Balancing Act

IMG_0364It’s Sunday. My apartment is clean, and I just made myself a veggie wrap with spicy hummus, red peppers, cucumbers, spinach, arugula and avocado. It’s one of my go-to healthy meals that doesn’t require a lot of energy to make. Despite the kick, the wrap tasted a little dull this time. I forgot the tomato.

A candle crackles in the background while I write today’s blog. I look out my window, watching tree branches bend and bow to each other, participating in early fall rituals.

In a few hours, I will retrieve my dog from her father’s house. In case you need a refresher, I’m a 29 year part-time owner experiencing what I can safely say is the equivalent of a divorce. I almost married my high school sweetheart and then didn’t.

I didn’t move out by myself. My family and coworkers helped me cobble together a plan of execution. I know good people, and I am loved. But I’m responsible for my own pieces in the aftermath. Some days are better than others. Meals—nourishing myself and being creative about the food I make—is something that keeps me going. Music. But that’s always been the case. I’ve been building a fortress of playlists to come to my aid and comfort during even the most seemingly insignificant expressions of emotion.

One of my playlists is titled, “Hey you’re okay, okay?” and I like to listen to it when I’m sinking deep into my own head. There is a lot of this band called Khruangbin on this playlist. They play a lot of earthy, psychedelic tunes. My friend Alexa and I saw them live once at a music festival. Their mostly instrumental, chillax sound is easy to coast into. The bass guitar really does it for me. The bass player is this groovy broad with heavy bangs.

I often feel aimless and purposeless, despite my continuous motion. My identity feels like it’s in a constant state of flux and the best I can do is flow with it and put it into the familiar outlets that I’ve looked to for years.

Lately, all I want to do is curl up into a ball in my bathtub and cry. Or pet my dog and cry. Her reaction to tears is kind of funny, though. She tries to do the same thing to my tears that she does to bubbles or spiders. She tries to eat them. My dog can make my sadness morph into extreme joy in a matter of seconds.

There are lot of things on my to-do list today. The majority of them involve art.

I want to draw a new sketch and share it. I started an Instagram account for my sketches. I have 32 followers and not exactly counting. I guess I should be following others, commenting, and following the trail of hashtags or whatever, but I’m just more interested in getting some content out there right now. Keep moving. Connect with others who are hopefully not bots as I go along.  There are millions of bullshit accounts out there, and I’m not wasting my energy on trying to Holden Caulfield my way through Instagram.

A year ago, I took a night class for drawing. I learned that I don’t plan enough and I commit to the same areas for far too long. I want my own signature style, which avoids the detail-rich realism that requires me to take weeks and weeks to complete one single piece. I still like deep shading and accuracy, but I think I need to focus more on what I feel compelled to draw and less on what seems right.

I also have a writing group I want to submit something for. I created this group with a few of my other writer friends, and we’ve been on and off again about it for years. It certainly has turned into some great pieces from all of us. I really enjoy their feedback, and give my best back. These women have helped me grow personally, and they have even helped me produce material that I have gone on to publish in small indie mags. It’s nice to find a home for your writing.

Writing group meets once a month, and we usually talk and eat a bunch of dips and veggies together. Last group, Alexa’s table spread featured cinnamon pita chips and chocolate hummus. Dear god, if you haven’t had the pleasure, you need to get on that.

And apparently I started getting into singing and tinkering with my keyboards again, which was more of a childhood love, but it’s making a clunky comeback. I’m not sure who is louder, the 10-year-old who lives upstairs from me and sprints from one end of her apartment various times during the day. Or me, as I botch up the chorus line of a song that only has four different chords.

I want one big, fat artistic life in the meantime of trying to support myself. I know I’m not the only artistic individual who knows all too well what this balancing feels like. Maybe you have poor coordination and wobble back and forth like me.

I’ve realized that I’m fortunate because wherever I am, whatever I do, I will always try to find to way to carve out time to be in active engagement with my soul. This need will never die, so I might as well keep feeding it.

Sunday in present tense

I’m so ready for this long overdue entry. A little blast of coffee down the old gullet, and here I am.

Did I mention I’m up to three cups a day?

This is not something to be proud of. I fought the societal enforced drug for years until my second year of college. But there was something about my school library’s picture box views of Lake Michigan that rock-a-byed me into a delicious slumber. Maybe it was the chairs, the way their cushions swallowed me whole while I re-read the same blocks of text.

While I introduced my life to caffeine, others on campus popped their first Adderall. Sometimes I wonder if I’d have a doctorate by now if I would have jumped on that bandwagon.

My second cup of coffee paraded into my life while I was managing two trade publications. Editing down product release after product release on everything from ball valves and PEX elbow fittings to the new state-of-the-art boiler really took me to a new level of tired.

Now, I’m basically a walking stereotype of a copywriter with high-functioning anxiety and impending carpal tunnel. The moderate stream of coffee fuels both. Needless to say, I’ve been finding myself needing to give the old wrists a break every now and then.

How are you? I hope you did at least one thing today that made you feel alive. If you don’t know what that means, I recommend morning orgasms. Adult coloring books. Going off script while preparing your next dinner. A little extra spice or a bit of honey helps everything. I promise you’ll feel good about selecting the option: “yes, I’ll donate 1 dollar to a homeless pet” on the register.

