Russian Doll and the Game of Fate

Netflix and I are friends again thanks to Russian Doll and no thanks to the Fyre documentary. I binged most of the 8 episodes of Natasha Lyonne’s creation on Friday night and it was worth the lack of sleep! Here’s my takeaway.

Russian Doll (acted, written, directed, and co-created by Natasha Lyonne) is a show about real people that delivers on its supernatural premise. Nadia is a Russian American New Yorker in her mid-thirties who does whatever she wants. She is free, sleeps with whomever she wants, has lots of friends, and doesn’t seem tied down to anything or anyone. But pretty early on, it’s clear that she’s lost something precious and it isn’t just her deli cat Oatmeal. She dies swiftly and in the most unnecessary way. Moments later, Nadia is alive as ever and staring quizzically at her reflection in the mirror. So begins the cycle of Nadia dying over and over and resurrecting in a bathroom.

She returns to the scene of her birthday party. Friends embrace her and offer drinks without any idea of her terrible ends. “Happy birthday, baby!” her friend chirps once Nadia runs panicked to the kitchen. Nadia tries to explain what’s happening but it turns out it’s hard to articulate the perilous shit she’s going through. “You’re fine!” friends reply. Meanwhile, Nadia can’t stop dying.

It’s a really good device for exploring life/death outside of religious, new-age spiritual or moralist realms. It is fate as a game. Nadia is herself a programmer of popular video games. Alan, her partner in this repeating deaths mystery, complains that the game she programmed is frankly unwinable. Nadia protests and grabs the controller. She attempts to navigate around a pit of lava but fails. Life in her own hands, even if she designed it, is really hard.

I’ve been studying Hellenistic/traditional astrology. Unlike modern western astro, which is more psychological and character-based, traditional astro says here’s your fate and now decide how to navigate it. Or, as my teacher Sam Reynolds says, “Fate gives you two arms and one of them is your own.” That philosophy was rattling around in my head while watching the show. Is Nadia actually free if every action is driven by a need to avoid childhood trauma? Well, no. And to what extent do we do things out of a compulsion to fill some void or swerve around pain. The past especially outright denied, is a powerful indicator of future pain. It becomes our own personal horror and raging ghost. That’s why you’ll find that the most chilling scenes of Russian Doll aren’t those where Nadia dies. It’s childhood trauma re-awakened.

Russian Doll reminds me of another show centered on the philosophy of what happens after death -- The Good Place. But while The Good Place treats the afterlife like a theme park and morality as the car that gets you there, Russian Doll keeps the veil pulled tight. The loop of dying and repeating the same day is so mind-boggling that it puts Nadia firmly in the present. She searches for clues by confronting her drug dealer and consulting a rabbi. As she digs, parallel possibilities unfold in a day’s time. Reunite with an ex, fly into a rage, get fucked up, sleep the day away. With each choice, her situation becomes clearer although no less hard. It made me think that if we were forced to investigate the presentness of our own lives, we could uncover actual meaning.

But Russian Doll is not pedantic or sentimental. It’s funny and surprisingly moving and you end up rooting for Nadia to succeed against some pretty dire odds. At least she has Alan. Their fates become entangled in a way that doesn’t have them falling in love and even still manages to be one of the most romantic things I’ve seen on tv in a while.

So it’s good. The soundtrack is good. Watch it.

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Witches Be Like...

There’s a moment in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina where Sabrina Spellman is clearly in over her head. To clean up her mess, she goes through hell and back for her friends and boyfriend, Harvey Kinkle, adding new meaning to ride-or-die. But as she is chased out of purgatory after having tried and failed to rescue the lost soul of Harvey’s older brother, it’s made plain that there are limitations even for a witch. “Everything has a price!” Aunt Zelda declares angrily.

Over 10 episodes, Netflix’s Chilling Adventures explores that price in a way that is equal parts campy, gag-horror, and teen flick.

We meet Sabrina Spellman on the eve of her dark baptism which is to occur on her 16th birthday. She likes to do normal teenage things like go to the movies, cuddle with Harvey in the back of his pickup truck and detox in preparation for her dark baptism. The baptism is a rite of passage for every witch but Sabrina (or “‘Brina,” as she’s affectionally called) is half mortal so it’s complicated. In order to serve the dark lord, not only must she say goodbye to her girlhood but also to Harvey and her friends Ros and Susie. The dark lord is a jealous lord, because “he’s a man, isn't he” Prudence, arch-frenemy witch, explains with a shrug. In Chilling Adventures, the patriarchy has recreated itself within the Spellman’s coven, The Church of Night. Their leader, Father Blackwood is determined to have ‘Brina sign her name in the book of the beast and puts all of this creepy pressure on her. The show is about ‘Brina finding a way to subvert tradition to live as both witch and mortal. She’s at her best when expressing her spunk and pep to assert herself for herself.

