1. fazed

    No more zombie-ing my way through the morning grooming routine. I learned to make it a game, to pay attention along the way. My shower head drains in myriad skinny streams of water.

    I might isolate one strand of the spray and position myself beneath it so it falls, alone, on the middle of my tongue. I cannot not grin just thinking of it.

    It falls to such a tickling effect. It is barely bearable. Quite wonderful. Especially when you can, then, rock back and forth, into and back out from under it. Almost orgasmic, almost like my tongue is my mouth’s own… most sensive, sensitive body part. 

    Wink wink winking water. 

    Very old and wrinkled grandmother faces are the latest object of sensation for artsy fartsy photographers, including representations of women from all over the world. The more remote the better, actually.

    Context. North american nursing homes, not so much. Not so much kitsch. What you see in the background matters. The less sterile the better. Colors and dirt and thirdish world markets. 

    The camera was not made to be kind to middle aged women’s faces or black dogs or dead bodies. The lens does not hold a kind bone in its skeleton, nothing cute or spooky. No patience for the kooky, the irreverent the unself-consciously enthusiastic but not pretty captured, in stills. 

    We are here, women with dawning realization that we can’t ignore the questions we first raised when they shoved us under the box painted like a viciously garish yellow school bus.

    We are here to challenge your gaze. To suggest you need not constantly be looking at our faces, checking for reassurance reflected back in the cool polished expressions of the good-looking you have been so fortunate to surround yourself with.

    Proof. Poof. We are here to suggest it takes more to validate your existence than appearances. 

    We are here to take pictures of our hands, busy and engaged and moving across all variety of things we encounter, because when we stopped caring about your judgments we found wonder. 

    So much wonder. So much wonder we discovered. So much wonder we discovered how to wonder about what wonders might still be resting hidden in each you. 

    You can stumble alongside us stumbling, too. Once in a while we might want to look over at each other, see eyes in deep faces changing. But mostly, we’ll keep walking, hold hands and swinging in amazement at all the messy mess so gross, and harsh, and glorious all around us. 

     

  2. telling time off

    Rumor was, she could tell you the time, at any point in time, and be accurate right down to the minute. Rumor was she hadn’t worn a watch or even glanced at a clock for over twenty years. Rumor was she was a witch. Rumor was.

    Rumor being what it was, she knew, as well as anybody, ninety percent of people were eighty percent bullshit ninety-nine percent of the time. She was not. She was not what rumor would have it, nor was she full of bullshit. She knew it and so did most other people who knew her.

    She spoke to me rarely, and even less frequently to the rest of the people she encountered in the library. She was, technically, a white lady, but her skin was the color of a burnt orange lumiere spray on paint swatch.

    The day she leaned over the counter to set her record straight with me, she was wearing a turquoise blouse and her earrings were big bright green discs that looked like serving trays taken straight from a mexican dollhouse. She felt improvisational. As if whatever role she was in, it was always a last minute and whimsical decision. She seemed to fly everywhere by the seat of her pants and yet consistently arrived there, precisely where she had no idea she was heading, but exactly, of course, on time. 

    She leaned in and, even though it was only 9:17 in the morning, she smelled delicious and strong, of movie popcorn and underneath that, a combination of chocolate and coffee.  

    "You want to know a little secret?," she asked. "It’s true, I never look at the clock, not even the numbers on my bedside digital, I have no use for them. But I do worship, love, adore, and shower my snooze button with so much attention daily that it is pathetic.

    "Yes, I might always know what time it is, but I cannot wake up without a buzzer. Several buzzes of a buzzer, matter of fact." Here she chuckled.

    "It’s the reason why I have a surplus of ex husbands and no currents. Husbands get between me and my alarm clock. It’s a front and backhand dance between me and that thing. We love to engage each other every morning. I gave up on trying to keep a husband, because, well… one annoying loud blaring thing at a time, or well, two - if you count the alarm clock buzzer. The other, that’s me, has no patience and I do make frequent exceptions of the no corporal punishment rule, when it comes to slapping down the technology."

    At this point she nodded, deep, and mostly slow. Sticking her chin and bottom lip out in the service of earnest emphasis in a silent, self-affirmation. I could almost hear her, in her own mind, silently humming her self-validation, her self-approval, mmhmm. 

    "If you ever get a chance," she tilted her head toward the door, the sidewalk, her pet husky sitting patiently on the pavement waiting for her.

    "Just ask my dog. He knows. He watches close, with relief, when I lay into that crazy loud clock machine. I would never hit him. Never. Even when he doesn’t let me sleep. But time? Time is another story, altogether." She said.

    "Time knows no absolution. time is always a fair target, for battle and for surrender. my war with time is reliable. It’s never over. No matter how hard i try to avoid it. No matter how many dogs and husbands I bury."

    With that, she shook her finger in my face. Then turned abruptly and walked straight and determined, at a quick, no-look-back pace out the door of the library and down the sidewalk. The dog followed. 

    I looked at the clock. It was 9:22 am. But I’d have sworn, damnit, that it was much closer to noon. 

     

  3. corkscrew spiral momentum chaos {sorta thoughts}

    Thinking lots about attachment. It seems to me the precursor. The hardwired, inevitable, unavoidable center unlocked at the core of genes. I don’t think we need worry about being attached, mostly. It’s more the quality and that it seems to have as much to do with how our attachment extends within ourselves. As thus it then reflects back out. A reflection and a momentous spiral of momentum in both directions, either. The trick is remaining attached to others as we bring our constant attachment to self. The problem is either/or when it is both. Both is inevitable and necessary and such a silly target to plight our rebellion against. There is no need. We need only strip it back and accept what is there already. We are evolving. We are expansive. By nature. 