Speaking of pets, I talked to my grandma today about her dog who had to be rushed to the emergency room after a seizure. She said she thought her beloved spaniel was just “plumping out” for the winter, but it turned out it was the internal bleeding that was causing her belly to bloat. My grandma’s voice was hoarse, like every word was too painful to speak. She told me the money it would cost for a blood transfusion and how she’s hoping that the medicine the vet gave her will be enough. I hope my biggest hopes it’s enough too.

I looked at my dog lazing on the floor in the pile of fluff she ripped out of her stuffed narwhal, and I couldn’t help but feel helpless. She wouldn’t be able to tell me if she was bleeding from the inside either.

A few days ago one of my closest friends told me she agreed to have her 3-year-old fur child put to rest after learning about the cancer that spread too quickly through its little body.

Losing a pet is like no longer having a shadow. My heart still surges at the memory of my bird, who flew out the sliding door one stormy February day. For months, I searched the skies for her. I taped pictures of her to poles throughout the neighborhood. I explained in the description that she could be lured with pizza crust. And that there would be a handsome reward for her return. I did all of this instead of facing the obvious. Because the obvious was too painful for me to face.

A dog’s love, in particular, is one of the most powerful, tangible forms of unconditional love and surrendering it never gets easier.

Shaken and empowered by her mortality, I shoved Maya in the back of my Mazda, and we rode with all the windows down to one of our favorite spots. It’s been a while since we’ve visited.

It was a pretty uneventful trip for blog standards, but I will comment on the standout moments anyway:

• A kid sprints down the biggest hill, his hair plastered to the sides of his tomato red face. His brows are furrowed in seriousness. There’s a blue hand towel tucked into the back of his shirt like a cape. I wonder which hero he is.

• The second cup of coffee caught up to me, and I realize I can’t control my bladder any longer. That moment when your ass is hanging out in the woods and hovering over poison ivy—it’s freeing. A few drops of my own urine splash against my leg, and I shiver with disgust. Maya seems taken aback that I can pee how she pees.

• I see the largest daddy long legs spider I’ve ever seen creep across the gravel. And what looks like the tail of a garden snake curl up and slither into a tuft of grass.

• Every person I pass says hi to me, and I say hi to them. There’s something about being outside in the sun that makes people genuinely want to say hi to each other.

• The smell of wet moss. The silent sanctuary of elms. The decaying fruit of the black walnut tree. The reassuring breeze.

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I take the wrong exit three different times on the way home. Maya doesn’t know any better. The longer we’re lost, the longer she gets to stick her head out the window and sneeze when there’s too much wind.

I accept this simple day for what it’s worth. The low-sodium spaghetti sauce was a bad choice. The extra Parmesan didn’t help. Not even Sriracha could save it, but I ate all the pasta anyway. Because I don’t like to waste. I still don’t own a TV. I’m trying to be present.

Happy Sunday.

 

Here’s to the unknown

I got up and made myself a piece of toast with garlic hummus, tomato and avocado at least three times this week. Who has time to do this in the morning, you may ask?

I do. I live 7 minutes away from work. I don’t have kids, just a part-time dog, and I recently left an 11-year relationship and called off the same engagement for the second time.

Yes, you read that correctly. The same engagement. Twice.

It may sound like bragging, but I’m definitely not. There’s a gaping portion of me that makes me feel like a complete failure and piece of shit who doesn’t deserve millennial toast. But I rise in the morning and nourish myself nonetheless.

Thank god for work flexibility and also that I’m an overachieving ferret who refuses to let her work quality plummet due to an unfortunate life circumstance. Because yesterday I walked into the office at 10:30 with wet hair streaming down my back and dampening my t-shirt and still somehow managed to get my shit done decently.

I won’t dwell too much on my relationship because I actually really loved the person I grew up with and almost married, who I was basically already married to. And I respect his privacy. He was the introvert, and I was the introverted big mouth who adored him openly but who also crossed a hell of a lot of lines.

Leaving a good person who loves you is a hard thing to do

And I don’t entirely recommend it unless it means that you’re being true to yourself. Leaving him doesn’t feel like I won some kind of battle. I wasn’t degraded, belittled or starved for attention. I carried out my own ambitions and activities a majority of the time. It’s just that as we grew older, we had less and less to talk about and connect over. The silences were uncomfortable, but they were filled with their own truths. And finally it occurred to me that we were on two separate journeys that I had been trying too hard to jam together.

In the end, this was the right thing to do, but I don’t feel self-righteous about it. I feel sad. And every morning that I’ve woken up this week I’ve asked myself the same question:

Why are you fucking do this to yourself?

Answer: Because I want to feel like myself again. And I want to connect to my purpose. I don’t want to openly say “God’s plan” at the risk of God’s people filling my life up with their own agenda of what they think God’s plan is for me. I am a spiritual person, but I’m very wary of sentimental, fact-denying groupies and people who overly project their spiritual endeavors onto me. There is a lot of that lately.

But yes, I am doing this in a big part for spiritual journey/personal growth reasons. To connect with the activities, people and groups I get excited about and who make me come alive. I’d like to share some of my juju when I am ready and a little past my current heart sickness. And to make whatever mediocre difference I can on this rapidly decaying planet.

It’s a very uncertain time in history that we’re currently in, and how do I experience it fully if I’m hiding away in something I don’t wholeheartedly believe in? I just want to embrace the bigness of my life. Even if right now that means taking small steps to the toaster. Or taking my part-time dog with me on long walks.

