Friday, December 28, 2012

Poison and antidote

I don’t sleep well here but when I do I dream the thick black outlines of me are being erased. This is a messy undertaking. It leaves eraser residue all over the page. Soon, very soon, I will become invisible.

I only wear gray threadbare sweatpants and write long winded stories on the shower door with a felt tip pen. Then, I stand back and watch the jet of hot water make the ink run until not a single word is legible.

I wake up at dawn without ever setting an alarm clock. Alarmless is what I have become. Mornings hurt, like a dry thud or a weight, despite the clear, white light that streams in through the skylight I have stared up at since I was a child.

I lie there, and know that the routine that engulfs me is a safe haven, necessary. But it’s rubbing me out. The only thing that makes you feel alive is what is destined to kill you; and yet what is safe obliterates you. Poison and antidote, indiscernible.

Before swinging my legs out of bed I wonder if I should examine myself, like one would immediately after a car accident. I assume I’d want to check my most fragile places first, so I ask an expert in crashes if this is what one does. His sensible advice is to start where the pain is. Except, I don’t know where the pain is. It’s a thread, and it’s sticky and thick and black and it runs through everything, and it’s making a mess, just like erasing my outline would, leaving residue all over the page.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


I have a lot on my mind.

I have taken to getting on the bus and staying on it until the end of the line, then getting out and riding it all the way back. Being in transit gives me the illusion of a suspension of time.

While on the bus, I find solace in its uneven movement. I look out into the San Francisco night and its soft glimmer and am reminded just how restorative, how indispensable beauty is.

I eavesdrop on conversations, which tend to cast my own bright life in a different, more forgiving speckled light.

I let my mobile devices take turns and think, think and work in an ambulatory setting with an ever-changing view where I am not interrupted. The resulting, partially accidental productivity settles me.

I am weary of platitudes. I don’t need reminders of the value of life or the importance of love or our lack of control or how change must be embraced ugh bla bla bla I already know. I know.

My role in this bus is that of an anonymous, probably disheveled, mathematically middle-aged woman. I am no one's friend, no one’s coworker or lover or daughter or sister or tenant. I need to do nothing here. I am no one here, just the weak, see-through reflection on someone's large, dark window pane; the high pitched, possibly grating, foreign language phone conversation another overhears, perhaps casting his own life in a different light.

And I have the most beautiful city in the world displaying itself to me, and it’s just a bit beyond my reach because really I am somewhere else right now.  Somewhere that exists only in a girl I used to be.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

What I've learned from Burning Man (and I haven't left yet)

I'm going to Burning Man.

If you don't know what this is, Google it and come back.

If you do know and are horrified and want to warn me, yes, I do know it's going to be dusty. Yes, I know it's going to be very hot. Yes, I know I won't be able to shower for as long as I’m there.

I also know I'll have a series of incredible epiphanies. I know this because I've already experienced some of those and haven't even left yet.

Here is what I've learned so far:

- How adverse us humans are at the prospect of being uncomfortable. When I mention I'm going to Burning Man, people have repeatedly mentioned the heat and the dust but no one has mentioned the art; and it's an art show. In the middle of nowhere. Of monumental installations. That cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and have no reason to be beyond “because”. A city of 50,000 people that only exists for a month out of the year. A place where those who go leave no trace.

More to the point, as much as I like watching TV while lying in bed, I don't learn much on a soft mattress surrounded by pillows. As much as I want my life to be just right, as much as I crave routine, it dulls my senses.

I know that incredible things happen when I operate outside my comfort zone. From growth to understanding myself better to the magic and power and joy of feeling alive.

- One of the big principles of Burning Man is "Radical self-reliance". Conversely, one of the big lessons I have learned in the past two years is how important it is for me to accept the humbling fact that I need to count on others. Not to mention, I know myself well enough to concede I would not survive more than a day or two alone in a harsh desert. As a result of this, I am making a frantic effort to cross-reference multiple shopping lists of things I will need on this adventure and trying to buy everything, everything, while struggling with the fact that I will have to rely on the generosity and patience of others to get me through (or to at least get me a shower.)

I texted an expert friend who kindly insisted on sharing some of his supplies with me. “Ugh” I wrote. "I swing between radical self-reliance and accepting your offer".

“The key” he shoots back “is to be flexible".

