a year on, still beating

February 18

Dear Les,

I’m housesitting for my sister, and found some photos on her coffee table. She’s a photographer and actually just said bye to years in the service industry to really give things a go so it was extra special to discover some film prints lying around.

I found this one and was a little confused. I didn’t recognize the setting, didn’t remember ever sitting in a chair like that or why I would. I wondered why she’d use film on me when I was full on cowlickin’ and carrying large bags under my eyes. When I was so quiet, and probably struggling with my thermos.

It took me several minutes to realize that this photo was from March 1, 2016, and we were waiting together with my mom at Providence for my dad to get out of cardiac surgery. I had stayed up late the night before, and wakened early to at least see my parents off to the hospital. I didn’t know if I’d see my dad again. I don’t take much for granted.

We all got to see my dad again. We had him for Father’s Day in June, our summer birthdays, and his birthday in October, when I treated him, my mom, and Elizabeth to pizza and Hunt for the Wilderpeople at the Academy Theater, where we all laughed louder than anyone else in the theater, and Elizabeth and I cried.

And I got to come out as nonbinary to both of my parents together in June the night before I turned 24. I had waited weeks for my mom to return from the east coast so they’d have each other when I told them. I couldn’t begin another year of life with the wrong nouns attached to me.

Just today I got to confirm that he didn’t subscribe me to the mysterious copy of Seventeen I found on my bed with my name this afternoon (I’m not their target audience, the mystery continues).

The thing about life is that it’s precious. It’s discarded McDonald’s wrappers on the sidewalk and sunsets that pull stranger neighbors outside to admire together. It’s friends losing parents and you carrying them letters with stickers and doodles or editing their grad school applications or helping them pick out a cardigan for a funeral. Not because someone precious to them has died and you feel pity but because goddamn you are tied together by tiny threads, colorful, translucent, there’s love, and simple decisions to be there. They will not be alone, even if you cannot share everything they are feeling.

It’s chronic illness, and watching inaugural season soccer games with your buddy’s mom in a bed across town from where they’re happening because it’s better to watch the games together, even if on a computer screen.

It’s even forgetting that a day is the five year anniversary of a day you decided not to write down your assignment’s due date if you weren’t going to live to see it—and not remembering until you see a reminder on Facebook, of that, and your promise to live.

It’s a friend coming out to you as queer from over a thousand miles away, because they feel safe enough to share their truth with you.

Life is not giving anyone the permission to take your fire, not even you. It’s jumping across puddles and still sloshing water on your shoes. It’s screaming with joy at the mess of storms and thunder during a downpour with your friend after you didn’t receive the Fulbright you applied for and her mother woke her up at 0700 with news of a divorce.

Life’s not a wide open plain, but maybe it is. It’s broken glass glittering in the sunshine, shards that could so easily slice us open, beautiful against gritty pavement. It’s mosaics. It’s what you have to say of it, love, some gummy bears, stale croutons, and more.

I’ve got some doubts about life sometime, but I think it’s something to lean into. In the waiting rooms, in the downpours, or on top of hills in the Gorge with wind ripping through your hair.

I show up, and I’m an average student with perfect attendance until it isn’t. I hope you keep showing up, too. What a ride, bumpy and smooth. What a gift to have so many options and stars in the sky, even when we can’t see them.

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On the Boulder

August 11

Les,

This summer of devastating shootings and this tumultuous election season have been enough to throw a person off balance, and after a full year of adulthood post-college living (the most expensive, purpose offering security blanket I’ve ever had), I find myself floundering in both the way I live my life (how does one do it?) and digest the world around me.

This has been a summer of heavy sorrow and celebrations—I’ve seen whales, porpoises, an octopus, prairie dogs, crawled through caves, slept in multiple states, waded in the pool of a waterfall, canoed to hot springs, and walked on pumice and obsidian. Gifts of living.