For the most part, she is successful. ‘Brina only runs into trouble when she attempts to dabble in magic that she hasn’t mastered yet. Ahem, necromancy. Or, when she meets opposition from the weird sisters, lead by Prudence. For having been raised by her two witch aunts, Zelda and Hilda, she knows astonishingly little about the craft. Instead, she must rely on her cousin, Ambrose, on house arrest for trying to blow up the Vatican, for tips such as how to astral project. By the end of the series, I began to wonder how much of actual help he was. He’s fine with giving ‘Brina just enough information to get herself an ordeal.

This iteration of Sabrina is nothing like Sabrina The Teenage Witch of the 90s. Mainly, there are black, queer, and gender-questioning kids all just kind of living. And they are more than just their tropes. Prudence, leader of the weird sisters, is totally compelling in a way that disrupts the black-girl foil for the white protagonist. She is unapologetically evil, devout in her worship of the dark lord, and has a respect for order that will eventually bring her to join sides with ‘Brina. Prudence also gets her own storyline, which is saying a lot because the series always has so much going on at all times. Chilling Adventures multiplies storylines rather than developing them. But, the depth and representation here with Prudence, Ros, and Ambrose is modern and true for a show primarily about young people.

The internet cannot get over how dark Chilling Adventures is. Aunt Zelda kills her sister with some sort of gardening tool as she’s tending to her vegetable patch because she was getting on her nerves. The scene is so unexpected and abrupt that it has a sort of comedic timing to it. And there’s something called the “feast of feasts “ where the witches eat one very “lucky” member of the coven. Throughout the season, throats are split, men are devoured, and PG-13 witch orgies go on while ‘Brina tries to get sleep. But the stakes never feel real because ‘Brina is mostly an observer until the near end of season 1. The finale indicates that could change in season 2.

Sometimes, Chilling Adventures dips into the realm of silly. I basically skipped over the entire dream episode 7 where a demon named Batty-Bat is torturing the Spellmans by luring them into an eternal nightmarish sleep. I’ve always despised this device in TV — dream sequences playing out nonsensical storylines while having no impact on the overall plot. Also, the demon is more cheap Halloween mask than actually frightening.

But series tend to lag in the late-middle of the arch. It’s obvious that Chilling Adventures is sort of preserving its energy in this leg of the journey. It stalls until it can go full-witch on us with bloody, hellfire fury. And does it! Episode 10 is sort of the reason to watch the show at all. I rewatched certain scenes for the satisfaction of seeing ‘Brina embrace her power. She becomes Vasilisa - the pre-Disney Cinderella of the old stories - who is covered in cinder and only half-awake. That is until she rises up, learns from Baba Yaga/Fairy Godmother and defeats those harmful forces.

Chilling Adventures is worth the watch while waiting on all those hexes on #45 to pan out. Alas, casting spells en masse has always been iffy. No, better to act alone. Better still if you’re a teenage girl, which, according to Chilling Adventures, is a powerful thing to be if you know how to wield it.

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The Birth

Luna Kimberly Anderson Wexler was born on August 20th at 2:37 pm into a tub warmed to body temperature. Temperature is paramount in a water birth. It’s not the act of being born that triggers the lungs to expand and gasp for air. It’s the skin’s contact to the relative, ambient cold. Since my water never broke, Luna crowned and it looked like blowing bubble gum. A thin membrane stretched with her head in it. The midwife smiled and declared “She’s en caul!”

I pressed my chin to chest and exhaled like fogging a mirror except with every ounce of concentration. I felt her move out of me and into the tub. The midwife’s excitement dropped, “Oh, it burst right at her chest.”

Birth plans are not unlike life plans. So, naturally they get fucked up. Your due date may be August 9 and you may believe that you will deliver early because it’s “second baby” and the way you “carry.” This belief is reenforced by strangers who ask if you’re having twins, and by the inebriated grandmother at the block party who takes you aside (no relation) and informs you that there is no way the baby is staying in until August 9. She knows. She has a dozen grandchildren. Had several of her own. You will deem her a wise sage. And you are thankful in the July heat that you will not have to waddle around for much longer.

