Friday, November 3, 2017

Nina Simone is an American and So Am I (the final installment)

Chicago reintroduced me to Nina Simone the summer of 2013. When I found a best of album (The Very Best of Nina Simone: Sugar in My Bowl 1967-1972), I discovered Nina's contribution to the civil rights movement and, subsequently, her slow disappearance into what I would later learn was bipolar disorder.

I waited tables that first year in the Windy City, and I would come home in the middle of the night, put in my headphones, and take Linus for long walks while I listened to music on Spotify.

I introduced myself to lots of artists that year because I had access, like I was getting away with something. To name a few, I explored the likes of Tupac, revisited the 90s, and stumbled upon Nina Simone's To Be Young Gifted and Black.I was growing up older, colder, and so was she.

I recall one evening hearing Mississippi Goddam for the first time.

Picket lines
School boycotts
They try to say it's a communist plot
All I want is equality
for my sister my brother my people and me

In the documentary, What Happened Miss Simone (Netflix 2015), there is footage of Simone asking Dr. Martin Luther King what to do with all her feelings of rage. He, of course, encouraged her to focus energy on the nonviolent protests that would later go down in history as true democracy in action. 

But they killed him. 

So she sang this song, raging in a glorious, vulnerable masterpiece that the time for silent protest was over. That it's taking too long. Moving too slow. 

And they ran her out of the country. She was destroyed politically and publicly. The beautiful black woman with the incredible voice was not singing the songs that everyone wanted to hear. 
She wasn't smiling or trying to be nice.

Today there are so many voices scrambling and screeching to be heard and so many lives lost to alcohol, pills, guns, and violence, corporate violence, that America is not what they told us it would be. Yet, "they," whoever they are, are still trying to tell us that we need to hold on...for freedom? For what America......was?

America enslaved, tortured, raped, and murdered, countless human beings. Take a day and listen to the words to songs like "Strange Fruit," and "Mississippi Goddam." Take a month....take a month that is longer than February, take two months, and listen to the voices of those that have been trying to play by a set of rules that offers them very little.

Just like rage that gets stuffed down for far too long, the urgency of the song builds:

You keep on saying "Go slow!" "Go slow!" But that's just the trouble...

"Do it slow,"
"Do it slow"
Mass participation
"Do it slow"
"Do it slow"
Do things gradually
"Do it slow"
But bring more tragedy
"Do it slow"
Why don't you see it
Why don't you feel it
I don't know
I don't know"

The "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" mentality is impossible in a nation controlled by large corporations.

The lies about black crime told to make white girls afraid. The false masculinity of the disillusioned men who rape and take what they have literally been taught is "rightfully" theirs by design. The white boys and girls that scream "all lives matter" who have been told the lie that the Black Lives Matter movement is a personal attack. It is not.

And the churchgoers that voted for our current president and still try to talk to me about love that surpasses all understanding.

We have all been lied to. Why don't you see it? Why don't you feel it?

Nina Simone's family found her years later, drowning in depression. It's hard to see the world for what it is as an artist, as a lover of what human beings can create through expression, and keep going.

When you see the lost, the unloved, the broken, and the hated, all marginalized and demonized so that one group of people can say they are better or stronger, so that someone can claim ultimate power and final say, it's hard not to drown in hopelessness because what's the point?

And that is what is happening to this country. It is ignoring the rage that it is due. Because we have all been lied to, been distracted, been in love. The Bible teaches that only the Truth will set you free.

So we are all in prison. Quietly, comfortably, wasting away in a prison that we don't have to accept.

You cannot live a lie. You can try. You can surely try. But it will eat you up, destroy you from the inside out. You can dress it up, buy all the best treatments for gaping wounds, but it will kill you in the end.

It's too slow. The admitting of our sins. It's time to admit them.

How long can we live in the safe notion that if we keep quiet and pray about it, it will work itself out? We are the answer to our prayers. We are the present and the future. What we do...not say....not pray....but what we DO is the only thing that matters.

It's not time to let go and let God. It's time to stand up, and be counted. And it's time to start paying attention. Those who are living are suffering...including you.

I am a terrible vessel.

History is full of prophets that we've chased away because they did what we were terrified to do: be completely vulnerable. Like Nina Simone.

America wanted Nina Simone to pay for her "sins," while it continued to ignore the sins that would bring it...bring all of this point in history.

Maybe an angry black woman isn't the problem.

"Oh but this whole country is full of lies. You're all going to die and die like flies."

She said in an older interview, used in What Happened Miss Simone (Netflix 2015), that her biggest regret is not getting to play classical piano at Carnegie Hall. The interviewer was astonished. Nina Simone had played Carnegie Hall...but not classical piano. That means something to a musician, the dream of creating something beyond words in a space made for that very creation.

Instead, at Carnegie, she played what audiences wanted a black woman who could play and sing to play, and when they didn't like what she sang, they threw her in the fire, to burn.

And burn she did.

Before the truth can set you free, you need to know what it means to be free, but, more than that, you have to try to imagine what it means not to be.


Saturday, July 22, 2017


I've had a lot of time lately. To think. I spend hours in the sun, laughing at myself for the meager attempt at farming I've managed to scratch out of this wet hot American summer.

And I'm beginning to remember the tiniest of details in my story.

Like the bird's nest in the garden of our house in North London, Turnpike Lane, April. Saturday morning, the sun was out, and Liam and I were doing the Guardian crossword. We had already broken up, but we lived together, like we always did. I remember the baby birds, singing like they never sang before, and I was annoyed, suffocating.

I wanted to stand up and yell at him to make this work, to love me like I was willing to love him. But it was too hard. Always too hard.

Yet here we were. Like nothing had changed. Sipping coffee in the garden, listening to the screeching baby birds. Reading the fucking Guardian.