But outside of those moments or days of vacation, I wonder where and when I’ll unpack my suitcase. I wonder when I will feel free of this suspension. Free from the not yets, maybe laters, shoulds, and if onlys. I wonder when I’ll lean in, and say, “I’m here.”

Life is extra dark chocolate. Sweet, but bitter. Near liquid in hot sunshine, and a rock in the winter. Meant for eating.

I posted the following on Facebook tonight. I think it’s important to acknowledge struggles with mental health. Our great love for life, but also, sometimes, the work it takes to hold onto it.

IMG_1275.jpg

Love, I’ve worked a variety of jobs. Refereed soccer, cleaned toilets, changed linens, put mail in mailboxes, scooped ice cream, tutored writers, taken calls for a bookstore and a senator, researched markets, organized events, and opened packages. I can say with confidence the hardest work and best job I’ve ever done has been keeping myself on this planet.

Merrymaking and Losing My Pterodactyl

February 3

Hey Les,

Things have been rather serious and angsty on here lately so I feel like being lighter, goofier tonight. While I admit to being a stony little genderqueer scamp caught up in talk of fire and ice, I’m also just a dork who spends a lot of time giggling, and the handfuls of pretty serious selfies on here don’t actually reflect who I am much of the time; I’ve usually got at least a couple toes dipped in joyful self-deprecation and wonder. I laugh at myself and the world and at the end of the day that humor saves me. During my darker or number spells, one of the few things that softens me is imagining my eighty-something year-old self. I dream of pulling harmless, spirits-lifting pranks in a retirement home and and getting arrested for political disobedience. While wearing a rainbow spinny hat, preferably. Even when I can’t imagine anything else for myself in the preceding sixty years, I can still see that goofy existence and it’s beautiful. When I die, I want my obituary to read “merrymaker.” I hope to earn that name.

As a way to crack myself up and engage my my coworkers smile, I find myself pondering funny and cute antics for the office. Ideas (plans!) thus far include making tiny terrariums with grand names like Herbert the Terror to place in random spots around the office. When I say tiny, I mean less than half the size of a pinky or thumb. A coworker got really excited when I instant messaged him about this idea and asked if I’d give him hints as to where they’d be—he wanted a scavenger hunt! Knowing his enthusiasm, of course I will. I’ve made three so far and they’ve each lasted at least a couple weeks in my windowsill so it may be safe to start naming them and taking them to work. Somehow I also came up with the idea of tiny snowglobes. As I’m still figuring out how to stuff moss and soil in miniscule bottles in a more sophisticated manner, I need more practice before I make snowglobes. If you or anybody else has any ideas on how to make snowpeople no taller than a fingernail or wider than a nail, please hit me up. I don’t know how you’d do that, Les. It’s probably not a priority for you either, but I’ll keep my ears open for your suggestions.

In a toy store called Kids at Heart on Hawthorne Boulevard last Thursday, I found super small squishy rubber animals, again less than 1/2 the size of a pinky, to hide around my office and front part of the warehouse. On Monday morning I double-checked that my pals were in my backpack before leaving the house.  pals? A pterodactyl I planned to prop up in one of the windows, orca, red dragon, lizard, humpback whale, and great white shark. I usually arrive at work 25-30 minutes early so while waiting in the breakroom I attempted to stealthily transfer the animals from their littler paper bag in my backpack to my pocket. I got them in then awkwardly asked a coworker for advice on how to use the H20 dispenser machine. I’m not going to lie, I’ve always been afraid of dying a painful hot water death from those machines; I’m afraid I’ll misjudge the direction/force of the water and it’ll splash out at me. I admitted to my coworker S that it’s one of my life goals to avoid using those machines. He already thinks I’m odd so I don’t think I can become much more awkward in his eyes. He looked at me strangely but obliged. It was the tamest machine ever.

