6/16/2021

 A few years ago, I learned how to scream.


Several times a year, I stay in a cabin in the woods in the middle of nowhere. I have a love-hate relationship with that cabin. The lack of WiFi is a big part of that. 


But what I love about being there is that I get to go to the lake. 


I have yet to meet a body of water that doesn’t nourish my soul, which is funny since I don’t really know how to swim. 


A vast expanse of water just does something to me. As a teenager, if I needed to have a big, emo Think, I’d drive to the beach and park myself on the sand. The most ecstatic and most brutal moments of my life have been by oceans and rivers and fountains. 


So one night when I was staying at the cabin, I was down by the lake, looking out into the inkiest black night I’d ever seen. And I screamed. I screamed and laughed at how loud it was, how good it felt, how it stretched all the way to the hills and echoed back at me. So I kept screaming. I think I wanted to obliterate something. I needed to dislodge something stuck in the darkest, twistiest caverns of my brain. 


A therapist once observed that I hate to feel. It was a revelation that now seems like a portion of the truth. I hate to feel because I think it’s going to tear me apart from the inside. It’s going to nibble away at my organs over the years because what I feel all the time needs to be let out by screaming into the mountains, and most days, the closest I can come to release is a really good workout. And that’s not enough. My feelings can’t be worked out on an elliptical. 


The thing is, I am thriving. Everything is working out for me beyond my highest expectations — which honestly were quite low for a while. My shit is together. It’s accolades and lucky breaks out the wazoo. 


But every day for the past five-plus years, inside every single moment of happiness or even absolutely banal OK-ness, there is a tinge of despair. It’s omnipresent. You know when you go buy paint and you see them add colors into the white base, and even in the lightest shade of icy gray, there’s a drop of red or black that you wouldn’t expect? It’s that. It is inextricable from the rest of me. And I can never feel full catharsis for the despair. 


You know what a better metaphor is? Shrapnel. It’s like living with shrapnel dangerously close to my heart. 


And I’m fine. I’m better than fine. Really. But it’s crazy how little it takes to tip my scales all the way toward despair. The most backhanded insult, the tiniest inconvenience. A thumbnail. The things you find out about people that you should have anticipated — that you have anticipated, out loud, flippantly — that still feel like a bomb straight to the face. 


But you can’t scream in pain, because you have to be in a Zoom meeting in 10 minutes. You have to pick up a Target order. You have to give the dog her allergy medicine. 


You can’t just start screaming in a suburb on a fucking Monday and have no good explanation for it.


Anyway. I’m reading A Worthy Opponent by Katee Robert. It’s good. Yeah.

6/02/2021

I really don't have any idea for a title.

I turned 33 on May 23rd. What does your “Christ year” mean when you’re a heretic like me? When, to paraphrase Lafayette Reynolds, Jesus and I agreed to see other people?


Here’s what came to me in the shower tonight, as the rage that burned in me all day hit the water and turned it to steam. I remembered a poem. It’s one from the year I discovered Margaret Atwood, either 2005 or 2006, called “Helen of Troy Does Countertop Dancing.” My hair was straight and cut sharp as steel, sharp as my hip bones jutting out over low rise jeans, and I thought the poem was sexy and subversive, just like I wanted to be. I liked it enough to quote it on my MySpace profile, because I was pretentious and fake-deep and I thought it sounded like my life.


They'd like to see through me,

but nothing is more opaque

than absolute transparency.


Tonight, I read the poem from start to finish for the first time in years. Here’s my favorite quote in context:


The rest of them would like to watch me

and feel nothing. Reduce me to components

as in a clock factory or abattoir.

Crush out the mystery.

Wall me up alive

in my own body.

They'd like to see through me,

but nothing is more opaque

than absolute transparency.


I know this is a two-way mirror. Don’t think I won’t tire of being watched, of being pops of color against the beige.


I’m old enough now to be a person, wouldn’t you say? Not content, not entertainment, not a concept. Not a mall free sample before you go eat somewhere nicer.


I’m 33 and my words are out there to be mistranslated and taken out of context, but that’s where my similarities with Jesus end. My wounds are very different, and I won’t let any part of myself die for someone else’s sins.


