hey, thanks.

Years back, when my niece was just a tiny gal, she was asked, in a room full of tinies, what she was thankful for.

“I’m thankful…for all the people…in my heart,” her small mouth stuttered out.

*

Screw the turkey, the mashed potatoes, our houses, our cars.

Screw our aspirations, our lost dreams, our scars.

Let’s follow a child down their tunnel-visioned path.

Let’s simply — and astoundingly — be thankful for all the people in our heart.

 

 

Let’s Put This Motherfucking Election to Bed (and take a look at our collective behavior during said.)

We’re hours away from a new President, and most of us are scared. Say what you want about either of them. I’m scared of anyone in power, really. I’m scared because people in power usually abuse it, even when they’re trying not to.

But more than fear of our next leader and their moves, I am scared that over the course of this campaign, we taught our children that fear and hatred were our main political tools.

This weekend, my eleven-year old niece visited me in Iowa. We picked up her best friend, another eleven-year old, and as we drove through the leaf covered streets, we sang Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez, and talked about school subjects. We went to the park, where the two young gals played on the merry go-round like they were seven years younger. We played in the yard; they ran and jumped into leaf piles like my tiny toddler. They were innocence, and they were light – still.

Until.

Until we found ourselves on street filled with signage. The house on the left was voting Trump and the house on the right was proclaiming Hillary. Yards told us who was who. Who we should love. Who we should fear. Who we should hate.

I strained to hear them talking, over the music. I didn’t want to turn it down; I didn’t want them to know I was tuned into them. I wanted to hear exactly what was happening inside of them.

My ears and my heart burned, as I listened to them repeat the things we’ve all been saying for months. He’s a monster, she’s a monster, we’re all screwed.

I dropped my head, keeping my eyes straight ahead. I was too heartbroken to approach them.

Someone is going to be sworn in here soon – and that someone will be human, and possibly too powerful while still too fragile – and right and wrong – and good and bad. They will have teams of people in front of, around, and behind them. They won’t rule our country alone. Maybe we shouldn’t be so scared of them?

We should step back, though, and take a look at ourselves, as we traversed this controversial time once again. It was an odd one, for sure – often, seemed almost fake, it was so absurd. But what did we teach our children while we attacked him? Attacked her? Attacked them?

We taught them hate. We wronged each other. And in the midst of that, we wronged our children. We should be ashamed.

the creature of success

“S-U-C-C-E-S-S!”

I used to spell that word out —  pom poms high in the air — right before yelling, “That’s the way you spell success!” on the basketball court, in my cheerleading skirt and vest. So chipper! So simple! Right? Just spell it out, people. Then make it happen. It’s an equation, and math doesn’t lie.

Success back then was passing grades, maybe wearing the right thing on a given day. It was small scale.

Success today — in the adult way — is so much bigger, it seems. There’s success according to you, and success according to me – but then you factor in society’s definition, and that of your parents again – and you’re back to ground zero. I often think there’s no such thing.

Except I have a definition rooted deep inside of me.

**

Had you asked me just one week ago what success meant to me?

I would have told you, quite easily.

“Being paid an earthly dollar for something I have written. Amount no matter. (Like, I’m not kidding. Five cents would have meant something.) A mere symbol that the thing which commands my heart and hands has tangible value here on this Earth.”

That was my entire definition. That was all of it.

**

Let’s fast forward. It’s Sunday night. This past Tuesday, my first paid piece flew out onto the internet.

And right now? Well, it’s Monday across the world, and another paid piece just went live on an Australian site.

And I don’t feel much different.

I can’t believe it — but I don’t feel much different.

**

I suppose if I felt enrobed in success, it could feel heavy. I might need to sit down on the ladder I’ve been climbing so long. And if I were to sit, the uneven weight could cause me to tip.

I’m better reaching. R-e-a-c-h-i-n-g. And never solving a thing.

 

Eat the Fucking Cookie.

I have a couple pet peeves. Being told to calm down. That’s probably #1. I CAN’T CALM DOWN. FOR GOOD AND FOR BAD. FOR BETTER AND FOR WORSE. I LIVE LIFE AT 100 FUCKING PERCENT AND I CANNOT CALM DOWN. If I could, I would. But I can’t.

I’ve got two other big ones. Don’t tell me what you did can’t make me feel some way. My soul dictates my feelings, not your design for me. Period.

And then:

Darling, if I offer you a cookie:

EAT. THE. FUCKING.COOKIE.

 

Oh, wait? Did you think I was offering you a snack? Some extra cals for your food log? A chance to rot your teeth?

Au contraire, mon frère.

