Tonight I walked over soggy white roses rotting on asphalt between two large trucks that were unloading for a wedding. As I was trying to get by them, one of the workers said, just find your way through there and motioned for me to walk between the trucks. He rested his hand lightly on my shoulder. It was dark. I couldn't see anyone's face. I could just feel the energy of movement and the hand of a stranger. We're unloading for a wedding, he said. It looks like a wedding died here, I responded as I passed through. Just give it a couple years, he shouted quietly after me.
What's that on your arm? one of the kids I work with every Thursday asked me. A tattoo of a constellation, I said. Stars. You can't see the stars here anymore, he said. You used to could see them, but now there's the pollution. He said it like he was resigned to the idea that he'll never see stars again. Like it was a fact of life he'd come to accept at age 10. Like he was reciting something he'd just learned in his 5th grade history book about California and about the sky and what it used to be and what it will never be again. He said it like no one anywhere would ever see another star. Like the pollution he's known all his life that he imagines having begun in some mythical time before he or anyone he knew existed fills every sky in every part of the world he can conceive of.
There was one night in the very beginning. It must have been September. It was dark but not too late. You drove me to the train that carries people from the suburbs to the city. The mountains rode along side us to the west out my passenger window like they always do when we're heading south. Orion hung over the hogback and Nathaniel Rateliff's voice was singing there is no fear in love. We parked out of the reach of street lamp light and fooled around. The mix we were listening to was the one I was most proud of. Because you couldn't give me your heart, you gave me a consolation prize of telling me you liked the music, or that you could like it. You zipped up your pants and I let down my hair and I rode alone through the dark into the heart of the city where I lived six stories above the sidewalk, where I watched busses pass by out of the floor to ceiling windows of my studio apartment. This is what I know of love. That it is hard and fast, that it explodes and that it is never, never what you want it to be. That the narrative you write is your narrative alone.
We were children when we used to sit in the hallway and say those things. It was angst and something we never could have identified as jealousy. Because we were suffering, had suffered for as long as we can remember having been alive. And he didn't. Or didn't seem to. And how unfair. And how unreasonable. And it had always been this way and we had always known it and we bonded over this thing we didn't even understand because we were children and we shouldn't have known better. And that it ended this way, him alone, him suffering, the depths of which I hope we can never begin to fathom...
Every time I make a decision, I am proven wrong. The narrative rewrites itself over everything I anticipated and planned for and insisted upon. Everything's closing. We're losing what grounded us, what connected us, but none of us are losing each other, not yet, except by choice. I am more guilty than anyone. I have made this choice so many times with all of you. I have been wrong. Not always. But almost. It's because I can't bear to feel the things not losing any of you makes me feel. And I can't bear to feel the things losing any of you makes me feel. Really losing you, like we've lost so many others.
I never want to not see the stars. I never want to fall in love again with someone who doesn't know what to do with my heart, so eats it and spits it back out something different. I never want a wedding that dies in the parking lot outside the venue the night before I even say my vows. I never want a beverage to be what gets me in the end. I never want the carbon ink constellation on my skin to be the only thing that reminds me there's something else out there.
I'm sorry. I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry that nothing is ever enough for me. I'm sorry this happened. I'm sorry there's nothing to say.
Saturday, January 17, 2015
For 10 years, I've been a rebel. All those drippy, wet teenage emotions, Paris held them, held the hearts of both men I've ever loved, and every woman, and every bottomless pitcher and every matchbook and every Pixies song. It is vast enough to contain the entire narrative of my adolescent years.
Once, E & D, breaking heart[s], put me in the backseat of E's silver Mazda 3 and sped me down Santa Fe to Paris for the first time, no doubt somewhere I wasn't actually allowed to go back then, but my parents never knew. We were listening to Kashmir by Led Zeppelin. The coffee they ordered steamed, the walls were red, and I had never been anywhere so real. Which is to say, I was 16 and all I was looking for was somewhere to run to where I could beat my heart as loudly as I needed, burn myself in a cylinder of smoke to the angsty soundtrack of my sad punk heart.
