I am driving down Hull Street Road, coffee in the holster, string cheese in my teeth, driving into the sunrise. I am back in this town with my boots strapped on tight and my coat swishing at my knees when I walk, so I can run on the ice and so I might not get seen if you look at me from behind. My hair is brown now, like I want to take a shadow and paint it over my energy and slip along the side of the wall away from those walking toward me.

We walk our days out in cycles, circles on circles, turning into each other and kissing and turning away to meet the next thing before coming back again, later. Richmond is a boomerang town, they told me. I laugh and I know. These trees by the river know me, all my faces. I walk along at Pony Pasture with a friend and I forget who I’ve been there with. It all runs together, circles on circles, meeting the place in time immaterial with those I love, over and over. The story is the same. Am I chasing a destination in a straight line or am I running along behind myself, trusting that she knows where to go—have we been here before? I think we must have. I’ll keep running. The trees remember me. The ground still tells me stories.

I run around, a spider clinging to the center of her web, overwhelmed and frozen by the vibrations hitting her from each side of the strands she’s set, each tying her to a piece of life that she has claimed as her own. It’s windy here and the sun is opaque and distant, cuddling the mist and turning her back to me. I’m not in California anymore. I do not have the sharp lines of sunlight and dust and salt to cut up my day into spaces that are mine or not mine. I melt into the hours and the interactions, we sink into blankets on the couch and the ownership of feet is forgotten. My sisters and I are the same skin and voices and we circle in and out of each others’ days—who did I tell that to? Is this hers or mine? I had to stop eating that, your body might too. We laugh in cycles. It’s good. But I have no borders. Even when I close my door, my new phone buzzes and chirps and my mind becomes a set of tiny spinning gears and I chase the circuit around this circle and into the next and into the one below before getting tossed up to that one just up there.

My heart is warm. I have so much love for these people, for these places. But I have woken up here from an enchantment, a moment of life between dreams. They are the same, and they are not the same. We hold hands and move in the same steps as before, but I notice things I never saw before—how she carries her weight in her hips now, how his voice is more kind, how the fear in her eyes has eroded her shoulders, too. And I wonder if this is the dream or if this is the real life? Seven weeks left and then I pass into the next spell, a large and weighty unknown which has my name and is going to swallow me up. And I plan to submit to it, to ask it questions, to wait for it to teach me. So here I am, here, but not here, but unable to slip backward or forward—both feel dreamlike and opiate. I do not know if I actually kissed the stars or swam in the cold water. I do not know if I will be cold and catch the light. I do not know if my tongue tasted you or if it will shape strange sounds.

I am here. The hollowness of this house spins me around. There are whole patches of carpet I do not dare to dance on, whole shelves in my closet that I pretend do not exist. The street beyond the driveway might be water, and I might suddenly have weight and sink into it if I touched it. You might become real if I let you touch me.

Of course I cannot see the stars here—this must be a dream. Or maybe, the stars never were, and I have woken to my future.

I applied to the Peace Corps last summer. I got my invitation in November. I accepted. I got my medical clearance last week. I’m waiting on my visa. My passport has my new [own] name on it. I’ll be volunteering as an English teacher to primarily middle school and high school students, but I won’t know the details of my assignment or my exact placement until this summer. If all goes according to plan, I’m leaving for Kyrgyzstan for two years at the end of April. 

And: if I put together a chapbook of some of my poems and made it available for download for a couple bucks, would you like that?

xo,

h


For the last year, I’ve been sleeping on couches, borrowed mattresses, and at last, my own thin IKEA futon thrown down on the floor. I have lived out of a suitcase since last August.

This last week I spent wound tight, my attention turned so intensely inward that I left threads hanging to tangle in the wind out of sheer distraction. Calls left unreturned, texts half-started, emails glaring at me in bold letters, unread. I cooked a lot. It was all I could think about, though if I was honest I’d probably say I cooked a lot because I needed to be on autopilot so my brain could work overtime, like a computer empty of all but the most basic processes so you can run script through it in double time like they talk about in that hacking scene of every late 2000s movie. I made scones and cookies and soup and pizza, each without a recipe, each with a new twist. Raspberries in the scones, cinnamon and oatmeal in the cookies, soup with curry and kale and yams, pizza in a cast iron frying pan. Let me taste my way to culinary fullness so my brain doesn’t have to think about anything even so simple as a recipe.

It’s summer here, not spring. There’s no dramatic demarcation of seasons to announce the shifting, settling, creaking in my soulbones. I’ve been writing a shitty poem every day as part of a group project for the month of June. Greasing the wheels or somesuch–I thought it might help me dig my way out of the shell-hole Clare’s post going viral left in my brain. It hasn’t helped and I’ve been dry as a bone.