Tonight is almost tomorrow and I’m wondering if I’ll dream of breathing underwater again. Tomorrow I’ll overcompensate with too much coffee, watch the week alchemize it into bourbon. I’ll send my stupid little emails and earn that massage I booked for Friday, the first in more than a year and a half. I’ll pretend my feelings are knots that can be worked out by capable hands. I’ll touch grass and pick one of the roses I planted in my front yard and remind myself that I deserve to be admired wholly, too, thorns and blooms both.

 

3/06/2021

Some stuff on my mind. Some of it about death. Some of it about WandaVision.

I want a word for the feeling when someone you lost touch with dies. You always think there’s more time until there’s not. I want to explain how off balance it feels when the nebulous “later” disappears and that “how have you been?” email you never wrote is never going to get sent.


I’ve only experienced this with acquaintances, former colleagues and bosses who were much older than me. I can’t imagine how it might feel when it’s someone who was important to me.


This is one of the unsettling things I’ve thought about because of COVID. My friends still follow their exes and ex-friends on social media. They see pictures of their new girlfriends and wives and kids, their new cities, their new homes. I don’t. The lives of almost everyone I’ve ever loved remain obscured to me. 


When I was a kid, I remember those human anatomy books that had transparent overlays. Each plastic sheet added another system, revealing another layer of the body. Every once in a while I don’t feel like a person, but a book of layered images. 


It’s hard to put into words but here’s an example. I interact with a lot of professional groups. Once, I learned a member of one of those groups was the boy I fell madly in love with in the seventh grade. I had a very embarrassing unrequited crush on him for years. Through circumstances somehow even more embarrassing, we ended up becoming close friends. And then we had a falling out and never spoke again. 


Skip forward 15 years. A lifetime later. I see his distinctive name while I’m just going about my business, and suddenly I’m right there, seeing right through me to that layer. I’m 13 again, playing “The Red” by Chevelle on repeat, feeling alone in the world because he doesn’t notice me. I’m 16 again, smoking my first cigarette in his car. I’m 17 again, and I say something about him that’s true but it ruins everything. Telling the truth has always been my problem.


I see this familiar name in an incongruous context and it’s funny, uncomfortable, surreal. What’s going to happen when all the familiar names are in memorial posts on Instagram? In obituaries? I’m 32. It seems like such a ridiculous thing to think about now, and it might have been ridiculous a year ago, 500,000 deaths ago.


It’s less ridiculous now.


***


Like a lot of Americans, I’ve been captivated by WandaVision for the last nine weeks. Now that the show is over, it’s clear that it wasn’t what anyone expected it to be. 


I don’t just mean that because so many fan theories fell flat as the showrunners trolled us with red herring after red herring. I mean it felt like Jungian shadow work as zeitgeist. It feels eerie to reflect on the show as a whole now, because more than anything it now seems to be a mirror. A mirror of those early days of COVID when we took refuge in Netflix and Zoom hangouts and sourdough, reunion specials and the novelty of wearing sweatpants during business hours. How quickly we realized the darkness under our desire to cope. How quickly we saw this was years of grief and trauma metastasized to a monstrosity we couldn’t hide from anymore.


Elizabeth Olsen stole my whole heart as Wanda. I know in my bones that anyone who watched the show could pinpoint their own baggage, could reflect on the harm broken people cause others. Of course a show about refusing to accept a crushing loss became a hit.


There’s so much I want to talk about related to the show. But there’s this one line that is so devastating in its truth that I think tattoo artists are going to get sick of it in the next six months. In a flashback, as Wanda mourns the loss of her brother (by watching sitcoms as a distraction, naturally), Vision tells her, “But what is grief, if not love persevering?”


Grief is love persevering. Nothing has ever made more sense to me.


Does this relate to anything I wrote above? Yes and no. I think love perseveres. I also think even milder attachments retain some hold on us. I am an encyclopedia of losses tiny and epic, enough miscellany and myth to fill a museum. I’m not special. We all dress up our tragedies in the wardrobe of sitcoms. Like Wanda, we all need to be reminded the people in our lives are not side characters in our shows, but entire universes of their own.


No one can really know someone else’s life. But I think the past year has shown us we’re all just putting on a show. Something about that veil being lifted feels really comforting.



