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Letters to Writers #5

January 15, 2017 at 11:10 AM
Subject: On Writing and Rachel Carson

M,

Just a letter from a stranger here…I imagine you receive quite a few. Do you find that most are from fellow writers?

I’ve been aware of your website for some time but hadn’t paid consistent attention to it until recently. It is food for a heartsick soul and I thank you for creating it. It is deep and restorative, something I yearn for in this world of shallow meaning.

Each of your posts is a minefield of happy rabbit holes. I feel like Alice each time, especially when I feel a bell ring in my chest.

I am a growing writer, not as accomplished, skilled, or disciplined as you. I have begun my journey of self-discovery halfway through life (at least I hope halfway). I didn’t heed my heart’s call in youth. Early circumstances and events bent me to identify with being unworthy and this caused years of suffering and self-hate. I chose paths that weren’t authentic, that were external. Is it too obvious to say that it was unsustainable?

I experienced a kind of self-death, a crisis of the soul, seven years ago and have been building a true life from the rubble of my was-life. It’s been messy. I have wandered and floundered. Do we ever find ourselves, or do we accept who we are eventually to find some peace? Inner conflict has painted my life. I’m tired.

Of all things, why is, was always, my call to write? It’s a masochistic journey and my life has been self-war for so long.

Yet, it’s true and that is freeing. Being free is terrifying. I don’t know how to be free.

How do you read so many books and still taste the words, still smell the meaning? You obviously do. I have a polar relationship with reading. I read or I don’t, mostly the latter. I haven’t read most of the classics, haven’t studied the masters. One of the writer’s mantras is to read, read, read. I have the passion, but it’s fickle.

Am I a fraud because I haven’t? Can one be a good writer without a conventional education? I have so many habits to learn and unlearn. Do I have time? I think I’ve found my voice, but doubt lingers.

Your words on Rachel Carson hit hard. The quote concerning Freeman’s devotion as Carson’s nourishment is too close to home. It’s much the same with your words concerning the relationship between Van Gogh and his brother. I long for this, but fear old patterns of dysfunction. I remain suspicious of my desires and motivations. Love is mysterious, especially for one who struggles with self-love.

About a month ago I deleted all my social media accounts, except for Facebook, which I only deactivated because it is my media drug of choice. They connect, but they ultimately leave me with an amplified sense of disconnection. They are also a time-vampire of distraction. I’m working on filling the space with reading and writing.

The goal is to write a memoir, a book I have been working on in fits and leaps for years. I’m enamored with genre, when it is raw and vulnerable. Sensational tell-alls make me dry-heave. Fiction isn’t a vehicle I’m interested in. I crave real.

I’ve been unsure of the structure and delivery of the book, but I think it is going to be in the form of letters to my son.

It’s hard to be deliberate and patient with creation. Passion is only part of the equation, much as with love itself.

Again, thank you. Your depth of inquiry helps me navigate and exposes me to writing that I may have never found otherwise.

ps, have you read Ishmael by Daniel Quinn? If not, I recommend it.

Photo Credit: Moiseiko at English Wikipedia
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Letters to Writers #4

November 28, 2016 at 2:16pm
Subject: Suicide

I read your article in The Sun. Good shit.

At my darkest, I’ve pondered it. My choice: The Foresthill bridge. It’s the highest bridge in California and 4th tallest in the U.S. Plus, it’s conveniently close. There wouldn’t be any coming back from that. I’ve almost died several times, so I know the miracle of modern medicine. You really have to break yourself. A bag over the head or filling the inside of a car with carbon monoxide still leaves too much room for a savior. Coming back from death is worse than death.

It’s been a while since I’ve thought of that. Life’s been hard but not dark. I have pills. When I do think about it I tell myself it’s an ideation, not planning.

Being a father keeps me here, I think. But I have 400,000 dollars of life insurance and suicide is covered so when I feel like I’m failing I wonder if money would be better for him. There’s the fact that I was abandoned by my father too. I know killing myself would be the worst thing I could do. I’d become my father. I mean, I’ve certainly failed him at times but I keep trying to be better. I’m still here.

When we only have to answer to ourselves, wrecking our lives is a luxury.