    Technology is a reach extender. It can be wielded for all types of reach. We need not use it merely as a way to extend our control of the world. (But we mostly do, anyway). We might accept that technology extends our curiosity or our generosity our complexity our chaos. We might embrace the way technology can, does, could extend the reach of our capacity for change. Instead, we force technology, like a slave, into the service of our greed for control. We use it to wage war against, rather than to embrace mystery. We treat it as if it’s an infliction and our mission is to infect the entire world with until technology and greed become apparently interchangeable, one and the same. But they could be distinct. We might reject the demand, the seeming need for control and embrace our capacity to learn and be flexible, to thrive in spaces where there is room for innovation, to find energy and fuel in diversity and imagination.

    We might reject comparison as a measure against which we judge our competition. We might reject “comparison” as we know it. We might instead focus in on the delight we encounter, as in humor, when something is other and funny and sweet and benign and interesting. We need not use the juxtaposition as merely a way to place one over the other. Fuck heirarchy. It’s a circle a spiral and it proceeds in every direction you’ll let it.  

    The hybrid - the joy - lies in staying attached to yourself at the same time you are attached to others. To rejecting the exclusivity that comes with the need for control in favor of ambiguity and uncertainty and curiosity.

    The truth, no matter who you are, you’ve survived, perhaps thrived without really having control up to this point.  Because even if you think you are in charge, you aren’t. Life is so much freaking bigger than you. And that is not cause for fear, it’s expansive. It’s cause for celebration. It’s so goddamned interesting. It’s irresistible.

    I’ve been thinking about attachment. I’ve been thinking about expansiveness. I’ve been thinking and feeling my needs and desires to connect with self at the same time as other. I’ve been thinking about technology. I’ve been thinking it doesn’t have to be an extension of control. It can be an extension of reach in any direction, in all the directions we want. It can help us expand our reach to fully accept self and other at once.

    I’ve been thinking about all the different ways to tell stories.

    I’ve been thinking about time as a technology. And how we use it to control… everything. To make our worlds linear. When really it’s all corkscrew spiral chaos. Maybe. I’ve been thinking about before during and after, held in head, heart, body, soul not in writing, not in video, not recorded. Just organic. Time. Braided. Like hair.

    I’ve been thinking. It’s frizzy thought. It’s all over the place. And everywhere.  

     

  4. spoopy

    There were planted in earth two cutsie small puffy besneakered feet, attached to two chubby legs, leading up to a squatting toddler whose eyes blazed with curiosity and focus. In each hand she held a tall shiny tin cup, one pink and one green. Between them she poured what would have been a long, gulping drink of water. 

    The sun glinted off the cups. It glinted off the sloshing arc of water. The child watched delighted.

                                                   ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Glinting too, was the light of the moon off the double-wide-edged steel of the railroad track, back behind the stretch of high mountain desert that backed the trailer park where the double-wides graced the back tract. She looked down the rails from a vantage point closer than most will or would ever want to know. Talk about tied down, she thought marriage was bad and now here she was as tied down as it looked like she was ever going to be. Certainly, if the train was on time, this was as tight as she would ever feel the tie. She would be dead soon, cut into two for sure, if not three or more pieces. 

                                                   ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    In between them, at dusk, the glinting shine was from the mad and frenetic eye of the father of the girl-child playing in the sparkling mud-puddle with her tin cups. He might have been driving the train otherwise but with her mother inexplicably missing and the girl disappeared from the garden, he refused to go to work. Train schedule be damned, this engineer was human and the family he loved was gone. He would not abide the rest of the world rolling along on their merry way until he saw things righted. It took him nearly an hour to find the baby, happily splashing and laughing, the neighbors gigantic bull mastiff sitting watch all the while at the end of the alley. The dog’s nose was damp with thirsty fever, his eyes glazed to shiny, tongue heavy and slick but not dripping, just glistening.

                                                   ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    In contrast to these three gleaming things, was the dull bloated face and scratchy wool coat of the old decrepit man sent to keep watch over the house while a search party for the woman was formed. 

    Dull too was the baby daughter’s tired and hungry whine. Although she was safe at her auntie’s house, she was, nonetheless, exhausted and hungry with missing her mother. She grew crankier as it grew darker.

    Dull finally was the ax blade of the hatchet, swung by the dull boy who found her mother. It was a dull moment on the tracks, with the moon hidden, sudden behind a cloud bank. Ax head like a hammer, it connected with the base of the skull, on the back of the neck of her abductor. One loud thwack, followed by a dull thud as down he went, dead as dead. 

                                                   ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Utterly sharp was the voice of the mother as she commanded the blows that sliced her bindings. Sharper still, near to shrill, was her demand to know where and how was her daughter. Keenest of all was the bright in her eye when the small child next graced her sight. 

                                                   ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    We might think that the best time moves like a hypnotic pendulum, back and forth, in shiny dull turns with the occasional drift and twist of a metal pocket watch. But we have got it all wrong. Time is a tall glaring sparkling drink poured back and forth in an arc, a rainbow of suspense and life like the best wishes and freest moments yet in a small kid’s life, while all the dull grownups move in comparably dull waves, all around them. Bleeding out, following customs and sometimes getting to save each other.

     

  5. drifty, but not like a balloon on air

    Coaxing sleep, I was counting sheep and the rolling eyeballs of my adult friends, holding my cell phone in my hand. When I reached the edge of the land, I lifted my foot with great care as if cradled between my cupped hands. I raised it over the edge of the boat and my self followed. Ever so gently I placed it steady, solid, and well-balanced on the bottom of the craft. My body came in with a gliding motion that gave definition and shape to the word ease.

    I noticed then, again, my cell in my hand, aware of my grip but also attuned to the sense of retreating sensation in all my appendages. My fingers still wrapped around but not feeling, legs gone numb but still attached to me. 

    Then, without any perceptible jerk or shove my dinghy was dislodged from the shore of consciousness. I felt with some small distinct corner of myself that I was now afloat. Surrounded, I was held by an elusive sense of movement, as came the last full exhale. The device slid from my hand, as my mind slid from my body, in a nested pattern that carried my vessel out and away. Away from the ground of awareness and into watery sleep.

