Letters

October 16, 2017

Okay.

I have these short short hairs on the side of my head I cut them one by one, my head being like a Bonsai tree, my head being the imperfect pursuit of perfection.

I do not believe in external permission, let’s just get that out of the way. Or rather, my body spent so much time revolving around these things that it had never considered, these external centers of control, these prescribed encouragements, that it has occasionally become necessary to disbelieve my own origins. I am turning away from all accidental sources. Sources of accident.

Dear V, when I am around you, I orbit you. The system of interlocking planets. We count them name them watch them disappear behind the others, you and others and nobody knows how to line up anymore, I used to line up according to the interlocking system of my height against the height of those around me, small body thrown into relief. I used to line up according to the interlocking system of names and the letters they are comprised of, last name first, first name last, small body highlighted by the symbol that tells it where to go. Nobody knows how to line up anymore and I spend most of my time advocating for silence, which doesn’t really work when you are a quiet small short hardly-named girl in a room full of men with things to say, doesn’t really work when most folks see quiet as its own quiet undoing. By most I mean men, really, all circumference and muscle and symbolic majority.  Loud men, men with strong hair, forests and forests of men and their haircuts and their collars and their sentences, period. They say things and I listen and I line up.

One must learn to be a person. It is not innate.

Cut to the present: I spend my time trying to take up space, and sometimes I take that up through silence, and sometimes I take that up through the very strategic facilitation of making more space for others, of space called accommodation, of space called no regrets, of space called here is the thread of my body it sometimes hums and it sometimes sleeps. And sometimes I take up space like I take up a sentence: slowly. I need pauses, stretches of slower time. There are different ways to take up space and some of them are consistently invisible while others are consistently troubling.

I have never been myself more than in this moment, with my short short hairs and my mouth full of bad things about many men, mouth full of the occasional exciting not much.

I do not want to orbit any other person, anything that moves, not even my own body, usually still but occasionally so wild. I want to orbit my cats, at most. Want to orbit the at most of my post-body ideal, want to dismiss the idea of orbit altogether, want to take a closer look at this body, here. Want to replace orbit with intersect. With hi, hello.

The thing is I sometimes can’t keep up with other people. The thing is I sometimes take my time. The thing is me, being my slow authentic self, coming out on occasion.

One time you met me and I had a boyfriend only he was just the idea of a person, a person not with me in real time, a person you never met. In many ways he was always an idea: The Boyfriend. But he was also a real person even though he existed outside of your encountering him. Our relationship was troubled, the boyfriend and I. I went from one troubled relationship to another, all of my life, girl disguising her sad daddy feelings as the desire to seek validation through her body. All girls learn this: the quiet validation of a desirable body. It makes life feel brainless, or else it makes you feel like you could live forever, or at least keep living until tomorrow, because it never quite becomes today. I once pushed my body I grew my body I said to my body, be the body you wish to be seen in the world, body, and I let myself be seen by anyone willing to see me and I counted the cracks in my body and my hair, long at the time, was counted too, curled, blowing, framing the crack in my head so as to keep being seen, pliable, available. To the validating men.

One must learn to be a person, and this is a process. It is the opposite of death, in that you pick up and hold and become accountable for your own.

I have never quite been myself around you, but I have always been more of me, with every visit, with every vacation. Once you knew very little of me, and then you knew more, and then you knew even more and I am here to say that it is still so very little, in some ways. Sometimes I give myself permission to disagree. I disagree with you sometimes.

I have never been given permission, by any man, to be myself.

Sometimes I disagree with myself so as to agree with others.

There is so much you don’t know about me and it has nothing to do with [X], or [X], or [X]. It has to do with my ideas. It has to do with the way I speak and laugh and pause. I am hard to experience in real time, in real life, because my brain won’t sit still in the present moment: it loops, juts forward, circles around. It is not normal, not perfect or otherwise, it is not easy. From the outside, this looks like silence.

Silence, too, is one type of social skill. As with encouragement. As with listening.

Sometimes it is important to push back against visual culture but sometimes it is also important to watch.

I want to feel heard. I want to orbit space, not bodies. I want to cut the rest of my long hairs into short short ones and wear imperfection like cold breath in any season. I want to continue having high expectations but I want to stop pretending that expectations are objective, that my expectations are your expectations, that yours could ever truly be mine, that context isn’t the air always scooping us up, whether we button our jackets more tightly in response to its presence or whether we loosen up our sleeves & our hairdos. That is the trick: sometimes, not responding to a presence can facilitate a reality in which the thing isn’t even there, can turn presence, symbolically and therefore fundamentally, into absence. Symbols are like stars: I dare you to imagine life without them.

