Turning away from global matters, I spent $8 on a manicure, sparkled and purple. A lark of femininity and wide-ruled, discretionary income. The glint of light on the color–named ‘It’s My Year’ dreamed up in some marketing den–does really make me smile.
I wonder if this girly lacquer could be some simple signal. I should confess: Being non-specific queer is not sitting well.
Shrug, vacant stare, sigh, don’t be so 1980’s, it’s no big deal. LGBTQ rights are expanding daily. My parents accept. My siblings can’t even steer straight, a joke I once heard from a gay stand-up comic. I am non-segregated, San Francisco, don’t sweat it o-u-t.
Still there’s this: The men you’re with, from time to time, wanting you to kiss other women for them because ‘my, that’s hot, honey.’ The women you sometimes find in your bed suggesting that you wipe away the lust in your eyes for the ease of a hetero identity. Friends looking at you and asking if you’re straight or gay. Your boy-ex confessing that your homo-girl-bent challenged his comfort zone. A tone in your father’s voice that implies he might be concerned about how you are in your 30’s and un-partnered. And the question of ‘settling’ being so multivariate that there are moments when the next person–male, female–who asks for better or worse just might get a ‘why the hell not?’ because the questions are just tiresome. And a city like this inspiring but offering no easy answers. Like your college, like your career, like your Facebook feed: Disorienting, disintegrating, tugging toward ever more fractal-like first dates.
Under it all, your own sense of discomfort with the both-ness and boldness of who you seem to be. No soft refuge in the eyes staring back at you in the bathroom mirror. Here, the deepest violence, the most damning unknowing, where the story must begin.
Perhaps tomorrow I’ll paint my toenails, ‘Dialectical Dazzle’. Slick my hair back, wink, nod, and act fearless.
I haven’t posted in over a year. Here goes nothing.
The cautious language of science be damned. Screw the distracting rhetoric of the right denying climate change. I’m weary of the clutter of it all.
Superstorm Sandy, 1,000 miles wide and tearing its way through the heart of our 21st century empire, is speaking to us, elegantly and simply.
In the midst of predictions of billions of dollars of economic damage, YouTube videos of cars being carried away in the East Village, phone calls to loved ones watching the lights go out, there is a quietly ferocious message: This, this is climate change. This is consequence. This is wilderness seeking its rightful, physical, frightening due.
I do not care what the politicos say. I do not care what the climate scientists entreat about certainty and attribution. I do not care about comparisons to similar superstorms of the past. Speak not to me of natural cycles. Tell me nothing of doubt.
This tempest is no coincidence, its intensity born not of ‘natural causes’, but anthropogenic ones. Humanity – beautiful, beloved Homo sapiens sapiens – we have lived so well – beyond our wildest dreams! – as animals on this planet. We have gazed so far, colonized every corner of earth, become a global force rivaling the very tides and tectonic plates. Some of us know great, unimaginable material comfort and environmental control.
And yet, we are, at the last, terrestrial heterotrophs, mammals vulnerable to dramatic changes to our habitat. We cannot escape the iron fingers of ecological fate. Climate change is not a political issue. It is not an environmental issue. It is, as we’ve seen in New York City tonight, a question of basic survival. Frame it as economic, frame it as geochemical, frame it as epidemiological. Whatever narrative makes it real, brings it into your gut, drives forward the urgent meaning. With our own hands, we have worn away the walls of our home through unintentionally destructive micromotions over hundreds of years, and we wonder why the rain is coming in.
I quite honestly and exhaustedly have no message of hope here. It feels un-American. Sandy is, in poetics and reality, my worst nightmare, emblematic of warnings I have spent years stumbling into in my studies at Yale & Brown, researching in the Amazon of Ecuador, contemplating in the High Sierra, laboring to prevent in my daily work in renewables. Dreading, ruefully predicting, feeling crazy all the while.
Tonight, the coastal building where I worked in my first job out of college – teaching marine ecology to students of all ages – is flooded two stories high. My brother, a medical resident in the Bronx, is stuck in his hospital, unable to get home to the love of his life as the storm grows more powerful. My grandmother is seeing 25-feet high waves out of her window on Lake Michigan, nearly 800 miles away from Sandy’s center.
