TWELVE BUCKS?! That’s TOO MUCH, Bob!

I have nothing very interesting to write about this evening, but since my beloved grandmother has asked that I please not “let her down”, I will post a short update.

Today, I attended a conference for trainers up here in Seattle. I really enjoyed listening to the keynote speaker at 8:30, the same person’s mid-morning talk, and then a few other afternoon sessions led by different speakers (where we discussed how to onboard new employees, keep them engaged during training, and adapt to the changing paces and media content of classes).

 

After the conference, I followed Google Maps to a nearby vintage clothing store: Bon Voyage.

I stepped inside and was immediately taken by the ambiance of the store. I leafed through an intimately small collection of racks, each of them featuring all kinds of treasures, and selected a few items to try on. Of the four, one fit perfectly: a black and copper dress with a fun (and cool) fringed hemline.

 

“Ohhhhhhh, I just loooooooove that dress,” an employee raved as I neared the checkout register.

“Thank you!” I smiled at her. “I love daleks — you know, in Doctor Who? — and the copper ones are my favorite, and THIS dress is black and copper,” I explained, realizing, halfway through my reply, that her compliment didn’t really necessitate an explanation.

 

“Ahhhhh, yes,” she murmured kindly, quickly stepping past me.

 

The other girl who rung me up (and who I assume owns the store) was also very kind, and she was also very excited.

“My mom just flew in from Norway!” she cheered, lifting her shoulders up to her ears and cracking a grin. “And I’m charging you $14 for this dress instead of $16, because four people tried it on today, and you’re the one it fit,” she said.

“Oh wow — thank you so much!” I gushed, surprised.

 

At that moment in time, I may or may not have knelt down and noticed slash purchased something cute within the glass display case that I knew my best friend who may or may not read this blog post would like. 

 

“Ahhhhhh — yesssssss… I was JUST crushing on this thing a few minutes ago,” the store owner may or may not have said, sighing as she may or may not have unlocked the cabinet and reached her arm inside of it. 

***

After quietly exiting the store, I went on the hunt (as only a vegetarian can) for dinner, meandering down the dimly-lit streets by Elliott Bay and carefully side-stepping an upturned cardboard plate, a packet of condoms, forty seven crushed cigarettes and the absolute loveliest red and orange and yellow leaves. The leaves, at least, were nice to look at. A fall wind had been sweeping up and down the streets all day long — tickling my neck, blowing through my hair, and playing with the plastic bag in my hand — and as it continued carrying on into the evening, it just felt extra magical.

As I walked, I noticed tents everywhere — erected behind buildings, tucked into alleys, and even located right off of the highway. I saw a woman lean out of one of them and ask a man to light her cigarette; I looked away.

The streets smelled like weed, urine, and – sometimes – laundry detergent. I stepped across them quickly.

***

As far as dinner was concerned, I wasn’t very hungry; I’d had Indian food for lunch and it had been so tasty that I’d eaten nearly half of the portion they’d given me. It had also been a bit pricier than I’d expected, so I wanted to offset its costs with a cheap dinner.

 

I’ll just duck into a grocery store and grab a few things, I decided.

 

I asked Google Maps where I could find a grocery store, crossing my fingers that a Whole Foods would be nearby, but the closest place was not a Whole Foods. It was, however, becoming much darker outside than I was comfortable with, so I went with it anyways.

 

When I stepped into the store, it appeared to be a mom-and-pop-shop type of deal… disorderly, offering a myriad of things, and with a distinctly homey feel to it.

Let’s see… cheap and easy…

After approximately seven minutes of perusing, I decided to purchase the following:

  • a 16-ounce bottle of Smart Water,
  • a 12-ounce bottle of Virgil’s Root Beer Zero,
  • a .75-ounce wedge of cheese (three-bite-sized), and
  • a 15-ounce jar of chunky, mild salsa.

 

This should be like eight bucks, I estimated (as none of the items were marked with a price tag).

“11.57,” the cashier announced.

Fuckin hell, I thought to myself, handing the man my Discover card.

“Can do Visa instead, yes?”

“Sure,” I replied. You’ve already jacked your prices up like mad, but if me swiping a Visa card will get you a little more interchange income, I’m happy to do it.

 

So I lugged my light, brown paper bag back to the hotel and stepped into an elevator. A woman joined me, and as I waited for us to arrive to the 11th floor, I noticed a Whole Foods shopping bag in her right hand.

“Hey — how far away was Whole Foods?” I asked her, nodding towards the bag.

“About a fifteen minute walk!” she smiled.

.

I exited the elevator, swiped a card to unlock the door to my room, shed my cool kid, red denim pants onto the floor and then began my merry little feast.

 

20171016_185015
Getting to know Salsa… I can understand why s/he was so pricey now: SALSA CAN TALK!

 

Sidebar: IN ALL FAIRNESS, the cost of living is higher in Seattle than it is in Bham, making $11.57 not THAT big of a deal. I just like to rant, is all. 🙂

 

Goodnight,

Aun Aqui

Still here

My Evening at a Hostel

Thanks to my solo trip to Denver earlier this year, I know how to Uber now, so that wasn’t a big deal; my Uber driver chatted with me and narrated our short trip yesterday evening as the Seattle airport extended further and further behind us and the city’s dazzling lights and towers came into view.

Within just twenty minutes’ time, he was dropping me off in front of the Green Tortoise Travelers Hostel where I quickly shuffled inside, climbed two short flights of stairs, and then approached the group of cool kids huddled around the front desk to check in.

 

BACKSTORY:

When I learned that I would be traveling to Seattle a few months ago, I asked my company to please fly me in a day early and assured them that I would take care of my lodging for the extra night. Reason: I wanted to sightsee!

I used AirBnB earlier this year and it was a great experience, so AirBnB is immediately where I went to find my accommodations. There were tons of little one-room-deals being offered for $75-$150/night, but I happened upon a listing for a $60 hostel bed and it intrigued me for three reasons:

  1. It was cheap… duh
  2. Staying in a hostel would be a new experience
  3. In my naive little mind, staying in a hostel would be a dangerous and therefore exciting new experience

My mother and best friend and manager all disagreed wholeheartedly. “So it’ll save you FIFTEEN BUCKS? Who cares!”

