2021: On the Side of Being and Against Nothingness

You’re setting your own personal records for procrastination with this one: seven months late. It makes sense in a way though–you feel like you’ve needed time to parse everything that happened last year, the ways in which your life has gotten smaller, and it’s now your birthday month (Leo season, you joke, though we’re not even halfway through Cancer yet) and you always get thoughtful and sad around your birthday. You also just finished reading Claire Vaye Watkins’ Battleborn for at least the fourth time, which is probably not a coincidence. You rarely reread books, but every time you read the stories in that collection, stories of lives gone wrong, of inherited pain, of worlds shrunk by necessity, you feel a bit broken open. This is why you read. The right book helps you translate the amorphousness and averbality of your own feeling.

It seems incredible to you that so much has changed since the last time you wrote one of these and yet in many ways it feels as though you’re sliding down a chute that began atop a mountain somewhere but gets darker the deeper you go, the faster you slide, and you can only hope that at the bottom there will be sunlight again. You keep thinking the air is getting a little lighter, a little brighter, but in such tiny increments that you’re convinced you might be imagining it. It has been a year of Moons and swords and Fools. Of throwing your hands in the air and your body into concrete, of refusing to play one game while putting everything you’ve got into playing another. Of vaccines and friendships that feel like one part truth and three parts belief. Of egg-beating frantically to keep your head above the scudding waves.

You started off the year by pledging to strap yourself onto wheels for 365 days. Against the odds, you fulfilled that pledge. You are doing things as a result that you never thought your body capable of: flying, spinning, careening through Manmade/MadeforMen parks of concrete and iron. Skating has become so much a part of you that it has been sublimated into a language your body speaks, a language of strength and bruises and brailled soreness, and when you don’t have time for it, you feel it deeply. Don’t let yourself get bogged down in comparisons with other skaters. Consider that every day your body allows you to skate and hit and jump and slide is a gift.

You began the year up to your elbows in sourdough, exhausted, bullied, and in pain. You left that world and don’t regret it and yet returning to those places or thinking too long on how your hands felt shaping things that would later melt on tongues feels like a breakup. It seems unfair that you found something you enjoyed, but that the industry was never meant to hold you, not if you weren’t willing to give up most of your life in exchange. You’ve never been good at relinquishing parts of yourself to the status quo. It’s what makes you strong. It’s also what makes your life difficult, sometimes. You left baking behind and entered a world of another kind of pleasure. One that, like food, has historically taken that pleasure and raised you pain, although where sex and sexuality continue to be points of insecurity and lack, you no longer punish yourself for wanting to eat good things. It feels as though you’ve sidestepped closer to where you want to be, but the pay is worse and the benefits are ephemeral and your world has gotten smaller as a result.

Both the pandemic and the shallowness of your pockets has made travel feel impossible. Not just travel for fun–that thing you are so good at, that makes you feel alive like nothing else–but also travel as in the idea of moving from one spot to another. You are by no means in a bad place, but you never intended to stay forever and nothing about your life promises freedom of movement any time soon. You have to believe that you will find it again though. Don’t let despair snuff out hope. You’re stubborn as all hell. Don’t let despair be the big bad that finally bends you to its will.

You met someone last year who was lost, a wraith of unresolved trauma who unwittingly sought to bring you down with him. He made you feel things you thought you couldn’t feel. He was not the key to those feelings, however. If anything, he nudged open a door so that you might see a crack of light, but that was all. Give him no more power than that. The way you think about and need (or don’t) and desire (or don’t) sex and intimacy is still developing. You’ve finally arrived at a place where you’re mostly convinced that nothing is wrong with you. That’s so far to journey. Especially since there have been so few maps. Keep going. One day you will feel whole again. One day you will be able to read what’s written on your own body. Remember that even while you struggle in your own journey, your work and voice illuminate the path for others so that they might have a guiding star to follow on their own journey to sexual wealth.

You continue to be afraid that people look at you without seeing you, or perhaps that they actually do see you and find that there’s nothing much there. You continue to get in your own way because your too rational mind tells you that even if you are special, it is no guarantee that your fire will resist being ground into the sand. Fear and anxiety and imposter syndrome are the blinders that keep you from seeing all the possibilities around you, that make that one obstacle ahead seem so gargantuan that you might as well give up now. Believe people when they tell you things you’ve always wanted to hear. You’re doing so much better than you can see.

Here’s what I know about you: You have never failed to overcome any challenge put before you. You have used your strength to fight off those who would harm you or people you love. You have made a life that is in so many ways lovely with so very little. You have refused to be anyone but who you are, even when it hurts, even when the path is fraught. You have managed not to kill all of your house plants or have your bills sent to collections or reflect your own pain onto another. You still know how to carve time out for yourself, how to let joy shine out from you, how to lead when no one else wants the responsibility. And despite the fact that getting to the end of your given life has always felt immeasurably exhausting, you continue to wake up each morning, plant your feet on the ground, and give ’em hell.

It will get easier one day. If only because it must. If only for a while.

I love you.

2020: My Body, You Are an Animal

I would rather die of fire than of void. -Emil Cioran

2020 is over. It’s the time of year when you write a letter to yourself reflecting on the previous year and looking forward to the next. But 2020 was unlike any other and so it feels wrong to look inwards when the world is in such disarray, wrong to sit at home and think about my life when people who have the same privilege baked into their skin as you do are storming the capitol and calling it revolution when they mean terrorism, wrong to sit here writing and eating peanut butter pretzels while people are sick, dying, hungry, homeless (people have always been these things, and still). Every day this year has felt like a deluge and you feel overstimulated constantly. 2020 is over, but that means nothing. It’s an arbitrary ending. The calendar year might be over, but you feel–viscerally–that the effects of what has happened this year will reverberate ceaselessly into the future. Your one life seems small when taken in context with a pandemic, with political chaos, with wildfires and with the unpunished systematic murders of black people and the condoned terrorism of white people and unfettered capitalism and raging wealth disparity.