This is that precious in-between-time that I wished I could have just chilled in. When else in life do you possess a fully formed human inside your own body? But the longer she stayed in the more mental I became (See last post.) as my plans began to unravel like the fragile net cast-realities that they are. For one, my birth doula became unavailable and I had to resort to a backup doula I’d yet to meet. The birth center would only take me for a few more days until I’d have to make other arrangements. I imagined having to deliver at Woodhull with doctors and nurses who’d begin the cascade of interventions I’d worked so hard to avoid. I googled “healthy babies born at 42 weeks” and imagined having to advocate for what I wanted (again). Then I began to make contingency plans for a home birth. How soon could we hire midwives and rent a birthing tub? Would insurance pay for it? (If men could birth babies, this wouldn’t be a question.) etc. etc.

At Jed’s suggestion, I went for a walk in the Brooklyn Botanic gardens to clear my head. It was about an hour before closing and there was no line. It looked like rain. The employee at the ticket counter gave me a free pass for “next time, when the baby arrives.” She winked. I dropped my receipt on the ground and took half a minute to lean down, pick it up and grab it. I didn't want to be that person, but it was not worth the effort. Nothing was. I took out a map. Then I shoved it in my tote. Let’s be real, I’ve never used a physical map unless I was being graded on it. I decided to meander and be delighted by the unexpected. After 11ish years in Brooklyn, I’d never walked this garden. Why had it taken me so long? Oh, because Prospect Park is always free.

There were selfie-snapping tourists and stifling humidity to contend with but I was unfazed. My only goal was to walk and move the baby down. Handwritten signs beckoned visitors to be patient while certain grassy lawns were off-limits. The grass was being watered. It wasn’t ready.

I went home feeling more or less the same so I blogged, cried and got ready for bed. Then it started.

As the contractions got stronger I put on Disenchantment on Netflix because humor = laughter = endorphins. (Disenchantment is good for chuckles. The princess’ supernatural animator is not a fairy god mother but a pet demon and her Jiminy Cricket is a guileless elf actually looking for mischief.) I shut my computer once the show ceased to be a useful distraction and woke up Jed. It was 1 am and he swung into action. He timed each surge, called/texted every birth worker and family member we needed to notify. He did a lot more than that but I napped when I could so it’s a blur. I warned him not to get too excited. This could just be a false alarm. After months of false contractions that grew in intensity but hadn’t yet amounted to the real thing, I was cautious.

I’ve never found birth to be painful but more like intense, edge-of-your-life pressure. It’s strange to even intellectualize the sensation. Like cramps multiplied but with a different flavor. Like radioactive waves. Like a crack in the mind’s dominance and it’s all body, breathing, visualization and some vomiting. I feel vulnerable yet powerful. I crave privacy but I don’t want to be left alone. Unmedicated birth is my Ayahuasca.

Around 10 am, my doula said it was time to go to the birth center. I was 3-4 minutes apart. “I’m not ready,” I replied. I was afraid, I guess, not of pain (again because birth is not painful to me) but of life changing radically in a matter of hours. That is terrifying.

My month-long impatience was actually my good old friend, Anxiety. I just didn't recognize it. How would our family change? What about my creative ambitions now as a mom of two? I held my doula’s hand and we made our way to the Uber. At the curb, Jed assembled our bags and all of us looked like a family en route to a faraway place — giddy, a little dazed, prepared but not quite ready.

Dispatch from 41 Weeks

This isn't going to be a coherent blog post because I’m not in the mood to write anything coherent much less feel-good.  I am 41 weeks and 4 days pregnant. I’ve been ready to give birth for nearly a month.  I'm confused, discouraged and mental.  I do all the things.  Acupuncture, walk, “relax.” I tentatively tried some old wives tales but the truth of the matter is that there is really nothing that I can do on my own to get this party started.  I’m not down to get meds to force contractions, so I've got to hang out.   Meanwhile, the clock is ticking because I can only give birth at my birthing center for 4 more days.

I should preface this by saying that this is all totally unexpected.  I thought I would go early for reasons that seem laughable now.  Look how I’m carrying!  I have false contractions like every day!   But nothing in our household has gone according to plan this summer.  If anything, I’ve been smacked with lessons in surrender and trust and faith and relinquishing any control I think I have.

And yet I resist because I am.  Probably the best advice that I’ve heard so far came from a prenatal acupuncturist I hired four days ago.  She is an elfish woman with a majestic tattoo of the buddha on her upper arm and smudged, lined eyes.  She makes house calls.  She bikes in high heel clogs and speaks in a soft stoner sort of way that makes me pay attention because everything coming out of her mouth is the sage advice of a healer.  I know she’s a healer because she made me cry without stopping in our first session.  I wasn’t expecting any sort of emotional release.  This wasn’t therapy or a good book.  This was needles to usher contractions.  But, she saw my red eyes and tense jaw and manic gestures.  She sat cross legged on my floor while I withstood another hot flash despite my very cold central AC apartment and asked what I was feeling.  I tried to ignore the needles on the tops of my feet.  I closed my eyes.  Then I hit it on the head. I missed my mom.  It was grief and it was back.  She advised me to cry, packed up and left.

