76 – Low Tide

Don’t strain yourself reading into this, I’ll just tell you – it’s a metaphor for anxiety. That’s what it is. I’m anxious and thinking about sea urchins and writhing clenching things in my belly.

The tide goes out again, and leaves behind
a pack of things that should by rights have shells
prefer to be protected by the swells
They find the naked sun and air unkind.

The smaller ones still have something like legs,
bring water to creatures drowning in air,
dredge up the sand and rebury them there,
dig shallow channels for never-seen eggs.

From a distance, the largest looks like hair.
Up close, it’s a million writhing sinews,
each one knotted up and down and into
the convulsing mass,
each one strangled there.
Only got larger when the sea withdrew,
clenching ever tighter as the sun stares.

Check out the rest of the 100 Sonnets

75 – Roll the Bones

Lot of people from my generation – Millennials, there-I-said-it – tend to say that they don’t have good luck. That, and… how do I put this… trauma attracts trauma? Not always in a negative sense, just, you surround yourself with people who understand what you’re going through, and the ones who stick around will be the ones who can hang when your life gets deeply fucked. Some people interpret this pattern – Party Acquired! Oh wait, rocks fall, all die – as bad luck.

I don’t, really. I think that the rocks falling, the goblin invasions, the bad credit, the abortions, the birthing and dying and all the other adventures… they’re adventures, which means most of them are going to be primarily a sequence of bad shit happening to people who don’t deserve it. Maybe you, maybe someone you love, definitely at least once in your life. That’s not luck. A lot of times it’s the way the game is designed.

Luck comes into it when you roll initiative, when you decide whether you’re okay with that sequence of bad shit, and if you’re not, how deep you’re ready to roll on putting a stop to it. Sometimes you win. If you don’t play a lot, you’ll get the feeling that you win about 50%. About a crapshoot. The effect of luck takes longer than the occasional flutter to perceive.

Luck is about repetition. Luck is about trying, and trying, and trying until one day, something’s different. For no good reason, just because it was time, because you showed up and tried every time and this time was the one time. Yeah, you see the people on TV who won the lottery because they got a Powerball ticket in a birthday card, never gambled before, but the reason those stories blow up is because they’re astonishing. Most of the time, the guy who hits the jackpot is the guy who’s spent $6,000 at the slot machine this winter. That’s how odds work. The more you play, the more opportunity you have to make them better.

Everywhere I go, I try doors. Just turn handles in walls, all of ’em, any of ’em. It’s a policy. See a door, think of it, give it a try. You’d be shocked how many things are unlocked that probably shouldn’t be. People see me open the steel door behind which a treasure trove of brooms and cleaning products hides, and they call me lucky. They didn’t see all the other locked doors I’ve tried since I was tall enough to reach the handles.

Getting better, healing from trauma, is in my experience very much like that. You have to do something that they tell you will work for a long time, watching it not fucking work, before it even kinda works. I know I’m saying “a long time,” and you’re hearing me, but I heard that too, and I was underestimating how long. It’s longer than you think. There will be a moment when you go, “This was supposed to help me, this was supposed to feel good, I was supposed to be getting better, I’ve wasted all this effort, I know it’s supposed to take a long time but surely I’m doing it wrong if it’s not helping by now.” The point when it starts actually helping, in my experience, is two weeks to a month after that.

You have to stick with it. You have to be willing to roll deep. You have to be ready to fail again and again and again and call the one time in a hundred that you succeed “good luck.” Because that’s how you keep getting luck: by rolling the dice.

“Restless,” July 2012.

Always said that I’m a lucky person.
What you’ve got to understand about luck
is that you need to stop passing the buck –
luck’s not a judgment, it’s an assertion.

They say that luck is when preparation
meets opportunity. What they don’t say
is that preparation gets in the way
and good luck comes from repetition.

Everything takes just a little too long
before it starts to function like it should.
You have to punch a lot of planks of wood;
it stops hurting only after you get strong.
But it never hurts quite like the fear could,
and each scar speaks more clearly:
we belong.