All the pages read, all the careful measurements reviewed, all the well-reasoned arguments for the patterns and pulse of climate change are rushing, like lines of a script come bone-chillingly alive, onto the stage of my one human life.
And here is the center, the silent eye of the storm that drives my cyclone: I love this world so deeply. I care so ardently for my family, my friends, and, though it sounds trite, for all of my fellow human folk trying to get through each day breathing, laughing, crying, racing to meet our mammalian needs and our sentient emotional ones.
We have not ‘worn our walls thin’ through malice. We have done it out of a certain constitutional myopia. It makes the onrush of the storm surge all the more heartbreaking. And the darkening of one of our most brilliant, glittering cities all the more terrifying. The most lethal force is one that creeps in without a sound, that syncs with the hum of business-as-usual.
I have no answers, no solutions, other than this: Tell your mother you love her as often as you can. And hold your children tight. Seek beauty. Live with intention. And, finally, take nothing for granted.
I need to remember why I came back to Cincinnati. The purpose was three-fold, in order of importance: to connect with my immediate family as a more grounded adult (three brothers, two parents, one dog), to rehab my knee following surgery (circa 2008, ignored physical therapy to my detriment), and to reacquaint myself with formal learning after I had passed through the throes of my pre-adulthood 20’s (higher ed was a bit of a catastrophe for me once upon a time). Yes, the “official” story of “what I’m doing here (professionally/academically)” ranks last. Indeed, really, it’s a distant third to the other two priorities.
I will have a Master’s degree come June, an “achievement” that will be ceremonially celebrated and ostensibly lead to career advancement (?), but has not truly been the point of this stretch of life. And that is why I’m writing this post, to remind myself that the final, mind-numbing, and seemingly arbitrary steps toward my degree (namely, a few more papers and the chapters of my thesis project) are silly to claim as the core focus of the last moments of this two-year period. And, so, I’m setting the intention to not let the stress of school, of the must-do’s, the should’s, the achievement urge (more closely related to the death-urge than one might imagine) overtake my final days and weeks on the Ohio River.
I have about three and a half months left here. I will be sad to leave, but I’ve accomplished what I set out to do, with some unexpected added joys. Not to overstate it, but being here with my family has been a gift, a rare time in the prime of life to look unflinchingly but humanely at the people I come from and have grown up with. I can imagine no better use of years in early adulthood than to revisit the home that is a smart and caring nuclear family. As far as my bum left knee goes, I can run and jump and climb stairs again, after weekly sessions at a Sport’s Medicine clinic at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. My knee is still creaky, but I don’t walk like I’m 70 at age 29 anymore. And, finally, in terms of school, I still don’t completely trust or enjoy the structures of higher education, but I know now that I can excel at the University game. I just still don’t think it’s the game for me, and I wonder how its rules poorly serve us as individuals and as a society, microscopically and macroscopically. As always, though, it’s easy to criticize, hard to construct alternatives or reform what is.
As for the added joys, I feel as if I’ve been able to integrate this city into the narrative of my life a bit better and have been surprised to fall in love with an old flame whom I knew during high school here. While Cincinnati itself will never really, admittedly, be “home” for me, after spending a few years here as an adult, I don’t feel as disconnected from it as a place and a community as I did in my teens and twenties. It’s an inevitable part of my history, and, if the relationship with the charming and kindred Cincinnatian works out, it will continue to be a cornerstone of our lives together.
Mission accomplished. Just have to find a graceful way to enjoy my family, stay healthy, and graduate in the coming months. To end this chapter feeling whole with priorities intact and to walk upright toward the next page.
This post is very personal and earnest. Don’t laugh at its Hallmark-y sentiment. Or do. But know that I am putting on my very (but always seeing the silly) sincere face here.