There are days I feel like I've been sitting on my hands for my entire life, listening to others map out a course that would be perfect for me, lists of things I should do, and biting my tongue.

The little girl me is kind of ticked off. Where did she go? Why did I tell her to get lost? When did depression find me? Huddled inside of myself, unable to tear down the walls in front of my own eyes.

And when I did begin to take the walls apart, I found that the clarity, thanks to my own imagination, was superb.

I probably punished Liam for a lot of things for which he was not responsible. It's okay, though, because I punished myself pretty hard with my next boyfriend, and even harder after that for punishing myself so hard with him. I mean, I liked my last boyfriend. We had some magical times, but we hurt each other pretty badly, and I surprised myself at the amount of total bullshit with which I was willing to put up just to feel like I had some semblance of the beginnings of a nuclear family to prove that I was, indeed, capable.

Yes. There was a time I took cute pictures with boys. 
Liam was good to me. Liam courted me. He wrote to me. He listened to me. He came to visit me. He stayed with me, gave as much as I gave. It wasn't perfect, and his list of cons is just as long. But that's the way it will be with everyone.

Plus, I was on the precipice of depression, untreated, and even I wasn't prepared for what was coming.

Every day I have to forgive myself. To remember that I am worth courting, worth chasing. Because I didn't believe it when it first happened to me, and I wasn't able to fully accept it.

The more I open up, however, slow down, breathe, half smile, speak softy to myself, the more I am able to remember those details and mine them for what they mean to me. What they can teach me.

On my last night in London, at the pub with the whole gang, my friend Paul asked me what the real reason behind all of my wandering was, and I don't even think I hesitated when I replied, " For my daughter, so she will wander further, live more fully, and be proud of me."

I may not have a daughter, or a son, but the message is still very clear.

Life continues. People are born and people die. Love is found and lost, and baby birds yell like little boys when they're waiting for breakfast in the back of some house in North London.

None of my experiences stand alone, and even the tiniest details, regardless of the circumstances, combine to comfort me when I feel lost, when I forget who I am and where I'm going.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Live for Love

I want to posit something to all the boys and girls, women and men out there. I want you to consider that perhaps existence has been presented to you in one particular way, and because of this, your subconscious and conscious life's goal has been to meet a manufactured set of criteria. But you already knew that. You just forgot. I forgot too.

I can't say for sure, but I can guess that I started to forget after I reached the age of being capable of baring a child. I was fifteen and playing the coveted role of Zaneeta Shinn in my school's production of the classic The Music Man. My dance partner and I, the featured "cute couple" in the show, spent night after night learning the most menial of steps, flirting but not flirting. 

He was popular, handsome, and ended up with his face on the hall wall for eternity after being named our equivalent to "Prom King," but since Prom was sin, we had to make it seem more prestigious. I knew where I stood and how he felt about me as soon as we took hands at our first dance rehearsal, and he told me my hands felt like grandma hands. 

We are animals after all. 

If I'd realized what was happening (had I been like five years younger) I'd have laughed it off as a "this guy," moment, but I was fifteen. I didn't want to have grandma hands because no one would love me. No one would love me if I had grandma hands! 

I felt that way too when my friends treated me like a freak for things like...eating tuna salad for lunch. Who will love me if I don't exclusively eat chicken fingers!?!?! When they laughed at me in fourth grade because I started getting boobs. WHO WILL LOVE ME IF I HAVE BOOBS?!?!?!?!

Shame. It's a shame. How terrified I was of not being loved, lovable. For what else was I supposed to live? But for love?

This is the message we get every day. That love is this thing to which we should aspire, that it is shiny, and plastic, and precious, and pretty. Just like America.

Except America isn't pretty. America is violence and horror, greed and rape. Her beauty is in her age, the monuments to her natural history. We the people package beauty and sell it like the ancient forests we decimate for parking lots without a second thought. 

So too is life. It isn't romance and happily ever after. It isn't good and bad. It's mostly ugly.

There can never be joy without pain. There can never be love without loss. There can never be life without death.

It isn't a game. And it isn't for sale. And you are unique out of every single person in the world. Shiny and pretty and perfect doesn't exist.

But you do. And imagine, just for a moment, that the love you seek is inside of you. All of it. The love you ache for at night. It's inside of you. And it is a well.

Live for that love.

"and you will have the suffrage of the world." Ralph Waldo Emerson. 

Friday, March 31, 2017


Just to get everyone up to date. I'm back in Georgia.

But why? WHY go back to the south? Well, despite what you  may have heard, I was actually born here in the south, not too far from Georgia, actually, Hickory, North Carolina, and it feels right, lying on the ground, looking up past the tree line. I've napped under trees all over the the western part of the world, but the trees in the Blue Ridge Mountains are the ones I dream about, back in the very back of my subconscious. Ever since I crossed over from Tennessee into North Carolina for the first time as a human that could record memories (and not a child under the age of five), I have felt a very personal and quiet peace of mind from the mysteries of these ancient hills.

So here I am. I wait tables at a fancy restaurant in the mountains where I have to be able to explain Rabbit Rillettes to patrons. I make enough. Trust me.

And I want to fight for the south, for my friends that live here, that love it like I do, despite its bitter past. And since all the dudes and ladies that hate other ladies because they think we all want their dudes (the Grand ol' Pissants) voted to defund one of the most important institutions in this country that provides safe healthcare for women, there's A LOT of fighting to be done, and I WILL NOT SHUT UP. Margaret Sanger didn't shut up when she was arrested for trying to teach girls and women about their menstrual cycles, so I can't.

Moving takes time, shifting takes even more time. If I haven't had that lunch or coffee with you that we've been dancing around sharing, get ready. I'm about to start putting dates in my calendar again.

