Bacchante

It was snowing.
Whenever it snows I like to take the day off and work myself into an altered state. The easiest way to do that is to slip a solid hit of LSD on the tongue and watch life swirl into a painting. As happenstances would have it, I had no such Jedi mind tricks stashed away. Usually a cornucopia awaits the desire for expanded consciousness; but for one reason or another, I had no magic mushrooms either, not even a hit of weed. My stash for a snowy day was non-existent.
I racked my brain for what else was available.
I opted out of drinking beer because beer was too lazy for the likes of the day I wanted to pursue. I wanted a snow adventure. I didn’t want to get all sleepy and I didn’t want to deal with the rip-roaring hangover of a hop drenched day binging into the night guzzling all my dreams away in a sputtering daze. I wanted to be swept up in clarity. I wanted whimsy. I wanted big crystalline snowflakes falling fat and fucking heavy like the goddess sharing knowledge in slow motion wormholes ripped from the sky.
With my entheogen options shot, I decided to meditate.
I lit a bundle of mugwort and sat down with nothing else but my breath.
I don’t know how long I sat on my folded up purple blanket, but I heard a lot of conversations pass by my window. People talking on phones. People rapping. People walking together in solidarity through the snow. The mailman stopped by and clinked the mail slot with unnecessary junk mail. Sparrows fluttered and shouted happily in the tree outside. The sweet smell of mugwort tickled my olfactory glands and unveiled my third eye.
I felt my back straighten and my chest broaden. My body relaxed and I knew that was enough. When I emerged from the meditation my feet gripped the floor like suction cups on the ends of frog toes. I felt grounded. Light.
I walked down to the kitchen to make myself something hot to drink and to my absolute amazement a rumble of thunder shook the house and sky. It was astounding. The world was so incredibly silent and, as the flakes flew down like monsters, the thunder rumbled with the laughter of ancient gods. It was the first and only time I experienced the thunder of snow.
The experience was made all the more special by the kitchen itself. The kitchen was not only a place of fire and creation for me, it was a place of early morning peace with early morning sun alighting through the windows.
Such a moment called for a dark cup of coffee.
Before heading out for the day I put an hour into cleaning. It was the best and worst decision because I found a small bag of cocaine tucked away in the corner of an end table. I don’t know where it came from. I’ve never spent a dime on cocaine. Never have, never will, but I thought what the hell. A trickster wanted me to have fun.
I blew the whole bag.
I thought I was going to have a heart attack.
I thought I was walking on god.
I thought
I thought
I thought
The thoughts passed very quickly. I was high as the French revolution lopping off the heads of the rich and I sped right along into the winter air. Whipped by the blizzard. Satisfied. Snow blind.
It was best I didn’t spare much time thinking too hard. I recalled the last time I bumped a single line of cocaine. I was in college and lost my whole damn self on a word. A word. That’s right, a word. I was writing poetry and the word, whatever the hell it was, I still don’t know to this very day, wouldn’t slip off my tongue. It was the perfect word. It had to be. It was going to complete a perfect poem. The word sat there invisible taunting me at the edge of my mind, teasing me, playing childish games of hide and seek. I cursed and flailed my arms. That was it. I lost it all right there. Every last marble. Nuts and bolts and all the king’s men couldn’t put humpty together again. I was cracked up. Off my rocker. To think, one line of coke had me ripping up paper and throwing pens against the wall, and ten years later I thought it a brilliant idea to blow through an entire bag of white powder. There was reason enough- my brains inside needed to reflect the snow outside.
Without a thought in sight I blitzed downtown toward the art museum. I leapt and bounded in giant steps. I felt like a yeti. Paul Bunyan. Casey Jones. The abominable snowman. I hurtled over buildings and small children.
At one point along my sojourn I ran into a guy named Carl. I don’t know if that was his name, I never asked him and he never said it, but he looked like a Carl. Or a Mike. Or a Joe. We’ll call him Mike. No. Joe. I believe his name was Joe. Joe was from the suburbs and he liked to take the train into the city to wander the streets high on meth. I shit you not. He revealed this within moments of crossing paths. He was flown, and momentarily, we were kindred spirits flying together through the dappled stars. He was a relatively small guy and he wore a scarf that was comically large. That scarf had a mind of its own. It tugged him along and spun him in circles. He lost himself in trees tangled like a wayward kite disappointing the child who had hopes and dreams of flying so high it would pull her to the moon.
We walked for too long together. We were quite the sight along the parkway. The main attraction. My eyes bugged three feet outside my head and Joe talked about Jesus Christ hiding in the bushes and demons poking him with sticks. People parted like the Red Sea as we passed. They gave us 20 feet on either side and glared at us like hungry lizards.
By the time we reached the art museum steps my high was wearing very thin and Joe was going on about his drunk father and all the shame he felt for “messing up” as a kid. He had all kinds of shadows hovering around his spinning head. I felt bad for him but didn’t have the capacity to spend the rest of the day playing therapist and certainly didn’t care to prolong my chemical binge and become his partner-in-crime sussing out the next dragon to chase but never slay.
We parted ways.
He appeared hurt when I told him I wanted to be alone, but very quickly he laughed maniacally, said he was really Jesus Christ, and ran off like the impish Charles Manson.
Atop the steps of the museum, free of any pedestrian hitchhikers, I stared at the skyline covered in a cloud of snow. It was wondrous. A dream.
Inside the art museum, a couple of staff members kindly directed me downstairs to a lounge for members of the museum. My luck kept turning. I had no idea such a perk awaited me at the other end of this quest for the holy grail of snow days. I fell in love with that lounge. It felt like a well-kept secret. An underworld wrapped in art books and café-styled tables and chairs. A den beneath the mythic giants of painters and sculptors burbling with the subconscious charge of every dream I’ve ever dreamed about basements. That lounge was like stepping back in time, into the underground and the unknown. Into hazy hallways, smoke-filled and coveted.
Such a moment called for another cup of coffee.