It’s gifting, dears. It comes down to that. I am gifting you something — and this one’s something easy. Something I made – or paid – for. Something that is generally considered awesome. So when I lift out my hand, and I offer you a sweet — please reach out your hand and receive. I’m offering you more than a treat. I am offering a piece of me.

**

I was a hardcore vegetarian for many years. I didn’t run around preaching a meatless life, I just stuck to meatless meals. I never went hungry, without meat on my plate. I never felt sad, without blood running down my chin. I ate plenty and happily.

I fell in love with food in Italy. I ate better than I had ever dreamed, and though some folks questioned how I got on without meat, I answered them with hearty plates full of pasta and veggies, pizzas with mounds of mozzarella but no sausage.

One afternoon, I went to an eatery deep in the heart of a local university. Mamma Maria’s. Still today, I can’t believe it was real. The eatery was an extension of Maria’s home. There were tables in a common room, but the dream was to get the table in her kitchen. In her real and actual kitchen, where the lovely old lady was making the magic happen. The heavens opened for us the day we went. She invited us into the kitchen, and there we sat.

We were in there for what felt like hours. Course after course, laugh after laugh. When the meat course was on its way, I told her to pass me by. Just skip my plate and I’ll get back on the train for the next thing around, I relayed. She stepped back, horrified. There was shock on her face, and worry and fear. I saw her scrambling. Not just to understand, but a physical scramble, moving about the kitchen rapidly, her furrowed brow at the helm.

And when the meat course came, she placed the traditional fare on the plates of my friends — and then, on mine — roughly three pounds of cheese. I had various types, textures and flavors. I had cheese for the evening, the next morning, and for the following week. I had more cheese than I could ever want. More cheese than I wanted.

Mamma Maria had been so scared that I’d go hungry without the meats, that she piled high my plate with what she deemed the next best thing.

I thanked her graciously and then I ate enough to have her see me eat. And then, I began stuffing mounds of cheese into my lap. I stuck pieces together, like rubber band balls, and wrapped them up in paper napkin, dropping them into the purse at my feet. I kept my eyes up, while my hands worked furiously down below. A pond duck.

**

A year or so later, I sat, two a.m., outside a food truck in the cool night air. We’d been dancing all night, and needed food, not for more dancing, but for the strength to find home.

I sat next to Lisa, who was purring and panting, going on and on about ‘the best hamburger of her life.’

She kept trying to get me to eat it. Just taste it. Just please.

I was steadfast in my denial. I already ate. I don’t eat meat. I’m fine. No thanks. But she kept on, and on, and wanted me to eat it so badly, that at a certain point, I threw my hands up in the air and grabbed onto the bun. I bit in.

**

We deny gifts all day long, and for so many different reasons. I don’t want. I don’t need. 

We hear people offer us a thing. An object. A thing.

That’s not it, friends. I’m offering you, me.

So the next time someone holds out their hand, take one for the team.

The team is you. The team is us. The human race. The we.

 

 

Seeking Gandhi

 

I am scared of people. I am scared of humanity.

For as long as I can remember, I have been sizing others up. This motherfucker wants to hurt me. This one’s okay. This one’s too risky. This one seems safe. It feels like I’ve been scared since I came flying out of the womb, and my fear does not seem to be slowing down. If you’ve a beating heart, you can hurt me. You can tear me apart.

Animals — never the enemy. It’s the people. It’s the we.

I’m so scared that sometimes I can’t go to sleep. And sometimes the fear wakes me up. It keeps me in my house when I want to leave. It makes me flee in the car when we were playing at the park. Sometimes —  it makes me want to die. It’s too hard to feel this conflicted. To feel this scared all of the time.

I’m so scared I put alarms on our windows. I didn’t put alarms on our windows because jaguars live nearby and can get a windowsill open, in search of a steak. I put alarms on our windows because sometimes, humans use their arms to lift them up, and their legs to crawl inside, and their hands to steal or kill. Sometimes they put their hands on other humans and wrangle the breath out of them. Then they walk into the nearest gas station and get a Mountain Dew.

I know babies exit kind. I know most people would pick up your things if you fell on the street (fashion mags run those little experiments and most people come out shining.) I know that, in general, people have our backs.

But the worst stories I have ever heard have been of human to human contact, hand to hand combat, man versus man.

A baby in a bathtub with water that could boil pasta. A young woman set on fire.

I could list all the real-life nightmares I have catalogued in my head, but there isn’t enough time and I can’t feed my own ire.

**

I’m scared. Hopeful. Scared. It feels like we’re in trouble.

 

I hope that’s just my fear talking.

 

Stopwatch

Family members, held in frames, peppering the walls. Fairly normal practice. An act of reverence. Precious moments made concrete, made to share, made everlasting.

I can’t put them up.

I have multiple empty frames, and they’ve been sitting empty since we took up residence here.

