letter to a venting friend

A friend texted me last night, needing to vent about the state of the world. I ended up writing this very long response, which I realize is a good summation of where I'm at right now, emotionally. Figured I'd share.

---

Everything changed for me in the primary. I was absolutely gobsmacked that Andrew Yang didn’t win in a landslide. I was heartbroken to learn just how fucking stupid and short-sighted my country is. Then, hit after hit: the pandemic, the protests, the divisive politics. I started to withdraw from the news this summer, and then when RBG died I decided I probably needed to quit news entirely until after the election. 

Twitter had become increasingly toxic by this point, too. It’s either endless regurgitation of bad news, cult of wokeness inanity, or mean-spirited “jokes”. One of my breaking points was a tweet I think you posted a reply to - someone eviscerating someone else for some silly thing. There is so much pettiness and bullying and sniping on Twitter, and thanks to the algorithms, there’s no escaping it. 

Sam Harris has interviewed some of the key figures in The Social Dilemma, really smart and well-spoken people who make the case that social media is deeply detrimental to our well-being. Which I’ve always known - I was off of Facebook by 2009 and greatly curtailed my use of IG when I got tired of married men DMing me. And of course the fact that we’ve lost control over the content we see. IG jumped the shark when they killed chronological ordering. 

Since the pandemic started and I realized that nothing will ever be the same in this country again, I re-committed myself to a life of the mind. I know, sounds dramatic. But I’ve spent most of this year thinking about when in my life I felt the most engaged intellectually and creatively - what did my world look like at that time?  Well, it looked like stacks and stacks and stacks of books…which I had time to read, in part, because it was pre-social media. I thought long and hard about how simple and pure that time in my life was. Books, running, hiking, classes, friends. That was it. I was happiest when I was actively learning. So now I'm recreating my reality without the distractions that didn't exist, back when I was an active learner. 

(Also: there is a .05% chance I will still, one day, become a professional writer or novelist. I don't know if I have it in me. But I do know that drops down to 0% unless I change what I do and think and read, daily. Garbage in, garbage out, right?)

When The Social Dilemma came out, I was primed. It was the last little push I needed. I’ve been talking to some of my parent friends for a long time now about how Silicon Valley parents forbid screens entirely - the richest schools in this country are now completely screen free. That tells me everything I need to know. 

I deleted Twitter and stopped taking in the news entirely, from any source. Within the first week I had read two novels. 

But, much more importantly than that - I cannot tell you how much more peaceful it feels. There is a…quiet in my brain. There’s more space for reflection. I have done an enormous amount of work, emotionally and psychologically. I’m less reactive. My self talk is more positive. And even if I don’t do *anything* with my time when I come home from work, it’s still just a beautiful feeling of relaxation and chill, the not having of NEWS NEWS NEWS and CONSTANT INPUT AND STIMULATION.

Vote. Talk to people, if conversations present themselves, about why you feel the way you do re: important issues. Beyond that, save your fucking sanity and inner peace. American news is a nothing more than an outrage machine. I learned that when I saw them blasting every stupid fucking inconsequential thing Trump did rather than seriously take up the issue of UBI. Our country could have turned around right then and there — but it didn’t, because scandal sells.

I have very little hope for the world right now, and my heart absolutely breaks for zoomers and beyond. I truly believe the best any of us can do for ourselves is largely withdraw all the toxic things in our culture and environment and learn, quickly, where and how to find inner peace. I’m continually refining my own search and constantly asking myself - What makes you happy, El? Some things I know already and am working toward, some things I’m still finding out. 

But the answer is certainly, definitely, decidedly, not to be found on the nightly news, on Facebook, or on Twitter. 99.9% of what is to be found there is perfectly engineered to elicit our ugliest, most base reactions. I may never go back to taking in the news. Really. If there's an assassination or a natural disaster heading my way I'll found out about it soon enough. And I will always know where I stand on moral matters; my values don't need Apple News to direct my vote. 

Do your part and participate in the democratic process. Then turn it all off and go do the things that make you happy. 

PPRL: A Thousand Acres, by Jane Smiley (winner, 1992)

It's been a long minute since I posted about a Pulitzer novel. But I'm back on the sauce and still as weird about reading as ever, thanks to my English major programming, and it doesn't feel like a complete process until I've gotten down some thoughts about it.

A Thousand Acres (a reimagining of King Lear, set in the 1970s midwest) creeps up on you. You think it's plodding, you think it's your typically even-paced, multi-generational farm story. Then boom, you've got incest, extramarital affairs, attempted murder, suicide, and other family fun. What I enjoyed most about the story was the protagonist Ginny's range of emotion, action, and reaction. And I loved that, depending where you stand, you'll either admire her or pity her at novel's end. If I had a complaint, it's that Smiley lobs such massive plot bombs at the reader one after another without letting them fully detonate before throwing another. It's hard to absorb, and hard to believe, after a while, without sufficiently explored fallout. 

Essay topics: appearances vs reality, trading / bargains struck, things that grow and bear fruit vs. things which are barren, interrupted, abandoned etc.

amulet

They met in a space that was small and close, empty of expectation but full of possibility. She assumed they were alone. But something about the way he glanced sideways, nervous, then leaned towards her--

"What is it?" She touched his top shirt button, then his chin, trying to draw his gaze back to her face. 

"Doesn't matter." His lopsided, reassuring smile. "I'm safe here. You're an amulet."

And she believed him.

