Body, spirit; sex, gender
But where? And how much?
Body, spirit; sex, gender
But where? And how much?
You can’t publicly mourn anymore. Not really. You can’t claw at your skin or tear out your hair. You can’t howl and beat your breast. Polite society demands we tame our grief into dry-eyed stoicism or silent, stately tears. Lacking an outlet, I settle for picking at scabs that never heal and pulling out my eyebrows until my fingers ache, but it’s never enough. They call it dermatillomania and trichotillomania because if you do this to yourself there must be something clinically wrong with your mind. I think a more accurate term, if one is so necessary, would be obsessive compulsive mourning. Can we be blamed, though, given the state of the world? We’re drowning in grief and our bodies long for the catharsis of mindless animal exertion. Some sorrow you can only release in screams so loud they leave you voiceless. Some rage you can only set free by clawing it out of your flesh with your own fingernails. Some mourning only heals when you are surrounded by others who wail and rend with you. There’s solace to be found in the ugly, violent mourning of our ancestors – but instead we cage the misery inside ourselves, where it rots us slowly from within.
You are more death than desire. Why does that surprise you?
Every time I feel the knife twist I see your smile in the darkness like the thin blade of the crescent moon. You are clearest to me in these moments where self-loathing bridges the gap between us, and though I know you cannot be trusted I listen still to your soothing cruelty. You are honest, at least, and there is comfort in your lack of platitudes or promises. Or maybe I just appreciate your attention.
Oh na Morrigna, help me!
Teach me to fight an enemy no sword can pierce
To fell an enemy that neither bleeds nor breathes!
On what battlefield can we make our last stand
When our enemy is everywhere and nowhere?
Oh na Morrigna, guide me!
I long for the simplicity of steel on steel
The clean finality of victory or death!
Yet how can we ever achieve a lasting peace
When the evil we fight is so systemic?
Oh na Morrigna, free me!
Tear off my chains of fear and hopelessness
And transform my impotent rage into energy!
How can I squander my privilege with inaction
When so many less fortunate fight to their last breath?
Oh na Morrigna, lead me to battle!
I’m like that myth about the sculptor who so loved the woman he sculpted from marble that the gods granted her life – only the opposite. I’m not stone becoming human, I’m human becoming stone; and as my flesh grows cold and hard I fear your love too will diminish instead of grow. Perhaps in this version of the tale it was a divine punishment, not a blessing, which set these events in motion. Did I so offend some goddess of love that she would curse me to never experience the kind of desire one expects from their beloved? Is it justice, this lacking which alienates me from the rest of humanity? I would not wish this affliction on anyone, so perhaps this is indeed a retribution I deserve.
Oh wise Anup who weighs the hearts of the dead, how heavy mine feels today! Be gentle as you hold it else I am sure it will burst from sorrow. How can any heart which beats in these dark times remain lighter than a feather? How can any empathetic heart not soak up all this pain? Even ravenous Ammit would spit out my heart, bitter as it is! Oh chief healer, I beg you take your sharpest knife and lance my septic heart so I may bleed out this toxic isfet. Empty my heart of this impotent rage and never-ending grief, that I may refill it with love and peace!
The Morrigan is change in all its forms. She is change swift as lightning and disorienting as thunder. She is change that draws blood and sweat and tears. She is the sweeping scythe of change that severs the wheat from its stalk and yet She is also the slow, steady millstone of change which grinds that wheat into flour. The Morrigan’s change is not always the cataclysmic storm; sometimes it is the gently falling rain which, over time, will weather what even the tempest could not touch.
I think I misunderstood the Morrigan’s lesson for me. She revealed to me the tower of my subjugation, that mighty thing built of sorrow and fear, but She would not use Her power to bring it down. I thought this meant I must tear it down myself brick by brick, that Her lesson for me was that only through violent destruction of my cage could I earn my freedom. Yet one day as I clawed at the mortar with weary, bloody fingers a raven passed overhead, a black silhouette against the bright sky, and I suddenly wondered, What if I don’t tear the tower down at all? What if I just… walk away?
Sometimes the Morrigan’s change is a wrecking ball. Sometimes Her change is slow, hard labor. And sometimes Her change is choosing to leave something behind. Time will wear this tower down all on its own. Rain will soften its stones; lichen will grow in the mortar’s cracks. Flowers and grasses will take root and, seeking the sun, will break apart what is no longer strong. If I return, all that will remain is a ruin slowly crumbling back into the earth, and ruins hold no power over the present.
