these are O'Keeffe's leaves

There's a Georgia O'Keeffe painting at the DeYoung Museum right now called Brown and Tan Leaves, 1928, which she painted while at Lake George, the family estate of her photographer-husband Alfred Stieglitz.

Unlike some of her other paintings--luminous abstractions of lilies, magenta-pinks highlighted with iridescent whites--this painting is not particularly dashing or impressive. Not haunting like her skulls, or sweeping like her flowers. The leaves are ordinary and homely, fallen slips of foliage with torn and tattered edges, fading, dying, drying out; in their last phase of life, they are the leaves that would dissolve under our reckless feet.

But the story that accompanies this painting unnerved and captivated me (don't stories always make grand and mythic the most banal of objects?). According to the exhibition curator, the leaves symbolized the players in a love triangle O'Keeffe was caught in: the biggest leaf, her husband Alfred Stieglitz; the medium leaf at the bottom left, herself; the small leaf in the upper corner, Dorothy Norman, the woman with whom Stieglitz was having an affair with at the time. Stieglitz was forty years older than Norman, and O'Keefe despaired at news of this affair. Her expression of this despair was through painting, using these objects and forms to convey the ideas, feelings, and circumstance--that she did not know how to put out in the world in any other way. More than mere projections, the leaves were a blind man's cane, doing her bidding, touching the treacherous surfaces around her in ways she could not*.

Earlier in the exhibition, there was an O'Keeffe quotation printed on the wall: "I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn't say in any other way ... things I had no words for."

I am fascinated by this: the way we birth our deepest pains and desires and secrets in the world, in myth and symbol and story--and how so often the pathos of those channels is more rich and expansive than if we told the story itself, as a literal chronicle. That there is some other way to convey who we are--by metaphor, by symbol, by allegory--somehow makes the story that much more powerful because it is proto-typical, archetypal, mono-mythical, universal, legendary (this is nothing new, I know, but lately the power of symbolism has impressed me like a fiery brand)--and I use all those words with their etymologies and associations in mind: proto, meaning primal; archetypum, meaning first-molded**.

In being able to extract the essence of a feeling, a situation, an occurrence, and turn that into a symbol--another story--you are recognizing the universality of your experience, and of course by that--you understand that you are not alone and that you do not exist singularly and that there is someone else out there--many someones out there--with whom your experience is resonant, even if you do not know it yet. You are supporting someone, now or maybe a century later, and that someone is kindred or will have kindred feelings--how those feelings are borne over and over again through our descendants as labors and tear and sweat. The details are changing; technologies develop; circumstances evolve; trees are dying, and yet the myth remains; it is re-enacted again.

We have primal urges to tell our stories; Knowing that this urge is instinctive, natural, ordinary is a relief (how many times I've wanted to write that short story to tell of my pains; how many times have I loved a character because she seemed to understand my insecurities).

Who knows for a fact if O'Keeffe's leaves are symbols at all? Who knows if her objects were the mythical objects we want them to be? But alas, they are out of her hands now, and they are ours to steward and keep; so may they be the stories we tell ourselves and each other, over and over again.

*The other analog I thought of for this was the Patronus in the Harry Potter books... a spirit animal guardian of sorts... not only a protector but a communicator, and I feel like the objects that O'Keeffe found in nature often became her talismen, or at least I'd like to believe this to be so, even if to indulge my own myth of O'Keeffe herself. 
**And then there are Jungian archetypes, which are "universal, archaic patterns that derive from the collective unconscious [...] autonomous and hidden forms that are transformed once they enter consciousness and are given particular expression by individuals." 


these are the exhalations of my heart


 I rarely cry in private. At the most, a few tears, when I read or hear something that has apparently stretched out its hand and grabbed ahold of my heart, and there's a moment right before I cry when I feel like I've finally reached some transcendent place of human experience, this ability to feel something, the permission to reclaim myself from the distraction and drudgery of doing and moving and performing. Otherwise, my lachrymatory tendencies are displayed only in close contact with other people, which isn't to say that I am not ashamed of my emotional paroxysms, only that my tears are now more likely to be an immediate reaction to something outside of myself, whether an affront or an onslaught or a catalyst of sorts, rather than an outpouring of things contained within myself for much too long, rotting away like old fruit left out. I used to try to purge away my feelings, especially anxiety and loneliness and worry and indecision and insecurity, to the detriment of my body, whose withering withered my soul, and I was just trying to survive, holding tightly onto anything I could, anything that felt safe, like standing under an awning when there's a downpour of rain, not wanting to step out but knowing I'll have to get drenched if I want to go home--sooner is better than later.