“Here’s the thing, though,” I tried to explain. “If I was sharing a room with ONE other person, that WOULD be terrifying, and truly dangerous — but these hostel rooms accommodate anywhere from 4-6 people, so – statistically-speaking – the chances of me being assigned to a room with ALL bad people are just…” I paused, considering. “They’re probably really, REALLY low,” I decided, smiling. But even I wasn’t fully convinced. Still; I’d made the reservation on a whim and wasn’t about to go back on it.

BACKSTORY = OVER.

 

So last night, an extremely pretty Hispanic girl checked me in and gave me the low-down on rules.

“No food, drinks, or smoking in your room. You can rent out a lock for $5 and, if you return it to us when you check out, you’ll get $3 back. You can rent a towel for the showers for $1. Breakfast is served each morning from 6-10, and we offer guided tours and excursions throughout the day… they’re listed on our calendar. Check out is at 11 AM. Bring your bed linens and pillowcase with you when you check out and throw them over there.”

I turned around and saw a trash can.

“In… there…?”

“Yes, in there.”

 

Okay. Easy rules to follow.

 

She led me to my room (#206) which contained two sets of bunk beds. I did some quick math and then referred back to my statistics; the maximum number of people in this room would now be 4 instead of 6, which actually wasn’t preferable… but I brushed the uneasiness off.

 

“This one’s yours,” she said, indicating the bottom bunk that was closest to the door.

 

“Wonderful — thank you!” I smiled at her. “And the lock… is there a special way of using it?” I asked quickly, before she left.

 

“Uhhhhh nope… it comes with a key,” she smiled sweetly, closing the door behind her.

 

It took me a few minutes, but I figured how to lock my belongings in the trunk underneath my bed and then asked myself: what now? It’s 9 PM in Seattle, and I’m not SO grandmotherly that I won’t do something fun before retiring to bed.

 

So I zipped my wallet and phone up into the pockets of my leather jacket and stepped outside, into downtown Seattle.

***

The first red flag was the fact that there was lots of commotion outside — rowdy young people EVERYWHERE, hollering and laughing and tripping over their own feet on the concrete. They rattled my nerves, but I reminded myself to act cool. Act like you’ve lived here for yeaaaaaars and know the place inside and out. You “own” it. 

 

I spotted three young people walking in a group and decided to tag along just behind them — I figured that, as they navigated to their destination, I’d (more safely) be able to find one of my own.

But unfortunately, they arrived to their destination VERY quickly: an adult theater (yes, it is as awful as it sounds) that was approximately 50 yards away from my hostel. They boisterously entered the theater, laughing and making cat-calls at each other, and I grimaced. Gross gross gross gross GROSS.

I performed a quick 180 and began backtracking, which I knew didn’t look good; if you know where you’re going, why are you turning around? Oh well. What else could be done?

I noticed that there were lots of homeless people on the streets — more so than in Birmingham, which REALLY surprised me, since Seattle’s population is actually a little lower than Bham’s. Some of them were just homeless, but others were clinically crazy and homeless; they appeared angry, too angry, and seemed to be spouting off whatever crossed their minds, berating themselves, and stop signs, and empty, crushed beer cans as they punched at the air and spit their barely-coherent words out. I felt empathetic towards them, and I also feared them.

Still trying to look cool, calm, and collected, I halted at a street crossing, and as I was waiting for the pedestrian light to turn white, I noticed a young man beside me; he was wearing cut-off shorts, a tight t-shirt, and spiky pink hair. I felt like he would be safe to talk to.

 

“Hey,” I whispered.

He looked at me.

“I’m so sorry to bother you, but can you please just tell me where I can buy a bottle of water in Seattle?” I forgot to mention this earlier, but I was really thirsty and had unofficially planned that my big, non-grandmotherly outing of the evening would take place at a convenience store of sorts. I just couldn’t fucking find one.

 

He looked puzzled. I wanted to explain myself — the drunken crowds, the adult theater, the crazed vagabonds… I feel very out of my depth right now! — but before I could…

 

“Uhhhh… Target?” he suggested, taking a step backward and revealing, like an angel, that gorgeously familiar red-and-white sign.

 

“YES!” I cried, instantly beginning to walk towards it. I noticed that he was walking alongside me.

 

“So you aren’t from around here,” he stated.

 

“No,” I shook my head, deciding it was an appropriate and necessary time to break my rock-solid cover. “I’m actually from Birmingham. I’m here for a trainers conference — I’m the training specialist for a credit union in Birmingham — but I flew in a little early…”

 

“Boss!” he nodded up and down. “I’m Francisco,” he offered, extending his hand.

 

“I’m Jace!” I announced, enthusiastically shaking his hand. I paused in front of the Target entrance, waiting to see if he was coming in or not.

 

“So do you like… wanna smoke some weed with me?” he offered, shrugging cutely. I’ll mention here that marijuana has been legalized in Washington. 

 

I remembered my out-of-mind experience in Denver and frowned. “Oh, I so appreciate you asking, but it gives me such anxiety—-“ I paused. “But how about we meet for coffee tomorrow morning instead?” I offered brightly.

“What time?”

“8:00?”

He stuck his hand out, shaking his head from left to right. “Too early.”

I laughed. “Well, it was nice to meet you, Francisco!”

***

I bought a jug of water at Target and then purchased a light dinner from the supermarket down the street: Greek-style lemon curd yogurt and an organic mozzarella cheese string. Or I guess you’d call it a stringed cheese… either way, you know what I mean.

On my way back to the hostel, I passed a scene that featured three police officers, a frightened-looking woman, and a government van (yes, van) that was pulling away. Don’t know what the hell happened there, but do you think that seeing this made me feel safer, walking the streets alone? NO.

 

I scarfed down my cheese string and fancy yogurt outside of the hostel’s front door and then quickly trudged upstairs to bed.

 

When I opened the door to my room, I gasped involuntarily.

 

Another person had joined my room, which shouldn’t have come as a surprise but did, and at first, I couldn’t really make out what they looked like, because they were wearing a mask. NOT a Halloween mask, or a bank robber mask, or a V for Vendetta mask. A weird, beauty face mask of sorts. It just took me a few seconds to gather what kind of mask it was.

 

Once I realized yes, there is another person in here; yes, they are human, I smiled to signal my okay-ness with it all and they laughed a little and then we stopped talking for the rest of the night.