Back when I was in the church, I used to describe this restless shifty itching that leaves me without writing words and rusty-jawed socially as being in a spiritually dry spot. We had a book on the living room shelf called Streams in the Desert and every time I saw it this is what I thought of: the missing, the hamster wheel brain, the hibernating empathy. Now I’m more inclined to recognize it as an extension of me instead of an abstract force of a “season”–it’s a symptom and I’m learning to listen to it, to tend it, to be uncomfortable until I realize it’s passed me over and exhale in relief.

I really like my job when I’m like this, though I get cantankerous and set in my ways. The physical demands of sorting, shelving, unboxing, and moving product at the bookstore tires me out and pushes me through, much like the cooking does. I am Sisyphus but I am happy rolling up and down the hill because I know I am percolating something deep inside my boulder and then I can leave.

There were a lot of reasons for why I came to California. I suppose I was running away, on some levels. I was also seeking to undo curses that kept me feeling limited. This was my home, and I was exiled. Could I come back home? Was something fundamentally wrong with me, that I couldn’t return? Or would the mother-warm sun and the soft slopes of the foothills embrace me and hold me close? Even though that dream didn’t quite come true, I managed it. I came home. I returned. The curse is broken. Yes, it’s been a struggle and it’s seemed aimless, and sometimes I’m still here out of sheer exhaustion and sometimes I’m still here out of sheer pride. But I am still here.

And the sunlight has finally thawed something deep down, and I’m feeling like it’s time for one of those regulated burns they do in the mountains. I was up there two weeks ago with my childhood friend and her son, kicking pine cones and stomping through a mountain meadow to find “our” trees and a red spring by a creek. I indulged my ruminative state up there, away from cell service and the internet, and I came away feeling stilled.

And then reality bit my ass, reminding me that men like power and women don’t trust their own strength in the face of the blunt childishness of their men. I don’t blame them. Creature comforts are my security blanket, too. But if it is in my power to slice, to arouse, to startle, to blind with light, to burn, and the cost is not so great to those still dependent on these men, I will do so. And I knew I would, but the decision sat above my eyes and pressed down on me until I felt blinded by it. Days passed and everything was aching from the necessity of this little personal Alamo. And so I broke down my words into small pieces and mixed them with my tears (there were few–I can’t cry with a migraine) and poured us our tonic and lit the fire and walked away.

When I woke up from that hangover, all I knew was the clean blue of a June sky and the exhale of relief.

And then I looked around and saw I had been living like a beggar child, hoarding this and that, meeting my necessities alone and ignoring the music and the panache. So I set to clean house, dusting cobwebs out of high shelves and taking out books I’d forgotten out of necessity and drawing up plans again. Coffee was poured and I shifted into another time zone, chasing the zephyr across the horizon.

I used to be afraid of falling in love, and I think I am, still. But I used to worry about wasting a limited resource on the wrong person, of pouring myself out and seeing my everything puddled on the floor and not being able to catch it all back again in my jar. Now, I am afraid out of habit, but I know that instead of a secret stash in a jar, love is like that red spring by the creek where the water runs clear. It might get muddied, but there’s more where it came from and the dirt will either settle or get washed away or calcify and become beautiful in time.

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It feels like springtime in that the cobwebs are gone and the hibernation has ended and the growing things are forcing themselves toward the sun. It feels like spring in that the old hoary curses have been replaced with seductive promises. The miserly desperation of winter is gone, and I’m ready to loll around in the grass and gorge myself a little.


I wrote a post about feeling displaced last January, three weeks after I’d had to move out to give my [now] ex-husband the space he thought he needed to clear his head and recommit to our marriage. I wasn’t able to tell you all why I was writing that post then, so I shrouded my grief in nostalgia, in childhood memories.

Sometimes people ask why I can blog such personal stuff and not be afraid. I have to laugh, because it’s not brave stuff I’m writing. It’s reactions and analysis, it’s carefully curated glimpses into my reality to bolster my message that you’re not alone and that asking questions and accepting yourself is not just not against the gospel or the teachings of Jesus, but foundational and essential to the health of a church and an individual. But it’s not very transparent.

And sometimes, that’s okay. I don’t need to tell you everything. It would be unhealthy if I was spilling all my guts on here all the time.

But I’m really tired and I’ve been thinking about Brené Brown‘s writings a lot, and this is my blog folks, so I’m going to give you a post with a little guts.