Since I work in emergency management, my supervisor has been urging our team to document our experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s good advice; nothing of this magnitude has happened in the recent past and it’s obviously fucking up a lot of our established paradigms. When experts say we won’t be able to return to the way things were Before and we need to embrace a “new normal”, they aren’t exaggerating. COVID-19 has shaken human society in a way even our recent megaquakes, which have literally shaken the entire globe, could do. So it’s good advice, yes. The problem is just that everything I have to share is so gods-damned bleak and I don’t want to seem like I’m whining when others have it much worse. I guess there’s wisdom in the telling, though, and I’m sure I’ll value these words years down the road, so here goes. I’ll go easy on you and start with…
In July 2019 I made a much-needed career pivot into my dream field of emergency management. I was hired by the Washington State Emergency Management Division (WA EMD) as a Tsunami Program Coordinator, and thus my day job consists of preparing locals for The Big One. For the last 3+ months, however, WA EMD has been activated for the COVID-19 response. This is unlike anything WA EMD has faced before and so it’s all hands on deck 24/7. That means instead of worrying about being laid off or furloughed, I’m actually working more hours than ever. My team is currently on a three-week rotation, meaning for two weeks I work my normal job and then the next week I’m activated Sunday through Saturday for 7 12-hour shifts in the state’s Emergency Operations Center. Not only is the extra pay providing a much needed financial buffer (you’ll see why), I’m receiving some great hands-on experience. No amount of online or classroom training can really prepare you the way an actual disaster can, so even though I’m way outside of my comfort zone I’m very conscious of how good this work is for me. I’m also relatively healthy, at least immune-system-wise, and glad I can help the effort to keep others safe. It’s pretty surreal to be even a tiny cog in this great machine. That being said, here’s…
I AM SO STRESSED. Between work stress, personal life stress, and all these concurrent global crises, I am absolutely filled to the brim with stress. And lucky me, my stress always manifests as flare ups of my various chronic illnesses. These days I’m just constant IBS stomach aches, migraines, carpal tunnel pain, angular cheilitis, exhaustion that’s apparently at least partly narcolepsy, and some weird uterus stuff that I’m super hoping isn’t fibroids. It’s a lot. I’m honestly surprised my shingles hasn’t come back yet, but I’m sure it’s just biding its time. On top of that, my mental health wasn’t particularly stable going into this pandemic and weirdly enough witnessing preventable death on a mass scale because those in power care more about propping up the corpse of late-stage capitalism than saving lives isn’t exactly helping. So enter the panic attacks, severe depression, and uncontrollable dermatillomania. My wife has been wonderful, though, and is basically the reason I haven’t had an actual breakdown yet. Which brings me to…
I might be more willing to find the bright side of this whole mess if it wasn’t for everything that’s happened with my wife. Just thinking about it makes me so angry I’m having trouble getting the words out so I’ll give you the tl;dr version. My wife is a truly amazing person and the world enjoys crushing her for having the audacity to be queer, Asian, and chronically ill, among other things. When COVID-19 went down she was working for a company that pretends to be progressive but is really just out for the money (what a surprise). On top of that, her position required her to be stationed in a major retail space which is considered essential and therefore never closed, nor has ever really bothered to put any employee protection measures in place. Since she has severe asthma and catches pneumonia on practically a yearly basis, my wife and I were understandably very concerned about her being in such a public-facing position. COVID-19 could quite frankly be a death sentence for her (which I think about constantly because Anxiety).
Anyway, flash forward like 2 miserable months and her employer has not only refused every accommodation she’s requested, they are actively punishing her for asking. Last week they used a note from her doctor as an excuse to cut her hours enough that she’ll lose her health insurance at the end of the month. IN A PANDEMIC. This was the final straw (she’s been taking their shit for years) and I’m proud to say she walked right the fuck out of there. Problem solved, right? Except just to twist the knife a little more, they’re refusing to give her a letter stating when her benefits will end so I can add her to my insurance plan – a technically legal but absolutely unnecessary delay that will probably force her to go without health insurance for at least all of May. Again, IN A PANDEMIC. I really can’t express how cruel they’re being without sounding like I’m a conspiracy theorist, but it’s true, and it’s happening to countless other people right now because Capitalism™. This instance just especially hurts me in particular because she’s MY people.