Also, and I don't care what anyone says, I cannot wait for the oppressive heat of the summer. My soul has been suffering from lack of summer detox sweats. YOU HAVE NO IDEA.

Blah blah. Interim post. Want to get back to writing more regularly, know, moving.

In the future, I pledge to finish my Nina Simone trilogy, talk more about women in music that have been teaching me how to use my own voice, finish my timeline, go deeper into my timeline with some stories about college, Europe, and kissing Dave Foley at Relapse theatre and later in my car.

I came back to write, to fight for what is right, and to learn to be a homesteader. Let's see what happens next...


Thursday, March 30, 2017

Water Safety

Bodhi...and Keanu.
Life comes in waves. The good and the bad. And it never stops. That's important.

I learned that a woman's emotions are like a wave from John Gray, PhD, in his New York Times Bestseller Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. I was lying in a hammock on a porch in the middle of the woods in Dahlonega, GA. The porch was attached to a cabin. Don't worry. This part is not a metaphor.

Destin, Florida: white sand beaches, buckets of crab legs, and Super Mario Brothers in the arcade in the lobby at the Hotel. I loved the beach. I wore a bathing suit all the time and my hair was (as usual) fantastic and mermaid long. I sat in the sand for hours, letting the waves of the Gulf wash over my legs, letting wet sand pour through my fingers. Swimming, running, building and tearing down sandcastles. I loved myself at the beach. I loved my parents at the beach, on vacation, our tribe, our pack.

I forgot how to enjoy the beach eventually, was seized with the fear of the sight of my own body. Be it too pale, too thin, too wide, too wobbly, too red, too scarred with psoriasis, I stopped being able to see myself in my mind's eye as anything but a deformed figure, confounded by the covers of magazines, the comments of others, the images in which we all find ourselves drowning on a daily basis.

Or maybe it was the fact that by the time I was in my twenties, my options for swimwear were suits that effectively "hid" my stomach or resembled my underwear drawer, neither of which I felt had anything to do with the original concept behind swimming: physical activity. Maybe it was the fact that, the older I became, the more my choices of ways to present myself to society began to diminish, to bottleneck as the road narrowed for my sisters and me.

Books, films, legends, and tales about life, all words for the ladies limited to the slender path on which slender women, girls with diet cokes, brides and bridesmaids, mothers and wives, princesses and queens saunter through life. As for the protagonists of those stories, let's be honest, what woman can't relate to the story of another man, conquering his fear and striking out on his own, men and women are the same, right?

Women see the world through our own eyes, and we are guided by forces of nature that, I can only speculate, were deemed too frightening and difficult to be talked about. But they need to be talked about.

Over the last few years, I have "come into [my] cycles," as Clarissa Pinkola Est├ęs would say in a book a producer from the Mortified podcast recommended I read, Women Who Run with the Wolves. I've probably talked about it before. Anyway, I came into my cycles because I started tracking my period. All that to say, I got one (ten) of those period tracking apps. And my life will never be the same.

How funny, this little thing, this monthly incident, this "inappropriate" topic of conversation, as a good friend of mine would say, affects every single human being on the planet, not just the women. A period is not just the physical, and the physical is real, exhausting, terrifying, and an all around glorious ride; yes, I said glorious. A period is emotional, visceral, natural. It is not just that few days of bleeding, it's a constant cycle of hormones, instinct, and insight into what makes women, in fact, so very different from men.

I have a transgender friend, a man. He told me it was stark, the contrast between hormonal cycles as a woman and hormonal cycles as a man (and yes, men go through hormonal cycles), that it was easier, but unnerving how different he felt inside as a man.

My body changes every day. I eat, sleep, and think on this cycle, swell into my curves at just the right moment, and experience heightened senses, not because the "right man" walked into the room, but because I am an animal and my body screams to reproduce, to continue the cycle.

For a more...tangible example, along the same topic: I recently started using a Diva Cup instead of my old faithful, since period number two, tampons. It was time for me to stop pretending to be a feminist without always giving myself the option of actually saving my own menstrual blood if I felt like it. If I FEEL like it.

I had no idea...but now that I've spilled it into my hands* and watched my own blood run through my fingers...I deserve everything. Cookies. Cookies and Milk. Cookies and Milk Ice Cream (B&Js). Puppies. Flowers. The sun on my face. The wind at my back. And to wear whatever I want without fear of sexualization, assault, or eternal damnation. I am a warrior. I deserve better.

I already have the moon, though, he and I are kin, controlling the tides together along with every other beautiful woman on the planet.

Now, my life is just riding the waves, and I respect the waves. The crimson waves. I'll say it in the words of a dude, so my dudes can follow me through this one. As thrill seeker Bodhi, performed by Patrick Swayze in the hit action/surf/so much more film Point Break, put it, "Life sure has a sick sense of humor," and he was a surfer. He would know all about riding the waves.

So what does the world look like through the eyes of a woman? If you're not afraid the answer will be too bloody, you can always ask.

*it doesn't have to be so violent, but I haven't gotten the total hang and balance of this Diva Cup business

P.S. Ladies, track your period. Learn your cycles. For apps, try Hormone Horoscope, Clue, anything that isn't pink?

Monday, February 20, 2017

Cookies: From the Unpublished Archives

I wrote this blog on my second day of trying to vacation in Georgia in September, after I sold my car to the guy that towed me back to Chicago when I broke down in Indiana.

On the second day of my vacation, I took a cab, a Lyft if you will, to pick up my rental car at the train station. My driver was a delight. I don't know what it is about me, or maybe people just want to talk sometimes, but I keep getting life stories from people I just met, and I'm like, okay life, is this like, the epilogue to the long lesson you've been teaching me for the past few years? Because I still can't figure out how to voice record on my Samsung Galaxy S7, and what good is all this talkin, if I can't record it without people's consent?