After that session, I cried for 36 hours straight.  I am actually still crying but now it doesn’t surprise me.  I am waiting for my mom but she is not coming to be with me during the birth.  I’ve got pictures of her in my office and on my phone but a good part of me forgets that she is dead even four years later, even though there are no new pictures of her on my phone.  See, I want for her to be here and so that means that she should be here. 

While I wait, a small storm of rage churns.  It is angry, then it rests.  Last night, I couldn’t sleep.  I stumbled to the kitchen, ate a peach and spoke to my husband about how I have no control over this waiting game.  But I don’t think I was clear about what I’m waiting on.  How do you move forward while one foot is lodged firmly in the necessary nostalgia of having your mom?

I saw the acupuncturist again yesterday and we went full throttle to usher in contractions.  I still felt emotionally rattled but she thought I looked like I was in better place.  I’m trying not to cling to that session as the thing that will do it.  Anyway, I tend to forget this whole time line is determined by the baby.  The baby releases a hormone that causes a hormonal reaction inside of me that begins the process.  With all of the pineapple eating and acupressure and pigeon pose, I forgot that the baby is who is being born and not my mania, not my grief, not my anxiety.  I've got to move through them for anything to happen.

GLOW (Nice for What)

So I just started watching GLOW and I’m obsessed.  A couple of my girlfriends and trusted women writers on twitter recommended it but I always kind of put it in the back of my mind because I found the concept a little too distracting.  Women wrestlers in the 80s seemed very campy.  But when The Handsmaid's Tale finished, I was left scanning Hulu, Netflix and whatever other streaming service I passively pay for in search of another series that could hook me.  I was ready for a good laugh (what with the world and all) but comedy specials make me so nervous anticipating the punch line that I find them astonishingly unpleasant.  Then I realized entertaining would distract me as much as funny.  I saw GLOW and decided to give it a shot.

How much do I love these ladies?

How much do I love these ladies?

I'm still in Season 1 but there have been a lot of gems so far.  At the end of episode 2, the director turns to Ruth and exclaims in delight, "You will be the villain and everyone will hate you!"  Ruth is horrified because she doesn’t want to be hated.  The director is like, "That’s just your problem.  Try not caring for once. Not giving a shit. There’s power in that."  Scene and episode end with her standing mouth agape in the parking lot.  She’s shook.  She’s an aspiring actress and the idea of not performing for the approval of others is totally foreign.

I loved that.  Ruth can be powerful if she simply doesn't care about being likeable.   It stuck with me today.  Women know how important it is to be likeable, pleasing, dare I say subservient in a handmaid kind of way.  But there’s plenty of glory in the unlikeable parts of ourselves.

Growing up, everyone called me “nice” like it was compliment.  I suppose they meant well.  I learned very early on to prioritize being nice over everything, even over being honest or good.  It spread like a cancer.  All the necessary traits got eclipsed by niceness.  Ambition?  Too rude, let others go first.  Expression?  Hogging the limelight.  I became akin to TCBY non-fat yogurt with no toppings, so muted that no one actually wants it.  I was not only nice but I was Nice, the complete embodiment of all things syrupy sweet and deferential and quiet about every kind of injustice or aggression.  I was nicest towards my aggressors because perhaps, you know, I wasn’t being nice enough when someone hurt me.  Try harder, Nice said to me.  I promised to do so.  It made me a very nice-angry person.  

“Kind” would have been better.  I am a kind person.  I care deeply when people suffer.  Like I know the flavor and nuance of other people’s suffering, and I can sense what to do to alleviate it for a bit.  (Hint, it’s often not the object of their suffering that people want removed.  They want to be understood.)  But, I was really unkind to myself.

When I began doing Muy Thai, I started to understand that being nice is catastrophically useless.  I once asked the coach what to do when a sparring partner had me in a cascade of punches and kicks.  I was asking tactically, like was there some trick move I didn’t know about.  And he looked at me squarely and was like, get out the way and strike back - you’re not a punching bag.   As I improved, I learned what it felt like to score a punch or kick or elbow.  I learned that if I wasn’t careful, my kicks were so strong that they could cause the pad holder to get a pad in the face.  I learned that repressed anger is really powerful.  And an angry woman is a freaking god.