I have my part-time dog with me this week. She’s a two-year-old coonhound mix. One fellow trail walker once told me she looks like a beagle on stilts. And the description fits, so I use it.

Anyway, I’m going to cut this short because I think it’s about time I take my beagle on stilts for a walk. Thank you for reading.

 

 

 

Another man’s trash

On my way to and from school I used to pick up one piece of trash off the side of the road or in the grass along the sidewalk. I always double checked to make sure it wasn’t particularly goopy or sloppy or infested with critters. Because I wasn’t about to pick that one up. But other more normal looking trash, sure. No skin off my ass.

Then I’d throw the piece of trash away.

I did this every day for years. No one asked me to do this. No one even hinted. I did not feel controlled by guilt or fear. It wasn’t going towards my GPA. There was no one around to “catch me being good.” I didn’t do it to get into heaven. No competition.

I just did it because it made me feel good in my own little life.

I’m not sure when or why I stopped doing this. Maybe because it was no longer apart of my daily routine. I stopped walking to school and drove a car an hour to get to the city.

But I have a dog that I walk every day, so it’s literally that easy for me to get that groove going again. Even if it’s pointless. When I was a kid, it didn’t seem pointless at all.

I’ve been staring out my window at the same discarded UPS box for the last two days, and oh look, my dog has to pee.

A Room of One’s Own

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I’m lying on the floor of my office, watching the clouds outside my window upside down. This is the exact spot my dog likes to sunbathe in. I can see why she likes it so much.

Patches of light poke out from clumps of cloud. It’s been a while since I’ve made a conscious effort to watch the earth turn.

My eyes wander from crabapple to crabapple in the tree outside my window. I just Googled “crabapple tree”, and learned that it’s formally known as a Malu, and there are 55 different types of these trees. (Just to make you think I know a shit ton of things about trees.)

The crabapple tree begins to thrash in the wind underneath a restless sky. Jagged, gray clouds have begun to swarm and dominate the fluffy whiteness. The tree’s branches shake like violent pom-poms.

I’m reading Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad. I’m only 15 pages deep. I probably won’t finish this book, even though I really like it. Honestly, I haven’t finished a novel in at least two years, but have started and stopped plenty. I’ve dog-eared the pages of this particular book at least three times. I enjoy it, and it hooks me every time, but so do news articles, long-winded social posts, and everything else.

For example, this morning I sat transfixed in bed on a BBC article about the hundreds of Caravan migrants at the Mexican border right now. I burst into tears, quickly swiped them off my face, and grabbed Egan’s national bestseller. Because this is what I do every time I’m overwhelmed by reality—I reach for fiction, and sometimes I try to create it myself.

I’m reading about a narrator who’s a kleptomaniac in treatment. She just brought a date home to her New York apartment. He’s excited that her bathtub is in her kitchen, and asks to take a bath after they fuck. He uses some bath salts that the narrator stole from her best friend.

I stop reading. I make a note in my notepad about the tub drawings I’ve been sketching every weekend for the last three months. It says, “Draw tubs in other rooms of the house.” Then I yell downstairs to Sean, who’s immersed in gunfire erupting from the television.

“I want to go to New York. All the writers are out there.”

“The writers for Red Dead Redemption are in New York.” Right now he’s playing Half-life II and counting down the days to the release of the game he really wants to play.

“That’s what I’m saying.”

“Let’s take a trip,” he says.

“Yeah.”

I stopped fighting my need to escape Illinois, because I realized that I can travel when I choose to or do creative things that push my imagination in my down time. And so far it’s been working. I have never wanted to live a life I need to escape. I moved so much when I was a kid, so I find the thought of moving around and trying to find myself in places outside myself versus inside, super exhausting.

I prefer warm socks. Wine. Fumbling around with a pencil in my office. Flipping one of my dog’s ears inside out or rolling it like a tortilla. In the comfort of a consistent home. You know, like a lot of people.

When I stop to think about it, this town home is the first place I’ve ever lived in that I’ve actually enjoyed. It’s not to say I hated anywhere else I’ve lived—I just didn’t prefer it.

The third floor apartment I lived in before my current home drove me crazy. I was literally stalking flies in my underwear late at night.

The kitchen was a joke. I couldn’t reach any of the pots and pans in the cabinets, and there were at least three fake drawers you couldn’t open. The cracks in the ceiling. The paint the landlord said he would fix. Then there were the groceries up three flights of stairs. The angry laundry room notes. And the shit in the closets that started to accumulate. I hate holding onto things I don’t need, things I begin to feel the weight of.

One day I was so mad that I swung open a closet and started heaving everything onto the floor. Sean was horrified at the wordless drama, but I was having an angry blast. It felt so good to see dusty games we never played, random pieces to things we didn’t even know existed come crashing to the floor, forced to explain their existence.

It’s not that I’m any less crazy, it’s just I feel more at peace here. If that makes sense. I have established my nooks. Sean sits in a spot on the couch downstairs that’s sunken in from his days of excessive gameplay. In my office, there’s a sign on the wall that says, “Create.” It’s colorful and corny. I found it in the two-dollar section inside Target. I realize it’s the only reminder that I really need. Every now and then, Sean and I call to each other, and then we resume our respective hobbies.