***

This morning, I skipped out on a shower (because I couldn’t stomach the idea of renting a towel), applied some cedar-and-juniper-scented deodorant, gathered my small collection of things and checked out. I dropped off a free copy of my book at the front counter, and when an employee saw it, they ran over and picked it up.

“Did YOU write this?” they asked.

“Yeah!” I smiled. “And my best friend drew the pictures… they’re the best part of the book!”

He was delighted, which delighted me.

 

I navigated the city on foot for a bit this morning, feeling way more confident and optimistic that I’d continue living in the daylight. After about thirty to forty minutes of walking aimlessly, I found myself zoning out while waiting for another pedestrian light to turn white again.

 

“Excuse me,” a middle-aged woman asked, jolting me back to the present. “Do you know where bitchin’ biscuits is?”

 

I raised my eyebrows at her and noticed her husband beside her. “Uhhhhhhh… no, ma’am — I’m so sorry, I’m just visiting!” I explained. A homeless man started shrieking several yards away from us, engaged in a ruthless war with unseen forces. “I’m just trying to keep my wits about me and find a cafe,” I explained further, laughing a little.

 

And here I am, waking up at the Cherry Street Coffee House (they whip up a yummy caramello latte!) and preparing to head over to Pike’s Place Market for my next grand adventure.

20171015_081505
= me trying to figure out how to increase my coolness/hipness

Until the next update,

 

Aun Aqui

Still here

Airports, Dreams, and Josie

There are four wheelchairs lining the wall, and four women occupy these chairs: an Asian woman who has her hands folded neatly in her lap; a black woman dressed in purplish hues, who is filing her nails; a white woman with a butter-blonde poof of hair that’s sticking STRAIGHT UP and who is – I kid you not – stereotypically knitting away; and another white woman who is wearing a fixed, gloomy scowl and holding a paisley-patterned duffle bag on her lap.

I observe them and smile.

 

After knocking out three Spanish assignments at a nearby “recharge” station, I decide to relocate myself so that I’ll be closer to my flight’s terminal. I notice an empty seat beside an elderly woman (who is in a wheelchair but who is not one of the four) and, when I ask her if the seat is available, she nods.

Fifteen moments of silence pass between us before I clear my throat, turn my head, and incline towards her.

“So — is Vegas your final destination?”

“No,” she answers quickly, smiling. “California.”

“Oooooooh, California! How neat!”

“Yes,” she agrees. “I live there, actually… I was just here visiting my children.” Here, she rolls her eyes slightly and shakes her head from side to side, as though she is very, very weary.

I laugh a little. “Was it… a nice visit?”

“I mean, yes,” she assures me (and herself). “It’s just… they want to make me MOVE here, and it’s so HUMID,” she cries.

“I see,” I nod.

“Also,” she continues, “they use bad words,” she confides in a lower tone. “Like the f word. I do NOT like hearing those bad words spoken aloud,” she fusses, looking miserable and lost in the mere memory of it.

I make a mental note to watch my own language. “Huh… well… I don’t blame them for wanting you to live nearby,” I offer. “I mean, if MY mother was living by herself MULTIPLE states away, I’d feel the same way they do, and I would be VERY insistent about it,” I admit.

“Oh, they ARE being insistent about it,” she huffs. “My daughter says that she’s going to fly out to California and pack my things up THIS FEBRUARY!” she laughs. “I love them, of course… it’s just, since my husband passed back in ’09, I’ve gone to bed when I wanted, eaten when I wanted, DONE what I wanted…” her voice trails off.

“You’re independent.”

“YES! And I love it.”

“I understand that,” I say. “I really value my alone time, too.”

 

We both sigh.

 

“Well, I mean — would you have to live WITH them? Or do they just want you in the state, closer by?”

“The plan is to build a little home for me, next door… they have lots of acres, you see,” she explains.

“Well there you GO!” I cheer. “You’ll still be on your own, and they’ll have peace of mind.”

She smiles, appearing a little less skeptical.

 

We watch together as the group of 4 roll down the terminal, and then an attendant in gray comes to collect my new friend.

 

“Enjoy the ride,” I smile at her.

“It was nice talking with you,” she smiles back, winking at me as the attendant takes her away.

 

I caught her again later on as I was exiting a terminal in Nevada, and when she saw me, she grasped my hand, firmly.

***

So my friend rolls away and then Letter A Passengers begin boarding the plane from Birmingham to Las Vegas. I’m still waiting. A woman pushes a stroller forward and then pauses right beside me.

“Now how are we going to do this, little Josie?” she asks her baby, grabbing bags and bottles and what looks like a dozen other things with her hands.

I want to offer my assistance, but know it’s futile; she’s an A person, and I’m a B. I’ll be boarding and finding a seat at least five minutes after her.

“Josie is a GREAT name!” I offer, and I mean it. I really love the name. I’d like to name a dog Josie, or write a book about Josie.

“Thank you!” the woman smiles proudly. She’s beaming with pride, actually.

A moment passes, and then she turns to me again.

“This is going to sound like an odd request,” she begins, and I notice, once again, the heavy bags layered across both of her arms, “but could you just… pick her up and put her in my arms?”

 

I pause, realizing that “her” is Josie. Josie, who looks to be maybe 6 months old and who has a blue bow strapped around her forehead and an adorable pink-and-blue owl shirt on.

 

I immediately feel panic-stricken; pick up a BABY? A real, LIVE baby? 

 

Will her neck break if I do it the wrong way? Will the pressure of my hands — skin, muscles, bones — break her? Should I tell this woman I’ve never held (or picked UP) a baby before and that I’d feel more comfortable performing surgery on my own foot?

 

“Sure,” I heard myself saying.

 

SURE? Are you fucking MAD?!

 

But I was already standing up, already reaching down into the fashionable stroller and looking down into Josie’s wide brown eyes.

 

“Like… like right here?” I asked Josie’s mother, awkwardly slipping my hands underneath Josie’s arms.

 

“Yep! Like that.”

 

I slowly raised the warm and chubby baby up into the air and then rotated my body towards her mother, my arms as stiff as… I don’t know, a ruler? Something metal, I guess — unbreakable. Like, I will not drop this baby.

