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.


“Maybe I’ll just set it in a small college and then get my editor to help me change everything to high school details after the manuscript gets accepted.”

“I think I should Snapchat my sister who is actually in high school and see if that gives me more inspiration.”

“These problems are pretty universal, right?”

“Do they still use bells to make you change classes? How do you know what class to go to on the first day? Do you just like, show up and go to an orientation seminar?”

“Teachers in the movies like Dead Poets Society and Stand and Deliver are pretty realistic, right?”

“How do you know which bus stop is yours? Maybe I should find someone to let me do a ride along. For research.”

“This is the only circumstance where I can see having a kid would really help your writing, but it’d take too long to wait until he or she is in high school, so I guess I’m stuck at square one again.”

“Teenagers read Dante in high school these days, right? They HAVE to. Right?”

“How do sports work?”

“I think I’ll just write this about theater kids. Or summer camp. Yeah, summer camp.”

“Do they still use blackboards? Or do the teachers use powerpoint now?”

“My college cafeteria was basically the same as a high school one, right?”

“Maybe I can get experience in schools by volunteering with Planned Parenthood to give sex ed lectures! That would be like, double reverse karma to fix past life and future life issues.”

“Ugh, cheerleading is confusing.”

“I think I’ll just re-watch Mean Girls.”

this post is dedicated to and inspired by conversations with the lovely Kassie.


I’ve been living in people’s spare bedrooms and out of suitcases for a year now, following the end of my marriage last January. Moving again this morning broke my gumption a bit, calling for some black humor about the whole situation. Appropriate for Epiphany, perhaps? So, here are Some Things I’ve Learned:

1) Never be 100% financially dependent on your spouse, no matter how great things are. Get yourself a credit card in your own name in case of emergencies and put all vehicles and accounts in both your names. Especially if you’re driving in the snow while crying because it’s cold and you’re sick of waking up alone. You might need to replace a broken axel and a fancy mailbox and get a tow. And some coffee. Have a financial safety net that’s in your name.

2) Flying/moving with a pet is less complicated than flying/moving with a baby. Thank your lucky stars that cats don’t need diapers and it’s humane to put them in crates for travel.

3) To preserve sanity, keep around a couple friends who can put up with your swearing and are willing to supply emergency Cheez-its or bourbon. Or both.

4) Living out of your suitcase for a year is the best way to unlearn type-A/Groverachiever/first born perfectionism.You’ll get packing down to an art form. And now I know all the quickest ways to de-wrinkle a sundress in 5 minutes.

5) Netflix is cheaper than therapy/spa days when you need alone time. All of Doctor Who is on there. But Buffy is really the best for female empowerment/I-can-do-this-shit girding up of loins for times when Life Sucks In General.

6) When you can’t get quality alone time because you’re a guest in someone else’s house, your car becomes your office/local coffee shop/vanity station/crying chamber. A woman with an automobile doesn’t need any redemption!

7) People are generally going to be nicer than you expect, but don’t count on anything. Pave your own path with your own stones. And remember that almost all gifts come with strings [either positive or negative] attached.

8) You don’t get a day off from unexpected life interruptions. Or from grief. Or from unexpected happy things. Play hard, rest hard, work hard.

9) Today is a day you can get through. Don’t worry about tomorrow if it’s too much. You’ll muddle through it when it arrives. Just do today for now.

10) Never underestimate the power of fuzzy blankets, fuzzy socks, bear hugs from good friends, or coffee to revolutionize a bad morning.


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 think it’s silly how so many of us took to the blogs when the Church gatekeepers wouldn’t listen to us, and how so many of us are now so invested in policing each other.

To counter that, I’d like to talk about this year. This year has been terrible, you all know that. My going away gathering in DC before I moved to LA (appropriately) was one where my friend strung a banner over the doorway that read “Fuck 2013.” I loved her for it.

a room full of reasons why I actually love 2013

a room full of reasons why I actually love 2013

But the other thing about this year is how beautiful it’s been because of the good people who have been there for me. I’ve gotten to meet so many of my blogging friends, I’ve lived out this year almost entirely in other people’s spare bedrooms and on their couches, and I have not lacked anything.

Do you remember those Xanga posts people used to do where they’d write a post with five little somethings to five different people, without naming those people? It’d be like: Things I Wish I Could Say To You! and then they’d write out those things and just leave it open to interpretation who they were talking about. [Probably all of Taylor Swift’s songs started this way, let’s be honest.]

I’d like to do that for Thanksgiving, but as a thank you, not as a bitter-ex-friend-message. If you’ve been touched, healed, held, changed, loved, heard, supported by good folks online, real-life friends, authors (or even books, articles, movements, or movies you found through the blogosphere), join me for a link up on Friday where we don’t name names, don’t patrol the borders of our favorite community, and don’t judge each other if we realize someone is thanking a heretic, a misogynist, a politician, or an Autostraddle author. Everyone’s journey is different, and we each have things we’ve learned and been grateful for that may have originated in odd or socially non-Kosher places.

