Midway Blues – January 7, 2016

Americana’s gone
I’m too old and time’s moved on
Where are the heroes now?

We’re all alone here at the age
when age becomes a thing to hide, a hidden rage
the dying of light that once shone high
inside our souls, now just a spark
that’s growing old

I dreamed a novel that I wrote
I published it and then I woke
to find it ripped up and divided
like a house of divorced minds
so undecided I revoked my sense of time

Is 40 years a mile or less
Do I still have a chance to dream
Or am I just a mess
everything I’ll ever be
And is it fine to just recline inside the world
I’ve made for me?

Or should I rise and leave the couch
Let a spark open my mouth
and say my piece, no chance for grief
about the things I’ll leave for dead
old lives turned past like pages read

My teeth are sore and now my head
I’m tired and I’ll go to bed
Half done or more it’s still unsaid
but I dream I’m not done yet

Dear US: Divided We Fall – Now What? – November 9, 2016

In the wake of the United States’ staggering election of an apparently unqualified, sexist, racist hate-monger, I feel abandoned by my fellow Americans. As a woman, I feel that no matter how hard I try or how qualified I am, I will always have to fight harder for a lesser result.

In addition to feeling absolutely heartbroken, I am also scared. Uncertainty is terrible for economies and societies, and we just served ourselves a heaping portion of it.

Although my initial feelings are fear and despair, I hope they will fade and be replaced by determination, hope, and drive to take action. Because giving in to fear is a terrible response, and falling into anger is even worse. That is how entire societies fall apart. And ours is falling apart. That is how this vicious election happened in the first place.

I offer this prayer for myself and ALL my fellow Americans:

May I choose not to live inside the hate machine.
May I save my energy for worthwhile action instead of escalating
pointless arguments.
May I take positive action when you are not looking, and when you are looking too.
May I wish the best for you…. but may I wish the best for the country as a whole more.

May I admit that I am not the arbiter of what “the best” is.
May I let shouting and rhetoric slip past me like fog and focus on what is substantial and real.
May I not participate in violent words, thoughts, beliefs, or actions. May I oppose them whenever I can, to the extent I can.
May I say the truth as I see it.
May I pray, and stay steady, and trust that the clouds will part and we will remember we are all linked together on this adventure.
May I keep loving you and hope you will keep loving me.
May I try to lift you up instead of shoving you down.
May I replace complaints with ideas.
May I replace hate with hope.
May I not
give up.

This essay and prayer were originally published in The Coffeelicious on Medium.

Nostalgia Ball – September 13, 2016

This day is cold, digital, black-on-white
like every day stretching forward
until the end of the world.
I miss the fuzz of photographs
taken with an analog, Polaroid blur
easily forgotten in the back of a closet.
Or the loss of time and geolocation,
once achieved by taking our bikes
and pedaling away from our parents’ houses
to wooded trails to swim in streams.
No one knew where we were,
except ourselves,
and no one worried about it,
at least not with the obsessive, hyperventilating,
second-to-second hunger of this new century.
I have access to every bit of information ever placed online,
and I am still lost,
because finding a path through infinite data
is like moving to a New York that encompasses the whole world,
and leaving all the small cities and towns empty like shells,
then wandering the streets looking for someone I recognize
to make me feel human again.

This poem was originally published in the Poets Unlimited publication on Medium.

Finding the Courage to Leave My 9-5 and Find Balance – September 2, 2016

“You are so full of fears,” my ex-boyfriend said.

He was right. That time, I was afraid of drinking a beer on the beach. I was afraid we’d get caught. Booked. Handcuffed. Tarred and feathered. Unable to be employed ever again.

I thought potential missteps were my kryptonite.

I was wrong. Fear was my kryptonite, because in the end, my fears destroyed my relationship, which I cared about much more than my job.

I wasn’t always full of fear. In my twenties, I moved across the country with no job and no apartment lease, intending to stay permanently. I wrote what I wanted. I said what I thought. Everything worked out.

Then I went to grad school.

I accepted a scholarship that required me to get a particular type of job for two years afterward. As soon as I signed the paperwork, I regretted it. Even after I graduated and got a job, I felt constrained. If I resigned or was fired before two years elapsed, I’d owe a portion of my grad-school tuition.

Fear ruled my life. I was afraid to do anything even slightly outside the lines. Because of strict rules about accepting gifts or credit, I was afraid to do normal things too: split a check at a restaurant with friends; go on a date with someone in my field; even open a bank account. Starting a side business was out of the question.

