If a woman has artificial flowers in her house, flowers that need dusting twice a year but never die, she is closing herself off from any understanding of death.
—May Sarton, Journal of a Solitude
Yesterday I woke up at 4 am to wild flashes of lightning through my window, the shade pulled all the way up. There has been steady lightning here at night without the accompanying sounds of thunder, and very little rain. The July monsoons have mostly left, but the remains linger. The roses from April are back, but less abundant and more wilted. A few butterfly bush blooms from May are here again, but they look a little lost and confused amongst all their dead comrades.
The spiral of time is melting into a muddy-colored puddle.
And the peace I felt here is starting to feel like vines growing around my shoulders and over my mouth. The kitchen is the darkest room in the house—the most central room in the house, how apt. There used to be a kitchen window, but an add-on was built by the previous owner, so where there used to be a window is instead a hole looking into the wall of a hallway and upon that wall is a rainbow-colored zebra.
Paintings on walls and windows looking into halls will never be able to light up a room.
The dark rooms are seeped with sadness and the walls here are too thin. But apparently thick enough to be unable to hear a person’s cries for help.
Things feel like they’re dying here. The dogs are getting old and creaky. The parents constantly discuss and plan their upcoming retirement. The little brother’s ashes sit in an urn, out of sight.
I cut some perky yellow roses the other day and put them in a vase and the next day they were completely hunched over.
Same. I don’t like being inside this house either. I’m sorry for doing you dirty.
Part of me knows this is good. Being uncomfortable is good. Up until recently, I couldn’t imagine myself actually moving out of my parents’ house again. I definitely hadn’t planned to live with them for the past two years, but I lacked the courage to leave. Except when my desire to leave was motivated by shame, feeling like a pathetic 27-year-old loser who couldn’t get her fucking shit together.
I finally, though, gave myself enough kindness and grace to examine this lethargy around moving out. And I realized I’m carrying lots of trauma from the past, making me feel unsafe out in the world.
As if to validate the reality of these fears, two weeks ago I finally set an energetic intention to move out *soon* (no deadline yet, but the intention helps put the heat on), and that very night I had a bad dream about it.
I dreamt that I found this amazing old two-story home for rent in a valley in Idaho, overlooking a river and a field of horses. The rent was only $500 a month, and it sounded too good to be true, so I asked the realtor to explain the pricing to me. She started pointing out a lot of flaws with the house, including the fact that it was cluttered with the previous owner’s possessions, an old man who had died in the home and no one came to claim his stuff. Haunted house? I can handle that for $500 a month. Easy.
And then the day after I signed the lease and moved in, my neighbor broke in and stabbed me repeatedly with a butcher knife and then I woke up. The end.
It’s what happened the last time I moved out. I mean, I didn’t get physically stabbed with a knife, but definitely did emotionally. Everything was magical in the beginning, everything was working out perfectly, it felt too good to be true, and my happiest adult memories were made. And then everything went to shit. Everything broke down, and my most traumatic adult memories were made. I didn’t feel safe in my own home but I had nowhere else to go and I’m still trying to process everything that happened because writing it all out sounds like the suffering olympics because there was just so. much. shit. And I hate that.
But now I know. I’m afraid of good things because I think they’re going to turn bad. I don’t trust myself to create a stable home environment away from my parents. I’m projecting fears of the past onto my future and it’s keeping me stuck sitting at a desk in a room in my parents’ home like Emily Dickinson. I resonate with her so much, I feel her in my soul as if I reincarnated with bits of her in me, I love her deeply—but I don’t want to live like her in that sense, with my parents, for the remainder of my life.
I don’t have a specific location in mind for when I leave. I want to get in my car and drive. Pretty much every day in my journal I find myself writing, “I just want to be free. I want to slim down and have independence.”
Slim down, minimize, zig while they zag.
Like the very first concert I ever went to (Skillet, in 2009), me and my friends were all in the mosh pit and I quickly learned how to move with the crowd so I could move through the crowd. I felt like a little water bug: flow with the mass and then dart through the narrow gaps to get to the front. Until some skank bitch yanked on my ponytail to jerk me backwards so she could take my spot at the front (but that’s beside the point . . . I just feel sad that there are people in the world who must resort to such measures to get ahead in life . . . but I digress . . . lol).
Life is not so slim and zippy lately. It’s heavy and slow. I feel tied to the crowd.
There are so many packages being delivered to the house. Several packages a week. New ones arrive before old ones are even completely opened and unpacked and dealt with. Boxes everywhere. Boxes to fill the hole created by the death of a son.
The amount of stuff in this house is at a level that makes me feel pinchy and claustrophobic. Even my room started getting uncomfortably full. Which is weird because I’ve long been a minimalist vagabondy type person. Nothing makes me happier than sauntering alone through the world with a single backpack.
Plus I hate shopping, so I’m really confused as to how the fuck there came to be so much shit compiled in my room. Are people giving me stuff? I really can’t remember. Very rarely are the boxes on the front porch addressed to me.
But the fact remains: there is too much stuff and I find it difficult to leave the house.
The reason the stuff accumulates and life stops flowing is due to trauma. Everyone’s favorite buzzword. Trauma traps your emotions leading you to re-live that shit on a loop, causes health problems, leads to addictions.
Finally starting to admit that the past got me fucked up and I was too wounded to deal with it, has helped me to slowly untangle from the pile of stuff everywhere. I find it an easier task now to compile things to donate, shred papers, let go of attachment. I even have a budget and am contributing to my IRA and savings each month. Pretty adorable of me, I know.
I don’t want to be stuck with stuff. I want to be free flowing.
A frozen, stuck-with-stuff life terrifies me.
When my brother Zach died last year, we fought over . . . the remains. My dad wanted his ashes stored in a mausoleum in Idaho. I told him that was creepy as fuck. His ashes, for now, are stored in a purple urn, somewhere unknown in the house, as I freaked out at the idea of them being on display. My mom asked us siblings if we wanted little mini urns with some of his ashes. I told her absolutely not.
I’ve been an ornery bitch throughout this whole process.
I’ve always found “death stuff” to be fascinating in a general sense: open caskets at funerals, this dead body display we saw at a museum in Portland when we were teens, skulls and bones, walking around cemeteries at night like every other anemic insomniac writer chick.
But when it comes to my brother, when it’s fucking personal, I hate everything. Associating this shit with my brother sucks.
We’re not supposed to cling to the remains of death like this. Not when it’s done as a coping mechanism for pain.
These two concepts are colliding.
My brothers ashes being trapped inside an urn, and me feeling like I’m slowly being buried alive at my parents’ house.
I love my parents, I truly do, but I need to be free. I’m trying.
I’m not ready to settle down like a coffin in the ground or an urn on display. I want to be unfettered like ashes on the wind. Under a tree or in the river. I want to explore the earth before my body becomes a part of it. I’m not scared of death personally. I’m scared of other people’s fears. I can feel their fear like a palpable substance in the air. I’m scared of a frozen life. Gone too soon. Trapped by hasty decisions and restrictive belief systems and heavy fear.
Ghost house, get out.
I think I’m afraid here because Zach didn’t get to live enough life. And now they want to store his ashes in the same house where he died. I just . . . want him to be free. And I want my parents to be free.
Grief can bury us while we’re still alive.
I feel more myself again after facing my fears and traumas. Meditating, journaling, crying. The usual. Whatever it takes to get the weight off. I feel more like the me who hopped on buses and trains, slept on benches and in parking lots, dumpster dived for groceries, hitchhiked.
I don’t have to sit at a desk in my parents’ house for the rest of my life like Emily Dickinson. I really did accept that as my fate for a while. But the fire is coming back. The heavy greasy lethargic layers are peeling, healing.
This poem by Laurie Halse Anderson, from her book Shout, perfectly sums up how I’m feeling now, so I’ll leave you with it:
I can’t stand this
I can’t stay here
I should leave
I want to leave
rose into a tidal wave of
The desert rat carries one distinction like a halo: he has learned to love the kind of country that most people find unloveable. Call the desert barren, harsh, bitter, dreary and gloomy, acrid and arid, lifeless, hopeless, ugly as sin, ghastly as the gates of hell—he will happily agree with you. Because in his heart lies the secret belief that the awful desert is really sweet and lovable, that the ugly is really beautiful, that hell is home.
—Edward Abbey, Beyond The Wall
Storm clouds overhead? Good. What’s July in the desert without a cloudburst?