    That’s always the last we remember. We can never recall or access the exact moment we sink, below sleep’s water. We remain forever separated by this ticklish bridge from the moment we let go for deep. But oh, who doesn’t cherish that last floaty feeling, just before, just before… the last sound we hear, our own breathing.  

     

  6. something non-binary: beyond yes and no

    I have a problem, with the way my sexuality is framed in the language of consent. As if I can only agree or disagree with whatever idea is lent. As if the only option is acquiescence, or refusal. Why is there not a much wider selection of choices available for my perusal.

    Like suggestion. I can make them and I might quite enjoy arranging my body to form a question, dressed up assertive and addressed to you. I’m not an answer, after all, I am a human.

    Or how about imagination. Because I’ve got all kinds of characters in mind, and in body, and I’d love nothing more than to make up a story that involves me in relation to other bodies and their varied and free expressions of integrity. 

    Invention is another option for how I might demonstrate who I am sexually. I can be innovative. I might create a new concoction or fabricate a new way to get naked. If not restricted I might revolutionize the whole thing. 

    To be honest, I wouldn’t even mind if you left some room for my sexuality to be experimental, should it please me. A little trial and error among collaborators interested in mapping territory wild and free; a little hypothesis testing, a little scientific examination of all the possibilities, served up on a lab table courtesy of me.  

    I understand the intentions of all this consensual discussion are positive, believe me. I get that it’s a far cry improvement over having something sexual forced upon me. 

    But rare is the problem that is truly solved by logic that follows the rules and vocabulary defined by the unjust oppressive system. Yes or no is a dichotomous language that places us smack dab in the middle of rape culture’s way of thinking. 

    Sex is not about what men “get” or “don’t get”. If we want that to be obvious, it seems silly to put so much focus on “getting a yes” to give them the okay. Sex is not a zero-sum game. In fact, the more winners there are the better it gets for everybody. 

    We have to move beyond the context where men are always asking and women’s role is answering. We need to stop thinking of sex as a for-profit exchange. We need to stop thinking in terms of static roles like recipient and giver. Instead of making sex into a uni-directional negotiation that requires constant regulation, why can’t we make room for each sexual encounter to be a relaxed improvisation - shared in pleasure and in responsibility. 

     

  7. She is all wet and snuffly. Nose-blowy. Her cheeks blotchy and streaked with tears and we sit right up next to each other with the full length of our jean-clad thighs pressed together. We are on top of the picnic table, our feet rest, like our thighs pressed together along the length, on the bench seat. We watch the water on the lake roll into the big smooth rocks past the scrubby sand, along the shoreline. 

    She is on my right and I keep turning to see her face and feel overwhelmed finding her so close. Huge brown eyes even more unfathomable at no distance. I sway my body slightly into hers, shoulder to shoulder in a soft nudge. I take her left hand and turn it face up on her thigh then lace her fingers in with my fingers. Both sets are long but hers are longer, our nails all short, finger tips eager. When they are hooked in, interlaced, I turn our hands over, so hers is on top. I squeeze a couple times, quick, like Morse code but not in any intelligible pattern. Then I force my grip loose so she can escape my grasp easy if she wants to. She squeezes back fast once and then they rest together. Our hands. 

    I look left directly at her again. She lets the corner of her lip curl up. She does that perfect thing with her voice. In that voice she could repeat the same ten words over and over again and keep my attention endlessesly. She says, “What? Are you playing some lesbian angle now?” 

    "Have you not been paying attention?" I ask. "There are no angles here. It’s all soft round parts. No prodding, no poking either. We’re casual."

    She sniffles again. And chuckles but it’s nervous. I know this. I put my arm around her shoulder. I squeeze it. I squeeze her bicep with my hand, i squeeze her whole torso with my arm. Four strong firm but short bursts of hiccuping hug and then she slumps a little and leans her head into my shoulder,slides it onto my lap. 

    I smile and laugh just a tiny bit, quiet. I put my fingertip into the next teardrop that comes from her eye. Then I lift it and trace around the outer brim of her ear. 

    "Did you know?" I ask her, "Ears are as unique as fingerprints or DNA." 

    "I didn’t know." She answers. As if in awe, as if it really matters. She releases a deep sigh. And whispers, "Don’t stop."

    I trace her ear until her whole body jerks and twitches toward sleep. Then i stop. Ease myself down next to her on the table and press myself to her, back to back. I reach for her hand backward across my hip. Lock our fingers again, very careful not to wake her and listen to the water. I mumble. Then, I forget about the hard table under my hip and I drift off, too. 

     

  8. simple equations

    He was working alone. He was the only one in the garden, shovel in hand, bending, turning, and swiveling back to turn again. He was the only one working in the garden this afternoon, and he was always the only one working on the personal project inside his head. His aim to stay in attendance at the present moment. His intention to simply set down all the potential imagined reality of past and future scenarios, dimensions of want and speculation, distraction, avoidance, joy and sorrow.

    These things were no different, he knew, than the here and now except that they were not here and now. They were isolated inside his mind with so little way, so few avenues of escape, so very limited and narrow the passages they might find out. His own (weak, he thought) powers of communication failing as a transport from one location to the other. His thoughts and most personal feelings were forever doomed to be isolated, stuck alone in his own head for his whole lifetime.

    In service of his goal, then, in service of sticking with the reality of the present moment, he chose to devote himself to routine. The idea being that his routines would be tied to the present reality and leave no need, no room for debate. They would point the way toward whatever he was meant to focus on next, he would not be left to think about it. Tethering his mind between the crisscrossing binding of the sensual moment and a sturdy set of habits, he would find a steady pace that allowed him to stay in touch with himself with out wandering useless and senselessly.

    He reminded himself of these simple facts as he finished his shoveling for the moment, looked up at the sun, and guessed the time. He lit a cigarette and sat down to change his boots before he left the garden. 