But life is not sustainable if we never look inwards–we were not designed for 24-hour news cycles and instantaneous knowledge–and so I will take one moment, here, to reflect and talk to myself and then I will return to doing what I can in whatever way I can to make this world a tiny bit better for everyone in it.

This year started with severe burnout and overwhelm. Things ended and were broken. You didn’t want to do anything or get out of bed or be touched or talk. Then quarantine hit and suddenly you had the space you needed to come back again. Covid-19 was (and continues to be) horrific, but it has also been profoundly revealing, both in your own life and in the larger world. When the bakery closed and you were home for three months, you realized how comfortable you are in solitude, in quiet. You understood that the reason you and your partner work so well is because you both are very gifted at leaving the other alone when they need it (which is often). After a lifetime of believing you were an unmotivated person, you found out that when given the time, the space, and an adequate amount of sleep (after an entire adult life of not having those things), you could actually do anything you wanted. There was focus and motivation and creativity to spare. And so when work started again, you were resentful–not of the job itself (baking is still the only job you’ve ever loved)–but of capitalism’s demand that you give up everything (time, energy, your very physical self) in exchange for, what, a barely sustainable income, corporatized healthcare tied to employment, no retirement plan, and no paid vacation? Forever? So you’re done. Quarantine showed you that you have all the ability and the creativity you need to at least try to be your own boss, to make a living on your own terms and for your own gain. It’s not going to happen overnight and it’s going to be just as much work as you’ve always had to do, but it’ll be worth it. Even if it doesn’t work in the end, it will have been worth it. I’m proud of you for even trying.

This was the year of no travel. At all. It was hard, but in a way you didn’t expect. When you travel, you do so in a way that pushes your boundaries, that takes you out of your comfort zone. You finally understand why. You have come to understand that you are full of fear. Full of anxiety. You are so, so afraid. It’s travel that allows you to look that fear in the face…and shake hands with it. Fear is important. It keeps us safe, but it can also keep us hidden away from the joy and the newness and the beauty in the world. You will choose travel forever, even if it means getting felt up in broad daylight on the street or mugged, because it also means freedom and strength and unlooked for bliss. And that was hard to miss out on this year, but you’ve found something to take its place: skate parks. Fear has kept you from trying skate parks for the last three years of your skating career. Fear is what you feel every time you pull up to a new park and see only scooters and skateboards, every time you put on your skates, every time you drop in. But joy is what you find when you hit that coping, when you land that air, when you congratulate and get congratulated by the skaters around you. It is that same high. It is looking at your fear dead on and agreeing to work with it, instead of letting yourself be controlled by it. Fear is so much a part of you. But so is strength. So is bravery. So is joy.

There is much to be said, but the world is chaos and needs our attention, action, and care. So I will just say this. Stop more. Look more. Familiarize yourself with the world in your backyard. Learn the names of plants. Be the truest version of yourself (even if it feels so very scary). Grow things. Nurture that burning creativity. Write, write, write. Be kind. Bask in love and shower others with it as well. Call people on their shit. Keep learning. Be okay with just being okay. Don’t give up. I love you.

I Talk to My Body
My body, you are an animal
whose appropriate behavior
is concentration and discipline.
An effort
of  an athlete, of a saint and of a yogi.

Well trained
you may become for me
a gate
through which I will leave myself
and a gate
through which I will enter myself.
A plumb line to the center of the earth
and a cosmic ship to Jupiter.

My body, you are an animal
for whom ambition
is right. 
Splendid possibilities 
are open to us. 

-Anna Swir, translated by Czeslaw Milosz & Leonard Nathan

2019: Living as If We Were Never Meant to Survive

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A little more than two months gone by already since this new decade began. You’re a little late in publishing your annual letter to yourself, but who cares? These last couple of months have seen a lot of painful growth. Maybe you needed that time to come to some new understanding of yourself. In any case, any notion of a “schedule” is highly subjective. Don’t let notions of timeliness let you feel like you’re failing. There are too many ways this insane world makes you feel that way without adding your own torturous methods. The point of these letters is to reflect, yes, to try to conceptualize the events of the previous year, but it is also to inject hope back into your slightly deflated dreams, to point out the triumphs even in your most difficult moments.

You are no longer the 21-year old you were in the beginning of this arbitrary period of time we call “decade” and you are glad, but you also wish you could go back and tell her to pay attention, to take care. Some of the pain you are feeling now might have been lessened if you had tread more carefully before, but then again, if you had, you wouldn’t be you and you wouldn’t have done the things you’re so proud of. In anticipation of a decade from now, be more loving of yourself in ways your 21-year old self was ill-equipped to do.

It’s been a consummately hard year and it’s okay to admit it. You are not invincible, as much as you wish you were. You started off the year all but convinced you were going to move back to Ecuador, but then a lot of different things happened that hinted that perhaps it was more important at the moment to stay, to experiment with pushing your roots deeper into the cool, dark earth instead of ripping them up in the hopes of…what exactly? Everything you’ve ever looked for you’ve found. The things that still evade you aren’t a matter of location, but a matter of stripping yourself down and saying, “This. This is what I have to offer you.” So you got a new job in a place that challenges you every day, you met someone who was finally willing to push boundaries with you, to explore the things that have always felt just a little out of your reach. In this way you’ve come up again and again against your own limits, your own bodily pain. You’re working on strengthening your voice while simultaneously searching for a way through this pain that heals even as it leads you toward the life you want. Keep searching. Don’t let the fear and the pain and the frustration and the disappointment become victors. You are too strong to let the enemy win.