But wait, there’s more! Yeah, we’re not done. So on top of dealing with aaaallll this shit, my wife is also being regularly harassed in public because of her race. Yes, even in western Washington, bastion of progress (that was sarcasm) and home to a pretty sizeable Asian population. It happens every single time she goes somewhere and if it wasn’t for her refusal to let me come with her I might be in jail right now with several murder charges to my name. It’s the fucking worst. If the various feel-good COVID-19 stories ever had a chance to renew my hope in humanity, that chance has been thoroughly crushed. We really are in the Darkest Timeline.
So that’s a brief glimpse into how my pandemic is going. Which is great. Everything is great and totally fine.
…Oh right, I was supposed to record some of my observations, not just wordvomit about my life in particular. Uh, here are some non-me-centric observations for history or whatever in no particular order:
– Traffic is so light that someone has been doing donuts on the Narrows Bridge, which is fairly impressive.
– Traffic has also been so light that I can see the Olympic Mountains every night as I drive home, something usually only possible on the clearest summer days. So that’s cool, but also horribly depressing because that means the reason I don’t see them as often is air pollution.
– You ever think about how there are probably a lot of kids who are only alive right now because schools closed so early in the year that their would-be school shootings never happened?
– You can’t find wheat tortillas anywhere right now. Who’s hoarding all the wheat tortillas?- I hate to be all “I was right” but when Trump got elected I totally predicted a wide scale disaster would hit the west coast and he’d deny us aid because we’re blue states. I just thought it would be a megaquake, not a pandemic. So close.
Anyway. Have a good apocalypse everyone!
Maybe we just didn’t understand each other at the beginning and in reality we’re more alike than either of us thought. We are both selfish things, after all, and we both abhor a cage. We nurse our wounds like fine liquor. We wear our grudges like fine jewels. Look back on the things I’ve done; see that I can be as cold and as cutting as you. Have I proven myself to you yet? Do you finally recognize some small kindred shard of yourself in me, enough at least for you to desire its nurturing? There is much that only you could teach me. There is much I understand about you that no other ever will. Must we be at odds? Can we not work together?
The phoenix is lucky;
Fire is the easy way out.
I want to transform as well,
Rise out of my ashes,
But I must use my teeth and nails
And I make such a bloody mess.
Every day I try and fail to pass as a proper human reminds me I am still just that feral child raised by rabid wolves. I chafe at the chains with which society would bind me: family, duty, privilege, complicity. I am truly loyal to none but they who nurtured me on violence and given the opportunity I would choose that wild, brutal life over the restrictions and safety of a tamed society. Blood I understand. Bone I understand. Bared teeth I understand. But expectations and disappointments and layers of artifice? Those I can’t understand no matter how I struggle. I’m not good at subtlety, I only know how to fight or submit. Can you blame me for always reacting on instinct when instinct is how I’ve survived this long?
Sometimes I manage to forget
(Just for a moment)
That I’m a shitty friend
And a shitty employee
And a shitty wife
And a shitty daughter
But then the knives come out and I remember again.
They’re a kindness, really;
If I get too comfortable I might start liking myself,
And we can’t have that, can we?
You will never be enough, you say, and I feel the truth of it like an ache in my bones. Perhaps this is why I feel such kinship with you. Is it possible we, two people who are each lacking so much, could together make a whole of true value? Of course not, and your mocking smile cuts through my hope like a fine blade. Yet I can almost feel your hand at the back of my neck like a benediction, can almost believe that this shared inability to be even just adequate stirs at least some fondness or attachment in you. Almost. But if we cannot be enough for those we love then certainly we cannot be enough for each other, or even ourselves. You get used to being a disappointment, you say. But when?
I am a ghost town
Built around a dried-up well
Oh how the winds cry
I will dismantle my tower stone by stone
and with those stones I may build anew
or leave them scattered in the field for the grass to grow over
and the rain to soften
Writing used to be a seance, divination by psychography, a holy communion between worlds. Now it’s just DIY vivisection with a mirror and a knife, my bloody hands cutting out chunks of vital organs to smear on the page and call art. Yet Spirit is an endless fount and my body a limited resource; someday soon I will run out of flesh to offer up, and then bone, and then I will have nothing left. Is this offering worth the attendant sacrifice? Does the creation of one thing balance out the loss of the other? I fear the scales are unevenly weighted. Perhaps a pound of flesh buy less than it once did?
Take this last precious ship from this dying planet and go, go journey into the inhospitable depths of space and find the door torn in the fabric of our reality. Pass through to a new place, a new time, somewhere so very far from here where perhaps out of ten thousand hostile lands you may find one, just one, with gentle arms to guide you to a safe landing. Even if this new home does not exist you deserve at least to try, to abandon this wreckage of a world and perish in the struggle for life somewhere else. No hope can grow anymore in this dead earth; take your last little seed and fly away, fly away from here before you give up your bones to my graveyard. And if you do make it to some happier home, somewhere and somewhen far from here, try to remember me fondly. I was not always a desert. I knew once how to love.