The coffee perked me right up. I shook off the snow and found myself meandering the great halls with no attachment to any painting or sculpture, until I stopped in front of Vincent van Gogh’s painting entitled Enclosed Wheatfield in the Rain.
I was stunned.
The artist’s representation of rain slashed at my heart. The anguish and utter peace of the painting poured forth from the frame and tore me apart. I was broken and enraged. Tears welled up and I tried to choke them back but they streamed forward like a miniature waterfall gushing from my face. Who was this man and how could his art strike me so deeply so quickly? I stared into the painting endlessly. The lines of rain reached out and pulled me in. I was lost. Soaking wet.
When I regained some semblance of clarity, I read the small placard next to the painting regarding Van Gogh’s time in the asylum hospital at St. Remy and the wheat field outside his window, specifically its thematic connection to manual workers and toil. I couldn’t keep it together. I wailed. I wept loudly like an old man at the end of a hard life without a friend alive to reflect on the memories or share the little joys. Only death. I cowered at the power of a brush.

“Moving, huh?”
“You think?” I said through bleary eyes and puffed up eyelids. My nose ran religiously. God, I was ugly.
“Here’s a handkerchief.” She stood in front of the painting too.
I took her offering and blew my nose. It echoed the relatively quiet halls of art. After several loud honks I handed it back to her. There was a little bit of blood and the faint remnants of cocaine streaking the fabric like a Rorschach.
She waved a hand at me, “It’s okay. Keep it.”
I shrugged my shoulders and stuffed the hanky into a pocket. “Thanks.”
“He was brilliant, wasn’t he? Still is,” she suggested.
“Huh?”
“Van Gogh. The painting you’ve been gushing over.”
“Oh. Yes. Of course.” I stuttered. “Look at it.”
She nodded, “I am. That’s exactly what I am doing. Looking at it.”
“I’m a mess. Look at me.”
“I see you too,” she laughed.
“What’s so funny?”
“Nothing. Nothing. Well, actually, you. You’re funny.” She shook her head with a smile. “I’m sorry. I’m not trying to be mean,” she said with genuine apology in her voice.
After a moment she asked, “Are you familiar with the term empathy? Where it came from?”
“I know the word, but no, I don’t know its history.”
“I read it came from the art world. It describes how we look into a work of art. How we sense into the meaning, the symbols, lines, and colors. How we feel and see into and become a part of the art. Einfühlung. The original in German.”
“Huh.” I said.
“I don’t know if Van Gogh cried a whole lot, but you certainly spilled enough tears for him and the rest of the museum. I wouldn’t be surprised if I looked in your eyes and saw his image reflected back at me.”
Her words cheered me up a slight bit.
“But that’s great art, isn’t it? Forever in the act of creation. Even a century and a quarter later it has the vitality to bring a grown person to uncontrollable blubbering in public,” she said.
I looked around and remembered we were not alone, and as much as I questioned her existence, this was a real person speaking to me, not some phantasm of my own cocaine addled creation showing up to comfort me in a moment of deep realization and despair.
“You’re coming with me,” she said.
“What?” The welling up of dormant emotions still minorly incapacitated my ability to coherently socialize.
“Come with me. I’m Charlie,” she said.
I trailed behind her, and before I knew it, Charlie and I were dancing around the museum in a mad frenzy. The artwork burst to life. We spun in a whirlwind.

“Monet?”
“Yes. What of him?” I asked.
“You find pleasure in his work?”
“Of course.” I responded.
“Impressionism then?”
“One of my favorite movements. Hands down.”
“What would you call a new art movement today?” she asked.
I thought about it. “I don’t know. Can’t say I’ve given it much thought. You mean specifically in painting, or art in general?”
“Whatever,” she said.
“Well there’s a lot of collage and sampling, mixed media art, and mass production, especially with technology nowadays. And everything’s so fleeting. Trends come and go and flash before the eyes and die into the graveyard heap of the internet. I don’t know. What do you think?”
“How about the Ephemeralists?” she suggested.
“Hm. Ephemeralism. There’s a ring to it. Sort of captures a twilight of magic reborn in the post-industrial milieu,” I said.
“I don’t think we’re quite out of the industrial age, but we are certainly teetering. I get the sense we’re all lost and uncertain, but the Lost Generation is already taken. I suppose time is nonlinear and art movements weave through the ages. Quite like surrealism. There’s a lot of that now,” she said.
“And Dada and the absurd,” I added.
“We are culminating in endless experimentation seeking what hasn’t been produced, yet repeating and riffing off the past and reproducing, reproducing, reproducing. It’s inescapable,” she said.
“What about graffiti and street art?” I asked.
“It’s fleeting. Ephemeral,” she said. “Up one minute, buffed over the next.”
I thought for a moment. “The irony of Ephemeralism is the actual ephemera is fading away too. Hardcopy photos are disappearing into digital wastelands. Postcards and handwritten letters are less and less popular.”
“The old world is dying,” she said.
“And we are ushering in its death.”

We took a break to visit the lounge to re-up on coffee and then walked outside to cool off in the winter temperatures. We danced in the snow, twirled, and laughed like the followers of Dionysus drunk on the spirit of artists.
What a day chalked up to the winter vortex.
Now every time I return to the art museum I ask about the lounge but they tell me no such lounge exists.