You also completed your Master’s Thesis this spring and it was one of the hardest things you’ve ever done. You proved to yourself that you are capable of creation and putting in the necessary work. But then you finished and, for some reason, you cut yourself off from this accomplishment. You denied its meaning. You’ve been afraid of taking the next step–in part because that next step is far from obvious–but you know as well as anyone that you just need to keep moving forward. Only yesterday you applied to an internship that could change your life, again. You might get it or you might not. But if you don’t, there will be other opportunities. Take them. You don’t control whether or not other people can see the value of what you’re offering, but you have all the control over whether or not you give up and shutter your light away from the world.

This goes for writing in general. This fear of rejection has completely shackled you since you first learned that writing was the best way for you to connect with and share your own feelings. If you continue this way, you will be walling up the most beautiful, most accessible part of yourself. You know why you do this. You fear being rejected, but you think that if you never reveal yourself as you truly are, you can control the damage. If you guard jealously your vulnerability, then no one will ever truly be able to hurt you. Except yourself. You already know how much damage you’re capable of doing to yourself by refusing to let yourself be seen. You’ve been going through a very hard time recently and you know why. The time has come to finally rip away the bandages and examine the scars, finally deal with the wounds the world has dealt you and heal. But even though you know this and you know that the only way forward into growth and happiness is to do so, another part of you truly doesn’t want to. You’ve lived so long holding yourself together, this part of you whispers, why not just hold tighter. It might be okay. But this voice is lying. The reason you have such a hard, even impossible, time accessing your creativity, your sexuality, sometimes even your joy, is that you’re holding so tightly to yourself in an effort to hold yourself together that you have no energy to give to anything else. You thought you escaped your childhood and your first forays into adulthood without too much damage, but you were wrong and it’s time to reckon with it. Take it as a challenge. You know you hate to lose. For if you allow these wounds to fester instead of heal, you’re letting those who have hurt you win. We can’t have that.

You lost one of your few safe spaces recently and it’s hit you very hard. Cambria was the one place in the world that you could always go to and feel a little bit lighter. You were unbelievably lucky to have such a place and have it for so long. It’s hard that you didn’t get to say goodbye, but that doesn’t mean that it’s gone. You have thirty years of memories to carry with you. You will never forget lying in the middle bedroom and looking up through the skylight at the stars as you listened to waves crash against the cliffs. You will never forget the meadow or the teeming tidepools or the books or the four-poster bed and all the places you loved to sit and read or simply watch the sea. Cambria is not gone. The place might be closed off to you now, but you can carry it with you in your heart forever. Tangible things come and go but some things can never be taken from you. If you’re going to hold on to something, hold on to love and beauty and the gilded memories of happiness.

You’ve long felt that you did the work of accepting your body the way it was when you decided to stop telling yourself how ugly you were, when you stopped looking at yourself in the mirror and pinching the places you didn’t like until they burned. You used to make yourself physically ill. And one day you decided to stop. You decided life was too long to inflict that kind of damage on yourself. And you put in the work to change. The only mistake you made was in thinking you were done. You did wonderfully by changing the way you felt about yourself on the outside, but you forgot about the interior, the deep, dark places that no one can see unless you let them. You forgot the signature way your body moves, the blood in your veins, the clusters of nerves that dictate how you experience the world, the electrical impulses in your brain that make you see and remember and understand in ways entirely unique to you. And it’s these things, these quiet, interior places, that you have continued to disparage without noticing it. It is these places that cringe when someone comes too close because you have taught yourself that they are wrong or ugly or not normal. You already know the damage you are inflicting on yourself, but more importantly you  know that you have the power to change that. Transform those places of pain into places of pride. The degree to which they are different from other peoples’ does not make them better or worse. They are yours and it is only your own love and acceptance that matters. There is nothing in you that is wrong or broken. You are not failing.

You’ve once again come to a place where you only want to be alone, where love and touch and friendship aren’t welcome. You once again think constantly of leaving, of disappearing, but this time there are things holding you here that are not so easily left behind. You have to let go. You have to let people in. You can’t hold it all within you forever or, if you can, you shouldn’t. By letting some things go, you create space for other, wonderful things. You create space for hope, for connection, for growth. As Brandi Carlile sings, “Can you fight the urge to run for another day? You might make it further if you learn to stay.”

You are literally the only thing standing in your way. Yes, money is always an issue. Yes, even if you put everything out there, you might not succeed. Yes, your body may never respond the way you wish it would. But by telling yourself that you are failing because of these things, you are writing endings where there should only be beginnings.

Lastly, take care of yourself. You’re tired all the time. In part that’s because of the unnatural hours your job requires, but it’s also because you refuse to give up other things you love, like roller derby and time with friends and adventures and new experiences. You say “yes” all the time. You’re tired because you want as much of life as you can take and that’s okay. But your energy sources aren’t infinite and your body isn’t made of steel. If you’re going to do all these fun and wonderful things, make sure you’re also checking in with yourself. You only have one body and in order to keep enjoying it, you have to give it the same love and attention you give to other parts of your life.

Let’s end this with hope. Where you are flailing, inject compassion and love for yourself. You are still so resilient, so unafraid in so many ways. You truly are a badass. Those soft, vulnerable parts of you don’t take away from that. People don’t think less of you when you let those parts show. You have so much to be proud of. Where you are afraid, let the people who love you in to help guide you and light the way. You don’t have to go it alone and if you try, you won’t get nearly as far. What is progress if not a descent into hell and then a slow, painful, but in the end strengthening ascension back into the light.