But then time went on. And the thing, which had a name neither of them spoke aloud, kept creeping into this space of possibility. Sometimes she'd catch it in the periphery of her vision, waiting, watching, threatening. Sometimes she'd feel the weight of it on them, pressing down and pushing the air out of the room. Sometimes it tore through the moment as quick as lightning, burning her, branding her with tiny scars of unforgetting. 

The thing became a thief. It stole trust. It stole joy. It stole patience. And most unforgivably, it stole time. It stole every solid stone they stood on until they lay crumpled on the ground, unmoored. 

"I thought I was an amulet," she whispered, clinging tight, desperate and terrified the thing was going to rip him away forever. He shook his head; it was all he had the wherewithal to do. But she didn't know if that meant that she wasn't, and all was lost, or that she was, but it didn't matter, and all was lost anyway. She didn't know, and he couldn't say, and she was left unknowing if she had ever been anything close to enough.

And the unknowing was another tiny scar, too.

birthday interlude

"What should we do for my birthday?" he asked, and by then it was coming up quick. He'd had time to choose his own adventure, but hadn't yet mapped anything out. 

"Do you want me to plan something?" 

"Yes."

"With your friends or just us? Because if with friends, I'm gonna need numbers."

"Just us."

And so I was deemed Birthday Director for the second year in a row, a title that holds very little pressure when the honoree is as easily pleased as him. Gratitude is his natural state. Simple gifts, simple gestures - they simply delight him. It's simply lovely. 

I chose a cabin in the mountains near a lake, because of course. He is woods and water, fish and fire: a Portland transplant. For days I teased him with photos of plank decks surrounded by towering sequoias - a green oasis above the smoke and smog of LA. Ours alone for two nights of whatever we wanted. He worked himself into a fever pitch of excitement over a one-bedroom AirBnB a mere two-hour drive away. It can be very easy to make him feel loved. Which tracks, because it is very easy to love him. 

We ended up leaving later than we'd planned (miscommunication + misunderstanding + crossed emotional wires tripped us up temporarily) - but by 2pm we were on the road.

Freeway, highway, grocery store for supplies. I filled the cart with fruit, snacks, and frozen meals while he lingered over toys and tech gadgets. 

"Look, babe. Dinner." I held up an enormous, family-size package of macaroni and cheese, knowing he'd find it as absurd and therefore essential as I did. I couldn't wait to sit awkwardly far apart from him, divided by a meal the size of my TV, high on shrooms and attempting to spoon white cheddar mac n' cheese into our hysterically laughing mouths. Meanwhile, he'd grabbed an RC car set, a pair of LED headlamps, and a weird little plastic foot massager he'd surprise me with later, rolling it over the calves he knows are my forever sore spot.

Adventure Babes, as he had verbally hash-tagged us the minute we got in the car, were armed and ready. 

The cabin was smaller than I expected, and we got briefly lost and cranky on the narrow, winding country road it hid on. These facts combined with the headache I felt coming on made it hard for me to find my bearings for a minute. Ever sensitive to the vibes between us, he unpacked quietly as I set to rearranging the space. I moved furniture, rugs, pillows and blankets to optimize the coziness of our chillout space on the front deck. 

A bottle of wine, a baggy of psilocybin, and a favorite playlist. Oxygen oozing from trees that literally grew through the house. My headache cleared off quickly, and the emptiness of my stomach cleared a path for quick onset of the shrooms. Just enough to forget I'd been tense twenty minutes prior. Just enough to put on one of the headlamps, a pair of sunglasses, some slippers, and shuffle around the house cackling at my own dumb jokes while he cooked, his own tensions melting away in a tab of lsd and a glass of moscato. I clicked through the settings of the headlamp, stabbing him with the spotlight shooting out from my forehead. He flinched; I howled with laughter. 

"You look like a jackass," he said, which is a thing we only call one another when we are high and extremely emotionally close. It is always accompanied by a suppressed smile and often followed by intense physical affection. Translated it means "I fucking love you." 

---

The thing about looking someone in the eyes and not saying a word is that you can imagine they're thinking anything. You can write any script you want to, in your head, as they move on top of you, under you, inside of you, through you. You can pretend that when they pin you down or pull you close, that you're on the same psychological plane, connecting on thoughts that perfectly puzzle together what the other wants and needs.

But the thing about looking someone in the eyes after a year and a half and still feeling your breath stolen, suspended, silently restrained in the chemistry that is somehow, mystifyingly, stronger every fucking time - is that you know you actually are.

You know.

---

We lounged. I lined an outdoor loveseat with blankets and pillows and stared for hours at the treetops swaying above. When it got dark, he surprised me with the galaxy projector aimed up at the branches, a thousand pin pricks of laser light crawling across the pines. I hadn't thought it would work, had tried myself but couldn't get the placement right. Had been seriously bummed. But he fixed it. "What's going on out on the patio?" he asked casually, coming back into the kitchen. I stepped outside and saw and screamed, clasping my hand over my mouth. It couldn't have been more beautiful.

We ate. We snacked on grapes so plump you could eat them like tiny apples. He made me bacon and pork chops, marinating steaks, and bringing me snack after snack where I lay outside, forgetting I ever had a job or any adult responsibilities at all. We'd bought a box of individual fruit gummy packs, which I started demanding as payment for doing small favors or tasks. It became a thing. Once when he gave me one, I walked into the bedroom and set it down, then came back out empty handed. "Babe. You are not going to believe this, but I just got mugged in the bedroom. They took everything. They took the gummy snack. I'm....I'm gonna need another one." Biting back a smile, he fetched another one and handed to me, avoiding eye contact. 