Here’s a sample of what I want to see, a real-life thank you to someone who’s been a huge part of this year:

Thank you for letting me cry in your kitchen, for dragging me to your in-laws, for buying my favorite beer and sharing your ice cream, for giving me space when the noise in my head got too loud, for letting me say all the most inappropriate things that popped into my head, for helping me pack and unpack at least three times, for picking me up at the Metro in the cold and rain when I called at the last minute, for venting about the internet with me, and for always answering the phone when I needed you, even if if was after you just had a car accident. Thanks for your real friendship when we were both reeling from years of charades. <3

Join me on Friday and let’s link up together to each share at LEAST five unidentified thanks to those who have made 2013 a better, more whole, and more healing year for us.

There’s no limit on who or what you can thank. But let’s take a moment to appreciate the good that this community is capable of doing for a hurting soul.


at LACMA

While I don’t have photographic evidence to prove most of it, I assure you that I have been thoroughly introduced to LA culture, including drives up Coldwater Canyon, finding a church to attend (in Beverly Hills), visits to the LA County Museum of Art, the La Brea Tar Pits, Pink’s hot dogs, the Griffith Observatory, and a comedy improv show.

And that’s just this week. My cat is somewhat chagrined about the lack of quality time she’s getting.

Fetal position indicates loneliness

In other news, I got to go over to Micha’s blog to join her series and talk about my “One Good Phrase” for this year. You’ll have to go there to find out what my phrase is.

I also got to meet up with fellow blogger Elizabeth Esther not too long ago! It was so good to finally meet this sister in real life.

EE & HE

And, I got some work! I’m doing marketing for the Equal Rights Amendment Education Project and their kickass film idea, “Equal Means Equal.” We’re in the last 9 days of fundraising, so if you want to see a funny, smart movie about the Equal Rights Amendment (and why the hell it hasn’t gotten passed yet), check out the Kickstarter.

Finally: I’ll be heading back east at the end of the month to drive my car out (doing this move in phases), and if you want to do a meet-up with me along the way or just want to urge me to live-blog the trip, let me know!


Christian fundamentalism and Christian patriarchy hurt men too. I’m sobered and thankful for this guest post by my friend Tim. -h

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***

I have been avoiding this all day. All week. In one way or another, I’ve been avoiding this all my life.

Some of you may think you know me, but you don’t, not really. You know a version of me, meticulously maintained, that I’ve spent my life pretending to be. And I am afraid — so very afraid — that if I let that image fall, you won’t like what you see. I’m afraid you’ll laugh at me, that you’ll think I’m weak, foolish, unworthy of respect.

I’m a coward. I conform to what you expect of me. In middle school, I borrowed Les Miserables from the library and read it under the covers with a flashlight. I was caught up in the love of Marius and Cosette, immersed in the burning light of Jean Valjean’s redemption, broken at his justice and his sacrifice. When Valjean had his moment to kill Javert and be free, and spared him instead, my heart beat faster and my breath caught, my eyes filled with tears.

But I was a boy, and boys don’t like love stories.

When my hormones kicked in a few years later, I’d go back to the library for other reasons. I was homeschooled and had no internet, so I’d sneak copies of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition into the very back and covertly page through them, using a big atlas for cover. Once, my mom caught me at. She was silent all the way home, but it wasn’t five minutes after I got back to my room that my dad came knocking on my door.

“Men …” he said, standing awkwardly on the other side of my room, “are visual.” He paused, considered. “So be careful.”

In youth group, we’d periodically be divided up into boys and girls and get a talk from the youth pastor. Men are weak, I was told. If a woman shows any skin at all, we can’t help but think sinful thoughts, and so we should avert our eyes, flee temptation. The girls, I learned, were getting talks about purity and modesty. Our sin as men, they were told, was their responsibility. They just didn’t know, the pastor would say, what kind of effect they had on us.

So I went out into the world terrified. The first time I was ever in a room alone with a girl — at the tender age of eighteen — I couldn’t speak for fear of having lustful thoughts about her. My years of religious upbringing had taught me that all women were potential objects of lust; for me, that made all women actual objects to fear. If a girl had the nerve to wear a two-piece swimsuit or a low-cut top around me, I’d get tense, then ashamed, then cold — my whole upbringing told me that women dressed for men (‘why would you even wear a bikini,’ the arch old church ladies would say, ‘if you weren’t looking for attention?’), and that meant that my lustful thoughts were being done to me.