—Edward Abbey, Beyond The Wall
I tried to describe impossible things like the scent of creosote—bitter, slightly resinous, but still pleasant—the high, keening sound of the cicadas in July, the feathery barrenness of the trees, the very size of the sky, extending white-blue from horizon to horizon, barely interrupted by the low mountains covered with purple volcanic rock. The hardest thing to explain was why it was so beautiful to me . . .
—Stephenie Meyer, Twilight
If the bible has any sort of truth to it, it would appear that humans originated in tropical areas. The vapor covering the earth, keeping everything cool and hydrated. Maybe people who are living in tropical lush geographies in present day are living much closer to heaven on earth than the rest of us. That elusive Eden.
I wonder what that says about me though, drawn to the most hellish landscape that exists.
Drawn to the desert.
It was after I began my exit from Christianity at the end of 2017 when I started to realize my pull towards the desert. I had just left a more heavenly place, too. I’d been working at a camp in the woods near Salem, Oregon. It was green and lush and I was even learning about foraging in the natural landscape, a hands-on experience to how life-giving the earth is. I dreamed of putting down roots there.
But I was quite sick. Physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Working for another Christian corporation right after bible college when I barely believed in any of it anymore made me ill. I was often bedridden and unable to work. I swallowed too many pain pills at night to help me relax enough to get to sleep. Every time I took a breath, I had a coughing fit. I was so allergic to the area, to the constant drizzling, to the belief system I was contractually obligated to pass onto young children—that I was sick for months. One day after work a fellow camp counselor slipped me one of his allergy pills, thinking it would help me. I took it without hesitation, zero clue as to how it would affect me. That evening I had a date in the car of my make-out buddy, a different camp counselor. Just a little bit of squeaky clean virgin angst to help the both of us survive a place that we weren’t meant for. I nearly fell asleep in his lap once the drug kicked in. The blurry chemical exhaustion thrilled and terrified me—the feeling of not having to think, of not having control.
A few days later I was put on mental health leave by the camp directors. They learned about my pain pill popping and figured I was depressed. After a week of resting at someone’s house, away from camp, I decided I absolutely could not go back.
My parents flew me back to Las Vegas. I left behind most of my possessions for my roommates, in order to fit a couple duffle bags onto my budget flight.
Within two weeks of being in Nevada, I was completely cured. Two weeks of solitude, no pressure to go to church, no one peering inside my mind to see what I believed. Just rest. Just me and my body on a bed in a warm room. I felt safe and happy and healthy.
Thus began my official deconstruction from Christianity, and the realization that my body and soul felt at peace in the desert. Not a passive peace. One that subtly sunk its claws into me, distorting my vibrations and rearranging them into a new pattern. One that would require everything I had—and more—to be able to reap the benefits of it.
I left Eden to enter hell, and it turns out I like the heat.
The desert requires a sort of mediative state to gracefully live through it. This place makes me dry out and crack and it smoothes me out like a pumice stone on calloused soles. Calloused souls, kicked out of Eden, have a home here.
It’s a lovely hostile house.
There comes a time every summer, though, where I just can’t fucking stand the place any longer. Usually in July, the hottest period. The cicadas provide constant background noise for weeks on end, a buzzing electric sizzle that grinds on my nervous system. The dogs are restless and panting all damn day and I just can’t stand to be around them, their hot breaths and neediness blowing in my face. The white sound of oscillating fans and the frigidity of fake conditioned air irritate me to no end. A heat-driven compulsive hustle builds in me and I end up making rash decisions.
In hindsight, July is the month where I should be doing very little. Be still. Conserve water.
In reality, halfway through July is when I hit a breaking point.
To set a silly scene: there was this guy I was “talking to” last winter but then he ghosted me but then I found out I was going to be in his part of the world at the end of this summer for a wedding so I thought maybe I’d hit him up to go on some of the outings we’d talked about and maybe when he saw me in person it would reignite all the sparks but then I found out he was actually dating someone so I started bawling because of the fact that he got to know me super well over FaceTime but then obviously found me to be lacking and then found someone better.
Well . . . I thought I was crying over him but then fifteen seconds later all I could think of was my dead brother. His face, his name, his absence.
This crush was good friends with my brother back in the day and he has unaccessed memories of him that I crave. When we first starting talking more consistently last year, he told me we could talk about my brother anytime I wanted. It felt good to have someone in my life who was connected to him.
Being ghosted felt like a betrayal. How dare he close himself off from me and hoard his memories of my brother. It’s not right for anyone to do so. Line up at the door and tell all, please.
Breaking point: no one wants you and your brother is gone and everything feels like death.
In addition: your period starts, it’s hot as fucking shit, and you can’t stop crying.
Literal blood. Sweat. Tears.
You think maybe it’s time to move again. Run away and start fresh, again. Maybe it’s time to go north again.
And then: BOOM.
That feeling of aliveness. Shock to the system. Drenched to the soul fifteen seconds later.
The streets flooding. Earth shattering thunder. Lightning that could split the sky in two.
I am so big. I am so small.
I am in Eden after all.
This, for me, is heaven on earth. These two polarities. The heat and the flood. Because they’re so dramatic, they cleanse me to my bones.
And I think this is why, though I thought Oregon was like my soulmate state or something, it ended up being a rather torturous place for me. The constant dripping, poking, prodding. I thought I would mimic the lush growth of my environment, but inwardly I felt a little bit dead. Stalled out. Just waiting waiting waiting for the rain to stop. Never feeling at peace. My second day at this camp, I asked my roommate Savannah when the rain was going to stop. She, naturally, gave a great belly laugh and didn’t answer my question.
I am not the tortoise in the parable, but rather the hare. I didn’t then and still do not understand the steady plodding constant pace of the rain. I was born in the desert and will likely die there and that’s all I know. The desert is a place where you dance in the rain every single time, because it’s mad and rushed and short-lived and wonderful. A quick sprint and a long rest.
That wretched Saturday when all emotional and physical hell broke loose, I slept better that night than I had in a long time. After the rushing rain, after the healing tears, after a warm shower, after the period pills, the earth has cooled down, the ground smells good—and I had a breakthrough on my energetic pattern around romantic relationships and I felt at peace finally reaching a starting point to deal with this issue. An issue that had been dead and fused into my belief system had cracked open from the heat and washed out from the flood.
I slept so incredibly good that night. Blissfully good. I felt giddy and happy, with a squeaky clean body and soul.
It’s a strange soul that’s drawn to the desert. A place that’s known for its cliches of lone tumbleweeds blowing in the wind, abandoned ghost towns, wild west gunslinging, and random animal skulls just chilling on a fence post or something. A place that looks like death to many people. (It sort of seems to me like there couldn’t possibly be many evangelical Christians who love the desert like I do. Religion is muggy and has a large immaculate green suburban front lawn.)
One of my earliest memories as a kid is walking alone along the barbed wire border of our ten acre property in the high desert of southern Idaho and stopping in my tracks to watch dozens of maggots crawl over a coyote corpse. (I grew up saying “kai-yoat” rather than “kai-yoat-ee.” Apparently it’s a rural thing.)
Disgusting, I thought, at the kai-yoat carcass. Fascinating, I thought.
Maybe that experience set me on a course for my life. The more I get to know the desert intimately and the more I look death in the eye without any of its heavy perfumed niceties, the more alive I feel.
There is life in the desert and death completes the cycle of life.
It is beautiful and painful, joyous and heartbreaking.
I feel emotions more prominently in the desert. Everything is sharper here. Here is where I left the foggy haze of religion and found the stark reality of God. The shadows are darker here because the light is stronger. I don’t want to drip and drizzle my way through life. I want to be at peace in the heat or I want to rage within the storm.
This pattern shows up in many ways in my life, this ebb and flow, this parable hare. In my love of rock climbing and hatred of hiking. Why endure a sickening steady plod up a mountain when you could instead rip your way up a boulder and then kick back on a crash pad and watch your friend do it next?
Of course, I am learning to implement small consistent changes and routine in my life. Not everything is dramatic. If my life was a movie, the day-to-day stuff would either look really peaceful or really fucking boring. And I like it that way.
But in matters of the heart, things that bring out the strongest emotions in me like writing and rock climbing and nature and romance—I am not steady at all. I welcome the heat and the flood, the cracks and the blood, the ebb and the flow, the stop and the go.
Secretly I think I’m a phoenix, and that burning is good for me. Burn me to a crisp. Douse the heat with a storm. Emerge from the puddle, dripping black ash and red blood, a wobbling fledgling. Dry off in the heat. And take to the sky once more, stronger and sharper and freer.