We laughed. I discovered that grapes can wear raspberries like tiny wigs, brought one to him wordlessly, high and utterly fascinated. We were quiet for half a second, gazing in wonder at my creation, and then we lost it. We just fucking lost it, and we didn't recover for two days. We found hilarity in every single thing we touched, said, ate, did. A shared pot pie became the single funniest object on planet earth when we decided that unearthing the rare, seemingly hidden peas in the pastry shell was an act of pea-leontogy. We accidentally launched the rubber ball I keep on hand for goofing around with on top of a partition in the cabin, and he rigged up a broom with a plastic hanger and one of the headlamps. For most of the night, he'd intermittently stop whatever he was doing and take a crack at wrangling it back down. Finally he realized he could lift me up to the edge of the wall where I'd be able to use his contraption to snare the ball. With one hand holding my ass up and the other waiting to hand off the broom, he supported me as I grappled and then grabbed. We got it. The victory was immeasurable. We love that dumb little ball.

We adventured. When it got dark, we loaded up his backpack with water, snacks, various cameras, my inhaler, and weed, and crept out onto the pitch black road. Fully expecting to hit a dead end of nothing but private drives but doggedly determined to make it as dramatic a walk as possible, we ended up finding an a creepy, COVID-abandoned camp of some sorts, a complex of buildings that included a massive, deserted mess hall and industrial kitchen. We poked around with our flashlights, completely forgetting our headlamps, tiptoeing into a pantry still stocked with cookware and tools. I saw a wall ladder leading to an attic, and swung myself onto it before he could object. In the crawlspace above was nothing but insulation and some coils of copper wiring - but everything feels more dangerous when you're not supposed to be seeing it. Back outside on the grounds, shushing one another as we wondered at the weirdness we'd wandered into, we suddenly stopped short. Two queen-sized, carved wooden bed frames with turned legs sat outside, on a concrete clearing, at an angle from one another that didn't make any sense. What the actual fuck. The whole setup felt thoroughly cultish and eery as hell, and we decided to scoot before getting busted for trespassing. It was the perfect little adventure.

We played. With nothing but my rubber ball, a wooden crate, a linen hamper, and a stack of giant Jenga blocks, we invented game after game after game. Sometimes we'd lose the ball in the ravine below, and I'd stomp around in the dead leaves and cobwebbed bushes, high and fearless. "Leaves of three, let it be," he called in warning from the deck above. I'd return, triumphantly wielding the ball in my hand, and challenge him to mini feats of arcade-style athleticism. "I bet I can lob this ball over the ceiling beam without hitting it" or "Try and bounce it over the pillow into the crate, like a miniature golf course." Age differences don't matter when you both act like ten year-olds. 

We explored. We drove to the lakeside town where my dinosaur-obsessed boyfriend happened upon an actual dinosaur store. Some paleontologist had opened up a boutique with his wares: smooth Megalodon teeth, globes of fossilized amber in shades of rose and gold. Several million years-old toys for several hundred dollars a pop. I drooled over a stunning polished, cylindrical lamp cut from various geodes, and bought the only souvenir I could afford: a quarter-sized cluster of periwinkle grape agate. "I'm going to stack it on top of the two stones you brought me from Portland," I told him. "Like a tiny cairn." 

We connected. We dj'd our favorite music for one another. He showed me a little graphic story he'd created, and played a sunrise set he'd written. Again and again, in the emotionally-neutral space of a stranger's home, we hid no emotions. Before him, no one had ever actually touched my face, locked eyes with me, whispered how much they love me. I didn't think that was a thing that existed in the world, because I'd never known a man man enough to do it. And with him I get it over and over and over, and it has become the very drug I need to survive. It is an unbearable sweetness, this soft, quiet, affection. The gentle restraint until there is no more restraint. I'll never get over him.

---

Psychedelics dilate time, but it still went fast. Forty hours, more or less. He slept the whole way back, partied totally out.

Babe :) he texted me a few hours after I dropped him off. 

yas?

I love you

why?

Your smile, your booty, your laugh, your everything

I think, translated, that means I did a good job as Birthday Director again this year, and that I don't have to get over him just yet. 

conferta confecta

I've always thought of myself as a closet misanthrope. That's not really the right word. I don't hate mankind. But I sort of lowkey wanted to see the world...tested. I secretly loved the idea of some apocalyptic event leveling the playing field. Tabula rasa. A do over. And this time let's make it fair, motherfuckers. End of the world movies have always been my favorite for this reason. Most people I know found Wall-E depressing. I found it vindicating. It's what's coming, you guys. Laugh it up. You'll see.

I remember once as a kid driving by a massive landfill, on some family road trip. I couldn't wrap my brain around the scope of it. I questioned my parents for days, upended by the realization that there was that much junk, that close to cities where people, like, lived. I don't know how I thought trash was disposed of up until then. I probably thought it was all burned and thus neatly, permanently erased from existence. 

After that my radar was forever sensitive to stories about mass waste. I learned about plastic islands in the ocean, trash mountains in third world countries, even space debris - and it started to dawn on me that there was simply not enough room on the planet for all the people and all the things they threw away. It just wasn't tenable. Where the fuck did we think we were going to put it all? It seemed absurd that we thought we could keep going like we were. It seemed even more absurd that no one was freaking out about it. 
 
