days the color of a monkeyface eel

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Unsure why this is currently rotting in the sun, but life is full of mysteries! (Picture does not accurately capture the flies or the smell. You’re welcome.)

A week and a half ago we asked our boss if we could purchase 1,000 carrion beetles. My coworker had found a monkeyface prickleback carcass and was interested in harvesting the delicate bones. Obviously, beetles were the way to go.

That was a week and a half ago, but it feels like a different epoch. It is hard to write about what’s happened since. Not because the summation is difficult but because words feel inadequate. Because clustering syllables and letters together into neat little phrases removes all the sinew and splinters from the past week. And I need you to feel the color of it all. I need you to taste the scent.

Here’s what life feels like now: you’re in the ocean and a wave comes out of nowhere. One moment you are above and there is sun, and the next you’re below in a water world, and you’re tumbling head over feet, head over feet, and you lose all sense of direction, of what is up, and you know you’ll surface soon, you know this is only temporary, but god, your lungs hurt and you are panicking, and you are this small, fragile creature in a whirlwind of water and everything is a million shades of blue.

That’s what this feels like.

Camp is empty now. The kids have been gone for weeks. Full-time staff are now working from home. And us, the seasonal crew, we are peeling off one-by-one, like bark from a eucalyptus tree. An abandonment both sudden and slow. That’s what this feels like.

I have gotten very good at goodbyes these past couple of years. Goodbye dinners, goodbye hugs, goodbye letters. Even for the messier seasons there has always been closure. But it’s different now. Now it feels like I just got dumped with no warning, and all sense of closure is lodged in my throat, feelings leaking out like a poorly corked bottle. What do I do with all this future dripping from my hands? These plans, these hopes, these wild dreams? Where do I go from here? What happens next?

It is easy to be melancholy and sad these days. It is easy to tell you that the monkeyface prickleback is sealed in a ziploc bag, festering in the sun, and that we have no carrion beetles to remove the flesh, and that it will probably stay in that bag on the ground for a long time. It is easy to be heavy handed with the metaphors.

And these days, sometimes everything feels like monkeyface prickleback rot. But not always. Some moments it is watching dolphins at sunset from our own back porch or singing happy birthday as someone plays the accordion. Sometimes it is Spam musubi and coffeechocolatehoney crepes and lavender plucked from outside the dining hall. It is sea anemones that still curl inward when I poke them and will never do otherwise. It is all that and more. And those moments of beauty, of community, of resilience are there if you are looking. Because there is always hope and light for those who search.

I hope you too are finding the sun.

tips for surviving the end of the world

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a picture of Sirius i took on my night skulk last night. it was foggy and damp and the wind was angry. i walked and walked and then sat down and tried to find Orion through the clouds as i listened to lo-fang on repeat. Orion is lower in the sky than it was a couple weeks ago. time is passing. things are changing.

First off, it’s not the end of the world.

Secondly, let me tell you a little about me. I’ve woken up with a headache every day this week from stress. My anxiety is this hazy, inarticulate thing that clouds my senses, leaving me lying in bed curled up in my sleeping bag, worrying about my campers in Cape Cod. I am good at many things and one of them is worrying. There are no shortage of things to be worried about at the moment, and I’ve done a truly stellar job of worrying about them all.

So you are not alone in whatever you are feeling. That rising, bubbling panic. That hopelessness. The hand-wringing frustration of what can I do, what can I do. I get it. I am that way too.

The last time I remember feeling this thundercloud anxiety was back in 2016 after the elections. The world felt dark that November. There was so much fear and rage and uncertainty, and I remember pacing around my apartment, music shredding through my speakers, wondering what happens next, where do we go from here.

I was busy that winter. I organized postcard writing parties. I called my senators. I tracked legislation bills and wrote letters of outrage and drove to DC to protest.

Yvoun Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, says that the best cure for depression is action. He is so right.

So in the midst of this global pandemic where shadows loom large, here’s what I’ve been doing. Maybe some of these things can help you too.

1. Get outside
Good news! You can socially isolate and be outside! I’ve been running and taking walks and trying to appreciate all the small wonders that abound. The ice plant here is turning red and it reminds me of autumn leaves. I saw two rogue cows on my hike the other day and it was terribly exciting. The world is a beautiful place and it is still right outside, waiting for you with open arms.

2. Create stuff
Yesterday I spent the entire afternoon tearing up old art books and making collages. It was nice to do something tangible. To have my hands busy. To let my mind focus on matching patterns instead of analyzing COVID-19 testing data. I have some writing projects I’ve put off for literal years, so hopefully I can crack into those as well. Make some stuff. Put your thoughts and feelings into words and paints. And maybe share it and let others connect with it so they can go, yeah, me too.

3. Stay in touch
I’ve been hovering closer to my phone these days. For the instant news alerts, yes. But also for the text messages I’ve been sending and receiving. The check-ins from friends. The offers of you can stay with me if you need it. I’ve been reaching out to others more because I often think I invent my own aloneness, and I have to remind myself that other people care and that certain friends will be there for me no matter what.

4. Read more
This feels pretty self-explanatory. I anxiety-binged Rilke the other day and that was a power move. A good crisis never fails to unearth some breathtaking art (especially poetry), and I’ve read some really moving, inspiring, insightful stuff lately. (If you have any, send it my way! Pleasepleaseplease!)