I’ve never done well with moderation or structure. I navigate from the extremes—I do a thing or I don’t, and the choosing is fickle. I’m horrible at listening to others. And like you, I choose to do things that I don’t want to do often. I’m fully aware, yet I still choose the thing I don’t want. I think Lidia said it best:

“You see it is important to understand how damaged people don’t always know how to say yes, or to choose the big thing, even when it is right in front of them. It’s a shame we carry. The shame of wanting something good. The shame of not believing we deserve to stand in the same room in the same way as all those we admire. Big red A’s on our chests.”

Today I’m at the coffee shop not writing.

I don’t know if there will come a time without the ebb and flow of this struggle, the acting out of our unworthiness. That’s our lot.

What is “happy” anyway? What is success? Peace? Fuck the facades. I’m more interested in blood-truth and I count you among the brave tellers.

Thanks.

xo

Photo Credit: Moiseiko at English Wikipedia
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Letters to Writers #3

December 31, 2016 at 12:08am
Subject: Words on Words

I write these things and I think they are more for me.

Is writing selfish?
 
I just finished “Another Bullshit Night in Suck City.” I heard about it from Stephen Elliott/The Rumpus years ago and finally got around to it. I am a horrible reader but I’m trying to change that.
 
Your book made my heart hurt. And it scared the shit out of me. Too many reflections.
 
I also had an absent father. He was semi-homeless for a time. He lived in his Grand Torino and parked in the The Ramp’s lot at night. He was friends with the owners and sometimes played jazz there.
 
I didn’t meet him until I was 29. I hadn’t even seen a picture of him, never heard his voice. He knew I was alive but never bothered. He’s dead now. We never became close. The gap was too wide, his shame too deep.
 
I’m 46 and have a 12 y.o. son now. Being a father has been hard. IS hard. I divorced his mother when he was 6 and choked on shame for a long time for breaking up his family. I struggle. How do you be something that wasn’t there? I’m present, but full of fear and doubt.
 
I’ve spent the years between what was and what is trying to figure out who I really am.
 
I started writing shortly after the divorce. Just a shitty blog that over time became a little less shitty. I’ve felt a pull to write since my teens but stuffed it. I was too busy trying to die.
 
You know, motorcycles and lost spleens. And crystal meth. 1986. 1989. 1990. Even after those almost-deaths I kept at it. Then I got beat up bad, lost some teeth.
 
There was something about losing the teeth that woke me up, made me choose a different path. It was a better path, but I was still lost. I still had bad choices to make.
 
Now I’m trying to write a fucking memoir. But I sputter and doubt. I surf depression.
 
Can a person with only a high school education write anything worthy? What the fuck am I doing? The amateur is pissing all over the toilet seat and onto the floor.
 
I think the book is to my son. Hopefully it will make up for the pain I’ve caused him someday.
 
Anyway, thanks for the real. The world needs more real.
 
-Cab
Photo Credit: fotologic/Flickr
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Letters to Writers #2

May 22, 2012

C,

Your letter was my first from Letters In The Mail. And I do understand the not-knowingness of life, of embracing the path of uncertainty. Certainty can be comforting. Our culture likes certainty. But it’s a myth. It’s actually a death. Certainty can’t change, grow or thrive.

I chose a path that I considered “certain” because I’d made a mess out of my life early on. I ignored my heart. I locked it away because I believed I didn’t know how to live. I chose to be defined by everything but myself. All I reaped was a mess of a life later on. Now I’m picking up the shattered pieces worth keeping. Now I’m listening to my heart. Everything is uncertain because I’m writing my story now.

What I’m trying to say is, just being where you and I are takes bravery. You are brave. Our pursuit of certainty, of control, is folly. Only a coward seeks certainty. Only a fool believes in guarantees.

Our culture has written a story to enact that bears little resemblance to reality. This creates all kinds of distortions about what it means to be alive and how to live. No matter how many times we fail or ugly consequences we face, we continue to believe that we are living as we were always destined to. We believe that all we need to do is the same thing we have always done except MORE of it and with more determination.

So I ask you, is what you need only more determination?

Your father led a wondrous life. But how much of his life, the beautiful wondrous parts, were due solely to his determination? I think the wondrous parts of our lives are the surprises, the things we do, and happen, without intention.