So I think that’s what I like about GLOW so far .  The ensemble feels like Hera and Athena and all the others rolling around hurling great forces of nature at each other.  The act of being totally ruthless and physical and expressive feels so freeing and un-lady like.  I’m reveling in that now.


 

Up Up and Away

I had a dream that I boarded a plane, took off and landed safely at my destination.  It sounds straight forward, but the dream marked a significant change as far as the terrain of the unconsciousness goes.  For years, I’ve been dreaming of unsuccessful flights.

In those dreams, the bellies of planes skate along freeways, plunge into oceans or never approach cruising altitude.  They putter out.  As the dreams continued, I began to prepare for the inevitable failure even though each sleep delivered me to a new consciousness without memory of past catastrophes.  I developed dream survival skills like reaching a new level in a single-player video game.  I learned to brace for impact, swim to the surface, or land the aircraft on a stretch of cornfield.  In another, I emerge from the battered jet plane to a bountiful farm stand where black horses run in the background along a beach.  When I had that dream several months ago, I was rightfully invigorated.  I wasn’t successful but my failures were inching me closer to something promising and sustaining.

My mom always worked for the airline mostly for the perk of flying her family for little, then eventually no money.  But it came with a giant catch.  These passes got you to the terminal but they didn’t earn you a seat.  That prize was handed out by powerful gate agents, who by circumstances and a dose of sympathy, would give some or all of my family the sturdy physical ticket minutes before takeoff.  Elated, we’d run down the jetway.  Or if our names weren’t called, we hung out in the terminal reading, eating snacks, my brother and I annoying each other and rattling my mom’s nerves.  I know the IAH of the 90s very well.  Once, my brother and dad were stuck in the Honolulu airport for days during a busy spring break travel season while my mom and I went on ahead.  They slept in the terminal, eating food only meant to be enjoyable en route to paradise. 

I often dream of airport terminals too.  Terminals represent the dull passage of time punctuated with periods of frantic excitement.  Sort of like life.  Expectations mean nothing.  And the best indications of a smooth trip (open seats, off-peak times) are worth little when weather decides to roll in at any point along the travel route.  Traveling on flight benefits taught me that while most paying passengers move freely from one point to another, I should get comfortable with waiting if I wanted the chance to see other sites.  

My young adulthood was shaped by awayness but lacked any true travel.  I stalled.  I waited for permission.  I distracted myself with cheap entertainment.  Then I became a mom and incrementally this started to change.  Then I fell in love and it changed more.  Then I experienced grief and everything I knew was inverted.  Slowly, work eroded the wall-flower self.  I clung to her tighter.  Then, out of exasperation and fatigue, I let her go so I could actually get on my way and about my business. 

A Quiet Place

On Sunday, Willow got sick so it forced me to cancel plans to host book club and resign myself to the couch.  I didn’t unwrap my hair or get dressed.  I spent the entire day in an old H&M floral dress-turned-house-smock cuddling an ever growing child.  Her legs are getting so long that the days of snuggling on our mid-size sectional comfortably are pretty much over.  She locks her legs out straight burrowing her heels into my thighs.  I’m growing too.  I’m about 6 and a half months pregnant thereby limiting the number of chilling out positions I can physically assume.  I need at least one pillow propped up behind my back and that pillow needs to be firm.  So I take more space too.  In her haze, Willow insisted that I remain next to her (“I want to be near someone who loves me!” she wailed.) and we engaged in a wordless struggle for room to sprawl.  Finally, she threw up, curled into a fetal position, and fell fast asleep.  Her sleeping flush face showed all the relief she felt.

This was all very good.  We needed some quiet time. Whenever I try to initiate quiet time in our house, Willow protests that it’s boring and it’s her weekend and she should be able watch her shows.  I’m always limiting screen time and she’s always prolonging it even though her acupuncturist/herbal medicine person recommends that screen time be punctuated with 5 minute breaks every 25 minutes.  So the screen time negotiations begin every Friday evening until Sunday.  A lot of the time, Jed and I want our individual quiet times.  He to read the weekend print edition of the New York Times.  Me to journal and study tarot and waste time on Instagram.  (Although, thanks to Instagram’s handy feature, I can see when we are both on the app at the same time just a couple of feet away in different rooms.)  On a Sat or Sunday afternoon, the three of us each retreat into our own respective quiet spaces.