I became a teenager with much bigger things to worry about, so that seed of disgust just quietly took root in the back of my mind. But then came two decades of watching the world more or less shrug its shoulders first at the ozone layer, then oil spills, then animal extinctions, then the corral reefs dying, then the glaciers melting, then increasingly disastrous natural disasters, and now my state is burning down around me while my president makes every single thing that's already bad, worse.  

And now that everything is truly terrible, it turns out I'd like to change my answer from I told you so and we kind of all deserve it to Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

I know the world isn't really ending...but it kind of is. Some of what we're experiencing will get better. The pandemic will end, eventually. Trump will leave the White House, eventually. The wildfires will be put out, eventually. But the cultural, social, economic, and environmental cats are all out of the bag. Wealth disparity and class warfare are only going to get worse, unless enough progressives with enough power find ways to shift the paradigm. And they'd better do it hard and fast, because meanwhile, to quote Bill Nye, the planet is on fucking fire. Climate change is going to make once farmable land unusable and force mass migrations - but only for those who can afford to move. Water wars are coming. And my country is too fucking stupid to enact UBI, which would raise the floor and help millions of people have a shot at surviving the heartbreaking and gross socioeconomic inequities which exist, which are insidious and intergenerational, and which are only going to get worse.

And here's the thing I have learned about myself, through all of this. I'm not a misanthrope at all. I'm actually so empathetic that now when I feel hopelessness, it's not for myself, but for how fucked up everything is, in general, for everyone.

I'm most devastated for anyone younger than me. I can't imagine what it's like to be a teenager or a zoomer right now. I'd be fucking furious at the world I was inheriting. I feel like mine is one of the last generations to have had it really good. Really green, really clean, and really simple. When I was growing up, kids were pushed out of the house after school, told to go play and come back at dinner time. News was once nightly, with Tom Brokaw. That was it. No doomscrolling for hours on Twitter. No getting oversaturated and overstimulated with depressing story after depressing story on social media. No depressing story after depressing story, period. 

Yes of course there was bad news. No period of history is without scars. But this is it. We've heard from the scientists. We can't undo what we've done to our one, precious planet. And the outlook for the world's economics isn't much better. 

Rambling. Sad angry rambling without much point, other than to get it out of my head. 

Is it still depression if the sadness has an identifiable cause, and no clear solution? I don't think I'm depressed so much as despairing. And I feel like in order to not totally give in to that despair, I'm going to need to absorb less and less of the world's sad, bad news. 

sunshine

As usual, I meet him on the street outside my building. Sometimes we call to one another in the dark, a high-pitched chirp or squawk. It's one of the wonderfully dumb us-isms that make too much time apart start to hurt. Amazing how the silliest bonds can be some of the strongest.

Tonight I just silently smile and open my arms in invitation. Nothing in this world like the feel of him, after a break. Weeks of tension and loneliness melt off of me and I unwind, finally relaxed in the security of our reunion. I am entirely too dependent on his love, entirely too hinged on the ups and downs of our relationship - but the world has grown terrifying and awful and I need him. I unapologetically need him.

"I got some licorice," he announces, and I see telltale bits of red in his perfect, bright smile. "And I have a surprise for you."

We stay so long on the sidewalk, hugging, saying hello, and just breathing one another in, that someone on a patio nearby cracks a joke. We don't quite catch it, something teasing or perhaps mildly derogatory. 

"I haven't seen this fool in three weeks," I explain to the voice. I take his hand and lead him to the gate. "We have work to do," I add, over my shoulder.

But we don't get five feet before he stops me, needing to reconnect now, here, it can't even wait until we get upstairs. This is a thing he does, a thing about him I love so much. His urgency to get everything out that he needs to tell me, right away. He needs me to know all the things that are on his mind about us, about me, about how he feels. How he's missed me, how much he's thought of me, how he can't wait to show me this that or the other thing he's gotten for me or for us. Sometimes there are apologies in this outpouring; often soothing reassurances (see above reference to insecurity). And it's all laced together with the most exquisite demonstration of physical affection. He slides his fingers around the back of my neck, his thumb along my jaw, looking me straight in the eye. He presses his forehead to mine, wraps me up in his arms, growling at the feel of my body again after so long. Deep sighs, whispers, compliments. Bliss.

Whenever he does this, I am reminded of how it feels when, on a chilly day, the sun comes out from behind the clouds. A sense of relief and gratitude for the return of warmth. Being back in the sunshine of his love is an all too real, visceral comfort. 

We stop another two times before getting to the elevator. And even when we get to my floor, he won't let me out of his arms, won't stop talking to me, loving on me. The elevator door closes on us twice before we make it out. In the span of five minutes - just being near him again with all his warm bright sunlight energy - my very immune system has boosted. I can fucking feel it. I can feel how happiness is flooding my bloodstream, like a drug.

---

Star machine.

Star machine.

I know it's called something else, a laser sky or a galaxy projector, whatever. But I'm calling it the star machine.

The feel of you. You need to know. I need you to know. I don't trust this world anymore, I don't trust it not to take you away from me. I don't trust myself not to lose you. So you need to know.

The feel of you.

We say puzzle pieces, but do you really understand? It's lock and key. I can barely let my mind settle on how perfect you are, it feels dangerous, like I'll never get some part of myself back, if you go. You think I hate when you sleep, but sometimes, sometimes when you sleep it's my favorite thing because then I can just look at you. The lines of your body, you don't know. You have no idea, but you should. From your cheek down your neck across your shoulders down your back to your waist. You should know. Anything could happen, so you should know.