Within a minute of closing the door of the car, she began to tell me the events of her morning until this point in time, 7:30 a.m. Her daughter was having trouble in her second marriage. She hated her daughter's first husband, but she actually liked this guy.

That story led us to the topic of dating. She was 70 (yes. seventy), married simply because it was a hassle to get divorced, but considering that perhaps her marriage was giving her an excuse to avoid getting back out there. She was kind of dating a guy that she liked, but he was being weird.

My lovely Lyft driver explained, "I don't understand why men always be acting like I want to tie them down. I'm tellin ya, I just want someone to hang out with, to have dinner with, wine, to go to movies with. I'll pay! I don't need your money. But men always be acting like I need to work for it. Why I gotta work for it? I'm the one with the cookie. You want the cookie don't ya? You work for it."

The same analogy Buffy used in Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 7 episode 22 "Chosen" to explain to Angel that she couldn't handle romance or dating the morning of the apocalypse:

Something happened with the Lyft app, and I didn't get to rate or tip her, which crushed me, so I'm going to have to write a letter to their offices. I wonder if they need plants....

My drive was atrocious. I always always always forget that the road through Indiana to Atlanta, Georgia is always heavy traffic and non-stop construction for six hundred something miles. It is a sin. If sin is real...that is what it is.

The air changes in your car (sexy Nissan Sentra), the smell changes, when you come across the mountains in Kentucky. Ever since my father took me to the place I was born, I have felt the Appalachian mountains coursing through my veins, singing to me.

There's a weird thing that happens when all that work you've been doing in therapy starts to pay off, like when you notice the difference for the first time after starting to work out. Like, all the horrible ugly faces you made while you lay there, drenched in your own sweat and tears, headphones in and up, suffering the strain required of a broken heart or determined chest presses without a spotter, and the pain that comes afterwards as you shove Ben and Jerry's in your face crying, "I need this for energy!! Nothing else makes sense!!!!," were totally worth it for what's coming.

When the veil begins to lift, you start to see each step or misstep was just what happened along the way. I feel like I've been kind of whining about this for a while, but it's worth repeating: Nothing happens for a reason save that life exists to continue to exist, so the world keeps turning, and there's not a damn thing you or I can do about it.

But, the people in your life. They are everything. Second only to you. Because you are life, racing forward, surviving. You are brave because it is hard. Like we learned from Buffy in this post from Labor day. The hardest thing in life is to live it. And yeah, I've been living. A LOT. And it's been really hard. But it's also been really rewarding...unless I lose my mind....or maybe still rewarding.

When the fog starts to clear, you begin to see everyone else, lost in their own pain and fear, or inability to explain how they feel, even to themselves sometimes. I know what that's like. I'm not kidding when I say I suffer from depression, and my depression can be black as night. I'm learning not to discount where my scars have come from, the memory of suffering that makes it next to impossible for me to trust anyone but my dog.

We are all lying in wait for the next predator, men and women. We are screaming our stories at each other expecting to hear something different, but it's the same story, over and over again. That's what I mean by equality when I say, with extreme trepidation and equally fierce fearlessness, that I am a feminist. We are all living in the same world, and we're all terrified of each other, but we're all we have. We're the only reason we keep living. Right?

I suppose a nihilist could argue that nothing matters but pleasure and pain, and that's fine. It's lonely, but if it works for the nihilist. The reality is that relationship, sex, love, is a drug, and it's the strongest by nature. It's survival. So the nihilist also finds herself in a cycle of relationship, unable to stand to actually be lonely. That requires the acceptance that one actually experiences connection with others. If you never let yourself face life without that connection, you don't really know what it means to be completely empty, do you?

I do. I know what it's like to stare into the abyss and let it tear your soul apart, like in Doctor Who, when the Master looked into all of time and went insane and turned David Tennant, the tenth Doctor into a tiny Doctor and put him in a cage while he took over the world in order to destroy it because time is nonsense and everything is meaningless, but the Doctor couldn't let him. Everyone has to believe in the Doctor just as hard as he believes in them, which is the point of Doctor Who, that he believes in you.

I used to weep for people and their inability to take the leaps that I've taken in my life. Angry that so many would choose to be safe in a world that can never truly promise anything in regards to safety. Everything you know could fall apart in a matter of moments. I know what that feels like. Trust me. I can tell you about it, if you want.

I'm not angry any more at the people I love. I understand. If you can postpone the shock of reality in your life, I suggest you relish that time. I try to hold onto those moments in my life now with both arms. I've lain in bed at night with my arms wrapped around my shoulders, weeping at the vastness of being alone. Now my arms are full.

I did not know how to go about things because that book hasn't been written yet. I had to do the research first. Now I bask in the glow of the terrifying world we live in, where voices are rising out of the mob, voices that have never been heard before, telling stories of roads that have only recently been traversed.

Those roads are still open. They are waiting to teach us to be better helpers of one another because we are all we have. I want to help the voices. I want to encourage them, to encourage you to love yourself, not only so that you can love others, but also because loving yourself is the greatest challenge you will face, and the rewards are like a wellspring...I imagine. I'm new here myself.

I've been baking cookies in waves for over a year now, since I first hit the bottom of my well, coping in the best possible way. It's cool, though, because I've also been moving my body for the better part of every day in some form or fashion. Treat yourself. Learn to make something you love. Learn to make yourself, and be what you love. Then teach others to do the same. You are a wellspring. You are the answer. You are overflowing.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Return of the Timeline: 2009-2013, When I Lived in Georgia, The Beginning....part II.