For two years, I tried to draw what it felt like to be there.
To the house of my longing, pulsing, skin & bone teenage body, thank you for giving us a place to be the weird theater kids we were and always will be.
I took these photos in the fall of 2007. David Bowie was playing. I could have been there with anyone. Sometimes memory just doesn't serve.
Tuesday, January 6, 2015
This semester I'm teaching a class about violence in the deserts of the American West. This means a hundred things and nothing in particular.
I'm teaching the following books, films, and television:
I'm teaching the following books, films, and television:
This is a stack of most of those books, plus some other desert books from my Post WW2 Deserts of the American West field exam list, from which I'll likely pull a few essay excerpts. Especially John Beck's Dirty Wars, which I am obsessed with.
I had a few goals with this reading list, one of which was to balance male and female writers. I've got three female authored texts, two male authored texts, one female directed film, one male directed film, and selected episodes from Vince Gilligan's Breaking Bad. I tried my best to avoid teaching Blood Meridian because I'm not a huge fan of blatant monotone overtly masculine writing/texts. What does that even mean? I don't know. But McCarthy is the epitome of it in my opinion. But after reading Beck, I realized how foundational it is to what I'm trying to address in this class.
After I finished re-reading Blood Meridian a few days ago, I realized the following: The desert is about secrets. It's about hiding and obfuscation. It's about things standing in for other things, violence standing in for non-violence, physical violence standing in for cultural violence political violence environmental violence. This is the first things I want my kids to explore. Violence in all its facets. Linguistic. Narrative. Metaphorical. Physical. When I was 19, I was working on my undergrad honors thesis with Jake. It wasn't too long after Murder Ballads had come out. He was my advisor and I was writing about violence in Fight Club and American Psycho. I remember this moment standing in the Copper Nickel office right outside Jake's office, and I remember pacing around frustrated because I couldn't think through my argument in a way that seemed significant. And I remember Jake saying, sometimes violence isn't about violence at all. And he told me to think about murder ballads and what they mean and what they're really doing. I wish more than anything I could talk to him about this course. But I'm grateful that he set me on this path seven years ago, and I love walking into a classroom with his words and his encouragement in my heart.
Before we start with violence, Day 1, we're starting with desert. What is a desert? Where is the desert? Who lives in the desert? Why? We're going to read the poem by Stephen Crane that provides the epigraph for Claire Vaye Watkins' short story collection, Battleborn.
We're going to talk about what happens in deserts, who has visited the desert, why, what they saw, how they felt. And then we're going to shift to violence. Their first paper will require them to use Blood Meridian to define violence.
When we shift to Bombay Beach and Battleborn, we're going to talk about land use and the history of cities and housing developments in the desert. Watkins' characters are devastating and devastated. They are simultaneously imprisoned and free. And Bombay Beach is a dreamlike journey into the lives of those who went out to the desert to survive and to find what the rest of the world wouldn't give them.
Eventually I want the narrative arc of the class to lead to a discussion of how desert spaces are used by the American government to erase, hide, obscure, and disguise those things that keep the country running: militarism, atomic and nuclear power, the theft of land from indigenous populations, the war on drugs, Japanese internment, all of which either helped build this nation or help maintain its power by perpetuating a state of emergency, distracting the population from the bestial heart at the center of this perceived void that is desert space.
It helps that I'm also doing a field exam list about this subject. Keeps me full of ideas in case we get bored or frustrated. I'm always mapping and diagraming.
And I'm not going to go the whole semester without mentioning my favorite art that exists in the desert as a counterpoint to the rest of our conversations. I'd love to try and take my class somewhere. I'm going to break them up into three groups for weekly assignments, and each group is going to have the name of a desert county. Imperial, Clark, & Bernalillo.
I have an idea of an arc, but in some ways, I have no idea where this class is going to go. Which is the most exciting part.