You should know that when we are twinned up, entwined, smiling at one another in unimaginable bliss, that it's like nothing I've known. You release and ignite something in me that no one ever has, and you should fucking know it. 

Look at me and tuck my hair behind my ear. Twist it in your fingers. Press your face to my body and whisper how beautiful I am, how much you've missed me. When you do these things I'm not even sure I'm myself anymore. How could I be? How could I be the same person that has to get up, get dressed, leave, be a person, pay bills. Not possible.

Stay with me in this space we have created, we can keep it perfect if we try. Don't go away too long, please. Don't forget how this feels. Everything out there is awful but in here there is only our love and our laughter and we are safe. Don't go away too long. 

Bring the sunshine back soon.

like neon

I am developing an imaginary suit of armor, so that in the stillness of night, when all pretense of strength has dropped away and I am left exposed, the arrows that come for me can't pierce as deeply.

At first I pictured actual armor. Brass, glinting, annealed - strong as flint. But I am no superhero. 

Now I see light. Warm and white, humming like neon. I bring one knee down, curling into myself, and it cocoons me naturally. It wraps around my body, protective and fierce. And though there is no escaping the onslaught of memories, judgments, fears - if I meditate on this visual - the sting is mitigated. 

I'm trying to convince myself I was born with it. 

my new place

In November of last year, Kenny and I agreed that if we found the right place at the right price, fuck it, we'd move in together. He'd ditch his NoHo studio and I'd ditch my Ktown one, and we'd join forces and finances on a two bedroom. 

A couple weeks after that, a one bedroom opened up in my building. And though it was tiny, the rent was amazing. We talked and agreed that it would be worth it to shack up someplace much smaller than we wanted, temporarily, to give us time to find the perfect two bedroom. I knew that if we changed our minds and I had to pay for the apartment myself, I could - so I jumped on it.

Then (and I've no plans to delve into reasons beyond this), he and I realized we aren't ready to live together. So the place became mine alone.

I never took any photos of it, but it was pretty cute. Nicely finished like my studio, and I made it super cozy with rugs and whatnot. But the building was truly terrible. My neighbors were trash. They treated the property like garbage, and my landlord didn't care, even before COVID hit. I fought the good fight, but Ktown is thoroughly infested with roaches - ask anyone who's lived there. It was depressing as hell, but cheap, and I was quickly paying off my credit cards. So I stayed. 

Then COVID hit. And at some point I'll circle back and tell my pandemic story, but suffice to say my very crowded neighborhood, the constantly fighting, non-socially distancing tenants in my building, and my daily subway commute all became suddenly very scary.

Now, one of the crazy silver linings I experienced because of COVID was financial, insanely enough. I was allowed to work as much as I wanted - and I was still an hourly worker. I worked every single day, for weeks and weeks. Every single day. No days off. I crushed overtime. I was given a bonus and then hazard pay. I obliterated five figures of credit card debt in a few months. I completely turned my finances around, while most of the world was losing their jobs. It was surreal and I am endlessly indebted to my amazing company (again, I'll tell the whole story later) for their generosity.

I started to make a plan to get the fuck out of Koreatown. I was originally thinking fall; I had a certain number in mind that I wanted as a savings cushion, when I moved. I already knew the place - one of my girlfriends had just gotten an apartment there. It was built in the 80s, just on the other side of the freeway, in "Downtown West" as it's called. It has massive, light-filled lofts at a fraction what they cost in the financial district just a few blocks away, a pool, a fitness center, and tenants who've been there decades, they love it so much. 

I reached out to the leasing agents, just to start the conversation and get on their list (I wanted to find exactly the right unit), and one thing led to another. In July I signed a lease and moved in. It was a sped-up timeline, which made me nervous, but it proved to be one of the best decisions I've made in years.

I'm a 12 minute walk from my work. I don't have to get on the train at all anymore. But if I want to, I'm a 10 minute walk to the downtown hub of 7th St./Metro. From there I can get to Hollywood, Santa Monica, Pasadena, the Valley, the airport - pretty much anywhere I need to go. I'm a ten minute walk from Whole Foods as well as a regular grocery store (though there's actually a really nice Grocery Outlet across the street from me). I'm an eight minute walk from Target, Fig & 7th, and the Bloc (shopping/dining complexes). Plus, obviously, all of downtown - bars, nightclubs, restaurants - is literally at my feet (I live on top of a hill - more on that later). 

The change in my lifestyle was so abrupt and so vast I honestly didn't know what to do with myself, for the first few weeks I lived here. My place is easily twice the size of the Ktown one bedroom, and probably four times the size of my studio. I went from having no AC, no dishwasher, a bullshit tiny fridge and a shit building with no amenities - not even functional laundry, at the end - to having central AC and heating, a huge fridge with an ice maker, a dishwasher, a microwave, a pool and jacuzzi, a fitness center, a washer and dryer in my unit, and a balcony. Absolute fucking rags to riches for your girl. 

Blogger's new formatting is totally wack, and I can't figure out how to add captions. And believe it or not, as bright as it looks, this is actually on a very dark day - because, you know, all of California is on fire.

My balcony isn't finished and the bathroom is huge and has a wall-spanning mirror I'm not in the mood to try and hide from - so here's my place sans balcony and bathroom:



















red sky shadow monster

I had plans to sit down and write a flurry of posts tonight. I've been making notes of things to blog about - small, inconsequential things. Poetic (to me) notions I've had lately. Little victories I want to remember. An essay on what it feels like to watch the world burn, as a Gen X'er. Just my usual self-absorbed bullshit. 