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Sometimes Life

Monday morning.
Loneliness.
Longing.
Workweek alienation.
Body parts abstracted. A hand smoking a cigarette. An eye glued to a phone. A voice dissociating in passing.
A gloomy day. Quiet as days go in the city.
No sirens. No screams of construction. Not yet.
I watched as people walked through the park.
Everyone, everything, subdued by the wetness. By clouds. By the cool air of Autumn. By an extra layer of clothing, long sleeves, maybe a jacket. A bit more weight on the body.
I sipped my coffee slowly.
Enjoyed the breeze. The rustle of branches.
I read twenty pages from an old book. The paper stained with age and brittleness. I thought it might crumble. Whenever I opened it the smell of stale forests, stagnant and musty, clouded my nostrils like old basements. The words themselves jumped from the pages. Dynamic. Transcendent. Rambling incoherence. Artful smut. A sordid aliveness.
I closed the book mid-chapter.
A nearby conversation shoved me into distraction.
“Yoga.” He said emphatically.
“Yeah yoga. Me too.” Both their voices drenched with the pulse of coffee.
“It just helps me relax, you know? Take space. Just an hour and a half to see my life out on the table.”
“Same.”
“I love Savasana. Just being there.”
“Oh. I don’t do that kind of yoga.”
They looked normal. Button up shirts. Close cropped haircuts. Shaved faces. Jeans. Their names were probably Chad or Steve or Gary. It doesn’t matter. They talked about yoga, insurance, making money. The rat race. It sounded like they wanted to search for something deeper in life, but only vaguely; the language of healing in vogue to the point it warped the everyday normal with platitudes and Sanskrit and charlatanism.
I felt soulless.
I needed to use the bathroom.
I wandered into a bookstore imagining love, a conversation, finding connection. Depth of another kind. Placed on the shelves, between pages, sentences falling out and strung together, unassuming. Haunting a mysterious elsewhere.
I used the bathroom and sat in an empty wooden chair.
A woman approached me.
Or I approached her.
Maybe we both felt longing.
Loneliness.
Modern life.
An escalator clicked in repetition.
Dull music played overhead interspersed by a voice making commands to the other workers.
The ringing of a phone.
All of it gentle.
Placated.
It disgusted me.
“What are you reading?” She asked.
I looked up. I said, “Hey.”
Initially I thought I recognized her from another life. A different era. She wore glasses. Shoulders slouched. Slightly. She wore clothes that suggested a style from another city.
“Have we met?” I asked.
She shrugged unsure.
“Where are you from?” I asked.
“LA.”
“Hm. Only been there once. Years ago.”
She shrugged again as if to say, “That’s nice.”
“Do you live around here?” I asked. Although she approached me, or maybe I approached her, she simply stood there, quiet, peering into my eyes inquisitively. Cocking her head to one side. Smiling faintly.
I asked her questions over and over, both out of interest and to assuage my own discomfort. I felt anxiety on the periphery, a small paranoia that people watched as we engaged, listened to our conversation, made judgments, asked questions at a distance, whispered gossip down the lane.
I wondered if she felt the same way.
But she approached me.
Or I approached her.
We had to be okay.
I wondered if the anxious feelings arose as a byproduct of the constant state of surveillance. The insidious oppression of daily life that gets placed into the category of fake news and fiction. 1984. “Fascism is just a hot word.”
I noticed a store camera staring at us. Perched in a corner, high up. It probed our humanness with an alien eyeball. It unnerved me.
I saw my reflection.
I saw her reflection.
She looked unphased.
The paranoia dissipated almost as quickly as it nudged me, not enough to take over our interaction, not enough to send us spinning into a dazed panic. She appeared relaxed and that relaxed me. The touch of anxiety created just the right amount of tension to make my heart beat a little faster.
“I’m here with a family I work with.” She said. “I take care of their children. They’re filmmakers.” She rubbed her fingers together to indicate money. “I have the day off. The night too. That’s why I’m here. In a bookstore.”
She made me smile. “A good life, huh?”
“They treat me well enough.” She said.
“Are you reading anything in particular?” I asked.
“Not today. Nothing’s catching my attention. I flipped through a few magazines. That’s all.”
“Uh huh. So…”
“What are you reading?” She asked.
I showed her a used copy of Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller.
“Typical.” She said. “Misogynist. Everyone’s got to read it once I guess.”
I felt embarrassed.
“That books not from here.” She said. “Let me get this straight. You’re in a Barnes & Noble reading an used copy of Henry Miller? You trying to be cool or what?”
“I was over at the park and had to use the bathroom.”
“That doesn’t explain the book.” She laughed. “Don’t worry. You don’t have to explain yourself to me. He has his moments of brilliance. Just uses the word cunt too much. It gets to be childish after a while.”
“Can’t argue with that.” I said. “What’s your name?” I asked.
“Kayla.” She held out her hand.
“Willow.”
“Well…” She said.
“Well…” I repeated. The jolt of awkwardness made me sweat. I don’t know why I had to work up the courage to ask, but I did, and I could feel it under my armpits and on the center of my chest. I hesitated and stuttered but managed to come out with it, “Since you’re not reading, want to go for a walk?”
“Are you straight?” She asked.
“What?” The question jarred me.
“Are you straight?” She repeated.
“I mean, no, but that’s quite a question.”
“Straight guys have all these assumptions about women. Like they own us or something. They have all these fucked up expectations. Like a conversation means they’re getting laid. Not all of them, but you know what I mean. I thought by the look of you, the way you crossed your legs, I thought you might be, but still I had to ask. You answered correctly. Good job. You pass.”
“Okay.” I thought it strange her way of interacting but it made sense. She saw me and saw something in me but she also needed to screen me to make sure.
“Do you want to see anything? Or maybe I should ask, what have you already seen?” I asked as we walked out the door.
“If I wanted a tour guide, I would have hired one.” She said curtly. “I want to experience the city spontaneously today. I’m not working. I’m not on a schedule. Let’s keep it that way.” Her general countenance was soft but she spoke brusquely and to the point. I liked it. The combination of her vibe with the way she expressed herself felt balanced, and to be honest, it put me at ease.
