My Friend, The Pianist

For Michael Caldwell

 

I want him
to pull out
every song
in his repertoire,
Beethoven, Mozart,
Rachmaninoff, Chopin,
the music nobody
can perfectly pin down,
untwine the notes
from his fingers,
unleash his aging body,
take the fear
and the almost-fear,
and the love,
especially the love,
and then
and then
play them
on his piano
and see how
they sing
and his heart jumps!

 

Inspired by a slightly more solemn poem, My Friend’s Divorce, by Naomi Shihab Nye.

 

 

Advertisements

A Few Thoughts I Have After Finishing a Book

Once I finish a book and I turn the last page, I feel untethered. For the last few days, I’ve been grounded in someone else’s words, learning someone else’s story, yearning for a different life. When it’s over and the book is closed, it’s an ending of the story but also my relationship with it. Now, with no story to make a home in, I’m a refugee until I find another world to live in. I’m a kite flying in the wind waiting to come back down to Earth.

But it’s not all loss. When I’m soaring up there, I reflect, the sun on water below, thinking about what I’ve just learned. With my new findings, I can turn east or maybe south. The wind is unpredictable. The way you go is never known or set in stone. The scary thing is you can fly anywhere, and that’s the most beautiful part of it, too.

It’s important to be able to fly by yourself. Books teach you how. If you take the lessons learned in the stories you read—and by lessons I don’t mean heavy, moralistic conclusions, but literally anything a story teaches you that enlightens you in some way—you figure out how to become the leading character in your own story.


This was written after reading, The Song Poet by Kao Kalia Yang. I highly recommend it. Five stars.

Female Wolf

Dear Former Beloved

Thank you for being the man in the dark room of my dreams. Your intrusions as the predator of the psyche shook me awake. Your force called the wild woman within.

(Are the people in our lives just lessons, just moments of time that teach us to shed the shit that cakes our muddy paws? Can a she-wolf find her mate and stop having nightmares?)

You showed me the killing room in my head, and I nearly threw away the key. Near death, I crawled my way out into the light.

And then, you came into my sleep. I held a baby—ours—and you turned your head away. On awakening, I wondered if I could survive the rejection. But now I know that I was being reborn and this meant everything.

Pleading for time, I gathered my strength for the first and final battle: letting you go.

The forbidden door was opened and the stench of starvation willed me to feed the soul cry. From the bones laid on the deathbed, the Bone Woman reconstructed me. I, a wild woman, rose from the ashes of sacrifice.

Now, I stalk the intruder back to his dark corner. And off I run into the horizon, laughing, howling like a coyote.

Thank you.


Inspired by the book I just finished reading: Women Who Run With the Wolves, by Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Ph. D.

Floating lilypad. Hannah Lyles.

The Importance of Roots

What sustains a lilypad
as it grows, before it breaks
the water’s surface?
Faith. Hope that it will
be touched by the sun.

A lilypad cannot rest on the water
without making the journey
from the depths; from the darkness
of the invisible bottom.

And even when it stands tall,
pad floating with the ripples
of the push and pull of tides,
the roots are firmly stuck
in the wet, muddy earth
of the lake bed.

They sing: remember the roots.
Do not celebrate the beauty of blooms
without honoring the soil’s fertility.
Our beginnings, our earthy starts,
are what bind us to this life.

Finding the Right Fit: How Some Doctors Make Your Mental Health Feel Worse, Or Better

Depression: let’s talk.

Today is World Health Day, celebrated to mark the anniversary of the founding of the World Health Organization. The theme for 2017 is depression, and it’s no surprise that this is the focus since suicide is now the second leading cause of death for 15-29-year-olds. This is a staggering statistic and one that needs to change.

This change will only come about if we have open talks about depression and other mental illnesses, which would remove the stigma associated with them, and if we continue to invest in organizations that help people who are struggling.

People with mental health issues are often judged by others who make huge assumptions about these people based on fear and ignorance. And sadly, sometimes the people who we go to for help are the ones who can make us feel worse.

The Bad News: The Doctors Who Make You Feel Like Shit

A few weeks ago, I visited a new psychiatrist since I’ve recently moved to a new state and needed to change doctors. In the span of forty-five minutes, during my first session, I was analyzed in a brutal and basic way. I was told that my father was an alcoholic and my mother was an “uneducated pussycat” for putting up with him. I was told that men had let me down and that I “pick the wrong ones all the time”. I was told that “women just want to get married, have children, and settle down”, which implied that I was depressed because I didn’t have a man that was going to provide that for me. I was told that I didn’t have anxiety or general depression, but that I had bipolar disorder since my brother had it. And I was told that my father probably suffered from bipolar disorder as well since it was a “genetic disease”.

I wanted to say she could fuck off and see how she liked that for some spontaneity.

