Milk and Spills

It’s easy enough to make me cry.

RockActually, I cry a lot. Probably at least once a day, if I’m honest – thanks to social media, and my fondness for montages set to sweeping music. Sure, it’s a kind of emotional pornography most times, but everyone’s got a habit, right? When it comes to modern communication, I don’t troll – I tear up.

That’s just the way I’m wired.

And I’m not a gentle crier, either. Think floods. Heaving. Wracking. Ask any of my old co-workers who have handed me tissues after sending me a YouTube link – my tears are not dignified.

The thing is, social media has given us certain permission – it may even be an expectation – that it’s okay to experience ‘all the feels’ over our morning coffee. As we scroll through our various feeds we briefly tap into other lives, and we experience this other emotion. This allowed emotion – outside of us, and brief. We’re encouraged to feel all our feels for a full minute and a half, and then, emotionally catheterized, get back to it.

Because one’s own sorrow, one’s owned sorrow is generally not so welcome, is it? When I am faced with my own milk spills, I am not nearly so forthcoming with the tears. Permission is seldom granted to really cry in front of someone. The kind of cry I don’t have words for, because when it happens you’re so in it, so consumed by it that self-awareness completely dissolves, and you are left, after, with a vague sense of having been as naked as you will ever be.

That kind of cry is different. That kind of cry is reserved.

I’m thinking about the ways we cry today because I’ve noticed there is another way. A way of feeling emotion that is both other and your own. A desire for feeling something that is not so much sought as discovered, and it’s happening more and more to me here in New York City as this adventure goes on.

Each day, some neural connection well beyond my own mapping flares, and I find myself suddenly, inexplicably tasting salt on my lip.

Eleanor Statue in Riverside ParkIt might happen as I run past the Eleanor Roosevelt statue on Riverside Drive, a squirrel darting round her skirts. It might be walking down Broadway on a grey day and Defying Gravity shuffles through my iPod, as if the street knows its own name. It might be batting blossoms off the page as I write in Central Park, or as I lay staring at the bright blue above me, watching birds and aeroplanes, and hearing the symphony that is New York at any hour – even a peaceful one.

Or it might be as it was today in the park, finishing Alan Cumming’s beautifully written memoir Not My Father’s Son. This book made my chest ache. As I walked home, I thought about resilience, about forgiveness and liberation. I thought about how callous humans can be, and equally, how tender. I thought about all of the private wars and peacetimes that make up our lives, and what a gift it is for a writer to let you sit with them for a while, even – or especially – in the dark.

NotMyFathersSon-hc-w

And suddenly, walking along Columbus with the dog-eared paperback tucked under my arm, I started crying. It wasn’t the floods kind, or the heaving. And it wasn’t the devastating, dissolving kind, either. This was a different way of feeling. These tears were neither personal nor premeditated. They were instead about feeling so human, so full and so connected that my body couldn’t hold it all in.

It’s what I feel when I nod to Eleanor, or Broadway hums back at me, and when the sky is so blue that I don’t mind living upside down. It’s a way of feeling the weight of other lives that doesn’t exploit them, but seeks to know, to feel them. And it’s not about being here in New York – though certainly this city plays her part. I think it’s about seeking the full story, wherever you are. I think it’s about stepping away from sound bites and snapshots – about no longer feasting on the scraps of sentiment, but instead taking your time to see, taste, touch what you consume.

“We get a heartache when we read those lines written by the hand of a master and recognise them as our own, as the tender shoots which we stifled because we lacked the faith to believe in our own powers, our own criterion of truth and beauty.

Every man, when he gets quiet, when he becomes desperately honest with himself, is capable of uttering profound truths. We all derive from the same source.

There is no mystery about the origin of things. We are all part of creation, all kings, all poets, all musicians; we have only to open up, only to discover what is already there.”

~ Henry Miller

To me, these are Miller’s wisest of his many wise words. I’m finally tapping into that source he speaks of, and the truth bubbles up out of me whenever I recognise it. Which is why, when I suddenly found myself crying on Columbus today, I felt not shame but overwhelming joy for being so naked on this busy street.

All I see

I am wrapped in something silver. Shivering. They keep calling me m’am, and they take turns with their questions, pressing gently against my confusion. I am trying to concentrate, trying to swim up through my saturation, but my eyes keep going to their belts, their thick black weapons like anchors, and how I could just reach over now and pull one free, grasp one of the guns and point.

At what? At who? What am I most afraid of, here?

I close my eyes and a baton comes down against my skull, smashes through skin and bone, breaks me apart. I see blood. Exploding. But it’s just the sirens flashing, and the trail of red from her open mouth, and nobody is moving but me.

Everything is spinning in the wrong direction. And she is perfectly still. Wrapped tight like me, but I cannot see what they have used to cover her. Have they straightened her limbs? Have they pushed her hair from her face, and gently closed her legs?

And again, the startling flash of exposed skin, the deep purple of her thighs, the finger bruises, spreading. A map drawn behind my eyes. And now it’s all I see.

I think I am going to be sick.

The officers are staring; my hand has gone to my mouth. There is metal on my tongue, and it tastes like a gun, the cool, hard of a barrel pushed against my face. Like a fist.

I double over and throw up on the gravel.

M’am. Are you okay, m’am? Can we get you some water, m’am?

And the questions stop as someone pats my shoulder, the female officer I think, though her face is blank as she turns away.

Did you notice anything just before you stopped? Did you see anyone strange in the area? Did anything seem out of place?