    He married a woman he loved. He put his cigarette out under his boot before he got in the car to go pick up his son. He still loved her and he was still married to her. He bent to get in and strapped the seat belt across his chest, where it pressed against the skin and bone covering his heart. He did not understand his wife and she did not understand him. He put the vehicle in gear and backed it, at a slight angle, to pull away from the curb. 

    For example, his wife did not understand what becoming a father meant to him. He looked at the dash and noticed the gauge, he needed gas. She couldn’t really fathom how much it had changed him to have a son because being a parent had always been a given to her, an inevitable and forgone conclusion in her life. He moved forward through the first three stop lights, all green, in turn. She had been a mother before they met. He used the pinky and ring finger of his right hand to press the blinker arm up from underneath, his thumb still hooked on the steering wheel as he signaled the left turn. Like him, his wife had not realized he did not believe in collaboration when they met. He swerved into the center turn lane and waited for three cars in the oncoming traffic to pass. She did not realize that having a child would change his entire understanding of the creative process. 

    He glanced across the the lot at the pumps and pulled up along one with the passenger side closest to it. He was an artist with lots of artsy friends. He grabbed his wallet from the console, opened the door and went around to the pump. One of them, a woman, had been in ongoing debate with him about the potential for successful collaborative creative process. He swiped the card, enter his zip code, put the nozzle into his gas tank. She believed in collaboration, while he didn’t.  He selected regular unleaded, the least expensive, and squeezed the trigger on the pump, locking it in place with the lever attached at the base.  

    The debate had ended four years ago, shortly after his son was born. He replaced the nozzle and waited for the receipt to print. That’s when his artist friend ramped up her argument. He shoved the thin slick piece of white paper in his pocket as he went back around and got in the driver’s side again. She suggested that, not only was collaboration a positive part of creativity but perhaps the best, maybe even the only, successful creations came from collaboration. He put the seat belt back on. The woman pointed to his son as an example. The seat belt strap pressed again, against his chest, cradling his heart. The woman had noted the way his son’s existence was impossible without the most concrete, tangible example of collaboration she could conjure. 

    He started the engine and headed back onto the road to go to the preschool, where the boy was waiting. He would pick him up. He would hug him and strap him into the car seat in the back. The seat had a harness with a latch that was padded and locked just over his heart, as it beat inside his chest. He would listen to his son tell him enthusiastic stories about his day until the boy suddenly fell asleep or they arrived home, whichever came first. His wife would come home shortly after. 

    He married one woman, who changed his life. He was connected, in friendship, to another woman, who gave him a way to articulate it. In this way, there was no overlap between them. They were truly separate and in this way, he loved both of them. 

     

  9. cats don’t have to be smart to be good jumpers but they do like it when you tell them stories

    {or how bell hooks and ilana glazer helped me think outside the box and claim my penis passion back from patriarchy}

    If we are going to talk boxes, and the ability to think outside of them, it seems fair to say I have a feline mind. I don’t generally feel confined by the usual walls that surround thought, though I am very familiar with the comfort found inside the box.

    At times, you’ll even find me napping, or at least relaxing, inside the box. It could be for any of a number of reasons. It might be that I feel safe in there, or because I am feeling lazy and complacent, or maybe simply because, well? — because the box is there. What other reason does a cat need to climb into a box. There’s even a very convincing argument that says boxes are too plentiful to possibly avoid. If you want to get anywhere, you can’t help but step into a few along the way. 

    The point is, I’m cat-like about being in the box. No box is going to keep me inside it. For sure not without me putting up a good fight. I might not jump fast. I might jump clumsy, every single time. I might not jump high enough or at the right angle, I might not make it beyond the walls on every try. And like all cats, I’ll definitely require a certain amount of time just sitting there inside the box, staring at the wall, trance-like. (Catatonic?)

    There are so many different boxes, probably an infinite number of boxes, a mind can fall into. Boxes are stacked everywhere in nested, challenging and adjacent positions. It’s tricky, even for an agile catty mind, to maneuver “out of the box”, consistently. The space between and beyond the box is convoluted and murky and by definition unknown, un-mapped, and un-traversed. So, I’m not saying I don’t spend most of my time inside the box. 

    am saying that my mind is always trying to get out of there. It’s jumpy, it’s curious, it’s sly, it’s fickle about the box. My mind treats the box like a cat would. Sure, it jumps in — but that also means my mind gets out of the box quite often. I can invent things. I can dream up scenes. I can imagine junk that not I, nor anyone else, has ever seen or heard of. And I do. I do it because I love it. (Can you hear my brain purring?) And I also do it because I believe it’s the right, the best, and the most interesting thing for me to do. I do it accidentally, instinctively and also, sometimes, with conscious intent and purpose. 

    There are times, however, when it feels impossible. Times when I am face to face with the inside of the box, dying to get out, but find myself at an utter loss. Usually, the trap is shut tightest when I have never seen or heard or even glimpsed the direction or intention of anyone else who got out of the box before me. When I have no clue which way to go, no prompts to set the brainstorm rolling. When I can sense nothing but the blank opaque walls and the familiar air within them. This is when getting out of the box feels impossible. And impossible feels even worse, the more I want to get out. There I am then, motivated but stuck, at an utter loss. 

    One frustrating box I encounter frequently, is the box surrounding issues related to oppression. The boxes that tell us the oppressive way is the only natural real way that ever existed. The boxes that pose as the irrefutable truth of the nature of things. Those boxes that tell you they are all of the world - that there is no world that exists outside of the box.

    Like patriarchy. (Like all of hierarchical thinking and organizing, but for the moment I’ll stick to just patriarchy.) Patriarchy is a box that says here all the ways you can think about men and women inside this box and there are no other ways to think or act about them outside this context. There is no other context. This context is all of human nature and you are stuck with it.

    Patriarchy does it insidiously, without transparency, telling only a small part of truth but pretending it’s telling the whole story. It’s hard to convince yourself there is more to the story when you’ve never heard any other story but the one you are hearing.

    This week I was re-reading an article by bell hooks about the way we think of men’s bodies. The way we talk about them and the way we respond to them and the way we generally orient ourselves toward the sexual physicality of men.