I met my first girlfriend at a little Evangelical university on the east coast. We never had sex, but we made out and fumbled in the dark like teenagers, and I was ashamed. Not because I felt it was wrong — no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t quite bring myself to believe that it was — but because it was improper. Because it would be frowned upon by my community. Because it would make them think less of me. So I distanced myself from my girlfriend, cooled my feelings for her. When we broke up over Christmas break, I told myself that the wrench in my heart was only temporary, that I didn’t care that much one way or the other. I settled into a comfortable numbness, the crash of feeling fading to a niggling static in the background of my soul.

The following year, I went traveling for three months on my own, and my world fell apart around me. My faith crumbled. I had sex for the first time, with a beautiful black-haired girl in a sunlit room above a theater, and despite my efforts to keep my distance, a bit of my heart tore away with her as well. When I left on a ferry a week later, I sat for hours watching the sun sink into the Mediterranean, and wrote a poem to her, cramped by my awkward self-consciousness, that I never sent. A week after that I’d justified it away again, rationalized it away with chemicals and hormones and all of the catch-phrases we use to hide from human connection when we’ve lost our belief in sin.

I found new things to be ashamed of. I was afraid of impotence, of being too quick, of not being good enough, of the nakedness of my mind and my soul that comes with sex, and again, I blamed women. If I felt bad, it was because they were making me feel bad. If I felt insecure, it was because they were failing to comfort me.

When I got back, I declared my apostasy and got kicked out of school for it. A friend came to me, tears in her eyes and voice unsteady, and stammered that though it broke her heart to lose me to eternity, she understood and still liked me, and I looked at her pain and felt helpless, then cold. Who was she to care about me, and about the choices I made? I gave her a hug and said goodbye.

Telling myself I was building a new life, that I was open and adventurous, a free-thinker, I continued to repress my emotions, continued to be afraid of women and what they could do to me, continued to be afraid that people might not like me or respect me. If I couldn’t conform, I’d become arrogant; if they were beneath me, their judgment of me was irrelevant. Emotion was for the weak, and religion was for suckers.

Eight months later, I sold everything I owned, moved out of my apartment, and headed east, to travel full-time. My life was a comfortable emotional flatline; I just didn’t feel much, I told myself, outside of the excitement of intellectual pursuits. Friends couldn’t care about me, women couldn’t touch me, and I was protected from any genuine connection by impregnable inner walls. My persona was impressive, bolstered by a few well-placed real talents, and I enjoyed introducing it to new people and new places, grew uncomfortable the longer I stayed, afraid that they might see the real me under all the pretense.

Then I met someone who, for the first time, challenged me. She could see through the pretense, could see the emotion under all my careful repression, and she called me on it. She infuriated me, in a bemused kind of way, and deeply unsettled me. It wasn’t until we parted ways at a bus station that I realized I was in love with her.

It was six months before I saw her again, and during that time I thought about her every day. I constructed a story of my life, wrote a part for her; this emotionally brilliant, beautiful, talented girl who could drag me out of my impassivity, who I could show off (I must be great, I would think, in my fantasies, because I’m with *her*), who I could tell my ideas to so that she could tell me how great they were. She was my imaginary Heinlein girlfriend, talented enough to be worthy of me; she was my manic pixie dream girl, destined to set me free.

We met again in Paris as friends; later, we started dating. She was gentle with me, easing me ever so slowly out of my sexual and emotional insecurities, and I was happy. She was fulfilling her role exactly as scripted.

But, as the months passed, she began to become frustrated, and then angry, for reasons I couldn’t understand. Our fights would leave me baffled, hurt, afraid, small, and no matter how hard I resisted, I’d hate her a little for it. She was ruining everything. She was pushing me away. I loved her so much that I cried, and I hated her, too, for making me feel so much.

She began to tell me that maybe she wasn’t good for me, that maybe she was hurting me by staying, and I’d get angry, then ashamed, then cajoling, saying stay, stay, I’ll figure it out, I’ll fix it, and then we’ll be happy. Thinking to myself, I’ll figure out whatever it is you want, and do that. I’ll do emotions and vulnerability, if that’s what you want from me. And then I’d find myself failing, feel ashamed, grow cold and distant, the same old cycle playing itself out in its most soul-tearing iteration yet.

And every so often I’d open my eyes, just briefly, to *her* experience, and it would break my heart. She was in so much pain, and I had no idea why. I hated myself for that, and that self-hatred took me and pulled me back into my self-absorption, leaving her alone once again.

I found myself becoming increasingly insecure around her. She was so strong, so confident, so *alive;* she made me feel small and afraid just by being, and smaller the more I hurt her. The same things that had made me fall in love with her now terrified me, so that I flinched away from them, tried to pretend they didn’t even exist.