“I do want to drop my bag though.” She said. “I don’t need it. I didn’t buy any books.”
We took off and walked the block and a half to her hotel. I couldn’t believe the place. It was 19th Century Revival Romanesque on the outside, but once inside, it sang with the tones of the Prohibition Era. Like a scene out of The Great Gatsby, but out of touch with reality, like a fundraiser for poor people with only rich people in attendance. The carpeting under my feet screamed a pattern of bourgeois pretense and the lighting vibrated an atmosphere of chic bohemian jazz notes without any of the cigarette smoke. It was simultaneously fancy and drab. A few people sat at a bar with tall wine glasses. They laughed about god knows what.
“This place makes me gag.” She said. “But it’s where they put me up, so here I am.”
We took an elevator to the 13th floor.
“Lucky number.” I said.
She opened her door and dropped her bag on a chair. The décor appeared odd to me. A mishmash between the abstraction of modern art and the warmth of a Moroccan café. Lots of orange, red, brown, and maroon draped across sleek, impractical furnishings. It confused me. Like they wanted people to feel comfortable but still cold.
“People with lots of money confuse me.” I said.
“Tell me about.” She said. “I’m from Hidden Hills.”
“That means shit to me.”
“If you saw it, you’d understand.”
“How’d you make it out?” I asked.
“Clearly I haven’t.” She held out her arms and pointed to the wealth of the hotel with her eyes. “But I also had a certain upbringing, I don’t really want to talk about at the moment.”
“Okay. No problem. Should we go back out?”
She grabbed a fanny pack, and to my surprise, grabbed my hand, and we ran out the door.
For a few blocks we walked hand-in-hand. The early leaves of Autumn scattered sparsely, juxtaposed against the square edges of bricks and sidewalk. It felt romantic. Playful. I felt also childlike and nervous. “My hand is sweating.” I said.
“I know. I can feel it.” She said.
“You don’t think it’s weird we’re holding hands? We just met.”
“You don’t go on Tinder much, do you?”
“No. I don’t.”
I felt like an old man. Like an anachronism. All of a sudden a grouchy rigidity swept into my body. Unsure of myself but still trying to boast confidence, I tensed up. The cat was constantly grabbing my tongue. I tried to shake it off.
She let go of my hand.
“You never brought someone home from a bar?” She asked.
“Come to think of it, I don’t know that I have.”
“You’ve had sex, right?”
“What, well yeah, of course.”
“Just checking.” She said. “Holding hands is the least of my worries. Don’t get any ideas though. It’s nice to be with another person. To share intimate moments. To share awkwardness.” She said it matter-of-factly.
She embodied a great knowing of her own desires, and without any breaks in the flow of movement and conversation, she let it be known with clarity how she felt and what she desired. It was pleasant.
“Let’s go to the river.” I suggested.
“Lead the way.”
As we walked to the river we talked about social movements and social justice, the use of psychedelics and how that affects our general experience. We talked about the need for healing within activist circles, the continuation and rehashing of trauma and how we each deal with our own navigation of relationships. We saw eye to eye on a lot of subjects but especially agreed on a wish for more subtlety of conversation when it came to the political landscape. We understood it wasn’t so easy. It required self-critique which we all struggled with. So many of us were hurt and lashing out, cutting people off, calling people out, and at the same time not owning up to our own bullshit. The hurt was understandable but the methods of dealing with it often seemed like the most expedient way of not actually having to deal with anything at all.
As humans of the modern era we devoured one another on a regular basis. We were taught to consume so consume we continued to do. “No ethical consumption under late stage capitalism.”
So it goes.
It felt good to connect with a stranger of a like mind.
We arrived at the river. The sun started heading into its nightly slumber. Not that we could see it anyway. The sky still covered over gloomily.
Out ahead of us we saw a couple dancing together.
“Oh my god. That’s so cute!” She said.
“Shall we?” I asked. I held out my hand and made a slight bow.
“Of course, darling.”
We took one another by the hand and held one another around the waist. We danced back and forth as though in a ballroom and strutted forward in a clumsy tango. We knocked knees a couple times and I may have stepped on her toes.
“I have no training.” I said.
“Oh be quiet and just dance.”
We spun each other around.
The river glistened despite the clouds in the sky.
“You know it’s a full moon?”
“Tonight? That’s right, it is.” She said.
“Want to a grab a beer?” I asked.
“I trust you’re not going to try and seduce me just because we’re having a beer?”
“No expectations at all. Just enjoying your company.”
We walked hand-in-hand.
We sat at the bar.
“I think I want a mixed drink.” She said.
She asked the bartender, “You have any good whiskey.”
He laughed. “Bottom shelf.”
“Whatever. A whiskey sour.” She said.
I ordered a beer.
“I just realized we haven’t eaten tonight.” She said.
“Beer is like bread.” I said.
“Aren’t you a philosopher.”
“That’s what people tell me. Your local wizard.”
She gave me a look over her drink. A look that said simply, “Please. Stop.”
“I don’t know if I’m hungry. I feel like I’m buzzing off our spontaneous rendezvous.” I said.
“Same.” She said.
I didn’t know where the night was headed and I didn’t care.
We laughed and played and talked.
Intimately as strangers could be.
It was comfortable enough.
Hints of weirdness interspersed.
Revelations sparked.
I noticed how much pressure our society puts on sex. I kept checking her out. I didn’t feel especially turned on. Physically speaking. She was beautiful, of course. I felt rather a magnetism.
We spoke a similar language.
An attraction of words.
She approached me.
Or I approached her.
I don’t know.
I remembered seeing her in the bookstore. My thoughts scattered. Vaguely drowning.
The day gloomy.
I saw her flipping through magazines.
A longing.
I felt lonely.
I went back to my book and kept glancing up until she disappeared.
Out of sight.
I dove into my book again.
She emerged like a dream.
In a haze.
She approached me.
A fuzz of uncertainty.
Full of my own projections.
Slowly we met.