The crying itself, even if only a vessel, is not to be overlooked, despite its implications, which we've all been conditioned to believe: that crying is a weakness (after all, emotion is a weakness, sensitivity is a weakness), that crying is senseless, that crying shows a lack of logic and self-control, that crying is the absence of joy, a symptom of depression. Crying does not exclude any of these things, but neither is it a tell-tale sign, and so often we forget how beneficial it is, how natural and how soothing. After all, crying is our God-given mechanism for expressing discomfort and for channeling an overflow of emotion that we cannot contain, a catch-all for the feelings in us we cannot yet name or rationalize, a release of the adrenaline we chase after in the hopeless addictions that were supposed to make us feel better, momentarily at least. Crying makes me feel better. So it does for babies too.

Over the past few years, I've learned that my heart can contain more paradoxes than it used to, which I hope means I'm growing up, or wiser. That, or what used to seem like a contradiction seems less like one now, because my world has fewer polarities, oppositions, and extremities than before; and there's less tension between what used to feel like opposing forces. Despite the presence of paradox, and the acceptance that all the mess of my feelings can actually co-exist, more things make less sense, and I'm okay with that. I'm more often wrong--about others and myself--than I am right. Never mind that a lot less seems definitively wrong or right in the first place; the legalistic framework I once imposed upon every detail of my life continues to break down. Sometimes details make all the difference, and sometimes they don't matter at all. Wisdom, discernment, and patience become more important than outcomes. Intentions, rationales, and ways of being become much larger in scope than the means and the ends and the places I think I'm supposed to be going. Feeling the ache is better than not feeling at all. Not feeling at all is sometimes the result of doing too much. Doing too much sometimes leads to existing too little, or not existing at all. Sleeplessness is sometimes the consequence of exhaustion. A secret is never really a secret at all. What isn't said is louder than words; what isn't said is a bigger betrayal than telling a painful truth.

Labels and categorizations make less sense than they used to; sometimes, they're entirely irrelevant. "Anti-" feels like such a strong stance, and fewer things have the antitheses that I thought they were supposed to have. Sadness is not the opposite of happiness, and crying is not the opposite of laughing. Sadness is the presence of a feeling, and crying is overcoming the defense that held those feelings hostage. Sadness is not depression, and depression isn't illogical. Nor is it fixable. Many things aren't fixable or solvable. Life isn't a series of equations to solve for, or a line with a slope. Anger is not the opposite of peace. Peace does not contradict the presence of emotion; mostly it is the cork board beneath the hardwood, which cushions but does not negate every emotional vibration. Beauty is not objective; beauty and ugliness are not mutually exclusive. There are splinters of ugliness in every tarp of skin, and my splinters have become more obvious as time has warped me in ways I know not. I have found these splinters, plucked them, driven them deeper into my dermis; I have found that some of these splinters were nothing at all. I have seen beauty in wayward folk, in debilitating times, in downcast faces. What I once thought beautiful was subversively so, what I once thought perfect, merely a facade. Tears have made sense of situations my brain could not. People I thought invincible have let me down. And I have found that feeling is not wrong, that feeling is not weak, that the heart does not betray but reveal, that God does not leave but He gives you a heart to hope. Perfection is a feeling, not a state of being; love is an ache, disregards perfection, supersedes feeling.


this is the disease of sound

Last Monday night, at the Verdi Club on Mariposa street, a neat rectangle of people in chairs gathered, looking like a tiny plot of land amidst dark empty space. A small blue-lit stage was tucked into a wall, like a cubby you could reach your hand into. Without a proscenium, the stage was ordinary, a diorama on view. Before the show, people moved around in their chairs quietly, restlessly, without the energy of a crowd. This wasn't a crowd, this was a gathering.

From a distance, the quartet players looked like marionettes come to life, thrusting their bodies into their bows. A man with slicked-back hair tied into a neat ponytail played the viola. A woman with curly dark hair and fingerless gloves sat with a cello between her legs. Ryan Lott, a.k.a Son Lux, sat off to the side, on the piano bench, listening to the group play his composition, which, from the point of view of someone who has never composed any music, is an extravagant thing--being able to watch the live enactment of some thing that was gestated in you, birthed, now brought to life by these four surrogates. There was scraping and shuffling and long-drawn out noises, an elaborate sequence of off-kilter , dissonant sounds coming together as an evocative gestalt.