I don’t know how to not be a writer. I don’t know how to let thoughts and feelings drift by without trying to craft them into beautiful passages. I don’t know how to experience a dream or fleeting memory without capturing it and preserving it in amber metaphor. Worse, I don’t know how to be okay with not creating; I don’t know how to not tear at my hair, to not beat my breast, to not whip my back bloody in penance for every unwritten sentence. When the words won’t come I can’t just let them go, I keep scrabbling in the dust until I’m bruised and bloody and have nothing to show for my struggles. I don’t know how to not be a writer. I don’t know how to give up on this thing that tears me to pieces. I don’t know how to stop. I don’t even know how to want to know how to stop. But it’s killing me.
You know how when a tooth hurts you imagine taking a pair of pliers and just yanking it out, and that mere thought of removing the source of the pain brings a small measure of physical relief? It’s like that. If I imagine vomiting up a torrent of black sludge I feel a little less weighed down by the darkness pooled inside me. If I imagine clawing open my breast I feel a little less like a cage of flesh and bone for something greater than myself. If I imagine hacking off these hands which so offend me and casting them away I feel a little less pressured to use every second to create, to narrate, to commit to the innately limited nature of text the wordless vortex inside me. It’s just a brief reprieve, hardly more than a heartbeat, but there’s no root canal or surgery that can provide anything better.
No one asked if I wanted to be born a flower; I just was. If they had asked I would have begged to be anything else. Make me a moss! I’d have pleaded. Make me a grass or a tree! Make me a succulent, a shrub, a clump of seaweed! Just please don’t make me a flower. But here I am anyway, consigned by mere biological chance to the constant appraisal of others. I didn’t want these pretty petals! I didn’t want this lovely scent! I only ever wanted to grow alone and undisturbed, giving no thought to how I might appear to others. Yet because of my pleasing aesthetic I am good for nothing more than gracing a vase or a bouquet, or perhaps crushing between the pages of a book so my beauty lasts long after I’ve died and dried. I am only the sum of what value others assign me and the higher the value, the more they desire to tear me from my roots to claim my loveliness for themselves. Oh, to be a patch of plain little lichen!
Not to stress the point or anything, or get too graphic, but it really is like gutting myself, like reaching in and pulling loops of intestines out onto the floor to divine the meaning of their pattern, like smearing my cut palms on the walls to paint a Rorschach test (what do you see?), and every finished piece, every precious word of every hard-bought sentence is a chunk of flesh or a shard of bone hacked off my ever-dwindling body for the masses who do not care enough about such offerings to come bear witness. Perhaps I make it look too easy, perhaps they suspect a trick of corn syrup and food dye or a magician’s sleight of hand, but I promise there are no mirrors here, no trap doors or invisible strings, my meat is real and so is the knife and if still you suspect deceit then watch me tear with my fingernails, watch me gouge with my teeth, watch me rend myself apart with my own hands to dig out the words hiding deep within. I’m used to putting myself on display anyway, and oh how I long to prove with what agony each syllable is purchased, so come, pull up a chair, I don’t know how much longer I can keep this up so you better catch the show while you can.
Name me Alexandria for I am always burning up from within, my ribs a charred cage to cradle this conflagration of words which was once a heart. Watch the embers smolder behind my eyes; watch me open cracked lips to breathe out ashen smoke thick as a funeral shroud. Call me Alexandria for I am a tower of fire and ruin, and only by the black clouds of my pyre might you divine the true worth of the works lost to the inferno.
in these dark days I am grateful for sages and oracles, Greek choruses and seers, for I am bereft of the hope necessary to play such roles anymore, no, now I am too weary, too full of mindless rage to provide good counsel, now I am a banshee and all I can do is wail we are dying, we are dying, we are dying
But I lied; of course I’m haunted. Only all my ghosts are just the shit I said and the shit I did or the shit I didn’t say or the shit I didn’t do, and I promise you I remember them all, how can I not when I drag them around with me Marley-style? It’s too late for me, but maybe I can visit some other poor fucker on a lonely midnight and provide that oh so crucial cautionary tale that turns their life around. Only honestly I might just tell them to skip right to the end, to the stone and the six foot hole, because I’m not sure there’s any other way to get through the years unscathed no matter how many good deeds you attempt to make up for what you can’t take back. Do you think ten years from now they’ll remember that one Christmas goose, no matter how fat, or all the cruelty that came first? We are all just chains until the grave.
drag me like a tiny ship into your chill black waters
shatter my hull, snap my decks, tear away my sails
I offer you my fear; drown it in the deep!