Check out the rest of the 100 Sonnets

70 – Immersion

Wishful daydreaming about sinking into the earth. When I’m stressed, I imagine water running through my body, through my brain, cooling all the wrinkled, throbbing lobes, washing all the toxins out. Sometimes it helps.

I want to get down on my hands and knees,
feel the earth between my fingers sink in,
clots of soil penetrating the skin,
pulling me down to the roots of the tree.

If you want water, then water I’ll be,
climb the stair of your veins up to the sky
repudiate the enemy called “I”
let the thirst that drank the world drink me.

The earth ripples where each root plunges in
and around the place my head disappeared –
now it’s I who penetrates the earth’s skin.
It’s nothing like dissolving, like I feared
no need for either one of us to win,
just swallow me down for another year.

Check out the rest of the 100 Sonnets

68 – Remain

I’m trying to be still.

I’m not quite sure what I mean by that, but I’m going to feel my way toward it here, if you’ll hold my hand and bear with me. We’ll get there.

I’m not one of those people who can’t be convinced they’re wrong. As a people-pleasing perfectionist, I tend to be pretty sure that I’m the problem in every situation, and I’m all too happy to excise myself for the good of the group. In trying to unpack my own bruised brain and get past this, I’ve found it useful to write out the assumptions I seem to be operating under at any given moment, to make it clear to myself what old survival strategies or kneejerk responses I’m playing out with my behavior or reactions. Then I can go, “Okay, I’m acting like X is true, but is that something I really believe? Is that even reasonable?”

So when I make a mistake at work, say – in any situation where I feel as if there’s an authority over me – my response seems to start from this perspective:

  • Each eyelash flicker, each gesture, each mote of dust on the desk is noted. All mistakes, no matter how small, are seen and remembered. By the time you make a REAL mistake (which you will,) you will already be deep in the hole with infinitesimal errors.
  • You are so very lucky to be here, to have this. Your every fuckup proves that. Anyone who pays any attention to you at all is doing you a favor. Demonstrate your gratitude with every move you make if you wish to stay.
  • Asking for help is an immediate disqualification. If we wanted to do it ourselves, we would have done it ourselves – we asked you to do it and you said you could. Are you saying you can’t now? What’s the point of having you here, then?

This means that when I really screw up… I tend to burn that bridge right down. Made a mistake at work? Welp, guess I just quit that job. I find it very hard to stand by the decisions I make, even if I have good reasons for them. When I do something worthy, I want to get away from it – it makes me uncomfortable to admit it’s mine. When I do something shitty, I want to get away from it – because it is mine, it’s all of me, big enough to obscure anything good I might ever do.

But… I hate myself so much more for a lifetime spent running, trying to hide, than I have for any mistake I’ve ever made. I’ve never been so goddamn bad at anything as to deserve what I’ve done to myself, what I’ve denied myself, what I’ve let pass me by. It was never my mistakes that destroyed me – it was the fact that I was only ever allowed to make one. I don’t have to keep repeating that pattern. I don’t have to disqualify myself after one failed attempt. That’s not actually a fair or functional way to treat anyone, and it’s not how people learn. It’s stupid, and it doesn’t make sense.

It’s okay to say that. It’s okay to say: they told me it was for my own good, to make me better. But they were wrong. It’s not just that they were cruel, they were also wrong, irrational, ill-intentioned. What they were doing was never going to work. It was never going to help. And maybe, just maybe… it was never really meant to.

To stop perpetuating this pattern, I have to confront that uncomfortable fact: maybe not everything my family did was for my benefit. Maybe they didn’t try as hard as they could have. Maybe I actually did deserve better.

The distressing truth is, we would rather believe that we had it coming, that we were born broken, that we were never enough, than believe that someone we love treated us badly for no reason. You have to believe you – the child – were the problem, because the alternative is so monstrous. You have to believe love looks like that… because if it doesn’t, that means they didn’t love you.

There’s a lot of stuff back there that I don’t want to face. I think… I think I started running for a good reason, but there’s a point at which you realize the footsteps you hear on your heels might… just… be your fear now, and the echoes of your own. And there’s no way to know for sure but to turn around and check.

Pay attention. Are you watching closely?
You’ll miss the most when you don’t expect to,
and it won’t be data that protects you.
Trust me – you are where you’re supposed to be.