But maybe that’s all bullshit. I don’t think so, but life continuously debunks my assumptions. Let’s talk of lighter things.

I’m almost certain this is only the second time I’ve written a letter and mailed it. I thought it was the first, but as I wrote these words, I remembered. Around the age of eight or nine, I pretended to mail a letter to a close friend who was on vacation visiting family. I missed her, and a bit jealous of her journey to Southern California too. Lainie was a true-blue tomboy and I was more on the sensitive side for a boy. We were both “just enough” of what the other mostly was to make for a close childhood friendship. I think Lainie might have been a year or two older, but time has faded my memories much like the color of a 70’s Polaroid picture.

It was another scorching summer in Sacramento and I was bored. A day stretched to almost infinity at that age. Remember? I missed Lainie and wished I was traveling somewhere. Anywhere would be better than trailer park we both lived in. In that moment of jealousy-coated despair, I wrote a letter to her about my “travels.” I was in Hawaii having a splendid time and then off to a couple of other exciting destinations with details which I can’t remember. I put a totally bogus Hawaiian return address on the envelope, peeled an already postmarked stamp off another piece of mom’s mail, glued it to the envelope and then promptly marched down to her house and plopped it in her mailbox. I felt a little better after that.

I think it was the very next day when I spotted Lainie’s mom driving down the street towards me. I was fucked. I waived and prayed that she wouldn’t stop as she passed. She stopped. “Hey, I thought you were in Hawaii,” she said. There was just a dash of sarcasm in her words, enough to know that my humiliation had just begun. Have you ever experienced panic so severe that it’s like you are outside your body? I can’t remember what bullshit left my lips in reply because it wasn’t me talking. It was some stupid kid who just realized how poorly thought out his idea was. I slunk home afterwards, content to never leave the house again and awaited Lainie’s return and certain doom.

I don’t remember what the final outcome was. It was probably so traumatic, so embarrassing, that I blocked it out. I think Lainie’s mom talked to my mom at some point but I don’t remember being confronted by my mother or Lainie.

In my teens, I wrote two other letters, one to my best friend who joined the air force and was stationed in Japan and one to a girl I met while at an out-of-town church presentation on satanic cults (yeah, that could probably be a story in itself). I never mailed either letter. My best friend was discharged for drunk driving and sleeping with a commanding officer’s daughter before I could mail it. I gave it to him at my house and he asked me questions as he read it. So maybe my letter to you IS the first official personal, and mailed, letter I’ve written. :^)

I hope this letter finds you well.

xo

P.S. I’m 42 and decided that I’m a writer. I’ll let you know how that works out. So far it’s just a blog where I mainly gaze at my navel. It’s dark, but authentic.

P.S. 2 I intended to type this and then handwrite it. I felt it would be more personal. Then I wrote you 900+ words. Crap. I think I judged your computer printed letter too harshly. My handwriting skills consist of printing while holding the pen too tightly and pushing down way too hard. My cursive was abandoned in the 6th grade. Thank Jebus for computers.

Photo Credit: fotologic/Flickr
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Letters to Writers #1

April 26, 2017
Downtown L.A.
My phone reminds me dad’s birthday was yesterday
Should that matter now since he’s dead?
In life, a stranger anyway
Another stranger
A writer, a filmmaker
Why I’m here today
I reach for his hand but get a hug
He asks me questions
Won’t let the answers stray
He writes notes and I don’t
Bites his nails
Lifts his already short sleeves above his shoulders
Thinks I should write about groceries
I say it’d be a 24 year story
On how to be unworthy
Says later he’s having friends over
To preview some work and watch some old movie
Invites me
Starts at Eight

July 31, 2017 at 9:03pm
Subject: This Is Where I Drink Wine and Ramble

Hey. How are things?

I know it’s been a while since we met but I wanted to thank you for making time to meet. And for inviting a stranger into your home.

Much of this will probably not make much sense. Or worse. I mean no harm…I’m just rambling, just feeling my way with words. I wouldn’t write about you without your blessing (not that anyone would see the words anyway). I say that out of respect for what I understand as your personal ethics on writing about others. I actually think that we don’t owe that to who we write about. Our words, our life. At least that is my current standpoint. I’m more comfortable with being temporary now.