A car engine vrooms down the street. I call to Sean, “That sound is annoying. It’s just noise, not music.”

“It’s music to someone,” Sean calls back. And I begin Chapter 2 of my book.

Really, being kind isn’t that hard

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It was my first year of high school gym. I slumped in the bleachers with the rest of my classmates, waiting to be assigned a locker. This is how the first day of anything went—a lot of sitting, waiting and shifty-eyeing other people.

Some girl would squeal in excitement, reminiscing with her friends about a scandalous evening she had over the summer. Everyone sitting around their group leaned in for free deets.

The gym smelled like new sneakers and various scents of Britney Spears’ perfume and Axe Body Spray. Straight hair, strategically placed accessories and clean clothes—our best attempts at first impression making.

I was wearing one of my favorite dresses—a striped purple one I found at the Salvation Army. There was a ring on every single one of my fingers. The one I wore on my middle finger was a plastic eyeball with baby doll lashes. Even the weirdoes dressed to impress on the first day of school.

The hour dragged on, and only a handful of students were assigned lockers. You could tell by the crossed arms and leg shakes that people were starting to get bored and antsy.

I sat transfixed on one boy, who hiccuped a high-pitched cartoonish laugh after calling another boy a “wittle baby pie.” He had large, pink gums and a pair of glasses with inch-thick lenses. The other student, who wore a pair of faded jeans and a sideways smile, sat in a clump with a few of his stone-faced friends and glared at the boy with the glasses. Then he called him a disgusting pile of shit. His friends snorted laughter.

The glasses kid laughed too. After five minutes of listening to them, I became enraged. It was clear that the boy with glasses had some form of autism. Though he seemed to be defending himself just fine, throwing out sing-song, emasculating comebacks, it was clear this was quickly becoming a Lord of the Flies kind of situation. Others were staring at him and cupping their bursts of laugher with their hands.

I stood up in the bottom row of bleachers and called up to the boy with the faded jeans. I shouted, “Hey, what the hell is wrong with you? You should know better. Leave him alone.” My ears surged with blood, as I whittled him down with my eyes.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“Don’t tell me you’re sorry,” I seethed.

Then he apologized to the boy with glasses.

Over the years, I had classes with both of them. The guy with faded jeans had a deadpan sense of humor and turned out to have a lot of home life problems. I laughed at his jokes when I was sure he would no longer aim them at loners.

The guy with glasses sat behind me in biology. He picked me flowers and shared his candy with me. I liked to watch him draw super heroes on his Punnett squares and listen to him go off into long tangents about his favorite Marvel characters. He received one of the highest grades in that class.

All throughout school, I was that person who said things in uncomfortable situations. Or I made situations uncomfortable by saying things. One summer I gained 15 pounds after eating Steak and Shake’s five-way chili and Frisco melts with the new boyfriend I was in love with. Everyone thought I was pregnant, so I stampeded the rumor. I stood up in a math class, announcing to my wide-eyed peers that I wasn’t pregnant, just fat and happy, and to tell the others.

Being brave, as some people would define this, had no impact on the extreme levels of loneliness I felt, but it did loosen the amount of knots I carried around inside my body on a daily basis. I spoke my mind to free myself from my internal prison.

A loss of words

I’m approaching 30 now, and I still speak up, but I’m not exactly the same fiery girl who goes sniffing around for things to speak out about, mostly because there’s an endless amount of things I don’t entirely understand.

At the same time, I’ve missed some easy marks to be that person I know myself to be.

When I was on vacation in Virginia, I saw this man pushing a shopping cart full of groceries and a kid with a bowl haircut. The kid was kicking his chubby legs, pointing, and making outrageous proclamations about all the deli food. The man, who was expressionless, white-knuckled the front of his cart. I walked past them.

The sound of crashing metal clanged in my ears, and I swiveled my cart around to see the little boy sobbing into his arms. The man was walking away from him toward the deli counter. Did he really just whip the cart with the little boy into a display?

I didn’t want to assume to worst of this man, but the way he grabbed the cart and jerked it toward him told me that he did intentionally try to hurt the kid.

I held the bottle of wine I selected for the night and stood in the middle of the aisle, staring at the man, following him with my eyes. I felt the words wash over me. I didn’t say them.

A few weekends ago, while I was walking my dog, I saw this woman inching across the street with a full bag in her hands. It was hard to see her face. The streetlights had yet to turn on, but I could see she was pushing her entire body into a cane. She grunted with every step. There was a point where she missed a step and feverishly clung to her cane. I feared she might collapse into the street.

I quickly walked towards her, but my dog started to growl at the sight of this limping figure. I calculated how I’d manage Maya and help this woman get to her car. Then two other figures appeared in the driveway she just came from.

They all appeared to know each other. So, why was no one helping her get to her car? Demands filled my lungs, and I was ready to fling them at these two unmoving idiots. Maya tugged on the leash, jolting toward a loud rustle in some bushes. We followed the sound and shuffled into our home.

It’s times like these I wish I had done something different, spoken the right words or shown compassion for my fellow human being. I understand and identify with the sentiment “not my circus, not my monkeys,” but this is not an excuse for me to bypass my feelings in micro situations where I know I can make a difference.

I think it’s easy to maintain the mindset that we’re only responsible for ourselves. I’m arguing less for massive displays of courage and heroism and more for little acts of common decency. It’s so fucking easy to be kind and make a minuscule impact when the opportunity presents itself.