I offer you my hate; drown it in the deep!
I offer you my sorrow; drown it in the deep!
transform what remains of me into teeth and wrath
set my maelstrom heart free to devour the world
I am a vortex too, inside
I don’t perform emotions correctly; many have made this perfectly clear. I guess sometimes I look unhappy even when I’m having fun, so they think I’m lying when I say I’m fine. I don’t cry at appropriate times, like gestures of affection or funerals or whatever, only for unacceptable reasons like grocery shopping or well-intentioned teasing. I guess I don’t look properly enraptured by a pretty face, even when I really do find the person attractive, so I must be lying. Someone as broken as I am can’t possibly be trusted to accurately comprehend their emotions, after all. This inability to behave properly is such a burden on those around me, and I know they wonder why I can’t act normally for once. I’m sorry. The secret is, I’m just a robot with a passable human emotional protocol but I’m not convincing enough to hide my artificiality completely. A machine, especially such an outdated one as myself, can only be so realistic when compared to a living being with a heart and a soul. All I have are the brain bits, and at the end of the day those aren’t worth shit to real people. Who wants to be with someone intelligent but emotionally stunted? (Spoiler alert: no one.) I mean, did you feel bad when your Tamagotchi died? What about when you got rid of your Furby? A little, probably, but deep down you knew it didn’t actually experience emotions; it was just programmed to seem like it did. Artifice. Clever artifice, but still just artifice.
You know, I always hated the story of Pinocchio so it’s kind of ironic that I find myself wishing desperately to be a real girl – or at least that you saw me as a real girl and not a robot failing to make the grade. I feel real, is that not enough? Or could I peel back my skin and find circuit boards underneath?
Which motherfucking star do I have to wish on to not be me anymore?
Once a home, I am now a house abandoned. You left the doors open and over time only the wind and rain have moved in. My paint peels; my walls are mildewed; my tiles are hidden beneath dirt and dead leaves. My halls are silent and my rooms empty. I have fallen into disrepair, yet still I wait for your return. I will remain until you have need of me again, though my roof collapses and weeds grow up through my floorboards. I will remain, though my wood rots away and the vines reclaim my bones. I will remain, though I be but broken flagstones buried by winter deadfall and summer blooms. When you have need of a home again I will be here regardless of the absence of walls or doors. I will be here. I will remain.
Measuring the growth of the sapling, I miss the aging of the forest. Tracking the path of the moon, I miss the dancing of the stars. Analyzing the placement of one little jewel, I miss the twisting of the kaleidoscope. Seeking the smallest crumb of knowledge, I miss the grandness of wisdom.
I wish I thought a dam was all that held my words back. Dams are impermanent; dams can be destroyed. With a little dynamite, or maybe a particularly bad storm, all you need is to work at one flaw until the whole thing collapses. I wish I thought my problem could be solved so decisively, I really do. What I fear, though, is that the river of words has dried up completely, right at the source, leaving me a devastated land slowly turning to desert. I fear rain will never come again, or in coming only briefly will just serve as a reminder of what bounty was lost. If you are dying of dehydration in a desert should you be grateful for the two drops of rain that fall into your parched mouth? Or would it be better to have no water at all than to have so little? I don’t know. Maybe there is a dam somewhere way up that riverbed that I just need to find and destroy to set my words free. Maybe. Hope doesn’t grow easily in a desert, though.
There is a place for you in my heart if you wish. There is a room with a bed where you may rest in peace and quiet, away from the ills of the world. Paint the walls, move the furniture, do whatever you need to make this space your own. I do not keep a room here for you so that you must confine yourself to its defaults; I want to see what you make of my love, what you use it to create or achieve. You are welcome here exactly as you are, no pretenses, no expectations. Be yourself! That is all I want from you in return for my hospitality.
There is a place for you in my heart, if you wish, but understand there is a lock on the door of my heart as well. Those who are not welcome can never pass through, and those who were once welcome yet brought only pain will find the door barred when they seek to return. I have learned my lesson the hard way and will not make the same mistake again. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. You need little to make you worthy of this place – kindness, honesty, generosity, only things I would ask of myself as well – and that door does not close easily. Once it has, though, it cannot be opened again.