2/17/2021

Gods Among Us: Fiction About Polytheism

I have been insatiable in my reading so far this year. I’m at 14 completed books and it’s only the middle of February. I attribute that, in part, to no longer being terrified every morning, bracing myself for whatever horrors the 45th occupant of the White House had planned for that day. Yes, we’re still in the middle of a biblical plague. Yes, there was an insurrection that damn near became the prequel to The Handmaid’s Tale. But one Big Bad is gone. It wasn’t until Inauguration Day that I realized just how freeing it would feel to no longer have that monster in the White House. It’s like there’s actually a little room in my brain now for happiness.

Another reason I’ve been reading so much is that I’ve been accepted into a training program for people who want to work on progressive campaigns or run for office. I’m going to be on the communications track, and I could not be more excited. And since I’m seemingly one of the few participants without prior campaign experience, I’m reading as many old and new political science books as I can before my training. But that roundup will be for another post.

This time, I want to talk about some pagan-adjacent fiction. I didn’t seek out a bunch of books about polytheism, but they do keep finding me. Here are the ones I’ve read and loved recently.




American Gods by Neil Gaiman

When I first became interested in polytheism, I knew I had to read this Neil Gaiman classic. Shadow Moon is a convict who leaves prison upon his wife’s death. It’s at her funeral that he finds out she was having an affair with his best friend, who was driving the car they both died in. So, no wife, no job at his now-dead friend’s gym, no tether to society. It makes him the perfect mark for Wednesday, a mysterious gentleman of dubious reputation who hires Shadow as his muscle. And so Shadow gets dragged into a war between the fading old gods and the shiny new gods of media and tech. 


This was a captivating read that helped me conceptualize a lot of concepts I’ve been studying, like thoughtforms, archetypes, syncretism and the difference between hard polytheism and soft polytheism. American Gods is transgressive, sensual, gritty, surprising and tender. I haven’t watched the Starz adaptation yet, and I’m really excited to.





The Invisible Life of Addie Larue by V.E. Schwab

In France in the early 1700s, Adeline Larue is desperate to avoid marrying a man she doesn’t love and living out the rest of her life in her tiny town. She runs into the woods and prays to any god who will listen — but the gods who answer after dark don’t want trinkets as offerings. She sells her soul for time, and she gets immortality with a caveat. No one will ever remember her. Anyone she meets forgets her the second that she’s out of sight or the moment they fall asleep. She writes, and the words vanish. She draws, and the mark disappears. She steps out of a room, and a lover becomes a stranger. Over the centuries, Addie figures out how to exploit every loophole of the deal. She lives by her wits and accepts her loneliness, until 300 years later when someone remembers her.


Schwab is a singularly gifted storyteller. I am a singularly gifted twist-guesser. But there was nothing I could predict about this inventive book. I believe I’ve read that Schwab is a pagan, and this book makes me reflect on the pagan belief of the inherent divinity and connectedness of everything and everyone. I also enjoy a portrayal of a flawed and selfish yet alluring deity. Anything more I say would spoil a book that deserves to be experienced by anyone who hears its title.





The Rose by Tiffany Reisz

Lia is an English socialite who takes up running an escort service with her friends as a side hustle. Upon her college graduation, her father gives her an ancient temple goblet in honor of her passionate interest in Greek myths. But a handsome party guest warns her the kylix is a dangerous and magical object that was used in the Cult of Eros to bring the wildest sexual fantasies to life. But lucky for her, he is more than happy to tutor her through its use.


It was an inspired idea to put Greek mythology on a collision course with contemporary London. It shouldn’t work, but gods does it work. This is an erotic masterpiece. It’s funnier and sweeter than it has any right to be. I learned so much about the Greek myths — honestly, THIS is how you should teach them in school. I was delighted by the portrayal of one deity in particular: Aphrodite.




Olympians: Aphrodite, Goddess of Love by George O’Connor

This is a graphic novel with gorgeous illustrations and even more gorgeous writing. It’s a perfect introduction to Aphrodite’s myths — it wasn’t my intro to her, but I almost wish that it was.


When I started exploring the concept of “deity work,” I explored so many myths. I read and listened to everything I could find about Hecate. I wondered if my aptitude with words made me a fitting acolyte for Hermes. I researched the Hindu pantheon and was really vibing with Kali and her liberation and rage.


