Elegy

(crossposted from Facebook)

Four people I knew killed themselves last year. At least.

Frances I knew as a dancer. I went to her memorial. I met her friends. They had nothing but amazing things to say about her. They said she always challenged them and herself to bring themselves fully into whatever was going on. I wish I’d gotten to know that side of her. All I ever saw was that she seemed distracted and a little sad when we danced.

Jonny I knew as a graduate student. He struck me as intense and intensely unsatisfied with not understanding things deeply. I knew that feel. As I started drifting away from grad school I saw him less and less, along with the other grad students. By the time I heard about his death, which was only a few weeks after I had decided to leave grad school, we hadn’t talked in over a year, maybe two.

Kathy I knew as an effective altruist. She was involved in drama I don’t have details on before she died, and she left a heartbreaking and controversial suicide note. She was clearly in a great deal of pain, and she clearly stood up strongly for what she believed in.

Maia I knew as a name on the internet. Under the name “Squirrel in Hell” she said many provocative things and told me once that I was right about something, which instantly endeared her to me forever. I thought of her as a kindred spirit, and looked forward to learning from her. I heard about her death (learning, at the same time, her gender and her name) thirdhand, and still have no direct evidence of it.

● ● ●

I have at once too much and too little to say. What is there to say to the dead? What is there that can be said?

Say, at least, to the dead: I’m sorry. I’m sorry it was hard. I’m sorry you were born into a body molded to a simpler shape than the world you found yourself in. A body that dreamt, softly, of flowers and rivers and lakes and prairies, of fire and love and the hunt, and meanwhile you were born into… a hospital.

A hospital. Did you know that the hospital used to separate you from your parents right after you came into the world, and put you all by yourself, where no one could touch you, for your protection? And though they fed you, you died, and you kept dying, and they didn’t know why? And that someone had to come along and tell them that maybe, just maybe, you were dying of loneliness?

(Did you shudder when you read those words? “Dying of loneliness”?)

Say, at least, to the dead: I’m sorry I never knew any of you. Not really. Not enough to tell your stories. Only enough to remember that you died, and that it was sad that you died.

Say, at least, to the dead: I’m grateful. There is a gift in death. The boundary between us and everything else thins slightly. There is an opportunity to let things in. There is an opportunity to sink back into our dreaming bodies, which have been waiting all the while for us.

(Death can cut like a knife through bullshit, if you let it.)

Say, at least, to the living: fuck. Fuck this. Towering infernos of fuck this. People our age aren’t supposed to fucking die. Not like this. What the fuck is wrong –

I have at once too much and too little to say.

Say, at least, to the living: the only place the dead can go is into the rest of us.

(Do you get it? That’s the only place the living can go, too.)

● ● ●

There is an art in leaving things unsaid. I hold my pose open. I sit in the question, trembling, my heart in my throat: how will you dance with this, and with me?

Unclogged

(crossposted from Facebook, very lightly edited)

I spent the last six days at the Emergent Leadership Training in Austin, and it did exactly what I was praying it would do: it got me “unclogged.”

This is what being unclogged is like for me, compared to being clogged up, in no particular order:

  • I can feel my chest and my stomach, and they’re relaxed. There’s less tension in my body overall.
  • My speaking voice resonates in my chest more. My singing voice is richer and sweeter.
  • I can do pull-ups.
  • I really want to talk to people and invite them to things.
  • It’s easier for me to be turned on and have sexual fantasies. My orgasms are more pleasurable, last longer, and have a more pleasant afterglow.
  • I feel much less tempted to aimlessly browse the internet, play video games, or watch TV.
  • Difficulties in my life are easier to think about. I flinch away from them less and have more productive and creative thoughts about what to do about them.
  • I tear up much more easily. Love feels more accessible, both giving and receiving.
  • I laugh more easily and more loudly. I make funnier jokes.
  • Dancing feels more natural.
  • My bodily needs – hunger, thirst, lack of exercise – are easier to notice and take care of. I feel more in my body generally.
  • My values – what I care about and stand up for in the world – are easier to access and act from.
  • I can write poetry.

I spent most of 2018 unclogged, and it was life-changing, but then I got clogged up again in September. Could you tell? That’s when I stopped writing these statuses. That’s when I stopped writing poetry.

The big warning sign was towards the end of November, when I noticed that I had stopped caring about anything. That meant I had gone numb to avoid feeling everything that was clogging me up. So I sat down to feel everything, and –

Pain. Fear. Grief. Shame. More pain. But it was stuck. I couldn’t move it. It just stayed there, hurting.

I noticed I hadn’t seen most of my friends in awhile. It felt scary to reach out. I reached out. I spent time with them. It helped. But there was still this ocean of emotion I couldn’t move.

Then I went to Austin for this training, and a lot of things happened. I screamed, loudly. I cried, loudly. I was held beautifully, in my screaming and crying, by everyone else there. (Thank you all for that.) Then we danced. And we sang. And we loved each other.

Halfway through a poem that had been half-formed in me finally finished coming out, and I felt comfortable posting it; that was a good sign. The ocean was finally moving.