    Read More

     

  10. no way

    "People like people who like people," her mother said. "In other words, what I’m trying to say is, if you just like people, then they will like you back That’s really all there is to it." 

    She looked out the window in her kitchen. It was dark outside and so it shone black in the background with her reflection nearly perfect and seemingly projected out from the surface back toward her. She was wondering at this spectacle. At the beauty of it. At the way, she knew, if she stared long enough, she would also be able to see, in addition to, not instead of, but along with the stunning shiny blackness of the surface and her reflection, along with them, superimposed on them, she would also see the bushes outside. Eventually she would see the gravel alley and the empty lot next door. The window would become a shadow box for everything in front of it and behind it. A shadow box holding all the world, all of its shiny, reflective, in-between blackness, all that came before and all after. 

    Her aunt and her grandmother, her grandpa and her uncle were asking her what she thought of her mother’s plan to take in a “foster child”. Her opinion, regarding the beauty of the darkened window and her own reflection therein was something of which, at not quite six years of age, she was much surer of than her answer to that particular question. She was, in fact, completely baffled and unsure altogether what to make of this plan of her mother’s.

    If she had known the word impulsive she might have used it, but she didn’t. And if she had, known the word, she would have recognized its negative connotations. And therefore, she would never have applied it to her mother.  The whole topic made her uncomfortable, so she was grateful it was asked while she was looking away, out — or rather, into, the dark window. 

    Her voice, delivered and projected, as if on cue, was clear and tinkly and brimming with over exaggerated and dramatic enthusiasm.

    "I think it’s the magnificentist!" she nearly screamed. "I have always wanted a sibling to do battle with!"  And upon completing this exclamation she gave the air directly in front of her a downward, underhanded cartoon punch, much like Popeye was so famous for delivering - for emphasis. 

    Her line delivered, she listened to the smiling chuckles of her relatives’ approval and felt, although she had no word for it, either, a surge of naturally satisfying chemicals and brain activity firing away in the core of her six-year-old head. Her eyes, just now beginning to pick up the outline of the giant oak tree across the street, stayed fixed and focused straight ahead. The approval felt good and it was a signal that she had behaved as she should. All was well and her view into the outside world was still mysterious and beautiful.

    "Quit worrying about it, quit being upset." her mother said. "Being anxious doesn’t leave you any energy to put towards showing the other girls how much you like them. And that’s the trick. If you can just relax and let yourself enjoy their company," her mother insisted. "When they smile at you, smile back! It’s as simple as that!  Reflect whatever they offer back to them. People very much like to see that - to see themselves reflected in you. You can do that! I know you can!”

    Her mother had been a cheerleader. Her mother had been a cheerleader here in this same gym. It had been forever ago, she knew. Years ago, decades ago, in a time so far removed she couldn’t even fathom what it must have been like, but it had been in this exact gym. She was just in seventh grade now, but her mom and been in high school then. Her mom had been, not only a varisty cheerleader for four years, but team captian. Her mother was sure she would make the squad. Her mother, the ex-prom queen, was sure she would make the cut.  Her mother was completely undaunted about the all-school try-out performance and the student-body voting that would follow. Her mother loved a good popularity contest. Her mother had never lost one. 

    She, on the other hand, was less certain. She had been doing a lot of smiling and a lot of saying yes and a lot of nodding and nodding and nodding her head. But no matter how friendly she was, no matter how closely she watched, tracked their eye contact, met each pupil with an unwavering iris, they never seemed to relax in her presence. They always seemed put off by her close attention. She found the whole thing exhausting. But her mother kept insisting she was on the verge of a social breakthrough, she just knew it. So what else was she supposed to do but go through with it. 

    The tryouts were excruciating. She did not make the team. Not in seventh grade nor again after the tortuous second round of tryouts in her eighth grade year. She thought maybe, at first, it might be a blessing. That, she might gain some standing among the other semi-popular girls who tried out but didn’t make the squad. It was an elite team, after all, only half a dozen girls and nearly five times that many tried out. But it didn’t work that way. If her social status was no worse after failing at tryouts, it certainly wasn’t any better afterward, either.

    What she was beginning to notice, though, was her mother’s own suspectibility to the very social strategies she preached. She found that if she reflected her mother’s demeanor and mannerism back to her, her mother was pleased and delighted and flowed like a human fountain of approval. It made her feel good, it made her feel better, it was a comfort when the other girls behaved like they were some secret code she was never going to crack open. It was a process that happened very slowly, so slowly that, even if she had understood the concept of irony, she would never have applied the word to their situation. But it did happen. It happened that eventually, to become just like her mother became her highest aspiration.  

    "Remember, other people just want to be liked and fit in, too. If you like them and make them feel comfortable, if you go along with them and don’t be bossy or pushy or try to run things, everything will be fine. As long as you are nice and follow the rules. As long as you do, you can expect and demand that everyone else follows them, too. That’s how it works."

    Her mother had set up the lunch. She was to meet the daughter of an old friend of her mothers, long since moved away. The girl, the young woman, had once been her friend when they were small, when they were children. They hadn’t stayed connected but her mother had arranged this meeting, this lunch.

    It was awkward but she was lonely and her mother was just trying to do everything she could to help her make friends at college. She was so anxious. She was so lonely. She had no other options and so she felt she had to make this work. She had to make a good impression. She would reflect everything she saw in her new companion, and she would be sure to interject some of her own opinions into the conversation. This was something her mother did not directly suggest but she had watched her do it on so many occasions - she had even memorized many of her mother’s opinions. 

    She could tell the lunch was not the instant click of connection she had so longed and hoped for. But it didn’t seem to be going as bad as some of her worst interactions, where people were clearly, she couldn’t figure out why but she knew it nonetheless, put off by her eager desire to connect. She was sensitive enough to know that there was something off in her own social behavior, but she wasn’t able to figure out what it was. The dilemma burdened her with intense anxiety and she knew that sometimes, as a result, she came off sounding weird. 

