What it Will Take

This year’s Earth Day falls during a time of great global crises and shared isolation and provides an exceptional chance for reflection on the state of the environment, to accept our responsibility for that state, to face the very real possibility of change, and to seize the chance to save what we have so easily forgotten and callously destroyed.

Since the novel coronavirus began sweeping across nations and citizens all over the world were ordered to stay home we’ve started to see what a world that is being given a chance to heal, a world with fewer humans, looks like. 

We’re not driving or flying, oil prices are plummeting, the air is clearing and so are our waterways, and wildlife is returning to areas it dared not venture when humans walked about. The human world, it seems, has to get smaller in order for us and the planet to survive.

My hope is that this time away from the all-encompassing need to work and to consume has not just reminded us of what is important: love, connection, health, safety, life, but also reminded us of what we need most in times of great stress and uncertainty, nature.

Nature soothes us: Walking around the neighborhood, through parks and places far away from people, we find the warmth of the sun and find hope and wonder in the budding trees and flowers blooming. When we do not have each other, it is the trees and wildlife around us that are our closest kin.

Earth Day is meant to be a celebration of this connection to the planet and an annual chance to renew our resolve to a more sustainable way of life, but each year the climate crises continue and model predictions more dire. Every year the water and air grow more polluted, ancient forests are further flattened, and whole species are wiped from existence due solely to human action and inaction.

Humans, as a species, do what we can to the Earth and not what we should for the sake of power and ego. We take ownership, we confine, we reshape and restructure; we alter and we kill because we can. We have placed ourselves at the apex of evolution and determined given ourselves domain over all and granted ourselves the inalienable right to do with this planet what we please and to shape the environment in our own mental image of what human life should be, can be. We’ve been able to do this for so long only because our right goes uncontested.

Now it seems all other forms of life depend now not just on the planet but on the benevolence and mercy of humans. Unfortunately for them, we do not connect ourselves to their plight and survival at all.

We do not understand that what we eat, kill, produce, buy, and throw away affects the water air and health of people and animals who live nations away and people and animals who live generations away too. We do not believe that our actions have an impact on the global ecosystem, nor do we believe our futures are intertwined with the futures of other plant and animal life.

We do not connect ourselves to nature because we have done everything we could to remove ourselves from nature. We’ve pushed nature out and away from us, considering any life or structure to be too dangerous to live near, or too useful not to claim as our own.

We have laid the land flat for our buildings and homes, businesses and landfills. We’ve dammed the rivers and mined the mountains hollow. We’ve pumped oil from the depths and refined and burned it to CO2, released it into the atmosphere, and strangled the natural flow of temperature, air, and current. We’ve punched a hole in the ozone layer and bleached the coral reefs. We’ve taken our power and done irreparable damage with it for the sake of more power and pleasure alone.

We have told ourselves a great lie, and it’s time we faced the truth. The truth is, you are connected by this planet to all life that existed and will exist. Your existence depends on the survival of all the life around you and there is no advancement in technology or amount of pure human will that will change that. If the Earth dies, we die. If the Earth dies, it will be because of our stubborn ignorance and cruel consumption. The Earth and every life form on it depend on all of us and you must internalize this for all our sakes.

The truth is, there is no “Planet B” and there are limits to our power. There is no hero on the way to save us and no miracle will manifest to undo what we have done. We will reap what we have sown in our own lifetimes and in the lifetimes to come. All we can do now is try to mitigate the harm, and even that will take a monumental shift of culture and consciousness. We have to be the heroes, each of us. We have to save one another and ourselves in small ways every day.

This year I am asking all of you to take ownership not of the land but of your small place in the ecosystems around you. Find power in the responsibility you have for that environment rather than in all the ways it can be utilized and monetized. Find your place in nature and resolve to save something in it. Start small. It’s better than no start at all.

Plant a tree. Build a bat house or a bee hotel. Change those old lightbulbs. Turn off the faucet. Buy more reusable products. Carpool with coworkers and friends. Volunteer to clean up a highway or a trail. Make some art. Write an essay. Sign a petition. Advocate, educate, protest, and most of all talk.

Talk to your friends and family about the Earth, about the beauty and wonder of nature, about where life came from and where life is headed. Talk about the damage we have done and do every day. Talk about what can be done and what will happen if nothing can is done. The best way to keep nature fully in our minds is to remind one another. The best way to change someone’s heart is to engage with them.

Talk about how we can take the lessons we have learned these past few months and apply them in smaller ways in the future. Perhaps four-day workweeks and more opportunities to work from home? More days a week that businesses are closed. More days a year we are encouraged to step out of our human worlds and instead to walk through the nature around us and take notice.

It will take courage and imagination but watching us all come together to make drastic changes and to trust in what we are told must be done to stay safe has proven we have what it takes to save this planet. It will take remembering what we have forgotten and doing the exhausting and hopeless work of loving something more than we love power and pleasure. We have to do it again and again, every day, as we notice ourselves falling back into old habits and easier ways of thinking.