My thoughts shed around her like the seeds of fall.
Like petals and leaves and I listened.
“I’m trying to get better at saying no.” She said. “I think it comes in all different forms. Not just the word no. I say it when I assert myself. When I cross your entitled boundary to create my own. But I do it out of self-preservation. Protection, really.”
“How old are you?” I asked.
“Twenty-five.”
“You look older. You sound older.” I said.
She looked away exuding a bashful confidence.
“How old are you?” She asked.
I made a motion with my hand indicating my age. To be honest, I liked showing off the ring on my pointer finger.
She mocked the motion.
“I like hanging out with older people.” She said. “I often do.”
“I’m not that much older.”
“We never would have been in high school together.” She pointed out.
“This is true.” I said.
We each ordered another drink.
“I feel a little tipsy already.” She said.
“I drink beer.” I said.
“A philosopher caveman on our hands.” She joked. “Who are you, Yoda?” She shifted her voice. “Drink beer I do.”
I laughed at myself.
“Beer good. Beer give me good sensation.”
“Sensation!” She laughed. “Oh my god. What am I doing hanging out with you?”
I shrugged my shoulders.
“We crossed paths. You approached me.” I told her.
She looked at me aghast. “You approached me! I felt someone looking at me. I turned around and it was you. You kept looking and dodging my gaze!”
She read me to a T.
“I was scared.” I said.
I felt like I wanted to cry.
She noticed.
“It’s okay. I was scared too.” She said. “But I eyed you up. I could take you.” She held up her arm and made a muscle.
“What. No way.” I retorted.
“Look.” She said. “We had a good night and day so far. Don’t ruin it. I was scared when you kept looking at me and dodging my eyes. You’re a tall white man. I was already skeptical. I was getting ready to leave and I noticed you crossed your legs. I don’t know why but I thought about that meme. You know it?”
I nodded. “From tumblr?”
She quoted it verbatim. “You know how people buy drinks for girls at bars? Why can’t people do that at bookstores? Like if I’m looking at a novel in Barnes & Noble and some person walks up to me and strikes up a conversation and offers to buy the book for me there is a lot better chance of that working out in their favor.”
My jaw dropped.
“I flipped the script.” She said. “I approached you. In a bookstore. I didn’t buy you a book…”
“Wow.” That’s all I could muster.
“You don’t know what it’s like to be a woman.” She said.
I shook my head.
“Your eyes are like darts. Watch them.”
“You’re right.” I nodded. “You went out of your way, spent the whole day with me, just to tell me that?” I asked.
“Oh my god, no. You’re cute. So far, I like you. I already told you not to ruin it.”
I felt my cheeks turn red and for the first time that night, unexpectedly, I was aroused.
“I like you too.” I said.
“Don’t get any ideas.” She said.
“Do you want to get out of her? Go for a walk?”
“That’s an idea.” She said. “I said very specifically don’t get any ideas. But yes, let’s go for a walk.”
We finished our drinks and meandered our way back to her hotel room. We weren’t drunk. A couple drinks each without dinner. Tipsy. Uninhibited. Slightly. Full of magic.
“I’m going to sleep alone tonight.” She stated.
“Of course.”
In her room on the 13th floor I felt awkward. I didn’t know where to sit. The one chair was piled up with the outpouring of a suitcase. The only other options were the floor or the bed.
I noticed the mini-fridge.
“Look at these snacks.” I said. “And the drinks! Coconut water. Kombucha. Whiskey.”
“I don’t think they’re included in my stay.” She said.
I stood there.
In the middle of the room.
Awkwardly.
Unsure how to act.
“I don’t know what to do.” I said. “Can I sit in the bed?”
“Sure. I appreciate you asking.”
She curled up on the king size bed and sequestered herself to one corner.
I climbed onto the bed to join her.
We continued to talk. The conversation felt scattered. I was a nervous wreck. I tried to be cool but so many voices shot through my brain. Each one
recommending
demanding
suggesting
scolding
laughing
belittling
full of jealousy
crying
doubt
screaming
whispering
unwinding
encouraging
faulting
uncaring
poking
prodding
watching
a different approach.
We talked about boundaries. She recounted an experience with a person she sees from time to time. A friend of a friend. Continually he overstepped boundaries. Didn’t listen to body language. To verbal language. To every sign under the sun. He kept at.
“Why do men think no means yes?” She asked.
I didn’t know how to respond. I felt ashamed. I felt awkward in my own position so close to her and wanting to be closer.
“Do you feel that way right now?” I asked.
“No.”
“Can I come closer?” I asked.
“Yes.” She said.
I inched my body closer, pulling myself over with knuckles dug into the bed.
We talked.
We touched legs.
I rubbed her knee.
We touched hands.
Ran fingers along fingers.
We talked about intimacy. About feeling feelings for people but unsure how to initiate those little touches of desire.
“Can I get closer?” I asked.
She nodded.
I moved myself again. Closer to her chest. I wanted to rub my head into her shoulder. Instead, we kissed. We kissed and kissed and kissed.
We kissed to the point of tiredness.
I was aroused and kept pushing myself onto her.
She pressed herself into me.
I maneuvered between waves of sleep and pure ecstasy .
We intertwined tongues.
Our breaths rose and emitted soft grunts.
We laid back.
Eyes closed.
Eyes opened.
Eyes closed.
“How are you feeling?” I asked.
“Nice. Comfortable. Tired.” She said.
“Same.” I said.
We kissed oblivious to time or day or happenstance.
We drifted.
We two humans fuzzy with little love.
“I think I’m ready for sleep.” She said.
“Me too.”
“Are you okay getting home?” She asked.
“Yes. I’ll be fine.”
She smiled sleepily.
I smiled sleepily.
“It was nice meeting you. Spending time.” I said.
“Let me give you a hug.”
We got up and hugged.
I didn’t know what to think. I felt a buzz. My body alive. I don’t think I was thinking at all.
She showed me out and closed the door behind me.
“Goodbye.” She said through a sliver of space before the door completely shut.
We didn’t exchange information.
I didn’t friend her on Facebook.
She didn’t seek me on Instagram.
A lovely night.
In the annals of mystery.
“Goodnight.” I said.
I walked home.
A light drizzle.
I didn’t mind.
I felt like I was floating.
I crawled into bed with my girlfriend.
She wavered between sleep and a book.
“Where were you?” She asked.
“I’ll tell you later.” I said.
“Oh god.” She laughed mildly. “Did you meet someone? You have a dumb grin on your face.”