I feel so good, so excited about next steps in my life, what lies in this moment and in the heartbeat of those that follow. I decided that my 20’s would be about healing, about finding wellness. There were times when I never thought I’d make it to 30. As depression deteriorated my will, ate like acid through even the steeliest fibers of my being, I thought that becoming an adult, reaching my later adult years, was an impossibility. I distinctly remember writing in my journal, at 16, “This depression thing is serious. I sometimes don’t know if I’ll make it to 30.” I literally thought I’d be dead by now, victim of a wicked family-borne illness that, at times, is terminal. And, hot damn, not only am I alive, I am thriving. In a low-key and understated way, I’m a survivor. We who tangle with brain-related illness are often low-profile warriors, our struggles hidden politely from comment. It’s a blessing and curse, the invisibility of the battle. I have waged it, not always gracefully, but well, bloody but unbowed. I am more compassionate and self-aware for the trouble. Better-equipped to confront whatever the hell shows up in life – you want me on your team. I’m still banged up and bruised a bit for sure, but, years of quiet, mindful choices find me more whole, grounded, and resilient than perhaps ever before in my earthly history.
And I am less afraid to think hopefully about what I want to accomplish in my remaining time here. I, in an honest and soul-ful way, want to have a partner, a life-long smoldering and competent love, and trust that I will. I am able now to be the partner, imperfect still but stitched-up with the thread and needlework of so many kind hands, that will show up, dig in, hold gently, smile wisely, support kindly. I see that I also want a successful, but balanced, career in private industry, to be paid well and respected for what I do. I want work that does its best to make beautiful things happen in this world, which, even if somewhat self-deluded, is artistic and humanistic in its finest moments. I want to have a baby, or adopt one. I want to care tenderly and with all my good attention, intelligence, and effort for another being as he or she travels into the magic of personhood. I want to find ways to live less for myself, and more for the family and community that I intentionally build as a labor of love and mystery. Who knows what will actually come to pass in the days ahead, but I cast my nets into the depths anyway with prayers and plans for dreams come true.
What a good life it’s been. What a ride so far, what terrible darkness tempered by incredible light. Rough. And smooth. I am grateful for all of those who have nurtured and challenged me on the journey. Thank you for everything…which is yes…i who have died am alive again today, and…this is the birth day of life and of love and wings.
(bit Judeo-Christian), but, ee cummings:
i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
amen. hello, 3-0.
insomnia is such a curious affliction. akin to those looney tunes cartoons where wiley coyote runs off a cliff and has a blessed few moments of suspended animation in mid-air before plummeting to the craggy rock below.
i remember staying up all night at slumber parties in elementary school. the novelty of the blue-black hours after midnight, watching the light of the sun hum its way back into the sky hour by hour. at the end of these epic girl-talk, pizza, and prank phone-call powered marathons, there was always one kid who would bolt out of her sleeping bag and run around outside right before the full burst of daylight, her 12-year-old being infused with the manic energy of deprivation. inevitably, we would hear from her mother, or another friend, about how this same wild-eyed 5am imp collapsed into a 12 hour hypersomnia once she returned home later that day. she may even have been absent from pre-algebra class the following Monday, sleeping still, while the rest of us toiled through x’s and y’s, m’s and b’s, longing quietly for z’s.
tonight, right now (today?), i feel fine in my sleeplessness. tomorrow (or rather, later on today) i will claw my way out of bed through the cloying haze of sleep (which will have come at last) and into the full brunt of morning. and i will look like a scraggly mess of fur that has finally hit the bottom of the canyon.
but, for another few moments at least, i’ll enjoy the thin rush of being born aloft by nothing, defying gravity, held by will and air. i might even dimly imagine, as many often do, that i’m flying before the fall.
I’ve decided to go to a yoga class this evening a few doors down from the building where I live. The class is held in a small studio that has a tangle of ferns and other potted plants in its windows, illuminated with overhead CFL’s and blue and white Christmas lights.
It is a sticky humid night, the atmosphere pressing down on my shoulders as I rush to the front door of the space. I am late.
Inside, five other white women in tank tops lift their abdominal muscles aloft, propped up on elbows and toes, as the teacher circulates smilingly counting down from 30…20…10…3…2…1. “You can do it, ladies, lengthen that spine, breathe into your core!” Labored breathing, sweat dripping.