It felt taboo to even entertain the idea of worshiping another god. It felt like a bridge too far, one sin too many in the long list of transgressions that have divided me from the faith of my childhood. Not that you could call something faith when it was based on fear, when no part of it nourished my soul.


But when I did dip my toes into research on deities and exploration of my ideas about them, I did not think I would spend much time at all on Aphrodite. First of all, she’s got a bit of a bad reputation. And second, she just seemed too obvious. I’m a romance writer. I host a podcast about romance novels. I have had a dramatic and life-altering love life. I once had a beauty blog. I wasn’t about to dive into what I felt would be the equivalent of basing my spiritual practice off the results of a Cosmo quiz.


And yet I did end up finding my way into deep research on laughter-loving Aphrodite. She was obvious — but obvious in the same way as ink that turns a faint pencil sketch into a clear map of the path I’ve been walking all along. Because what has brought me to my knees more than love? 


Is she real? Who can know. Plenty of things that aren’t physically tangible or quantifiable — like love — have real effects. Are her values real to me? Absolutely. I can think of few better ways to worship than through pleasure, compassion and creating beauty wherever I can.


9/25/2020

A Somewhat Bookish Update

If you’ve been listening to my podcast — and if you haven’t, you should be because it’s sensational and witty and so raunchy — you know most of my bookish energy has been channeled there.

But I still like having this blog to brain dump some stuff, so I’m going to. Here you go. A navel-gazing life update disguised as a book recommendation post to encourage you to continue to stay inside as much as possible, while still holding on to your sense of reality.

A Book to Escape the Existential Dread



Meg and I talked about Red, White and Royal Blue in our first episode. It continues to be a book I think about often that challenges my cynicism and reminds me that Zoloft has not completely inhibited my tear ducts.

Casey McQuiston proved that the romance genre isn’t formulaic. She successfully subverted so many genre conventions by writing this book in third-person present tense from the perspective of just one of the heroes. She had more than one low point in the love story, creating so much chaos for the characters yet still proving they’re ultimately right for each other. And she filled this book with so many pop culture references, which is a big risk because it makes the book instantly dated. But that’s almost a plus. This book was written for this moment in time, and it’s perfect.

I would put her writing next to that of any high brow literary fiction writer. If you want to escape into beautiful words and an epic love story set in a political alternate universe that’s so much better than ours, you’ll want to read this.

A Book to Lean Into Spooky Season




Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo came out almost a year ago. I’ve probably recommended it to a thousand people since then. That is not hyperbole.

I don’t read much in the horror/dark fantasy/thriller categories, but what I have read seems to focus a lot on class and power. That makes a lot of sense for the social issues we’re trying to address. But Bardugo literalized the advantages granted by wealth and privilege by imagining that the powerful really do have a leg up on us — a magical one.

Set at Yale University — which Bardugo attended — in the world of secret societies — of which Bardugo was a member — Ninth House follows Alex Stern, a young woman who has seen ghosts her entire life. Alex fell hard into drug use because it repressed her power. She’s the sole survivor of a gruesome murder, and is immediately offered a full ride at Yale. What’s the catch? She has to join Lethe, the secret society that oversees the other eight secret societies at the university that use occult rituals to keep the 1% comfy-cozy and influence global affairs. Imagine giving a bunch of rich college kids supernatural powers. Bet you aren’t surprised to learn this leads to murder, conspiracy, a missing persons case, entanglements with entities not of this world, and all sorts of other dark delights.

A Book Even More Bizarre Than Real Life



My friend Erin recommended the Welcome to Night Vale podcast to me years ago. It took me years to get around to listening to it, and I got very obsessed with it right before COVID got to the U.S. Because there are so many episodes in the archive, I listened to a few and then listened to the audiobook by the same name as the show, and it was one of the most enjoyable listening experiences of my life.

Night Vale is a town where every conspiracy theory is true. The laws of physics and historical facts don’t seem to apply in this desert town, and all its strange happenings are chronicled by the community radio host. It’s hard to describe the podcast. That’s another reason the book is an excellent starting point. (By the way, I say “great” a lot, or at least I did before the Fanta Fascist took office and ruined the word “great” for me. Probably for the best. I’m a writer, and overusing words isn’t cute.) It’s a self-contained story made richer if you listen to the show, but it can stand alone. It’s the story of two women with nothing in common brought together by a supernatural mystery. It’s full of adventure, weirdness and so much heart.