That’s what they kept asking me. And I said no, yes, um – a useless trail of words because I saw nothing. There was nothing. There was just rain closing in, and the river churning, and the place I stopped to breathe.

Where she was. Where I found her. I had never seen a dead body before. Never seen the impossible stillness, the quiet of it.

What’s going to happen to her?

My question now. Unanswered as I shiver in my silver wrap, and another siren keens its way toward us.

~ Elliott, Into The After

Riverside Park

Inspired by my run today. I think I’ve found my place and time.

Go home

TWhole Foodsoday, as I left Whole Foods (yep, with my tofu and quinoa salads), I got a little teary. My kind of teary, that is …

The store on Columbus had a sign above their exit: “See you again soon, neighbor” or something similar. And it struck me that this is my neighbourhood. This is where I live. It might not be forever, and it might not even be for long – but for now, this is my home. For now, I am exactly where I am supposed to be – in a neighbourhood and a town where even grocery shopping at an over-regulated, over-priced supermarket feels like a grand adventure.

New York makes me happy in the smallest, and most significant ways.

A lot is made of following your dreams. But I think it’s more about following your instinct. Dreams suggest something tangible to reach for, something to achieve. Following your instinct, on the other hand, means listening to yourself. It means paying attention to who you are, and what makes you happy, no matter the scale of your “achievements”.

Are you happy? Are you where you want to be? Is this your neighbourhood, or is there some other place, some other person – somewhere – that you sense is home, even if it feels too far away right now?

I say follow your instinct. Find your home. Go home. It’s easier than you think really, because changing your life is just as hard as you’d imagine, too. Which kind of prepares you for the darker moments – and makes you so happy when the sun comes out. It gives you such clarity around what you’ve got to be grateful for.

I’m grateful. I’m happy. I love my new neighbourhood.

And I’m home.

brick-wall

Not what I imagined

Jane

So this is what it is like to be dead. It is not what I imagined. Though imaginings seem very limited now, the things one can dream and feel when we are alive. Now that I am dead.

I am dead.

What a strange distinction. Between me before, and me now. Before I was one thing only – I was alive, I was breathing and pumping blood around my body, into my limbs, and all through me. Now I have no blood and no body. No fingers to wriggle, and no toes to curl under. I am just air now. I am what I used to breathe in. Only, it isn’t just. There is no containment. I am air and I am everything. If I think of something – say a wave crashing, then I am that wave, I am the pulling back, the curve and swell, and the pounding against the ocean floor. Then, if I am reminded of fish in the whitewash, I am suddenly the slippery, silver tail, I am the rushing school of gill and scale.

I only have to think it, and I become it. Not just feel it, but I am it. Anything and everything that exists.

Except me. I don’t exist anymore, and I cannot feel me. That girl, the one they call Jane. They still don’t know my name. And I, too, have forgotten. I don’t know who I was, what I had. When I think of me instead of oceans or fish, it suddenly goes black. I am dark matter, a rent in the fabric of the universe. Easier to be the wave, and the darting fish, flying.

But still I wonder, in the spiraling – who was she? Where did she come from and where did she go? When he did those things to her. When she died at his hands.

I am dead. This is what it is like to be dead. Imagining never once came close to this.

Wave

Very, very early character drafting for “Into the After”. As usual it has gone in a different direction than where I first pointed my pen. The body keeps the score – I keep thinking of this saying, and now I have met Jane, who is everything but herself, who can inhabit every thing that exists, but her own body. So many metaphors. Now to the hard part …

One memory from my sleeping

When the blues come, a cello plays under my skin. A mournful dirge that sinks me into melancholy, pulling me in and under my someone. And somethings.

I know all about sirens and their rocks, I know about the luring. It could be so easy to listen to that music on repeat, to follow where it leads. Deep and down into the caves of my subconscious, where all the words are hiding.

Where I smash against my fatal shore, and I am one memory from my sleeping.

I can cross oceans, I can follow the curve of the moon, and blink under building lights that shame the stars. But when the blues sing me through the night, I am back at my beginning again.

And you are still there, waiting.

On the Rocks

Sleepless in New York …

Verge

My body and the clocks say different things.

Last night I poured my vodka down the sink and fell asleep on the bathroom floor. I fall deepest when the sun comes up, and wake disoriented from my morning travels. Everything is the wrong way round here, or I am. So much corner turning, so much emerging from below, and it creates a kind of alert exhaustion, an expectation that something is about to happen today if I just get up and in it.

It all feels so possible, so utterly and entirely possible, this living on the brink.

“I did not belong there,” Joan Didion said of this city. And I recognise her words, because I know I do not belong here either. I do not know the rhythm and the rules. I am a step out of time, backwards dancing across these cracked pavements and sticky stairwells.

And like Joan Didion, I am in love. I am in love with this grimy, swollen, stinking city. With her teeming masses, and the bare-bone trees of winter, waiting.

They are anonymous, quiet like me.

And I too am on the verge of blooming.

Eleanor Statue in Riverside Park

New York, New York. 

We’re still here

I don’t know if there are other lives.

I don’t know if you and I exist in any other place and time – if the world is ours, or if we can only go so far in this together.

I don’t know if we exist outside of place and time. If the other you and other me are just ahead, and watching. Turning back – or catching up – or only ever passing, while our fleeting touch reminds.

(That it is still you and me. The better us. The only us.)

I don’t know if there are other lives.

But when I close my eyes, we’re still here. And this is just our waiting.

Beautiful Mess