But back to the animals. When I returned to my desk, I reached my hand into my pocket and made a startling discovery: some animals had jumped ship. Despite transferring five to my pocket, only two came out: the humpback and dragon. Maybe they ate the other three. I scoured all of my pockets, rifled through my backpack, and retraced my steps around the front part of the warehouse to no avail; the lizard, orca, and pterodactyl were gone.

I’m confused yet delighted. I brought these toy animals to the office to hide in the open and make people smile, and they got started early by hiding from me.

Life is so damn beautiful.

Rainshowered, Rejected, Celebrating: On not getting a Fulbright but still laughing at this beautiful mess of life

January 21

Dear Les,

In October, I applied for a Fulbright grant to pursue a master’s in creative writing at University College Cork in Ireland. After learning of the opportunity on Fulbright’s website in September, I spent a month working on my application with extra attention to my three statements for my UCC and Fulbright applications. I compiled about twenty pages of notes for my one-page Fulbright personal statement as well as twenty minutes of voice memos on my phone. A mental block existed, but I completed the statement on 4 am the day it was due. I submitted my applications and prepared myself for the three month wait for Fulbright’s decision. Just two weeks later, University College Cork offered me a spot in their program, but the wait for Fulbright’s decision continued. While waiting for my bus to take me to the train station where I was to board an Amtrak bus to visit my friend Z in Salem last Friday, Fulbright informed I had not been chosen for the grant. Before reading the email on my phone, I had been smiling at the bus stop. Afterwards, I simply stood still wondering what this decision meant for me. While a long shot, the grant had been my only potential plan so far for next year. Now I was still a young, underemployed, living-at-home college grad, but without any clear potential plans for next year. Not interested in mourning, I nodded my head, accepted the decision, and put my phone away. When the bus wheezed alongside the curb minutes later, I boarded.

I had an excellent weekend in Salem. As soon as I arrived in Salem, Z and I got tacos with her girlfriend, were joined by her brother at a fancy cake place, then went to bars and a cafe downtown. In all of it was laughter, conversation, and room for thought. Back in her apartment that night, Z and I sat on her couch and talked about adulting and dating. I told her about the Fulbright. The next morning, Z was woken by her mother calling to say she and Z’s father were getting divorced. I didn’t want to be anywhere else in the world. We made tea, miso, danced to T Swift, and went to Minto Park along the Willamette River where we were caught in a huge downpour far from her car. On our way back to the parking lot, dancing carefully through mud and puddles, I threw myself into the wet— lowering my hood and feeling my head get soaked. I stamped my feet up and down, and with Z and I the only humans along the muddy river, called “Goddamn, goddamn!” savoring the profanity and savoring life—the rejections, splits, laughter, and soaked clothing.

And maybe that’s life:

stomping, laughing, screaming, drooling, and snotting, giggling at too wet jeans and sloshy shoes, watching the water meet water in a river dreaming of flooding, giving bad hugs (awkward and bony) and good hugs, straining your arm during air hockey and foosball and laughing about it for the next two days, flirting in a nickel arcade, knowing you didn’t get the grant you applied for—your one maybe plan for next year—or lying on your friend’s couch when she gets the call her parents are divorcing, drinking tea, making miso, dancing to TSwift even though your muscles are tight and joints are stiff, unconsciously slipping into a drawl, racing alone on the bank with feet slapping mud, with fists clenched yelling “Goddamn, goddamn!” and shaking your head “This is a great time to be alive!” knowing this: that we enjoy life, turn the flavors on our tongue, let it cascade yet still pull ourselves forward. Knowing I cannot truly say I am pleased I did not die years ago, perhaps because death is no enemy, yet also do not regret staying alive. This, this is life.

through the telescope, on the examination table

January 4

Les,

In another life, I was a 19 year old at the University of Oregon in Eugene. This was a life or two ago. It’s hard to keep track, but it wasn’t this one.  Not this one, where I graduated from Oregon State University in 2015, or realized that the stickiness on the back of my gender labels had dried, girl had dropped, and I no longer considered myself a girl, a lesbian, or much of anything easily defined.