When we are alone we are afraid

love will never return

and when we speak we are afraid

our words will not be heard

nor welcomed

but when we are silent we are still afraid.

So it is better to speak


we were never meant to survive.

-Audre Lorde


The Doors Are Opening By Themselves: My Letter to 2018

Hello there, 2019. I’m classically late in posting my New Year’s letter, but if I were on time I think it would be less authentic to me. In writing I often wait for a certain feeling to settle in my bones–one that makes me want to move and shake and scream and bite. One that makes me feel that if I don’t express myself I might disintegrate. It’s a feeling that makes my teeth feel sharper and my body feel lit from within by some chaotic force. This physicality is so tied to how and what I write because I want to write the feeling of knowing that this is the body that carries me. I want to grind the words in the blood and muscle and bone that is my life and movement. But I need to find a way to tap into this feeling at will, this inspiration or whatever it is. But that is work that remains to be done. For now, here it is, as I intended.


There you are. You’ve made it through again, intact in all the ways that matter, stronger in all the places that were broken.

You started the year holding tightly to the person you love most in the world, tightly because she slipped out of this life for a moment that stopped your heart, only to slip back in and take up her place for at least a little while longer. You were in love and had your heart truly, irrationally broken for the very first time. You fought against frustration and despair and anxiety and sadness and broke through into unlooked for joy, strength, and sometimes even screaming, wild happiness. The people who love you held you in your times of need, listening to your fears. Never forget who those people are. Never forget the debt you owe them. Life is precious and unpredictable and largely out of our control. Embrace it in all its unruliness, just as you’re learning to embrace all the edges of you that cut against the expectations of others.


You were thrown out of love, thrown out unceremoniously, bones cracking with the impact. You were speechless with the pain, but you know what? For perhaps the first time in your life, you allowed yourself to feel that pain fully and even more importantly, you allowed others to see it as well. This shows that you’ve learned from the past, that you know now that jealously guarding pain only gives it space to metastasize and calcify so thoroughly that you’re still chipping it off your bones decades later. By allowing yourself to feel, you also allowed yourself to move through and away from those feelings and eventually look back and remember the good as well as the bad. There is strength in those hard places that have carried you so far, but their is also a brittleness to them, so you must nurture the soft spaces that keep that hardness from breaking against itself. In any case, you knew that love wasn’t forever, you knew that you were always already looking outwards and beyond the horizon of his creation. For you, love is like a steaming bath with your fierce heart at the center. It’s wonderful, for a while, and yet the cold, icy draft of the open window, that draft that smells of open spaces and small things living hardily, reminds you always of what awaits outside the comfortable security of such warmth. Although you know you love the closeness of the steaming bath water, you also love the knowledge that you will eventually stand up and step out of it, and feel the bite of the world again. This doesn’t make you wrong or hard or cruel. It means you have to forge your own paths. But it also means you have to be honest in all things, so that you can avoid as much as possible hurting those who extend their love to you.


You are two-thirds of the way through your Master’s Degree and haven’t collapsed under the pressure of full-time school and full-time work. That is an accomplishment in and of itself. You refuse to let your responsibilities overwhelm you. You keep swimming out into the unknown without letting the weight of unseen currents pull you under. Through your thesis research on pornography, you are learning from women who came before you the power of controlling your own image, but you are also feeling the fear of backlash that comes with such power. Let no one make your body obscene or deserving of censorship. Let no one make you feel ashamed. No one gets to tell you what to do with your body. Those who love you will love you still. Those who don’t never mattered in the first place, so refuse to bow to their standards. Let the strength you’ve found–in roller derby, in your studies, in pornography, in books–light you from within.

At the end of 2018, you went back to a site of much pain and fear, but also a site of joy and companionship and unrestrained, uncompromising freedom. Unexpectedly, on going back you found that the sources of that pain and fear, although still very much alive, had lost their power over you and only smoldered ineffectually in the background. The part of you that received the greatest hurt also turned out to be the part of you with the greatest capacity for joy. And now you’re considering going back there to live again. If that is what you truly want, don’t be afraid. Progress is not linear. You can’t go backwards. Each experience adds to your life and makes you who you are. The only linearity in life is the starting point of birth and the end point of death. What happens in the middle is entirely up to you. As Pablo Neruda said, “Something calls us, all the doors open by themselves…” Choose a door and then another. Listen to the calls only your unique individual heart can pick up on. The only mistake will be in being afraid to go on.

I am so fucking proud of you, even when you’re scared and unsure and lonely. Perhaps even more so in those moments of vulnerability.

I love you.



Beginnings and Boundlessness: 2017 in the Rearview

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You’ve never been good at endings. Never good at beginnings. Real ones, at least, not the abstract construct that is the end of one year and the beginning of another. December 31st bleeds into January whether we want it or not, regardless. Time marches endlessly on, and suddenly it’s the last week of this new year and you haven’t written your annual letter to yourself. How to begin to talk about a year characterized more by discomfort than almost anything else? How to make sense of a year under siege–not so much bodily siege maybe, as the privilege limned into your skin is indisputable–in which boiling vats of ugliness are poured on our heads daily, spilled straight from the mouths of politicians seemingly intent on annihilation, vitriol heated by centuries of racism and structurally-sanctioned white supremacy? How do you characterize a year in which the political has been sublimated into the personal, but where you still struggle to find a way to be an effective ally and a bastion against the tides of unmaking that threaten so many people you love and so many that you have no connection with other than shared humanity? You struggle to find a way, but then feel that you’ve accomplished nothing. Is that struggle good enough?