I want to and can do better.

My favorite spot is your favorite spot

35267152_10217184344425649_608698351625437184_nThe mountains are calling, and I must go. Cool, but when I can’t make it to the mountains, I’ll happily settle for my favorite nature spot, which is ten measly minutes away from my house.

It’s a grove that’s tucked behind a woodsy, unincorporated community. It features a dusty, gravel trail wrapped around a man-made pond people enjoy fishing in. There’s a grassy knoll I sometimes force myself to scale. I call it Three Trees Hill even though there’s way more than three trees that greet you at the top of it. I’m super lazy with titles.

I like this spot because there’s no more than four to five people there at a time. And everyone winks at each other like we’re all in on some big secret about being there.

Today I sported my new favorite shirt (this blog has a few of my favorite things). I bought this shirt from a street cart in Boston. It’s royal blue with white lettering. It says: WICKED SMAHT.

I know, how touristy.

But there’s brilliance in running in a shirt like this if you’re particularly self-conscious about your body. People will judge your form the second it appears in their plain view. Because that’s what we do. We’re trained from the womb to assess each other’s sacks of flesh and bone. How much control we have over it and how much work we put into it.

Here’s the fun part: when people assess my body and assign a term to it while I’m wearing this shirt, they’re distracted by the terminology I’ve thrown out at them without any introduction, without vocality.

WICKED SMAHT.

I catch three walkers and a cyclist scanning the words with their eyes. They seem to accept my projection, offering me sly smirks in return as I run toward them, breathing in heavy, inconsistent breaths.

After I get over myself and my total win of a shirt, I focus on the residue of the day. Today was a good one but a hard one. At work, I received the most amount of feedback I’ve received in a while. I felt the full weight of it still sitting on my shoulders and wrapped around my neck like an itchy scarf.

I just started a new job, and I’m relearning the way I’ve been doing things for the past four years. My new job calls for me to be free-falling, fun, inventive. It’s what I wanted, but in starting off, I realize I’m unsure what to do with all the white space that clashes with the constraints of time.

I’m a writer. I can make magic when I put my mind to it, when my mind isn’t trying to unravel me and wear me down. I’m one of those fortunate souls who has known what I’m good at and what I like to do. But when I’m writing about a brand new topic I’m unfamiliar with, I can feel myself scraping around in the dark for information. When words leave my fingers they feel clownish, contrived. I don’t want my reader to think I don’t give a fuck.

Because dear reader, I give a fuck.

So here I am running and thinking about writing and readers, and this deer pops its head out of a patch of pussy willows, or what I’m calling pussy willows because it’s fun to say. The deer flicks its ears and pretends not to exist. My stomach backflips at the sight of this doe-eyed discovery. 35329201_10217184348265745_1398846757835636736_nThis is the part where I try to concentrate real hard on the stress I’m clenching in my body’s tightest sections. This is the part where I give myself away to the deer. My favorite spot is your favorite spot. You can see deer anywhere if you look closely.

And if you look deep enough into the eyes of a red-winged blackbird you’ll find murder. Because they’re crazy this time of year. Trust me on this one. You’re probably interrupting their bone session if you’re anywhere near them right now. In flight, they look as burly as football players, with fiery red shoulder pads. Don’t mess with these bad to the bone birds.

I run. The wetness on my back is soothing, reassuring. Maybe I can outrun the mosquitos’ thirst. Maybe I’ll see my work the way I see the flutter of wings, rotted bark, or insect eggs on leaves. I’m waiting to catch my breath, and then it floods my lungs. I’m a blur, whirling through curls of green.

I have to stop running at some point. There’s a cotton candy pink sunset sitting on the horizon like the ultimate dessert of the day. I thank it, think of it as a reward for working my problems out here. The water and sky accept my honesty. They pat me on the back with their long, wisps of arms.35296111_10217184344225644_7128660158099488768_n (2)The four other trailblazers and I stand still as deer in our respective places along the trail, wordlessly uttering our silences. Together, we eat the sunset.

This womb

The woman curled
up in a bath
remembers a woman
in bed
in a white room
of her own undoing;
a body tight as a fist;
a mind unraveling
like a scroll.

Maybe smallness
is our way
of making our way
back to our space.

The ultimate cradle.

My hands droop
in the water
like flowers
with bent necks.

“Choose the life
laid out in front
of you. Feel its
aliveness. Its
calm vibrations,”
calls the woman
in my bathroom.

I want to believe
that my body
is a field of
green energy
but my eyes,
catch a glimpse
of white room,
porcelain tub,
walls made of
chalky plaster.

My chest falls
as she asks me
to concentrate
on sincerity,
on what is
important to me.

I reach for
my yours truly,
my serious
what is love face.

Should I reach
for what’s to come?

My body floats,
and the room hums.
The heater turns
on and off
like raspy
breathing,
but breathing
in and out
nonetheless.

This womb
is filled with
warm water
returning me home.

A Meeting with Bob from Beyond

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This part about life is true-ish: you can spend your day, or at least some of it, being focused, doing what makes you happy, or spend your day thinking about never having it or obsessing about losing it.

I’m walking down a nature trail. I’m talking to myself. As people pass me by, I hush up because I am too much of a puss to let them know I’m talking to myself.