Picnic Apocalypse

Prayers echo through the windows.

Like the stoop conversations. Like the birds who chatter at sundown. Like the hip-hop that bounces off of walls. The prayers occupy that space between singing and chanting. These prayers in particular I cannot fully understand. The words twist and float in Arabic. As much as I do understand though, I understand the feeling of a blessing. God is with us. Goddess dances.

I dreamt of a small city up in flames. I sat on the edge. In a forest. I wanted to take a photo of the bright fire through the trees. It appeared magnificent. Brilliant and sad. Infuriating. It encompassed a dynamic spectrum of emotion. An outburst of flames. Death. A picture is worth a thousand words, they say. Lots of people hung around doing their thing. Mostly unnoticing. I wanted to yell and scream, “Can’t you see? Can’t you see?” But everyone looked unbothered. I walked closer to the flames to gain a better perspective. Without warning, an enormous flooding deluge of water ran ripping towards everyone.

A river tidal wave.

I ran with an urgent jump, climbing a tree to stay above the rush, but I grabbed a branch that bent under my weight. The branch set me back down toward the oncoming water. The top of the white frothy waves caught my feet and floated me to another tree. The water whispered angrily a message of reassurance. I grabbed onto sturdier branches and climbed to safety to the tippy top of the tree.

I gazed at the smoke-filled sky. When I turned the other direction I saw next to the tree a giant Romanesque archway carved into the side of a cliff. More people hung atop the structure drinking wine, eating bread, cheese, and fruit, relaxed, watching the world burn and flood as though it was just another day.

A picnic apocalypse.

I awoke wondering what the heck is wrong with people? But it’s not just other people. It’s reflections of myself. Admittedly, I maintain a strong desire for joy and celebration, especially in the face of IT ALL. But I don’t want to falter into escapism. Nor do I want to sit back comfortably eating popcorn watching societal breakdown like a movie of fiction.

To be real. To raise the spirits high. To keep an ear to the ground.

Like conversations on the stoop. Like birds who chatter at sundown.

Prayers echo through the windows.

Bloodlust

Consider that you are loved.
Even when people don’t know how to show it.
Even when you don’t know how to receive it.
Consider that you are loved.

There is a lot going on in this world. A lot of struggle. People are hurting in all kinds of ways. We all know this. We feel it deeply. In our bones. In our flesh. In our shortness of breath. The panic. We lash out. Bare our teeth. Snap and growl. Especially with those we love. We snarl. Spit. Act nasty. Get ugly. We bottle up our emotions and explode.

We have this tool. The internet. To reveal our happiness. Our scorn. Our absolute disgust. Our love and relationships. We tell little lies and noble truths to garner scraps of attention. We fumble and flop and flounder
biding our time until what?

What is more intimate and revealing than feeling safe to express our darkness, our hatred, our anger? To be listened to in silence. Ears big as elephants. Hearts large as houses. What is more intimate and revealing than the gesture of loving space held?

I spent a small bit of time with an Argentinian writer and anarchist outside of Buenos Aries. We talked about love. Amor y rabia. He disagreed vehemently with the idea that “all you need is love” in no roundabout words he called it shit. People need housing and healthcare. People need time to spend with their families. People need food. You can’t eat love.

I didn’t disagree with him. But our conversation was loud and passionful because we still need love.

We still need love.

We live in greedy times.
The days are eaten up by work.
Why?
Work is eaten up by bosses.
How come?
The vicious cycle plays out from the time we hit the alarm clock to the time we clock out. Labor is stolen. Time is stolen. Where does that leave love? Love is not a currency. Love is not quantifiable.