I promise to love the desert with all my heart, until death do we part.
“You have found your style at last,” said her father. “You put your heart into it.”
—Louisa May Alcott, Little Women
I’ve noticed that the writings of mine I love the most are my notebook rants, where I just pour out the thoughts in my head, the things on my heart. It’s when I try to clean them up through editing that I begin to like them less and less.
It feels like mono-cropping. Editing feels like chopping down a diverse messy wooded area and planting rows of corn. Year after year of planting the same crops strips the soil of nutrients and richness.
My goal with writing is to connect with others who feel the way I feel, who see the world like me, to open their minds, to make them feel less alone. My goal is not to be professional but to connect.
Why am I so concerned with editing?
Because I’m afraid that the words from my heart don’t make sense to others.
When I was in bible college, I broke up with my boyfriend there because we were moving in with his parents in Mexico in a couple months and he wanted to marry me the following year. And I was afraid of losing my independence, afraid of binding my life to his. I felt too young. I hadn’t done anything with my life.
I became sick and feverish after ending our relationship and I began to write him letters while bedridden in my dorm room. I missed him, I loved him, I wanted to build a life with him, I felt safe with him, I was sorry for being afraid.
Less straightforward than that, more fever dream.
But the letters, while feverish, concluded with me saying I made a mistake, I wanted to be with him.
We met up a week after our break-up, on a bench across from my room. I gave him the letters and watched his face as he read them. His eyes were a mixture of blankness, confusion, and anger. Finally he looked at me, gestured at the letters in his hand, and said, “What is this?”
“I . . . “ My voice cracked. I cleared my throat. “I want to get back together. That’s pretty much what I was trying to say.”
“Good,” he said. “My cousin’s in town and going to be visiting campus in a few hours and I didn’t want to have to tell her we broke up.” He picked up his bike. “I’ll text you when she’s here. Make sure you’re ready to leave by then.”
And he biked away without another word.
I looked down at the bench. My letters were lying there pathetically, like a crumpled white rose. To you, with love from me. And he didn’t take them with him. I picked them up and held them to my chest, feeling cold and numb and afraid again.
We didn’t stay together for long after that. I broke up with him again, for good that time.
But that fear never left me, of giving someone I loved pieces of my heart on paper, and having them rejected.
I got into a pattern of writing letters to guys only after they rejected me. A love letter to an ex-boyfriend after he broke up with me because he couldn’t handle long distance. He texted me that he got my letter but couldn’t bring himself to read it, so he stored it somewhere, out of sight, unopened. Last year I told a friend I had feelings for him and he said, “I don’t know what to say.” The letter I wrote him afterwards is in a dresser drawer and I’m very glad I never sent it.
The biggest heartbreak I experienced was three years ago. I was in love with my roommate, and he with me, but of course it was all unspoken. But then he ran into his ex while at the beach and felt some sort of “sunk cost” with her, felt the need to try to rekindle things because they had so much history.
He came back to me, to our house, a few days later with whispered apologies, and my days with him after that were some of the happiest memories of my life. But he left again when he found out she was pregnant, and he tried to destroy my life after that.
I wrote him multiple letters of course. I’d never felt more myself, open and free, than I did with him, and haven’t felt like that with anyone since then.
I thankfully didn’t give him the letters but a year later I published a short love story about him teaching me how to surf. I didn’t identify him in any way, but an old roommate sent it to him and he unblocked me to tear me down. “Me and our old roommates had a nice laugh at that garbage you wrote. You’re delusional, and no one will ever love you.”
Why am I equating “writing authentically from my heart for my online readers” to “love letters I write to boys who hurt me”?
Well, why do I only tell people I love them after they’re gone?
I’m afraid of rejection. But I want to be honest. To admit to someone the depths of your feelings for them is to risk pain and rejection. So if I wait until I’m already in agonizing heartbreak pain, then additional pain won’t really be noticeable.
I guess I see the things I write and share publicly as love letters from me to you. “This is what’s on my heart. I know there’s someone else out there who feels like this. You’re not alone.”
I’m afraid that no one else feels like me, so I edit my heart words into oblivion. Try to mask them with style and professionalism. And thus, most of them rot away in my drafts folder.
Maybe the unedited writings from my soul will feel like fever dream letters to someone, not worth keeping, but that’s okay. I’d rather connect with the right people than make perfect sense to all the people.
While I’m not ready to risk more romantic pain any time soon, I am ready to put more “delusional garbage” on the internet. Because I love my words and I know I have good things to say and I know someone out there feels the same way I do.
And I want you to know that I love you.
Human feet aren’t planted into the ground, so most of us don’t think about how fundamentally connected to the earth our bodies are.
—Michael Gungor, This
For a man who had been so intimate and deep in his conversation, he was very detached in the moment. Maybe if you lived as many lives as he had, the only person you really had any kind of intimate relationship with was yourself.
—Matt Haig, The Midnight Library
Sometimes I have trouble sleeping.
It’s not like I’m tossing and turning, mentally replaying weird conversations, worrying about inflation, contemplating the meaning of existence. The “what if” anxiety that plagues many people. I don’t know much, but I at least know how to control my thoughts and meditate myself to sleep.
But it seems as though, instead, I suffer from nighttime vertigo.
I remember occassionally experiencing this as a kid. The symptoms were strange, though not cause for alarm. But now it’s happening every single week, multiple days a week.
When I’m in bed, lights off, and my body finally starts to relax, different body parts starting to get sort of warm and numb, the way it feels right before you fall asleep, sometimes that numbness makes me disassociate. My hands feel massive and so swollen that I can’t bend my fingers, and then my mind repetitively envisions me fruitlessly trying to pick up a tiny object. Or people flash close and far, as quickly as the ticking of a clock. Tick, they’re right in front of my face. Tock, they’re on the other end of a massive room. Tick, they’re in my face again. Or it feels like a very large person is sitting on me and I can’t move. Or I feel like my body is floating to the edge of the bed and that I’m going to fall off, but I don’t. Sometimes all of those things are happening at once. It’s not sleep paralysis. I’m fully awake and able to move my body. It all stops once I move and readjust. The problem with readjusting is that it brings me out of the warm sleepy state and I have to start the “trying to fall asleep” process all over again.
I’ve tried not moving, holding still and calm while my mind goes nuts, hoping that I’ll just fall asleep and be done with it all, but if I don’t move, it all just intensifies until I feel like I’m going to throw up.
I wonder if getting a weighted blanket would help, if consistent weight pressed down over my entire body would help me stop disassociating as I’m falling asleep. My brother Zach had a weighted blanket. I started thinking about it a few months after he died, wondering if anyone would mind if I claimed it. It seemed like a very comforting idea to curl up under it, in his specifically, the way it’s comforting to wear his t-shirts. I’m currently wearing his cute yellow and white striped t-shirt. It fits me perfectly. He had the best fashion sense out of all of us. But I wonder what prompted him to buy the weighted blanket. I remember when he got it, he excitedly showed it off to me. He seemed to like buying comforting objects. His weighted blanket, his big hooded robe, his fluffy bedroom rug, his lavender bubble bath.
The blanket was nowhere to be found in his tiny bedroom. My mom and I both looked, because she also out of the blue started to be curious of its whereabouts. Finally she decided to call, I’m not sure who. There were so many different people that day, that week. The police, the coroner, the perky emotional support lady who I wanted to punch in the face, the people in jumpsuits with a gurney and a body bag, the mortician, the dead body house cleaning service. Who did she call? I have no idea. But they said yes, his weighted blanket was taken. It had been soaked with blood.
Scratch the weighted blanket idea.
Maybe I should get a warm and breathing boyfriend and then I can ask him to lay on top of me so I don’t detach from the earth and fly out into the abyss. The last time I had an actual (Instagram official) boyfriend, four and a half years ago, he came to visit me and was supposed to sleep in my room while I was ordered by my mother to sleep on the couch.
But perhaps the second night of his visit, my mom fell asleep on the couch watching TV and I accidentally fell asleep in a chair in another room waiting for her to wake up so I could go to bed. It was super late and it was January and a bit chilly and I woke up to my boyfriend piling pillows on top of me to keep me warm. Everyone was asleep and he didn’t know where anything was so, pillows. He said “I used to do this as a kid.” I felt so warm and loved and safe under all those pillows.
Looking back though, I should have just cuddled up in my bed with him.