Saturday, January 3, 2015
Everyone’s all into this quantified self stuff. We talked about it a lot in Tangible Computing last semester. Fitbits and things that count footsteps and calories and heartbeats and sleep cycles. I’m more interested in a different kind of quantified self. Like, how do I spend my time and my money. What do I do. Where do I go. So I looked back at my calendar for 2014 and discovered the following about my activities...
111 yoga classes
27 after school tutoring sessions at 826la
6 literary readings
5 birthday parties
4 comedy shows
2 housewarming parties
1 naked bike ride
And I visited:
2 road trips
And read 30 books. [ONLY 30 FUCKKKK].
I wish I could also count how many words I wrote, how many hours I slept, how many friends I spent time with, how many coffee shops and restaurants and bars I visited. But that’s partly what the 365 photos were for. To see what my life looks like. And it looks like this!..
I don’t really ever make new year’s resolutions, but I can tell you that these are the things I plan to accomplish in 2015, partly out of necessity, partly out of ambition:
Submit my application for the Digital Humanities Mellon Fellowship.
Take the translation exam in Spanish.
Write my dissertation prospectus.
Service train my dog.
Teach this literature course.
Make my short film/remix for &Now.
Present at &Now.
Go to the Digital Humanities Summer Institute in Victoria.
Finally visit all the places on my California checklist. [Should make that checklist first.]
I like that the main verbs in the above list are “Write, Do, Teach, Make, Present, and Go.” I would put “Learn ____” on there, but how am I supposed to decide what I’m going to learn in advance? Life doesn’t work that way. Though I would like to learn how to play the mandolin. But I think there are probably things I want to learn that I don’t even know about yet that are even more important.
There are things I would love to do that I won’t have time or money to do like live in Mexico and visit my best friend in Indonesia. But whatever I do end up having time and money to do, I’m going to do with purpose.
2015, put on your running shoes. Let’s do this.
Thursday, January 1, 2015
I started 2014 on the shore of an island in the Mediterranean Sea and I ended 2014 in a yoga studio in the heart of Denver, the city where I was born. Both moments, I was alone. Alone with strangers. Last New Year's Eve, I sat next to the waves and began to understand that what I needed from 2014 was a year of reflection.
I don't talk about this much, but I have a severe panic issue. It's an issue big enough that it disrupts my ability to live a normal life at times and sends me into uncontrolled panic spirals that are nearly impossible for me to escape using any tool I've ever learned in therapy or in life. I sometimes suddenly believe that someone I love has died. Occasionally this is just magical thinking stuff. Like I'll have a feeling. Or I'll "read the signs." Other times, I'll see a missed call from my parent on my phone and I'll know I can't call back for a bit and I'll eventually get so worked up at the possibility that they're calling to inform me of a death, that I'll actually have to leave whatever situation I'm in to contact them as quickly as possible. I have a terrible fear of the phone ringing in the middle of the night with news of death. For this reason, I wear ear plugs when I am at my parents' house. When I came home this summer, I hardly slept the first two nights I was home. I eventually convinced my parents to turn off the ringers on the house phones closest to my bedroom. I slept with ear plugs in and with the door shut. Sometimes even that wasn't enough. I worked with my therapist on some good old fashioned exposure therapy. I'd sit in my dark room in my silent house at midnight or 1am or 2am or 4am and I'd not have any protection against sound and I'd breathe. Our goal was to get me to do this for 5 minutes without panicking. It never happened. I made it 2 minutes 30 seconds one night. That's it. But when I adopted Malta, I had to stop wearing ear plugs so I could hear her whine to go to the bathroom outside in the night. And I thought I'd never make it through this.
I've been at my parents' house for 20 nights now, and I haven't used ear plugs once. I've only come close to panic a few times, and each time, I've managed to get things under control by reminding myself over and over that I am powerless. That I've survived every death I've experienced thus far, which has unfortunately been many, and that I am still here, standing, happy, and whole.