I walked away feeling bruised, confused, and very upset. When my dad asked me how it had gone, I told him, and of course, it made him feel sad too. We didn’t talk to each other for a day because we were dealing with it. Now, I look back and see it for what it was: a load of rubbish.

Another psychiatrist told me that I had lived a privileged life and was lucky to have traveled around the world during my childhood. She made it sound like the rootlessness, dislocation, and uprooting were not valid reasons to feel broken inside. That I should be grateful for the experience, which of course I was, but that didn’t mean I didn’t feel trauma about it. This is a whole other issue to discuss that would require another post: the joys and traumas of the third culture kid experience and how most people don’t get it. After knowing that I’d traveled the world and was both American and British, the psychiatrist had the guts to correct my English when I pronounced something in the British way instead of the American way. And when I told her I had visited Edinburgh over the holidays, she asked, “Where’s that?” Go figure.

She also asked me if I had always been “that calm”. She asked me if I ever expressed “spontaneous joy”. I was almost too shocked to reply to her. I wanted to say she could fuck off and see how she liked that for some spontaneity. Instead, I said, “when I’m with people I enjoy being around, I express joy. Sometimes I dance around my room naked.” I also added that I felt more British in the expression of my emotions: more reserved, not as loud as some Americans are, having a drier and more sarcastic sense of humor, more observant. She told me that I could work on being more animated around her and others. She told me that being British didn’t mean I had to be miserable. I mentally noted that sentence and promised I would make a caricature of her one day in one of my future books. No darling, it doesn’t.

If I got outside and walked a block, it was a triumph.

About four months ago, I visited a GP after I was told I should probably see if there was anything “wrong with my body” that would explain the anxiety and depression. People are a lot more comfortable knowing you have a bodily injury or illness rather than a mind-based affliction. I sat down in the doctor’s office and explained why I was there in a nutshell. When I mentioned I had been having suicidal thoughts, I saw the doctor visibly flinch and the medical intern in the corner of the room shuffle her feet and stare at the floor. I understand that depression is difficult to talk about, but why don’t people squirm in the same way when you tell them you have a kidney stone or a broken arm? (Who knows, maybe they do.)

After measuring my height and weight, and taking my blood pressure, it seemed like she didn’t know what to do with me. She asked me questions like “are you sleeping okay?” and “are you exercising?”. To which I replied, yes and no. She then recommended that I find the time to exercise. I replied that I would find the time to exercise if I wasn’t thinking about cutting myself half of the time or if I managed to find the energy inside left over from the continual grieving and suffering to lift my limbs. She didn’t know what to say in response. The last time I had tried exercising, I rolled out my yoga mat in the living room and attempted a few sun salutations. I managed to do a few downward dogs, and then I flopped onto the mat and cried with my face squashed into the ground. If I got outside and walked a block, it was a triumph.

The Good News: Finding an Ear to Listen

Am I saying that you shouldn’t go to seek professional help when you feel like hurting yourself or if you’re struggling? Hell no! Of course you should. You must. You can’t do this journey alone and your loved ones can’t bear the brunt of it for you. I’m not saying you’re a burden—you’re not—but having more people help to lift the weight is easier for everyone. And yes, sadness has weight. It is so heavy, isn’t it?

What I’m saying is that finding the right mental health professional for you is a process. If you find the right psychiatrist or therapist straight away then that’s great! But if it takes a while to find the right fit, do not be discouraged. Do not let the system get you down. And do not let anyone, with an MD at the end of their name or otherwise, tell you who you are. You know who you are. Even if the depression is making every day a struggle, you know who you are. You know. You know what you like and don’t like. Listen to the way your body trembles. It’s speaking to you.

If you’re booking an appointment with a psychiatrist, you’re a badass.

If you don’t like your psychiatrist or therapist, find a new one. There are others out there. You’re not a failure for wanting to change. It doesn’t mean you’re weak or picky. If your parents or friends tell you you’re running from the truth by changing doctors, tell yourself you’re doing anything but that. You’re confronting it. A lot of people don’t even admit they have a problem, and funnily enough, it’s the people who have issues that like to judge you for yours. If you’re booking an appointment with a psychiatrist, you’re a badass.

Moving Forward: It Takes Time

Now, after some false starts, I’m happily in therapy with a wonderful therapist who listens to me, asks me important questions, and doesn’t judge me at all. I’ve spoken with her about my bad experiences with other mental health professionals and she’s been very empathetic and admitted that the profession can attract weird types of people.

I’m still trying to find a psychiatrist, but I’m comforted by the knowledge that I’ll find one eventually. The good thing about psychiatrists is you don’t have to see them very often; only about once a month on average since any medication takes some time to kick in. I think it’s far more important to find a therapist to work with because they’re the ones who will work with you on things, get deep into the hurting, and not just prescribe pills to fix everything. The best combination is having a psychiatrist and a therapist. At least, that’s what has worked for me.