I have today day off of work. I feel bad about days off, but I really enjoy them, like a lot of people. I try to have plans on those days, which doesn’t always work out. I want to use them to their fullest.

Please be patient with yourself. You smoked a little bit. You forget that you get a little paranoid when you smoke alone. And maybe that’s why you’re talking to yourself at all, so that it feels like you’re with someone.

 I think that you came here for a reason. You want to explore what is going on inside you without anyone else around you. I think this is a healthy thing to do. Recently, you’ve been overly connected to social media, and you’ve been feeling hyper and stimulated. Even when you were in Costa Rica, you were still checking your phone. You’re never free of technology.

Social media sometimes feels like a box, like a way to keep people inside. There are people who take advantage of social media for the right reasons. They want to share with others, give to others. They want people to come along with them for the journey. Follow them through this jungle, on this mountain, through those moments when they marvel on the face of their first child.

Voyeurism has consequences. What about the other chunk of people who are standing still? Just watching someone live their life? The viewer doesn’t even have to dream it up. It can happen right before their eyes. They continue to watch and watch and watch. We have become a new form of TV, this relentless watching of each other.

Today you’re distraught. You lost your journal. It’s this purple, silky thing that you got from Barnes and Noble about a year and a half ago. Let’s be honest; most the thoughts in there weren’t worth sharing with others, but they were worth mentioning to yourself in the moments that you wrote them down. You write in it for your future self. So that you can immerse yourself into what it felt like to be a younger version of you.

I am 27 years old. I miss my journal because it was for me. No entertaining. I could see myself thinking and rethinking in it. Messy. Not the best words I could come up with. Organic. Diary entries. Pieces of poems. I wrote one on Mother’s Day about my mother and how she says the word “fuck” better than anyone I know. She gives it grace.

I wrote about going down to southern Illinois with my dad to watch my sister graduate. I don’t think I finished that entry. I was waiting for it to settle on me, and then I lost it.

A bearded man and his dog just passed me, so I had to stop talking just now. I recently wrote a short story about this man who talked to himself in his garage at night, seething about the government. The only thing that calms the voices in his head is fishing.

I come from an entire family of talkers, and lo and behold, I’m a talker. But I’m also a good listener. Some people don’t need another person on the other side, and this terrifies me. I know someone who doesn’t need another person to listen. I can leave my phone on the counter and walk away for 10 minutes, and they wouldn’t know the difference. No interjections or counterpoints necessary.

Being around non-talkers used to be a big issue for me. Spending time with my boyfriend’s family, for example, made me feel uncomfortable, exposed. I didn’t know what to do with myself, so I filled up the silence. Open mouth, open floodgates. I mean, sure they said things, but everything was so matter of fact. Not at all like therapy. Like live wires. Everyone wearing their emotions out all together at once.

I have to pee, but I’m kind of nervous. I’ve had some bad experiences with peeing in public lately. When I was in Costa Rica, I really had to go. I was at a resort, and I found this sort of remote-ish place by the beach, which obviously wasn’t remote enough. A hotel employee had caught me hunched over a pile of sand. He started yelling at me in Spanish, and I was already going, so I kept going. I was drunk, but horrified that he kept yelling at me, not even turning around and waiting for me to finish.

I pee quietly behind some bushes. A mosquito bites my ass.

Now, I’m looking over a pond covered in lily pads that bounce light to each other as the water moves underneath them. There are hundreds of dragonflies flitting in between them, dipping their butts into the water.

The fisher in my short story, the one with the voices in his head—he’s addicted to painkillers and alcohol. His kids keep finding him passed out in the bathroom. His body fails him. He was the funny one, the one who made you feel sane. Everyone’s favorite uncle. His kids and their cousins used to dog-pile on top of him every Christmas. Now he can’t even remember his kids’ names.

The intro of the story starts with a text message. A wrong number. From some guy named Bob who wants to go all-night fishing. The narrator is lonely, so she messages him back for the sake of conversation. She evens sends a fish emoji. The conversation ends once the mysterious texter figures out they are texting the wrong person.

I watch dragonflies clash into each other. It sounds like the crinkling of candy wrappers. A pier moves underneath my feet. An elderly couple shuffles next to me and onto a bench that’s bolted to the pier. They look out across the water, past the lily pads. The man is wearing a baseball cap with the word “veteran” on it.

“Do you see the lotus flowers?” he asks me. I look toward where his wrinkled index finger points. Fleshy pink petals poke out from the water.

“Yes, they’re beautiful,” I say. Suddenly, I feel like a tourist.

“Where are you from?” the stout woman asks, peeking out from the side of the man.

“Northwest ‘burbs,” I say.

“Terrible drivers over there,” she says with a half frown.

“That’s why I’m here. To slow down,” I laugh.

“This used to be a lively place,” the man tells me. “Every summer, people would rent out boats, and there would be concessions. Tons of people. Now it’s a ghost town.”

“What happened?” I ask.

“The state didn’t want to pay for it anymore,” he says and nods.

He points again. “Look at that barn swallow,” he says.

I watch a brown body pierce the air like an arrow. Then it dips and dives, making sharp, acrobatic turns.

Since fishing is on my brain, I tell the man that I tried fishing recently, and I still have yet to catch my first fish.

“Oh, have you been up by McHenry? Plenty of good fishing spots over there,” he says.

“I will be sure to check that out. I’m gonna get lucky next time, I can feel it,” I say.

