we stare at art, we weep the same.

I know we’re a clusterfucked species that never had a through line taught to us. We scrabbled and fought and limped our way out of bogs and into endless futures unknown the dead lights our only guides.

How could we ever hope to learn truth when we learn it from the dead.

I don’t need to know the end or the beginning to know the middle, to know we do this on repeat because we love an encore. And our art keeps living there, keeps taking our blood, keeps massaging the calendar down the line of its hands, saying here here here witness I was here.

We are these immaculate fading handprints on the wall reaching through centuries for descendants we can’t believe are still going you’re still going you wild, magnificent fucked up creatures I love you all. We are death masks keening through the clock because we end. We do end. We are gowns exquisite on display forgetting we were always meant to dance and do you want to dance with me? We are soft animals. The softest hearts. Frail, frail in our losing. The hardest shells.


the middle is all we have. Damned clichés, but arrows only fly when you pull them back, notching knuckle against cheek. I fucking love the tension pulling back, the shaking arm, the steadying breath, the fucking release of everything. The collapse. The catastrophe. Does it shoot straight I don’t care there’s only queers here.

Got a bullseye one time anyway because sometimes I hit what I’m aiming for but mostly any time I played video games, I always spent my time trying to find the edge of the maps, ignoring the tasks, and trying to push through the edge I’m always trying to push through the edge.

Give me uncharted everything. Can’t sleep when you’re 4 because you’re lying in bed in terror in panic in ecstasy with the paradoxical knowledge that the universe is infinite but it’s always expanding and this terror and panic and ecstasy will carry you throughout life. You will read the encyclopedia. You will read the dictionary. You will talk to trees. You will question why you must suffer the indignity of being a child when you’re a child. You’ll become an adult and learn the important work of childhood but you were always old before you were young.

You are Benjamin Buttoning your personality. You are taking it all back. You are walking backwards into empty rooms. You are filling them with voices. You are making art and art is heaven and wow, you really want to go to a museum now and weep for us all. Will you weep for us all?

I wonder what it’s like to be loved by the world. I wonder what it’s like to be loved so fully by myself that even when observed, I’m still a wave—nothing separated, nothing broken down, nothing left on the floor, nothing hidden, everything exposed, fear drunk by the gallon, swallowed whole,

I’ll just leave that comma there. A place holder. Not an end. This doesn’t end, you sillies. This doesn’t end. Maybe that’s tragic to some. Maybe that’s hope. To me…to me…

I haven’t talked much about my time at the trauma treatment center I went to in May. It was a complicated experience. There were some very good things. But there were spiritual beliefs I didn’t know were going to be a part of the program, ideas around past lives and being bound up with the same group of people throughout every life and so rather than solely get trauma treatment, I had to contend with people pushing radical forgiveness due to past life narratives hahahaha and people who know my thoughts and feels about forgiveness probably only know a snapshot.

I have a lot of forgiveness. I’m a terrible scorpio. I’ve had 20 years of trauma therapy. The therapists broke me down eventually. They gave me a lot of hugs. It was uncomfortable. I’m a hugger now. Nice big bear hugs so I can inhale people a while. But I don’t hold grudges except for very serious things and that’s not really a grudge, is it, when it’s a crime. And self-forgiveness? I will always, always, always forgive my folly. And I love my sins.

Anyway, it’s a small program up high in the mountains, the mountains I used to live in, run in, summited decreasing oxygen in. The mountains I always want to get back to. The way the sun is different there as it bows down past the ridges. I digress. I am made of digressions. I have found it’s the best way to live my life. I want improv, and most want maps. I used to draw a lot of maps as a kid. I used to play Victorian orphanage as a kid. It was my favorite game to rope my friends into. And I would draw maps away from the orphanage. I thought my real family would come. They never did. They never did.

—but I did a lot of thinking about being an artist while I was there because my life has in fact been bound up in thinking about whether or not I’m allowed to take up space as a human. As an artist. As an oxygen intake system who wants to let off some art through its release valve. I’ve journaled and poetried a lot about it in the past months. It’s one of the things that gives me the most joy these days.

I am the most contained and expanded when I am thinking about art. I should really just do this more. I should really just go to art school and howl at the moon some more because that’s where I always find god which is to say where I find soul which is to say myself. I spent my teens being asked if I was high and no. I wasn’t. This is just what I’m like. Some of us are hungry for good vibes only. Some of us are hungry for destruction and power. Some for oblivion. I have wanted them all but what I really want are buffets of the universe. I always want everything. If you don’t give me everything, if you don’t give me all my tiny revolutions, if you don’t let me swim deep and come up gasping with a grinning mouth spilling life—I’ll do it myself. I’ll tear hope up by my teeth from the corpse of this world.