If nothingness is the absence of action, of consciousness, then that is not what you’re doing. You entered a Women’s Studies grad program with the explicit intention of finding a way to be a part of change. So far you’ve only found enough questions to bury yourself in, questions that don’t even pretend to lead to answers. But you have had to contend with the discomfort of recognizing previously held truths to be products of privilege and in need of scrutiny. You’ve had to acknowledge that sometimes your voice is one that should be sacrificed so that another more marginalized voice can be heard. You’ve come to understand how harmful and alienating white feminism has been and continues to be and how important it is that you do better and stop contributing to the very problems you claim to stand against. You’re only a quarter of the way through the program. You can only work as hard as you can, sit with the discomfort that comes from acknowledging your own ignorance, and take every opportunity that presents itself. You have to believe it will lead to something.

In the meantime, be content with the process, with the more sedentary shape your life has fallen into for now, one in which you spend a lot of time disheveled, bespectacled, resplendent in sweaters and leggings, with a cup of tea and whatever you’re supposed to be reading for class (and sometimes for fun if you can swing it).

In the vein of sitting with discomfort, you’ve continued with roller derby which continues to make you feel simultaneously powerful and like a wrecking ball gone haywire. Transferring to another, larger team in San Diego, where the level of some of the players is sometimes so intimidating that you have to almost coerce yourself into showing up, was a big move. Rationally, you know that you will continue to get better and one day be a great skater, but you have to show up. You have to be willing to be bad at this in the hopes of being good one day… or at least less bad.

The end of the year has been characterized by an almost overwhelming feeling of not having control over your life, of being moved by forces more powerful than you. Obligations to school and state, time spent navigating bureaucratic tangles, have forced you to spend time you would have rather saved. Being there for that most precious person in your life as she literally straddled the bounds of life and death, protecting those who needed it, fighting the same old family battles, has taken so much energy but it is energy well-spent. These are the relationships that matter, the people that have shaped you and nurtured you and helped make you who you are. Don’t despair when it seems like progress is being dismantled or those you love are weakened. Celebrate the incredible luck of having these people in the first place. No one said love was easy or straightforward. Besides the love you feel for your family, nurture this new love you’ve found with the man who has shown you how to be vulnerable again, how to create space for another. Don’t jump to conclusions, don’t run away when you see darkness on the horizons, don’t listen to the voice that says it’s useless and a waste of time. That is the voice of the scared, small part of you that is so afraid of pain. This love is worth sticking around for.

In this last year, you’ve moved cities, switched derby teams, gone back to school, started a new job, and once again removed yourself from the little bubble of comfort that grew around you during the year and a half you stayed in one place. It has been profoundly difficult in many ways, but it has reinforced that you are capable of anything. You have learned again and again that if you put the effort out, if you try, things can happen that you never could have foreseen. That’s why you need to apply that to writing. You’ve spent so long sitting with your desire to write, so sure that no one will value it enough to ask for it or pay for it that not only have you never put it out there (aside from on personal blogs) but you’ve held back on the very act of writing. When you think of how you want to spend your life, what do you come back to over and over and over again? When you think about how you’re most effective in talking about what matters to you, is it in speaking or in writing? When you have time for yourself, what are you most likely to spend it doing?

You have to listen to yourself. You have to try. You might fail. There’s a good chance you will fail–at least as long as the bar for success is set at money and public acknowledgement. But the biggest failure–and you  know it–will be in never having tried. This year you have started new things over and over again and it has been hard. Each time you began to feel comfortable, you started something else and that feeling was ripped away again, exposing rawness to uncaring elements. Sometimes it has felt pointless. But you can’t deny that each new thing has brought something to your life. Each risk you’ve taken has revealed something new about yourself and about what you are capable of experiencing. Make that fucking choice and stick with it.

I love you. I’m proud of you. I believe in you.

La Güera Dreams, Despierta, Makes Lists

It’s 6:01 a.m. In reality, it’s 5:01, but that strange human invention, Daylight Savings Time, starts today. This is not a time of day in which a güera is generally awake, let alone productive. But I was dreaming…

Of work.

Yet I woke up as if from a nightmare–hyperaware and breathing fast. I tried to go back to sleep for a while, but my mind continued to race. It was like my brain was trying to use the limited information it had to figure out why I had woken up the way I did. It felt like it does when there’s an earthquake, or someone’s calling your name, or something is happening that shouldn’t be, and your brain is sending emergency signals to your body to WAKEUPWAKEUPWAKEUP, but the body is slow to answer, wrapped too heavily in shroud-like sleep.

What had happened?

Then it hit me, and the possibility of sleep sailed away on a silent wind.

I’ve been home for a year. Today.


If that was me then, who am I now?

Let me break it down.

Things I like: dancing, roller skating, hot dogs, scars, kissing, strong coffee, stronger beer, belly laughter, my body, artistic expression, 90s fashion, being underwater, the word “fuck”, people watching, friendship, honesty, hirsute men, tattoos, language.

Things I don’t like: shaving, high intensity workouts, the disparity in effort to orgasm between the sexes, applications, standardized testing, things that look unlived in, disrespect, intolerance, gratuitous violence, abuse of power, debt, ignorance.

Things I like: shirts that say things, costume jewelry, lying in bed, lying in bed with books, lying in bed with boys, religious art, leather jackets, outdoor markets, intelligent conversation, lingerie, driving, spontaneity, baking, chicken wings, playing sports.

Things I don’t like: sports fans, traffic, diminutive pet names given by strangers, catcalling, shaming, religion, the word “nut butter”, romance (mostly), the absence of critical thought, pain, malls, small talk, cages (generally), alarms, being afraid of–

So, who am I, a year after coming home?

I’m very much myself, a little less afraid than I was before, less inclined to be “nice” and “accommodating”, a little more sure of where I might be heading. I’m also more aware of my weaknesses, my strengths, and also that nebulous area where the two blend seamlessly together.