“You will catch one, Sweetie,” the woman tells me.

I thank them. Their encouragement pulses inside my chest, and I am aware of the sun’s warmth on my face.

“It was so nice meeting you. I’m Sarah,” I thrust my hand out formally. I’m not sure why, but then I realize I want to touch their hands.

“I’m Sandy. And this is Bob,” the woman says. Bob smiles.

Clem

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I bought my rabbit, Clem, eight years ago from a thin, springy woman who ran a rabbit rescue from her large house in the country. Upon entering, I remember a sharp, rusty odor, but there was not a wad of fur or dropping to be found. Her house was immaculate for someone with animals living in every pore; rabbits munched and frolicked in their cages in the garage and living room. She even had a “private stash” in her bedroom that weren’t for sale.

I found this woman slightly unhinged. Little did I know, I would soon understand her need to cut across four lanes of traffic and throttle her car to the side of the road to retrieve an unventilated box of abandoned kits.

Clem was not my love at first sight. Nay, I had my heart set on a four-year-old Rex that looked just like the Velveteen Rabbit, one of my favorite fictional critters as a kid. My boyfriend, Sean, adored him too, but convinced me that it wasn’t such a good idea, since he had a large tumor on his hind leg. This would be our first pet as a fairly new couple, so I agreed to move on, reluctantly.

Clem flopped around a cage with a litter of rabbits that were indistinguishable from each other. They each had shiny black coats and stubby ears. We knew he was “the one” when he plopped right in front of us and shoved his nose into my hand. For 20 bucks, he was ours. On the ride home he nuzzled my waist, poking me with his whiskers and every now and then stretching his neck and sniffing the air. We named him Clementine; I didn’t learn that he was a male until a year later, when we went to get him neutered. I remember correcting the vet, who then schooled me by showing me my rabbit’s testicles.

Rabbits are not rodents; they’re lagomorphs, which is something I always threw into my father’s face. He assumed that rodents were less than those of the canine and feline families, and called Clem a “chew toy.” But I’m here to tell you rabbits are as sassy and conspiring as cats and as athletic as dogs. Did you know that rabbits can do kick flips with their hind legs? That they can throw cardboard boxes across the room? Pretty badass for a chew toy.

Clem has his own special brand of sassery. When I would study for college exams, I’d arrange all my books and notebooks across the floor and work, and Clem would come bounding across the carpet then nudge my hand. I happily mirrored his affection, but I’d have to shoo him away after the third or fourth round of pets in order to get any work done. Clem detested being shooed, so he’d devise a plan out of spite. He’d stare at me while threatening to chew through my lamp’s power cord. I’d sternly tell him NO and he would inch closer and closer to the cord anyway until I launched from the floor. The fluffy-tailed bastard would bolt underneath my dresser.

His favorite game to play with me though was the one where he’d rip a page from my notebook and flee with it into his cage. So fun. And everyone knew that once he was in his cage, he was untouchable; one could likely lose a finger in a single instant of reaching into his highly protected turf.

In literature, rabbits have always been depicted as tricksters, and I believe that every rabbit has a little of that witty, conniving Bugs Bunny in him. I believe Clem receives great pleasure when I bumble around the room to catch him. He is after all prey, and maybe he wants to be true to his nature by making his large, dim-witted oppressor hustle.

Clem lives for yogurt drops, his preciouses. All I have to do is rattle the bag of Yogies to get him to emerge from his dark tunnels. He rips them right out from my hand without a thank you. I was curious to know why he’s so hooked and decided to test them for myself. It turns out that the tart, artificial strawberry isn’t half bad. Hell, I prefer them to Smarties. Clem also saws down at least a quarter of a bag of hay a day. His mouth is constantly at work, rolling around in little circles.

A rabbit’s chow-down is much more complicated than it looks. They chew in sequences, first chiseling hay like a paper shredder, then grinding it down between the molars on one side of the mouth at a time, then pumping their intricate jaws to bring food to the back of the throat. They have a total of 28 teeth, including their trademark front incisors. Rabbits are delicate creatures; their skulls are not solid bone, rather they are thin and fenestrated, resembling a lace-like fabric.

There came a point when I felt guilty about Clem being alone all day, so I bought him a rabbit friend, whom we named Dexter. He’s cotton swab white with black rims around his eyes, which makes it look like he wears glasses like Dexter from Dexter’s Laboratory. Dexter and Clem hit it off right away. They cuddled together so tight that they looked like one rising and falling ball of yin and yang.

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Around the time Dexter hit his teenage rabbit years, the love spell wore off. Dexter grew impatient with Clem’s dominance, his insistence that Dexter should clean his fur whenever he commanded. He was smaller than Clem, but faster, and growing into himself. He didn’t like to be bossed around and thumped in protest. I noticed they started sleeping on different levels in the cage. Dexter took the top bunk, and Clem huddled in the bottom one. It was a tragic observation. They were supposed to be brothers for life.

One day I was doing laundry in the basement, I heard a loud clamor coming from the ceiling. I slammed the laundry basket on the floor and heaved myself up the stairs. When I opened my bedroom door, Clem and Dexter were one again, except this time a tangled tumbleweed rolling around on the carpet. Patches of Clem’s fur were scattered across the floor in between small red dots of blood. I didn’t know what to do. I sat there deciding which finger I could afford to lose. I had a feeling this was an ultimate death match to decide who would be the alpha once and for all. Finally, Clem staggered, so I scooped him up, saving him and his dignity. Dexter’s tail was raised, and he was still grunting heavily. This fluffy bunny wasn’t fucking around.