 

“Heyyyyyyy, Josie!” I said, flashing a smile at the baby and then placing her, as gently as I could, into her mother’s arms.

 

She isn’t broken… way to go, I congratulated myself.

 

The mother thanked me, sounding truly relieved, and then continued moving forward with her baby and her stroller and her million billion other things.

 

I suddenly felt an odd stinging in my eyes… an inexplicable tightening of my throat. Strange.

 

Maybe I’ll name a baby Josie someday, I thought to myself.

***

On the plane, I secured a window seat. Beside me, a woman gripped what appeared to be a thrilling novel between her hands, and beside her, a man streamed an Alabama football game on his Mac book. The man, I learned, was her husband.

I smelled the saltiness of her Pringles when she popped the lid off of the can, and later, I saw – out of the corner of my eye – her husband’s hand reach itself over to gently squeeze her thigh — affectionately, and reassuringly. Maybe she was afraid of flying, or maybe he just loved her. Maybe both.

 

Too familiar. I felt a light pang — a tiny, painful pang. Tiny.

***

We hovered above bodies of water and dry stretches of desert and big, industrialized cities and clouds that looked like popcorn, marshmallows, whipped cream, cottage cheese and mashed potatoes. I read my book and wrote in my journal after squarely facing the reality that the plane might crash.

I envisioned the whole thing: a horrifying and crackly announcement over the intercom from a panic-stricken flight attendant and then all of us plummeting to a quick and fiery death amid screams and beeps and explosions.

It would be an interesting way to go, for sure, and I’m braced for it, I mused, but I’d rather not die today. I’ve performed Google searches, and there are soooooooo many cafes and vegetarian restaurants in Seattle.

 

A flight attended with classic, brunette curls and rouge lips asked me if I wanted a snack, naming off Fritos, Oreos, peanuts, pretzels, cheese crackers and something else I couldn’t make out.

“Peanuts, please!” I smiled at her.

“Anything else?”

“Oh no, but thank you!”

She looked unconvinced and handed me three packets of peanuts, which made me smile again. I felt very special.

***

So I munched on peanuts, sipped on cranberry juice, and shook the left side of my leather jacket to make sure that they were still there; my two dollars in quarters. I smirked slightly, imagining playing a slot machine (for the first time EVER) during my upcoming layover and winning a hundred, a thousand, or THREE MILLION dollars.

Back when I was a kid, I played the stuffed animal machines at restaurants and flea markets so intensely that my mother swore I’d end up with a gambling habit.

As an adult, I’ve never gambled, but her worry inadvertently became my own.

 

“TWO DOLLARS,” I told Charlie before we left the house this morning. “I shall take two dollars in quarters and that is IT.”

“Why not four?” he asked.

“Oh… no SIR. That would be excessive,” I frowned.

 

But when I stepped out of the airport and saw them this afternoon — the glowing, noisy, sad-looking machines and the despairing people in front of them — I just felt gross. There’s no other word for it, really. It was a very depressing scene to behold, and I didn’t want to identify with it in any kind of way.

Never mind gambling, I thought to myself. I’ll visit the vending machine instead. But after visiting the vending machine, I realized slash remembered that vending machines offer nothing but shit and decided to just hang on to my quarters until reaching Seattle.

I can use them to tip somebody at a coffee shop, I decided, and felt peaceful about the decision.

***

I’ve got 49 minutes to go until flight numero dos takes off. I’ll be leaving Las Vegas as quickly as humanly possible and continuing on my way to Seattle where a hostel bed awaits me. Yep — that’ll be a story for next time.

But before I sign off…

 

Last night (or very early this morning), I dreamt that I was talking with someone special. I was trying to explain to them how badly it hurt when they left and began telling them about the house, the one that I live in now.

“It became a zoo,” I said. “I took in animals of all kinds — they filled the house and the yard. They overwhelmed me. I didn’t know how to care for them properly, and feared many of them. I remember walking past dark rooms that I didn’t want to look into… I couldn’t even flip the light switch on,” I said. “I didn’t want to come into contact with what filled those rooms. It was a terrible time.”

“But one day, I went walking through the house and realized that they were gone. All of them had gone.” I shook my head. “Everything had suddenly changed, and while I couldn’t remember HOW things had changed or how long it had taken them to change, I was so glad. So relieved, and so glad.”

I paused.

“What I’m trying to say is, the house is home again. And I know that your home is different — it’s somewhere else now. I’m still figuring out how to live with that, but my inner turmoil is gone, and I hope you’re doing well also.”

I turned away as I said goodbye and told them what I knew they should already know, and when I woke up, I felt peaceful, but also, strangely numb.

 

Josie Elliott – with two t’s… that has a nice ring to it.

 

Still here,

Aun Aqui

How hurting has helped me

When I reflect on the last few years, particularly their most remarkable events (Bobby’s death, Bruster’s murder, my gender identity crisis, my struggle with self-acceptance, the unrequited love I don’t know what to do with, and my lingering depression), I find that the predominant feelings I feel are relief and gratitude, and because I’ve been thinking about this all morning, I’ll try to explain why.

Relief is easy: I’m still here. I haven’t given up the ghost yet. I’ve wanted to do so many times, but people and things have kept me around; my love for my Shepherds, best friend, mother, and family; an upcoming trip or adventure that I’m excited about; the promise of another quiet morning at a coffee shop where I can either mull over or forget about everything with a cup of coffee in my hand and a bowl of grits on my lap. I’m relieved that I’ve made it this far, and in this healthy state of mind. I’ve FELT crazy, but I haven’t actually gone crazy. I get major points for that.

My gratitude is more difficult to explain, but I’ll try to do so, and in doing so, I’m going to break it down by category.

 

Death

When my brother Bobby died, I was mad at whoever the hell “god” was (like, okay, so you can allegedly, according to a book, part seas, rain bread from the sky, and – in modern times – help Brenda get into a brand new Lexus, but when shit like the Holocaust, rape, and my brother having a seizure and vomiting at the same damn time happen, you just step back and let things play out NATURALLY?).