I’ve been very close to the bottom several times since I’ve been home, but here, at dawn, a year from stepping off the plane from Colombia, a year from dancing alone in the rain in the middle of thousands of people, a year from racing down the streets of Bogotá both thrilled and horrified that my taxi driver ran every red light…

I’d say things are coming up roses.



My Life Off the Road: Reflecting on 2016


2017, goddamn. It’s the beginning, again, although lately you’ve felt little that is new. It feels rather as if this is something of a middle–the middle of what being the only question. If this were a book, we might be nearing climax, but still far from the resolution. The New Year really is nothing more than an arbitrary cusp of time created to break things down into small enough pieces that our little human minds can understand them, and yet somehow it still feels meaningful. Like the tone needs to be set, or the rest of the year will be a mess. Like life is, generally. A mess of options and decisions to be made, of relationships to be nurtured or set loose, of words to swallow and actions to take.

You’ve been feeling lost and unsure, and very much in need of some self-love. You’ve been focusing on the negative, on your proximity to failure, but you have so much to be thankful for, and so many things you’ve done look like a raging success to others who dream of doing what you’ve done–of living abroad, of traveling far and wide, of having the time and the freedom to create yourself in your own image. This woman whose creation is continually being molded by the world, by the people who love her, and by her very own will is beautiful and worthy and well-made. Remember what you’ve been given, and what you’ve earned for yourself. Try to see yourself as clearly as you can.

Regardless of your proximity to other people’s idea of failure, think of the things you’ve done this year. You’ve worked tirelessly to pay off your credit cards (so close, now). You joined a roller derby team, something you’ve dreamed of for years, putting you face to face with one of your biggest weaknesses–the reluctance to do things that you’re not good at. You even hurt yourself in your first practice, adding insult to injury. But once you healed, you went back. You didn’t give up. You didn’t tuck tail and pretend that you didn’t really care. Skating has lit a fire deep down inside you, in a place that has been dark for a while. Cherish that light. Build up the flames until it warms every inch of you. Even if you’re putting yourself in harm’s way. As you well know, injury can come even when we think we’re consummately safe, so do what feels right and good and true. As Charles Bukowski said, “Find what you love, and let it kill you.”

One thing that you’ve struggled with this year is fear and anxiety, in ways you never have before. You’re not a psychologist, but you know it has something to do with how you felt in Ecuador, how you felt when you were mugged, how you felt when men tried to take advantage of you, how you felt when you were, both literally and figuratively, pushed up against a wall without your consent. Don’t focus on that. Focus on what you did in response. Think of how you fought, with your words, with your body. Think of the strength you found within yourself. Even if you smiled and joked after, because you couldn’t admit what almost happened, because you thought that was the safest way out of the situation. Focus on the fact that nothing they did or said or implied dimmed your light even a shade. You burned only brighter. Still, never before have you been so reluctant to touch and be touched. Never before has the very idea of bodily proximity with another person caused you to physically and mentally retreat. But you’ve also never been as in tune with your body as you are now. Perhaps you need to heal and there’s nothing wrong with that. You have all the time in the world and, luckily, you already know that your relationship status has nothing to do with your value or worth. Even if you never wanted to be touched again, it would never make you any less than whole.

You are not failing. But part of you is waiting for your professional dreams to knock on your front door, for someone to recognize that your writing is worth publishing or that your voice is worth listening to or your experience worth sharing. Waiting will never make dreams manifest. You have to put in the work. You have to put yourself out there. You have to set yourself up only to be knocked down, and do this again and again and again and again. One day you will get there. One day you will find that job that makes your heart beat faster and the blood race through your body with passion as its fuel. But not if you don’t try. Not if you continue thinking that maybe you’re not capable of greatness, maybe you’re not as wonderful as those you love think you are. Try, try, try again, even if, in the end, all you have is evidence of effort. At least when you reach back into your past, it won’t be the strangled seedlings of desiccated hopes you hold in your hands.

In many ways, you have felt more vulnerable this year than you can remember feeling since high school. Vulnerability is good. Growth comes from such things. Love your vulnerability as you love that which is strong and confident in you. Don’t wait for inspiration. Dedicate time to your art, and be surprised by what you create. You don’t usually do resolutions, but here’s one: do something creative every day. Whether it’s working on your lettering, or writing (even if it’s just a sentence), or cooking, or dancing. If you’re creating something out of nothing, you’re succeeding.

Work to keep your heart open. You wear your heart on your sleeve, even if you boast the opposite. Only it’s not the heart of epic romance or fairy tales–or at least not the heart of the fair damsel. Your heart speaks of stormy seas and lonely woods, of paths with no end in sight, of fireplaces and books and star-spilled skies. It seeks no twin but rather the fulfillment of its own self. You shouldn’t want it any other way.

Maybe you’ll never have a lot of money. Maybe you’ll never live alone. Maybe you’ll never be able to stop making lists of what needs to be paid for, but also, maybe, you’ll be happy and secure and content in all the ways that matter. Maybe this empty, flat midland you feel yourself in now is just something that needs to be crossed in order to reach the magnificent future that awaits you just beyond the horizon. Keep moving forward, even if only in half-steps. Keep holding yourself up and allow others to hold you up when that feels too heavy a burden.

Do you know that you are loved?

I love you.