I’ll be 48 soon. My forties have been a challenge. I upended everything but held on to my son. Half of me wanted to run, said he’d be better off without me. The other half said I’d be damned if I chose that. So, I stayed and did the best I could. Which feels mostly like failure and still running, but in place. I keep trying.

Here I am. Who am I?

I have doubts that I’m a writer.

Even if I am, so what?

Even if I find the discipline, if I write a book, what will that mean? I don’t believe in success. At least not the definition I’ve been fed from birth. I think we’ve been born into the era of loss. We’re on the descending side of the bell curve now. It’s a dual decline…economic and social. I speak generally. I think the White Male has been due for an identity crisis. I haven’t been much a fan…but that’s partly my self-hatred talking too.

You said my time as a grocer was a story. How can I write about something that I hated so much? What stories are worth telling?

Talking with your friends…and Bukowski came up. Haven’t read or studied much of him, but enough to know that Bukowski was an asshole. Am I an asshole? Yes, at least sometimes, probably. Trump is an asshole of galactic scale. He made it to the tip of the pyramid despite everything that he is. How in the fuck? Do we just love assholes? Nothing makes sense. The center does not hold.

There was a part of me that was chilled to the bone when I read Claire Vaye Watkins “On Pandering” in Tin House. Clearly a writer’s life can get messy quick. Writers write. If they are authentic, they write truth and sometimes that truth turns into punishment…instant karma for words written without wisdom or awareness. I don’t know if I want to be that vulnerable, even though I already have. Lack of exposure has kept me safe, mostly. I shut down all my social media accounts except for Facebook…even then I made almost everything private. I think I read that Cormac McCarthy doesn’t associate with other writers. Is that why?

You and Claire showed me that knowing other writers is dangerous.

So when you pulled out a notebook when we met, it caught me off guard. I wasn’t expecting that. I didn’t come with an agenda…at least I don’t think I did. I decided not to react or ask questions. Do you think you use a notepad as protection, a way to keep people at arm’s length? I felt like our meeting was an interview of sorts. Was it? You seemed nervous. I mean, I am a fucking stranger, so I get that.

Is this part of being a writer? Is my paranoia normal? Are writers vampires, sucking interactions dry for words on a page?

I don’t ask that in accusation. I ask because I don’t know what to think.

When I saw you post about the job with Epic Magazine, I thought about applying. Then I laughed. Who am I? I’m certainly am not my greatest fan. So I didn’t.

I have a denial fetish.

Hope you are well.

-Cab

Photo Credit: fotologic/Flickr
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Anthem to the Apocalypse

 

When did this darkness take me?
Set a plate and feed me?
Sing me a song so sadly?
Turn my ignorance into ether?
Steal my eyelids, name me Truthreaper?

The blues turn to black
When I think too deeply
No words come easily
To describe this feeling
This sensation of descending

Where to begin?
Where to begin?
Walking the planet as an alien
The world I see
Makes no sense to me

Wearing a semblance of the unsanity
I’m pretending
Not to see what’s in front of me
The splendorous travesty
Of the lives we lead

Nod when they say everything’s fine
The design maturing like California wine
Embrace the mating of destruction to success
Disassociate means and consequence
Nothing’s wrong, carry on

Who’s sin?
Who’s sin?
Searching for reason within the din
Oh, don’t look in the mirror
You might see things clearer

Heretics, believers
Deniers, seers
The fighters and the sleepers
All just mayflies caught in the flow
Drowning in the moonlight glow

Ruled by hubris and ego
Unable to let go
Here come the death throes
Here come the death throes
So ends the story we’ve sewn

Photo Credit: Open Knowledge Foundation Deutschland/Flickr – Día de los Muertos, José Guadalupe Posada (1851–1913)
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40 Fucks

Fuck this.

This is a mind dump. My soul’s sump pump.

Fuck Donald Trump. Fuck Donald Trump. Fuck Donald Trump. Fuck Donald Trump.

Fuck.

Fuck that dude and his idiot-child philosophy. Fuck the idolatry of his toxic masculinity. Fuck the part of him that lives inside me. Fuck the America that birthed his breed. Fuck the baby-men, the foxes who see the world as a house of hens. Fuck their fear, their blame’s spears, their resent for losing ground. Fuck the narrative to which they are bound.