If you were to ask my father which series he prefers of the first two Star Treks, between The Original Series and The Next Generation, having seen all of them, he would choose TNG. If you were to ask me, having seen MOST of TNG and a good portion of The Original (I have no idea why I'm capitalizing "Original"....respect?), I would choose TNG. Kirk's...great, but Jean Luc Picard is my prince.

There are pages dedicated to this boy. 
I feel like I grew up with the sweater master himself, Wesley Crusher, but it wasn't until a year ago that I actually realized he was leading his own depression and anxiety awareness campaign (well, the actor Wil Wheaton, not Crusher, although he is the son of a doctor). I'm not going to say it wasn't pleasingly nostalgic when he popped up back on the scene. I'm just not going to say it. It was even more enjoyable to hear him talk about his own struggles with GAD, but nothing struck me more than when I heard him speak about the difference between life with and without medication. It was uncanny (and you can hear it at around 2:56 on the video that is linked to GAD up there).

To paraphrase, he describes life with depression and anxiety as life in a room that was so loud, the only way to live was to "deal with how loud it was." I heard him say it (on The Nerdist Podcast, hosted by fellow Memphian, Chris Hardwick, of Billy Hardwick and bowling and stuff), and (duh) I cried.

Deal with how loud it is.

At 29, I was exhausted. Falling asleep crying and waking up to more misery. I was in love, or I wanted to be in be loved, as I loved, and I was panicking in the shower about hitting my head and being found days later because no one stopped by my house in the woods where I had no one that I knew well but a man I didn't really understand and who couldn't really understand me. I had a Master's degree, enough experience traveling and living abroad to write a novel, and I wept for myself because I couldn't bear the weight of the noise, the relentless droning of, "It is not enough. It will never be enough."

It wasn't until I had a breakdown in front my boyfriend, an honest to God weeping, no words, terrified, breakdown, that I was prompted to do something.

I realized I had hit the "proverbial" bottom.
And I stopped crying.

I called my dad, told him I needed help. Then, I drove myself to Alabama and commenced some of the oddest days of my life, the days I floated there, on the bottom, on my back looking up at the expanse of the deep well above me, leading to nothing.

My doctor told me to stop taking my birth control as this might have been a side effect (a minor side-effect....panic attacks and suicidal thoughts). I wondered if I would have to be hospitalized. I stared off into the foothills of the Appalachians. I saw nothing. I felt heavy, on the verge, tipping.

Then, because I had taken it previously, a doctor prescribed Zoloft. He should have told me to start with half a pill, but he didn't, so I spent the first twenty-four hours smiling like a weird android and trembling. I halved it.

Then, the noise stopped. I didn't notice at first; it takes a moment for it to creep up on a person. I was with my mom in Chattanooga a few days later. We walked around the city, around the "Choo-Choo," and I thought of how romantic it had all seemed in the old song. Now, rusty and surrounded by concrete, the trains just sat, quietly. Like I was doing. For the first time.

My mother asked me once what I was thinking about, and I paused, listened and replied, "nothing." And I meant it. For the first time in almost thirty years. And it felt so good.

It doesn't last. One can't just take medication and expect everything to be okay. The depressed brain is pretty convincing. There's a lot of searching: searching for the right therapist with no insurance, searching for the right psychiatrist with no insurance, searching for the medication that works that you can also afford without insurance. Then, there's the search for the way to move forward, search for the people that can be trusted with the darkness, the people that can handle it.

The Internet is for Star Trek
Discovering what I can handle. Moving forward despite how easy it would be to stand still. These are the voyages of my life. My trek through the stars of my own universe. See...I'm bringin' it back. Like a circle. Like time.

This was a moment, along my timeline, like on any timeline, a milestone. One can look behind for clues as to why it happened, but what lies ahead requires focus, an expanse stretching as far as the universe and as deep as the deep well in which I had once floated calmly, gazing up into nothing, except nothing was freedom. Nothing was peace. For the first time.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

From the Untitled Archives

I found this post the other day and realized I'd never actually put it out there...or maybe I put parts of it out there, or a different version or something, but, reading over it, I liked it, and wanted to share. I'm currently working on another time-line piece, but it's taking a minute to process through MY SOUL. So, forgive me. I spend about 20% of my time trying to figure out what I want to write about, 77% agonizing over actually writing, and maybe 3% actually writing. It’s a shame the way this writing messes around with my heart. Ya know?

So....this is back in the fall of 2016....a different time indeed.

Summer is almost over, and as the cooler air floats in and settles on the concrete, grass and astroturf of Chicago’s myriad of front stoops, I feel an all too familiar looming sense of terror. Winter is coming. And winter is going to hurt. It has me questioning every choice I’ve ever made as I spin out of control down the tunnel of sugary marketing ploys painted orange and yellow. It’s beautiful, but it’s also unsettling (and way too sugary), to say the least.

I am unsettled, and I know exactly why, for the most part. My therapist keeps telling me I’m more together than I’ve ever been since she’s been working with me, but I can’t get behind it. Of course, that’s always been my biggest problem: getting behind myself. I play a good game, but I really don’t trust my own instincts in that fiercely confident way that I want to. I haven’t given enough merit to my own accomplishments.

Sure, I like repeating that I have a master’s degree, especially when people ask if I can do things like, “hold this.” I can toss in a good multi-cultural factoid when the conversation turns to travel and world view. Heck, I can give you relationship advice as I’ve spent a gooooooood looooooooooong time analyzing my past relationships and doing my damnedest to see the whole picture, but I certainly can’t take my own advice, and I wouldn’t bet on my answer with a quiz team, and I’ve rarely relished in my own innumerable memories.

I maybe give myself credit once every….3 or 4 years?

So, I’m due for a “me” party, time to reflect on all the choices I’ve made and where they’ve led me. It’s natural for me to want to reconsider my choice of settlement during this time, as I’m more open to the time it will take to make the right decision. I’m not desperate….but again, winter is coming.