A Book Series for When You Wish You Could Literally Leave Earth



I have said so much to so many people about the Ice Planet Barbarians series by Ruby Dixon. Honestly, you need to just listen to my podcast episode about it. I could write several posts about it and not even begin to scratch the surface.

Books for When You’re Back On That Bruja Shit

I keep seeing this meme on Instagram that says, “Every girl you knew who watched Matilda and tried to move things with her mind reads tarot cards now.” Facts. I’ve read tarot on and off for more than a decade, and recently got back into it in a serious way. Being confined to my 1,300 square feet for the past six months paradoxically gave me the space to explore things about my spirituality that I always knew intuitively, but could never name. I’ve always been drawn to the esoteric, the occult, the woo. Now I’ve given myself to explore that with sincerity, instead of writing it off as, well, woo.



So I’ve been reading about all things pagan and witchy. For tarot, I’ve always been a fan of Theresa Reed, also known as The Tarot Lady. In 2016 and early 2017 (also known as the time I was unemployed and going through a dark night of the soul for many reasons), I was lucky enough to get several tarot readings from her. She is such a grounded and genuine person, devoid of artifice and pretentiousness, and she has this way of bringing tarot down to earth that I resonate with. Her daily Tarot, Transits and Tangents videos on Instagram bring me so much joy.

Currently, I’m reading her new book, Tarot: No Questions Asked. The book is about learning how to read tarot intuitively so you connect to the cards at a level in which you no longer need to reference a book. But it does give card meanings, too, plus practical real-world examples of situations each card could apply to. It’s excellent.



For a broad overview of the different traditions under the pagan umbrella, as well as great topics for self-reflection to figure out what you believe, I recommend Paganism: An Introduction to Earth-Centered Religions by Joyce and River Higginbotham.



If like most Americans you were raised Christian, Jesus Through Pagan Eyes is a fascinating book of essays and interviews put together by an Anglican minister who became a Druid. The book truly reveals how varied spirituality can be from person to person, even when discussing the same person/deity/cosmic force. I feel like I learned more about Jesus than I EVER did inside a church, in a way that feels so much more loving and liberated than the Christianity that can justify voting for a moldy orange with dictatorial aspirations.



One more for this category that I’d be remiss to exclude is Honoring Your Ancestors by Mallory Vaudoise. My Afro-Caribbean ancestry has been something I’ve wanted to connect through during this exploration. So of course, that got me thinking of all the people who came before me. The first person I thought about was my grandfather.

My grandfather was my whole world when I was little. He was a wonderful, loving man. He made me feel so special and important. I remember going to the bakery with him and getting meringues. I blame him for my sweet tooth. He was SO diabetic, and he shouldn’t have been eating that stuff in the first place.

Every day, he wore a white T-shirt tucked neatly into his pants, and sat in the same chair with his cane, his coffee and his cigarettes, watching TV. I remember him whacking my dumbass little cousin with his cane. I remember him reading the coffee grounds at the bottom of cups for people. He wouldn’t read for me because I was too young, but when I insisted (I have never not been a pushy bitch), he would pretend to read for me and make stuff up about me getting new toys or some such silliness.

When he got really sick, I didn’t know how to deal with it. I disassociated completely from the situation. I started seeing my beloved grandfather as a burden. I started being afraid and upset but all the sadness from everyone regarding him. When he went to the hospital, I didn’t visit him. I don’t think I was ever given that option, but that’s not the point. When he died, I was so numb that I just asked my mom if I was still going to school that day. She looked at me like I’d grown another head and said no. He was buried in the Dominican Republic, so I didn’t get to go to his funeral.

It wasn’t until years later that I realized that I never grieved him properly. I shut that down so hard. I feel so much guilt and shame about it. If I could go back, I wouldn’t have wasted one second of my time with him being afraid of death or disgusted by his decline. I would have loved him the way he loved me. My mom and I talked about that. I told her all this, and because she’s so unceasingly compassionate toward me, she said I was just a kid and that I didn’t know how handle it. She said my grandfather absolutely knew how much I loved him.

But... just in case he didn’t, if there’s any chance I can let him know now, I want to.