After breaking up with my first girlfriend (whom that word no longer fits if it ever did, but I think it did ring sweet for both of us at the time), I was a wreck. Wrecks, my friend and sophomore year roommate Nata said of both my ex and I, when she and I went out for sushi a few weeks ago. She and I both spent silent minutes letting our giant sushi rolls dissolve slightly in our mouths before chewing. We pointed at our cheeks, and averted our eyes from each other, so as to avoid laughing and choking. We still laughed at times—I turned my face to the front door so the chefs and serves wouldn’t see the rice and fish nearly escape my mouth.

P, formerly K, they, formerly she, and I were both wrecks after the break-up. I nodded about my ghost self and looked away from Nata. I wondered about P. Beyond their first two weeks, beyond that initial shock, did they continue to feel the break? Did they feel it when I sat next to them in their bedroom five weeks afterward when we were back in Eugene, after delivering them my extra bike lights because I noticed they still didn’t have any? Did they still carry scrap metal as I noticed the small hickey on their ear and attempted to joke that the girl they were seeing should be careful? Careful with those ears I had loved so recently? I realized I couldn’t actually joke when they joked back. I was wrecked long before the break-up, Les. I just carried different types of numbness after the separation.

They wanted me to stay and eat the dinner they cooked. I sat on a stool then left just before they were done. They were upset—didn’t I know I was supposed to stay when someone offers food. They had a hickey, Les. I made them promise to use the bike lights, which I had visited the nearby drug store to buy batteries for although I didn’t tell them that. Then I left.

It was 9 months before I held someone else’s hand—once. It was 14 months before I kissed another person. I broke up with P because I was already totaled from depression even if it didn’t quite look it yet from the outside. I broke up with P because deep down I knew we didn’t belong together in the long-run. I broke us up because I was depressed, and I knew I needed to dig myself out alone. I didn’t want them to drown in dirt or water with me. It took years, Les, but I climbed out. I climbed a little everyday. Sometimes I just shifted my feet left or right; sometimes I dropped a couple of feet, but still, I climbed.

I broke up with them four years ago, today, I realize. I didn’t intend for today’s date to bear any significance. This post was unplanned.

We had two terms left in the year after our break up. I stepped carefully. The city was colored with our footsteps and our handholding. Where I accompanied them to peruse comic books, where we ate out when we did, where we would have eaten if I’d had more money. Where we walked. Where we sat on campus and they played the guitar. When I left Eugene for good, it wasn’t because the break-up. But leaving where I spent so much time living and loving with P—and it not being enough—was a plus.

At one point that year, I expressed interest in attending a rugby party a few blocks away. I was interested in meeting other lesbians, other queer folks. I wanted to get out. Nata told me they (the rugby players) would eat me alive. They partied hard, and I was myself. Was there a joke about me not being butch somewhere in there, Les?  Nobody has ever called me butch. Or maybe this: if anyone did, it was a joke. Or if they meant it sincerely, I looked at them stunned, or nodded my head and felt amused while rejecting its validity. I cannot imagine anyone meaning it sincerely. What Nata meant was this: I was a wisp. I was a pixie, I was innocent. I don’t know what any of us ever means by innocent. Also, anyone could lift me. I had 3 inches on both P and Nata, but they outweighed me. I do not like my feet to leave the ground, but many people I have met, including Nata, enjoy lifting me. Does anyone lift a butch?

I’ve had bike lights stolen. This summer or fall, someone came up on my porch and stole my helmet. Can you imagine safety being stolen?

Can you steal or protect safety?

Which life am I in now?

from the vault (a buried draft)

December 12 (actually November 29)

Leslie,

I’ve been many people and right now I don’t know if they are mingling at a party or awkwardly holding their water bottles wondering when they can sneak home. Away from any kind of party, probably some of my selves are scampering down leaf-collaged sidewalks, or dirt paths at the base of a composite volcano called a mountain. I want to be with the scampering ones right now.