But it never lasts, which is how it should be. We come back somewhat replenished or irritated because a thought had just enough time to materialize but not enough time to germinate.  I’ll have enough space to remember why I’m angry although not enough to flush it out. Then Jed will say something funny or we’ll dance to the latest Drake and then we’re OK.

And to be honest, I don’t need quiet time — I need quiet moments.  Moments that allow transformation when I forget to think.  Those can never really be sought.  I don’t think it works like that.  It’s usually always found me.   When I do something really selfless, I’ve glimpsed at peace and serenity because I am deep connection with another human.  I’ve tried explaining this to people by saying that I don’t see God in church but in connection with other people.  I’ve had it when listening to another who was suffering, giving birth, reading my poetry.  Those moments changed my life.  They often remind me.  Then my anxiety and mania drop away.  And just like that, it's quiet.

Daydreaming Saved My Life

The wind had no mercy against my face last Sunday.  The weather snapped back on the short-lived warm spring joy as we walked above the dunes to the Fire Island light house.  We made our way through a snow globe of sand and gray wind punctuated with warning signs to not feed the deer. 

Willow danced her carefree self along the board walk.  She stopped and karate chopped strong gusts of sea wind that brought me to a standstill.  I'd worn the oversized peacoat that allowed cold air to shoot up inside and free it open unless I clutched the one button firmly.  Why am I always so unprepared for the weather?  Jed kept asking if I was OK.  I wasn’t and I was.  

Together, Jed and Willow climbed the 182 steps to the top of the light house.  Because I’m 6 months pregnant, I stayed in the empty first floor museum scrolling twitter for #Beychella recaps and crying because I was so moved by her exuberance and commitment to authentic expression.  Also, hormones.

The light house employee asked if I wanted to see the exhibit on the second floor.  I looked up from the marching band rendition of Formation and politely shook my head.  I was alone, indoors by the sea, happy to do nothing but zone out while my family ascended the tower.

Lately, my life resists routine which allows plenty of time to zone out.  Imagining is a very rich practice for me and I try to find opportunities to do it whenever possible.  I used to punish myself for daydreaming at work or when speaking with people whom I didn’t want to speak to.  But, I’m happy to report the good girl complex is loosening its hold!  Daydreaming saved my life.  It’s how I knew I wasn’t where I wanted to be.  It’s how I’ve created anything I’ve ever wanted. I find solutions in a landscape of my making. 

And actually, this world is of our making anyway.  That is the essence of personal responsibility.  I think Will Smith talked about it on Instagram.  My former therapist talked about it too.  When two trusted sources say the same thing, we’ll just call it truth.  So, I would wager that I am a wholly more responsible person now that I am less obligated.  It’s been almost a year after leaving the law firm world and dropping deep into my dream world.

Daydreaming affords this: recognition of the inauthentic self.  It must be recognized and denied.  I’d say Beyonce’s early pop songs catering to white audiences were more megastar-Beyonce.  Last Saturday, she could have given the mostly white affluent crowds of Coachella the version they fell in love with in 2000, but she didn’t.  She broke out step crew moves and horns that brought me back to my high school drill team days in Houston.  And everyone went crazy.

The winter was really hard.  While I told all who asked that I was living my best life starting a business and writing, I was actually reeling.  I underestimated how hard it would be to have time to face myself and the choices that had landed me in a career that didn’t fit.  Behind that I saw a scared girl and I took time to meet her, listen to her. 

You can’t just quit.  You must wander in the desert for a while with very little sustenance.  All the while, you do this while being a present parent and an attentive partner.  You answer emails.  You cook dinner.  You become a mom for a second time.  You face grief at unexpected intervals.  You descend into your murky self while staying tethered to the practical world because the mundane is (thankfully) a life preserver.
 

Nowhere to Hide

My day-to-day life looks very different than it did 7 months ago.  I no longer face each day with the soul-wrenching dread of C train commutes and unseasonable office temperatures.  Ever since I quit to do my own thing, it’s sort of like someone handed me a pencil and gave me permission to sketch a new life.  The summer was about erasing the directionless scribble scrabble.  Then I realized I was intimidated by a blank slate.

When people talk about the unknown it’s usually spoken about like an ominous dark force.  Maybe because it so closely resembles death.  As my friend said yesterday, “We can do all we can to avoid it but we all know how this story ends.”  Even in that moment, my brain went into panic mode saying “Not today, Satan!”  But, a little fear of mortality is healthy.   I just listened to the The Bruised Ego Podcast Episode that I recorded (Season 3: Ep. 22 now out for your listening pleasure!) where I spoke about the creative process.  I was reminded of how the idea of me dying without having written a book or pursued any of this writing stuff will mean a life not worth living.  