5. Physical touch is good
Did you know rabbits don’t carry COVID-19? So snuggle away! I’ve done some A+ bunny cuddling the past couple days and have accepted any and all head scratches that have been offered to me. 10/10 recommend

6. Mindset matters
It could be worse. It could always be worse. Yeah, I’m bummed that future plans have fallen through. Yeah, I’m anxious that my job is tenuous at best and I’m looking at a quality chunk of unemployment. Yeah, I’m frustrated that this dream season on the coast will end early and end in chaos. But there’s so much to be thankful for and it’s going to be OK. You know that, right? That we’re going to get through this. That there is light up ahead. That we will be tested in dire circumstances now and in times to come and we have to figure out how to survive, how to find strength and help those around us. In times of crisis, the polarized sides of humanity shine through and I am always amazed at how much good there is in the world, all the people willing to help one another.

Sometimes I wish I were a lighter person. A person less burdened with ideas and reality and a wedge-shaped core of darkness (it’s a Woolf reference, you’re welcome). Because I want to be—I am—optimistic about the whole ordeal, but there is going to be a cost and we are bearing this cost because of our other failures. The lack of affordable and accessible health care, the absence of job and financial security, the overcrowding in underfunded places like prisons and homeless shelters, the list doesn’t end. This pandemic is showing how gnawed, how hollow the bones of our system truly are.

So once this passes, which it will, what happens next? What are you going to do with this broken failing system? How can we inspire and change and empower so we are never faced with this bleeding gristle again?

Dark times make me think of Lord of the Rings (bless my coworker who played the score yesterday on the piano and made me tear up in a very happy contented sort of way), and all the hopeful gems that embed the dark mesh of the story. I’ll leave you with this one:

“For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing; there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.” – The Return of the King

night walks

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I have zero pictures of my nighttime outings, so here’s a picture of a sea anemone.

I’ve been taking a lot of night walks lately. Skulking, I call it. Disappearing into the Californian night, leaving my messy room, messy mind behind. I walk without light as often as possible. Sometimes I run.

The town I live in is a wealthy geriatric place, million-dollar homes landscaped with succulents and neatly polished rocks, sculptures of dolphins and otters watching over the plant beds. There are no streetlights, no sidewalks. I rarely see another person on my nightly jaunts, except on Thursday evenings when people roll out their trash cans, and at nine o’clock when an older woman emerges from her garage to let her dog piss on the undeveloped property across from her house.

Night is always different. Sometimes, when the moon is almost full, the air is glittery darkness, the stars washed out by the lunar brightness, everything draped in a glowing shade of black. And other times it is womb dark. Fog rolls in, and it feels like a nightmare, like a dream, like another realm entirely. Sometimes I am alone. Sometimes I am not.

The other week during class, a girl trailed me closely as we walked through the neighborhood after tide pooling. She looked at me with button brown eyes, trying to leech my attention with her questions, her blatant stares. I told her that she was smart to wear shorts that day as the sun shone more intensely than anticipated. She told me that she rarely wears shorts because one time a boy placed his hand on her thigh and it made her uncomfortable.

That’s where the story started. Like a loosely wound spool, it unraveled from there. As we walked in the heat, up the hill, past the house with the automatic lights that burst into illumination every evening I pass them, she continued sharing. I gave her my watered-down, elementary-school-appropriate feminist talk: No one can touch you without your permission. If someone makes you feel uncomfortable, that’s not OK. Don’t feel embarrassed; it’s not your fault; it’s never your fault. I wanted to say more. I wanted to tell her that this won’t happen again, that everything is behind her, that things get better. But they don’t. She is 11 and her childhood has been taken from her in small, snatching ways, and this is what it means to exist in bodies like ours, and I wish that it wasn’t this way, I wish life was a little less red, but I don’t know how to turn every scar into poetry. There is so much that is beyond me.

I ran hard that night. As I was leaving camp, a coworker passed me in his car. He jumped out and asked if I was OK, if I needed a headlamp. I told him I had one; I just preferred darkness. He seemed concerned. He didn’t get it. The point is not to be seen. That’s what I want. To exist in the darkness unnoticed, to pass by the TV-illuminated windows in total silence, to stand in the middle of the road with world sprawled around me with nothing but stardust in my heart, moonlight in my veins. Because here on the golden coast, in this retirement town, I can move through the darkness without worry, without fear, without light. There is no one chasing me. There are no men shouting at me from their porches. There are no streets that I’ve learned to avoid because they make my skin crawl with threatened violence.

To only fear the uneven pavement and your own reckless speed. Imagine.

Walking at night feels luxurious here. I want to gather it in my fists until the smell bleeds into my fingertips. I want to bathe in it and cradle it and wear it like an expensive robe.  I want to fold it into my pocket and take it with me so that I can have expansive, empty darkness with me forever.

Sometimes the world feels like a map of places I cannot go, and so much of my history feels like me sucking in a breath and going anyway.

My night walks are always different. Sometimes they are spent with a laser pointer in hand, staring at they sky, trying to identify Leo and the entirety of Ursa Major. Sometimes they’re spent running from skunks in Fiscalini. And sometimes they’re spent lying on the ground feeling the opposite of lonely (is there a word for that?), staring up at the limitless sky. But I go out into the night because it is a gift to slip through the cracks, to be unnoticed, to be forgotten, to exist as a small speck of night moving quietly through the star-studded world, knowing no fear, only life.