    As they walked back toward the dorms on the southern edge of campus after salads and gyros, things seemed to be easing into a more relaxed flow. The other woman was talking about her boyfriend, she mentioned he was Jewish, but oddly, referred to him as “a Jew:. This seemed weird to her, especially because, at first it sounded like the girl had said, “Jap”. And “Jap” had sounded kind of like a racial slur (it was the eighties so it was still hard to tell in the midwest, back then). She wasn’t fond of racial slurs, but on the other hand, she wanted to reflect this new potential friend’s ideas back to her, she didn’t want to be challenging. She also knew that her mother was not fond of Asians — because her mother feared they were going to take over the engineering and design fields and interfere with American technology profits. The girl sensed they were at a potentially critical juncture in the interaction, she grew a bit flustered and then she just blurted out the first words she could shove through her mouth. 

    "Oh! Whew! He’s Jewish. I thought you said he was a Jap!"

    The other woman’s eyes grew wide when she heard the term, and a veil of aghast and dark shock passed quickly over her face. The girl took this as more negative Asian sentiment and barreled on forward to reflect it back, again. 

    "I don’t have many prejudices, but I sure don’t like Japs!" She’d heard her mother say that exact line before.

    The other woman stammered then. The mood between them immediatly shifting for the worse. Again, she felt that hideous sense of having blown it, but not exactly understanding how or why. She felt cheap and inauthentic and not at all like herself. She felt physically ill with loneliness and like she did not know who she was, nor have a friend in all the world.

    All of which was pretty much an accurate description of the exact state of affairs. 

    A few short months later when she looked back on the interaction, after receiving only a semester and  a half of liberal arts education, she realized how sickening her comments had been. Although she knew no words to describe the intensity of her shame, she failed to make the connection to the “social training” she had received from her mother. She merely felt baffled that she might have been such a horrid, horrible person. Indeed, even at the time of the realization, she had very little idea who she was. At that point, she was just beginning to figure out who she wasn’t. Who she would absolutely refuse to be.

    "Rules are made to be followed," said her mother.

    She discovered, again and again and again, over the course of the next two and half decades, that she was not meant to follow rules. Slowly, gradually, she stopped emulating her mother. She still loved her mother of course. But oh! how she rebelled against her. How she argued against those rules. Her mother remained as firm as she did, both of them, solid and stubborn in their now different positions.

    "Rules are made to be followed," repeated her mother.

    Until one day, she stopped fighting her. She set down her differences. She chose space and patience and understanding instead. She quit fighting her mother. She knew they were different. Clearly. There was no reason to go on battling her. It didn’t make any difference.

    Her mother was, after all, mostly a very good hearted woman. She helped people, she made a difference. She was kind and considerate to everyone she encountered regardless of anything about them. Her judgments were largely reserved for those distant from her, and for abstractions. She spoke harshly but acted with softness. 

    At the age of seventy-five, her mother, who had retired from a long and respected career as a hospital and then as a school nurse, was now working twenty hours a week as a case worker at the local food pantry. Beyond coordinating and dispersing food donations, she worked closely with a variety of economically challenged clients to manage their access to public aid and resources. She did so effectively and in a manner fueled by what seemed infinite friendliness, in a manner that was almost uniformly appreciated by both the administration and  the clients. She had been a good mother, she was a good person at heart. 

    "One of my clients called me a bitch today," her mother said. "I wanted to tell that old man to take a chill pill and choke on it! Not really. But a dog that bites the hand that feeds them, soon finds himself in the kill animal shelter." 

    She did not know how to reply when her mother said this. She found herself at a total loss. Her mother, sensitive enough to put a disclaimer on the choking joke, was completely clueless about the intensely degrading comparison she made immediately after. Her mother remained oblivious to the fact that she had just called the poor people she worked with stray dogs who, if not as infinitely friendly and grateful as she liked, deserved to be “put down”. This was the analogy. There was no way around it.

    In that moment, it seemed there was no way to be authentic, no way for her to be herself, no way to be her own person. She could not reflect back the sentiment. There was just no way. But neither could she, intentionally, shame her mother. 

    She went home silent, feeling barely a hair’s breadth past the reach of shame herself. And even then, she wasn’t so sure. She didn’t have any words for it.

     

  11. I want to take you places and clear all the abstract things that are potential distractions away. I want to swipe them clean with the length of my arm and a quick sharp scream that bursts out just before you enter the space around me. I want to make all the air around us clear and floaty, good noisy, deep rich smelling and full of atmosphere both fun and softie and playful. I want to make space for you to wax creative and watch while you take pictures. I want to witness how you appreciate the sensation of touching the world. I want to see the same touch reach back, crawl into your arms, crawl into your receiving it. I want to see you lose yourself in absorption and be saturated and filled with susurring abundance. I want to see you full and laughing. I want to see it feeling funny, your feeling funny. I want to be your plenty, satiety, superfluity. I want to offer you endless repletion. I want to make it a game and a sensation that comes right through truth and refuses to be ignored or taken to serious, not taken too serious. I want to watch you swim in freedom close enough for me to delight in all your glorious sunny being. 

     

  12. transport

    In addition to being the most uncomfortable means of transportation ever invented as well as the most likely to induce motion sickness, there was a good chance it was also the loudest, human propelled vehicle to ever clamber along the face of the earth. So varied and numerous were the sources of the sound of metal clanging, scraping, sliding and banging against other metal surfaces, a blind person might have imagined an ark full of animals all simultaneously running their claws along a slate chalkboard when it approached. 

    It was a specially rigged railroad handcar the size of a standard box freight car. It ran on six steel wheelsets on two trucks placed at either end. The floor was a deck that was mounted on top of a sub-deck directly over the axles and rigging. The sub-deck held a swivel hinge plate on which the main floor of the car was mounted. This swivel-hinge allowed the whole upper deck to spin around the gear apparatus in the center, giving the platform above free range to turn like a carousel. 