Lingering is the hardest skill to learn.
Starting from the premise that you’re worthless,
momentum can feel just enough like purpose –
better than watching all your bridges burn.

Turn around. Sit down and talk. Have a beer.
Come warm your hands at the fires you lit,
swallow that oversized mouthful you bit,
admit to yourself that you’re really here.
They’ll chase you just as far as you permit,
but if you run from them, you let them steer.

Check out the rest of the 100 Sonnets

59 – Empty Mirror

So we’ve been tripping on Camus and absurdism and Buddhism and a lot of pot here for about a week – not that any of that is new in the grand scheme of my life, just moved to the front burner and fully boiling at the moment. We have reached a thrilling new stage of masturbatory meta-analysis with regard to this philosophy though, and masturbating just isn’t fun unless you do it with friends, so here we are. If the kind of “whoa, lemme blow your miiiiind, maaaaan” conversation you have to be pretty stoned yourself to enjoy is irksome to you, might want to check back in tomorrow!

I’ve mentioned that I have a phobia of deep water – it’s not anything IN the water; I don’t fear drowning or sea creatures, I simply fear the black vastness of the sea, the void, the specific and yet unknowable emptiness. Or at least… I did up until recently.

Part of this re-connection with my absurdist roots for me has been learning to lean in to negative experiences rather than detach from them. I dissociate a lot, and my OCD often comes in the form of circular existential ruminating that occasionally makes me totally disconnect from reality. What I’m coming to understand through the lens of Camus’ Sisyphus is that these horrible, enervating moments where I stare at everything I want and would like to become in the world, when the voices start up with contempt and shame and fear and pain… those are the moments when Sisyphus is walking back to his stone, not when he’s pushing it.

Sisyphus suffers in the moments when he contemplates his torment, when his hopes and aspirations conflict with reality. When he’s pushing the stone, Sisyphus is happy. He has chosen to move, to behave as if this is not a useless act, and so he’s not thinking about whether or not it is, whether there is a mountaintop to reach, whether the stone will roll down again. He’s simply pushing the stone. His fate belongs to him because he’s chosen it, in spite of the gods who would prefer he marinate in his misery. You can’t punish a man who loves his punishment. Or, as Camus put it:

There is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn.

That’s why we fear the void: because when we can’t muster scorn and revolt, we use our senses to distract us from the fundamental question of meaning. A person suspended in nullity, with no sensory input, has no choice but to directly confront what it means to exist, what properties existence has without any outside interaction whatsoever. A lot of storytellers have argued that a person in such a void would lose their mind, and I was sure that was true – I felt sure that I, if suspended in darkness and unable to get out, or adrift in the blackest depth of the sea, alone and hanging in the emptiness… I would definitely go mad with fear. What other response could one have? When you separate the mind from the walls of mortality that give it perspective, mustn’t it simply…spill?

But in considering that question, a logical construction occurred to me, and the people I’ve presented it to appear to feel that it has some merit, so I offer it to you: if you are a) alone in a void, AND b) feel fear of some other entity in that void, fear that is in fact confrontation with cosmic meaninglessness, because as we covered, you’re alone… What can be concluded except that you are afraid of yourself? You are the void. You are not the person drowning… you are the sea.

When I imagined this, when I tried to flip my perspective from that of an infinitely small, ephemeral being in a boundless emptiness, to identifying with that emptiness and looking back at the infinitely small person suspended somewhere inside me… suddenly, all the fear fell away. I looked into the dark ocean, and instead of seeing a swallowing gullet, an intolerable incomprehensibility that would claw my sanity away without even noticing me… I simply saw myself. My own enormous solitude, my own curiosity. My own need to project upon the universe just to avoid being alone. Nietzsche said that when you look into the abyss, the abyss looks into you, and he seemed to find this intolerable. It tracks, to me, that Nietzsche would find it so painful to face himself this way – nihilists are simply absurdists who haven’t the perspective to laugh at and thereby take ownership of their fate.

“Ocean Atlas,” world’s largest underwater statue, in the Bahamas

Flood your head with music, drown out the void.
(But won’t salt corrode all the pipes in there?)
You lay back, feel sound waves play with your hair.
You sink a little deeper in the noise.