In the end, Sean and I bought another cage and split them down the middle. It was devastating for us to watch. Their brief and passionate love was no more. I’m going to be honest with you; I felt a little resentment toward Dexter, even though I knew he was transforming into a man rabbit who wanted his space and independence. Clem couldn’t handle that. To him, he and Dexter needed to share one beating heart — one that beats 180 beats per minute (at rest). Was Clem’s affection too big, too suffocating for Dexter? Clem handled their breakup fairly well, though, in the time he spent chasing Dexter around the apartment, he made up for in eating. The poor bastard put on a couple of ounces.

It’s interesting how much value you can get out of 20 dollars, and also how much work. I guess most pet owners stumble over these crossroads.

The brushing of a rabbit is serious manual labor that you have to keep on top of. There was one year I was up to my eyeballs in jobs and homework. I vividly remember the messy hair buns and basketball shorts, the Monster Energy drink-induced nights where I was trying to decipher the Canterbury Tales, the braille of English. I slipped. I couldn’t keep up with Clem’s high-maintenance fur. What happens when you don’t brush a domestic rabbit? Well, they start to ingest their fur, which does startling things to their digestive tracks. Anyway, Clem ate so much of his own fur that it formed a web-like weave around his shit. The result was solid, golf ball size turds that Sean and I had to chop off with a pair of designated scissors.

Let me just say that rabbits aren’t as cute with solid rock turds hanging from their butts. Or when they’re yawing. Or when they’re eating their poop, which is pretty standard for most animals.

I thought we almost lost Clem. He wasn’t eating for a couple days so I rushed him over to a pet clinic near me. They turned me away because apparently Clem is considered “exotic,” which blows my mind. Clem, exotic? Give me a break. Exotic basically means risky, specialized, not to mention expensive, in veterinary terms.

So I drove Clem 45 minutes to a pet emergency center that was open 24 hours. I couldn’t locate his carrier so I sat him in my front seat, draping my cardigan over his head so he could hide, which he seemed to appreciate.

“We’re almost, there, Clem. Hang in there, old chap!” I told him. I turned my wheel gently, as opposed to cranking it. I didn’t want to freak him out even more than he already was with his wet, black eyes maniacally jutting out of their sockets.

I shoved my rabbit underneath my armpit, and we entered the emergency room. The receptionist, a young man with messy hair, jeans and a slight lisp, escorted us to our room and left us. I began to pace. I texted my friends about Clem’s updated status even if they didn’t ask. I let Clem sit underneath my chair as we waited for the vet.

About 30 minutes later I asked the receptionist how much longer until we were seen. Just as he was about to respond, a loud screeching alarm blasted through the hallway, bouncing off walls. Dogs began to bark, and two women in blue scrubs hustled past me with carriers with whiskers protruding from them.

“There was a gas leak. We all need to evacuate,” they told me. Clem was statuesque in his spot on the floor where scooped him up.

Rain pelted the street and cars. People huddled with their pets under umbrellas or scurried to their cars for shelter. Clem buried his head in my lap.

This was it. I thought chopping a poop ball off my rabbit’s ass had officially made me a crazy bunny lady, but I think the moldy cherry on top was waiting out the rain in my car with my supposedly dying rabbit until the firemen fixed the gas leak and told everyone to go inside.

The firemen waved everyone back in. We sat in the lobby waiting to be resituated, dripping in our chairs. A sick pitbull rested his head on his owner’s lap. The woman stroked the spot around his half-shut eye. A vet tech who was holding a cat in its carrier dozed off against a wall and dropped the cat’s fluids bag on the floor. Everyone in the waiting room peered at it on the floor until the tech noticed and snatched it up. Clem and I had a staredown contest with an overweight Yorkie who looked unamused with the entire situation.

Finally, Clem and I were herded into a room again where I began to pace back and forth, anxious to hear my rabbit’s fate. A vet tech popped her head in. She was pretty and looked slightly older than me. I stared at the infinity symbol strung on a chain around her neck when she spoke to me. I stared at it some more when she told me the final bill to keep Clem over night and administer medications. 1,200 dollars minimum.

“Lady, I love him, but he’s a rabbit. Give me a break, huh? I suppose you don’t do payment plans?” I laughed.

“No, but we take credit cards,” she said. Not a drop of sympathy in her clear, blue eyes.

“Ah, I figured as much. I think I’m gonna just take him home then. I mean, I just don’t have that kind of money. Is there any way I can just give him the meds on my own?”

“Well … I will check back with the doctor and see what I can do.”

She was tired. Clem and I were tired too. I took a peek at him. He was trailing off in my arms, but not really, as rabbits only sleep when it’s safe, which isn’t often for an animal born into fear.

We nursed Clem like he was a newborn. Five different medications, including one you have to mix into a green sludge. We’d take turns wrapping Clem burrito-like into a towel and shoving syringes past his two teeth. He jerked and sneezed as we force fed him the green sludge and spit it up if we gave him too much too quickly. Why is love always such a messy operation?

In two weeks, Clem was in perfect health. He rejoiced, kicking his hind legs, and all my began innards began to frolic.

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