I can’t forget that darkness in general has always been a motivating factor for me.  It gets me to take action when I otherwise wouldn’t.  How else would I exit bad relationships, ill-fitting jobs, and toxic dramas?  It’s a push, a mother’s hand, and a not too gentle guiding force. I’m grateful for it but I’m still afraid of it.

Without the distractions of having to please higher-ups in a hierarchical workplace, I was faced with nothing but my own void of self.  There was nowhere to hide.  Who am I? That question plagued me, caused lower back spasms, and drove me to wonder WTF I had decided to do.  So I made little lists, literally sketched what I wanted my life to look like as if I were some all-powerful being in the sky looking down at myself.  Oh, look there’s Thea sitting at her glistening white desk, burning sage, pouring herself too much coffee, listening to Angel Olsen on repeat.

From this time where nothing and everything converged, I did produce two published pieces.  A prose-poetry piece called "What Sophie Talks About" in Typishly and "The Way It Felt" (memoir) in the November issue of Split Lip Magazine. 

Now, back to that void!
 

Every day by Everyone

“Stop showing your ass,” the young mom hissed through closed teeth. 
She slapped a fat young wrist and an older woman in a navy caftan frowned. 

    Motherhood requires tenderness when no one has ever been tender toward you. 

I wanted to give her my email and imagined replying to her outreach like this:

    Hi, I was a single mother before and it was hard. If you ever need someone to talk to….

But I just looked on. Then I thought:

    You hit because your mom hit you.  Did you ever stop to think why?

Then I imagined a subway brawl on YouTube.

“They don't care if you have a baby.” She shoved her stroller into a woman in headphones. “They don't care.”

The headphones-lady growled at the tattooed mother with tight jeans without a man. “You keep doing that and you'll get slapped one of these days.”

    But this mother (girl) was getting slapped every day by everyone.

It starts with a feeling

About this time last year, I decided to write and post a poem a day to my Instagram for 30 days. I hooked up the wonderful WIP Artists team and was able to read some of those pieces and discuss the process behind that project at their live event.  Here's some video of that discussion.  My Texas accent comes through when I'm nervous/hyped but I felt so lucky to hear feedback and answer questions about a process that usually lives only in my head.  Maybe I'll do the 30 days of poems for summer '17?

Working on more live events soon.  Stay in touch on Instagram @aboutfiveeleven

2000


A crop top of green and white florals tied up just below my breast bone
I recall when I drive near the home where girlhood was spent/spilled
The futuristic sheen of metallic blue Y2K hysteria on my lips/fear of not withdrawing funds from ATMs
Because computer geeks forgot to account for 1999 to 2000, so the 00s would mean an end
It was pretty clear we’d all die or escape to a bunker or on a full tank of gas, drive north to….
We would use the funds from my lucrative modeling contract to helicopter the hell out of Dodge
I could save our little family from a lifetime of canned green beans by being pubescent/sexy in cutoffs
I watch Keanu be the chosen one, and I cry a little, like why is he special?  All the boys in my class keep saying “Ms. Anderson” slowly and mouthy but they don’t give me a pill to get the hell out of….
There was another, denim top I wore to school veiled under other shirts, to show a perfect navel, youngish, a baby’s, thrust into the 2000 to find out I’d lived, noting had blown up, died, morphed, zombie'd, shut down…
so what now?
 

Stay Here

your mother/the matriarch
leaves her new husband after three springs
she couldn't stand to be with him
after you died 

a similar mutation burrowed into my
newish romance
we call it disappointment/roaming anger

the matriarch texts me to get your
Samsonites filled with flight attendant possessions
so she can get on the road in 12 hours

I recall her men: the country one,
the one of her youth, the one who made you
they each made her grind her teeth
until it was time to leave

I unzip side pockets and closed cavities
that when packed signal you are away or ready to be away
I go slowly so I can gaze at framed photos of her new/ex husband
I keep a brush and a bracelet that you touched days before
I close the luggage, a mouth no longer agape

Why end at all?
can we slide smoothly into our anger
dying each time we say, Yes I will fall in love again. Then leave our carry-ons
in other rooms once
         the love is too good to stay here.
 

The Soft Parts of My Body

If a soft part of my body bumped against you, 
would you pretend it did not?
You would. 

I am aware that a woman is petting the nape of a gentleman's neck
in transit as if to say, this is my man. He leans slightly away. 

I protect the soft parts of my body by leaning away. 
When I lean against the sliding doors
I think for the second time that if something went wrong I could die. 
At least 50 people died in contact with a train in 2015. 
This is an outrage but I don't let it in. 