But now that I am here, there are lead weights on my hands. Everywhere I turn my thoughts is like pushing on a bruise. This time. This insane, apocalyptic time. What can you even say? How can you find level enough emotional ground to be still and corral your thoughts? I fucking can't.

Every otherwise quotidian challenge is amplified by the sadness we're already carrying. The pandemic. Our joblessness, or that of our friends and family. The surreal state of politics. The racism and violence. The natural disasters coming so furious but so frequently that we're in danger of getting inured to them - until they suddenly kill us.

Pasadena is under evacuation watch, because of the wildfires. Fucking Pasadena

I play distraction games with myself. French exercises, reading, yoga, running, cooking. Thirty minute blocks of doing whatever holds my attention until inevitably, around eleven o'clock at night, everything I've held at bay all day comes crashing in with a vengeance. And then I am racked. All the pain and uncertainty I feel for myself and the people I care about, all my failures past and present. There's no hiding under the covers from any of it.

I'm used to depression. I've either lived with it shadowing me or straight up enveloping me for most of my adult life. But now I am seeing my friends suffer, growing listless under their forced inertia. And it makes me angry. So, so angry. They didn't do anything wrong. They don't deserve it. If I could I'd siphon it all off of them, out of them. Make them pure and whole and untouched by the monster who is my familiar. 

Tonight the sky is red and my afflatus...flat. I will try again tomorrow. 

prize

I have been spending all my quarters on the claw game that is us. I'm not getting any better, but I'm definitely going broker.

At first I thought it was about precision. That if I puzzled out the distance and depth - if I reached just far enough - I would get you in my grasp. It didn't work. 

Down you tumbled back among the others, sinking in the softness, winking one perfect, plastic blue eye at me. I was teased, I was titillated. I tried again. 

I thought maybe my perspective was off. That from where I stood unmoving, you were too two-dimensional. And god knows you are anything but. So I went this way and that, lifting and dropping my head, tracking you like an animal that hasn't yet decided whether it wants to be caught.

But all my dancing around made me run out of time, and the joystick went joyless in my hand.

I cashed in a five, then a twenty, then my heart's savings, and I played until the arcade attendants (who look suspiciously similar to my friends) gently pulled me away.

"We open at 11," they said, leading me to the exit. "But maybe consider a hike instead?"

I am determined to beat this game. The prize is wildly out of reach, but I am wild about the prize. Though if you could just lean towards me the tiniest bit, we'll have a much better chance of winning.

magic indeed

for Sam Harris

Last night I took somewhere between one and two grams of psilocybin (powdered caplets of questionable dosage) and when they kicked in two hours later, turned off the lights, put on my compression sleep mask (the closest thing I have to a blindfold), put in my AirPods, and climbed underneath my favorite knit blanket.

In the safety of my own home, cozy in the comfort of my unnecessarily huge bed, and with no company other than the music of Joel Zimmerman, I melted into my own mind for two and a half hours of soul-righting joy.

I know I get dramatic about psychedelics. I can't help it. They change my life, every time. It's why I feel compelled to advocate (okay, fine, evangelize) for them - with all the usual stringent disclaimers. So buckle in, because this will be no different.

Last night I got past the paywall of my own subconscious. I was guided there with extraordinary love (mine) and light (also mine). In this deepest of caverns there exists the singular clarity that I very purposefully set off to find: self-love. Earlier in the day I had been disappointed by canceled plans. That itself is not such a blow under normal circumstances. But in case you haven't noticed, these are not normal circumstances. 

The absolutely wrecked state of the country has been pushing me further and further into despair, and my pain is manifesting in really awful, damaging ways. I have a lot of trouble being alone. Like - a lot. Me, solo Coachella girl. Me, sibling-less, dog-less, divorced orphan. Me. I'm clinging to people in ways that are deeply unhealthy. Needing more from others than I should be able to find in abundance, in myself. It is a desperate and lonely place to be.

That's where LSD and psilocybin come in. Because they are so powerful and because I have slid down the darker side of them, I only have the nerve to fuck with them a couple times a year. But when I do, my bravery is rewarded like it was last night. I slipped down, down, down and landed face to face with the thing I have been struggling with lo these many socially distanced months.

This is where it gets hard to express what I felt. This is where it gets unavoidably esoteric. I'll just say this. Last night I remembered...everything. I remembered that I am enough. I remembered that no matter who moves through my life, I am the constant. I am my own source. 

Of course, all the while I was reveling in this revelation, I was treated to the most phenomenal light and sound show that the universe has to offer. Just an absolute fucking mental festival. I laughed, delighted by the complexity of the simplicity. I cried happy tears. I twisted and turned under the soft blanket and thrust my hands up to touch the kaleidoscope above me (plot twist: it was actually inside me). When I emerged at 11pm, everything still very much aglow and askew, I attempted to eat a hot dog (only thing on hand) - but I couldn't, because I couldn't stop laughing at it. Please picture me standing in my near-dark kitchen, in only a hoodie and my slipper boots, just savagely laughing at this poor hot dog. Finally I gave up and ate some raspberries that tasted like the entire rainbow. It was the best date I've had with myself in a long, long time.

---

When I am extremely low and just barely hanging on, I will ask the friends I trust most with my vulnerability: I'm a good person, right? 