When my German Shepherd Bruster was murdered, I was mad at his killer… the “neighbor” across the street. More aptly-speaking, I was furious. The guy has two kids, so he should be able to understand, then — be able to imagine — what the fuck it would be like to be at work and get a phone call saying that one of them had been shot dead in a stranger’s driveway. I am still working through the devastation of what happened, and I’m still processing that anger, but at this point, seven months later, I’ve found peace on the matter; I’m not angry with him anymore. Instead, I genuinely feel bad for him. I got to love Bruster; he ended his life. I can live with what I did… but good luck to bitchass.

Wasn’t I supposed to be talking about gratitude? Yes. Here’s where the whole gratitude part comes in: losing Bobby taught me — and losing Bruster reminded me (because of course, I forgot) — that we don’t get to have the people and animals and things we love forever.

My favorite scarf (which I’m wearing today) will probably get left on a train or plane someday and I’ll never be able to find it again. Or Tycho (pictured below) might simply destroy it on an afternoon when she’s bored. My dogs will die of old age… I will lose so many of them over the course of this life that it makes me want to die right now. My best friend may die before or after me (which is worse? I’d rather go first, but that’s selfish), and over the years, I will have to helplessly stand by and watch as a whole procession of family members and friends take their bow.

Where will they go? Where am I going? I don’t believe in heaven or hell, and while reincarnation intuitively sounds right, I don’t know how that would happen or what it would look like. Will my soul find theirs again? Doubt it. What are the chances? How lonely it is — being alive! There is so much grief waiting on the shelf.

But because I’ve already experienced death, I know that the best way to live is to love fiercely and unapologetically. My favorite people, favorite animals, and favorite things know that they are my favorite because I show them and tell them. I’ve learned that holding back is stupid, fuck reserves, and that playing your life out on a telephone or computer screen is nothing compared to living it in 3D. If you want to hear me blabber on about this some more, check out my semi-recent post on impermanence.

 

outline
color

 

Identity and Self-acceptance

I will NOT start from the beginning, but in short, I feel like I’ve already lived so many lives in this lifetime.

I’ve been a devout christian, a stout atheist, and a lazy agnostic; I’ve self-identified as being straight, bisexual, transgendered, gay, and then straight again… and looking at what I’ve just typed is absolutely mind-blowing. What the FUCK?! THIS chick is clinically INSANE! You’d think so, wouldn’t you? Trust me… I’m aware.

But the truth is, during my quarter life crisis, I participated in a live broadcast of sorts… openly manifesting what I was processing in ways that I think most people would want to hide. For me, asking deep and scary questions, learning how to manage depression, and facing feelings of shame weren’t things to hide — they were dark and curious things that needed illumination.

Present day, I like to imagine that these unpleasant feelings and discoveries were like blinking red lights — indicators that some fucked up internal shit needed maintenance. I’m glad I didn’t ignore them or keep them to myself, because my gender identity crisis was the heaviest burden I’ve ever carried, and I really don’t think that I could have managed it alone. It felt like I had to physically disconnect from my physical body so that I could figure my soul out, and when I was ready and able to come back home, it was a powerful experience.

The places that used to seem so foreign and unwelcome — this body, and this world — suddenly felt like home. But “suddenly” didn’t actually happen suddenly. It took me two solid years to strip off all of the hand-me-down layers from society and to purge away the resulting toxic build-up. But it was well worth the effort, as I emerged from the chaos feeling stronger, braver, more centered and more authentic than I’ve ever been. I also feel resilient now, and in addition to feeling all of these things, I actually know that I am. 

Today, I’m wearing a sweet pair of Vans and showcasing my wonderful, hairy legs in a patterned, pink dress. Rose couldn’t have done this. She wouldn’t have felt worthy, or comfortable, or authentic. I’m so grateful to have outlived her and to have liberated myself from the bulk of her insecurities. Poor girl.

Remember to be gentle with yourself, friends; practice compassion with yourself first and then you’ll have the ability to be truly compassionate with others.

 

 

Unrequited love

This has, perhaps, been the most difficult thing to manage. Most of the people who read this blog know that I was married to my best friend, Christopher, for five years. When my gender identity crisis began, I told him that I wanted to separate, and our divorce was heart-wrenching. It felt like staying awake while dying. My depression peaked that October, and it has steadily held its height since then… until very recently.

Christopher wasn’t doing well after the divorce, emotionally or physically, and I was extremely worried about him. To distract and comfort him, I set him up with a friend/co-worker of mine; they hit it off and have been dating ever since. I was, and am, happy for him, but I’ve also uncovered a deep-seated jealousy and sense of loss within me; now that I’m whole again — whole on my own, like I never was before — I miss him. If I’m being honest with myself, I sincerely wish that we were still together, but at the same time, I really don’t regret separating, because if we hadn’t, I wouldn’t have had the time that I needed to focus my attention and energy inward. I wouldn’t have healed.

But present day, I miss him dearly. I catch myself wishing he were riding in the car with me, sitting across from me during a meal, or playing one of his video games beside me while I study, or write, or play the guitar. I still think of him when I’m grocery shopping; Whole Foods started featuring little loaves of ginger bread at the checkout register last week, and I almost grabbed one for him the other day, because I forgot that we don’t talk, or see, or think about each other anymore.

For a long while now, I’ve been asking myself, how can I be truly happy without having my soulmate around? 

But as the months have rolled by, I’ve sourced, grown, and nurtured an inner sense of peace. I am now grateful for the searing pain of unrequited love, because through it, I’ve discovered the integrity of my love; I always believed that I loved unconditionally, and now, I know that I do. In the face of knowing that I’ll never again be with the person that I love most, I still love him. I love without expectations, or hopes, or dreams, and still, the love doesn’t die.

I think that sometimes, love is selfish; I will love this person so they’ll love me back — so I won’t be alone — so they’ll do things for me — so they’ll entertain me — so they’ll make my life easier — so I’ll feel better about myself. 

I love him, and he doesn’t speak to me. I love him, and he doesn’t hold my hand. I love him, and he doesn’t dance with me. And I love him.

I think that realizing this… that my love is unselfishly genuine… has made the heartache worth it. And I believe that, as the clock continues to tick and the restless seasons proceed to turn, it will become easier for me to imagine a happy life with someone else… with another soulmate. But for now, I’m actually happy on my own. I feel weightless, untethered, and free. I’m grateful.

 

Depression

Clearly, all of this shit has underscored my already existing biological depression.