Still…

Love gets shoved into a box and wrapped as a present to give a few times a year. Love gets a hallmark card scribbled on at the last minute the barcode succinctly ignored. Love gets pushed around yelled at stomped on used like a doormat ripped out of the chest tossed in the gutter and rained on.

I love the rain.

Love gets the brunt of the anger and rage. The hatred swirling in the short breaths taken without acknowledging we are actually living blood pumping hearts stomping out of the chest into the streets to scream at whoever will listen.

Love. We are mourning. We are grieving. We do not always mean what we say. We may believe in the moment the harshness. The fuck you. The curses swelling like waves. But we are a loud cry from those who deserve it.

The rule makers have no peace in their hearts. Only greed.

The greed trickles down
turns us all green
we puke our disgust
onto one another.
We are covered in the anger
meant for another
meant for the collective
to wield as a weapon
to recall times of the guillotine
pulling down figure heads
and holding them up for show.

Consider
Consider that you are loved.
Consider you are powerful
yet humbled.

Consider that you are hurt by a loved one. It is true. We hurt one another. There is no excuse. There is no retribution for unthinkable transgressions. We are forced into situations by circumstances systemic. We cannot become alienated and isolated over minutia. We cannot spurn one another without cold reason. We must take up our chains. We must take up our anger and rage.

We must…

As I finish this poem
I overhear lyrics spoken

“I never had healthcare
just a pistol on the waist
for the people”

It gives me a moment of pause and contemplation.

There’s no denying these times are dire.
The fire burns.
The fire burns.

Consider that you are love.
That you are
another piece of the puzzle.
Without you
the big picture crumbles at the feet of tyrants. Full of greed. Full of unknowing.

We all deserve better. So much better.

Honeysuckle

You know those days when you wake up and go outside and you can’t tell if it’s a spring haze or an internal heaviness or a combination of both? And something in the brain feels like a dream and the words are wonky coming out your mouth. And simultaneously everything seems crystal clear, like conversations like the state of violence like the scream of oppression like people worn down like sirens piercing morning dreams like newborns gobsmacked with the reality of breath,

I can’t remember if that first breath tasted like pollution or not. I can’t remember opening my eyes for the first time. I can’t remember if the fluorescent hospital lights hurt or not. I can’t remember if the first rays of sun made me squint. I can’t remember the first human touch.

I used to think I was all alone in this world, but somewhere in my late teens a part of my self dissolved, like the walls of individualism caved, and I realized there are people all around. There are people inside. Voices constantly talking. I realized I am never alone. I try to hide away and find solitude, but there is always someone there, around the corner, walking, running, fighting, singing, what-have-you, in the next room. I love you. I hear you often. Although I can’t remember that first human embrace, I know I came into this world loving people, craving human touch, a strong desire for relationships that extend beyond the conceivable barrier of language.

It can be carnal at times, and base, but I like going to sleep with people. Horizontal, sixty-nine, on the floor, in the bed, ruffled sheets, no clothes, standing up, sweat meshed together like droplets of saltwater in the ocean. And that’s not it. What about handshakes and hugs. Kisses on cheeks. Arms around shoulders. Looks from across the room when eyes palpably touch and smiles perk upon faces. High fives. Shoulder rubs.

We know how precious life is. That’s why we don’t want to get out of bed on rainy mornings. To stay curled up with cats or dogs or humans. Unless it’s to retrieve a cup of coffee and a novel only to get right back under the covers after cracking the window to let in the moisture of rain that accompanies the breeze. We know how precious life is. That’s why we crack the car window and roll it all the way down to let in the salt air of the ocean because it smells like home. We know how precious life is. We do. We fight for it. Because how much time are we able to settle in deeply to appreciate it?

I see sadness in eyes. Especially in eyes that cry. But when I see eyes that don’t cry, I see sadness in shoulders, hunched up, holding the weight of tears like an aqueduct buckling with age. It makes me sad to see such sadness. It sweeps over,

We know how precious life is. It’s crystal clear. But there’s this spring haze. Or maybe it’s an internal heaviness. Could it be the dark moon calling in all the shadows? There are many reasons. Bills. Rent. Mortgage. Mouths to feed. The morning news. 60 dead. Another war. Another friend OD’d.

There’s this dream I woke up to, but I forget it now because I didn’t write it down. The day started so quickly.

Narrow Passage

I. Hornet’s Nest Dysphoria

“The first thing to depart in mental illness is the familiar. And what takes its place is bad news because not only can you not understand it, you also cannot communicate it to other people. The madman experiences something, but what it is or where it comes from he does not know.” – Philip K. Dick, Valis

It feels dangerous to talk about it out loud. So I take to writing it down.

The illusions of grandeur started when I was 19 or 20 years old. It was a three or four year period living in this particular hellscape. The internal world I traversed at that time was one of psychic torture swinging into bouts of ecstatic overload. It was volatile. Apocalyptic. Paranoia wove its way through my mind ceaselessly. I forever thought friends were inviting me out as a joke. Even a funeral I went to, beforehand, I had thoughts of not going because I kept thinking it was a ploy to out me as a scourge unfit for family and friendship. I had enough presence of mind to talk myself down from these thoughts, but it was difficult.