I’m tired of seeming unstable. I’m tired of not knowing if I’m going to have work or not this week. I’m tired of not knowing if I should be trying harder to show people my gratitude for putting me up. I’m tired of packing and repacking suitcases and then not knowing where my cute skirt is, or if I remembered to leave my jacket accessible. I’m tired of telling people that no, I don’t have enough work to support myself yet, that I can’t yet afford my own apartment, that I’m not sure what’s going to happen next.

I’m tired of knowing exactly what I want to do and where and why, tired of knowing who I want to be, but not being able to get there because I’m still stuck chasing these other life essentials. I’m tired of feeling guilty if I write things, because it’s detracting from job hunting. I’m tired of feeling both perpetually emotionally gutted and necessarily poised to respond to an impending crisis. I’m tired of telling my story and not knowing how to talk about my situation well. I’m tired of being afraid.

I’m tired of people being worried about me. It’s really uncomfortable.

All of that is vulnerability–I am in a vulnerable position, I don’t know what I’m going to do next, and I am losing my chutzpah to keep fighting for myself. It’s been almost a year and I just want to sleep for days, to get enough down time to begin to process everything that’s happened, and I just want to be able to take a day to myself not because I am stuck and don’t have work, but because I have worked hard and earned it and don’t need to worry about the financial ramifications. But I’m not there, and I do need people and that’s nothing to be ashamed of.

I’ve lived in relative privilege for a long time. This is a very white whiney post. I’m trying to keep things in perspective and not complain because I am still, contextually speaking, in a position of relative security and privilege. I haven’t yet defaulted on a bill. I haven’t yet lacked for a place to sleep at night. I am still able to feed my cat and buy gas and food. I have had a lot of really wonderful people step in when I needed help and have been love with skin on to me. If I started telling you about each of the people who has been generous to me this year, I’d never be able to stop. There has been so much good tangled up with the hard stuff and I am so aware of it.

But I’m also just plain tired. So, hi, it’s Saturday, and this is me being vulnerable.

#feministselfie?


I wish I had a picture of that last sunset on that last night.

It was one of those cloudless Valley haze sunsets, where the sky filtered evenly from yellow to blue to twilight dark behind the mountains. There was a small parking lot with a few guests, halfway to LA from Reno, unloading their SUVs and trickling in. A tall streetlight lit up the corner of the lot and interrupted my sky.

Everyone had gone inside. I was stalling to breathe, to take a picture in my mind like Laura Ingalls Wilder would have done. I looked west, thinking that this would be the last time I’d see the sun setting toward the ocean. And I turned and looked at the mountains and the stars piercing through the skyline above them and turned over and over the thought of an abstract future in the yet-unknown Virginia.

I’d said my goodbyes to my best friends the day before. We’d had our homeschool group friends over that day to load the truck. We piled into the rusty blue van, blankets and books tumbling around our seats, arguing about who sat where. We waited in the car at a friend’s house while my dad went in to pick up my sister from her last birthday party tradition with her childhood playmate. She had cake on her face and smelled like chlorine, and in the heat of August, we wished we did, too.

Then we drove — not far — to the hotel for our first night on the way to Virginia, and our last night in California.

I tried to collect in my mind my favorite California sensations. The smell of orange blossoms in April (I have now forgotten what they smell like, to my dismay). The smell of dairy farm country in the morning air. The sounds of the blue jay and the mourning dove and the walnut tree harvesters. The sights of Mineral King and Three Rivers. Sledding in Sequoia National Park and rumbling up the mountain with chains on the car’s wheels. The silky feel of Valley dust. The cool shade of orange groves and the soft, rotting soil below the trees. The taste of Christmas tamales, the taste of salt rub BBQ, and Sunday lunches at In-N-Out Burger. Sunday morning worship in the park under a tent. Shooting off rockets in a field behind a school. Rollerblading on sidewalks in the sun. Neighborhood chatter and gathering to set off fireworks in the street, to marvel at the rarity of a snowfall at 5am. The feel of chalk on my hands at the gym, the stretch and poise and soft thuds of ballet routines on wooden floors in a sunlit room with a record player. Walking the St. John’s river parkway and playing on sandbars with my siblings. Artichokes, fat and fresh, steamed and dipped in butter. Climbing skinny trees barefoot and smelling eucalyptus on the wind.

I clutched my bag with the journal inside for storing up everything I wanted to write about the trip, and walked into the hotel.

But I wouldn’t write about those things, for fear of losing them.


I’ve avoided saying these words to myself for a long time, but it’s really the most accurate description:

When I was 12, my family moved from California to the east coast to join a cult.

I haven’t felt at home anywhere since.

***

There were other factors, of course. Economy, family ideals for finding a supportive community for a family with young kids, etc.