And now I’m back. Hi, everyone. I missed you. More to come.

Good news

(crossposted from Facebook)

I have good news.
Do you want to hear it?
The good news is –
No one can save you.
Nowhere is safe.
There is nothing you can do
that will make it all okay.

This is good news.
I promise.
No one can save you
because
you never needed saving.
What do you need to be saved from?
Only
this
and this
and this.

Nothing in your life is unbearable
because
you are already bearing it.

(crossposted from Facebook)

The problem is that the words die.
The problem is that the words die
and now I don’t know how to say
anything alive.
I want to talk about –
I can’t talk about –

listen, when I was six years old
I laid eyes on a little redheaded girl named Austin
and I fell, helplessly in –
and that was the first time I can remember
anything mattering at all, namely –

listen, the only reason I know how to sing
is because from that moment on I sang –
songs to myself every chance I got,
I poured everything I had into those songs,
I practiced them until they sounded exactly right,
until they reverberated with –

listen, once I went to the marina
and I saw a Korean couple getting married
and she asked me why I thought they were getting married
and I said I’ll tell you why I would get married
if I were them,
I said I may not know a lot but I know that –
is good, every version of me knows that –
is good, what it means to be me is to know that –
is good, and it took me three tries to say this
because I kept crying every time I said –

listen. I have been embarrassed.
I have been ashamed of my –
I once tried to toss it out the window because
it was hurting me and I wanted it to
go. Away.
I have been confused.
I have abandoned myself in –
I have broken myself against –
and I am still learning how to give myself –

listen. I have wanted –
in familiar labeled packages, I have wanted –
safe and comfortable and cloying,
and then I went out looking for –
and what I found was
the wild screaming vastness of
another human heart
afraid and in pain
bloody and open
beating
in time
with mine
for a moment
and there
were no words.

Birthday reflections

(crossposted from Facebook)

A very belated thank you to everyone for their birthday wishes last week! It’s taken awhile to write this because I’ve been preparing for my first experience with Burning Man. I am currently on the playa for build and I have cell phone service and most of my camp is sleeping so now’s as good a time as any for some words.

I am frankly embarrassed by how much better life has gotten since my last birthday. Friends I haven’t seen in awhile keep asking “how’ve you been?” and I keep responding “really, really ridiculously good” and meaning it.

I spent most of 2013 through 2016 feeling incredibly lonely after leaving behind the social support network I lucked into in college, and also numbing and distracting myself from how much this hurt because I didn’t know what else to do. In 2017 I went through a long process of undoing the numbing. It was very painful and I needed it. I got help from a lot of amazing people throughout this process. A very partial list: Leslie Grace, David Bollt, Booster Blake, Heather Higgins, Pete Michaud, Stephanie Zolayvar… thank you all.

2018 feels completely different. Something happened to me in February that I still don’t really understand, but the short version is that there was a kind of fear or anxiety or shame that had been holding me back the entire time I had been numb, and it lifted. I became free of it. And I finally started moving again, and I have not stopped.

I started talking. A lot. In a lot of ways. Facebook statuses. Conversations at workshops. I talked about my story, and what I’ve learned from it so far. And people have been listening. They’ve been resonating. They’ve been telling me about their own stories, which are surprisingly similar to mine. And we’re starting to notice, together, that we have a shared sense of how we can use what we’ve been learning to help people.

A lot of these people are coming to Burning Man.

I have some plans for how to get these people talking to each other, which I’m very excited about. I don’t know which of them will survive the desert, and I’m okay with that. I feel open to possibility. Anything can happen in 2018.

If you want to talk, I’m camping at Black Lotus Society, 7:30 and Bender. Look for the geodesic sphere. You might not find me, but you’ll probably find somebody. Or tell me where to find you!

The Milky Way

(crossposted from Facebook)

When I was 20 or so, I saw a time-lapse video of a barbecue in Texas on YouTube. About halfway through, the Milky Way starts casually making its way across the sky. I was flabbergasted because I had never seen the Milky Way before in my life, and I thought you needed a telescope or something.

And then I realized: if the Greeks were able to name the Milky Way, it must’ve been visible to the naked eye for most of human history, and it was visible wherever this barbecue was in Texas. And the reason I had never seen it was because I had never been somewhere with low enough levels of light pollution.

When I realized this, I felt… well. Imagine being a character in a dystopian YA novel where they all live underground because of some terrible disaster. Somewhere, you’ve heard some rumors about this thing called “the Sun,” but it never seemed very interesting or important. And then one day someone smuggles a video to you. And you hit play. And you see something. And it’s bright. And it’s beautiful. And this whole time you didn’t know.

I felt a little bit like that. It was like part of my birthright as a human being had been taken from me.

(The last time I told this story, Brent Dill immediately responded, “are you free next weekend?” and drove me to Tahoe to see it. Bless his heart.)

● ● ●

This is the question that haunts me: what else is missing?

If there was something else beautiful, some other part of my human heritage, that was missing… how would I know? And what would I need to do to get it back?

I think about this question a lot. I have some ideas. Maybe you do too?