Last night I understood the purity of my own heart, and loved myself for it. 

Sending you all the best you deserve, which is vastly more than this sideways-fucked country is clearly capable of giving you right now. Occasional moments of calm and inner peace are all I can hope to surf to from time to time - I hope you have some of those moments, too.

abeyance

I went to the coast yesterday, with Erin. We bought lunch at a seafood restaurant in Malibu that had temporarily set up an outside drive through. A tent for staff taking orders, a standing beverage cooler stocked with canned beer and sodas, and the hallmark charm of SoCal seaside fish shacks: hand-drawn chalkboard menus.

Fifty-five bucks got us fried clams, fried squid, fried onion rings, french fries, and two bottles of water. Would we like ranch for dipping? You bet your sweet mask we would.

Across the highway from the restaurant is a small pullout overlooking County Line Beach. We ate in the car, gazing out at the ocean and debating the graces of surfers vs skaters vs snowboarders while eating regrettably massive portions of deep fried fare. So bad. So great.

When we'd had enough, we moved to a wooden bench bolted into the cliff side of the rusted out guard rail. We watched the young and the athletic suit up, stretch out, and wade determinedly into the tide, tethered by the ankle to their beat-up boards. Midwesterners, we admire but do not understand surfing.

How do they not bang into one another, when they cluster up like that? 

Ugh. I could never find my balance.

Isn't the water too shallow, where the waves hit?

For some of them, it had to have been their first post-lockdown surf. I bet it was glorious. It looked glorious, to be battered clean by waves that seemed strong enough to smack COVID-19 all the way back to Wuhan.

I envied them their fortitude. Too cold for my blood.

Me, I'm still waiting for my own post-lockdown burst of freedom. I had drinks in a real live bar last week, and I go for maskless runs in Hancock Park almost every night. But I'm pining for something big. Something commemorative and regenerative. An overnight in the woods, maybe. A full 24 hours with nothing on my face but fresh air. We'll see.

Out of nowhere, a black and white Border Collie appeared in the weeds near our feet. But she had no interest in us. She sniffed around impatiently while her human locked up the car, then bounded down the cliffside ahead of him. Erin and I looked at one another, briefly terrified - so steep, oh my god, is she - but when I stood up to check, she was already splashing around in the water's edge.

We watched man and dog play frisbee in the grey June gloom. Leaps and barks and digging and laughing and scolding and tricking and laughing again, until a sandy-haired, slump-shouldered teenage lifeguard came by to stop the sport. County Line is not a dog beach. No off-leash play today.

Girl, tell us about it.

Eventually I declared a need for ice cream, because fuck self-restraint during a pandemic. We got back into the car and wound our way down to Brentwood, for scoops of Salted Caramel and Lemon Verbena at Sweet Rose. Five thousand stars.

Then, neither of us feeling inclined to return to "real" life, we had a single, drawn-out cocktail in Santa Monica. It was lovely to be out, out of my house, out of my work - but it's just not the same. Servers in masks and plastic face shields. Restricted seating placements. Rules underlining everything. Low-grade anxiety and hyperawareness unescapable.

I know we've got a long road left, and I'm grateful for the social and professional diversions I've been blessed with (my work never closed - I'll tell you about it in another post). But if you've been wondering how I've been doing? I've been holding my breath. I've been surviving, but generally ill at ease. Everything feels suspended. On hold. Life in abeyance.

Is it the same for you?

the focus it takes

True story: I learned to run in the city by pretending Hamilton Leithauser was waiting for me in my bed, and that when I got home, sweating and triumphant, he was going to make me yell like he does in songs like Angela Surf City and Victory and, really, any song by The Walkmen that showcases those fucking pipes of his. After a shower, of course.

Learned to run? you ask, understandably. Well. Running around the financial and industrial districts of downtown LA takes some getting used to. They're not the friendliest or safest or cleanest of streets. You've got cracked sidewalks, tents, rats, stoplights, and plenty of suspicious characters to contend with. It takes some focus.

So with Hamilton screaming encouragement in my ears, I got used to the terrain. 

Hilariously, I ended up dating a dude who was an actual real-life friend of the singer's. So after a show one night, I was introduced. I think I said something terribly maudlin about his music helping me cope with the death of my father. True enough, but wow what a lie compared to the real story. 

Then I went completely underwater with EDM and never really resurfaced. My current run album is Stream of Consciousness by Spencer Brown which if I could force you to listen to one track from, it'd be this. Or maybe this, which is the funnest song I have ever danced to everrrr, at a festival (Dreamstate last November). Pure joy, amirite?

But lately I've been listening to Hamilton again, on the train mostly. To and from work. His voice is my personal fight song, and these days I am fighting very hard - to stay in control of my emotions, to trust the process, to see the big picture and have faith in better days ahead.

We all miss our friends, I know. Our families and coworkers and other familiars. But I also miss parts of myself that I put aside over the past year, in an effort to - well I don't know, really. In an effort. 

Trying to get back. Trying.

Sound on

note to self-soothe

Silence can only be weaponized against those who don't have all the words they already need, right inside of themselves.

That is the writer's escape hatch. You can push her down into a quiet, dark place where her hardest, most fatalistic thoughts can just fucking have a go. Eventually, though, she'll come to her own defense. Out will come the pen and paper, and she'll stack word upon word upon word until she's made a ladder to climb up on.

The words never fail to fix. The pieces can always be puzzled through.