I don’t know what to put in them. Nothing seems to make sense. If I put a photo of Oliver at three months, it feels stupid to still have up when he’s sixteen months. If I put a photo of me pre-baby, it feels like a lie. Who was she? She’s gone now.

Yet.

I take, on average, 200 photos per day. I snap the hell out of that virtual button on my iPhone; I go apeshit, trying to make a moment even more true.

This happened. That happened. We happened. We were. 

*

I write because it lets me live life twice. The photographs and videos, they do the same. I won’t have to beg my ears to bring his baby voice back to me, years from now. It’s captured. I can hear it, exactly as it was, I hope that I can feel it, exactly as it was.

But when I’m running to grab my phone, sometimes — he falls. And when I’m pulling up the camera, sometimes — I miss the look on his face I really wanted to hold in my hands, forever and ever.

This weekend, we were camping. I took some serious photo shoots of Bela and Oliver, but most of the time, tried to let images go by the wayside, in favor of experiencing moments completely. We walked down a hill, and perched ourselves atop a small cliff, overlooking a lake that appeared endless. There were pelicans floating by in huge groupings, their bodies bouncing with the waves, floating, the most elegant lazy beings I’d ever seen. I gasped, as I counted. 122 pelicans. 122 pelicans, floating by. I was astounded to have come upon such a sight. Oliver followed suit. He gasped every few seconds, jutting his small pointer finger out in the air, shocked – awed, by the sight, as well.

My heart fell.

I didn’t have my phone. The sound of his nature-induced gasps would be lost to me. They existed in this one moment only. This one moment only.

Suddenly, I felt relief.

I sat back, placed his still-baby arms in my palms, and, without a screen or lens between us, I leaned in.

 

 

 

 

 

Take Back the Night

My mom has rheumatoid arthritis. It’s so bad now, that she’s sometimes in a wheelchair. A walker, a scooter, the like. Assistance, she always needs.

I hate assistance. I deplore dependence. I hate sitting when I can stand. Riding when I can walk. I don’t even like to use the back of a chair.

Sometimes I want to ask if she’ll forgo the motorized cart at the grocery store. Be strong, I want to say. Even if it hurts. Hobble along without assistance. Be strong.

*

Marion folks don’t seem to like light. The streelamps are sparse — unbearably far apart, and a rare soul uses their porch light. One night, I stood at the corner of our circle block and counted. Three houses out of twenty-three had their porch light on. Three out of twenty-three.

I wonder what they deem the porch light for. Halloween only?

I thought a porch light was for luminosity. Lighting up the community, sending signals of warmth and safety to all. It’s like no one cares if I’m out there. No one is behind me, making sure I’m not scared.

*

I moved to Italy post-college. Despite not speaking the language, and not knowing anyone, I had a grand ole time. I went out almost five nights a week. I took three buses across Milan to attend dance classes, where the only thing I (barely) understood were the number counts. Uno, due, tre, quattro! (Repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat.)

One night, I was walking a couple miles back to my apartment in the pouring rain. The tram had stopped running. I couldn’t really afford a taxi. And I had these LEGS! Off I went.

I called my mom on the way. It was daytime in America, and I felt like having a chat to pass the time. “What are you doing?” she asked. “Just walking home,” I replied. She paused, did some calculations, and figured it was not a normal walking-home time.

“Kelly, what time is it there?”

“It’s four. Four a.m.”

“KELLY! YOU SHOULD NOT BE WALKING HOME AT FOUR A.M. ALONE IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY! YOU SHOULDN’T BE WALKING HOME AT FOUR A.M. ALONE ANYWHERE!”

That did it. That pissed me off. I screamed through my Nokia, through the night, across the continents.

“WHY, MOM!? BECAUSE SOMEONE MIGHT WANT TO HURT ME!??

FUCK THAT! FUCK THEM! FUCK THAT!

I’m not SHAVING MY LIFE because SOMEONE might want to hurt me! Fuck THAAAAAT!”

And. I. Hung. Up.

*

I have forgotten so much about my mom. I see her now, in her current state and I tend to forget her strength. That she raised four kids — in so many ways — alone. That she let me go with little fight when I decided to flee home.

I reached into my t-shirt drawer the other day and pulled out an oldie. I’ve cut the neck off, and it’s more fitted now than I love, but it still works for dog-walking. I threw it over my head, and then stopped. April 2001, it reads. University of Illinois. Take Back The Night.

The day of the walk comes flooding back. I was chanting, and rowdy, and quick on my feet. My strong women friends were all around me, chanting, and rowdy, too. And there was someone else, walking quietly behind me — struggling to keep up, but occasionally raising a small fist in the air.

My mom.