In darkness, with no senses to employ,
you speak and see your voice hang in the air.
The silence becomes more than you can bear,
emptiness louder than you can avoid.

But if you’re alone in that empty place,
why is it being there fills you with fear?
If you’re the only thing in all that space,
and yet you still can reason in the void –
it’s just your germinating thoughts out there.
Doesn’t that mean that the void must have your face?

Check out the rest of the 100 Sonnets

57 – Fine Print

I have this… pathological aversion to the legal babble that occurs at the end of commercials for cars and drugs. It provokes this violent physical response in me, like I want to scratch my skin off. This is the shitty side of being synesthetic. It’s awesome when a pretty girl takes me to a laser show and I can feel the lasers dancing on my skin, every color a different texture. It’s less awesome when someone starts wittering about zero percent APR and I can feel the words skittering on my skin like ants, more and more every second trying to crawl into my brain through my ears.

Having fallen ass-backwards into graphic design as a career, I end up having to write a lot of corporate bullshit. I find it disturbing and also funny, like many things. George Carlin says it well.

Still, I find myself saying to a lot of people these days… there isn’t any other farce I’d rather be a part of than this one, this planet, this life, this experiment. Being alive is the most interesting thing to do for a hundred light-years in every direction from this spot. Even when it hurts, your life is still a totally unique and arresting experience, never to be repeated, and entirely private to you. It’s hard to want to look away.

I think sometimes it’s useful to remind ourselves that existing really is a choice. People who haven’t been suicidal might not think about that choice very often, but it is a choice you’re making every day. Why not make it with intention, or even enthusiasm? Why keep on living by accident, just because nothing has made you want to die yet?

Welcome to living! Side effects include:
Nausea, dizziness, physical pain,
burning in sunshine and waiting in rain,
a childish fixation on the crude.

Some users report hallucinations
(though most of those users come back for more)
We’re not sure what that pumping muscle’s for;
seems like all it’s good for’s palpitation.

Some may experience shortness of breath;
exhaustion’s basically guaranteed.
But if there’s any kind of fruit you need,
existence has the only fruit trees left,
and all the love, and sandwiches, and seeds –
nothingness is even less fun than death.

Check out the rest of the 100 Sonnets

55 – Leshya

Keshena’s story gets real sad, real quick, and it doesn’t get much better by the end. The more I work on it, the more I understand the trauma of my own that I was expressing through her, and the errors in her thinking that lead to her never being able to grow beyond that. I can see how and why I dodged her fate. That’s… difficult to look at. Painful, and fascinating. I have to not give too many hours of the day to staring at it. There’s a level of self-examination that is healthy, and there’s a level that will cause you to pick yourself to pieces, atom by atom, until you are nothing but a heap for someone to move about with tweezers. I hit that second level by about nine in the morning most days.

Something for her daughter, then.

“If you always do the easy and pointless jobs, you’ll never have to WORRY about the important ones!”
(The Phantom Tollbooth is a very good movie slash book, and you should watch slash read it.)

Child of the morning, I failed you first.
Volcano’s daughter, born to sacrifice –
in that way, I guess I failed you twice.
I gave nothing; your father gave his curse.

Never did a thing in life but stumble.
When can one mistake erase all the rest?
Can’t even claim to think I did my best –
every time it mattered I would fumble.

What is it worth that I always loved you?
What does it matter, I thought it was right?
Each day you’re glad of the sky above you,
each day you don’t curse the day I birthed you,
will be a sign that I was more than spite,
that time has washed my poison out of you.

Check out the rest of the 100 Sonnets

50 – Kaleidoscope

Owing to, y’know, all the writing, I’ve somewhat neglected to notice what a very visual thinker I am – everything’s keyed to color and shape in a way that is inconvenient when it loses things and fucking wizardry when it succeeds. I read From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler at a tender age, and that’s very much the flavor of memory retrieval in the stacks of my brain. The conversation usually goes something like this: “The middle name of a friend I had in junior high school? Ah… her best friend had red hair, right? She was really into Ozomatli… Irene! Her middle name was Irene. What? Why are you looking at me like that? I’m right, aren’t I?”