There is no disarming a writer whose weapon is invisible and timeless.

so it goes

Last night was the first night where thinking of you didn't feel like slicing off a piece of my stupid, unteachable heart. I think it was the breeze, which caught the thought that keeps catching me unprepared (bodysuit, so high, you had to help me find my way into it, did you still feel the same or were you already gonnnneee), unable to breathe.

Instead of pain there was nothing. A memory, factual. Neutral neurons, fired.

That's how I know your eviction notice has been served. And yes, the courts have been closed, granting you this rent-free stay. But everything is opening back up. I'll soon be sitting down with the constant ones in my life, the reliable rocks who'll tease me back to myself. 

At least he was better than... At least he didn't....

And I will be reminded of the small army to which you've enlisted yourself. Your rank and title among them my secret. Your files my privilege alone. You were best at x, you were worst at y. I lied about this (while you lied about that).

It will be easier and easier until one day I cannot believe becomes I cannot believe I and then finally, I cannot believe I ever.

And so it goes. 

legacy

My inbox is full of your invisible apologies. I'm writing them for you because I know you can't.

You should know the only thing I don't forgive are those final words, unjustified, untrue, and ugly. They threaten to stain my every last loving thought of you.

I even forgive the betrayal, the living lie you brought into our sacred space. I forgive it because I know how desperately you need distraction after distraction, to keep the demons at bay.

But here is the thing. They're not really at bay. They're there. You can shove all the guilt and shame you feel right now, over this unnecessarily cruel ending, under your bed and numb yourself to sleep. But while you're drooling on your pillow, they're crawling into your open backpack. Settling into your worn out pant pockets. Clicking with finality onto your keychain.

And if you don't figure out where the fear and pain comes from, your saga of self-sabotage will never end. And the things you try and hide from will never let you be.

The only words you should have said, if any, were It wasn't you. Or maybe Just know: you are enough. I know this, of course, and have good friends to tell me over and over, as many times as I need.

But for all I gave, for all I forgave, that is the one thing I can't get past. Do with this information as you like. Make it right or don't.

I know how to write the apologies I should have gotten.

straw, camel, back

Do you remember the first night? You touched me in some way that I made some noise. "Shhh," you whispered, and in that instant you owned me forever. But do you remember, also, me telling you how much I loved that you did that? "I can't wait 'til you do it again," I said. "Promise me you'll do that again, just exactly the same."

Only you never did. 

And that's what I'll remember. That you so easily could have made me so happy, with something so simple. But you didn't listen, or you didn't remember, or you didn't care enough. 

They say people will forget what you said and did, but they'll never forget how you made them feel.

---

I have been blocking and unblocking your number, like some kind of weird game of iPhone Russian Roulette. I block and tell myself I feel empowered. I unblock and tell myself I'm not waiting. 

Waiting is the thing that killed us, just so you know. Not this big long last wait, while you got enough power over your demons to open your life back up. Instead it was the dozens - literally, dozens - of small waits. The many, many, many times you left me waiting around for you. Made plans with me. Then just never showed up. Canceled. Chose something else. 

Saturday night was just one time too many of looking forward to being with you but being let down instead. I want the record to be crystal clear on that. That's all it was. One too many broken plans. 

The simplest explanation is sometimes the most heartbreaking, but I learned last time around that no explanation is just pure cruelty.

So that's why. Straw, camel, back. Broken.

tako kichi

There once was a girl determined to fly a broken kite. She didn't know it was broken, of course. Every time she couldn't get it skyward, she just made up a new excuse.

"Not enough wind today."

"The string must be too heavy."

"If only I could run faster..."

Some days she was so discouraged by her failure, all she could do was sit sadly, holding the kite, wishing desperately to see it soar. She ran her fingertips across its smooth paper, ignoring the splinter in her thumb. She wound its tail around her wrist over and again, loving the sense of being tied to something so beautiful. "Next time," she said. "Tomorrow for sure."

The girl didn't tell anyone about the trouble she was having. It was too embarrassing to admit. After all, she thought she had everything necessary to achieve flight.

Then one day, she found the crack in the kite's frame. It was large and obvious, and she felt stupid for not seeing it before. She let disappointment wash over her like icy wind, and tried not to feel angry about her wasted efforts. She admitted her shame to her friends, who laughed and hugged her. "The only thing you're being stupid about," they said, "is acting like that's the last kite on earth."

She smiled back, knowing they were right, even while thinking: Not the last. Just the one I wanted most. And then she noticed how welcome the cold breeze actually was: bracing and fresh and full of winter's calm. It was so cold that it threatened to freeze the tears on her face and keep them there forever - but she knew better about that, too.

in dreams

I have been dreaming about you - whoever the fuck you are.

Dreams that leave me breathless, bewildered, exhilarated, excited. There have been two now; the second, just today. They feel like a story, building.

So what were they? Hard to explain. We're running, partly to escape something, partly to reach something else. There is urgency but no fear. There is danger, but we aren't afraid. We move with superhero skill and speed through a dreamscape of dystopian obstacles that cannot stop us. We scale impossibly tangled metal fences; we swing across menacing divides.

All that is clear is that we are having the time of our fucking lives, because we know we are strong and safe in our connection. Everything that is ugly and painful in this world falls away in the rearview, because we are in on life's single most empowering secret. All we ever had to do was choose it  - and keep choosing it, every day.

I don't know what you look like. I only know how you make me feel, in the depths of my subconscious.

See you there again, or here one day, or neither, who knows.