He is 23.

- And the biggest lesson of all. I suffer from an excess of efficiency. I am so in favor of efficacy I have stripped my life of complications (to the point that my refrigerator sits empty because going to the supermarket is not key to my survival.) I don't keep things I don't need - not even photographs.

What I seem to have lost along the way is that life and art and beauty and love all hide in the complex fabric that is inconvenience. Cooking an elaborate meal because it’s a pleasure; going to great lengths to think up a perfect costume because it’s fun; or even lying flat on your back for years in order to paint the Sistine Chapel.

So here you have me. Rather than rationally deciding not to go to Burning Man (which is, without a doubt, the decision the person formerly known as me would have made) I have spent the last two weeks poring over what I need for this art festival in the middle of the desert - from water to long gowns to headlamps to comfortable boots.

I have a bin full of things that used to fit squarely in my very large category of "utterly unnecessary".

And a deep, throbbing desire to be coated in that highly alkaline, incredibly fine dust that I have been promised will cover everything.

Friday, July 20, 2012

If she was here

This story is fiction, and it starts with his car flipping over on a highway at 2:30 in the morning. 

She's driving right behind him and sees the whole accident play out and it's so incredible she feels detached. As if her windshield was a movie screen.

Strictly speaking, though, this is the middle of the story. In the beginning, they are just kids. Maybe sixteen.

Sometimes - and this was very early on - she'd see him after school. He'd be waiting for somebody else, one foot leaning against his car (well, the one he borrowed from his dad); the collar of his polo shirt sticking up.

A year or two later he seemed to always be a part of the circle of close friends of whomever she happened to be dating.

He was easy to talk to. They would sit on the ledge of the roof of his house, legs dangling down, and smoke and speculate about the future. Would they remain friends? Move away? Would they forget each other? "You'll be a writer" he predicted "and I'll buy your best seller the second I come across it."

While the others drank rum and coke, played poker and listened to music (now "classic rock") the two of them would search for a quiet corner and sit on the rug, lean against the wall, and talk straight through the night. 

"Do you think it's true" she would ask, "that time heals everything?"

He'd regard her for a long while and exhale, making chains of perfect smoke circles. "Almost everything" he'd declare with authority. "Almost".

They talked about the pros and cons of the various people they were dating. Before long, anything he said seemed to have a hidden message. Her interpretation: "She’s not quite right, because she's not you".

One day right before dawn she asked him in a tone she hoped sounded clinical if he was a good kisser. "Well", he said with a cocky grin, "I've never gotten any complaints."

A few weeks later at a bar he was drunk and she was not and he walked towards her and she walked backwards and he walked towards her until her back was flush against an exposed brick wall. He put one hand on one side of her head and waited a full minute. He put the other on the other side. "We're friends", she whispered. "Then turn away" he replied as he inched his face towards hers. She didn't.

He called her early the next morning.  "Are we good?" Yes. "Are you sure?" Yes. "Well, am I a good kisser?" 

"Of all the guys I've kissed" she replied, "you're a solid #2".

They pretended they were friends for another few months before he confessed he loved her, had always loved her; and then proceeded to have the kind of relationship one would expect from two people stumbling through their early twenties.

If she were real, if she was here, what would I say to her? I would say be careful. I would say that every relationship tracks a path for the ones that follow so inexorable that one day you become unable to distinguish your past actions from your fate.

I would tell her what is already obvious to you: that nothing is more important than the connections you make.

That the people who have known you for years become sole witnesses to a piece of you no one will ever again understand.

And I would tell him that he was wrong. That time doesn’t really heal anything.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Amor geológico

Siguiendo la lógica de la ley física de la conservación, la que dicta que la energía ni se crea ni se destruye, sino que solo se transforma, lo que siento por ti no puede ser reciente. Ha estado aquí siempre.

Existían ya elementos de su composición química en la Nébula solar y en la explosión supernova que dio origen a este planeta. En el vapor marino de los asteroides que se transformó en agua salada, llenando acantilados de liquido vital y de especies de animales que todavía nadie conoce del todo.

Aquí estaba cuando se formó la inmensa curva azul del cielo. Cuando se trazó la línea nítida y recta del horizonte y se delinearon las masas continentales.  

Era ya un rastro de tinta en el libro que usaron los Dioses al principio, ese donde determinaron sin misericordia el destino de cada mortal.