I respected my parents too much to break rules in their house, but I definitely broke rules when I attended bible college a few years earlier. It was super strict there and PDA wasn’t allowed. I remember being horrified one evening when this wannabe pastor boy did like a practice sermon at one of our chapels, and at the end of it he called his girlfriend up to the stage and proposed to her. I wouldn’t have said yes to that kind of garbage proposal, but of course the girlfriend did. Then they chastely hugged, until one of the head honchoes at the college whispered something in the pastor bro’s ear, and the lad pulled away from the hug and planted a smackeroo on his new fiancé’s lips. Everyone whooped and hollered “OHH SNAP THEY’RE KISSING” but I rolled my eyes so fucking hard. Like . . . they had to get permission to kiss after getting engaged. Gag me with a spoon.
I had a bible college boyfriend who I loved to go camping with, and sometimes we got super angsty and were just like, fuck campus. During weeks when we couldn’t get away to go camping, we’d occasionally drive off at night, park at the edge of the Winco Foods parking lot, and squeeze into his sleeping bag. We never had sex, though we did laugh at all the kids who got kicked out of school for getting caught doing the deed.
I loved the whispered campus gossip. “Hey, where’s so-and-s0? I haven’t seen them around for a while.” “Oh, so-and-so got caught sleeping with so-and-so, and they both got booted.” So good.
I didn’t want to have sex with my boyfriend, and he never did or said anything to suggest he wanted it either, so we’d just make out for a bit, cuddle up, and sleep. I loved the tight comfort of sharing a sleeping bag, being safe and warm with him. I loved that my body felt safe with him, but when we were done talking for the night, I was free to think and imagine whatever I wanted.
Safe body, free mind.
But eventually they want the mind to conform or they don’t like what the body is doing. When they start assuming or expecting, that’s when my mind starts to drift or my body gets rigid. It’s like the ease and connection between my body and mind never stay in tact for very long. Like passing through a veil. It’s either one or the other, only connected for fleeting moments.
Another bible college story:
I had a strange experience during my first semester there, in 2014. There was this outdoor worship night going on in one of the gazebos. It was pretty early on in the semester and I didn’t know very many people yet, so I was just sitting with my roommates on a spread of bohemian blankets. I always got pretty overwhelmed with drawn out worship events, so after a bit I just laid back in the grass and looked up at the stars, trying to detach from the emotional hype of the environment and not get anxiety about being stuck there with all that noise.
While looking at the stars, I suddenly got really cold and felt like I was floating. It was like I was in space or something, and all of sudden I found myself pleading with God to just free me from the earth, from my body, so I could fly among the stars. But after maybe a minute or two of that, I got really warm and felt like I was leaving the sky and being pressed into the earth. I could feel the vibrations in the ground from all the bodies that surrounded me. I don’t really know what that was all about, but at the time I thought it was a message about longing to go to heaven but being told that I was here on earth for a purpose and couldn’t leave yet.
Maybe that’s still the message, in a less Christianly way.
Every personality test I take tells me I value my individuality above all else, that I’m flighty and airy. If astrology holds any weight at all, I’m a triple air sign (gemini sun, libra moon, gemini rising). Floaty, detached, not all quite there.
I took this test called a “dosha” test, which according to Ayurvedic medicine is your body’s “bio-energy center.” I got “vata,” which represents space and air, the physical characteristics of which are: thin body frame, sensitive digestion, energetic, dry skin, cold hands and feet, and sudden bouts of fatigue and tiredness. Which very much describes me. One of the remedies for this energy type is to consume “heavy” foods like porridge, soup, stew. The remedy is always to ground. To not be so free that I lose awareness of my body, and in the process, lose my mind next.
I don’t know what my brain wants. I know I can’t fly. I don’t want to die. Maybe this is why I like meditation. It’s like a body/earth detachment in a very safe way. Maybe I should learn astral projection next.
Maybe I was a bird in my last reincarnation and there’s still some of that energy in me, my ancient body wondering why I’m tethered to the earth when clearly I was meant to soar. Maybe that’s my lesson to learn in this body’s lifetime. How to access freedom without my feathered wings.
I want to be here. I want to be grounded. I want to give love. I want to be present. I want to look someone in the eyes and say, “yes I’m here, I see you, I’m in this moment for you, I’m pressed into the earth for you.”
Maybe that’s something I have to learn to say to myself before I can say it to another person.
I will stay. I will stay. I’m not going anywhere. I’ll stay here for a hundred years if my body is up for it. If my body is willing to hold me down for that long.
But when I die, hallelujah, by-and-by, I’ll fly away.
If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.
—Sun Tsu, The Art of War
There’s a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don’t, and the secret is this: it’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write. What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.
—Steven Pressfield, The War of Art
I’ve forgotten about Resistance.
It’s often depicted as a dragon, either slowly circling above in the sky, easy to see approaching, or standing right in front of you, belching flames. It’s the ego, the devil, the toxic thoughts—the obstacle you need to get past to pursue your dreams or whatever. To get something that’s important to you fucking accomplished.
But the dragon is a terrible visualization of Resistance, because it leads to the delusion that it’s an external force or that it’s this big obvious thing you can see coming right away.
Unfortunately it’s all much sneakier than that.
To understand Resistance properly, one needs to understand the mind. Because that’s where all obstacles flow from. And from my experience and experiments, the mind makes things appear bigger or worse than they actually are. Because we perceive reality through our minds, any contrary thought that pops up in opposition to a lofty goal or worthy ideal appears as an insurmountable obstacle.
Hence, our thoughts are the sole reason why we don’t do what we fucking want.
So why haven’t I written anything this month? Because of my bullshit thoughts. Here’s a look at my “dragons” this month:
“I can’t write. I have more inner work to do on myself first before I can keep publicly displaying my thoughts and words. I need to heal more so I don’t accidentally put my trauma on display and make the world a worse place.”
“I can’t write. I’m too tired. I’m probably depressed or have chronic fatigue. I need to hold space for myself and take a break from writing until I feel 100% perfect. It’s just the season I’m in right now.”
“I can’t write. I need to organize all the documents and files of everything I’ve written in the past several years. This will actually really help the process of writing my memoir, so it’s okay if I stop writing while doing this organization project.”
UGH. Gag me.
The mind is so potent that when these thoughts were living rent-free in my head, they felt so practical and justifiable. But seeing them written out like this pisses me off so much, because now I see how stupid they actually are. There’s something about writing a thought down on paper that makes it lose its power (in a good way). You’re able to see it objectively, from a distance. (Of course, there’s a way to infuse your writing with intentional energy to make the thought MORE potent, not less, but that’s a topic for another time;)
I remember a couple years ago when I was still on social media, a writer I like named Amie McNee posted that one of her limiting beliefs she had to overcome was that she couldn’t be a writer because she sucked at spelling. At the time I thought that was so fucking lame, like rolling my eyes, thinking, “Some of us have actual real shit to deal with.”
But truly it’s no different, no lamer than my own thoughts. Lame or not, if these thoughts go unchecked, they WILL cripple us.
The thought I struggle with the most when it comes to my writing is all the capital “I’s” that infest my paragraphs. They look like flimsy toothpicks, standing tall but feigning stability. I love memoir and essay style writing, which requires me to talk about myself, or talk about things through the lens of Ally Brennan. And my thoughts love to attack me on this. They call me self-absorbed, shallow, limited, unhelpful, and that I’m not even egoic enough to at least be entertaining. My thoughts say I’ll never be a real writer unless I go back to writing fiction, or that I should be directly helping people solve a specific problem by writing in a topical niche style.
I guarantee that if I actually switched to fiction writing, my brain would tell me, “You’re wasting people’s time with these silly stories. The world doesn’t need them. You should be helping people by writing practical articles, with expert teachings and solutions, not hiding behind these made up fantasies.” Or if I honed in on a specific niche topic and wrote helpful articles on that subject, my brain would accuse me of being a sellout chump just trying to make a buck (because “the riches are in the niches”).
It doesn’t matter which way you turn, Resistance will follow you there. So you might as well do the thing that makes you light up.
And for whatever reason, I love writing sentences that start with the letter “I.”
I guess because I love reading other people’s “I” writing and getting a different perspective on things. I have a lazy eye, like my left eye really sucks and I can’t see shit out of it (no, you can’t tell that I have a lazy eye unless I try to go cross eyed, which I definitely won’t do unless we’re BFF’s). When I was a kid I would walk around the house with a small mirror held up next to my right eye, my good eye, trying to emulate what it would be like to have two normal eyes. I liked the different perspective I saw in this mirror world. I wanted to crawl inside of it. So I like to see different perspectives. The humanness of a stranger. They’re not trying to do anything but tell their story in a meaningful engaging way. I love that I can see pieces of myself in everyone I read, no matter how different they may seem.