An Elegy to a Dream Deferred


Up until midnight, I was so sure that this wasn’t going to happen. The people I knew weren’t racists or xenophobes. They didn’t explicitly demean women or mock those with disabilities. They weren’t looking to take America back to some halcyon time when the gods and the white men frolicked together in fields, while women and darker-skinned people raised limbs heavy with chains to pour wine into the men’s gaping mouths and used up their own bodies and dignities to sate the white man’s pleasure. But then midnight hit, and Clinton conceded the election, and suddenly messages from friends all over the world started pouring in, asking me if I was ok, if this was really happening…

Because somebody is, and believes, all those things. And those somebodies have elected Donald Trump to be the 45th president of the United States. Some staggering number of somebodies are so cavalier about the well-being of Latinos and LGBTQ people, women and Muslims, that they voted for a man whose rhetoric and demeanor and beliefs are the shades of Pinochet and Trujillo and Hitler come back to haunt us. Those somebodies truly believe that a man who openly assaults women and lies and cheats and steals… will be a better president than a woman. Because let’s call it like it is, folks. America just wasn’t ready for there to be a pair of ovaries in the Oval Office.

But my goal here is not to spew blame. I think–I hope–that people chose their candidate because they truly believed he was the best hope for the future. We have our president elect now and, sadly, we deserve him. All of us. I do and you do and all the people who voted Hillary and Bernie and Jill Stein and that other guy. Those of us who hoped that Americans were better, kinder, more accepting, and more tolerant than we turned out to be. We all deserve him.

Because we let this happen.

For so long, we have believed that we were the best, the brightest, the North star to the entire world. Over half the population has never bothered to get a passport, because why would you leave? Where else would you need to go if you already live in the best country on Earth? The rest of the world is scary, anyhow. Full of criminals and sex trafficking, corrupt officials and drugs, rabid dogs and, worst of all, poor people. Our confidence in our own comparative greatness has let that very attribute slip through our fingers.

Because we thought we were already the best, we have let education lapse. We have sat by and waited for someone else to solve the problem of skyrocketing higher education tuitions, allowed the military to come into our high schools and recruit those who no one was paying attention to anyway, stopped reading for the sake of reading and learning, acquiesced to the fact that teachers are barely paid a livable wage. We have written angry words on our Facebook pages and then sat back with a satisfied smirk before turning back to the television and binge-watching House of Cards (because that kind of corruption could never happen IRL, right?). We have sat and been silent, stood up for the national anthem, hand over heart, and waited for someone else to chase away the angry, violent storms darkening the horizon.

As a collective group of citizens, we have failed, and what comes next will come down on us all.

But it will be what happens afterwards that will really decide what kind of country we are, and want to be. Those of you who stand up for the women in your lives as their right to choose is taken away, for your LGBTQ friends and family who will be sent back to second-class citizenship, for your Muslim and Latino and minority friends who overnight have realized that they truly are seen as criminals and sex offenders and terrorists by the fearfully quivering masses of whiteness–you will be the harbingers of a new age of American. What Hillary Clinton promoted in her campaign must continue to stand true for us: We are stronger together. We are a country of people who all (with the exception of Native Americans), whether recently or generations past, came here as travelers or were brought involuntarily from another place. We were all once the hated and misunderstood intruders, but now we are all Americans together. Whether we speak English or Arabic, Spanish or Cantonese, we are here because we love the ideals that America stands for. Fight for that which you love.

We have minds that can think rationally and hearts capable of the deepest compassion. Use them. Educate yourself. Talk to people. Let’s shake off this idea that we shouldn’t talk about politics or religion because we might disagree. Disagreement is healthy! We’ve let intellectual, honest, and open debate atrophy and die. Use your natural abilities to think and speak and feel.

Donald Trump is our president elect. We have chosen him, or, at least, allowed him to be chosen. We have allowed fear and intolerance and small-mindedness and apathy and complacency and sexism to defeat hope. But this is not the battle for Middle-Earth. We are not suddenly plunged into a darkness from which there is little hope for return. We must rage against the dying of the light. Hold on to your hope, but do not guard it as a miser his gold–work to keep it alive, work to make your hope a reality.

Most of all, show the people around you that you care.

Don’t be afraid.

And, you know what? Let’s make America great again. We the people have the power to make it so.

Lines Written in the Days of Fading Brightness


I am fast approaching the end of all this, having arrived at the sodden tea leaves swirling round the bottom of my cup. I eye them half-heartedly. But as much as we would like a roadmap, such things belong in stories and not here, on this cynical–though wondrous–plane we inhabit. Home and all it entails is looming once again on the horizon. I sit here, or rather, I wander slowly back along the road I arrived by, and watch its approach. When it hits me I’ll know it’s time to squeeze who I’ve become back into the Kaelyn-sized space I left, knocking down walls and splitting seams in the process. Another paradigm shift in the making, another cliff’s edge that in all seriousness I should be toeing anxiously, despite my travel-tested wings, yet all I want at the moment is to lie in a hammock with my book and order some delivery Thai (beautiful dream). In the shadow of big changes, it’s the small appetites we turn to and seek to sate.

I started this journey from behind a desk, ducking my head whenever the boss went by lest his dreadful vulture’s eye fall on me. I will be ending it back in the city of fears realized–Bogotá, Colombia, where I was once mugged twice in a week. But so much has happened in the meantime. For one thing, I think I’ve had my fill of reggaeton for the rest of my life; also light beer; also the Ecuadorian tax system; machismo; Zhumir–the small and inconsequent gripes that accumulate after any longish amount of time in one place.  But the good, the wondrous: I’ve found soulmates and peace and friendships, flames that will be rekindled in different places around the world again and again; the scent of palo santo; the new meaning of the word chola, which now evokes ebony velvet braids and swinging skirts; a lit match will always bring to mind three women from three different parts of the world whose laughter rang through Cuenca’s cobblestone streets. Now, a day after I’ve finally left Cuenca, and all the things that have made up my daily life, I’m in a place called Mindo, where it’s raining so hard it seems the river is going to rush through my windows and maybe wash it all away. It has me thinking about endings. All things end, and all begin, but it is what comes between that makes things what they are.