Podemos inferir que existió mucho antes de la creación de la nostalgia. Antes de cualquier emblema. Antes de la religión y de la gestación de los laberintos que todos llevamos adentro. Antes de nuestro recuerdo más valioso y ancestral. Antes de la original formación de la ceniza de donde dicen que venimos.

Estaba ahí cuando se diseñó el trazo perfecto de las hojas de los helechos y el diseño geométrico del caparazón de las tortugas.

En uno de esos casos de elipsis temporal podríamos confirmar su evidencia en el polvo que cubre la colección de fósiles en todo museo de historia natural.

Ya nos iremos conociendo mejor tu y yo, dando espacio a ésta actual versión de nosotros. Pero como puedes ver, es inconsecuente la forma que le demos.

Inconsecuente, porque mucho después de dejar de ser lo que somos seguirá existiendo este mismo elemento, sus moléculas estables, intactas, libres, dispersas; quizás dándole el brillo a las telarañas y el verde a la hierba nueva.

Se verá su destello en los astros que algún día alguien conectará para ver formarse alguna anónima constelación o la evidencia de una historia que, como todo, ha existido desde siempre.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Our own Higgs Boson

As a lover of structure and order and answers, I wish I could pinpoint the second it all began. 

Perhaps it was when I first came across your photographs and captions. Their thoughtful selection betrayed an urgent wistfulness I was convinced was visible only to me.

Or maybe it was before we even met. You were tugging on me years ago, back when I first realized it was time to leave him and start over.

Maybe it was reading the list of things you couldn't live without and knowing I could easily ensure your survival by providing an endless array of good Japanese knives and a life replete with serendipity.

I guess it could have been later too. After I told you on the sidewalk that I would never get on a motorcycle with a stranger. Or later, after the homeless man in the gas station assured me that you were a keeper. Or later, after you grimaced the first time I experimentally called you my boyfriend.

Or yesterday, when I realized (again) that I need space and need you, both at the same time.

Of course, it's entirely possible that the answer doesn't exist. That there is a missing piece out there somewhere with the potential to elucidate not only how and when our universe - yours and mine - began but by extension how it works and how the most elemental pieces of us fit together.

It would interpret why the currently abstract matter that constitutes our relationship actually has mass. And how it, combined with gravity, gives weight to what we are inadvertently building.

Maybe some day in this lifetime we will find it, and it will explain everything.

Monday, May 7, 2012


He saves everything. The proud way his parents looked at him when he took his first steps. His school uniform, the notes he wrote to others in class while the teacher wasn’t looking. That box filled with old photographs, the sweater that belonged to his brother, his first love letter, the locket and the secret that it held. Later, records of every business card he ever received, unfinished plans, old formulas, proposals, even if they never saw the light of day.

She throws everything out. She doesn’t take pictures, and what others take she rarely looks at. She gives books away after reading them, scribbles in notebooks she disposes of once the pages are full. His past is his treasure. Her life is a strong, clear line that does not look back and is scrubbed clean of the memories he finds solace in replaying before falling asleep. She has difficulty keeping friends. She does not attach meaning to objects; favors clean surfaces and empty spaces over buying a quilt that will remind her of that trip she took, back when everything was different to the way things are now. She does not believe in souvenirs. 

They are the same, you see. He, terrified of losing something that was once his, if only for a moment, holds on to everything; she, convinced she can’t lose what she doesn’t have, holds on to nothing.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The antidote

To an empty refrigerator
A spacious bed
A clean floor
To having all the time in the world
To every matter I ever closed
Or gave up on
To every absolute
And prediction
To habit
Déjà vu
To independence
And carrying my own suitcase
To brittle promises
Existential questions
To nightmares
To suspicion
To forgetting
To remembering
To leaving early
To reason
To stale dreams I forgot what box I put in
To sensible shoes 
Gloveless hands 
Pulled-back hair
To the right time and the right place
To every day feeling like Wednesday

You are the antidote

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Morning light

What she wants is someone she can count on.

She dismisses the thought. She's vowed to count only on herself, to be nothing less than utterly independent. To never again be a burden on the person that she loves.

He wants to take care of her. He has to be cautious, though. Of not presuming too much, not being invasive, not transgressing on the tacit boundaries he imagines she has delineated. Of being better this time at preserving the careful balance of the life he has created for himself. 

