On the Line

"on a spring afternoon" © Hideki Okuno, 2009. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
on a spring afternoon” © Hideki Okuno, 2009. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

The sun slices through our apartment. Spotlights stacks of books, boxes of pastels, notebooks full of data. It climbs over the back of the couch and dances across the TV while we watch The Sopranos. Fourth season. I get up and draw the blinds.

Summer of 2010 I was sitting at the bar of a strip club in Portland. The only way I knew it was mid-afternoon was because I kept checking my phone, hoping someone would call, text. Ask to get me out of here. I was talking to a dancer before she went up on stage. A military wife looking to make some extra money to get by while her husband served in Iraq. “Plus, it’s nice to have people look at me. It makes it so much less lonely.”

The guys I was with bought us each a shot of bourbon, she rubbed my buzzed head, and kissed me on the cheek. Winked over my shoulder at my companions, talked a moment to the DJ, and disappeared behind the curtain.

Someone mumbled an introduction over the speakers. A name like Crystal or Kandi. There were two guys sitting at the rack. They both pulled out another stack of ones and slapped their hands together in a half-hearted fashion. The bartender and the three people in my crew clapped a few times before we all reached back for our drinks in unison. I don’t think there was anyone else in the whole place.

Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” started playing and Crystal-Kandi walked out. Eight inch platform heels traced the stage in a slow and deliberate saunter. Shoulders back, hip sway exaggerated. She grabbed on to the pole and started swinging. We all only half paid attention. Focused on our drinking and discussion of our favorite Neil Young albums. Argued over the track lists of “Harvest” and “Harvest Moon“.

When we moved our eyes back toward the stage CK’s top was on the ground and she was hanging from the crook of one knee. Arms stretched out over her head, reaching. A delivery man opened the side door and drenched the entire stage in sunlight. You could see CK’s breath catch in her chest, eyes widening like a terrified wild animal.

The safety of the dark red strip club light had evaporated. A girl who had been only naked was now completely exposed. Her skin no longer like velvet, lacking any imperfection. Freckles, wrinkles, humanity all visible. She froze. The men at the rack squinted and leaned back in their chairs. The DJ yelled, one part anger and two parts nervous laughter, “Shut that goddamn door, dude!”

It’s February and the sun has been coming out the last few days. I keep expecting to feel basked in warmth and light. The promises of spring tickling my skin with hope as I loosen the scarf around my neck. But there is something bitter in its sweetness. An old friend returning to find me sitting in the same place. Hiding behind the same piles of to-dos, the same bad habits, still struggling with the same routines.

“I’m glad to see you, dear. I just thought I would be different the next time you came around.”

I pull the blinds and sink back into the soft red fabric of the couch. Hoping I can put off the exposure just a little longer. Maybe there’s still time to figure this one out.



Sprouting Onion” © Theen Moy, 2014. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.
The ground has thawed. Spring is clawing up through the mud.

A line from Astronautalis keeps repeating in my head. “We swim against the tide until our every bone is broken.”


We don’t think we can do this. Any of it. Keep giving it our best and knowing it isn’t even close to good enough.

But every day we keep existing is proof to the contrary. It’s always been sufficient.


In yoga my teacher talks about impermanence. Nothing stays. Joy, sadness, life. It all flits in and out of existence.

I roll my eyes in a very sarcastic “tell me something I don’t know” way as I exhale back into downward dog.

An hour later I approach her softly and start speaking before she turns to face me. “Thank you. That was exactly what I needed to hear today.”

Clawing our way up. Reaching.


Mirror Mantras

"Erosion" © Steve Crane, 2013. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Erosion” © Steve Crane, 2013. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Talk about how easy this would be
if we could make ourselves understand
there’s nothing wrong with us.

“I am not fundamentally broken.
Shit. Why can’t I believe it?
What is wrong with me?
Try again. Repeat.

I am not fundamentally broken.
There is nothing wrong with me.
Repeat. Again. Repeat.”

Don’t do anything the way we should.
As if there is a certain set of procedures
we must follow to build
our lives correctly.

Lack enough self-discipline,
enough practice or proof
to believe we’ll be successful—
whatever that even means—
at anything.

“I am not fundamentally broken.
There is nothing wrong with me.”

The words are audible,
breathed heavy in the mirror every morning.
Good ideas, yes.
But not anything we know how to believe.
They drip with sharp reminders
we’ve never done anything to be proud of.
That nowhere has been safe and
there is no hint of permanence.

Every step in the right direction is only
fodder for the inevitable dissolution of
everything we care about.

“I am not fundamentally broken.
There is nothing wrong with me.”

Pound it out in squat racks and afternoon runs.
In the form of sun salutations in 6:30 AM yoga classes.
Notebooks full of letters to no one.
Conversations with dear friends
on walks, in text messages, in emails, and long conversations.
All them offering the promise
we’re doing everything right.

The repetition does not gain traction.
No matter how much evidence
presented to the contrary, we know.

Know we are broken
in all the dreadful locations.
Incapable of making anything beautiful
or worthy of lasting love to
kiss us in the hurt and tender places.

Always looking for something troubling.
Creating problems where there are none
and refusing to let our guards down.

Never had a reason
to do it any other way.
Stuck remaking the reality
presented to us perpetually.

We’re trying.
Harnessed the idea we could
learn to do this different.
But how could we master such a thing?

Our lives eroded by a series of heartbreak.
Separated only by moments of
standing back and looking up.
Shaking our heads and thinking,
“It’s nice, but it won’t last.

Things like that are not made for
people like us.”