It’s become incredibly hard to not dance at the coffee shop. So I don’t stop myself. I have always played the laptop keys like ivories, kept the time, heard the metronome, leaned into the screen like it’s me and jazz and notes sparking love in the air. A little word gremlin for your pleasure.

When I sit in this spot at the lgbtq+ coffee shop, I get to see the poster for Your Body is Not Your Body I put on the community board.

What is my artist statement?

Art is the through line of humanity. It’s the soul of our species. It’s the softest hearts we hide. It’s when we reach the outer edge of our skin, the edge of our expanding infinities, and find
we have to
we have to
we have to
motherfucking have to press out through it.

We are so impossible, so improbable, so incapable of not reaching back.

I won’t ever stop reaching back.

I’m working on artist statements for MFAs to apply next year. Partially I’m waiting till next year so I can have more time to organize a portfolio, apps, recs—and to organize my wonderfully disintegrated mind. The more tattered, the more you can see through to the other side.

I would have liked to be applying this year, but I know I have more truth to face. I’ve never been the kind to live in denial unless I’m very, very tired. I was very, very tired of the conveyor belt of bad when I hit my 20s. I had a sweet, naïve belief that maybe things would be smooth for a while. When they weren’t, I didn’t know how to adapt to that yet. I had adapted to so much. I had changed so much, said so much, and no one else was changing, no one else was adapting. Everyone was denying.

I let exhaustion take me for a while. A long, long, long while.

And then I got filled up on art.

There are still so many infinities I haven’t reached yet.

Sometimes I worry I’ll be like an autumn tree with all its leaves clinging on until the first freeze, and when you wake in the morning, all its leaves lie silent on the ground.

I have so much left to say.

I hope I get to say it.

I have lived through so many hard frosts.

I don’t want to be paid for my thoughts. I want to hold them in a basket, a basket full of leaves, and say, “Here, this one holds delightful veins. It’s variegated.” My thoughts are always variegated. But I have to live, too.

Mutually assured art.

(I never have difficultly writing CNF about art and creativity. I am paying attention to that. I am letting that be something I lean towards. I am letting it be a map of dead light because contradiction is also my bread and butter and I love bread and butter. Add some candles. Add some rosemary. Add some olives, and then you can pretend you’re eating history. I always love eating history.)

On Synesthesia + Writing

I have a few hours the next 3 days to turn my mind from poetry to fiction, and then I might not have long blocks of writing, except for what I steal, until preschool starts in October. I’m not looking forward to it for many reasons, but it’s part of necessary life changes, even if it’s not ideal. But I also rely on ample writing time to organize my mind, which is a labyrinthine combination of hyperphantasia, abstraction, flow charts, all that trauma, daydreaming, and various kinds of synesthesia.

There are synesthetic experiences I can’t easily translate into stories without writing them over and over again. There are internal visuals I get that come with texture and flavor, like the snarling black scribble I see, a visual emotion that crowds my head. I don’t know how to name it in words, but it’s haunted me since childhood and feels like a sponge in my mouth and tastes like forest. It could only be soothed as a kid by imagining rolling sand dunes and creamy shades. Normal shit. Definitely didn’t realize other people don’t eat metaphoric sponges or have mirror-touch/pain and mirror-kinetic responses to other people.

Now I try to let the snarl be itself, rather than physically cringing from it. Hard to get away from your own mind, but we all try anyway, only I don’t want to anymore. I’ll take the whole thing as is and keep figuring out how to make it 2-D for writing.

A lot of my thoughts are abstract concepts. Trying to attach words to them sometimes takes me a while. I used to need written scripts for everything in life because verbal wording was a strange language I didn’t know much about unless I was regurgitating facts or mimicking styles of speech like David Attenborough’s to…relay facts. This is how my friends came to nickname me things like “Dictionary” and “Computer” as a kid. Lol, so cozy, not at all clinical and aloof sounding (2 ways people also described me).

Until the scripts became second nature, I had regular panic attacks about having to speak to anyone. I’d often disappear from activities because verbal languaging could be terrifying if I didn’t know a script yet for dealing with an experience but I also was undiagnosed everything and therefore received no support. Perhaps a blessing and a curse as I didn’t get treatment that pathologized and shamed me, nor did I get help making sense of it all until later in my teens when we just called it anxiety. That too.