We all have to do this because we are all guilty and if I’m being honest, I’m as guilty as anyone else. I eat too much meat. I waste water. I pollute. I forget where I come from. I get lost in the power and possibility of human intellect and forget the importance of the human heart. I forget I am only one link in a chain of generations. I forget that I made of all that has come before me and throughout my life; I am participating in the making of all that will come after.

And shame on me for forgetting. Shame on me for my consumption and for my waste. Shame on me for the harm I cause and the responsibilities I fail to take. Shame on me for my place in this grand pursuit of power and pleasure. Shame on me for the actions I chose to take and the actions I chose not too. Shame on us all.

But it isn’t all my fault alone, nor is it yours alone either. Just as we cannot always see the ecosystems we are connected to and our place in them we often fail to see the cultural, political, and economic systems we are a part of and how we are influenced and even controlled by them. The key is to learn to be mindful of both. Look at the human world and look at the world of nature, realize in many ways they are connected, and in many more ways they are one and the same. It’s a simple ask, but it’s the hardest thing a human can do.

It’s emotionally exhausting enough to empathize with people closest to us but to open our hearts and concern to other species? To future generations? To whole ecosystems? That is beyond the capability of one heart for a whole lifetime, and that’s okay.

Humans have evolved to have a certain amount of built-in selfishness. There is no shame in that. We needed it to get this far, but now it has become our weakness and a formidable one to overcome. Instead of expectation and every one of the nearly 8 billion human hearts on this earth to suddenly expand to encompass the planet, why don’t we ask that each of us just care a little more about the bit of nature that can be found around us?

We won’t always get it right but if each of us can start getting it more right right now then imagine how much better we all will be in a year, in ten years, in ten generations?

Imagine air and water that belongs to everyone. Imagine every animal and natural wonder with inalienable rights of their own. Imagine a world we do not own but one we belong to. Imagine a world not built for us, or by us, a world to share and cherish as a bright and blue gift. Imagine how far we might go if all the human love, imagination, and courage in the world were used for good.

Imagine that every day is Earth Day and eat, consume, build, buy, travel, teach, vote, connect, create, love, live and let live accordingly.


Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

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Between the Self and the Subconscious

Every night each of us is transported to a place inside of ourselves to live out fantastic scenarios and storylines created within our own minds. We travel to a place where the rules of physics and even storytelling do not apply. The images may be in color, black and white, vivid and lively, or they may be abstract and meaningless. We all dream different thing but dreaming is universal and since the dawn of humankind we have been trying to work out the mechanism and the meaning of these alternate worlds and lives we live in nightly succession.

I never remember when my thoughts and perceptions make the leap the space from the real world outside to the inner one of fantasy but I am one of the lucky—or not so lucky—ones that dream in vivid imagery and emotion and carry the memory of these dreams into my waking life. My dreams are so real sometimes that I wake up feeling confused about who and when I am. I am shocked even to find that I have a different life than the one I just woke from. Sometimes I wake relieved. Sometimes I wake and mourn a fantasy I never wanted to wake from.

I am disturbed not just by the visceral nature of my dreams but by the content too.

I dream of old friends and lovers seeking the answers and closure I never had. I reenact my worst self sometimes the way it was and sometimes in ways that are warped or exaggerated to highlight some shame or regret. Most nights I play myself and the scenes are shot from a first-person perspective and sometimes the camera pans out and an actor is mercifully generated from my mind plays me to provide distance from pain and shame.

My rational mind cannot follow the haphazard way the dreaming mind pursues its answers. I cannot even guess at the answers it seeks by its seemingly random choice of setting, situation, and character. Some nights the old antagonists, deuteragonists, and love interests don the faces of present friends and loved ones, but most nights I do not even recognize the actors it asks me to rehearse these scenes with.

There are nights too when those I dream of from the present wear faces from long ago. They are their worst selves this way I am mine. We deceive and hurt one another with unprecedented cruelty and callousness. They say dreams can foretell the future. They say too that dreams reveal a truth we cannot see in ourselves or in others. I wake suspicious of them and of myself. I wake up hopeless that the past will always be repeated and that no matter how I try I will always be this way and the proverbial “they” will always that.

My mind and memory mix and meld the past and the future, my dream mind understanding each as who they are regardless of setting or disguise, as I play out my anxieties and desires as a loop of choices and mistakes I’ve made and will make.

Of these future tense events, I tell myself they would never come true. I could never want this or them. I could never do or think that way, but I wonder too. I am surprised by just how mistaken my unconscious mind is about what I want or what I might do, or maybe I only feign surprise? 

I honestly do not know, but where else, how else, could these images manifest if not from some black and hidden part of me? What I dream is a truth told by fiction. What that fiction provides is distance enough to accept for a time that there exists darkness in me. Some put there by others and some that is made entirely of me.