And you’re GRATEFUL for it? you ask. Yes, I am… for TWO reasons:

1. Happiness and sadness are always at war with each other, aren’t they? They seem to operate like a see-saw; when one end flies up, the other sinks down or – in our minds – completely disappears. But I’ve found a steady and reliable middle ground: peace. On happy days, it’s easy to find peace… that blissful sense of contentment. On sad days, it’s a little harder, but the important thing to remember is that while you can’t control everything that happens to you, you CAN control how you interpret it and how you react to it.

How good are you at rerouting and changing plans? Do you know how to salvage what you can, leave the rest, and then recreate it? I’m grateful that, inside of my depression, I’ve identified a place of comfort — and that comfort is knowing that peace is attainable under all circumstances. It’s about accepting what it is, mustering the courage and energy to change what you can, and challenging yourself to be the best and bravest version of yourself possible without comparing yourself to others.

2. Because of my depression, the little things are so much lovelier than they were before.

I was sharing this story with a friend on Friday, and I’ll repeat it here: When I was a kid, my mom took me shopping with her one afternoon (presumably, we went to Walmart or somewhere similar). I found a headband that I liked a lot, and when I showed it to her, my mom said that I could have it. According to her, I then thanked her a billion times and nearly cried, I was so overjoyed!

A headband. I feel like I need to point out that this wasn’t a bicycle, or a hundred bucks, or a trip to Disneyland. It was a $2 (and, likely, unremarkable) headband. But I loved and treasured it so, so much! 

 

And I think that I’ve reclaimed that sense of joy and wonder as an adult.

 

I was driving and chatting with a close friend on the phone last week — he lives in Florida, and we’re always talking about how we both want him to move up here so that we can play Dungeons and Dragons together (I’ve yet to play the game). Towards the end of our conversation, he asked: “So how are you? How have you really been doing recently?”

“Well,” I sighed into the phone, “I am depressed, but I know how to manage it. For instance, I’m getting such a thrill out of this cool weather… I love watching these leaves fall! When I’m having a bad day, the smallest, loveliest thing can cheer me up… like a strong gust of wind, or a silly piles of leaves rustling around on the concrete. I derive a huge amount of joy from just wearing my scarf and ordering a coffee and grits on the weekend…” I paused. “So I’m actually doing really well,” I concluded, smiling at the steering wheel.

 

Today’s yummy breakfast at Urban Standard! If you live in Bham, you’ve gotta check this place out… but please be advised that I’ve got dibs on the couch.  🙂

 

Let me put it this way: I’m grateful for my depression because it’s made me happier. The world appears far more magical to me now that I’ve seen and experienced some of the very worst parts of it.

 

And now, I’d like to hear from you… what are you grateful for? How do you manage your pain, sadness, or loneliness? Please share your comment below, or you can shoot me a private message.

 

 

Still here,

Aun Aqui

Addict in a Dress

Tuesday night, I was happy to be leaving class. Charlie and I had prepared and baked an organic chili-cheese-frito pie together the previous evening and I was looking forward to popping it into the oven, heating it back up, and enjoying it over some light conversation or an episode of Black Books.

I like to take advantage of semi-free moments by multitasking, so I phoned a friend on my way to the car, noting – with a certain relish – that I was only six minutes away from my parking meter blinking red.

“HEY! How was your day?” I bellowed into the phone, feeling lighthearted.

They replied, and we carried on nicely for another five minutes until – heading south on the interstate – I began to sense that they just sounded funny.

 

“Hey… what kind of medication have you taken today?” I asked casually.

 

They named something that I knew was prescribed, so no big deal.

 

“Anything else?” I pressed, my heart beginning to race.

 

“No…” but their no sounded weak.

 

“Are you sure?” I asked quietly.

 

“I mean, I smoked some weed…”

 

“Well duh,” I rolled my eyes at the car in front of me. “I know THAT. But what else did you take?”

 

And I think, now, that that was key; affirmatively demanding WHAT did you take instead of asking DID you take something else. 

 

They said nothing, and nothing sounded worse than a response AND worse than a no, because the silence around nothing formed a sentence of its own. It said:

“Three clean years = blown. The timer restarts… now.”

 

***

 

I was furious. Mute tears streamed down my cheeks while the pressurized well of them squeezed my aching throat shut.

Neither of us said anything for two, possibly three minutes. We just hung on the line, feeling the tension and the devastation roughly intermingling with each other.

Then, a slow procession of questions sounded on my end of the line as I rerouted my trip and began navigating toward their house.

 

“How much?” (Mumbling.)

 

Then: “When?” (More mumbling.) Then: “A month ago? A MONTH? Oh my god… it’s been a whole month? This didn’t just happen?”

 

Then: “Why?” (I wanted to escape.)

 

Then: “Did you tell anyone you were feeling like using again?” Then: “Oh, you told one of your addict friends… k. And what did they say? …they said to be moderate? HA! So it made good sense to you to reach out to an addict for advice on your OWN addiction?”

 

Then: “Did you ever think of telling me?” (No, I was too embarrassed… too ashamed.) “I get that, but isn’t it MORE embarrassing NOW — with me finding out like this? Wouldn’t it have been LESS embarrassing to just say, ‘hey, I’m considering doing this really stupid thing’?” (Yeah.) 

 

I finally arrived at their house and let myself in. They were sitting at the table in the kitchen, hanging their head.

 

Alright, I inhaled deeply. You’ve got two options, Jace; you can either hold their hand or you can be real with them. I knew that I needed to choose a general persona, or route, and because I believed that, every other time this had happened, everyone else had simply coddled them, I decided to go with my gut.

 

The addict made a move to stand, and I stopped them.

 

“Oh no — don’t bother. No hugs. You will get no hugs from me today. Let’s talk,” I began, pulling up a chair.

 

“Where is it? The stuff?” Silence. “Is it in the trash?” (Nod.) “Is it at the bottom of the trash?” I laughed and smiled, not kindly. “Yeah? Let’s go FIND it!”

 

I stood up and stuck my left hand deep down into their trashcan, feeling all kinds of grossness come into contact with my palm and fingers until I felt what I was looking for.

 

“Ahhh, here it is. The evidence.” I walked over to the sink with it, washed it off, and then set it on top of the little, white wooden sill above the sink.