Sometimes I feel absent around you. Expectations are always subjective. Who gets to decide them?

I feel tired. I feel full of words and channels and ideas. I feel discouraged by competition. I just want to take up space.

Dear V, I owe you so much, I admire you, of course I orbit you—it is a natural reaction in the face of strength, and certainty, and self-determination. But I cannot orbit those whom I wish to love, truly love: because love is about contradiction, and it is always about compromise, and it involves locating and stretching and expanding our safe spaces, separate and together, where they intersect and where they don’t. And because love is, first and foremost, about mutual attention.

Because love takes up space. Because love is not two halves interlocking together in the system of pieces and parts. Because love is messier than that, bigger, ill-fitting, makeshift, DIY, a process. Because love and friendship are two worlds getting bigger. We are not tracing paper we are watercolors. Marbling, fragile, resilient. The more one tries to control the thing the harder it is to make progress with/in it. But when you let go, when you open up to more than your own expectations: you make the perfect pastry, you stumble into faces and remarkable shapes and patterns, you make space for things beyond the known you. The knowable other of our each. So many.

Wind, cold breath, hair like a small owned pet. These things make up my day and I often call the day difficult. We did not take one single picture when you were here. Are you sad about it? I am not. Here at the intersection of difficult and determined; here at the quiet outpost called devotion.

 

March 28, 2018

Dear Z,

The first time I read “The Husband Stitch” I felt, in the mildest sense of the word, repulsed by it. Literally pushed away. By the narrative, perhaps, or the reality that each story within the story kept returning to, no matter what loopdeloop or twisting or subtle paths it took to get there. It was the same hard truth over and over again, and I thought it really painful to look at, and I found it a little bit sickening.

There are things in this world that I want to dislike, scared by how they threaten to change me. This is how sensitivity morphs into pessimism, how a body that’s spent its whole life wide open can come to feel sleepy and done, your belly full of everything external, everything you’ve swallowed up. Often, I want to pick up every single thing around me, even the things already on me, and examine the ways they could be my fault. Tell people the things I think they should do, what I think about them, what I wish I could be better at, or others. Putting everyone I know, myself included, up on a pedestal, until there’s only enough room for us to take turns falling off.

I worry about coming off as too controlling and I know almost always that I’m not controlling but perhaps I’m just out of control which is a cute trick of language, of gender, how women can end up two things at once while feeling like mostly nothing, how words construct, or at least contribute to, these cute, tricky realities. And I know that for some women and the women who love them and the men who they orbit, control and expression practically camouflage each other. Language is heavy. Most days I just hope my sentences are at least coming or going, and I write while haunted by the floating “too.” How it needs no context, how it can go straight through walls and timelines. My body has never been able to fully escape it, the too-much-ness of girlhood, which grows both slowly and quickly into the too-much-ness of womanhood, though girl history is one that never really leaves you. And there is a way that, scared or anxious or unsure of yourself, you can run so adamantly away from something that the shape of your absence only lends it a clearer border, practically highlights the thing you’re trying to leave behind. Like a cartoon body that’s smashed through a cartoon door and left a perfect shape. Cartoons make space for smashing and cutting and falling and keeling over, you can suspend your disbelief while watching them because you know they aren’t real.

I read “The Husband Stich” again the other day, and it was perfect–even the voice directions, even how graphic it has to be in places, even the end. I didn’t want to like it because I didn’t want to acknowledge the truth of it. I wanted to protect, so to say, my own ribbon. But I wanted to protect it in that way that is like having someone look at you and ask, “hey, what’s that ribbon,” and you think you’re doing a good safe motherly job of protecting yourself by responding, “what ribbon?” Denial is not meant to be a long-term coping strategy, not without doing some serious damage to the body and the brain relying on it.

I think Machado’s writing reminds me of the small stone I carry around in my gut everywhere I go. Call it “anxiety,” or expectation, or, I suppose, post-trauma feelings. It’s hard to even allow myself to use that word…trauma…I work with these homeless youth and youth in foster care, these kids, they’re kids!, who have seen such harrowing things, have been abused and raped and manipulated on such blatant levels. What is this sick compulsion to feel like I have to earn my trauma, have to earn or suffer through enough in order to gain access to a certain way of talking about it?