I wonder at this darkness. I try to reach it but it seems buried beyond my reach or want to plumb, buried so deep by upbringing, propriety, and self-image I cannot bear to even try. What might exist there? What other truths or predictions may arise out of that devious and lewd place? How far down does the darkness go?

Those nights I dream of old flings and future affairs, I wonder what it means. Do I still long for those I’ve left behind? Would I have betrayed the one I love now so easily? Those nights I dream of grave danger, I dream I am running, running, running away from a threat so big and so fierce I cannot see or stop to comprehend it. Does that make me a coward at heart? Would I never stand and fight?

I dream of lives so different from my own I hardly recognize myself in them. Where do these new personas originate from? I dream of places I’ve never been to and of people I have never met. I dream that the people who know me either do not exist for me or do not at all, I cannot tell. Do I wish I were someone else, somewhere else, do the people close to me in this time and life mean so little to me, really?

As if future horrors were not enough a few nights a year, and during times of stress, a few nights a week, the dream maker makes for me a nightmare of what I fail to repress, retellings so real I may wake up to real pain and wet tears. Why must the mind bring them up again and again? The emotional self has suffered enough. The rational self has accepted it all. What more can be gleaned from such terrors?

There are no answers to these questions. The parts of me that produce these dreamscapes are ancient and unknowable to me. They evolved eons ago and exist in places I cannot go. The symbols and metaphors aren’t decipherable. I dream I have lockjaw, that my clothes won’t stay on, that my hair is falling out, that I am falling down, that I can fly, that someone is chasing me, that someone is breaking in, that I cannot see my wife’s face, that no one can hear me, that I am being killed, that I am dead.

From the distance of story-telling and narration, I may be trying to say that I need to let go or to rethink. I may be afraid of being seen and I may long to be truly seen. These dreams could mean I am trying to escape or avoid some horror or desire either in me or in my past. I may be feeling unheard. I may be worried about losing my sense of power or I may just be dealing with low self-esteem and a preoccupation with my appearance. I may be trying to face my greatest fears or I may be trying to remind myself of unfinished business.

It might be nothing at all. These stories I make for myself might be made of old pieces of my life found strewn about the cutting room floor of my memory and colored by the emotion of the day. It may be nothing but a way to occupy my mind while daily maintenance is performed and upgrades are installed.

But my gut tells me otherwise. Not every dream may be the dark revelations of the subconscious, nor are they made wholly of excess emotion and dregs of the day’s thoughts. I do not think that the dream makers in us are really so far away as they feel and the meaning might be simpler to discern than we imagine.

Perhaps our dreams are only one of the many mediums we have to interact with and understand ourselves. Perhaps, we are our own best friend and worst enemy down to our subconscious and perhaps because we know ourselves best of all it is in this place, a world both of our own creation and out of our control that we conjure up the worst of ourselves and for ourselves simply because we can.

The interpretation, therefore, may not lie in the dream’s content but in the kind of dreams we choose to construct. What plays out in the course of every night may have less to do with that darkness in you, the secrets you try to keep from yourself, or your greatest fears and may have everything to do with just how you feel about yourself.

It may be that a nightmare is only a way of punishment or a bit of tough love and a dazzling illusion of peace, pleasure, or prosperity a gift or a great and merciful lie and a night of dreams so real you don’t just dream them but live them may have nothing to do with how you feel about this life you have been given and more to do with the distance between your inner life and your outer reality. It may mean signify nothing more than how rich and deep the relationship you have with yourself is.


This post was written in response to the WordPress Discover Prompt, Day 17: Distance, but in the course of exploring the concept I happened upon something else entirely. I hope it still counts.

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What a Birthday Is

Most people I know have very different ideas about birthdays than I do. Apparently, birthdays are occasions to be ignored, forgotten, unmentioned. You should hate your own birthday, refuse any question of celebrating it, and loath to accept any gifts. If someone insists on talking about it, offering you a gift, a card, or even a hug you may accept out of politeness but you must insist they shouldn’t have.

You must at the very least refrain from mentioning or otherwise informing or reminding anyone it is your birthday. You should not plan your own birthday celebration but wait for others to prove how much they care about you by making the plans for you. You should not buy yourself a gift. That only proves you are selfish, self-centered, and, obviously, friendless. Birthday celebration should not exceed one day and night of gift-giving and glee. Anything more than that is an annoyance and a burden.

Of course, I do not follow or agree with any of this. I verbally and quite publically count down to my birthday. I make tons of plans for dinners, outings, visits, and events. I buy myself things and whole-heartedly accept any gifts others are willing to offer.

I treat every birthday as a holiday because to me that is exactly what it is and I invite anyone who wishes to come along to celebrate with me. I ask for no gifts or cash contributions, I only ask that you witness my life. Witness my growth and passing. Witness me moving from one age to another. That, after all, is the greatest gift any of us can ask for.

I make a whole month out of this day and I make sure not just that I enjoy it but all those who supported me in my journey around the sun and through the year feel celebrated too. I make sure that they know that I know that without them I certainly wouldn’t be here.