As I compose my list of pros and cons for going back south, I keep getting sabotaged by those old demons I've been fighting off for a while now. That's natural, I bet. When I lived in The South, home, I was always a little frustrated. I felt stifled, held under water as I kicked and fought my way to the surface of whatever I needed to learn about myself. Everywhere I went, I was followed, at my heels, by these memories, this PTSD, the beasts.

Describing the beasts, using literal terms, makes them seem ridiculous, even to me. Par exemple, A friend in a rocky, at best, relationship found an article about gaslighting and shared it with me a few years ago. Gaslighting is basically manipulating someone into questioning their own sanity. It's been popping up a lot lately, I think, in the media, part of the whole carnival ride paradigm shift. I had never heard the term before she shared the article, but it made sense to me.

I was awash in memories of old boyfriends turning on me suddenly, telling me I was yelling, I was out of control, crazy, when I didn't feel like that, like I was yelling. I didn't feel rage. I didn't feel out of control, but they said I was. They told me I was losing it. Instead, I saw myself as the little girl I used to be, with dirty knees and wide eyes feeling like she was being ignored, feeling like she was not being heard. It was confusion, desperation to understand. A little girl asking, "please help me understand. How can I help? What can I do? What am I supposed to do?" It was empowering to finally have a word for something that affected me so deeply, helped me recognize that little girl.

Not two days after my friend had shared the article with me and her boyfriend, I remember sitting in one of the classrooms of the old theater where I spent the first solid years of my thirties. It was after the usual Saturday night show, and we were drinking beers and trying to make each other laugh. I remember her boyfriend mentioning the article around the time all the mens' voices had raised at least a few volume levels. Everyone laughed.

"Gaslighting? Like I'm actually making her think she's crazy?! How crazy is that?!"

And everyone laughed. The whole room roared with laughter.

I waited for the noise to die down so that I could point out the irony, but it didn't. He kept going, harping on what an idiot notion it was to even think of complaining about being made to think you're crazy, and how crazy she was. She was so crazy. They're all crazy. Crazy. Crazy. CRAZY CRAZY CRAZYCRAZY.

And I just sat there, expressionless...the beasts nipping at my heals. But I didn't turn around.

If I had been strong enough to turn around and face them, I would have said to him, in as non-threatening a voice as humanly possible, "Well, why do you think she feels that way? What's going on in her life that is maybe causing her to feel like she's losing it...if it's not you?" It seems like it should be easy, but as I ask the questions, I begin to feel the tension. He bristles, worried that I'm about to get angry, "crazy."

Weak me gives into the accusations. She buckles and cries out, flies off the handle. "I'm not crazy! I'm not yelling! I'm just....please let me finish!" She tumbles into her own trap and ends up in the fetal position, weeping the tears of defeat whilst listening to country music, the music of pain.

Strong me. Stops. Listens. Takes a deep breath, and says calmly how she feels, how she sees the world regardless of who is listening. She explains that she understands his point of view, that it's hard for everyone, for all of us, but we have to be able to have a dialogue, to ask questions, to be questioned without getting defensive, to give answers. We all get defensive. We all put up a wall.

And then, she is done, regardless of what is said after. She has said what she wanted to say. The rage of the subject before her, behind her, is noted, but not adopted. She turns inward to the little girl with the sticky tears on her face born of the confusion that comes from miscommunication, from being ignored, from being told to shut up, to sit down, to be different, to be different, to be different, and she embraces her.

I will dry her tears and hold her in my arms. Then I'll make a lot of cookies, and regardless of what the CDC says about cookie dough, I'll eat the hell out of it.

I think of other girls and women that face the same dance as society urges them to be a partner instead of a person. Relationships are a choice, after all, not a requirement. I think of men that face the same quandaries, the same unimpeachable ideals of how they should look and think and act. We are all in this together. Let's admit our fears. Let's be honest. For once.

If I can do this. If I can really trust myself. I can begin to trust others. I can begin to trust other women and men, young and old. I can carry my own suffering, not as a wound, but as a badge, tell the stories of my journey, lean in, leave my house...I can help, and that's all I've ever wanted to do.

He likes Righteous Babes. What can I say. 

*If you have never seen Beasts of the Southern Wild, stop everything and change that.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Return of the Timeline: 2009-2013, When I Lived in Georgia, The Beginning

In the spring of 2009, after the exciting election of Barack Obama as President of the United States, my boyfriend decided he want to move to Georgia to manage a restaurant and winery for some of his family members. I have always been desperate for adventure, and he promised me a garden, told me he liked the way he thought when I was around, and that he would be able to add me to his health insurance plan. He also bought me an iPhone. I moved to Georgia for a garden, an iPhone, and health insurance.

I must have been quite a mess before I left everyone I knew and loved to live in a small town with a guy that had never really been the nicest person to me. Oh, he tried, but he wasn't ready for something like this, and neither was I. Looking back on things, I feel like I should have been able to see my inevitable major depressive breakdown coming from a mile away, but I didn't. And suddenly I was alone in a cabin in the woods with very little natural light, a new Netflix account, no friends that really knew me, and a workaholic boyfriend. I was teetering on the edge of a terrible realization.

I went to Dahlonega, GA on my own for the first time to scout a place for us to live. I stayed in a charming bed and breakfast with lovely host and enjoyed drinks and dinner at a local bar while I mulled over my housing choices. Dahlonega is possibly one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. Even today, when I drive through the hills, I am overflowing with words and thoughts and feelings....all of which require a full symphony to express.