At the same time, began trying more and more to control everything. If she wanted to do something, I’d say it was a bad idea. If we went anywhere, I’d want to lead the way. If we talked, it’d be about what I wanted to talk about, and if she offered anything other than unquestioning support, I’d feel insulted and insecure and I’d shut myself down to her, giving her nothing but the unfeeling blankness of my walls. It didn’t matter if she cried or if she shouted; I was so closed to her I might as well have been squeezing my eyes shut and clamping my hands over my ears. It felt like my heart was breaking every day, a chisel pounded in by every fight and every bout of my depression and self-hatred and resentment.

I came to think of myself as a split person; my emotional self, a child, hidden behind the protective wall of my persona, banging to get out but as unable to breach the walls from within as she was from without. It wasn’t until she gave up, until she said she was leaving, that I managed to break free and run to her, to cling to her, trembling, terrified of losing her and terrified that I couldn’t do anything about it. I would cry, kiss, love, and the world would be full of feeling and sensation and beauty, and as soon as the danger passed, I would clamp down again with a vengeance, ashamed of my openness and my emotion.

Every time it was worse, and every moment of openness was shorter than the last. I was so afraid for my perceived self that I couldn’t open myself to her, and so afraid of losing her that it broke me not to.

And finally, finally, in a conversation that lasted until sunrise, my persona began to break down. I began to see the cracks in it. I began to understand, truly, that I was a coward, afraid of living my life, afraid of showing myself to her or to anyone else. I saw that, for our whole relationship, I had been thinking of her as an adjunct to my life, a sort of sidekick, there to make me look good and feel good. I had been thinking of her as less than me, and I had been terrified that maybe, in fact, she was much more.

I realized, in a heart-breaking flash of open conversation with her, that despite all my talk of feminism and liberality and egalitarianism, I was deeply insecure, and deeply sexist. If she criticised my ideas as a friend and an equal, if she talked to me about money, if she questioned my approach to realizing my dreams, if she questioned what I had, even as an atheist, always assumed was my God-given authority, I would resent her for it.

I fell in love with her for her strength, her independence, and her authenticity, and I had fantasized about showing her off for those same reasons — as a conquest, an achievement, a mark of status by which I could earn respect from other men. But she was strong. She was independent. She was authentic. And if it killed her, she would never submit, to me or to anyone else.

When I saw that, as the sun was just beginning to lighten the eastern sky, I broke down with love for her. I told her how afraid I was that I couldn’t be strong, couldn’t be real, in the way she was. I wanted desperately to love her as an equal; to walk the world with her, to lend my hand to her dreams as she lent hers to mine, to twine our independent lives together rather than trying to graft her onto me.

All of my pent up resentment of her, hatred of her, boiled away in that flash of understanding. I was left humbled in its wake, naked and ashamed, my eyes open to what I had been, to what I still was. Weak. Cowardly. And this time, I held nothing back. There were no false words of comfort, no false promises. No hiding from myself. I had spent my life behind walls, behind a facade of competency and professional distance. I told her the truth; that I didn’t know if I was strong enough to let them down.

We parted ways the next day with a last kiss on a train station platform, neither of us sure what would happen next, holding each other tightly in a little pocket of us as a hundred people moved past us. I watched her board, and I was broken inside, brought down to dust on the foundations of my soul. She looked back at me for an instant and my heart caught, and then she was gone.

I stood there alone, wanting to push the emotion of it away, wanting to distance myself from it and from her, but instead I let myself feel, let the tears flow, let the fear of my failure fill me alongside my hope. And I knew at once that I wasn’t sure if I was strong enough to live a true life, but that one way or another, I would die trying.

My name is Tim Raveling, and I am a sexist. I am a coward. I am a conformist. I am broken inside, more capable of pettiness and spite than anything noble. I am terrified to live, terrified to show myself to the world, terrified to feel deeply and uncompromisingly. But my eyes are open, and I know one thing to be true: what happens next is my choice.

Who am I?

I am human.

I am free.


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.


Sarah sent me this update on her school funding situation tonight! She’s almost set for college — just a few things left on her Amazon wishlist, and she leaves on Monday. Thank you to everyone who helped!

I’d like to say a giant “Thank you!” to all the wonderful people who
have helped me with my first college funding drive. The results of
your efforts are really remarkable and will be very helpful to me in
financing my first month of college. Currently, we’ve raised over $650
in cash donations and purchased over 60% of my wish list. These funds
should cover the vast majority of my first month’s expenses as I
return to college. Most of the really essential and expensive items on
my wish list have been purchased, which is absolutely wonderful! There
are still a few items that I could really use, so if anyone wants to
help out, they’re more than welcome to do so. Thank you to each and
every one of the amazing individuals who are making my education a
reality.

You can read Sarah’s story here, and more on her blog.