Each one of us is given one day to call our own. One day when we can treat ourselves and a day when those who care about us are welcome to treat us too. The reasons aren’t all to do with materialism or unbridled desire to be adored and adorned. It’s simply a chance to feel good about being alive for a change.

How many of you never wonder at the immense odds against you not just to have been born at all but to have lived through every year, every day up to now? Can you guess how many people weren’t and didn’t? Do you know not only the luck but the strength it takes to live and keep on living?

If you had not been conceived when you were and subsequently born on the very day down to the second that you were, this life you have might be different or might not be at all. This world, for you, might not exist and no matter how bad things get I have to believe that any life is better than no life. I have to believe each of us would really truly rather be here than not, would rather see another birthday than not. I believe it because I can see it.

I can see that though we may whine and moan and insist to the contrary that everything we do from the moment we wake up in the morning until we lay down to sleep, every breath, every lie told and love spoken, everything action and interest we take, everything we care about, dream about, own, give away, steal, everything we hate and everything we hope for, it is all nothing but proof that we are fighting to live.

And this is what I celebrate, and this is what I believe we all should celebrate, that fight. Every birthday is a win and every year we are given just one day not to fight but instead to congratulate ourselves, to take stock of the spoils, and to ready ourselves to fight once again. It’s a wondrous gift, this life, one denied to many others, and though it may not feel like it, we are wondrous creatures who do the work of living it. We deserve this day. We deserve this celebration and respite.

I’ve done my best to convince nearly everyone I know how much of a waste an unmarked birthday is. The experiences and the presents aside, the chance to face not only the void we were born out of and the void we are fated to disappear back into but this beautiful, bright, terrible, and mysterious blink of time in between. You are here, now, and only for once. You must mark it!

Yes, birthdays are a yearly reminder that time is marching on and we are marching along with it straight to our deaths. Yes, birthdays are a reminder that we are aging, that we will never be as strong, agile, or attractive as we once were. Birthdays remind us that we are growing obsolete and invisible, and that one day we won’t even exist at all.

Birthdays can be a reminder of painful pasts too, I know. They can bring back memories of loneliness and feelings of insignificance. They can bring back regret, anger, and pain, I know, but, in some ways, birthdays are a celebration of that too. After all, suffering is as much a part of this life as love and happiness are too.

A birthday is a much-needed reminder of all that we have been through and the chance, the maybe, the hope that we will get to experience more. It an acknowledgement of the awful truth, the threat, that we just as well might not. A bit of birthday cake, a couple of gifts to unwrap, and a few friends to laugh with over a few drinks make the truth go down a little easier, that’s all and if you don’t have those friends, those laughs, those gifts or drinks that’s okay too. None of that is the point.

All you really need for a real birthday celebration, the thing you should have no matter how surrounded by love you are or not, is love for yourself and the courage to face your life as it was, as it will be, and that it will no longer be one day. 

So, today, on my birthday, I wish you all a happy birthday too, whether it’s already passed or yet to come. I wish you a happy life, and all the happiness and success you can find in your fight for all that is good and, inevitably, a little of what is bad in this beautiful, bright, terrible, and mysterious thing we call life.


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The Curve of Two Bodies

You turn one-half rotation away from me to face the dark
I set my trajectory to follow you through the vacuum
The shortest distance between two bodies is also a curve
Every move we’ve made is recorded on a continuum

I set my trajectory to follow you through the vacuum
Part of every revolution is a retrograde
Every move we’ve made is recorded on a continuum
What is made of less must always orbit what is made of more

Part of every revolution is a retrograde
Around and around the sun, around and around each other
What is made of less must always orbit what is made of more
The arch of time bends wide but spirals ever inward, and

Around and around the sun, around and around each other
Trying to find a fundamental formula to reconcile
The arch of time, bending wide but spiraling inward, and
This rapid osculation building over the surface

Trying to find a fundamental formula to reconcile
I find the concave of your collar, the convex of your hips, and
This rapid osculation building over the surface
Becomes a parabola rising on a plane, but other times

I find the concave of your collar, the convex of your hips, and
You turn one-half rotation away from me to face the dark
Becoming a hyperbola lying on a plane, and other times
The longest distance between two bodies is also a curve


This post was written in response to the WordPress Discover Prompt, Day 8: Curve

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

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Hand-Washing in the Search for Absolution

“Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red.”

― William Shakespeare, Macbeth

One of the many things that set humans apart from the rest animal kingdom is the novel ways our minds have evolved to utilizing those old primitive connections and layers in new ways and develop more and more complex societies and cultures. One such fascinating example is the connection between cleanliness and morality purity.

The word clean can be defined as both “free from dirt marks or stains” and “morally uncontaminated; pure; innocent” and multiple studies have found that humans associate both quite literally in the mind.