However, the other side of that coin is crowded with all sorts of different discomforts, and my least favorite has got to be the tick. I became obsessively terrified of ticks. I had been terrified of them before, found a tick in my head on the last day of camp when I was about ten years old and will never forget the sound of someone repeating, "it's digging into your head" in terror as I sat, helpless to do anything about it. Years later, I remember finding a tick on my hiking boot the summer I lived and worked in Shenandoah National Park, plucking it off with my thumb and forefinger, laying it gently on the asphalt of Skyline Drive in beautiful Virginia, and violently crushing its horrific shell with a rock from the side of the road. Ticks and Black Widow spiders. That's when I let out the rage.

That summer, we could see ticks floating down from the trees and alighting on patio decks. I could feel them gently gripping the hairs on my legs before attempting to clamp down into my flesh. I huddled in my room in the bed, bingeing 30 Rock and imagining I was hearing my phone receive multiple text messages. No one was texting, though. And if they were, I couldn't trust them. They didn't know what I was going through.

I left for Pilsen, Czech Republic to teach English in late July, eager to get back to Europe, to some form of activism, but I found myself feeling overly nostalgic for my time living overseas. I knew this would be my last visit to a different continent for a while, and I was in the middle of a major depressive break. I sat up all night on the weekends, crying and writing letters as little girl Caroline to my parents. Seriously. I think because of a chapter in the book Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus, or maybe Getting the Love You Want. Also, Seriously.

During my stay in Pilsen as a teacher of English that summer, I had the rare opportunity to watch the Health Care debate in the U.S. from the outside, and let me tell you, it was not pretty. It didn't help that I was also watching the state decide my fate as a citizen from the outside, that people with whom I went to church and sat beside on Sunday mornings were addressing me personally to say things like:

"I'm sorry, Caroline, but a health care system that allows patients with pre-existing conditions just can't exist here."

Take a minute with that.

We sat together in church and heard the same sermons and stories about self sacrifice, piety, love that passes all understanding, and this is where they took it. But politics don't belong in church anyway....right?

I cried myself to sleep every night, and when I opened my eyes in the morning and realized I still had to get up and teach classes, I cried some more. The ONLY way I made it out of my door every day was with the help of the Wellbutrin a friend was sharing with me because of my debilitating depression and rejection from buying healthcare and, consequently, medication. It was not really the drug for me, but it got me to class, and it previously helped me finish my Master's thesis.

This is the life to which my fellow "Christians," my extended family, condemned me. I certainly made the best of it, didn't I?

Drinking and speaking English, pic credit Mayinka Maya
I taught an advanced all ages class and a beginner adult class. I was originally told I would be teaching intermediate adults, but when my first session "meet and greet" activities garnered horrified stone faces (I love the Czechs), I suspected that was not the case.

I cried a lot. Not because of the students...they were incredible, striving to communicate with me on the same level through shared language...that level at which adults begin to understand each other...usually over wine and beer...delicious, fresh, czech pilsner. We played guitars and sang music at pubs into the wee hours. We talked about poetry and politics, family and the future. They were so excited about Obama as was I, despite the very public battle for the fate of my well-being going on across the pond.

On the last night and at the farewell party for all teachers and students at the Summer Language Academy, after multiple shots of local clove liqueur, girlie shots of a minty beverage referred to simply as "green," and more beer than I can ever remember, a student lifted me off the ground in celebration, then, unaware of his own strength, dropped me hard on the dance floor. I landed on my feet, but one of them was twisted around backwards, and I heard a pop.

Needless to say I definitely hurt something, but the alcohol numbed the initial shock of everything, and I limped out of the hotel with a gooey smile on my face and attempted to walk back to my dorm alone. Luckily, someone was behind me that could see my struggle to walk, announced himself, and swooped in to pick me up as I apologized profusely for my own body weight.

He, another teacher, get me back to my room and offered me a few different methods of pain relief. I accepted a couple, but I had to draw the line when, after telling me how remarkably beautiful and mysterious he found me, he offered to bring me to fewer words and with a loving nod to his wife. I respectfully declined.

Then, I sent an email to my boyfriend and called him on the phone to ask him to take the train into Atlanta to help me with my luggage the next day as I would be having a difficult time walking and carrying things. He said he would, but when I finally arrived after a miserably painful trip back overseas, he hadn't come to the airport to help me. When I called him to find out where he was, he got mad at me because now he was going to be late getting back to work. He had taken time off to come and pick me up and how could I not consider his job when thinking about my injury. He convinced me that I was ungrateful, and I went back to the corner of my bed, to 30 Rock, a silent phone, and no one.

That's when I had my break. My depressive breakdown. That's when I started on the long road to finding the best anti-depressant. And that was really the beginning, when I actually became a resident of Georgia.

The links throughout are blogs from my early days in Dahlonega and from the Summer Language School in Pilsen that year. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Voices of Reason

The New York Times
I fell in love with the standup of David Cross during the last four years of George W. Bush's presidency. I was an angry girl, in recovery from the first time my heart was truly broken. He was recommended to me by multiple friends, and I laughed, but more importantly, I let go of the rage I was harboring deep in my belly.

David Cross was mad, and the title of one of my favorites of his is a good indication of that anger: Shut Up You Fucking Baby. It was glorious. He railed against Rumsfeld, the whole lot of goons surrounding the biggest goon in the White House; the tension in my neck relaxed. It was science, catharsis.

He took on 9/11 and the pure insanity that gripped the nation long enough to re-elect the man that got us there in the first place. Well, the man that opened the door for the men. I can't blame Bush for the shit that ensued in the years following my undergraduate study. I blame corporations. For everything. And David cross took it on with the kind of joy a child who has just received a Star Wars Lego set would exhibit.

And that was his job. The joker. Counsel to the king, to remind him that he is still human. I've been so confused these past months, feeling out of sorts, pulled apart, a bit undone, I feel less human and more experiment to see what happens to a woman in low boiling water.