I got very lost in my head this year (past few meh). There were no scripts. There was only the all-encompassing narrative of fresh trauma’s impact on the bodymind, the old habituated networks of survival I’ve known all my life; the abstraction of internal worlds built far too thoroughly. As much as possible, I’ll try to organize writing around the goblin twins the next few months, and figure out how to maintain writing as the tether that keeps reality closer at hand, but unlike this past winter and spring, it won’t be the only tool I use for that.

How synesthesia works for me made me self-conscious as I started to recognize that other writers’ minds did not perceive in the same ways. The combo of neuro traits makes some aspects of writing flow easily and makes others feel impossible. Last year, critiques on my writing would often note how abstract a section was, and I couldn’t comprehend the confusion for a long time, so I took a bunch of workshops trying to figure out how other people see writing to try and catch the place where my words can land more clearly. It was boggy. The ground built itself beneath my feet and I didn’t like the feeling. In the past, unless I was doing technical and academic writing, I hid away most of my writing in journals where no one but me had to understand anything. Poetry was the only medium I sometimes shared because it functioned more like my mind.

The neuro trait combo also impacts my writing process, making me sometimes reticent to discuss my process since it dwells in a shifting, intuitive landscape I don’t always have language for. I get nervous talking to other writers because I’m scared they’ll figure out I have no fucking clue what I’m talking about except for blobs in my head that feel like things that I circle dozens of times until I’ve sanded the image down into a line I like. It’s all very wibbly-wobbly.

But it’s also not perfectionism, as I don’t have that claustrophobic, desperate feeling that comes with trying to avoid mistakes at all costs. Instead, it’s musical composition and choreography. It’s the opposite of self-consciousness. It’s allowing things to be as they are. It’s letting abstractions simmer for as long as they need until I can identify language. But it’s time-consuming in a way I don’t mind except for when I don’t have time, which at present, there’s going to be a tasty little dearth of.

When I can’t write much, my brain is a boat without an oar drifting through existential soup. I’ve connected with more ND writers lately, which, phew, helps. Where neurotypical writers maybe get to focus more on craft and publishing questions, we ND writers are trying to peer behind every curtain because we need certain foundational cues before we can even worry about the standard problems.

And what are those cues? They’re as varied as we are. It’s a process that takes longer, but we have our places on the internet where we gather and try to guide each other through the labyrinths we each reside in. And like, it’s cool sometimes, too, but we also usually feel like we’ve missed crucial orientations at every turn of humaning and spend a lot of our time stressing about the thing beneath the thing, which is a technical definition of being Neurodivergent.

There is no conclusion. There is only a lot of open question marks and kaleidoscopic imagery made of amorphous concepts I try to spin into language, and a hope that time will return when it’s ready to make it all easier.

Contentment in the Process, Or, Let’s Be Nerbs About Writing

After going through an imaginary commitment ceremony to noveling 3 years ago (“Through treating paper cuts and inflamed tendons, I do promise myself to thee”), I eventually remembered how much I love short stories. I finished and subbed a few shorts last fall (they were rejected), but then I saw how close I was to completing the third draft of my novel. It was a siren and I’m a sucker for epics. So I paused working on shorts. With draft 3 now complete, I’m back to writing and subbing short stories, and while I wait for emails telling me yea or nay, the thought came to me about just how damn glad I am that acceptances do not make or break my joy. The process of writing is what draws me forward, those little breadcrumbs of an idea that transform into a whole story, all the messy pages of notes, the flow charts and lists and questions to answer. For me, the act of writing is what brings heady contentment. 

I was a child who was entirely overwhelmed and panicked about success. My only good validation generally came from doing well in school and sports. Chronic undiagnosed health conditions had other ideas. My extreme absences as a kid slowly impacted those successes and, therefore, limited external validation. And then my mental health imploded after I reported an abuser and had to deal with an investigation my sophomore year of high school.

It took nearly a decade to find some measure of stability, which is right when my physical health imploded, which took another several years to improve in that regard. During those years, I learned to interrogate the limitations of external validation—the dissatisfaction we humans are meant to feel toward ourselves and our lives if we don’t meet society’s preordained markers of success (the job offer, the graduation, the agent, the big fancy win.)

Photo by author of snowy woods and a rambling creek

Then came an utterly uncontrollable and personally devastating situation in my adult life. It was from within that mess that I jumped back into fiction writing. I gained so much ridiculous self-liberation in a few short weeks just from twisting my experiences into horror-filled fantasy and sci-fi stories. It let me enact some control over a life that had been layered thick with trauma. Writing fiction became the rope I clung to in violent waters, without care of where it was pulling me, just that it was. Finding a word, and then another and another, to build up a string of dialogue, or the thrill of seeing how a piece of setting can foreshadow, is one of the strangest, most lovely forms of alchemy I’ve ever been a part of.