When we smell or taste food that may have gone bad or rancid, an intense physical reaction follows automatically. We back away quickly, we gag, we wrinkle up our faces; we rinse our mouths out, all of this is to protect us. The same happens when we touch or believe we have come into contact with a contaminate or contagion. We gag, wrinkle our faces, and wash our bodies, but have you ever noticed the same holds true for our encounters with ideas or people we deem immoral or shameful both from without and within.

It’s true. Study after study shows that morally disgusting ideas activate the same regions of the brain as an encounter with an object that is distasteful to any of our physical senses. The phenomenon is so well understood it has a name, “The Macbeth Effect” after the character Lady Macbeth in the Shakespear play Macbeth who obsessively tries to wash imaginary bloodstains from her hands after committing murder.

Cleaning can also calm the mind and rid of us a myriad of bad feelings. If you are feeling anxious or afraid, avoidant or even angry, you may feel the need to clean your house, organize the closets, or fold the laundry. When you lie you may want to brush your teeth and when you commit a crime or other immoral act, you feel the urge to wash the shame from your hands.

“When you’re too religious, you tend to point your finger to judge instead of extending your hand to help.”

― Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience

This act of washing can leave us with the feeling of achieving a clean moral slate without having to admit our guilt or make amends for our crime. It can also reduce our selflessness. One study conducted by Chen-Bo Zhong from the University of Toronto and Katie Liljenquist from Northwestern University found that after “recalling an unethical deed of the past reduced the motivation to volunteer, thus indicating that hand washing already restored a suitable moral self-image and, hence, reduced the desire to compensate the unethical deed by voluntary help”. If you already consider yourself morally pure yourself, then there is nothing to pay penance for, nothing left that you owe the world.

Cleansing rituals are common in many religions. Who has not heard the phrase “cleanliness is next to Godliness”? A person must be baptized to “wash away their sins”. A person of the Muslim faith must wash themselves before they can pray. Women are barred from entering temples while menstruating as they are considered “unclean”. Orthodox Judaism forbids even touching a woman who is menstruating, you cannot even touch items she has touched without sullying yourself.

These metaphors between what is considered clean and who is considered good can become so intertwined that people can soon come to look the same as contaminates and contagions and illicit the same visceral disgust and the urge to purify. It’s a red flag when we begin seeing the two interchangeably. When you hear leaders and politicians referring to the problems of the world ills, associating people to bugs, vermin, and disease that infect, the solutions, the way to bring us closer to morality, to purity, is always to begin “cleansing” the nation and the race.

We all carry our little prejudices and biases deep inside but be careful and especially aware whenever you feel fear, aversion, or disgust for another human or group. Examine your motivations whenever the urge to purge yourself of these “vermin” begins to seep into your political opinion.

“Out, damned spot! out, I say!… What, will these hands ne’er be clean?”

― William Shakespeare, Macbeth

So the mind has found a way to make us moral and good by making sure that both are the same as feeling as being clean, pure, or safe, but what do we do when the stains won’t wash out? What do we do when we always feel wrong and dirty?

Mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety can wreak havoc on a person’s personal hygiene habits at both ends of the spectrum. For most people, OCD or obsessive-compulsive disorder is one of the first we associate with the connection. The pop-culture understanding of the disorder brings to mind organization and sanitation, but often the compulsive hand washing (just one of many manifestations) is about much more than cleanliness. The obsessive washing can be an attempt to relieve or prevent anxiety or fear.

Post-traumatic stress disorder, particularly resulting from sexual assault, and other forms of anxiety can trigger excessive washing as well to reduce tension and re-establish feelings of cleanliness and safety.

There are just as many people who struggle with these and other types of mental illness and fall on the other end of the spectrum where they struggle to take care of their basic hygienic needs instead. Many report the reason to be fatigue or a simple lack of motivation, but with moral judgment and cleanliness so closely equated in our minds, might part of the reason be connected to the same equation? Might the same mental illnesses or distresses that make us want to wash be just as likely to make us crave the opposite?

Often, after a traumatic experience or stressful or painful situation, we can be left feeling soiled. We might even feel that is us who are the source of moral impurity and a lack of personal hygiene could be a way to validate the way we feel about ourselves inside.

If a person’s feelings of being inherently immoral, bad, disgusting, dirty, and even infectious, become too big, and it seems there is no amount of soap or water in Neptune’s ocean to make you clean again perhaps it might feel better to finally cease scrubbing at it and accept the stains as immutable reality. The dirt, the smell, the disgust, can also be a sign of what a person feels they deserve or a signal to others to keep away by provoking that visceral response of revulsion.

“There are surely limits to the absolution afforded by a bar of soap.”

— Chen-Bo Zhong and Katie Liljenquist

Humans, it appears, can associate too closely our personal judgments about what is clean and healthy physically and what is clean and good morally or socially on both sides of the coin. We can obsessively try to scrub away our own moral failings and shame, and we can cruelly try to purge others we deem different and therefore disgusting. We can interchange one for the other thinking a hand placed on someone “unclean” damns us and the simple act of hand-washing can absolve us of our sins. We can let that association go too far into and decide that what is unclean can never be made pure again and what is dirty is now contagious and must be eradicated, even if what is unclean is us.