I’ve left and come back home so many times now that I could do it without thinking. But I do. Think, I mean. It’s like finding my old racing suit and being surprised, bemusedly so, that although tighter in some places, it still fits, still serves its purpose. It hurts though, in a subphysical kind of way–hurts because, without even noticing, you’ve expanded and become so much greater since you’ve been away, and then you’re home and in the same size space you left, and all the beauty and all the substance you’ve brought with you must struggle to make a place for itself.

Homecoming hurts, but it no longer feels like a punishment, an event requiring a large inhalation of breath and a considerable lung capacity to hold it until the worst is over. I left that baggage along the roadside somewhere, along with my penchant for over-processed white bread and glitter eye shadow. Homecoming has alchemized into something less sinister, not quite gold but far from lead. It is a sloughing off of one set of responsibilities and a shouldering of another. It is family dinners and small comforts, it is a sense of no longer having to look over my shoulder quite as often, a brushing off of whatever remnants of projected cultural shame have managed to settle into my hair and skin. Home is where fewer, though by no means no one, question who I’ve chosen to be.

I have no idea what kinds of things I will begin, continue with, and end this year. No idea what version of myself I will be when I look back a year from now. I don’t feel anxious or fearful, but nor do I feel excited, exactly. I think the overriding feeling is curiosity. I can predict only slightly more about this next phase of my life than I could when I decided to travel South America, and later live there. In spite of having lived most of my life in California, anything could happen there, just as anything could, could have, and sometimes did happen in Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru.

At the risk of an excess of imagery, permit me one more. Coming home after an extended absence is a bit like jumping out of a plane—you’re pretty confident the terrain will be familiar on landing , having been an unwitting (oft unwilling) student all your life, and you’re reasonably sure your parachute will open at the appropriate time. Yet there is still risk, still a palpable tinge of uncertainty, albeit wearing the home team’s colors. We cannot know what exactly will be waiting for us when our feet once again sink into the soil of home. We cannot know if the person we have become is quite as willing to live among the ghosts of the people we were before.

The tea leaves can’t tell me anything. I can’t tell the future. I can’t even objectively analyze the past. But I have myself, my will, and I continue, as always, to cling relentlessly and with immeasurable force to the ever-changing form of my dreams.

“And therefore
Who would cry out

To the petals on the ground
To stay,
Knowing as we must,
How the vivacity of what was is married

To the vitality of what will be?”
-Mary Oliver


La Güera Gets Drunk, Takes on the Patriarchy


Weekends in Cuenca are not in general very exciting. We drink the same beers, go to the same bars, talk and flirt with the same people, reminisce (or remind) each other about what happened the night before, rinse and repeat. I am a woman who thrives on variety and thus have trouble with the sameness of it all. And perhaps, in my boredom, I made a mistake–I got really, really drunk. I mean the say-everything-in-my-mind, sloppy, falling down kind of drunk. I didn’t mean to. I didn’t aspire to it. And I’m not proud of it. But my personal sense of having overindulged and made a fool of myself is not what has me so angry.

As happens when one was drunk and doing annoying/entertaining/astonishing things, people have been coming up to me to tell me of my antics. I may have tried to crowdsurf, I may have told someone I just met that girls with purple hair do it better, and I may have been overagressive with some party foam, but what I was not doing was asking for it. So many people have asked me what would have happened if someone had taken advantage of me in my state, what if some man had managed to get me alone, what if I had been raped? They say, “You shouldn’t drink so much. You’re making yourself vulnerable to bad men who want to hurt you.” I’m lucky I have good friends that didn’t leave me alone, because I can’t even imagine what I would be feeling if I had been raped or otherwise assaulted, but you know what? Regardless of my state of inebrity, it wouldn’t have been my fault. 

I don’t care if I’m walking alone at night on a deserted street. If I’m wearing a short skirt or a low-cut dress. If I’m drunk and friendlier than usual. I refuse to conform to a set of standards designed to keep me from being raped, while men are not taught how to conform to standards that would keep them from raping. If I were a man, no one would tell me not to get so drunk because of the possibility of sexual assault. If I were a man, people would tell me not to get drunk because I was annoying or belligerent or just because it’s not good for my liver–not because someone might force themselves upon me and against my will defile the only thing I have any real claim to in life: my body.

In the absolutely devastating possibility that I had been raped, you know what people would have said to me? “How absolutely horrible. I’m so sorry. But you shouldn’t have been so drunk. You opened yourself up to the possibility.” In what kind of fucked-up world is that what you say to someone who has been raped? What kind of horrifically backwards world tells women they’re “lucky” when they don’t get sexually assaulted?

I go out for drinks fairly often. I like to go to clubs and dance. I like to wear clothes others consider revealing. I like to make out with cute boys in public places. Sometimes I go home with them. I say what I’m thinking and I am who I say I am. Very rarely, I drink more than I should. None of this qualifies anyone to make the decision that I would be “asking for it” or even more disgustingly “deserve it”. But you know what? I shouldn’t have to justify myself. Unless I am saying “yes” with all my mental faculties intact, don’t have sex with me. Don’t. Fucking. Rape. And for the rest of you, never tell a woman that she should behave herself in order to not get raped, because all you’re doing is making the woman feel ashamed of herself and thereby perpetuating the incredibly harmful belief that it is a woman’s job to not get raped rather than a man’s job to not rape

I drank too much this weekend. I won’t be doing it again anytime soon. But never in my life will I agree with a culture that tells me the reason I shouldn’t do so is for my own sexual protection.