Fuck the wolves that cry “sheep!” The future they weave is bleak.

Fuck countries and boundaries. Fuck their anthems, their stockpiles of splitting atoms. Fuck all the flags and their Risk playing fads. Fuck chessboards and overlords. Fuck swords and the arming of words. Fuck intervention’s weighted gloves and bombs delivered on the backs of doves. Fuck the patriotic fallacies, phallic inadequacies. Fuck empire. Fuck power’s insatiable desire.

Fuck Facebook. Fuck me. Fuck the social media insanity, my hypocrisy, my lack of integrity. Fuck the fighting, the in-your-face shouting, the “liking.” The shaming. The mindless sharing. Fuck loneliness, the mothlight attraction of instant gratification. Fuck the vampire wind blowing through the screen in front of me.

Fuck the gatekeepers and what they believe. Fuck their mindset-sieves, their collection, accumulation of make-believe. Where everything’s fine and consequences vanish by design. Where Mad Max thinking is liberating, a noble aim to achieve.

Fuck everything. Every tree, every sea. The bees! The dirt beneath me! Give me a daily hatchet-habit, give me car keys, shopping sprees, jeans with pre-ripped knees. Give me things! Give me a job breaking the Beam! Make it easy! Keep me busy, keep me from seeing the bleeding. Make existence hungry for meaning, make it shallow, make creation narrow, keep my mind fallow.

Fuck familial history. Fuck my parenting abilities. Fuck my not knowing, my worry, my self-absorbed discounting. Fuck the struggling, the muddling, the doubt-filled wallowing.

Fuck the editor strangling me. I’m not free. Hounded. Rounded. Locked. Impounded. Fuck that guy sharing the same chair as me.

Fuck my cowardly half-assing, the ledge on which I’m standing where I can’t stop asking,

Fuck. Can I? Will I?”

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November Letter

It’s been a long while—
The centuries of flow and mire
The illusion and denial
The wars and funeral pyres
The ashes of our desires
The fall of belief’s empires…

I see alchemy’s casters—
Pulling victories out of losses
Finding directions in the darkness
Divining grace from disaster
Giving silence a voice
Turning fate into choice

I hear singing—
In notes blue and bleeding
From wounds deep are spilling
Truths without floors or ceilings
In howls come the barred teeth lyrics
Tearing at the blind crimes we all mimic

I inhale memories—
Immune to context and the passage of ages
From habit’s holding patterns and mind’s parking lots
Sleeper scents pounce, connecting distant dots
In wait on forgotten packed away shirts
Lingers the sweat from shoveling lifetimes dirt

I feel others next to me—
There’s nothing as soothing
As the rise and fall of another’s breathing
The way touch bridges unseen chasms
Delivers belonging and orgasms
Conveys in ways words can’t fathom

In each instance a bell-ache tolls inside—
Somewhere in my chest a place hides
In this no-space, a ghost trace, a presence resides
Knows the struggle, knows the push-pull of life’s tides
Remembers, embraces all suffering as its own
As cause and effect, together we roam

Photo credit: Public domain/Vincent Van Gogh, “In the Orchard.’’ Pen transferred to lithograph. 1883.
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Occupiers

When memes of opposition invade your vocabulary
War becomes a way of living
Say goodbye to humility
So long, empathy

Welcome to a story unyielding
It’s plot binary
With only chapters of winning and losing

Belongingness that requires sides
Divides, makes loneliness our brides

It’s a tragedy when everything is the enemy

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Birth and Consequences

This is your country, this is your world, this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.

-Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

And when you’ve taken down your guard
If I could change your mind, I’d really love to break your heart
I’d really love to break your heart

-Tears For Fears, Shout

It’s my birthday.

Two years ago today I was in Houston. Today Houston is under water.

Two years ago today I was heartbroken.

Two years ago today I was alone.

Two years ago yesterday I helped a drunk across a street.

Two years ago today was worse.

Two years ago today was better.

I spent the day at West Alabama Ice House and because I’d stopped traffic and helped a drunk old man across the street to a cab the drinks were free, they said. Maybe he was a regular. I checked their Facebook page today and there was a post that says “Tippy” died yesterday, two years to the day. Is Tippy is the same guy I helped? Maybe.

