if a person is a continent their borders delineated on a map so that one can traverse a boundary and find oneself in some strange country, a traveller, the tongue foreign the food and customs strange excited feet drawing the traveller inward enticing them to explore to learn to grow
if a person is a continent, my love, you were immense your borders manned by soldiers, their eyes hard, their judgment final
i found my way in on a short term visa and stayed long after it expired wandering labyrinthine streets i made a home in the artists corridor it was small, but warm
i strove to make a life within your borders
i tried to love the people, with their hungry eyes and hearts i even joined the protests cursing daily the despot who set such cruelties on them at so young an age who placed the watchers on the walls brought attack dogs from far afield and,
when they were starved and neglected
released them without mercy on the innocent
i visited your museums, empty as they were, the war had cost you so much i tried, during my stay, to fill them, to make up the difference instructing the curators from my own country to lend you all they could but the halls were vast and even my curators could only do so much with our limited means
every day i set out feet carrying me along streets without names no map could help me sort the nature of the cities
try as i might i could not find the center nor a post box, to register my concerns and eventually, i fell in with the other citizenry in their grey drudgery dragging my feet through days and weeks and seasons my protests growing weaker my determination subsiding with my strength
i left by a different route than i had entered, picking my way through the barbed wire along a stretch of unmanned wall
reluctant, i watched your soldiers patch it from afar
clutching momentos to my chest thumb on the stamp left in my passport years ago no exit marked and entrance no longer possible
I started my new job two weeks ago. It’s been great so far. The new department is small and I’m an integral part of making everything work, which feels really good. I love feeling helpful every day at work and it’s been super good to wake up and feel energized to start my day rather than dreading going in to work every morning.
Don’t get me wrong, the old job wasn’t as terrible as a lot of places where I have worked. Not by a long shot. I had health insurance, I was able to work during the day and had a reliable schedule. There was free coffee.
But that whole department was so dysfunctional that it would have been laughable if I hadn’t been in the middle of all of it. And I was so lonely sitting up at the desk all by myself. I’m an extrovert. I need human contact to be happy.
Now I’m sitting in a cube and I’m surrounded by humans and things to do all the time. I have a bunch of pretty things in my desk already and it feels good and comfortable to come to work and sit here all day and do my job. Because I’m busy, time goes by faster and I feel satisfied at the end of every day.
And even more importantly than all of that, gentle readers, is that I am significantly less depressed than I have been. I feel more energetic. And my urge and ability to write is returning to me.
I cannot tell you how good that makes me feel. My creativity has been so stifled that I was starting to think that it would never come back. But it has. And I’m feeling more like myself all the time. And it’s wonderful.
In other news, the girl and I are preparing ourselves for our trip to Germany in the fall. All of that is coming together nicely. The budget for when we’re there as well as the supplies and things that we will need for the trip.
I published an article in The Establishment back in April, so that felt really good. I have another one coming out in the next week or two. It’s way more raw and personal. So I’m nervous about it. But I am confident that the editors wouldn’t push it through unless it was good and ready to be seen.
Summer is FULL ON here in Philly, and our plants and such are blooming nicely. I will have some updates about the Grave Gardeners project soon, as the plants over on Mary’s grave are coming along pretty well.
I’m just… I’m really getting back into a good place. It feels great. And I wanted to share that. I get really tangled in myself when I feel badly, and I’m trying to fight against all of that by sharing more good stuff when it happens.
I close my eyes every time as I inhale the soft skin of your neck. The atmosphere of your pores rushing through me softens the inside of my mouth and shivers the deepest part of my stomach. You smell, my love, quite simply like the deepest, hottest summers of my childhood. Like ice cream melting across my hands and the rising heat of asphalt too scorched to press my naked feet against. You smell, my dearest, like endless afternoons spent lying on the couch, wrapped in each other against the winter cold outside our small apartment. You smell like home.
It’s so easy to sit in judgment of parents and children and zookeepers and strangers. People who you’ve never met.
It’s so easy.
It’s infinitely harder to person up. To pull loose your heart strings. To release the strict hold you keep on your borders and really look at another person.
Because really seeing means letting yourself be seen. Means being vulnerable. Means realizing that the things that we judge other people for are things that we do all the time.
Who hasn’t been guilty of letting our guard down for a moment? The only difference between all of us and certain mothers and zookeepers is that we weren’t the ones taking our eyes off of our child at that crucial second.
We weren’t. But we could have been.
And that fact is the thing that keeps us from true empathy with other human beings.
Because acknowledging that the only thing separating us and them is a cruel blend of circumstance and blind luck is too terrifying to handle.
So we blame. And we stand up and call for the heads of people who have made the same small mistakes that we make every day at a critical moment that ended in tragedy.
Blame is easier. Judgment is easier. Hatred is easier.
Love is hard. Empathy is hard. Compassion is hard.
Within those three things dwells the sharp knowledge that we, in all of our convictions and certainty, are as fragile and as vulnerable to harm as the people we are so quick to villainize.
Empathy is like a muscle. The more you exercise it, the stronger it gets. The easier it becomes to do the hard work of looking at another person and recognizing yourself.
They found themselves within our path
these liars, standing at the gates of Sarnath.
All the truth in them, beliefs, desires,
cloaked and battle scarred and burnt on pyres
their ashes soaked up in the aftermath.
The bloodbath ended, you stood ever higher.
Face somber, body bent, but eyes much brighter
than these fiends could see from their quagmire
buried in the flotsam of your wrath.
They built themselves a road into Sarnath
these toads disguised as friends, these fiendish liars.
But our residents are clever things and set the pyres
burning long before they sought our shores.
And you, my darling, brought them to all fours
their embers glowing in the aftermath.
Last night I went to the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society here in center city. I got there way early for my 6PM meeting with the other Grave Gardeners. Our talk for the evening was entitled Forget me Not: Planting a Cemetery Garden.
I am new to gardening, but in no way am I new to cemeteries. I spent my life up until I was 21 living across the street from Magnolia Cemetery in Northeast Philadelphia.
I spent most of my childhood running around that cemetery. We didn’t have much of a yard at our house, so the “cem” – a word that I have only encountered in the vernacular of my neighborhood compatriots – acted like a natural extension of my childish territory. Fully half of it was empty, so we used the half not occupied by the dead to play baseball, set off fireworks on holidays, play tag, and generally run amok on.
As I got older, I went to the cem to read. I had a favorite tree that I would sit beneath and friends that I would visit when I journaled.
I was fiercely protective of the cem. When I was 16 I caught a guy peeing on a grave and chased him with a large branch that had fallen from a tree. He ran, dick flapping in the breeze, terrified of the young girl threatening to beat him with a part of the very place he was defacing.
It’s been a long time since I felt as connected to any place as I was to the neighborhood where I grew up. The cemetery and the Wawa and the streets where my childhood was spent.
Recently Frankie and I moved to a house in West Philadelphia. It’s on a quiet little street and, in the months since we moved there, it has become a home to me in a way that nowhere has been since I left Magnolia Cemetery and my childhood home behind.
A few months ago, a dear friend posted a link to the West Philly Local calling for Grave Gardeners. I got deeply excited immediately at the prospect of beautifying a graveyard. And the Woodlands is not far from where I live, so it seemed ideal.
Along with my excitement came the immediate apprehension at the prospect of confronting my legendary Black Thumb head on. I have never been able to keep plants alive. It’s a serious detriment to my image of myself as a nurturing human. I recently got a plant for my desk that I have named Oscar. Oscar has lived for several months on the edge of my desk, in view just above the edge of my computer screen. He was dying in the office of one of my colleagues because she has no windows. But I have access to all the light Oscar could possibly want in my front office.
Against the calling of my Black Thumb, I sent in my application to the Grave Gardeners and awaited their response. I was surprised and delighted when they told me that I had been accepted. Our first class was last month and concerned a history of cemeteries in the United States, the transcript of which I will make into a blog entry at a later date.
Last night’s class was our second meeting, and the last one that will be held outside of the bounds of The Woodlands itself. And the most exciting thing is that, last night, we got our grave assignments.
It is with great pleasure that I would like to introduce you to Mary Siffert Ruehmann. A resident of the 29th Ward here in Philadelphia, Mary was born to Frederick Ruehmann and Caroline Ludy on January 27th, 1846 and died on the 12th of May, 1909 at the age of 63. At this point, I do not know if she had any children. It does not seem likely since she died with her father’s name, but I am going to try to do some more research and see what I come up with.
I have not fully decided what I would like to do to pay tribute to Mary. I am going to visit her over the weekend and see what her grave calls for. Since it doesn’t look like there is any writing visible on the headstone part of her cradle grave, I will likely put roses or some sort of vine up there as a large backdrop to what I will do below.
Any advice that any of my gardening friends have would be most welcome. She is placed in such a way that her garden will receive full sunlight, so do keep that in mind.
I am very excited to begin working on this project in earnest. There will be a lot more blog entries coming as I learn more about gardening and as Mary’s plot develops over the summer. I can’t wait to see how it all turns out!
Friends, with the election coming up, I have a few things to say.
First of all, a bunch of you are likely getting unfollowed on various social media outlets. This is not because I don’t like you. Far from it. It is because I like you too much to want to start not liking you based on the millionandone memes you post about this candidate or that candidate.
I am way willing to have conversations with my friends about this stuff, but engaging with it on social media is a recipe for disaster that I have zero interest in sampling. The internet, as no doubt many of you know, is simply not a place for any kind of measured discussion.
It should be noted as well that my lack of engagement online is not a result of my lack of caring about the outcome of our election. Far from it. I care so much. I care enough that I was one of the few who showed up during the mid-terms to cast my vote and try to avoid the immense cluster of rampant fucks that this entire election cycle has become.
Let me put it this way, I am going to vote the way that I am going to vote. And virtually no argument that anyone on the internet tries to makeis going to change my mind. [And no, I’m not telling you the names currently attached to my vote. Nice try. Not interested in talking about it.]
With that said, as much as I’m sure that you sincerely believe every single meme and article that you post in support of whichever human you have decided to vote for, I am already, 8 months ahead of election day, out of fucks to give about anything you have to say about your particular human.
To put it simply, I feel about the election the same way I used to feel about America’s Next Top Model. I do not want to watch every week and see the drama unfold. I do not like cliffhangers. I do not like feeling my blood pressure rise with each unfair statement and bad judgment being made.
More than anything in the world, I want to wait until the season is over, read the wiki, see who Tyra crowns, then watch the highlights while I do the dishes.
I have always hated election seasons, but this one is by far the worst that I have witnessed. And I simply cannot engage in conversations wherein people treat this entire situation like it’s a chance to make the most pointed observation about whichever candidate they have decided is the greater of two evils.
I can’t take it. My heart can’t take it.
So I hope you will forgive the absence of my voice on this subject. I don’t care to get drawn in to conversations about which candidate would make a better choice in the primary race. In conversations like those, there is no winner. There is only hurt feelings. And everyone going in knows that no one involved is going to change their minds.
The past two months have been super rough on me. It took me until about two weeks ago to admit to myself and, eventually, my circle of humans, that I have been depressed.
Depression is a weird animal. It creeps up on you like a fog. The world gets hazier and hazier until you realize you can’t see the landscape around you anymore. Everything happens through a thick mask of atmosphere and it’s hard to tell whether you’re coming or going.
When I started being unable to do basic things like laundry and couldn’t articulate my needs at all when anyone asked me about anything, that’s when I knew I was deep in the depression fog. Well, that and when I found myself crying in the bathroom when I was brushing my teeth. And all the napping. Let’s face it, there were lots of signs. But still, the realization was slow.
Crawling out has been hard. It’s still hard. The monologue going on inside my head is gross and abusive when I’m depressed. Think Hyperbole and a Half. Every time I have to do something, I wind up not doing it because I don’t have the energy. But every time I don’t do something, my inner voice gets more and more aggressively negative and hateful.
Going to therapy helps. My therapist has made this bout of depression my quickest turn around that I can remember. I’m so grateful that I’m in a place in my life where I have insurance and can afford to take the time for myself to treat my mental health with the care that it deserves.
I’m still not 100% there. I feel run down and not super excited about what’s going on. But the hateful voice in my head is a lot quieter. And I have enough energy to contemplate getting back to doing crafty things that make me happy, which will go a long way to helping me feel myself again.
As it is, opening up this blog again is a good sign and makes me feel good about where things are going. You will hear more from me in the coming weeks and months, now that the fog is lifting.
The holiday is pretty much directly upon me. This weekend I have Christmas with my family. We are going up tomorrow night.
But I don’t feel super merry. In the words of Bilbo Baggins: “I feel thin. Like butter spread over too much bread.”
It has been a long and tumultuous year. The world has continued to terrify me with its ability to be random and cruel while simultaneously delighting me with the warmth and full hearts and adorable cat photos that I have found within it.
Normally at this point in the season I am wearing a festive hat and bouncing around the house to Christmas music like there’s no tomorrow. But I’m not doing either of those things. And what’s weird is that I don’t really care to.
I’ve talked before about the exhaustion that comes from dealing with social justice stuff all the time. The compassion fatigue that we all can feel merely from having access to the internet on a daily basis.
It wears. It takes a toll.
I’m not in a place right this second where I can talk about how to cope with that toll. I’m in it. I’m just looking forward to going home tonight, slapping on some Christmas music and faking it as if I’m going to be making it while I mix up some holiday cookies.
We cope. That’s all we can do sometimes. And I’m just learning now that it’s OK to just cope. To breathe into whatever we’re going through and to be not 100% for a while.
That’s actually a pretty good Christmas gift for me to give myself, now that I think about it.