Yesterday, I stayed home sick. I was too hot and then too cold and I couldn’t keep any food down and at one point I saw, I mean I really saw the edges of my brain, like I’d become aware of my body but also my consciousness, in a way that I had never recognized before. I felt the limits of my consciousness, that I can only ever experience this life as me, that my body and my brain are the filter I’m stuck with. I felt buried by my consciousness, like it was both me and also the thing engulfing me. I saw the edges of my mind simultaneously curling and expanding away from me, I saw my thoughts turning into mush. There is this image that hangs on our bedroom wall, this beautiful frame of Maria Falconetti’s face as Joan of Arc, and she’s got that glamorous single tear, and she’s wearing a crown, and I stared and stared and stared at her face until I could only imagine being sick forever, until I wanted to turn backwards into a baby, a held thing, with no more decisions to make, no things to run away from, no words to avoid, or agonize over, or desperately look for, ever again. And then I thought about all the plastic I use…all I could put in my stomach, for so long yesterday, was yogurt. One yogurt and then a second one and then one more, and I had a yogurt this morning when I first got to work. I used to hate yogurt, I thought it was gross and healthy and that I’d never grow old enough to like it, and now here I am, eating cottage cheese and yogurt, thinking about my bones, wondering if they’ve grown pliable yet. And with each of these things I consume I make all this garbage that I put into my blue bin each week, having rinsed everything out obsessively, and pretending to know that the stuff will be hauled off and…and what? Animals are going extinct, recycling itself is practically extinct now too. I don’t know if it’s a problem with death, that I can’t accept it–I do understand that things die and that I too am a thing–but I can barely handle the collective pain that I know we inflict, that I know I am a crucial part of. I go on the internet for work stuff, or to log onto our work Facebook account and try to message one of our youth, and I’m flooded by these pictures of skinny polar bears and dead whales full of trash, I know change is small and slow but even the most collective and widespread effort at slow small change will never catch up with the heap of destruction we’ve so effortlessly accumulated.

There are things in this life that I cannot bear. I cannot bear my father, or trash, or certain instances of nudity–I feel so, so traumatized by my father, by my young brain being forced to reckon with affairs and pornography and other women coming into our house when my mom was gone but I wasn’t, I was still there, not understanding, ever, anything I was seeing, who the women were, in person or online. I’ve spent years, now, writing about bodies, pretending to be okay and compassionate and feminist. I wrote a poem recently that had the word “porn” in it and I thought it was a milestone, a really significant accomplishment. The bears and sealife and grass and cliffs and waters, even the things that are technically not organisms and have no life cycle, are all dying. And these are my milestones: a good sentence, a cup of yogurt. The disparity tears me in half if I think about it too long. I feel torn in half. Fourthed. The numbers go up and I get smaller.

Do you think the woman is relieved in the end, when she sees the world upside down, when her fears and her anxieties line up in such synchronicity with her head bobbing on the floor? When I saw Machado’s signature in the book my friend Ola got for us, it was like my own ribbon had been touched. Not taken off, not made into an oddity, but acknowledged. “I hope you love her.” It was a prayer, or a spell. In moments like this one, it is the closest to something other than despair that I can imagine, these moments where I find my brain full of all the bad and unconscious and cruel decisions, habits, lifestyle choices that we have made historically, that we are zipping straight into the future with, that we have taught the rest of the world through demonstration; it’s all I can muster: I hope, I hope, I hope; love her, love her, love.

Last night, I remember I dreamt, but I only remember it because I woke up repeatedly, fast enough to hear that I was screaming, loud enough to have M reach over and hold me, hush me back to sleep. I’ve dreamt about the apocalypse and I’ve dreamt about my mother dying and I’ve dreamt, god, I spent years and years dreaming of being cheated on, of being left, of being perpetually unable to find the person I needed to find in a given moment of urgency, always a man. Over and over again: he’s gone, he’s left, he’s with her. But last night, it was just water, the ocean, I was in the deep of it. I could not swim, I could not pull up the small animals who were sinking around me. The farther down I went in an effort to grab one, to save even one of them, the farther down I went. Do you hear how that last sentence repeats only to be cut short, like a breath? Everything in my life has been cut short. My parents’ marriage, my own; for years and years, my eating habits, especially around men; my goals, my “career,” my hair. Eventually I will have sheared off so many details that perhaps I’ll be immune to the painfully true stories. The best things I read are always generous, expansive, but I can’t deny that the sharpest stories, the most biting essays, always take a little tiny something away, too. I’d like to figure out how to escape that loss–not death, but loss. I suppose I am still convinced that they’re two separate beasts. Or that a species, or an environment, or a country or a heart can, in the end, be saved. I guess I’m still trying. I’ve still got a good head on my shoulders.

xo,