And the other thing is that I don’t absorb dry facts unless they’re tied to someone’s personal experience or perspective. It’s why I hated school so much, because I couldn’t make any connections inside of the info dump I was receiving. I couldn’t make the information relevant. If a fact is associated with a person and their story, then I remember it, then the fact makes sense.
These are just small validations I have to give myself sometimes, in order to not freeze up when I want to write about myself. It’s okay, I say.
The thing that REALLY helped me gain some traction on these toxic thoughts was re-reading The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. I first read it a few years ago and then re-read it a couple weeks ago. And now I want to recommend it to everyone on the planet because it sort of feels like an instruction manual for life.
One section of his book covers pretty much every excuse I had written at the beginning of this essay for why I couldn’t write. Procrastination due to fear of facing the blank page. Never-ending “healing” as a form of distraction from the work. He even had his own example of almost not writing The War of Art because it was non-fiction and Resistance told him he was solely a fiction author and should be presenting these ideas through story form, rather than practically and overtly.
I’ve known of the phrase “know thine enemy,” popularized by Sun Tsu’s book The Art of War, but it never seemed like a relevant concept to me until now.
When I left Christianity I was all too eager to shed the existence of Satan as well, the admonitions to watch out for his temptations, to stay on the straight and narrow. But now I don’t think it’s such a bad idea, if you reframe it a little bit. If you desire something specific in life, you literally need to follow a straight and narrow (mental) path to get to it. And now I know there actually is a force, whatever you want to call it, that will do whatever it takes to keep you from reaching that specific desire.
Keeping these two thoughts in my head, that I’m actively pursuing the deepest desire in my heart of being a writer and that a toxic force is actively trying to stop me, it makes it easier to face the fears in my head. I don’t have to be caught off guard anymore. I know my enemy.
And even if my fears were actually true, should that be the reason I stop writing? Obviously not. That’s pussy shit. If I have the ability to sit down and write, then I’m going to sit down and write. Resistance is now futile.
I believe that nearly all our griefs are moments of tension. We perceive them as crippling because we no longer hear signs of life from our estranged emotions. We are alone with the strange thing that has stepped into our presence. For a moment everything intimate and familiar has been taken from us. We stand in the midst of a transition, where we cannot remain standing.
—Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
“Emotions are an inconvenience.” But her tone suggested she didn’t believe the words.
—Hafsah Faizal, Sands of Arawiya, Book 1: We Hunt the Flame
I am glad to be done with March. It’s a rough month for me. Various dates within it mark traumas, some small, some big, that I haven’t completely healed from. The entire month is spent clenching slightly. Some days I don’t know why I feel wrong, until the terrible, slightly suppressed memory slowly sinks in. Some days I wake up and immediately think, “Today is the 27th birthday of my childhood bully.” (lol, I know, that one is kind of funny) (but that shit still sucks)
An entire month spent clenching, while noting to myself that I felt strangely emotionless. The worst day was trying to get through what would have been my brother’s 22nd birthday. I felt completely bottled up, just anxious to get to the next day.
Now that April is here, I feel looser, happier. April is full of memories of good beginnings. When I first started writing and journaling in earnest, April 2008. When we got our beloved dog Keely, April 2011.
I also have felt much weepier this week, which is a relief.
Crying used to seem like a very bad dramatic thing to me, like I finally lost all my strength and resolve in life. “Our tragic heroine crumples to the floor, wracked by agonizing defeatist sobs. The weight of the world has finally crushed her like a bug.”
Once, a few years ago at my house in California, my roommate called me over as he was getting in bed for the night and quietly dared me to go cuddle the other roommate who was stretched out on the couch. I shrugged and agreed. Easy dare. This was the vibe our house had. Anything was liable to happen at any given time. It was the kind of place where you constantly felt tiny sparks of potential in the air. (I had the best of times and the worst of times in this house.)
I went into the living room and, without speaking, laid down beside my roommate, head to toe. I thought maybe we’d start making out or something, but instead he wrapped his arms around me and held me as if he actually needed to be comforted. Then he asked me, “How do you get yourself to cry? I feel like I need to cry, but I’m like physically unable to.”
If I knew then what I knew now, I would have taken the question seriously, but instead I kind of froze up and then made a joke about imagining my sister dying of cancer (sorry sis).
But it’s no longer like that for me. Plain and simple: clogged up emotions are very unhealthy. It’s like if a person never blew their nose. Disgusting. Your body just needs to cleanse itself of built up emotions, the same way it cleanses itself of organic material.
Maybe it seems… unromantic… to view crying and expelling emotions as base level as urinating. But whatever, lol. I have stuff to get done in this life, and I’ve wasted enough time carrying the weight of years of unshed emotions.
When you unkink your hose, the water can flow freely. When you unclench your body, the emotions can flow like a healing balm.
I hadn’t yet shed March’s emotions when I sat down on Monday to write my week’s newsletter. For the two hours I sat there, half of it was spent imagining myself punching a hole in the wall. I felt pinchy, irritated at one person, pissed at someone else, mad at my writing for not being good enough. Pinchy, punchy. I wanted to scream and rip my skin off like a snake. I needed to cry, but I wasn’t in the mood for all that messiness, so instead I let myself suffer a mini panic attack and then stayed up into early hours of the morning doing nothing but feeling angsty.
Hence, no newsletter, as much as I want to be regimented and consistent with it.
I’ve never been the kind of person who can keep their writing and personal life separate.
Imagine “13 Killer Blog Post Templates You Need to Start Implementing Today” automatically scheduled to post to your income-producing niche blog, while behind the scenes your heart is being rent in two. Maybe an efficient way to keep the checks coming in, but it feels soulless to me.
But being on the flip side, infusing my writing with real time emotions and personal struggles means it’s going to be hard to maintain scheduled output. Probably my biggest struggle is my autistic brain’s desire for routine and consistency vs my airy fairy desire for spontaneous magic, working hard and fast and then hibernating for a bit like the phases of the moon, and absolute freshness. Trying to figure out how the borders of my life, like a riverbank, can be stable and steady, and the content of my life, like a wild rushing river, is magical and fresh as a bucket of sparkling ice.
I’ve spent the past several days spending most of my time sitting outside, in a chair nestled in the rosebushes, clutching a cup of coffee, and moments of sobbing in between lots of reading and writing, some meditating.
Crying because the roses are blooming in full force and I’m leaving for a weeklong trip to Idaho tomorrow and I’m going to miss them. Crying because I was daydreaming about someday getting a German Shepherd dog when I’m out on my own for good and then thought about Sam from I Am Legend. Crying because I’ll never get to see my brother again. He won’t come back like seasonal blooms or movie re-runs.
Crying is good. Sitting quietly with discomfort is good. Getting lobster red from the sun is good. Hang-drying clothes on the line so they can flap and gossip in the breeze and collect that fresh starchy smell is good.
I love April, said the tragic heroine.
This isn’t the newsletter I was planning to mail out yesterday and this isn’t the day I planned to mail it on, but part of it, part of IT, is to break the tiny rules that get in the way of intuition. Even, or especially, rules set by me. I just wasn’t feeling what I wrote yesterday. Maybe I’ll send it a later week. And I’m not sure a Sunday newsletter is the right day anymore. I realized it’s literally the worst day of the week for me to get focused writing done (why I have to wait until the last minute to write my newsletter is another story). Will officially change to Monday until/unless life changes and a different day emerges. I had this whole vintage idea of a “Sunday newspaper” but I’m letting it go. Plus I remember when I was in high school, I started liking the idea of getting myself to enjoy the universal things everyone else seemed to hate like Mondays and the DMV. So these are gonna be my Monday at the DMV reprieve letters now.
So yeah I was going to finish the newsletter I wrote yesterday, but today I got so caught up and distracted in wonder at the overnight way the earth changed. Half the lawn seems to have gone from soft bright green to prickly faded deciduous colored. A nighttime heatwave? The honeysuckle have started to bloom. They’re early, and I’m enamored with the fact that I know that fact. I save a few blossoms each year and press them into books. I counted five rose bulbs that have begun revealing the colors of their tightly-curled petals. A gardening philosophy book I’m reading, Second Nature by Michael Pollan, has an entire section devoted to the sexual thoughts that roses seemed to bring up, but I’m not going to go there. (But goddamn, open up for me, baby.) There’s a tree that suddenly burst with yellow blossoms that smell like the flavor of artificial banana, like a banana popsicle or Laffy Taffy. The butterfly bushes are getting ready to pop purple.