For one of the only times in the many years I’ve had this desk (it used to be my sister’s when she lived here when I was young), I am currently sitting in a chair with my legs inside its cave. I am actually sitting here. The middle righthand drawer is full of 11 years worth of bad poetry and I’ve got even more buried in this tank of a desk. I wish I knew what kind of tree this desk was borne from, but I am not that sophisticated. Nor educated to that knowledgeable extent in the College of Forestry at OSU. Surely if I had majored in Natural Resources or in Wood Sciences rather than simply minoring in NR, I would know.

All over the map, confused with my overabundance of time and need for routine, commitment, socializing, space, and place, I stare at my laptop then wonder why I am staring, and what purpose it possibly serves. I load books about writing, race, gender, sexuality, nationality, and stars seeds weather hidden thread ends in my Powell’s cart, and with my discounts I am eager to rush to Hawthorne, and gather these books in my arms like treasures. But

i want books

that i am not prepared

to read

My mind and part of my heart

want them,

another area of my organ

is too swollen

I gear myself up

but sometimes i delay

getting out of bed

because although i have hunger

i do not have an appetite

I want to be strong but

often do not even bother to

reach for the pull up bar

I add books to my wishlist

hoping that page by page,

bite by bite, pull by pull,

i will be the person I want to be.

Acknowledgements & Declarations, On Depression and Living, Post #1

December 1

Dear Leslie,

I long ago realized that I would spend my life sporadically courting depression. While hopefully most of my life will be spent engaged in meaningful, stimulating or relaxing activities full of compassion, mirth, and learning, I realized at a young age there would also be midnight tussles with inexplicable melancholy and week- or month- or years-long spells beneath weighty blankets. There are roaring empties occasionally swelling my ribcage which cannot simply be described as anything so pointed as “sadness” or “unhappiness.” I do not wish to dwell on the emptiness or melancholy now, but rather acknowledge that depression is part of my lived experience and has been a part of me since even before my first crush on a boy or a girl or a not-boy-or-girl person and my own battles with the gender binary. At the beginning of college, I weathered a particularly devastating storm of depression. Last winter, I wrote about that depression on Facebook. Feeling responsible for the impact a depression and suicide post might have on my friends, I made some commitments at the end.

What I wrote on February 17:

I’ve been composing this in my mind for weeks and scribbling it in my notebook for days, but I’ll never get it exactly right. I thought about saying something last year but didn’t so another year passed in silence. I write now because something in me needs for some of it to be said. On a day that was so damn beautiful, I need to acknowledge what could have been and also make some declarations.

Three years ago today (Monday, week 7, winter term 2012), I sat in my 8 a.m. poetry class wondering why I was entering due dates in my planner if I wasn’t going to be around to see them.

I was numb and I’d been numb since I started college. Try as I might—make some friends, talk to academic advisors, enjoy my classes, laugh as I did here and there, and even date a wonderful person for a while—I couldn’t fill the hole inside of me. For a number of reasons, including my inability to find my niche and purpose at University of Oregon, healthily process my knowledge of extreme systematic inequalities, and dissolve my self-hatred (for my fear of driving and unearned privileges) I was severely depressed. My depression had started out mild and bloomed into something that choked me. I didn’t want to die but I didn’t want to live either.

Besides feeling disconnected from others, disenchanted with the world, and purposeless, I was angry. I was angry that I was so numb and resentful of my previous frameworks for understanding the world. Angry that in a phone call, my mother made me promise that if I was ever thinking of “doing anything” I call her, no matter what time of the day or night. I made the promise even though I knew I wanted “out” of this life yet never wanted to make that phone call. I was angry because I keep my promises.