There are limits to what soap and water, or the lack thereof, can do, and at some point, we have to move past metaphor to reality. People are not disgusting, they are not vermin, or bugs, or parasites, nothing a person is and nothing that a person has been through can be infectious and no one can be saved or made pure by the extermination of another. This applies not just to those others we would judge of lower moral caliber, but to ourselves as well.

You cannot simply or so easily wash your hands or your past or of who you are and no matter how soiled you feel or unpalatable you make yourself you cannot alter the most basic truth. The two are not equal and your hands can always be clean and you can always be pure, and good, and innocent, and righteous again and no amount of soap or water is required.


This post was written in response to the WordPress Discover Prompt, Day 6: Hand

Photo by Amaury Salas on Unsplash

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My Life as Measured From Street to Street

My mother has always told the story of our lives in chapters named after the streets we’ve lived on, and now that is how I remember everything too. Holly, Garfield, Birch, Louisiana, Spruce, and more. Telling it this way sounds better. It organizes the chaos and gives the impression we were traversing whole countries and cultures instead of just fleeing debt from one side of the city to the other. Each time we move I’m promised this house will be different and each street will be our final address, but each time I am disappointed. There is always another street to move too, enough to measure out my life.

Holly
Technically, this was my first home, though I never really did live there. Holly is where my mother grew up and where I began my life when her body was still my home. All of her pain begins here and ends with her shunned and banished after giving birth to her first child, me, a mixed-race girl. Though she leaves, it isn’t really for good. I will remember us returning to it time and time again. I will remember her mother who smiles and waves hello, and her father who never speaks and insists we stay in the car parked in the driveway while my mother goes in.

Garfield
This is the street that will never leave me. My grandmother’s home where the rapidly growing brood of grandchildren come while their young parents are off working, partying, drinking, drugging, and cheating. This is a place of happiness and innocence by day and disfunction and abuse by night. I am ignored entirely most of the time, or left in the care of those with malevolent motives but there are moments of memory with my grandmother where I felt truly loved and safe though I would learn later she was one half the equation that equaled the generational trauma I’d be fighting my whole life.

Virginia
I do not remember the name of the street we lived on, and my mother never says its name. This chapter is just called Virginia for the state instead. I remember the way the street looked though, quiet with lots of trees and lined with neat townhomes, each standing tall and bright next to its neighbor. I remember playing in the backyard, being careful not to go too close to the thick woods at the bottom of the hill. I remember my parents being in love, and I remember watching that love slowly turn into hate.

Gilpin
My mother calls this time “Warren Village” for the low-income apartment complex we lived in, but I remember that it was on Gilpin Street. I remember it as the first place we lived without my father (my mother would tell me stories about him with chapters named after his many wives). Things were confusing and sad, but I remember playing in the hallways of the building with other kids whose faces still adorn our family photo album but whose names I cannot remember.

Birch
This is the first place we lived with a man who is not my father, beyond that there is little to set the place apart in my memory. I remember we had both a dog and a backyard for the first time. We had something that looked like a real home, but it felt empty inside. I have so few memories of the place I can barely remember the layout and I have no idea how long we were there though my gut tell me the stay was even shorter than most.

Lousiana
I begin to feel like I belong somewhere. We’ve been in this apartment for over a year now. My mom is working and though there is a lot on me at home at school, I am free. I have friends, close friends, best friends. Friends who ride the bus with me and friends whose houses I can go to after school. I have teachers I’ve known for two grades now. On the day before the last of school, we will lose our apartment and I won’t get to say goodbye to those teachers or those friends. I hear from any of them again until I am an adult and they find me on Facebook.

Dayton
We live on the top floor of the complex and I am fascinated that a two-story apartment can exist. My brother is born here, and with time I make friends again. We get to live here for three years, my entire middle school career. I should have been elated, but the psychological toll of so many homes and work of beginning over and over again anew leaves my expectations low. It will be many years before I let myself feel at home again. I make some friends, but I keep them at arm’s length. I am perpetually sullen, and my grades suffer.

Kipling
One day, in the middle of my 8th-grade year, I come home to find my father has come to take me to live with him. Once again, I don’t even get to say goodbye. All the years I wished for him to come and get me, but I never meant like this with so much shame and sadness. My mother assures me this can be a new start for me, but I don’t know how to tell her that is the last thing that I need. It is the one thing I have had too much of. What she doesn’t understand is that no place is ever a fresh start, most of all this one. I am the same here as I was there, and after so a year or two of stubborn sameness, I am sent away again.

Spruce
I’m back with my mother, back at a new school, making the same old filler friends and waiting for the cycle to repeat. Both of us are filled with anger and try as we might, home is a word I neither of us can define anymore. The truth is all these streets have begun to look the same. The same schools, the same teachers, the same kids, and the same old problems again and again. After a while, I can’t take it. I’m the only one I trust to find or keep a home, and I leave for the last time to do so.