My memory is often somewhat frightening in its comprehensiveness and specificity. I can recite entire conversations, word-perfect, from twenty years ago. I can step into full-sensory hallucinations of virtually any significant event and lose track of the real world entirely, at will. I can tell you the plot, in pretty exhaustive detail, of every book I’ve ever read, which I didn’t think was that weird, but my wife can reread things years later and they’ll be totally new to her. I could give you rough directions to just about any destination in Tucson, Arizona, and I haven’t lived there in over a decade.

But you’ll find that I don’t know the names of things. Any things. People, stores, songs I like. Can sing the whole song, mimicking flawlessly the inflection of the first recording I heard, but if the name isn’t in the lyrics, I still don’t know what it is. I couldn’t tell you the names of my Hunter’s skills in World of Warcraft even though I’ve played her for ten years now, but I could draw all the icons from memory, and my DPS is still good. Was never reliably number one, but you can count on me to be third DPS or better and the last person alive at the end of a fight; I’m damn good at getting out of the fire. I have a raid-leader’s eye on things: zoomed too far out to see details, just the great, abstract sweep of things, the arc, the plot, the gestalt.

That said… I’m also high all the fuckin’ time, so take it for what it’s worth.

“Bee Queen,” July 2009

I see time passing by the faces there –
mostly women’s faces, if truth be told;
yes, I’ve been gay since I was two years old –
I watch the seasons in their changing hair.

A girl like a rabbit, with hair as soft.
Laughter and a mop of platinum curls.
Straight brown curtains hanging around my world –
I know the faces, but the names are lost.

I hear a fluttering like wings and see
them riffle before me like a slideshow
as if what constitutes the best of me
stands entirely outside the time flow.
This alien out here has loved them deeply…
but the alien’s not the one they know.

Check out the rest of the 100 Sonnets

46 – Anachronism

One of the frustrating things about therapy, for me, has been that I feel immense pressure to give up portions of myself in order to be healthy. I’m not sure if this pressure is from my therapist or myself or both – probably a little of both. The thing is… I’m a person who loves people’s flaws. I love people for their human moments, their weaknesses, their awkwardness, their genuine feeling and inability to hide it. So there are a few things about myself that I truly love, a few things that feel like part of my identity, that my therapist and the rest of the world would term “unhealthy.”

I want to be healthy, if what “healthy” means is that I can be kind to myself, that I can stop feeling personally responsible for every flash of emotion that crosses anyone’s face in my presence, that I can stop hearing the voices that hate me telling me all the fun ways I could die every second of every day… if that’s what healthy means, I want that very much. But it seems like in order to have that, I have to give up so much of who I am.

Who I am is who I’ve become playing out the moves I was taught. I’m not saying it’s amazing. I am a bent, twisted person. I am a little bit of a junkie, and I will probably always be all about whatever new addiction you have to offer, but I’ve learned to channel that toward relatively harmless addictions. If being healthy means not having that junkie chattering in the back of my head, calculating how many pills it is between me and not being able to deal with fucking life again… I might never be healthy.

I am a little bit of an emotional rollercoaster rider – I would rather be in pain than indifferent, rather be terrified than checked the hell out the way I’ve been for the last few years. I will probably always be the person who cries because swans can be gay and falls in love inside a week. If being healthy means not riding that rollercoaster, I might never be healthy, and I don’t know if I want to be.

I’ve spent my life looking for people who would love me not despite my flaws but because of them. I need to be allowed to be the broken creature I am… but I don’t know if that creature has a future. I don’t know if the future I want is a place I can really live.

My children’s children’s faces before me
are sending their mercy back through the years,
telling me they’ve seen the deaths of my fears,
and those that remember me seem to adore me.

I want to know that future memory –
myself, tempered by the time between us,
finished with the penance that redeems us,
purified of every part of me.

It seems unfair that I should have to build
me into that person with no blueprint,
plot this ship’s course with no destination.
But then, that’s why martyrs have to be killed.
The world I want isn’t one I can live in –
that story starts with my abdication.

Check out the rest of the 100 Sonnets