Eventually, I was afraid to communicate how desperately unhappy I was becoming. My career was going well, and six years had passed instead of two, but I was feeling farther and farther from who and what I wanted to be outside of work. My relationship had failed, I’d had a health scare that impressed on me the uncertainty of life, and I knew it was now or never.

Of course, I was afraid to leave my job. But I was more afraid of continuing to march down the wrong path without taking time to explore alternatives. The farther I’d walked down that path, the more fears I had accumulated. That felt like a “Wrong Way” sign. Life should be a process of busting through fears, not building a monument to them.

After leaving my job, and after the initial jolt of relief and freedom, I kept expecting to wake up and also feel fear about my decision to leave. But I never did. I felt stress, sure, and uncertainty. But the suffocating fear of holding myself back was gone.

The only fear left was, “What would my former coworkers think of what I’m doing?” And, yes, it limited me. It took 18 months for that fear to lighten enough for me to rediscover creativity.

I still feel that fear, but the more I face it and produce my work, the more I realize it is possible to be a full human being and still be accepted. That’s the greatest positive feeling I could have, like a spark inside me that keeps growing the more of myself I reveal. It’s a fact of life that some people are just not going to like me, no matter what I do. So I might as well do the things that are pulling at my soul.

This essay was originally published in Medium’s Hello Fears publication on September 2, 2016.

If It’s the Last Day – April 18, 2016

If it’s the last day
Will I treasure your skin
from wrinkle to crease
Will I imagine smooth silk
or dwell in the papery, thin
brittle of now?
Will I brush back your hair
gray with age, unhidden threads
of life and story, decay and dreams
Will you look at me with decades of
appreciation, love, loathing, and fear
Or just the peace we’ve found at last?
Will I remember you now
in present pain
or the guises worn and thrown away?
Hair and eyes and nails and veins
that make us human, grown
translucent, as you move beyond
the wall that gives us separate wings

This poem was originally written in April 2016, produced as visual art in May 2016, and published in Medium’s Poets Unlimited publication in August 2016.

50 Shades of Going Gray – August 17, 2016

I dyed my hair. I promised myself I’d never do it. I was 24 when I made the promise, and just two silver strands reminded me I’d someday grow old.

Through my thirties, my hair stayed mostly brown. I cut silver hairs with small scissors as they appeared, sweeping the evidence into the trash. But in front, dead center, it was undeniable. A white streak was blooming, and my hairstylist told me if I kept cutting hairs there, I’d get a bald spot. I had to let it grow in.

I stopped snipping as much as possible, except when I had a special event, meeting or date. I tried to snip only the white strands and none of the surrounding brown ones, but I never succeeded.

Snip. Snip. Snip. More hairs turned white each week. A clear streak ran from the top of my forehead to the cowlick I inherited from my dad.

It’s amazing how a few veins of white hair can erase a woman from the world. I struggled with the idea of looking 10 years older because of 100 strands of hair. I also struggled with the knowledge that I could erase those strands, like a sketch with a few wrong lines. I cared, and I was beating myself up for caring.

I visited my haircutter. I told him the white streak was bothering me more than I’d expected. He suggested I was too low-maintenance to start a cycle of appointments to cover roots. I agreed; I get my hair cut two or three times a year and go natural the rest of the time.

But I wanted to dye the streak. I asked if a conditioner could apply gold color subtly to the white strands. Then I could do it over time in the shower, mimicking my summer highlights.

That product exists. But it only exists in crazy colors like blue, purple and red.

We joked about dyeing my entire mane lilac, fulfilling my fantasy of a crazy, spiky ‘do. But I’m afraid if I cover up my natural hair I’ll never see its real color again. I still envision allowing my hair to go silver-white someday.

So he suggested dyeing my hair a light gold with semipermanent gel. The gel would turn white hairs gold wherever they grew, but would not cover my normal brown shade. My hair would look shinier, and the dye would fade over two months, blending into any roots.

It was a way to try new things without getting locked in forever. I let him mix the gel and tried not to panic when I saw its carrot-orange color. With it applied to my scalp and a plastic bag over my head, I looked like a bright freak. I wondered what it would look like if it dried that way.

It worked better than I’d hoped. The end result was not carrot orange. It looked subtle, a gold that covered only white hairs, just as promised. Walking down the street afterward, I felt five times as visible and immeasurably more confident.

I’ll probably dye my hair again. I can’t give up such a simple solution to my aging insecurities. I feel like a traitor to my younger self, and to the older woman I’ll be someday, but I feel more like myself than ever.

This essay was originally published in Medium’s The Coffeelicious publication.