Today it seemed as if I actually saw what was in front of me. How blessedly ripe my parents’ backyard is. It feels abundant as fuck. So many yards in this town are literally nothing but gravel, front and back. Our yard has a stone wall completely covered with leafy vines that are green year-round. An archway that is wound with the honeysuckle. It’s impossible not to drink in their tantalizing scent if one wants to enter the backyard. They bloom for a very short time in the spring, and the rest of the year they’re just a pretty bushy viney thing. And my god, the roses. There are so many rose bushes, thick, they grow insanely tall without trimming. And they bloom 4-5 times a year here it seems. My dad built a tiny stone path through the middle of them that I like to crouch on so I feel completely surrounded. They remind me of Oregon.
So much grass is randomly growing in my dirt patch, way more than other years. I take it as a good sign. My dirt patch is officially “my” dirt patch to practice gardening in. I got a book from the library called Growing Vegetables in Drought, Desert, and Dry Times by Maureen Gilmer. My favorite thing so far is that she went from brief descriptions of the climates and gardening deviations in different parts of the West Coast (high desert, low desert, mountains, coastal, etc) to immediately changing the subject an inch down the page and starting the next paragraph with “You might not believe this, but understanding evapotranspiration (ET) has surprising parallels with spirituality.” It reminds me of when I was reading a series of essays by the writer/farmer Wendell Berry and he wrote a paragraph that compared the nature of soil to the nature of Jesus Christ. Honestly, gardening is making me feel more religious in a weird way. Like enough of this silly simpering New Age spirituality or occultic modern day Christianity. What of ancient religious roots? People connected to both God and the land? That’s what I’m interested in.
Anyway, back to gardening. Flower gardening is cool and all, like I love the flowers already in the backyard, but what I’m primarily interested in growing with my own two hands is food. Growing delicious produce out of the dirt is some real magic. I grew up on ten acres in high-desert Idaho, age 4-19, and I suppose it’s not a surprise considering my roots that I’m finding my way to the same ideas my dad had/has about homesteading and land and making things grow. I was fully in love with the raspberry bushes we had growing up. These golden berries tasted divine and they just grew! In our garden! For free!
And man, divinity, I love that today I was awestruck over the absolute greenery of this low-desert backyard, and then the miracle continued with a pouring of rain. The smell of petrichor puts me in a MOOD. I put on Bon Iver and Agnes Obel and this song I love called “Motion III” by Rone, and danced in the lowering light, refusing to turn on any overhead lights because I love the way overcast feels. I feel safe and stretched out in a good way. Like I have all the time in the world to enjoy in the simple pleasures of life. This is partly why I love the desert. It makes me feel absolutely giddy about the rain. I just spent these past few hours before midnight listening to the rain with all the windows open, drinking black coffee, and eating tomato bisque soup. And reminding myself that intuition is like rain. I’m not really sure what I mean by that, maybe other than that it’s powerful and you should stop what you’re doing to listen to it.
We might also neglect our appearance. We may not realize that our hair is frizzily out of fashion. We know there are metals in antiperspirants and chemicals in skin and hair products which are not good for us, but we don‘t realize that because we don‘t use them, we may look plain and even be a bit smelly. This doesn‘t make us too attractive to others. We have to find our own easy-to-maintain style, and natural products that bring out our best.
—Rudy Simone, Aspergirls
The natural growth of your inner life will guide you slowly and in good time to other conclusions..
—Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
It took me ten years to figure out how to wash my hair and body. This is the story of my deconstruction from shampoo and body wash. (Dramatic and thrilling subject matter, I know.)
I remember in my teens when I started making my own decisions on what body care products I used, I was constantly switching shampoo/conditioner brands. I don’t know what I was looking for in these products, but something started not feeling right. Then when I was eighteen, I simultaneously developed a crush on a “hippie” several years older than me and learned about the “no poo” movement. My hair had felt yanked around by all these corporate products and their breezy promises, so I wanted to exit the norm and free myself of the man. This was, in a sense, my first real step towards an alternative way of life. In a weird way, scouring these natural living blogs changed the course of my life forever.
But unfortunately I didn’t understand my hair, my body. I didn’t know what I was looking for, just what I was trying to leave. I was trying to be “natural,” but nothing was working, even when I followed blog recipes. Baking soda started making my hair fall out. Apple cider vinegar felt magical at first and then ineffective later on. My hair seemed to have developed a personal vendetta against me. Always feeling waxy, flaky, and itchy, no matter what I did. At one point in time, I got so frustrated with my hair that I angrily scrubbed it with DISH SOAP, some deranged effort to rage the grease out of my hair. I was mad that I’d followed my heart and given up conventional products, because even trying to make peace and go back to them didn’t fix the mess my hair had become. Plus I hated the synthetic way my hair smelled and felt afterwards. And the fact that I’d have to be dependent on these products for the rest of my life, multiple days a week.
Couldn’t go back, but didn’t know how to proceed forward.
When I shaved my head in 2020, honestly about 25% of the reason I did it was because I was hoping that giving my hair a “fresh start” would sort out its problems. But no. Soon enough, the oily gunk started coming back, even while my hair was still extremely short. I hated washing my hair so much that I considered keeping it shaved permanently. It was a constant struggle not to run back to the barber (but I missed bun life too much).
I just didn’t understand this tradition in the first place, of gunking up our hair with expensive goop day after day when all we were doing was living sterile lives in the modern era. Most of the time nobody is getting their hair genuinely “dirty” with mud or dirt or whatever. So why the fucking glop addiction?
This was the final state I had reached, up until very recently: “I hate everything. I’m just going to wash myself with plain water for the rest of forever. If it doesn’t get me fully clean, then that sucks to fucking suck but I’ll suck it up, because again, I hate everything.”
Finally, this month, after weeks of dedicating myself to the practice of silence, solitude, listening to myself and the earth and God (not solely for the intent of getting better hair, it was just a nice side effect lol), I just asked myself: what does my body want? What are these oily flakes in my hair telling me? They keep coming back, no matter what I do. That must mean something.
Oh. Ah. Yes, the answer is coming to me. Transmission received.
The flakes are a part of me. This stuff is called sebum. All this white stuff is the clogged version of the natural oil my body creates. And will continue to create until the day I die. Okay, I’m stuck with this stuff. Now what? Well, why does my body make this oil? What does this oil want? It wants to take care of my hair for me. This stuff is a free natural cleansing and conditioning agent, courtesy of my own scalp. It wants to be unclogged and be able to spread all the way down to the roots of my hair. The “no poo” I was looking for was on top of my head this entire time.
After perusing a couple “water-washing” blog posts, I learned that all I really have to do is give myself a head massage with the pads of my fingers to “warm up” the oil and then spread it down the length of my hair using either my fingers or a boar bristle brush. Easy, breezy, beautiful.
Our bodies are meant to take care of us. A lot of what they need surface level is just oil redistribution. But since oil and water don’t mix, can’t touch, my all-natural practice of throwing water on my face in the morning and angrily scrubbing my hair with plain water in the shower was doing almost nothing. This is where soap would usually swoop in to save the day, which obviously I was unwilling to accept. The molecular makeup of soap is able to work with both oil and water. The part that sticks to oil rearranges and surrounds the oil in a circle and then what remains on the outside edge of the soap circle is the part that sticks to water. This is what gives the illusion of water being able to wash grease away. All soap does is cling to the oil so the water can push it away.
Since I understand this now, I know I don’t need to use synthetic soap products that’ll absorb into my skin, simply to move the oil on my body. Instead, I can use bristles in my hair or a scrubby on my body to do the same, and that stuff WON’T absorb into my skin. Instead of using soap to get oil off my body, I’ll use soap to get oil off the brush or scrubby. That becomes the middleman, keeping soap away from my body.
You don’t know how satisfying it was to figure out all this sciency stuff, because I have about an elementary school level of science education, if that.
Around the same time I struggled with hair soap, I also stopped wanting to use body soap. It didn’t affect me as much as the hair did, but I still felt greasy in different areas and felt like I had a lot of acne on my chest and back. Cuz plain water wasn’t doing shit and I thought scrubbing my body had no purpose unless there was soap on it. Now in the shower I’ve been using this rough hemp scrubby I have, just scrubbing the areas that get the oiliest, like my face, back, and chest. Afterwards, my body is soft and smooth and smells like nothing, which is probably my favorite smell. And my acne is disappearing, even the stubborn patches of blackheads that have graced my chin and neck for years.