I believe that when people want to hurt themselves it’s a cry to reconnect to their body.

I’ve also started exercising and meditating regularly. Waking up every morning at a set time and hitting the pavement to go for a walk or to the gym is helping me so much.  You’re probably wondering what changed and how I managed to motivate myself to do this. Well, I had a really difficult conversation with myself. I asked myself how I wanted to feel during my day. I replied: expansive, powerful, strong. I knew that I needed to reconnect with my body in order to do this, the same body that I had been hating, the body that I had wanted to hurt.

I believe that when people want to hurt themselves it’s a cry to reconnect to their body. The negative thoughts banish us to a dark place where we can’t even feel our body anymore. It’s a weird feeling to have, to feel so much pain and to not be able to feel your body at the same time. It doesn’t really make much sense. The self-hatred shakes the bond with our body. It is a deep yearning that only we can answer for ourselves. Thankfully, I no longer feel like hurting myself. I need this body to walk. I need it to see the animals. I need it to breathe the air. I need it to do so many things I want to do. Hell, I need it because I need me. I am.

If you can live the three minutes for a quick meditation, I bet you can live another three minutes, another ten, another twenty.

I looked to the past and recognized the fact that I had been happiest when I was rooted in my body. I realized after a lot of tears that this reconnection had to involve nature. So I made a pact with myself that I would get outside and go for walks to hear the birds and see the squirrels in the neighborhood. Soon I was going to sleep thinking about the next morning and how I was so lucky to wake up and go outside to see the living creatures walking around. This is hope. This is how hope is born.

Another way to live in the body is by training the mind through meditating. Meditating is a life saver because it quietens my mind’s obsession with thought.  I used to roll my eyes at people who spouted the benefits of living in the moment and letting go of the ego. It sounded like exclusive living to me. Something only those who are graced with the light of spirituality can experience (by the way, we all are). But once I shifted my mindset and viewed meditation as an exercise like walking or going to the gym, I started viewing it in a different, less overwhelming way. I just do ten minutes a day, twenty minutes max. I started with three minutes. I downloaded a few meditation apps (Stop, Breathe, and Think and Calm) to help me along and willed myself to sit still. If you can live the three minutes for a quick meditation, I bet you can live another three minutes, another ten, another twenty. I sure hope you do.

You can do this. Stay strong, warrior.


If you or someone you know needs help, visit this suicide prevention resources page on The Mighty.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

House of Smells

1. TEEN Spirit Stick, Orchard Blossom

TeenSpiritStick
The Teen Spirit Stick in question. (Source: Wikipedia)

There was a particular deodorant I used when I was a teenager going to junior high school in Katy, Texas—TEEN Spirit Stick in a floral scent. Orchard Blossom to be exact. Today when I smell the Lady Speed Stick version of the same scent (the TEEN Spirit Stick has since been discontinued), I’m transported back to the gym changing room at school.

I remember my terror of being the new kid at school, of being foreign, of being the outsider, and of being the girl who didn’t want straight hair for her school photo but managed to trip over a cord running to another girl’s straightening iron. The memory is fresh like a first disappointment. The other girls in the big bathroom twisting their little necks, scowling down at me and my thick, thick, brown hair. I remember hanging onto a basketball with a steel grip, wrestling for the ball, pulling it away from another girl who fought just as hard. I held on with a hold that spelled out fear and determination, that said: “Let me be. I’m just a girl wanting to belong. Let me in.”

After that, from the pleased looks on the faces of the adult coaches and the other students, I could tell that I’d gained some ground. It sickened me to know that I had to fight and claw my way to be accepted. That I had be challenged first, like I was guilty until proven innocent.

Most of the time, I felt like a nobody at school. A walking hollow of a kid. Not American, but not quite British. An imposter. A hybrid person. An anomaly that didn’t fit into the American dream’s puzzle of being a young American schoolgirl. I remember coming home one day and writing on the white board stuck to the fridge, “I’m losing my soul.” My mother frowned at me later, asking me to clarify what I meant. I couldn’t explain it till much later when I was in my twenties.

Sometimes I ate my packed lunch sitting on a closed toilet seat in the bathroom holding a book in one hand and a sandwich in the other. I was a shy, introverted kid who dreamed in video games, daydreams of being an artist, and fantasy novels where girls were strong and flew majestic flying ships. These things took me far, far away.

The smell of orchard blossom is a lesson in the meanness of strangers, in the value of solitude, and in the early crafting of an identity.