Yes, I look forward to being published. I look forward to short story sales, querying my novel, writing more shorts, novels, and poems, doing dramatic readings and narrating, adding personal essays and memoirs to my work, teaching writing workshops, and leading silly horror retreats with costumes, but I’m enamored with the writing part. I like the writing because it’s what sustains me—me the person, me the body, me the mind. What comes when the stories are published is the visible part of the career, but the writing, oh the writing, is the biting mouth that drags me into the woods and doesn’t let me go. And I don’t want it to. In fact, I might just bite back.

And my hope for all of you creators is that’s what you can find, too. Stories and art and projects that wrestle you down into murky depths of meaning and questions, ones that drag you bodily into their worlds until you relent and live those worlds into creation.

Feral Sounds – Short Autofiction

Once upon a time, a feral wolf pup bounded through forests, avoiding its den and tasting freedom in its four furry feet. Come evening, the pup always returned to its shelter, where it tucked itself into corners, behind wastebaskets, under shelves, and became very, very good at mimicking nothingness to save itself an inch or two of pain from the harsh, snapping jaws around it.

Then, the little wolf grew, as wolves do, first from pup to teen, teen to adult, and its lengthening legs took it further and further away. And through its growing up, it saw how binding itself into knots to contort and fit the whims of others kept it safe and secure, and also, it kept the wolf silent.

The wolf bristled and despaired over the trade-off. Sometimes it howled its rage; at others, it drew attention to the cruel beasts around it. But mostly, the wolf shrank and stilled and stifled. What is survival but the things best kept tidily burrowed away?

But when moons’ gathered fullness, the wolf could not contain itself. The moon pulled like gravity at the hidden truths inside the tender creature. The wolf gave in, allowing itself to taste the dark divinity of freedom and want, and it yipped and raced and danced itself into frenzies, howls of enduring desire licking out its lips.

The howl was the problem. Each time it was unleashed, it became that much harder to put away. Somehow the howl seemed to grow and stretch, and over the years, it did not fold up so well into the wolf’s secret places anymore. The wolf’s chest could not hold it much longer. How the wolf tried to shove it down, twisting the howl in on itself, barely closing its meaty body around it. Until one day, the wolf wrote down its howl in the dirt. It thought to transcribe the sound, to give it form but only in summary. Nothing complete, nothing wholly described. Perhaps that would make it small again.

But the howl had other plans. At first, the howl seemed to obey. It appeared small, yet its resonance vibrated steadily and stealthily, its size and volume growing into a page-long subtle crescendo. The wolf did not see it until it was too late, until the howl had grown so big there was no longer a chest, a body, a box to contain it. The howl could no longer be resisted. It could only be borne, guided, but it could never, ever, never again be silenced.

Writing From the Ruins

This space is in flux. I had planned to use it as an anonymous record of my time going through a master’s in counseling as a disabled survivor of complex trauma who had long believed counseling to be their future, but 2020 had its own plans. When I first cancelled my admission, I thought the change might be temporary. In a few years, I could reapply when my kids were in school.

(Picture by author; not for reuse)

As the days turned to weeks turned to months, a sneaky feeling trickled in—an enormous sense of relief took hold. I was glad I couldn’t go to grad school (limited childcare in the time of covid). I came to see how everything I had done to become a counselor (and many things for the sheer fun and thrill) was also the perfect training ground for a life of creating fiction.

(From living in snow caves I co-built, never being warm while living in said snow caves in the middle of the Wyoming Range in February, multi-day canoe trips, extensive therapy plunging the depths, studying abroad, working in haunted houses at probably too young an age, working in the violence prevention field for several years, being a professional disabled dancer (after the snow caves and the canoeing), hell, even being a gift packager for a large big box store with angry suburbanites breathing down my neck…)

The soil in my life has been rich for growing all manner of flowers and weeds. Now I get to scatter them as bouquets across all my writing.

And I must say, if I could choose anything at all to do for the rest of my life, it would be to write.

And live in a tree.

So what becomes of this space now? I suppose it will follow me on the strange journey of making things up (mostly those of a fantastical nature) and trying to share those words stitched into the confines of paper, in the ether world of screens, and over sound waves carrying stories spoken. Hopefully, if I’m lucky, I’ll find wonderful creative people to work alongside to improve my stories, and those tales will be enjoyed by the people who need them, myself included.