Here's another thing I don't talk too much about: alcoholism. I avoid labeling myself in any way in regards to this issue for fear of offending someone who is "really an alcoholic," whatever that means. I often wonder if I am "really an alcoholic." I do not know. I ask alcoholics. They do not know. The point is, as of today [yesterday?], December 31st of 2014, I've been sober for four months. [Yes, I did have one very purposeful glass of bourbon in remembrance of the day my friend passed away, but I don't count this for whatever reason.] I haven't been in a program, but I have been depending on the support of friends and others I know who are. I don't know how to talk about this or how to even think about it other than to say that I do not feel like I have a healthy relationship with alcohol. My instinct to spin out fuck-it bucket style overtakes me often when I drink, and I seek to revel in the destruction my drinking may bring. This has manifested itself in a variety of dangerous, sometimes even life threatening ways, whether it's related to alcohol poisoning or operating a vehicle or other unhealthy decisions. I still believe I have power over this, which may be a delusion. But it scares me. And so I'm doing what I can to avoid alcohol because I don't know what else to do.
These aren't the issues I imagined I'd be addressing when I decided to make 2014 a year of reflection as I looked out into the waves in Sliema bay 365 days ago. I imagined I'd do my 365 photo project and that I'd see what my life looks like. I imagined I'd think a lot about my past relationship and that I'd move forward and find peace with the violence that situation did to my life. I imagined I'd learn what it is about me that drives me to the same men, and I imagined I'd manage to end so many of the cycles I'd fallen into over the years.
In October of 2013, my mom had stroke-like symptoms and ended up in the hospital for a day. We eventually learned that she was fine, but I completely lost my shit. So much so that I called X, the one person who'd hurt me most in my life, and only a few months after things ended. But he was my person, my rock, my anchor, whatever bullshit metaphor you prefer that means he was the person I depended on for my emotional stability and wellbeing [which is hilarious if you know anything about our relationship]. He was cold and distant on the phone, having answered it at a bar, and he provided no support, no relief, and no way out of my panic spiral.
In November of this year, a similar thing happened to my father while I was in New York City for a conference. And it wasn't until then that I realized just how incredibly significant 2014 was for my growth as a person. Because I panicked for 2 seconds, recognized that there wasn't a thing in the world I could do to resolve this problem, took a deep breath, and calmly awaited updates. Everything is fine. I mean, we still don't totally know what happened, but he's ok. And I'm ok. And everything is ok. And not because I did anything to make it ok. The serenity prayer has never been strictly about recovery for me. It's about everything. Sometimes I feel that prayer so deeply, that I am solipsistically convinced that it was written for me. Because my biggest struggle my entire life has been accepting the things I cannot change. And ultimately, that is what 2014 has been about for me. Reflection. Acceptance. Strength.
In 2014, I mourned and overcame the loss of my best friend, who I thought I would marry, who I was ready to spend the rest of my life with, who left me suddenly one day, and who took everything I knew about myself and love with him when he did. I still love him, but I fell out of love with him. And that is a miracle I never really believed would happen.
In 2014, I visited Malta; Seattle; Palm Springs; New York City; Israel; Mexico City; and Asheville, North Carolina. I spent time in both my homes: Los Angeles and Colorado.
In 2014, I lost some friends, but I did so with purpose, with reason. Because I made a conscious decision to only hold onto the things and people that provide me with support, that inspire me, and that add zero stress or negativity to my life.
In 2014, I almost dropped out of my PhD program because let's face it, academia is THE. WORST., but then I made a conscious decision to stay because I want to be a teacher, and because for me, that means teaching the courses I want to teach, at the college level, wherever that may be. And because I want to prove to myself I can finish this very hard thing. And because I want to prove to Jake I can do it. Because he's still with me always, pushing me, pushing me until I can hardly stand but keep standing.
In 2014, I almost bought a house. First in Colorado, but then in Los Angeles. Then I realized how much more expensive a house is than simply what it costs up front [which is no small chunk of change to begin with]. And I realized that my desire for roots does not need to manifest itself in a house. And that my desire for independence, to be solitary and to support myself and to build a life without another person also doesn't have to take the form of a house. But could take the form of something much cheaper and much less likely to have a water heater explode...