Wow. I did not mean to get that personal just now. But the book. The book is beautiful. It talks about how to connect to ancestral wisdom, heal trauma in your lineage, and why you would even want to start an ancestor veneration practice. It also talks about different types of ancestors and honored dead, including those who aren’t related to you by blood, or who you may just feel connected to because you share the same passions they did.

I know some of my ancestors must have experienced the worst of humanity. These are times during which I need to remember their strength is my birthright.

Phew. That took such a turn. ANYWAY. Read books. Register to vote. Buy stamps. Don’t be a dick. Call your mom. Email old friends. Water your fucking plants but don’t overwater them — put your finger in the soil 1 to 2 inches deep and see if it’s dry first. Stretch before you try the WAP dance. Watch my stupid TikTok because of course I made a TikTok.

I’ll be back here at some point with more books, etc.

2/10/2020

Still Here: A Navel-Gazing Update

The last few months have been real weird. November 28th marked three years since I left my newspaper job, ending a deeply complicated phase of my life and starting another complicated, but different, set of phases. In the weeks leading up to that date, I kept trying to write something meaningful about how I’ve changed as a human being in that time, but it all felt so dramatic and I never posted it.

So I’ll post this instead.

I was in a bad way when I left that job, and someone told me that my life would have more than darkness, that it wouldn’t always be this way.

I was ... unconvinced.

Between then and now, I spent a lot of time alternating between staring at the abyss and going through the motions of being a person but not really feeling like one. Until one day, and don’t ask me to pinpoint the date because I don’t know, the abyss didn’t feel so abysmal and I didn’t feel completely disconnected from the motions. I mean, I still think life in general is total bullshit, still dark and twisty, so I wouldn’t concede that person was right. But to very poorly paraphrase Eloquent Rage, maybe I’m just more comfortable now fucking with the grays.

The me from three years ago wouldn’t have been able to imagine waking up at 5 a.m. to go to the gym and do pull-ups, or being the life of the party with nothing but LaCroix in my cup, or banging out a chapter before breakfast. But here I am. The last bit is what I’m most proud of. I’m finally a writer, instead of a writer who doesn’t write. The next hurdle is finishing. Every weekend I think I’m going to write the last few chapters of my first draft and be able to put it away for a few weeks before revising, but the closer I get to writing “the end,” the harder it is to make words happen at all. The idea of being done feels unthinkable — after all this time, settling for done but flawed is scary, because what if I go back during revision and think none of it can be salvaged, let alone improved? I am definitely outlining Book 2 and banging it out in six months, instead of pantsing and dragging out a draft for literal YEARS. I am becoming a woman who learns.

I’m also regressing. But in a good way. I lost some of myself for a bit, and I’m slowly starting to show up in the world like a version of my brash, charming former self who is a little more mature and a little tougher. I remember the first few months after I left the paper, feeling convinced that I should diminish myself because the problem at the root of all my problems was that I was “too much.” I failed miserably at being dainty and demure. I am meant to be the loudest bitch in the room, if I’m in the mood to be.

Three years ago I was jobless, sad and binge-watching DCTV shows in my pajamas. Now I am a person with a job where other people look to me for guidance, I am less sad, and I am still binge-watching DCTV shows but I’m doing it in a house that I own, after never in my life having the same address more than two years in a row. Still in my pajamas, though.

To end this super gross bit of introspection, I’ll leave you with this. The biggest takeaway from the last few years is the reminder that I am someone who creates, not just someone who often wrecks things. And I’ve learned that I can do a lot more than I thought I could when I have the right tools. The same girl drew both of these. Look at me go.







Also, I have been reading a ton of books. Maybe I’ll, like, review one sometime.

7/22/2019

My Podcast Debut Talking All Things Romance

I think I can say that I have reached my next form in my Pokemon evolution, because ya girl was on a podcast.

I had the absolute joy of being a guest on The Pretty Good Podcast by Crabicurious.com, spreading the good word about romance novels. We had a blast talking about tropes, misconceptions, covers, and we even came up with a fantastic romance plot on the fly. Give it a listen below or on Apple Podcasts here.




And if you enjoy the sound of my voice in particular or you just generally enjoy the word "like" and giggling, you can listen to my second appearance on the show (which aired before the romance episode), in which I reviewed Spider-Man: Far From Home. Apple link is right over here.