I settle in and begin to watch the woman to my right extend her arms obediently upward toward the “sky” and arch backward, ticking along to the beat of the teacher’s words. Fluid, calm, placid face. Open the heart, melt the shoulders, inhale deeply. The woman’s black top hugs her frame, telling a soft story of her flesh.
Sometimes, when I practice yoga here, I notice people passing on the sidewalk outside who peer quizzically in through the windows as they wander by. Mostly brown faces, usually children with bright bows or too-big canvass shoes gazing wide-eyed at the strange shapes inside. A peculiar urban zoo: Middle-aged and young adult white girls with their legs in the air, a flex of cardio-privilege in the midst of the poorest neighborhood in the city. I always want to explain our presence, to excuse our self-care, to say something about the health benefits of yoga to the silent figures outside. Really, I guess, I want to apologize for how frivolous we look. How frivolous – I fear – we might actually be.
I extend my arms outward along the floor, smelling the heavy odor of bodies and sighs. My knees creak, crackling from all the years of running on pavement and the unfortunate Q-angle of my hips that puts too much pressure on my joints.
I find a moment of peace, my face pressed downward into the rubber mat, feeling anonymous and empty. I dissolve a bit, not white, not black, not girl, not boy, not rich, not poor, just oxygen and sinew. Chemical reactions and physics problems of inertia and force and rate of flow. The air grows quiet. A car passes, blasting hip hop. Breath in, breath out. Footsteps on the street outside. Enya playing on the A/V system in the studio. White streetlights cast their glow through the plants and onto our lifted hearts, our melted shoulders, our good intentions.
Cincinnati is not known for being the most progressive place. But there are things happening here, important, green, thoughtful things. Ecovillages and urban farms have taken root in our urban core neighborhoods, local markets and stores have begun to carry more and more produce grown within 100 miles of the city, bike lanes are appearing on our streets, and renewable energy on our municipal buildings. Each day, it seems that there’s a new small business opening its doors with a triple-bottom line plan for growth and sustainability.
Today, as part of 350.org’s day of climate action, over sixty Cincinnatians came together to build a lightweight greenhouse, or “hoophouse,” in a half acre urban market farm near downtown. The intent was to help the farmers, all locals in the community, extend their growing season and be able to cultivate additional food to sell to restaurants and households here in the Queen City.
With the Kroger, Chiquita, and Procter & Gamble skyscrapers as a backdrop, and an overly warm October sun beating down, we gathered to hear community leaders speak (including Rep. Steve Driehaus, incumbent in the US House and big climate and health care advocate) and then to roll up our sleeves and dig into the work of the day. In the morning hours, divided into teams, we prepped the area where we would install the hoophouse and also assembled the different component pieces of the structure.
The prep work involved pulling weeds, picking up stones, and tossing out trash. It also required the transport and spreading of mulch over the footprint of where the hoophouse would sit. Folks of all ages pushed wheelbarrows and dug up roots. A particularly enterprising five year old became our expert stone sleuth, unearthing them left and right with a lot of delight and fanfare. Power drills trilled in the background as a group of eager 20-somethings put together two-by-fours and attached lag bolts to the primary supportive beams of the house.
In the afternoon, after lunch, everyone worked as a single, encouraging group to raise the hoophouse. Huge black metal arcs went into the ground that had so carefully been weeded and laid with mulch. Thick plastic covered these ribs, forming a half-dome. Tables for seed germination were placed inside.
From an unused corner of the farm sprang a miraculous structure that would protect tender seedlings from frost in the colder months and guarantee more fresh vegetables grown right within the city limits. The good labor of a dedicated segment of Cincinnati’s citizenry made it happen.
We’re willing to give our time, our muscle, our sweat, and our smiles to find and create climate solutions. It’s time that local, state, national, and world leaders took a cue from these humble but fierce efforts. At the end of the day, our cities and towns will be stronger, our economies more resilient, our bodies healthier, and our minds clearer if we finally resolve to take real action against a wasteful way of living. This action starts small, with a garden patch, a solar panel, a greenhouse, or a conversation, but each drop collects to ultimately fill the bucket to overflowing.