    Instead of the a standard pump handle at the center, a full size teeter totter was mounted there in its place. 

    The “drivers” of the car sat at either end of the teeter totter where bucket seats were perched. The fulcrum across which the drivers tottered was also mounted on a swivel. So the drivers could spin around and change positions without dismounting. The deck itself swiveled independently and it could be turned and locked into place perpendicular to the tracks and the totter, in order to better accommodate both the tottering and the passengers and cargo. Indeed, this arrangement allowed the drivers to push the car even faster as they dropped all the way to the lower deck for momentum before pushing off again with each pump. 

    She hated traveling this way, she thought. But it was so much faster than hiking and that was the only other way. She sighed and closed her eyes. Tried to give in to the trance like state that waited fro her somewhere in the tottering. She was in her least favorite position, back to the forward motion, deck sticking out sideways accentuating the tall grass swaying back under it. Her hair was blowing forward around her face as she moved backward and the noise was deafening. 

    She went over the message again in her head, imagining its telling. The sounds, the expressions, the touches, the smell of it. She tried to listen only to this rehearsal and the rhythm of her own feet pushing up as she came down again and again and again. Each pump of her body closer to where she was going. 

     

  13. The dangling plastic coated wires that hung down under her chin from up around her neck and ears, that dropped from the ear buds she was wearing there, just under the sharp neat line of her crisp shiny black bobbed hair, gave the impression of a stethoscope. Especially when combined with the floppy way the neck of her pale cardigan flapped open, not unlike a lab coat, the way her hand hovered along the wire, slightly lifting it, drawing the microphone away from the fabric to reduce the sounds of friction. 

    She was speaking on the phone, again, as she approached the bus stop. this time in the sun. It was early and rays still slanted drastically to shine under the shelter wall. Clear plexiglass, that wall, and yet it diluted the sun, nonetheless, just above where our feet were shuffling next to each other. 

    So, yes. She was saying.

    It is very much like the teeth and the pedestal thing. I understand this, too.

    Her words were articulated, precise, again giving the impression of a medical professional. Carefully spoken jargon lurked there, unspoken in words but clear in tone.

    I can see the dynamics of a dance that shifts the weight between self-conscious, self-defense, back and forth, toward and away, alternating with the tenderest trust, too. I, too, feel them both. Whenever I draw back from you, it is one part self-defensive and ten parts cautious respect for whatever your desires might be in that minute.

    It is a show of respect intended as a way to love you. To actively love you in restraint.

    The self-defense part, which incidentally pervades every single action I take toward you in some small way, is the part where, feeling less than worthy of your attention, I wouldn’t dare to ask or demand for it when you, obviously, have so many better options.  

    It seems the best way to love you is to stay out of your way. It seems wise, in this regard to err on the side of caution. Especially since I know that I am so committed to you. So committed that, should you ever decide I am your best option for the moment, I will be here and available. I count on you to… I don’t know, make an obvious summons or invitation.

    Therefore, I am always cautious. I figure, you’ll let me know whenever your other options are not preferable. I always try to wait for a sign from you. 

    And I came to the realization recently…

    Here she paused, but because she was listening to his end of the conversation through her earbuds, there was no chance I could overhear. The pause was short. 

    Exactly! She exclaimed.

    I realized just exactly that. That maybe you were having the same kind of reserved conservative response. I realized how ironic this would be if our respect - our super careful intense perhaps even over the top conservative respect was actually double-crossing us. If it was depriving us of each other when we didn’t really have better options. 

    But I was still afraid to tell you except…

    At that moment a medium-sized blue four door late model Plymouth collided half-way through a left turn into the intersection with an oncoming brand new lime green sparkle Hummer and the deafening sound of the two vehicles making contact drowned out whatever she said next. 

    She was animated, though, despite the disruption. Her eyes wide open and huge, as she pressed the earbud further into her head, as the sound of sirens began in the near distance. She kept talking and listening, alternating. 

    I got up to walk to the bus stop further down and over two blocks, where I would take a different bus, the long way around, to where I was going. 

     

  14. on the difficult social mandate to “choose a life partner” and do it well, too

    I stumble over this cultural mandate like it is a knee deep crag of jagged rocks on fire and I am barefoot. I cringe, scream, grimace - teeter, race, and grapple surviving only barely to pull myself, exhausted into a puddle just past it panting in great exhales of relief and sorrow at the prospect of how soon I’ll have to do it again. 

    There are so many reasons to object to the notion of “picking a life partner”. It’s such a stupid mandate to put on humans.

    It’s like my parents leading me into thinking that every single grown up person I met as a child had gone to college. The unspoken inference that the people who had not gone to college lived somewhere else where things were awful, that they were all homeless and living in horror somewhere. It is a lie of exactly those pervasive proportions. Even bigger. Monstrous. Monstrously huge.

    In truth. Not everyone goes to college. Not everyone gets married. Not everyone works with a partner. Some folks have more than one partner. Some folks change partners. Some change more often than others. Some people work with a partner for awhile and then work alone again, or vice versa, or both.  

    And even the ones who work with the same partner exclusively every day for most of their lives? The truth is, it’s not like they make the choice once and forget about it. For them, I would bet anything, it is way more a process of making the same choice daily, again and again and again for as long as they work together. Being aware and mindful that they are choosing it and that they want it and understanding why it works. And that they are still learning and being curious about how it does so. 

    People who stay together but don’t do it in this conscious way? I’d lay odds that deep down they are not at all very “happy together”. 

    Taking up the act of “choosing a life partner” is not something that lends itself to shortcuts. It is not a process that you can take on in one giant time release dose. It is actually really kind of impossible to “make the choice of a life partner” and then forget about it. There’s no checking it off the list and considering it finished. It’s kind of one of those things you have to do daily in small doses. Sure the doses accumulate but… the need to pick who you will align yourself with arises anew in literally every single moment. Unless you are entirely isolated with only one other person. The dilemma is going to rise, in reality, again and again and again every day.