Sable
This is the first place I live without either of my parents and where I begin to understand what a home could be, though I understand this one could never be mine. I’m staying with an aunt and her two daughters near the same age as me. They become like sisters and show me what it means to be a normal teenager. This must be the “fresh start” my mom was always talking about. She never said, or maybe never knew, that a fresh start has to mean letting go of the last place and establishing a new thought pattern and allowing a new dynamic. A feat too large for us to accomplish together.

Potomac and Quinten
Two streets, the distance between which I walk every day to see my girlfriend. On Potomac, I share an apartment with my father. This is not my home, but just the place where I keep my things. Paradoxically, on Quinten street, the townhome at the end of the row in what used to be an old military base, where none of my things are, becomes the place where I feel safe and warm. I spend more and more time there and years later when the city tears the row down to make room for a medical complex I will mourn its absence.

16th
I did not live here, but I spent so much time in the area and with the people that did, I felt as though it were my home. This place is not on the street, but instead is the street itself. I may have a warm place to sleep at night but I do not have a home and for that, I feel an affinity for the homeless kids I meet wandering the streets. I leave the apartment I share with five other roommates every morning and come down here instead to be with them. To smoke and drink with them and to hear their stories that sound so much like mine.

Dayton
My girlfriend and I have been living together for a couple of years now, but this is our first real place together, just the two of us. The first place I can call my own. We have a balcony and a pool across the street. We have an elevator and we add a garage spot to the lease. We buy new furniture. We decorate. We learn how to cook for each other. We get our first pet and we start having our first fights. We get our first real jobs and begin to feel like our own little family. It’s safe. It’s stable. It’s a place I can finally start to grow up.

[Redacted]
I’ve lived on this quiet street that dead ends to nowhere now longer than I have lived anywhere else in my life. The street is lined with other quiet homes that look just like mine and together are filled with the perfect mix of families of all different cultures and sizes. Everyone here has a dog. Everyone here waves hello when they see you. No one plays their music too loud, and if you ever need to borrow some tools, they will always help you out. These past few years property values have skyrocketed and houses around the neighborhoods are starting to flip, but on this little street tucked away from the main roads, everybody has stayed. Every house here is a home to someone and as I watch as the kids around us grow up and my wife and I think maybe we can settle down and start growing old.


This post was written in response to the WordPress Discover Prompt, Day 4: Street

Photo by Tom Rumble on Unsplash

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Life’s a Bitch

“Don’t always think you’re wrong when you’re right
They’ll always try to change your mind
Darling, just do whatever feels right
Your life is there to be designed

I’m struggling to make it out on my own.

I left my mother’s house, the place of her anger and of my resentment, over a year ago, and she left the state just after. I’m not sure it’s better, but it’s different and that gives me hope. I wrestle with the blame for my situation. Was I the bad daughter who had to leave for the good of the family? Or maybe it wasn’t my fault I turned out like this? Maybe it wasn’t up to me how I turned out.

Maybe it doesn’t matter either way. I’m alone, but it doesn’t hurt anymore. I’m alone but I always have been and at least this time I am free. I’m coming alive again and the future is an open road, a bright horizon, an unknown country. There is a place where I belong. There is someone I am supposed to be. I’m setting out to find her and when I do we can finally start making it all right. We can make something like a life, maybe?

“It’s both a blessing and a curse
To feel everything so deeply like you do girl, I know
There’s been more times that it hurts
But who said love was never easy, girl?

I feel something new growing in me. I think it’s a kind of happiness. Maybe it’s pride? Maybe it’s potential.

I got my GED, a job, and, soon, my I’ll have my own place. I’m in love and working hard to be worthy of receiving it in return. That old pain is fading, I think. That deep sadness is lifting too, I feel. I’m starting to see the more clearly the trajectory my life has been on. I can see the cause and the effect and every time I travel back through my memories, back and back through time, to change something, to save myself from something, I see that there is nothing that could be and still come to this happiness I have found.

So much bad had to happen in order to find the good, it seems. Or maybe the universe doesn’t measure one against the other and it’s only the human mind that sees anything as simply as right and wrong. Perhaps everything happened just as it had to. No one could have changed a second of it. I was always going to be who I turned out to be, and nothing at all was earned or deserved. There is nothing to regret or be grateful for or be envious of. I am this person and I have this life and neither is so bad, really.

I can put one foot in front of the other knowing that.

“Oh, it’s easier said than done
But don’t you worry about those little things and bigger
What a fine revelation
When you realise there’s no voices in your head, girl

I’m remembering more and more that I had once forgotten.

Being the oldest daughter is hard in any family is hard but in mine it meant being a parent before I even hit puberty. I learned early how to care very much, and under the weight of responsibility my heart grew rather than crushed. My siblings were my life, and I bore the work admirably. Mixing bottles, changing diapers, getting my sister from school, cooking dinner.