Poor blood circulation, clogged pores, oil buildup. Get outta here.
How was I unable to figure out these issues after a decade of trying to be “alternative”? Because I didn’t understand or accept the natural order of my body. I only saw its problems. I didn’t see the “problem” as the “solution.” White oily flaky stuff = immediate embarrassment and damage control.
It was the alienation of my body, separating myself from it with a layer of man-made goop, that made it so I couldn’t understand my body and therefore couldn’t accept it. And then in trying to exit the matrix of soap, the detox caused me to panic and enter crisis mode. I didn’t listen to my body for ten years, unable understand how it worked or what it needed. Just got pissed at how it was behaving.
Now that I understand and accept the way my body works, I can problem solve easier. I’m still a bit in the transition phase, so my hair is still kind of waxy and sticky, another symptom of oil buildup. I read that an applesauce hair mask would do the trick. After letting the sauce get lost in my hair for an hour underneath a very floral granny shower cap and rinsing it out thoroughly, I was briefly dismayed to discover my hair was three times as flaky as it had been before the applesauce. Instead of letting myself panic, since everything is simpler now, I was able to figure it out quickly. So I said, “Hmm, the acid in the applesauce must have dried out my hair immensely, causing my scalp to freak out. But some of those flakes must also be applesauce bits that didn’t completely wash out. By tomorrow, with some brushing, most of the flakes will be gone and my head will have created a new batch of oil to take care of the dryness.” And I was right. The next day almost all the flakiness was gone, the pervasive wax was greatly reduced, and my hair felt softer and fuller than it had in years. 1-2 more spaced out applesauce masks might be necessary to fully clear out the waxy buildup, but should be good to go after that.
Things make much more sense stripped down as low as they can go. I hated science in school, but maybe I would have liked it better if I’d understood it through the lens of deconstruction. What is the essence of a thing? What is its base form?
This is like the process of deconstructing from Christianity, which is a subject I’ll touch on more later, or perhaps not at all. lol. We’ll see. Something just wasn’t working and I began to question and seek outside ideas and influences. That should be the normal response to something not feeling right. Not doubling down with extra doses of the thing that doesn’t feel right.
The transition phase of exiting religion was itchy and angsty and I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. Until I boiled down the truths behind Christianity that people sought, the foundational things they hoped to gain from this belief system. Peace. Alleviation from fear and anxiety. Empowerment. Hope. Love. Freedom.
I went straight to the source, as best as I could figure, straight to God, without the clogged confusion of church, the bible, and, even though this man is one of my heroes and worthy of great respect and admiration—Jesus too. I didn’t necessarily “get rid” of Jesus, because he’s one of my greatest inspirations and models for how to live, but I got rid of the concept of having to “go through Jesus to get to God,” because that shit makes zero sense to me, especially if they’re supposedly one in the same. Now, my “faith” or “spirituality” or whatever you’d like to call it is much simpler, cleaner, softer, more effective. It makes more sense to me, stripped down to its purest sense.
Going both “no poo” and “ex-Christian” were similar experiences because within both things, I felt stuck in the middle, wishing I could go back to how things were before but knowing I never could. Not knowing what I was walking towards or how to get there, just knowing what I wanted to leave behind. Being willing to walk blindly for a bit paid off. Because with enough walking, I eventually gained clarity to know what I then wanted to walk towards. I finally knew what I wanted to know. And that clarity speeds up the progress. My hair journey took ten years to figure out (2013-2022). My religious deconstruction journey took four (2017-2021). I’m getting faster.
Even though leaving religion and quitting conventional hair care products seem like laughable comparisons, they represent an important singular lesson. To trust that gut feeling, that intuitive desire, and follow it all the way through to the end. Because though it’s gross and uncomfortable in the middle, it’s leading to a gloriously clean, silky smooth, new beginning.
He spends so much time in front of screens he has a near-compulsive need to let his eyeballs rest on paper.
—Erin Morgenstern, The Starless Sea
it feels like i’m watching my life happen through a fuzzy television
screen. i feel far away from this world. almost foreign in this body.
—Rupi Kaur, Home Body
Sometimes I make lists of things I could do that don’t involve the internet. A way to spend my days without looking at a screen. But the lists are created in the Notes app on my phone.
I don’t know any facts and figures about adverse health effects caused by prolonged screen usage—the only thing I know is that it makes me feel scooped out and husk-like. A field that has been shorn down over the years, mono-cropped, the soil stripped of all nutrients.
That is how I feel when I stare at my computer (technically an iPad Pro with a keyboard case lol) all day. Even if it’s only turned on for a couple of hours, my life is still dependent upon the contents stored behind the screen. I can’t be “productive” away from it.
It feels so intangible. The digitalization of my writing has at different times in my life made me hate my own craft because there’s nothing for me to physically hold or touch. Not without getting oily fingerprints on my expensive sensitive piece of fucking glass.
The world is obsessed with sterility, not remembering that bacteria is essential to survival. We need to swallow one fat probiotic pill, rebalance that collective gut health. The outside layer of our bodies (aka, the skin) is literally an organ and we have brain cells in our stomachs—what the hell are we doing to ourselves? The more technologic the world becomes, the more it pushes for sterility, to protect its electronics.
My mom told me I chewed on rocks when I was a little kid, and that’s the nature I want to reclaim. Dirt in my body and on my skin. A real hazard to all the robots. Like that kid Pig-Pen in the Peanuts comics—a walking dust devil.
When the world voluntarily shut itself down—man, what a great idea that was! It was totally fine for humanity! You could still virtually tour famous museums, join a book club over Zoom, put in extra hours at your WFfuckingH job, learn a Tik Tok dance to make a reel for your Instagram side business, and don’t forget the absolute staples of keeping up with your Newflix shows and favorite podcasts.
Zoom™ out and see yourself from an outside perspective—you’re just a pale figure hunched over a glowing screen. Or you’re reclining in bed and the glowing screen is hunched over you. The way it should be, because it’s your master.
I say you but I mean me. I’m mad at myself. My childhood started off great in the classic nineties, but I let myself become shaped by the environment of the digital age, and I’ll never forgive myself for this atrocity.
I got sucked into the allure of the “digital nomad” starting when I was 18. Minimize and digitize all your possessions, work from your laptop, travel all over the world, be happier than everyone else. It’s very enticing. I’m still enticed.
Possessions are scary to me, emotionally. People become hoarders for emotional reasons—I became a minimalist for emotional reasons. There was a certain period of time in my teen years where I was an absolute bitch to my mom and she was at her wit’s end with me. She started taking away my writing notebooks and favorite novels to punish me (I don’t blame her, honestly—that was the only way to get my attention… that, and grounding me from church LMAO). I remember frantically duct taping my notebooks closed as my mom stomped down the hall towards my room to take my stuff, terrified that she would read my stories and see my soul, how it differed from hers, how it deviated from the way my upbringing was supposed to shape it. That period of time was when I learned that attachment to physical things could hurt really bad. The less I owned, the less people could take away from me.
I thought the digital age was a prayer come true. I could be so suave slinging one single backpack over my shoulder, the picture of freedom. A way to live so I could always have everything I owned with me. To protect it. But it kind of just made me a hoarder in a different way. A fearful pack rat.
Now it all feels like a trap. A good portion of my life doesn’t feel real anymore. When I exit out of my digital devices, I have nothing. No music. Barely any books. A few random photos, but thousands stored intangibly. Most of my writing is trapped behind a screen (hi from the screen!). I don’t know how to do anything, so any new hobby would have to be googled first. I don’t know how to make any food besides scrambled eggs and tacos (and even then, my ground beef browning + seasoning skills are shaky at best). I know how to boil noodles “al dente” because my little brother taught me how maybe a month or two before he died and I’ll never let slip that sweet simple knowledge he shared. He loved to cook and bake. What I’m saying is that I can learn things, but I can’t riff on them comfortably. Not with the ease and comfort that I can research online, using the correct keywords to produce the most relevant results, opening thirty new tabs in less than a minute.
Sometimes when I read a physical book, I press my finger down on a quote I like so I can highlight it. But when that doesn’t work, I’m forced to take a picture of it with my phone. But that feels wrong and defeats the whole purpose of not reading an e-book. So I tentatively dog-ear the page, wondering if this is okay, if it’s allowed. “Okay, deep breath. I am now going to interact with the physical realm in an irreversible manner.”