I remember hearing voices telling me I was a prophet, the reincarnation of Buddha, the second coming of Christ. I had thoughts telling me I was sent here by God to unveil secrets to those around me. Prophecies. Everything was a sign pointing me closer and closer. To what though? I don’t know. Enlightenment? Transcendence? Fulfillment of divine purpose? It must have been a click in my brain. A jolt in my being. A freak show of ego and narcissism. Chemistry out of whack and firing haywire. There were any number of rationalizations for it, but the fact of the matter was clear. This is happening. I don’t have any small doubt it is a major reason for me being a writer. I wanted to hammer those thoughts into submission. I wanted to mold them into stories more sane and relatable. Transform the language and find new words. I wanted to channel those thoughts into something less cultish. Less religious.

I also did not in the least want to walk that path into schizophrenia. Mental hospitals. Dissociative disorders. Strapped in institutions. Drugged into zombification.

I was haunted by fear. Outlandish visions. I had nightmares of being gang raped and beaten pretty regularly. I wondered if I was tortured in another life for a practice of witchcraft. I recall smoking weed with friends, and feeling the need to stop, because it felt as though I was inside everyone’s heads, hearing all their thoughts. I had no idea what to make of my experience, this unreality, this alternative world, that worked its way into my thinking, but I dealt with it on my own.

There were nights I sat in my room unsure how I made it through another day. I felt like I had zero control, like I was being pushed through life by an external force co-opting my inner will. I gave thanks and praises to whatever it was keeping me safe and harboring me through the chaos. Many times I considered taking off into the quiet life of monkhood. A monastery. A mountain. Somewhere cloistered and sacred. Practice daily ritual and meditation. I don’t recall talking about this with anyone until years later. Even then, I’ve kept very quiet about it. It certainly showed up in some of my writing, albeit thinly masked and self-ridiculed. I’m 31 now. It’s been about a decade. I feel like it’s been long enough to revisit these thoughts in earnest, because they don’t leave. They’re still in my memories. Much quieter now. Almost an absurdist abstraction. A surrealist spat at a distance. I’ve dealt with it in ways that I knew how. It’s different of course in the present. Back then, I felt forever on the brink of losing complete and total touch with reality. Like my head was exploding with archetypal upheaval.

It’s ironic in a way too. Don’t the teachings of Christ make such suggestions? At least the Nag Hammadi Texts? The kingdom of heaven is within. Christ is in each one of us. We don’t need the middleman of the priest to know our connection to the universe or god. In all probability, we don’t want the priest to corrupt our natural encounter with feminine.

At the time, I was also reading about shamans, so this archetypal energy was presenting itself simultaneously. But the modern American culture makes as much space for shamans in society as it does for prophets. So that didn’t seem like a much better path to tread. Michel Foucault wrote about the village idiot. The person where madness found a dwelling. Mircea Eliade relegated the shaman to a madman suffering schizophrenic delusions.

Given what was arising in me and what roles are acceptable to fulfill in modern society, I suffered a lot of confusion. At the same time this was happening, I felt more and more a part of me that is a woman. I remember a dream I had in which my mom and aunts and the women ancestors sat around me in a ceremonial circle as I heaved and cried and screamed, “I don’t want this! Why me!” “It is part of your gift,” they said calmly. “You must accept it or it will eat you alive.” The idea of being transgender or non-binary was barely on the periphery of my understanding, but even then, I have often felt like and continue to feel like both a man and a woman. Not one or the other, but an interweaving of both. This is part of the reason why Willow has become a chosen pen name.

I ate mushrooms for the first time when all this was happening. To be honest, I believe it helped me ground, get real, filter and integrate these thoughts.

During one journey in particular, I traveled back thousands of years. I lived in the trees and wore a loincloth. I overlooked the forest village in which we lived. It was paradisiacal. As I returned to the present day, I experienced the fall from grace and entered a period of profound sadness. How could civilization develop in such a way? So much violence toward one another and toward the earth. Violence that is both explicit and unconscious. But that trip, deep into the terrain of psyche, helped me understand the nature of those reoccurring grandiose illusions. We are complex beings. We are more than just our present life. We have memories encoded in our DNA. Our genes carry the weight of millennia. I don’t need to give my whole identity over to one particular upheaval of thought patterning.

There was another voice that said over and over again, “You are gay. You are gay. You are gay.” It was frustrating. It was clear that women turned me on. My sexual fantasies indicated as such. Men, not so much, but I was and continue to be open. Experimental. So sure, I’m gay. I feel an emotional, romantic connection with men. Not all men. A heartfelt brotherhood. But as teenagers, our touching one another was always aggressive and competitive, expressed through sports and wrestling around. There was less hugging. Little to no softer intimacy. This is something I craved much more than sexual attraction. There was this phrase “butt buddies.” It indicated that two friends were attached at the hip and vaguely implied that they were fucking one another. It was used as a derogative. A point of joking and making fun of people. Closeness with men was clearly discouraged.

I grew up in a place that was progressive and open, but still people were steeped in tradition. Homophobia existed in subtle ways. It wasn’t so much a hatred for the LGBTQ community, but more so a fear of it. “You’re gay” was a way to say, “you’re dumb.” When it came to sexuality, it seemed as though you could be either straight or gay but no in between. There were no degrees along the spectrum. Only a strong binary. Gay or straight. Man or woman. In the closet or out. Strict, defined boundaries. As someone who identifies as queer, this didn’t appear on my radar when I was younger. It was almost too complex. My whole experience was too complex for me to get a grip on.

Most of my younger days were spent in a hazy darkness. The space needed to find clearness of thinking and expression of an inner world didn’t really exist. I remember being relatively miserable. I had a few friends I could relate to on these matters, but I don’t think we had the language or concepts to describe what was happening to us. We most definitely searched though.

I understand consciousness forever ebbs and flows, changing like a chameleon depending on the context of society and individual state of mind, but still, it’s important to name the delusion.