    There will always be a choice. And the choice to move through the world solo will always be a looming option, also. These are the facts. These are the inescapable facts. These are the undeniable irrefutable facts that we spend almost all our energy denying to ourselves everyday. I’m not saying that’s horrible. I’m just saying. That’s what it is. 

    We deny the truth because choosing a partner consciously anew every single day is hard work and we are loathe to do it.

    We also deny it because we hate the idea that the people we pick might not pick us back every day. That the people we choose could up and leave us at any moment. We don’t want to think about or believe that. But it’s true. Even if they feel compelled by material conditions to stay? They can divorce our ass right out of their thought stream. They can abandon us in their hearts and in their guts. They can operate as solo agent in mind and sentiment even if they are stuck with us bodily. We hate the thought of that. And we also hate the effort of having to be aware of it and we hate having to consciously choose everyday. It’s exhausting. So we deny it. 

    But ultimately. We pick our partner anew every sunrise. There is no once and for all picking a life partner. That option just doesn’t exist. 

    I would argue this is a good thing. Our relationship needs change. They grow, they expand, they shrink they go off temporarily and sometimes permanently in different directions. We ourselves grow and change. I think we should be able and allowed to embrace the good parts of what it means to choose everyday. It means we do not have to stagnate. It means we are flexible. It means like all open living systems, like all organisms we have changing needs for inputs and outputs. It means our boundaries are permeable. Sometimes more sometimes less so. It means we change along with our surrounding context. It means we pay attention to our (various) partner’s growth and it means we are aware of our own change and patterns in growth. 

    Keeping in the practice of choosing, paying attention to and being aware of the fact that we choose and how we choose everyday - I think that is also an advantage in other ways. I mean… even the best life partners do die sometimes. Or like kids? - they grow away, in the most healthy way. If we realize that we know how to choose our life partner because we practice it every day - then, when we find ourself in need of a new life partner? Then we will know how to do it. We will be able to console ourselves and trust ourselves and say to oursevles: Okay - this is hard but I like working with a partner, I need to start the process of finding and choosing one again. I have done it before - every day of my life - surely I can do it successfully again. 

    And that’s really it - isn’t it? To realize that whenever we partner with someone, for a day or a year or a whole life or a portion of it - we are successful. Things don’t have to last forever to be considered successful.Things don’t even have to feel good or turn out good to be successful. Every thing we do can be a successful lesson about ourselves.

    Things aren’t meant to last forever. It’s a good thing. Nothing does. 

     

  15. Her right forefinger stretched to extend up across of the back of the cell phone pressed into her ear. It made an L-shape with her right thumb as it hooked around the silver edge of the iphone. Her forefinger pressed into the plastic, but it was not yet cramped and aching.

    Her whole hand would be screaming before the conversation was over. The phone hot, the finger, the thumb, all the knuckles cramped all the way back up to her shoulder, through her wrist and elbow and reaching even into her neck. 

    But for now she pressed the phone to her ear and spoke. For now, she was relaxed. 

    Do you remember when the subject of your “perfect teeth” came up last? She asked.

    Yeah. I was trying to say, that you couldn’t see it, though. That was just it. That is just it. They aren’t. My teeth aren’t perfect.

    He was slightly adamant at his end of the line. His voice, not plaintive, but definitley a note or two past laid back.  

    I know. She said. I know that was what you were trying to say, then. And I know that is what you are saying now. And I understand.

    You look at your teeth. You see they are not perfect. You hear me say they are, and you feel uncomfortable, fearful, afraid.

    You think to yourself, God, if i relax and let down my guard and just trust that she really likes me and my teeth the way we really are, that is sure to be exactly when she notices that my teeth really aren’t perfect. She’ll finally see and discover the truth and then, she’ll see she was wrong all along and she’ll stop loving me.

    You think: She’ll stop loving me and it will happen just when I’ve come to count on her loving me. That’s why you are fearful. That’s why you don’t want me to be so admiring. Not of your teeth. Not of you. At least not specifically. I’m not allowed to admire you in any exact way.

    I get it. You’re afraid to hear the specifics about why I love you because when someone loves your specifics that love seems so easy to refute. Nobody’s teeth really are perfect, after all. 

    Yeah. He said. Yeah. That is it. 

    His tone, at the other end of the line, now suggested that she was right and her comprehension of his state of mind was validating, yet his tone was not celebratory. It was another new odd mixture. His voice both defeated and awed at this sudden expression of her comprehension.

    Oh. I get it. She reassured hiim with some small exaggeration. 

    I feel the same way when you sayI am sexy. You’ve only said it a couple times but I kind of cringe. I think, like, now I’m fucked. Why’d he have to go and think that, he’ll be so bummed when he finds out what I’m really like. 

    It is completely relatable for me. I hate to be put on a pedestal. I hate people with their big expectations for me.

    But it’s also so so gross and stupid and insulting kind of really. Like you are really saying that my taste is so poor - that I’m stupid for finding your exact teeth meet my definition of perfect. It’s almost like you are criticizing my judgment. It is exactly like you are criticizing my judgment.

    It also means anyone who likes you is doomed to be an idiot. 

    But what you miss is that I was trying to say, that it is the exact, slightly crooked, way your teeth fit in your mouth, that seems like the shiniest most perfect thing I’ve ever seen. And I really mean it. And you could give me credit and the universe credit for matching up your slightly off choppers and my perfect definition of perfect. 

    At that point, the rain started. It came on fast and hard and in wave after wave of loud downpour on the bus stop shelter roof. It splashed up under the walls onto our boots. It whooshed and wailed and howled and carried on for more than twenty-five more minutes. 

    I couldn’t overhear any more of the conversation. Not her words and certainly not his replies through the cell phone. But she grimaced. All throughout the storm she kept talking and grimacing. And she grimaced at the end, when she hung up and shook out her aching hand and arm.

    After that, I gave up waiting for the bus and started walking by myself in the rain.