The stress and the loneliness, I understand now, perhaps got to be a little too much. I tell my mom I am beginning to hear faint voices. I hear my name being called faintly when there is no one around. Her reaction makes me believe I have done something wrong and when the doctors start asking questions, I tell them the voices have gone away. They haven’t but they have changed. Now I hear my own voice, and I hear more than just my name.

I’m barely hanging on some days and life grows easier for everyone but me. The old pain and deep sadness have never gone away. They been reborn into grown up versions called anxiety and depression and grown to powerful and unwieldy inside of me. The voices become intrusive thoughts and negative and critical commentary in my head. The voices are only me and they are always with me, repeating back to me everything I’d ever been told.

“Life’s a bitch and then you die
La, la, la, la, la, la

With hard work, things were getting better. Then, one day, I suddenly realized that eventually I would die. My mortality had never occurred, let alone mattered, to me before, but I’m happier now. I have things to lose now and that realization begins to keep me up every night, shaking and short of breath.

I count all the years I statistically have left and wonder which ailment or accident, statistically, will be the cause. I’m looking at the cause and effect of my life again and wondering which parts were my responsibility and which ones weren’t. I’m collecting regrets and resentments and grasping for gratitude.

I roll over and wake my wife from peace, the one who has loved me since I left my mother so many years ago, and without asking she knows what I need. I lay on her chest and match my breath to hers. My heart beat follows suit. I speak to her there in the dark as if I am already dead. I need her to know I love (loved) her. I need her to know I have (had) a good life with her. That I am (was) happy and if I could do it all again, I would.

I don’t tell her my hope. I hope I do get to do it all again, even all the bad stuff, even the parts I still have nightmares about, even the stuff that left me with this hole in my heart. I hope, against everything I know and (tell myself I) believe, that I will get to do it all again. I smile and drift off to sleep with the image of and my life lived again and again stretching back from infinity and forward just as far. I imagine an infinite number of Lisa’s lying in the dark with this same fear and this hope and this heartbeat.

“When the world really gets you down
Don’t be scared, don’t be scared, no
All the little things you’re worried ’bout
Ain’t really there, really there, no

The death anxiety lasts a couple of years and fades as fast as it came on. I have other fears now, some old and some new, some small, some huge.

I’ve built a predictable life of steady routine. I’ve had the same job for over 10 years. I come in for the same hours and on the same days, week after week. I work in the same location, with the same coworkers, the same kids, year after year after year. Any deviation from this steady, beat, beat, beat, of my life triggers a visceral and primitive response. Any change in schedule or expectation signals danger. Everything unknown is to be avoided.

I used to be able to take public transportation. I left my apartment and travelled by impulse without fear. I changed jobs like people change clothes. I walked around at night. I never felt fear. I never felt anything.

Now I can’t make a phone call, send an email, I can’t drive or go places on my own, or imagine my life any different than what it has become and I still can’t sleep. I worry about my mother’s health. I worry about my siblings, my nieces and nephews. I worry about my dad. If he is sad. I worry about my grandmother, if she is alone. I worry about my wife and reach out in the dark again to feel her breathing, to feel her heart, and reassure myself she is alive. I worry and I wish. I wish everything about me was different.

I tell myself my worries are stupid and when that doesn’t work I tell myself my worries are wasting my life. That doesn’t work either.

“Been talking to yourself at night
I’ve been thinking you should take that flight
Let it go if it don’t feel right, yeah, said
So won’t you come and put your phone down?
You know you gotta leave that thing alone
You know it’s real bad for you
Take a walk outside

Nothing’s changed, and everything has changed. I’m still that same sad girl and that same scared adult, but I’m becoming something else entirely too. My life may be simple, but the peace and warmth is more than I imagined I would ever have. Now that I’ve had had time to bask in it to relax and to know safety and stability I finally feel like I can begin to ask a little more, expect a little more, work and earn a little more.

I’ve returned to writing, starting with the journal pages written anytime of day I need, just like when I was a teenager. I’ve returned to reading too, broad and ferocious. I’m seeing new perspectives and learning more about the mind. I’m exploring childhood development and the impact of poverty, stress, trauma, and disfunction on the childhood mind. I’m learning about free will and determinism. I’m learning about boundaries, coping skills, and acceptance.

Life’s been a real bitch and I have no doubt that will ever change but I have a feeling I will go on changing all the time only from now on I want a say in how it happens. From now on I want to think about why things are the way they are and why I am the way I am. I want to decide when to change and decide what to be. I want to do things because I want something more than I’m afraid of it. From now on, I am taking back the control I never had.

From now on I won’t worry about regrets or resentments. I won’t count the days that are left or the days I never really got to live. I’m going to get on with the art of dying rather spending my nights afraid of it and spending my days paralyzed by it. It’ll take time but I have a feeling that’s the whole point.

‘Cause life’s a bitch and then you die
And then you die
And then you die.
And then you die

Life’s a Bitch // Radiant Children

This post was written in response to the WordPress Discover Prompt, Day 3: Song

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

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