 

“How about we just leave it right here — right next to… NO, right on top of this cute jar of pomegranate jelly! Remember when we bought this stuff at the farmer’s market together?” I smiled. “Were you using then?” I asked innocently.

 

“I’m sorry,” the addict whispered.

 

“DO NOT apologize to me,” I replied, resuming my seat at the table. “This has NOTHING to do with me. You are hurting and disappointing yourself. Also,” I added, “I don’t want you to apologize because you think I want you to… I also don’t want you to say shit just because you think I want to hear it. I want to know what you REALLY think, and what you REALLY want.”

 

I folded my hands together, resting them on the table. “So?” I shrugged. “Is it fun?” I asked, feigning curiosity. “Do you feel good right now?” (No.)

 

“Huh… I don’t know if I believe that. I mean, it must be fun… you’ve been doing it for a whole month!” I reasoned. I glanced back over at the evidence. “Should I try it?” I whispered.

 

“NO,” they answered quickly.

 

“No? Why not? You’re having such a nice time… maybe I’d enjoy it, too, and then we could do it all of the time… together!” I hardened my gaze.

 

The next hour basically passed like this. It was no fun for anyone, and it felt like the exact opposite of a pleasant, chili-cheese-frito pie night. I made the addict something to eat, because they hadn’t eaten all day, and while I constantly questioned the harshness of my approach, I urged myself to stick with it. They need consistency and firmness right now — stability, I told myself. I also clarified, with the addict, how things would be, moving forward.

 

“Look. You’ve lied to me. And you know how I feel about lying,” I sighed. “I can’t control whether or not you use, but I DO deserve your honesty and transparency in the matter, so – in the future – you have to tell me first. Be frank with me, be real with me, before you start using, and at least give me the opportunity to talk through it with you, because we are too close for the stupid shit YOU do to just affect you… it impacts both of us. And if you lie to me again,” I continued, hating the words even before they reached my lips, “this friendship will HAVE to be over.”

I shook my head at the addict, feeling sadder than ever. I’d never been so disappointed in someone. “I’ve been hurt too many times already. I’m not going to watch this become another toxic and spoiled relationship. I’d rather just let it end. You understand.”

 

I looked at the person and thought, you thief! You pretender! You stole my friend away from me and then proceeded to parade around like you were that person. You are not. You couldn’t be. You’re a counterfeit, a shadow. And then I asked myself, how did you NOT notice before now? 

 

“You’re a beautiful person,” I continued. “Buoyant, joyful, sweet and inspiring. I love your soul, love it to death. So it is absolutely criminal for you to present yourself to the world, and to me, so whitewashed — like a freaking ghost. There is nothing to escape from. It is better to be here and to feel your feelings than it is to disassociate and feel nothing at all,” I whispered. “Feelings are beacons — indicators of who you are, what you want, what hurts, what needs to change… they’re necessary. Even the sad and bad ones. Just… stay here,” I pleaded. “You’re safe with me.”

 

***

 

I left, and I really can’t tell you who felt more heavyhearted that night.

 

The next day, the addict told me that they were going to attend a recovery meeting. I told them that I would go with them, but I asked them to please stop by my work first. They did, and when I saw them, I handed them a twenty.

 

“Use $10 to buy a plant of some kind. Just drop into the Lowes down the road and pick whichever one you like the most. Then, take it to your house, and put it in a place you visit frequently… maybe the kitchen or dining room. Give it a name and take care of it.”

I paused. “And then, know this: The day you poison yourself again, you have to poison the plant, too. Pour bleach on it, throw a rock at it… whatever; just do something that will really hurt it. Going forward, you have to treat it the way you treat yourself, because what you do to you doesn’t just affect you.” I looked them in the eye. “Don’t want to hurt the plant? No problem. Be kind to yourself.”

 

They agreed.

 

“And don’t forget to bring me my change,” I smiled.

 

They sent me a picture of the plant they chose an hour later — it was a Cypress.

 

“Oooooooh… NOW, you better be EXTRA careful, because Cypresses are my FAVORITE,” I warned them.

 

***

 

The day of the recovery meeting and plant mission, I was so exhausted and depressed when I woke up that I seriously couldn’t fathom going to work (or even putting on pants).

You’ve got dresses in there, a voice near the back of my head suggested jokingly, indicating the closet.

Yeah, but I don’t wear them to WORK, I answered it, annoyed.

 

Then, I sat upright in bed.

 

…well why the hell DON’T I?

 

Backstory: There was this whole Great Gender Identity Crisis of 2015-16...

 

I thought of my friend and their bravery — striving to recover from another bout with the same addiction. They at least have the courage to face what they’re afraid of; to channel whatever small amount of energy they have left into protecting themselves from themselves. It was admirable.

 

And then I thought of myself and how I’m addicted to things that society looks down on less (or even exempts from judgment entirely); stuff like sugar, coffee, and relationships…

I asked myself how these are really any different, and considered whether or not I was being honest about and brave in facing these addictions. Do I view them as harmful and in need of obliterating/taming, or do I simply dismiss them because they aren’t a hard drug? It was hard to say.

 

Well I can AT LEAST muster the guts to wear a dang DRESS to work, can’t I? I challenged myself.

 

And what’s funny is this: I avoided wearing a dress or skirt to work for about a year after I became okay with these articles of clothing, but slipping the dress on and then donning it at the corporate office on Wednesday morning… well, it didn’t feel weird at all. MUCH to my surprise, zero awkwardness ensued. I received a few compliments on the dress, actually (which made me feel sliiiiiiightly uncomfortable), but other than that, it was just really comfortable to wear, and you might even say that wearing it was… (looks around, shifty-eyed)… fun. 

 

I texted a picture of the dress to my friend, the addict. “Wearing a dress today because of you,” I said, knowing they’d understand the significance.

 

***

Earlier today, I called this friend and asked: “Was I too harsh with you?”

 

“No,” they answered quickly. “If you were me, you’d understand what a relief it was…” they paused; I stared at the brick wall of the coffee shop in front of me, waiting.

“Once you knew and we talked about it,” they said slowly, “I wasn’t alone anymore.”

