An Open Letter to my Fear

Dear Fear:

I hear you. I mean, I don’t really have a choice. You are a loud-ass motherfucker. In this moment, you are a vuvuzela/megaphone hybrid in the orgasmic throes of a menage-a-trios with an air horn and Fran Drescher. I hear you.


So loud it hurts your eyeballs.

I understand you. A long time ago, when being loved really WAS a matter of life and death, your neural pathways were worn deep and steady. Time does not exist to you; you and I will always be tiny, frail, helpless, desperate to be swaddled and given a breast to suckle. (We at least have that last thing in common. Mmm. Breasts.)

I respect you. You believe you are the unlikely hero of the natural disaster movie, the one who saw it all coming, but nobody would listen because you made that fatal mistake back in ’73, or because you have great tits under that lab coat. You really just want to be heard, because holy shit you guys, this asteroid is going to wipe out life on the entire planet if we don’t take action immediately.


I’m just going to go ahead and let all you sexist fuckers die, then.

I appreciate you. Maybe there aren’t ravenous lions to worry about so much, anymore, but there are dark streets in dangerous neighborhoods, there are people who would use or hurt me, there is Donald Trump. There are still things to fear in this world. You come in handy at times.


Basically the entire reason the “fight or flight” response evolved.

I have to admit, you’ve gotten much better about crying wolf in the past few years. You seem to have learned that I can travel alone safely without needing you there yelling about stranger danger. You seem to have realized that the slightest hint that maybe life is kinda founded on uncertainty and lack of guarantees isn’t an open invitation for you to tromp all over my face. When I’m trying new things, you just kinda tug at my sleeve so I don’t forget about you instead of duct-taping me upside-down to the wall. You’ve been doing great, and I’m so proud of us.

But still, sometimes, maybe chill the fuck out a little? Rejection isn’t the same as the Earth hurtling at break-neck speeds into the sun. Experiencing loss isn’t the same thing as being trapped in a stainless steel kitchen with two genetically-engineered velociraptors. Being single isn’t the same thing as traversing the desert of an entire lifetime without the thirst-quenching relief of human touch. …well, okay, that last one might be slightly more true that the others (or at least feel more true) ((god, if only Fear could help me get laid…))


Dammit, there isn’t even anything around here that resembles a dildo.

But, you know, we’re in this together, Fear. We go way back. You’re one of the most consistent things in my life. Since I learned so much about myself, I even often instinctively know when it’s time to ready the guest bed for your unannounced arrival. And it really is like having family come to visit: uncomfortable, awkward, sometimes painful, but always familiar. I see some of the deepest parts of myself in you, and that’s pretty hard. But I appreciate you showing them to me, because “me” is not just some pretty blue eyes, and a terrible wit, and a mind that slopes toward the gutter. “Me” is also a paralyzing aversion to abandonment, weakness and dramaticism in the face of rejection, and the tendency to suppress my own needs because I’m afraid others will see them as an imposition.

Thanks for showing me me, Fear.

Now fuck off, I got shit to do.


There is no Success. There is no Happiness.

Today I saw a motivational poster thingie on Facebook.

I can understand the desire underlying this. When we’re in the midst of a hard time, we want to believe we’re working toward something, that our suffering has some meaning or purpose. It’s really hard to continue to believe in meaning and purpose in world with so much suffering, injustice, and uncertainty. So we make mantras like this one to try to change our perspective about the hard shit.

I don’t disagree at all that the hard shit is valuable. Pain is like a charcoal water filter. You pour some murky-ass water into the top, all full of harmful thought processes, emotional baggage, social pressure. And if you allow yourself to percolate in the pain, you come through the filter a purer version of yourself, closer to what you really are on the inside. You have to go through the filter at least a few times before anybody can drink you without getting violent diarrhea, but . . . you know what, I think I’ve overextended this metaphor, so I’ll just stop now.


Me, before and after two divorces and the final episode of LOST.

The part of this quote I take issue with is the “success story.” It implies success is some kind of end-game goal you’re striving toward. “This hardship is just your plot’s conflict, dear protagonist, and if you get through it, you’ll denouement yourself right into the Happy Ending.”

I don’t believe in happy endings. In fact, I don’t believe in endings. I believe in transitions.

There’s this persistent notion that happiness (or “success”) is an endpoint, an arrived-upon state of being; that if you do the Right Things, you’ll get to a place in your life where you don’t struggle anymore, you don’t have hardship or hurt, you’re just happy and everything is wonderful and Tom Hiddleston wakes you each morning by whisper-singing “You are my Sunshine” into your ear. (By the way, there is MUCH disagreement about which things are the Right Things to do to achieve Eternal Happiness, so good luck picking the right Right Things, anyway. That’s why there is only one Tom Hiddleston.)

This is where the One True Path leads.