During the Bush administration we had Jon Stewart for our unveiling of the irony within the political world, then we got Stephen Colbert, and even Larry Wilmore. Then, we lost them all. And for a moment, no one realized what was happening.

But now it's happened, and I honestly have no idea what tomorrow will feel like, or the day after tomorrow. I learned my lesson. I'm still awash with emotion, but I noticed Jon Stewart's name the other day in the closing credits for Stephen Colbert's new project: The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, in which Colbert Executive Produces, writes, and stars.

I've been watching the opening monologues of a lot of late night hosts, including the lovely Samantha Bee whose show Full Frontal is on Wednesday nights on TBS, as well as the charming and intelligent Seth Meyers. They are all taking up arms, in a sense, aware of their jobs as the tellers of jokes, the tellers of truth. It's the worst of what we need to hear as a species, and that is why it must come to us in words that are gentle on our ears. Our laughter softens the blow without making the blow any less effective.

Stephen Colbert has been especially hard on the newly elected president, not as his previous character from Comedy Central, but as himself, as we've come to know him through his many projects and interviews.

Stephen Colbert is mad. And he is not backing down. He is coming at what has happened with a collected fury, using as soft a voice as possible to shout that we must not normalize what is happening in our government right now. It must never be normalized.

Do you miss Jon Stewart? Don't worry. He is also an executive producer for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. He knows what his job is, and he is ready to work.

I know what it feels like to be that girl, to be confused and angry about everything that is happening around me. It's an exciting time, though, when you find your voice, your voice of reason. We all thought George W. Bush was the worst, but we were probably wrong. I hope we aren't, and I'm going to do my best to remain calm.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Hardest Part

In Mr. Semore's Senior A.P. English class, we practiced writing without stopping. Every week We would get out a notebook, he would set a timer, and we would write until the timer went off. Ball points on paper for thirty minutes straight. It wasn't graded. It was practice. The hardest part of writing. The act of writing.

It feels like it ought to be simple. My brain is constantly full of words. Sometimes shouting. Sometimes singing. Laughing. Crying. My body is an extension of my brain; therefore, it must be simple to carry out the task of transferring what's in my brain onto a page. It must be. Simple mechanics. 

In my first college level acting course, we spent a lot of time focusing on breaking down a character into actions. Acting is, after all, action. Reaction. Experiencing stimuli and having to shift. Seems so simple to define a person's actions. Acting seems so simple. 

What do you want? That was the question that threw me in Acting One. When I started college, I had such a small view of the world. Oh, I made up for it in books and plays and band and choir. I spread myself across the full extent of my...seedling of a world view. But I didn't know what I Not when I was nineteen. 

What will you write about today? That was the forbidden question in Mr. Semore's class. It is the poisoned dart, the words that scroll across my brain when I sit down and the timer starts. Because I can never ask it once, once I ask it, the question just increases in size, like a sea monkey, in my brain, until all I can think about is the damn question itself, and my brain refuses to send any signals to my hands so that my hands can put words on the page. 

Then there's the voices in my head, the ones that tell me I'm ridiculous. I'm wasting time. I'm wasting my time. I've taken workshops, sat through countless therapy sessions, and prayed on my knees to silence them, but they persist.

I know how to do things. I know how to write. I know how to act. I know how to make amazing chocolate chip cookies. I know how to eat an entire batch of amazing chocolate chip cookies. 

If I want more than that, something bigger, broader, more complex, my confidence wavers. Because I want to write about...I fun, and I want to help. I want to help myself (by emptying this overstock of vocabulary and unfinished ideas that swirls around in the centrifuge of my mind non stop), and I want to help you.  

But what do I want to write about? When my heart is broken along with the rest of the country's heart? When I'm angry along with a million other women? When my worldview is stretching beyond what I thought possible? When I still feel I don't know enough and am not qualified in the least?

To be or not to be? We keep asking this question, shouting it up and down hallways, into the vast expanse of the night sky. What are we supposed to do? What are our actions? Why are we here? 

Shakespeare says, in Hamlet, that we're afraid to die because we think too much. Life is hard, and most of us do very little to change anything because we're too busy trying to calm ourselves from the thought of not being able to hear our own thoughts any more. We're afraid to die because we don't know what happens next, if anything, and we can't seem to come to terms with it. 

     And lose the name of action.         (1780)

The thing is, I'm not afraid of death. I don't know what is going to happen, but I'm not afraid of it. I don't WANT to die, but I know I must. I'm sure if someone told me it was going to happen tomorrow, I'd freak out and lose my mind, but I recently did that thing where I finally realized that it's going to happen, that it's inevitable, and suddenly, all the things that were cluttering my brain dissipated, even if only for a moment. 

How does this help me? You ask. I don't think about it. I stopped thinking about what to do to make sure I'm ready when I die. I stopped asking, "what do I want?" I answered the question. 

To be here now. 

Despite everything. Despite the coming years and the dread I feel. Every minute I spend here makes up for a multitude of hours I've spent agonizing over what happens when I'm not here any more. 

It's self preservation. All signs point to "this sucks. die. you will anyway," but I want to stay alive just for now. To see what happens. To see where I go. To see what I can do to help. And I want to do the best with now that I possibly can. 

Just like Anne Frank, in spite of all the hurt and horror, I still believe in goodness. I still believe in hope. I'm saying I'm better than you. Obviously. 

It seems like it should be so simple, doesn't it? To make up my mind to be happy. To do my laundry in spite of the fact that I really don't know what I'm doing. 

The best advice I've ever gotten is seemingly as simple as they come. In the words of former Mayor of Memphis, the illustrious W.W. Herenton, upon one of the last victories in his seventeen year reign, "shake them haters off." 

And that, my friends, has been the hardest part so far. 

More. To. Come.