So she does things without him. It's the smallest of these she most wishes she could share. Here. Taste this, how just-right the ratio milk/coffee/sugar is. Look at the view in this rosy light. Look at the long shadows of fall.

She's standing by the window, quietly sipping from the cup he just handed her. He wonders if he finally got her coffee right. If she sees how beautiful this city that could be theirs looks in the light of early morning.

I'd like to be a part of her life, he thinks as he leaves. But she doesn't need anybody.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Don't look back

I never look back
After we've kissed goodbye.

You think it's because
I'm quick to move on to other things 
My gait along the sidewalk strong, determined.

If you only knew.

I treasure believing you want to look at me for as long as possible.

I am certain I feel your eyes on the back of my neck
As I walk away.

I don't turn around because I couldn't bear to be disappointed.

To twist and find instead your back to me 
Your strong, determined gait far along the sidewalk
And realize that so quickly 
You've moved on to other things.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The seed

The photo you see above is the seed of a redwood tree. Sequoia Sempervirens. It's nothing short of a miracle. A minuscule, hard, unassuming package that contains - not the potential - (such a tired word, bland promise, assumption that weighs the recipient down with a vague sense of having to do something grand, but what?) but the ingredients (affirmative, inarguable, scientific, like chemistry) - needed to become one of the most majestic forms of life on the planet.

Have you ever visited a redwood tree grove? It's a religious experience, vast and peaceful, a thousand times more powerful than the most impressive man-made cathedral (with my respectful apologies to St. Peter’s Basilica.) 

Redwoods are the largest organism the world has ever sustained. They are so big that when you stand up against one, hug it (do it) and look up, it blocks out the sky.

The seed of a redwood tree does not sprout easily. It needs a combination of very specific conditions. All of what you would expect: nutrient-rich soil, and water, and humidity. But here is the astonishing thing: a redwood seed cannot germinate without fire.

It works more or less like this: nature makes certain that sooner or later, fire sweeps through a forest. Redwood trees tend to survive it because their thick, moist, textured bark is rich in tannins, which are burn resistant and protect the redwood. The fire clears the space (by burning everything around the redwood), allowing sunlight to reach the seed. Everything the fire burned turns to an ashy mulch, which provides nutrients to the soil. And, now, for the Pièce de résistance: The very life of the fire, its heat, cracks open the otherwise impenetrable shell of the seed.

And there you have it: previously dormant, this seed is free to become what it was meant to.

Despite their remarkable resistance to fire, redwoods can be fragile. They're often covered in (burn) scars (which I suppose add character). They hate the cold. But, a redwood can survive in places too dark for any other tree. In deep shade, it doesn’t die. It waits. Once hit by light, a primal command tells it what to do. It sprints for the sun, growing up to two feet per year.

A redwood tree is so much more than what you see, even if what you see is nearly overwhelming in its splendor and dignity. It's actually a vertical universe (Richard Preston, in his magical book The Wild Trees, calls it a vertical Eden.) These trees, that predate most human monuments, have a kingdom of plants and animals living in their branches, lichens and ferns and salamanders that cannot be found in any other ecosystem. In Preston’s words “Their mysterious canopies are rich with hanging gardens, blackened chambers hollowed by fire, and vast, aerial trunk systems fused into bridges and towers”.

The purpose implicit in the seed of the redwood is not just a redwood tree, but a glistening green planet teaming with life in its endless combinations.

What is my point here? My point is that we each have a similar kernel of divinity, indestructible and perfect, within each of us. That its magic branches out into everything we set out to build: our lives, our relationships and families and careers. This force inside all of us could be dormant, waiting for the right conditions to unfurl into something so extraordinary that it would be impossible to grasp or even begin to understand.

But it’s there. In you. In me. You just wait and see.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


I grounded terrestrial logical overachiever dependable a loner a planner sole master of my fate haven’t seen her in so long this girl her bare feet secret diaries her free-fall eternal possibly calamitous her reverse swandive/skydive (not to fall but to fly) outlookless

Her vigor carnal adolescent irrational social inventive un-analytical she is unafraid chaotic kinetic keeps me up with her incessant dreaming wants to move to a fragrant country has taken up praying

I hope she stays a while