The four players introduced Lott's opus, and then Minna asked him questions, and Lott joked and paused when he didn't know how to answer.  Lott is not a lover of people--it shows--but he is sickly obsessed with music, and making it. As geniuses are.

Unraveled mystery. Revealed humanness. This is a comfort and a despair.

Finally, the night ends with Son Lux piano sounds and Ryan's most beautiful, strained voice, at once delicate and reckless, like ice splintering and cracking, and inside us arises what feels like the fatal pulse of pressurized blood against venal walls. Inside us, particles are colliding inside a closed container, the ventricles are contracting, contracting. Crystal is beside me, and I do not want to touch her--she is about to break. I can feel it. Without looking at her, I can sense that her entire body has suddenly become brittle: the power of this music is not that it melts but that it calcifies the broken bones in us so that they can be torn apart. I am thinking about how our body receives music like this, how it enacts in us the symptoms of a physical ailment, like a hypotensive crisis or an anaphylactic reaction. Like the bite of a snake, this music brings to the forefront of our minds "unwarranted thoughts of imminent death." It's a miracle we're not suffering from coagulopathy, spontaneously bleeding from the mouth and the nose. But our wounds are surfacing, they are being touched. Ecchymosis is the bruising of the skin. Wretched sadness, anger, lament distilled in words and these twinkling sounds burning our mouths as we swallow every note. Formication is the feeling of small insects crawling under our skin.

We're breathing fast, faster, deeper. Tachypnea. Hypverventilation. Acroparesthesia. Whiplash. Carpopedal spasms.

I search for the condition of suffering that is akin to the reception of music.


How does it all end? Suddenly, and we sink back into our normal selves, both elated and relieved. This episode is over. Our lives have been touched, and we slink out of the club in awe, quietly.


this is a casual vacancy

table of contents




February was a month of vacancies. Leaving old places behind. Emptying a place of its contents and transporting those things to someone else's vacancy. Inhabiting a vacancy. Dissolving the vacancy. 

 "it was a sentence from a previous existence."

night shadows

strange, ordinary

At the moment I am empty of words, an emptiness which feels like a sleepy leg, needly and numbed. Perhaps I am doing the living which will distill the words I need later. The living is the vacation. The writing is the work. 


Now I'm living around the corner from my friend Risa's letterpress studio, which she shares with another letterpress printer named James. The studio is in the Heath Ceramics building, in an old laundromat. A storefront, gallery, studio, gathering space.
The Aesthetic Union + Papa Llama. 555 Alabama Street. 


roasted vegetable lunch, old mixtapes

soup, confessions

bread, butter

sushi, stories

shea, reveille

taxonomies, textures, patterns from this book.
inspiration for living. 




"Everything that I dreamed of is gone. [...] The places I've loved no longer exist. [...] You have to understand: I didn't visit places; I lived places. It makes all the difference in the world."
-Jack Gilbert
(the greatest vivant of them all)

Remember the ordinary. Meditate on sentience. 
"a sense of the possibilities"

"Carol is around still, but less reliably. For almost a year, I would wake up from another later afternoon mini-nap in the same living-room chair, and in the instants before clarity, would sense her sitting in her own chair, just opposite. Not a ghost but a presence, alive as before, and in the same instant gone again. This happened often, and I almost came to count on it, knowing that it wouldn't last. Then it stopped."
-Roger Angell, "This Old Man"
(if you need a good cry...)


Driving alone at night, the world's pitch, black velvet
stapled occasionally by red tail lights
on the opposite highway but otherwise mild
panic when the eyes habitual check
produces nothing at all in the rearview mirror
Trying not to let imagination win over reality
Hurtling through the night
passions so spent become facts one observes
Not tempered, just momentarily out of the view
by the body that perceives them
Turning that into my prayer to be deprived

-"The Whole World is Gone" by Jennifer Grotz

"Language is dying, the novel is dying, poetry is a corpse colder than the Ice Man; they've all been dying for thousands of year, yet people still write, people still read, and everyone knows that nothing is really real until it is written. Until it is written! Even those who cannot read know that."
-Thomas Lux

"For writers have only one duty, as I see it, the duty to express accurately their way of being in the world. [...] once you have removed all the dead language, the second-hand dogmas, the truths that are not your own but other people's, the mottos, the slogans, [...] once you have removed all that warps experience into a shape you do not recognize and do not believe in -- what you are left with is something approximating the truth of your own conception..."
-Zadie Smith, "Fail Better"