I am stunned at the ashy kids selling Welches grape fruit snacks
because they are so young, except they aren't. 
Then I realize that the crevices of my hands are also ashen except not so young. 

I am aware that I have been holding my breath. 
Like an invader were to unfold in the afros fur coats puffer jackets silken weave city flesh and stenciled tote bags. 
Then advance in worn eye dimples piss on coats wafting takeout in mouth. 
Then scratch away my borderless body and my little mind
while the softness of my body grows and grows.

Fermented

I set my glass bottle of fermented organisms on the counter.
the deli owner looked down,
you smell like the girls in my culture

if I burn Frankincense and Myrrh
I remind men of their women

you pointed out that I had no culture
you sketched me in a hijab

you drank, breaking pillars on a Tuesday
What do you call me in Urdu? Bird.

Who is your god? Money power respect, you laugh. 

you used my flight benefits to go to Tennessee
the blond girl you are fucking has a draw

When required to pray 5 times a day, 
all of life is a reminder that you            aren't

I got myself changed in Arabic and Urdu, 
A forethought in another tongue. Why is your prayer on me?

It actually didn’t matter, the conflicts playing out over there, the warring sects, our competing notions about god and love, we were both people of the book. You said when you died, you wanted to be buried in your mom’s heart. You said you eat halal because the slaughtering is up to par. You said you never wanted to hurt me. But a wanting is less than a prayer. You have to know that when you slept I prayed to a faceless god with many arms and she lifted you in glass and turned you over and back again, your pain a fermentation. 

Salon Chair

You’ve got so much breakage, 

Yes, well, having dragged my army by the hair,
it is so.  

took Biotin, inverted to hang head
blood to scalp so
hair would grow
instead, time stood still

plastered the wanted and unwanted hair
back on body in all the right parts
and was called feminine, even beautiful

torn, ravaged ends quelled with chemicals
braided and twisted into spells
sewn slicked stripped
drowned slathered drawn quieted

woman with an army of things
that will die faster than things ever done
or undone in the wreckage

Born

I do remember being born

I’ve always wanted to say that
but I could never find a way to start
and that is much like being born

I recount a metal table, very cold
and medical masks like down-shifted halos

I was born
again as a single mom

But the “single” stripped the “mom” and undressed
a quiet “I”

the kernel knowledge illuded me
asked me to be born yet again

This time in marriage
and the “wife” bombarded the “beloved”
and slipped us up in “promise”

What will come forth
when I remember that I was never born
but only sent?

A Little Wail

Last night, I heard a cat wail but you didn’t
It was concerning the way that things you can’t help are
He must have been wedged somewhere without escape

And it wasn’t the baby below us, but in my mind
I made him a kitten with a burnt orange face
And he was my creature to care for so I looked for him in the night
It was one of those nights where I heard you stop breathing many times
And shook you like the creature I care for
You awoke but wouldn’t open your eyes
And the kitten wailed, except that now it was speaking
new words with old words, words as worlds, they fell
Between your mumblings, I whispered to you, Is it time to have a baby?

The Clench

Here is the clench: you place your arms on the bicep, the other at the elbow
and you swim in always aiming for the inside
or you can grab around the ribs and press your chin
to her chest and bring her down
It’s a technique that I have a hard time learning by sight alone
I am partnered up and we are hesitant, fearing to hurt the other
Really, we want to win so we start the swimming
Around us, students are hitting the mat in sweeps
I look at her feet and sensing I’m about to sweep her
she turns me like a steering wheel but my legs are stronger
so we buckle and we are back in the clench.  
She is tired but she won’t let go and neither will I. 

A Forging Heart

Wrinkled from skiing in Aspen.
He was on sabbatical. Quickly, I made him a professor although he wasn't.
We agreed to make a baby although nothing was ever said about it.


And I thought more of the mummified cowboy excavated from his stable home walls.
I thought less of my body.

We kept trying to co-write a book.
He called me sweets and made sure I was on the pill.


I wrote about everything at 41 Broadway.
The drafts grew a heart beat. The Williamsburg-famous came in and out.
Guys and Dolls. Then, the toddler son of the band's keyboardist.
Although I never saw his face but did trip over a car seat once in the middle of the night.


What if this is just a draft?
And drafts are all we have?
A constant negotiation between permanence and death?


The keyboardist's son.
A growing figure of black curls, which I saw from my window within his stroller.
Still could not see his face.


The roof without a ledge for parties.
The chandelier that clicked.
Coke on mirrors. Bottles on mantles.
And a forging heart within my walls.