If I couldn’t be free from the negative feelings, I wanted to feel my pain more acutely. I wanted to get smashed or cut myself—anything to just feel something. I either wanted to be gone or feel alive again. It is important to note that I resisted drugs and alcohol not because I am stronger than anyone or “good”, but because I am a ridiculously stubborn person with a family history of drug and alcohol abuse and a fear of addiction (as well as a white privileged belief in the importance of following rules). I didn’t self-medicate because I knew that would only mess me up more and my battle was hard enough. Instead, I sought small, positive changes I could make in my daily life, saw a therapist, and after much resistance, began antidepressants. Those things didn’t get rid of my depression but they helped get me through the very worst of it.

Many people don’t have the institutional and interpersonal support that I did. Despite not having enough money to adequately feed myself (I dropped down to 98 pounds due to depression, hunger, and antidepressants), I had healthcare, and other forms of support, too.

One of my classmates in my Inside-Out Prison Exchange class is an example of individuals’ need for healthy coping mechanisms to work through depression. R– was a good student and standout athlete in high school. One year he played for the U.S. national youth team and was so excited to share his experiences with his grandma after returning from an overseas competition. Upon returning to Oregon, however, he learned she had died while he was away. Shortly thereafter, his mother was diagnosed with cancer and told she had a slim chance of survival. Devastated, R– started self-medicating with alcohol and drugs. He began committing robberies later. This was his way of handling his pain and demonstrating some agency in response to situations he had no control over. Police who did not respond to his neighborhood (felony flats) when families called 911 let his crimes wrack up then finally arrested him. R– didn’t get the help he needed or deserved.

My recovery has been a long road and one I walk every day. I only just regained my former weight this winter after three years of trying to reach a healthy, stable body weight. I’ve gotten a lot of my memories back, too; for a long time I felt disconnected from my pre-college experiences and identities. I also took Driver’s Ed this summer after years of being immobilized by fear and shame. I passed the class and that afternoon’s accomplishment remains the freest and proudest I’ve ever felt in my life. I still struggle with self-love, but I’ve been working on it.

Here is what I know to be true for myself:

Working through depression won’t necessarily make the “haters” not hate or the people and institutions too afraid to confront their privilege and the ways their actions hurt others actually examine themselves and make changes. Working through depression won’t bring back loved ones or cure cancer. It won’t end the chronic pain or make the icebergs remain frozen. But if we are persistent and obtain &/or create some support, we might be able to come back to life in new ways and respond to these struggles in different lights. We might dance again or for the first time.

My shame and self-hatred didn’t save me or make me a better person. Punishing myself didn’t make me treat myself or others better. But being brave enough to be brave and love myself and honestly assess my actions does.

I don’t know the language any other person uses to speak to themselves and it isn’t my place to tell anyone how to live with and move through their pain, particularly when people experience pain for different reasons and in different ways. But I do know that you are worthy of your own respect and love. You are worthy of others’ too. You are so darn worthy.

As I move forward in life (the days keep passing and I am still here), I make some promises to myself:

I resolve to be my best friend, rather than just worst critic. I commit to loving and supporting myself.

I resolve to make myself laugh regularly, even if it’s just making sassy comments under my breath at food products in the grocery store, because honestly my brand of humor is my favorite and I never love myself more than I do when I’m cracking myself up.

I promise to perform more random acts of kindness.

I also promise that so long as my body is pulsing and my mind is active, I will live. I will not end my life. I’ve got more laughter in me yet, more love to give and receive, more to learn, jokes to crack, mistakes to make, and life to live. This is not an easy promise to make nor one I make lightly. But I make it anyway.

 


 

Some resources if you or someone you know are experiencing thoughts of suicide:

National Suicide Hotline: http://www.crisistextline.org/

Trans Lifeline: US: (877) 565-8860 , Canada: (877) 330-6366

GLBT National Hotline: 1-888-843-4564, online peer-support chat: http://www.glbthotline.org/

GLBT National Youth Hotline: 1-888-246-7743