In 2014, I adopted a dog. Which I've wanted to do for years, but which I felt like I should wait to do until I was in a relationship so that I'd have help from a partner. The above paragraph is all I have to say about this one. Oh, and that I've learned so much about patience and how little I have of it and compassion and kindness and how much I need these things for myself and for all the living creatures in my life.
In 2014, I taught two courses at USC, I volunteered countless days tutoring kids at 826la. All of which means I spent my year doing the one thing that is most important to me in life, which is educating.
In 2014, I thought constantly about what I want in a partner, about what I want in myself, about what kind of friend and lover and partner and family member and community member I want to be. I was challenged often, especially on the community member front since communities are so precarious and since shit severely hit the fan toward the end of this year in this country.
In 2014, I, for the first time in my entire life, told someone I had feelings for them, which was less important for the confession itself and more important for it being the scariest thing I'd ever done. Because that is not the kind of person I am. As honest as I can be on here and in every other way, I have never been able to be honest about romantic feelings. Rather, that is not the kind of person I was. I am a different kind of person now.
In 2014, I stood in a yoga studio in Colorado and I went into a standing back bend and my mouth went numb and everything got hot and I blacked out and when I came to, I was still standing but I was shaking and didn't know where I was. On a different day, I lay on the floor of another yoga studio and I suddenly felt roots shoot from my back into the ground. And I became certain that this Colorado earth is my home. I spent one morning of this year listening to a journalist talk about his essay collection on the DF while in Mexico City itself and I started to go blind in one eye. Everything got cloudy. I went upstairs to my hotel room and removed my contact lenses and the cloud, like a milky haze, was still there. I later found out that my cornea filled with fluid because my contacts were too old and had become less porous and weren't letting in enough oxygen. I had a parasite. I had the flu. I had a variety of other sicknesses one picks up from flying in 24 airplanes and working with countless human beings under the age of 20. But my daily stomach aches went away, which I attribute to the fact that I'm no longer in a terribly stressful, unhealthy relationship, and to the apple cider vinegar I drink every morning as per my best friend's instructions. And I'm stronger than I've ever been. My thighs are so strong from commuting on my bike that my jeans hardly fit in that area anymore. I can do all the physical activities I attempt to do, and that no longer results in injuries like it used to. Because I've strengthened my body in a way I never thought possible and I've made fitness one of the most important parts of my life. It took me 25 years to understand why it is important to take care of myself in this way, but now that I am here, I am never looking back.
I'm saying these things because no one else is going to say them for me. No one else is going to talk about or even care about my growth. I have to care about that. There is no boyfriend or girlfriend. There is no doctor or parent or mentor. I am responsible for making decisions about my life, and for the first year ever, I made sure to make every decision with purpose, with intention, and with clarity of heart and mind. And I am going to celebrate these things, as obnoxious as this all sounds, because no one else should have to care about me except me. And I finally care. I really care. Not because who I am will get me the love I want or the things I want but because who I am is who I am. And who I am is all I have. Ever. So here is my celebration, my reflection, at the end [though technically also the beginning] of the year.
365 days ago, I stood outside myself and watched everything spin and made a promise to myself to be reflective, to examine who I am, and to consider who I want to be and what it will take to be that person.
Today, I stood barefoot in the snow on my front porch. I dug my feet into the frozen earth. I stood inside the person I spent the last year discovering, and I made a promise to myself to move forward like something gentle and swift and fearless. I made a promise to myself to be the sun.
I chose to end and start my year in a yoga class. As 2014 came to an end, I stood in a circle holding hands with strangers I'd just spent an hour and a half practicing yoga with and we screamed numbers in reverse. And after a brief moment of silence after the cheering, we squeezed each others' hands tighter and spent the first five minutes of the year using our voices to create vibrations in ourselves and in others. The cult of Americanized culturally appropriative fitness regimes. An om circle. Problematic, like most things I love, but I'm committed to this studio and the kind of practice it provides.
At the beginning of class, our instructor asked us what we want in 2015. I broke into a huge smile in the dark and I felt myself catch fire.