We left the little yellow house where four of my younger siblings (there would later be four more) had been brought home, we left the friends I had grown up with and my first true best friend, we left the mountains and the sea and the sand, we left my mom’s widowed mother and my dad’s parents, and we left the only state and culture we had ever known.

We packed up a trailer, we squeezed ourselves into a little blue minivan with peeling paint, and we drove into the desert for two weeks of cross-country insanity.

When we arrived, we were love-bombed and surrounded by people who made us feel welcomed and at home in this new community. I was plopped down in the thick of 12-year-old-girl cliques, with all the political trappings of Sovereign Grace Ministries and their organic social pecking order based on appearances of humility and godliness.

And then there was the culture shock, as opinionated, confident me and my honest and blunt mother both felt squelched by passive aggressive social cues and vague disapproval from the women in our church.

I was so homesick.

***

In our new home, I shared a 10’x10′ bedroom with my younger sister for 6 years, my mom locking us into the arrangement with the words, “Well, you guys really need to learn to get along. I think you should be roommates for a while.” We fought for space, for privacy, for emotional safety. We never got it, not there. I withdrew into books, she into self-loathing. I stayed up late at night reading, because it was the only time I could be quiet and alone in a household with nine kids and heavy expectations. She hid in the bathroom and disappeared into self-isolation because everyone else was louder and more obviously needy than she was.

We’re only just beginning to discuss with each other how miserable that season was.

There were lots of reasons I looked forward to moving out and going to college, but getting space, quiet, and privacy was one of the things I hoped for the most. My parents laughed and told me not to expect that.

***

In college, I ended up in a dorm room that was almost twice of my bedroom back home. I had a wonderful roommate and it became a haven.

But nine months later and I was home for the summer, and I found I wasn’t welcome in my old space anymore. Space was tight and my sisters had rearranged the rooms while I was gone. Every break after that, I found myself feeling more and more transient, displaced, an intrusion.

I did internships in the summers. I lived in the basements of friends of friends. I lived in spare bedrooms and on old army cots. I lived in dark places and I set aside things that defined me so I wouldn’t offend. I put up with things that were personally revolting or emotionally oppressive to make it through.

I told myself, “I can do anything for a month.”

And I did. I loved people and explored new places and was hurled into discomfort and grew in the awkwardness.

But I couldn’t put down roots. Everywhere I slept, I knew that these places belonged to someone else, that I couldn’t cultivate anything, create anything, or impose myself on the place and space in any lasting ways.

I pared down my belongings. I invested in writing rather than drawing or painting. I cooked instead of gardening. Creativity oozed out in other places while I wandered.

I craved dirt I could love. A patch of earth and life that I could live with and care for and belong to.

***

Living in the little basement apartment has been hard for me.  I have a deep, psychological craving for light. I leave for work before it’s fully light out, and I walk out of my office building and the sun has already set. Winter’s dark season eats my soul every year.

But I’m a survivor, I say, to steel myself against it all. I can take it for a long while before I crumble into my own need for light, privacy, and space. After that, it becomes a slow slide into mental static. Other things start to bother me more. Dust and funky smells become more than a mild irritation, and then clutter becomes nails on a chalkboard and I shut down.

And then I snap, one way or another. I create, I organize, I clean, I cry, I sleep it off. I try to combat the transience and feeling of being lost, but it never quite goes away.

I had a basil plant outside our window. It was a little thing to love and care for, but it died. We don’t get enough light inside to keep anything green alive. The little cat is a comfort, but she doesn’t belong there, either. We are wanderers, pausing here until April. Then we’ll be gone, no matter what lies I tell myself now with paint and organizing and new bookshelves.

And I don’t know where we’ll go next or when I’ll find a home. I don’t belong here. I’ve been away from California for too long.

I dream of places where I belong, but they don’t exist when I wake up. Every place I live is borrowed, and no space I inhabit knows my name or touch.

***

This is the plight of the modern, the evangelical church kid who always worshiped in high school gymnasiums, the child of that American generation who will move anywhere for a job, the ahistorical American culture sinking its teeth into my humanity, the product of concrete suburban purgatory.

We need place. We need belonging. We need dirt and sunshine.

This is where the conservation of the conservatives and the humanism of the liberals meets with a kiss. This is where the incarnation reveals to me my own nature and reminds me of the Father’s promise of things made right. This is where I pray and know that I am dust, and am thankful for that connection to this beautiful earthy home.

And maybe someday, I’ll find myself at home, belonging to a membership of land and people in the way God intended.

Whatever we inherit from the fortunate
We have taken from the defeated
What they had to leave us—a symbol:
A symbol perfected in death.
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
By the purification of the motive
In the ground of our beseeching.
– T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding III