You can find me in the kitchen.
When the whole world has stopped.
I've been baking pies, crimping crust like a prayer. Rolling dough, using my thumbs to turn butter and flour into sand. As though the lines on my hands control the future. I check on my dough more now. Things I used to rely on; yeast to rise dough, heavy cream to make ganache, flake to a crust, I double and triple check, in the new world. I'm finding it increasingly hard to put my blind-baking trust in the universe.
I looked it up: Pie in the sky describes something that is falsely optimistic, a promise of something good happening in the future that is very unlikely to actually take place. When everything gets quiet, I think about my pies in the sky, like wishing on stars. I've made my peace with it. I, who love to claim control, have none. And monsters I spent the better part of a year working through stare me in the face. Grimaces of pretense. The embodiment of all things uncontrollable.
And so I bake another pie. Double crust. To cover the inside. To make the dire appear decadent. It might not feel okay but it is still beautiful.
I'm collecting drafts.
My thoughts finding their way on these pages, only to be tucked away where no one can see. Funny, life reflected online. My draft count climbs into forty beginnings but I haven't posted anything here since July. It's been nearly a year and I have so much to say but I don't always say it anymore.
After a lifetime of growing out (hands, feet, legs), I have just begun growing in (backbone, gut, heart). I have spent a life reflecting--but only scraped the surface. The more I hear my own voice, though, the more I have to stop myself from speaking. Afraid to say too much, I collect drafts: conversations that could have gone differently, whole chunks I should have said.
But I have stopped talking for others: no longer apologizing for mistakes I didn't make, I have learned to wait. When you're studying to be a teacher, people often profess the powers of Wait Time; of giving a room of students the opportunity to internalize a question before moving on. Wait Time is trusting that things will click. Giving, sometimes, more than a comfortable amount of time for the room to catch up with a new concept.
I struggle with silence. Some would say, I hate it. In the classroom, it made sense but--in life? How was I supposed to trust that someone else would start talking? How long was I supposed to wait before trying again?
When I was a child, I was often expected to make the first move. I often apologized, without knowing why, just to end the silence. I remember so much about standing, mostly upright, in a long room with dim lighting. I remember the flicker of the television and the commercial break that meant I had approximately four minutes to say everything I had practiced. When you're a child and given a very tiny window to do the job of an adult, you tend to learn to speak fast and fill the back of your throat with remorse. Eventually that feeling travels into the rest of your body, your blood, and you believe you should feel sorry. You haven't been given the luxury of Wait Time. If you stopped to think, just for a moment, the commercials would end and you would be engulfed in the silence, again. But, if you stopped to think--just for moment--you might also realize you shouldn't have apologized at all. Wait Time is a powerful tool.
So I have begun employing Wait Time, in my daily life. I have stopped giving people the answers, bracing myself to be pleasantly surprised (or disappointed).
When things don't work out the way I had hoped, in class, this would indicate a need to re-teach a concept. In life, this indicates a need to reexamine a situation.
Where I used to rush to fill in the silence, of my own life, I wait to see what would happen if someone else spoke first. Sometimes, I'm learning, you wait months and nothing happens. Sometimes the silence becomes so vast you almost forget. Sometimes, Wait Time works and the other person starts to speak (but that doesn't mean they say the things you needed to hear). So you re-examine. You could re-teach or repair or reply. You could keep waiting.
Or you could let it go.
On the train back to school from Harlem, this Thursday, I had spent the afternoon too-quickly meandering through the ten-block radius between 125th and 135th; between The Schomburg Center and The Apollo, with students it took me all of four days to fall in love with.
Somewhere between the hour long train rides back to Brownsville from a week of excursions to Museums, we have found a rhythm: the clang of subway cars, the lift from above ground to under (and repeat), and the teeter of tiny conversations about books, about dads, about nothing and everything all at once.
This Thursday, though, I had filled my too-big pockets with a polaroid camera and film enough to capture every second, and made a game of candid photos on a scavenger hunt of Harlem. On the train back to Brownsville, I made several unsuspecting subway dwellers uncomfortable by swiveling the face of the polaroid in every which way. A student across from me looked at the object that obscured my face, his eyes squinting in confusion. I extended the camera, across the train, towards him. "Would you like to try?" He hesitated. "I won't take a picture of you--but you can take one of me."
He smiled and grabbed the camera gingerly. Unsure of where to place his fingers on the polaroid's simple face (some things don't come naturally). But, when he was ready, he pressed the button with a flash and film emerged from the top like a receipt.
"Take it out and shake it," I instructed, moving into my favorite part of an OutKast song. I still don't know if he recognized the tune--he was too infatuated by the polaroid picture before him to respond. But he shook it wildly. "Look at the front. Is it developing? Can you see the picture forming?" I asked, enthusiasm contagious and me, most susceptible. He was smiling now. Big. Showing the boy next to him this great discovery. New-age hands fascinated by old technology. The simplicity of watching something come into its own, like ink on a polaroid, or children in summer school.
The boy to his left said, "This is how they know you're from Brownsville," a phrase I had been mindful of overhearing since my first day at this school. And, similar to the affect it has had every time, the words strung together into a needlepoint. The boy who had been shaking his polaroid, deflated.
This, of course, had unconsciously been the intention. These students, products of their parents--products of a world that placed them in a neighborhood they don't see the merit in--are quick to shame the innocence of others. Innocence here is enviable. Too much bad has already happened and nothing is supposed to be made of magic anymore. All that glitters never was gold. Or so we replay, tapes that belong to someone else's inner-child but find a space between our heads and hearts all too easily. Also contagious; a disease that manifests.
As a child, they called my kindness fake. Ripped the heart off my sleeve and promised it wasn't real. Disingenuous. The children around me never could understand the hope that lifted the pucker of my lips into smiles. As an adult, the children around me tell me that, at first, my demeanor seems off-putting. Too nice, perky.
They tell me that they grow to trust me, though. That, most important to me, is a reflection of themselves. Because I trust them, implicitly. And, isn't that something? The way, especially with children, what you give truthfully, you get back a ten-fold.
I remember all of the people who were kind to me. Not because they were few and far between (even if, sometimes, that was true) but because they saw me. They made me feel like I belonged. And, if I never do anything else in my life, I hope that every child I work with (in schools, anywhere) feels seen by me. Feels acknowledged for the things they do well and feels loved for the parts they haven't really gotten down yet, either. The soft kiss of I'm still learning.
The way, if we're paying attention, we are always learning.
As our political climate delves further and further into disarray, it becomes more and more difficult to write in a blog; to post feelings. An emotionally charged girl, in an emotionally charged world, I have always loved writing here. I have always found a perfect hideaway in words. But, these days, our words betray us. Our every thought offends, the very nature of our language has stolen something from someone.
English is a melting-pot language; built on the bones of Latin and Greek. Dead languages.
And, yes, America, is a melting-pot country; built on the bones of freedom-fighters--who lost their lives to invent homes for the homeless.
When we forget where we've come from, we forget ourselves. William Hazlitt has some variation of that, in one of his many volumes. I've taken half a year away from little bit of cinnamon to work on Left2Write (since my last post we have started and completed our trial run: five schools and literary magazines, 180 students, 80 scholarship applicants), contemplate my voice, and think about the future. But I've missed having a forum like this for word-vomit. I think there's comfort in knowing our stories exist, even if we're the only ones to find them.
Now, I don't speak politics, when I can help it. More into the minutia, the psychology, I sit back and attempt to rationalize. I try to understand. I like to talk in microcosms; to make things personal.
Would I invite people into my home who didn't have anywhere else to go?
What would I do if they became violent?
If they threatened my safety?
Would I continue to invite people into my home who stole? Who lied?
--What if they had children?
And, what about our children? Living in microcosms means that drinking laundry detergent, burning internally, snorting condoms, and doing a dance called floss, are all cries for help. Living in a microcosm means children need their parents and their parents need to be more present. Being present is both an emotional and physical construct. I know people who are easiest to find and the most absent. I read of people who are desperately trying to stay close (and that action alone makes them present).
Living microcosmically means absence is taken very personally, felt in surround-sound, and undeniable.
I have been trying to understand absence, my whole life.
Growing up, I had friends in single-parent households: Mother's juggling all of the responsibilities of raising a family and keeping a home, on their own; their very lifelines formed from too many hours driving to pick up her children, too many days sweeping and mopping, too many dishes. All on her own. I wasn't in a single-parent household but our stories were so similar, I often wondered what it really meant to leave.
I am still trying to understand absence.
When I was doing well in school, my mom and I used to celebrate by sitting in our favorite deli and spending a day with steak fries and chit-chat. That deli is no longer standing and those days were marked absent on my report card but those were the days I felt most present.
I count myself one of the lucky ones: I have learned from my mother how to love, to work, to care, to stay. And 25 years later, I'm learning how to leave. I'm learning how to fight. I am seeing the repercussions for a lifetime of absence. Because it's hard to miss the relationships, the people, the words, you never had.
But, if you're lucky enough to have them, you will fight like hell not to lose them. And who are we to take them away?
We begin, crying. As infants, the absence of language fills our lungs with sound. We speak in gibberish, wail in code, our eyes filling with unnamed feeling. The very water we need to survive, gliding off our cheeks; what we give-up to feel.
As we get older, our too-tiny frames are the wrong size for our feelings. Little boys whose fingers tap drum solos into desks and girls who fall in love with every kid in their class at least once: kindergarten love notes for the ones who could write love songs with the energy in their forefingers. Kids who run away from home to the park, or under the dinner table, anywhere but their room with their books and their socks and their teddy bears---where things are supposed to make sense.
Once we've braved adolescence, it's supposed to get easier. Our bodies have grown proportionally to our lungs, our toes, our hearts. We are supposed to have learned how to navigate feelings, forge healthy relationships, communicate; ask for the things we need--replace whines with words. We've learned how to be appropriate. That How are you? is less an opportunity to share and more a formality.
But some days my emotions are bigger than my body. I have been known to cry in meetings and to take life too personally. Some days, I can hardly breathe.
In some ways, I might be regressing: I used to sufficiently hold myself together. I was always always always always okay. Especially when I wasn't okay at all. But the facade has cracked and I'm much harder to hold together these days. Instead, I surround myself only with the people I don't mind seeing me a little bruised and I do the best I can.
Perhaps it's an improvement; to be more human. To acknowledge the parts of you that ache instead of brushing past them. It's an exercise in mattering. Some days, I revert back to the one-who-wants-you-to-think-she-has-it-altogether but starting something new is humbling. Reflecting can drive you crazy.
I bake less cupcakes, although I wish I didn't, and take shorter showers, even though the monotony of the water used to be my favorite place to think. It's amazing what becomes of our fingertips when we exchange coping mechanisms. I am hard on other people but always harder on myself. In time, I have become self-deprecating. An online survey asked if I was the person other people might call for advice and, even though I knew the answer was yes, instead--I took five minutes to silently berate myself for not being the person I listen to. Why aren't we kind to ourselves? I wish I knew.
I have students who admit they are not their own favorite person --because they aren't done yet. Their parents, they say, are more fully baked. I keep waiting for the moment I have it altogether and maybe that will never happen. Or maybe I'll miss it, in the waiting.
So much is good and so much is terrifying and I spend too much time focused on the things I cannot control. Angry at them for forgetting the facade--for cracking under the pressure.
I wrote here, today, for the first time in months just in case someone was listening. I aim to be a good listener but I hope someday to believe I am worth listening to. When I speak, my sentences begin and end in apology--suffocating the words in between until they're gone.
To the man who made me sick with regret for going to that concert—for dancing.
To the man who held my hand in the street, after telling me he was married and after I asked him not to, warned that there were other men looking at me and he was there to protect me. I never asked for his protection.
To the man who made me know for the first time that marriage wasn’t something that meant a promise.
To the man who cursed at me when I didn’t say thank you.
To the men who think I’m rude because I don’t appreciate their compliments.
To the men who ask me to smile.
To the man who made me afraid to sleep in my own bed.
To the man, when we were both in middle school, who told everyone we had kissed (even though we hadn’t) and spent months aggressively spreading rumors so that we would “just do it already, I mean, they all think you already did.”
To the man who told me I was ugly so I would need him to feel beautiful.
To the man who touched himself on the Manhattan bound D train while staring at me.
To the men who mistook kindness for an invitation.
To the men, underground, who made me fear the subway for a full year.
To the man in college, who smelled like whiskey, and was stronger than he looked.
To the man who used his tongue when I didn’t ask.
To the man who spent an entire train ride, packed like sardines, grinding himself against my back to intermittent mumbled “I’m sorry”s. But who didn’t stop; no matter how I tried to move away.
To the man in fifth grade who promised me an ‘A’ in art. Whose job had been to teach me.
To the 43 year old man who asked me on a date, when I was still nineteen, and did not like to be rejected.
To the man in high school who gave me detention because he said he liked to see me cry.
To the man in the supermarket who asked me if I needed help. “Oh, no thank you” and then followed me around the store, anyway.
To the men who make comments about the way I look in pants.
To the man who posted memes of anime characters kissing and told me that “could be us.”
To the man who thought I was something to be gotten.
To the man that one time I still won’t talk about.
To the man who came into the women’s bathroom, when I was alone in there.
To the men who stopped their cars and asked me to get in.
To the men who honk.
To the men who roll their windows down and yell like I am a ball game and they think their screams will score the final basket.
To the man who chased me—and the diner I hid in; to the man in the diner who sat with me until the stranger outside was gone.
To the men who think they are being kind, by disregarding my feelings.
To the man who walked me home, expecting something in return.
To the man who put his hand under my skirt.
To the men I have worked hard to forget.
To the man who made me wish the door was still open.
To the men who make me cross the street because they’re walking too quickly and their hands are in the wrong places.
To the man married to my mom’s friend who spoke of men like he was one (thank you, mom for believing me).
To the man who called me “innocent” and said he could “do something about that,” like it was a problem that needed fixing.
To the men who force me to speak vaguely. Who shame me by their actions. This is not the worst of anything. This is one piece of a narrative that is so engrained in our history, it is unclear where to begin; how to teach girls and boys both what they are worth and how to treat one another. I take no pride in being part of “me too.”
AND to the men who were respectful. Who asked and listened. Who kept their distance, until it was appropriate. Who were gentle, who knew better. Who did not think they were gods. Who knew I, too, was a person.
Dear New Year,
Sweet. Apples dipped in honey style.
Dear New York,
Ready for the Fall. So in love with your leaves changing and your farmers markets.
Dear Broadway Flea,
You're crazy. But you make for a wonderful day.
Happy for more time to sit you.
Dear Fun Reads,
It's been a month of easy bookage and many adventures. You're my favorite way to travel on a Wednesday afternoon. I had forgotten how wonderful you are.
Dear Pumpkin Spice,
It's never too early for you.
Dear New Home,
I feel so lucky for your high ceilings and your late nights.
Grateful for damage control, after two months of donuts.
You're a tough cookie. And you're mine!
I miss you. Some days more than others, as I start the dream-project.
Dear Cinnamon Tea,
You soothe the stress of starting something new.
Dear Product Donations,
You're the best-phrase-I've-just-learned-and-will-never-forget.
Dear Grey's Anatomy,
You're BACK! So happy we've returned to Grey-Sloan Memorial.
Okay. We're doing this.
Dear Idina Menzel,
It's been a pleasure touring with you. Glad we picked the same spots!
Dear Summer of Dreams,
I still haven't wrapped my head around all you've given me--but I feel like the luckiest girl in the world!
There's no 'me' in 'cactus.'
Dear Portland Farm Party,
He spun me around until the banjo stuck to the hairs on the back of my neck and the twinkle lights danced on their own.
I'm learning that you get to be unconditional. You get to fall and cry and kick and scream but still be just as strong.
Dear Gordan Ramsay,
I want a white apron.
Dear Voodoo Donuts,
You were full of jam and you didn't tell me.
Dear Blackberry picker,
You say "Anyone who is depressed should pick and eat their own blackberries and they won't be depressed anymore." You're better than blackberries. And I pick you!
Dear Space 'Nerdle,'
"Pick me, choose me, love me."
Dear Cinnamon Tea,
All we see is sky.
Dear Giant Mugs,
The bigger the better. Like Texas (except I found you in New Orleans)!
You were the hook to the worst song at the open mic (but that was someone else's mama) YOU are what I want to be when I grown up. You is kind, you is smart, you is important.
Dear New York,
Guess who's back.
When we planned our makeshift tour; organized venues, stays, gas...there were so many elements left unconsidered.
We had discussed Disneyland--my one true caveat for spending a summer on the road--and gigs. I kept my fingers crossed that we'd make it to Oregon by the eclipse; packed multiple face-soaps and deodorants. We printed itineraries, added every venture onto Pinterest boards, found the top 50 donuts in 50 states...it all felt as well-conceived as a brand new thing can be.
And, after we played our first show in North Carolina, under the light of fireflies and an orchestra of crickets, I knew we were doing the right thing. From jam sessions in Atlanta to rehearsals in Nashville; to cover-shows in Austin to San Diego nights where the people danced and bought shirts, and believed in the words coming out of our mouths. That stuff's the thing of magic--and being a part of something so vulnerable has been such a gift.
We stayed in AirB&Bs which was another level of vulnerability; living in other people's homes--other people willing to share them. People never ceased to amaze us with their kindness and generosity.
That was until we left our car for fifteen minutes in San Francisco and returned to a shattered window, a missing guitar, missing bags, missing parts.
There is no point recounting the night, the morning; precariously moving glass to look under seats, hoping something fell and was not stolen. Staring but hardly seeing. Calling for help and hearing that people do not come to the rescue here.
This is nothing compared to floods or hurricanes; to marches, to car crashes, to bombings--but this moment began to overshadow the heart of our adventure--the people we had met and the shows we had played--it was all eclipsed by a darkness we never saw coming.
It was not a tragedy, in the way we have taught ourselves the word, off dirty newspapers and smudged screens, but it is a lesson in the opposite of kindness. And from the hands of someone else's sickness, I jokingly say it was a loss of innocence (but that doesn't make it any less true). Whatever parts of myself still believed in the the golden rule-- tarnished.
The next morning I woke up one eyeball at a time, squinting through the truth until it felt like a nightmare. But it was real. We waited for the glass to be fixed--we filed forms with people who had washed their hands before we walked into the room. It felt like a dead-end.
But we drove onward. And on our next stop, we were confronted by generosity that topped what we had seen before, a ten-fold. We borrowed instruments and played into the night, in the backyard of the people we were staying with, surrounded by bushels of blackberries, grape-filled vines, and the kindness of strangers.
After our pit-stop, we drove on to the eclipse.
The funny thing about an eclipse is that, unless you find yourself directly in the path of totality, the sun never fully goes away. Without glasses, though it may turn the world into Sepia tones, there is still a sun. And a person in too much of a hurry, with a stock meeting or a speech to memorize, or a girlfriend his parents are meeting for the first time, might miss the eclipse altogether. Because just as quickly as the sun disappears, it pokes its rays out as if to say, 'See, I'm not going anywhere.'
We pick ourselves up and it sucks and it's hard and, so often it is so unnecessary, but I have to keep reminding myself that the world is more than a single person: more than me, more than the person who broke the window and stole what was not his, more than the kindness of strangers; the heartbreak of a hurricane, the sadness of a storm.
And when my heart goes dark, confused by another's actions, it's a comfort to know that, as quickly as the shadows fell, there's always a light somewhere (as long as you are receptive to it) saying, "See, I'm not going anywhere."
My life has been a series of self-consciousness.
I was in a dance class when I was four. Our show costume was this bright pink tutu and, even though that bubblegum pink color was my favorite, I dropped out the morning of the show because I looked like a huge bubble in the costume and I was embarrassed, even then. Innocence bubble popped.
My mom tells this funny story about a birthday party, when I was still young enough to count on one hand, where someones mother found me underneath a table eating a bowl of candy by myself. I started hiding food at a very young age, convinced—if no one saw it—I didn’t have to own it. There would be no shame in food that no one else could quantify.
I went from under-tables to behind closed doors. Eating in hiding, not eating at all; binging, purging…people often compare food to control but, for me, it was secrecy. I was proud when I was empty. When my stomach churned and grumbled, it was rerecording the voices in my head. My father’s go-to line, you ate yesterday, when I’d skewer salad onto my fork.
I spent summers throwing up in the bathroom, to feel good in a bathing suit. School years drinking water and sucking on pretzels for food. Or eating a meal a day, only when someone was looking. Wrapping my thumb and middle finger around my wrists—feeling for bones, to feel small enough to be good enough.
In college I only felt beautiful when I was still hungry. I let my eyes dull, my hair unravel, my nails brittle. When I grew jealous or afraid I was not enough, I would exercise harder, eat less. Spend summers watching other people eat. Exercising hours for carrots; burpees until I couldn’t see straight.
I went to dance calls and left in tears, spilling my shame into the toilet; four years old, again, only now I felt like an elephant: clunky, too-big, too-wrong. I modified my life to fit into my mindset. I would never be thin enough or beautiful enough. I would never be able to dance.
I started teaching, tiny. But the more stressed I became the more I turned to food. And the more I saw how my opinion mattered, the more I remembered who I had been in high school and what I had needed to hear. So I bought kale and broccoli and enough vegetables to start a small farm. I decided, if I was going to teach by example, I couldn’t just teach kindness and passion and words—I had to live by them. I had to treat myself with the kindness I hoped they would; nourish myself to nourish them.
This summer, we’ve been traveling. We spend days exploring new states and people and nights playing shows in bars and coffee shops and places i’ve never heard of but am so grateful exist. I keep reminding myself that food is important. I have decided to eat donuts in every state and compare them. I spend hours making lists of places we have to see, and restaurants we shouldn’t miss. Convincing myself that, if I think it’s fun, I’ll be okay. So I’m eating and letting food anchor me to moments, to people, to life. But that doesn’t make it easy. I’ve started avoiding mirrors—I run in place. I keep food down. And I promise myself I’ll get back to a routine and be fine. We hike and I want to push myself further. I’m always too close to the edge.
This is me in a bathing suit: after bbq in Texas, biscuits in North Carolina, Purple Drank in New Orleans, tacos in Tucson, hummus in Nashville, Eggs Benedict in DC, fried chicken in Atlanta---and donuts everywhere. I’m not comfortable with the way it looks. But I’m learning to be proud of my body. I’m sharing to own it. To beat shame. To turn guilt into gratitude; you ate yesterday into what will you do today?
This is Me:
My name's Melissa. I'm the girl with her hands in her journal.