2. Eucalyptus

abc-hailstorm-perth
UWA Crawley Campus after the hailstorm. (Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2010-03-23/uwa-students-get-in-amongst-the-hail-at-the/376826)

It’s March 2010 and I walk through the campus in the aftermath of the huge hailstorm. I smell a strong, pungent, and earthy smell. It takes me a moment to identify the source, but once I see the tall, eucalyptus trees shivering before me, I know it’s coming from them. The fact that there was that much fragrance—that much love—coming from destruction was surprising and enlightening. It was a relief to know that sometimes a little shaking could release something new. It was the first time I looked at the trees with a sense of wonder. I hadn’t realized their full beauty—their potential—until now.

Hello, I said.

I thanked the heavens for the joyous, freakishly strange occasion, the sky still gray and broken overhead. I stepped over broken bits of tree like I was stepping over a dead body: slowly and respectfully, trying not to stare too much, whispering words of mourning, words celebrating the life that was, the life that could still be felt. While standing on the white carpet blanketing the grassy oval in late summer, a strange, sudden chill shook my body and I knew that a memory had been born.

Before bed, I take a sniff of the eucalyptus oil I keep on my bedside table and shudder with the memory of the hailstorm. My body relaxes and I lay myself down like tree branches stretching in the air.

———————————————

Inspired by this writing prompt from Poet and Writers.

Don’t Be Afraid: Doing One Thing Everyday That Scares You

Eleanor Roosevelt once said famously, “Do one thing every day that scares you.”

I’m pretty sure she didn’t mean anything extreme like diving off a cliff or climbing a mountain – she just meant step outside your comfort zone a little bit. (Of course, you’re welcome to do those things if you’re up for it!)

It is difficult to challenge yourself sometimes, though. Especially when you are stuck in a routine of waking up, going to work, and coming home after work. Somedays you may venture to the grocery store on the way home but that’s about it activity-wise. It is hard enough to fit in work and life (that stuff you happen to be doing) let alone find time to do something that ‘scares you’. Fancy a bit of sailing after work? Sure. But dude, there’s no time (or money).

So my one thing that scares me might be talking to a coworker I don’t normally speak with.

So I suppose one must start off small. For me, it normally has to do with opening up to people. I can be a little closed off at times, detaching myself from a group and working away on my own. So my one thing that scares me might be talking to a coworker I don’t normally speak with. I’m a little embarrassed to name this as the thing that scares me, but it does. Going out of my way to ask a coworker I don’t normally talk to about how their day is going and really engaging with them and smiling is not something everyone does! Perhaps you could give them a compliment and brighten up their day. What a lovely necklace you’re wearing, or, this coffee is so damn good. Sure, it may seem a little superficial on the surface but I promise that if you’re genuine it will show and they will give you a smile.

GO. Learn something new.

Another thing you could do is go to a talk or workshop of some sort. You might have a secret interest in astrophysics and some person from NASA is going to be giving a talk in your city. Or you’re dying to go to a writing workshop but you think you’re absolutely terrible. Or you think you’re too fat and ugly (you’re not) to go to Soulcycle. GO. Learn something new. It might intimidate you but I can guarantee that many of the others won’t know much about the subject or they may think they are also shit (a lot of writers, and people in general, have the shit voice talking to them in their head too!).

Sign up to take classes in an activity you’ve always wanted to try out but never had the guts or dedication to. Hip hop. Adult ballet. Pottery. French. Boxing. Rock climbing. You name it. There’s probably a class for it. Hot air balloon riding! Now, that’s scary. Go for a trial class first if you don’t want to commit upfront. Most places give a free trial class so take advantage of it. And then watch yourself blossom. Yes, dear, you can do that. You’re AMAZING.

Or it could be something that doesn’t really scare you but that you never do simply because you don’t make the time or effort. Go sit in that park on your lunch break. And you know what? Be a real rebel. Lie on the grass. But there are worms and ants and crawly things, you say? Oh please, just lie back and look at the sky. 🙂

You’re scared but do it anyway. Go ahead, it won’t kill you. Unless of course it’s parasailing or scuba diving with sharks and then my friend, you’re on your own…

I think you can interpret this quote, do one thing every day that scares you, in whatever way you want. It could be doing something scary every week or every month. It doesn’t have to be every day, although if you focus on little things I’m sure you could do something every day. I guess Roosevelt was proposing an outlook and attitude with which you can approach life. You’re scared but do it anyway. Go ahead, it won’t kill you. Unless of course, it’s parasailing or scuba diving with sharks and then my friend, you’re on your own… No, no, just be careful. But really, it’s saying that there’s no point living life in fear. You only get one life so why not try out as many things as you want? Random question: Why not give a big smile to that guy/girl at the gym that you have been eyeing for months?

We stop ourselves from doing things due to fear. We worry about failing. Failure is a natural occurrence. Without failure, there is no success. I can guarantee you that all the people you love and admire did something that scared them first before succeeding, whether it was starting a new business, being a professional athlete or even having a family – those are all daunting and challenging things.

So godspeed, my friends. Enjoy yourselves. I’m off to dreamland.