I feel like probably.

Yesterday, two years from Houston and Maybe-Tippy, I buy groceries for a family walking around downtown Sacramento in the 108 degree heat, their three kids limp in their strollers. Two in the double stroller the father is pushing, a tall black man his right eye pointing aimless to the sky while the other looks at me with desperation and shame. They are believers, the mother says. God said to ask for help and not to bring shame to his name, she says. They are from Louisiana or Alabama, all I hear is THE SOUTH, came all the way to California on a Greyhound for their autistic son, they say. No services for them in THE SOUTH.

No services for them in God’s country.

I did not tell them I am an unbeliever, that the Catholic Church and the secrets they continue to try to bury is proof enough that whatever flavor of god they believe in doesn’t exist. I don’t tell them my son is T1 diabetic and diagnosed with ADHD. I do not tell them I’m on medical welfare, that I don’t make enough money to live without roommates.

I fight away cynicism and judgement and suspicion. I have no room. There is too much already in me, the Internet, the fucking air, everyone’s lungs thick with it. Choking on it. I help them. We walk to Rite-Aid and I tell them to buy what they need. My son and I wait and I check my phone to make sure I have enough money in my bank account. I don’t care what they buy. They ask if it is too much and I say no.

I want to feel good. I want to help. Fuck the rest.

Two years ago the next day same as today my birthday, I meet Daniel Quinn, whose words had cursed my vision with disturbing validation. Trump hasn’t stolen my laugh yet. I’m not mulling the morality and efficacy of punching neo-Nazis yet. Some white dude on Facebook brandishing a handgun in a featured picture on his page isn’t wishing for civil war and for me to piss my pants. Houston isn’t under water. Everything isn’t coming home to roost. Not yet.

The woman from Mississippi I’ve fallen in love with hasn’t sent a cryptic text and tried to commit suicide yet. She hasn’t been released from a psych hold yet. She hasn’t lost custody of her child yet. I haven’t stopped contact. Not yet. She’d just stabbed me from the heart of her own storm and I’m reeling, still trying to reach her, trying to save her from her rising waters. I haven’t erased every text and email and photo I have from her yet.

It was good I live in California and she in Mississippi. I get lost in other’s storms. Gravity steers me to stare down the eye of other’s rather than my own.

By chance, someone else is in Houston two years ago. I’d flown to meet her earlier that year in another city before I find the storm in Ole’ Miss. Another storm, a blizzard that sets records.

I write her a poem before I leave, using Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon as the scaffold:

In the 13th floor room
There was a lonely man 
And a pillow spooned
And a picture of-
The window framed with snow at noon

And there were talking subways down the stairs 
And tall building crannies
And Han Solo cabbies
And scary spinning doors
And ice-white floors
And naked cheeks all flush and gutters filled with slush
And a red-headed lady and my long distance crush

Goodbye room
Goodbye pillow spooned
Goodbye window framed with snow at noon
Goodbye fear
And blanket maroon

Goodbye ice
Goodbye twice
Goodbye Picasso
And goodbye smile’s lasso

Goodbye Monet
And goodbye to hay
Goodbye for today
And goodbye, Lady

Goodbye cold
And goodbye luck
Goodbye not knowing
Goodbye stuck
And goodbye red-headed lady whispering “fuck” 

Goodbye lark
Goodbye dare
Good bye Erika, life’s not fair 

She said she couldn’t meet. Two years later, she’s sober and shacked up with Superman. It’s a curious thing to hold envy and goodwill in the same hand.

Harder to acknowledge what I’m running from. Even with both hands.

Someone new says to take the boy. Of course she’s right. Sometimes it’s best not to listen to yourself. Resistance is the call, a summons to change the flow. Maybe it’s a postcard I’m sending to the future, something for him to recall in darker times. A memory, a light. Something to balance the in-between wrongs. That’s why I drag my son through the Nevada desert. That’s why I take him to see the eclipse.

I hope she stays. She’s wind in my sails.

It’s a curious thing to watch the world slide. To acknowledge rising tides. To not relate to sides. To dispense with ego and pride.

There is a a sense that we are all each other’s consequences.

-Wallace Stegner, All the Little Live Things

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