Since I don’t know how to do anything without consulting the internet and also feel absolutely miserable about that fact, I’ve started burying organic materials in the dirt patch in my backyard. Not gardening or planting per se, just… burying stuff. There’s some overlap with the sprinklers so I know something could grow there. I see tuffs of grass come up, little agave shoots poking out of the stone wall, a tiny palm tree that popped up amongst a scattering of rocks and weeds. I wonder how these things can survive like this in the desert, barely any water or soil. It gives me hope and encouragement for myself.
But I’m afraid if I ask my dad if I could officially use that plot to start a garden, then it’ll become a Thing and I’ll have to do it Properly and because I don’t know how to do anything I’ll have to employ the services of the Internet. And that’ll ruin everything. The idea of getting a gardening book from the library won’t cross my mind and if it does, then I’ll think “Without my precious screen I won’t be able to use my refined internet research skills to determine the absolute BEST gardening book specific to my amateur skill set and arid geography. Not to mention, if I need any gardening tools, how the hell would I procure them? Where does one find gardening supplies in the Real World?”
(Ironically, I actually recall seeing a few gardening tools available for borrowing the last time I was physically at my library… rakes and hoes and other suggestive items.)
Since the thought won’t occur to me to use the library instead of the internet—I’ll instead just keep burying things, little scraps of fruits here and there, random seeds, things impossible to grow out here like a massive mango pit the other day. I comb through the dirt with my hands and feel happy that I’m doing something real that isn’t on a screen even though I’m not really doing anything at all, nothing skillful at least.
I love to ground in dirt and grass with my bare hands and feet to center me back to the earth. But it feels like I need more. I need a way to ground with my eyes.
I shall plant my eyes into some soil and let them rest for a few weeks, grow some roots, and develop a new perspective.
Maybe I can dirty my eyes enough so they can no longer see the evil screens of our AI overlords.
I felt no need to speak to anyone ever again. It was enough to stay inside, to read his notebooks and look through his drawings, and to write down everything I could remember about our time together.
—Richard Powers, Bewilderment
Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.
—Rachel Carson (quote found at the beginning of Bewilderment)
It’s been several months since I last sent out one of these newsletters. I’ve been dying to write again, but lots of “big stuff” has happened lately. They kept piling up, making me feel more and more hesitant to share.
I seem to have an aversion to laying heavy news on people, yet I find it impossible to speak when I can’t be completely honest.
Hence, the silence.
But I hate not writing. I love this newsletter and what it could transform into too much to let it rot away from misuse. So it’s time to rip the bandaid off.
In July 2021 I discovered I was on the spectrum with autism. In September 2021 my sweet little brother Zach left this earth. In November 2021 my dear friend and writing accountability partner of seven years, Dylan, was crushed by a semi truck and had to be revived back to life at the scene.
The world as I’ve known it has shattered.
It probably seems overwhelming and callous to lump these three things together, to bullet list them, to not even give them their own paragraph. Of course they deserve more attention than these short sentences.
But it’ll take me months and months to slowly work and write through these things properly, find the right words, the memories, the emotions—and I don’t want to be silent in the meantime.
Although, I have been increasingly silent “locally.” Avoided the people I know in town, stopped reaching out to my long distance friends as much, even got ghosted by someone I had a mad crush on and felt relieved. Being a recluse feels comfortable.
Some people assumed I’d fall into a deep depression following my little brother’s death. I can’t even talk to the one friend I had who actually knew him and had memories of him—because it’s Dylan, the friend who was severely injured by the semi truck and is hospitalized and on a ventilator. I had another friend who knew my brother—my brother was actually friends with him first—but he’s the guy I was “talking to” and got ghosted by. I miss talking to all three of these guys, mostly Zach. There’s been a lot of silence.
But I’m not depressed, even though I’m dealing with several traumatic events, even though my instinct has been to isolate. In fact, I feel more filled with life than I ever have before. Death puts life into stark contrast.
I’ve been avoiding people, not because I’m overwhelmed by tragedy and pain, not because I find death too tricky a topic to navigate in conversations—but because I feel like I’m changing too rapidly.
I feel myself changing in like an all-encompassing DNA kind of way. I’ve become extremely sensitive to alcohol, that favored social lubricant. Even the smallest mildest glass gives me a wicked headache and stomachache. I’ve fallen out of resonance with most, if not all, my friends. Not that they did anything wrong or I love them any less, but I feel more and more restricted by verbal conversations, by social excursions. I’m at a loss for words most of the time, or my voice is trembling trying to express this new growth inside me. Or I find my vision blurring and my ability to focus on the conversation completely non-existent, I stare off into space more and more when I’m around people. The normal foods I used to eat don’t feel right anymore. I can hardly listen to music or watch any media. Leaving my house has become exhausting.
I realize those sound like a cocktail of trauma responses.
But I know that’s not what’s happening. At the risk of sounding “extra,” I just have a deep knowing that all of this means I’m evolving into the person I’m supposed to be. Like full blown metamorphosis, melting into goo inside my cocoon and turning into a different creature—one that was already inside of me from conception.
I’ve been writing like a mad woman and I can’t keep up with myself. Pages and pages are filled each day, ideas are implemented, problems are solved, creativity is bursting.
And it is from reclusively and solitude, listening, feeling, writing, that I experience my deepest joy and contentment.
Last summer I sent out a newsletter called “my Emily Dickinson year” but it feels like that sentiment has expanded and amplified into “my Emily Dickinson life.” The more I live like her, the happier I feel.
People think it’s such a curious mystery that Emily Dickinson secluded herself more and more as she grew older, eventually reaching a point where she hardly left her room at all. Not to be “not like other girls” but I understand her completely. It’s more isolating to be around people who don’t understand you than it is to live a life of solitude with the one person who gets you completely. Not to say people didn’t appreciate or relate to her poems, but I’m sure very few understood how she arrived to them. What she saw and how she thought. Plus it’s suspected she was on the spectrum, so I’m sure the clattering and clammering of life outside her room was a lot to take in. She was witty and brave and willing to face death and new ideas, but she was a sensitive soul.
When you have that much awareness, it doesn’t take much external stimulation to fill you up.
This book I just finished reading, Bewilderment, is about a young boy suspected of autism who is beginning to have intensified struggles with regulating his emotions. His father doesn’t want to put him on medication, so he volunteers him for experimental emotional therapy treatment, which basically trains his mind to be more open, calm, and empathetic.
This boy’s awareness expands so much that he realizes he’s both “up there” looking down on the experiment and “in here” experiencing the experiment.
Holding still and looking had become his favorite activity in all the world.
The longer I meditate, the less I feel I need to do. I could sit in the backyard for hours on end, in the sun, watching a trail of ants, or the woodpecker hammering a hole into the side of the neighbor’s palm tree, or the hummingbird who I swear has a little crush on me, or wondering at the tufts of grass that suddenly sprang up out of our random backyard dirt pile. Grass! In the desert! In a dusty dirt pile!
Solitude makes me incredibly happy. Not to say other humans don’t also thrill and delight me. But I feel like at some point I must have traded my authenticity and writing ability for charisma and social skills. If it’s a trade-off then I’ll gladly give those up to get myself back. I know it sounds dramatic but I want to withdraw from society in many ways. I want to regain my solitude and skill as a writer.
Plus my human design type is manifesting generator which is the least collaborative type. I abhor being in groups unless I have some sort of leader power (but I don’t really like that dynamic so I’d rather not be in a group in the first place). I’m just uninterested in three legged races when I can run so much faster on my own. Which is probably why, still, as an almost 27-year old, the longest relationship I’ve ever been in was three and a half months. Seven years ago. And that was even with weeks of putting off the breakup. lol.
I don’t want to isolate in an unhealthy way, a snarling wounded animal way. I just want to connect in a meaningful way. I don’t want to sit around talking about how sorry, how sad, with people who don’t know. I honestly just want to talk about my brother with my sister, because she’s the best person to reminisce with. We have the same mind when we think about him.
But for others I want to write. Writing is the best way to connect outside of myself because it’s easier to be honest, to explain myself, to resonate on different ideas and feelings.
And like the Rachel Carson quote at the top, nature has been my reserve of strength. Nature and solitude, meditation, words, the sun, the earth. And myself. I am my own solace.
Everything feels so different and wrong, yet so right and completely me at the same time. I don’t know who I’ll be when I emerge from the cocoon, but I do know that no longer will I munch on leaves for sustenance, but instead I’ll feast on nectar.
And I want to translate that taste into words.