There isn’t success, there are only successes. There isn’t happiness, there are only happinesses. And if you want to experience either successes or happinesses, that has to be enough. You can spend a lifetime chasing the state of success and happiness and run right past every single one of the successes and happinesses. Forget “success stories.” Stories with successes and failures and happinesses and sadnesses and all of the things — those are enough.

The Laugh List

I just added a new page called The Laugh List, where you can find a few things that have been able to penetrate even the thickest, crustiest grumpiness exteriors I’ve had and get me, infallibly, to laugh out loud. Not LOL, which everyone knows doesn’t really mean an actual, audible laugh anymore, but real, live laughing that is easily perceptible to the human ear (provided it’s within a reasonable distance of my mouth).

So, please, check it out, and maybe bookmark it for when you’re having One of Those Days.



On Solitude, and Saving a Life

A dear friend shared with me recently two beautiful works, which bear remembering, reveling, and repeating. The first is by Rainer Maria Rilke:

Therefore, dear Sir, love your solitude and try to sing out with the pain it causes you. For those who are near you are far away… and this shows that the space around you is beginning to grow vast.

Be happy about your growth, in which of course you can’t take anyone with you, and be gentle with those who stay behind; be confident and calm in front of them and don’t torment them with your doubts and don’t frighten them with your faith or joy, which they wouldn’t be able to comprehend.

Seek out some simple and true feeling of what you have in common with them, which doesn’t necessarily have to alter when you yourself change again and again; when you see them, love life in a form that is not your own and be indulgent toward those who are growing old, who are afraid of the aloneness that you trust.

And don’t expect any understanding; but believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it.

The second is by Mary Oliver:

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.

On first read, these pieces are about desolation, the limits of our control, the pain of growth, and the alienation of change. The language Rilke chooses to describe solitude is fascinating. “For those who are near you are far away… and this shows that the space around you is beginning to grow vast.” This sounds terrifying. It invokes the feeling you get when you look up at the stars and realize how vast the universe is, and how small you are, and life seems to zoom out at high speed until the distance renders you indistinguishable from the endless matter around you, a pinhole in an infinite tapestry. For someone who values connection and who fears invisibility, that’s some scary shit.

But, it’s also some true shit. It’s been a hard-learned lesson, but in the end, I am all I have. Others will come and go my entire life. No matter how close I am with someone, I will never fully understand him or her; even the most intimate relationships are limited by the space between our minds. In the end, no matter how entwined we try to make ourselves with other people, we are, and will always be, separate. And I will always be small. My life will only ever be but a single step in the endless march of time.

But, believe it or not, there is comfort here, in this vast space around us:

the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company

You are enough. When you hear your own voice, you may be in solitude, but you are never alone. All the world, all the universe, everything you need — it all resides within you. The space between you and others? It may be vast, but it isn’t empty. If you walk through the brambles and let the pain fertilize your growth, you fill that space with you. It surrounds you, cradles you, and provides a buffer between your heart and the often cold, cruel world outside. That is the “love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance” — it is you.  And when you learn that you cannot mend your life, and you begin, instead, to mend yourself — when you begin to save the only life you have the power to save — you move forward on the journey to the love “so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it.” And there is no safety net so strong as a love you carry with you.

The Trifid Nebula, an interstellar nursery

The Trifid Nebula, a cosmic nursery

Broken on an Autumn Day

Photo courtesy of Suzann Rodgers Hallman

Photo courtesy of Suzann Rodgers Hallman

It is an almost absurdly beautiful fall day. I stepped out of my car to head into Starbucks (to get a drink with a RED CUP!! …I have no idea why this is such a big deal to people, but apparently it is) and a big slap of delicious autumn air punched me in the face while jolly mister sun poked me gleefully in both eyeballs. It’s cliche, but everything in autumn is so fucking CRISP!

And my very first thought, standing there in the light and the air and the crisp, was, “It’s far too beautiful a day to feel so broken.”

A relationship I was in ended recently and, while it wasn’t particularly long-lived, it was meaningful to me.  It’s not abysmally bad, but it has been difficult.  I did the usual grieving routine over the past two weeks (it was almost comical how textbook the process was, actually), and now I just feel a kind of soreness, like my heart went back to the gym for the first time in a few years and decided it could, like, totally bench 250, bro. Which, in a sense, is pretty much what happened.

So I’ve been feeling broken…until it occurred to me that, no.  Just no.

Heartache, confusion and sorrow are all natural, healthy reactions to loss.  They’re just as normal as the excitement about what may come next and the tiny twinges of relief (because, let’s face it, being in a relationship where you actually allow yourself to be vulnerable can be exhausting, and it can be nice to step back from that for a moment).  I spent a huge chunk of my life avoiding the act of feeling my feelings, and if I didn’t feel pain now, it would mean I was right back to suppressing the part of myself that’s able to feel.

Pain doesn’t mean I am broken.  Hacking off big parts of who I am so I didn’t have to hurt?  That was broken.  Pain means I am whole.