***

I think that this friend’s lovely little Cypress incited just a bit of jealousy in me, because I felt inexplicably compelled to get a plant of my own yesterday morning. 🙂

I stepped into Lowes about thirty minutes before it was time for me to clock in and perused the plants for a while. I couldn’t seem to find what I was looking for, which makes sense, because I didn’t exactly know what I was looking for. Inspiration, I guess. I noticed a plant wilting in the corner of a display, and while I felt a small tug towards it, I kept walking.

 

I eventually encountered a free employee and decided to ask him, “In an office environment, what type of plant would thrive?”

 

“Hmmmmmmm,” he breathed, picking at the gage in his ear. “I can think of two kinds: a peace lily, or some bamboo.”

 

Peace; I’ve been dwelling on it recently.

 

“Show me the peace lilies, please!”

 

He walked me over to them, and they were very… decorative. Not really my style, but… for the sake of peace… 

 

He left me alone so that I could select one of them, but seconds later, I could see him returning towards me in the corner of my left eye, a potted plant in his right hand.

 

“I’m sorry — those actually aren’t peace lilies. My bad. But this one is. Now, it’s not doing so well,” he apologized, gesturing towards it, “so if you want it, I’ll give it to you for like three bucks.”

I looked at it; it was the plant I’d noticed ten minutes before, the wilty one!

 

Holy shit, I thought to myself. I’ve met another soulmate, and it’s a PLANT!

 

“I’ll take it,” I said, reaching for her.

 

As we were on our way to the checkout register, he paused. “Wait — here’s another peace lily… it actually looks a lot healthier…” his voice trailed off as he reached for it.

“Nope,” I responded quickly, continuing to walk forward. “I’ll let someone else have that one.”

 

My friend, the addict, ventured out of his house and bought a nice, blue pot for her, and now she — Raita — is settling in nicely.

20170929_075514
Raita (before being pruned/in her clearance rack pot)
20170929_164730
Raita

 

I think that plants are important for many reasons… but here are just three:

A. they purify the air,

B. they are cheerful to look at, and

C. they serve as an important reminder for us to be gentle, effortless, kind, authentic, and content with who we are and what we have. They don’t concern themselves with beauty standards, or what’s trending, or whether or not they’re the right color, height, or girth… they also don’t compare themselves with other plants, or envy other plants in any kind of way… they’re just – again – effortless.

 

It’s nice to have friends who remind you that you should take of yourself and that you should be yourself, because if you do these things, you’ll look as gorgeous, breathe as easily, and inspire as deeply as my magical plant Raita does. Raita, and her healthy, growing friend… the Cypress.

 

 

Still here,

Aun Aqui

 

Like my blog? Read my book!

I self-published my first novel in August 2017 — a delightful tale called “Jinx the Rabbit.” Whether you’re 5 years old or 500 years young, I feel sure you’ll enjoy it. Purchase the book by clicking below and then I’ll ship your signed copy to you within two business days! (Or, if you’d prefer to order the book on Amazon, you can easily do so by visiting the website and searching “Jinx the Rabbit”!)

$9.99

Loopholes… hers and mine

When I was 18, I was waitressing at a Cracker Barrel in Spring Hill, Florida, and I was that odd and skinny vegetarian girl who was always trying her best to avoid stepping on toes.

“How’s the country fried steak?” a customer would ask.

“It sells well!” I’d respond cheerfully.

“What do you think of the chicken and dumplings?” another would ask.

“We’re always running out of the stuff!” I’d laugh, cutely sidestepping away from a direct reply.

Loopholes; I’d find ways of answering their questions in ways I knew they wanted their questions answered without offering my unwanted opinion. When a man or a woman ordered a plate of scrambled eggs, fried apples, and ham, I would say “got it!” or “alrighty!” instead of asking, “Do you think that the pig they killed will feed three other guests this morning, or was it killed just for you? If it was a tiny one, maybe… such a shame that it had to die for your 5-15 minutes of flavor.”

People understandably bristle at my strong opinion on meat eating, but imagine it like this: When I see an animal (whether they’re attractive, like a German Shepherd, or not, like a pig), I see a SOUL. A person. Not an entree. And knowing that people kill these souls just to eat them… well, it’s outrageous! It enrages me! If YOU discovered that the people in your neighborhood, community, state, or country were killing and eating people – NOT out of necessity – but out of pure selfishness (“I just like the way people taste!”), wouldn’t YOU be outraged also? Who in their RIGHT MIND wouldn’t?

That’s the soul-crushing reality I live with every single day. I was crying on my bed this morning, genuinely wishing for death, for release from this hell, because of the cruelty of humans. I want to save, NOT just one, but ALL of the goats, the pigs, the chickens, the cows, and the rabbits from their terrible, senseless demise… but I really can’t do a damn thing about it, other than piss people off via this blog and post annoying pictures of my attractive, cruelty-free meals on IG.

Anyways.

As a waitress, I preferred opening shifts to closing shifts for (3) reasons:

  1. I’m naturally more inclined to be productive in the early morning/afternoon than in the evening.
  2. I like going to bed at 8:30, and closing pushed 8:30 out to like 11:30-12:30, which totally SUCKED.
  3. Getting off of work at 1, 3, or even 4 PM allowed me to make fun stops on the way home… like driving over to Pine Island to stare at waves and ponder the pointlessness of existence, or popping in for a quick visit at the local health food store.

 

I loved the health food store.

Right as I was emerging out of my mild but long-term case of anorexia, I was on a pretty fixed eating schedule:

Morning: nothing (or, sometimes, a banana)

Afternoon: a single cornbread muffin (at Cracker Barrel)

Evening: an Amy’s all-natural cheese pizza pocket (the kind you stuck in the oven for 20-25 minutes — around 300 calories) and a Blue Sky (also “all natural”) orange creme soda (less than 200 calories)

 

I also liked to throw organic sharp cheddar cheese cubes with thyme poppy seed crackers into the mix, and these were luxury items that, at the time, I could only find at the health food store.

 

So, on the way home from work, I’d call my mom.

 

“Hey Sierra! Do you want me to stop by the health food store today? Grab some cheese and crackers and those orange sodas and anything else we might need?”

 

I could picture her smiling, on the other end of phone, at the word we.

 

“Sure, sweetie! Will you please grab me a loaf of healthy bread? I’ll pay you back for everything.”

 

And she always did. If the total was $26, she’d hand me a twenty and a ten. And she also compensated me for my gas, too, though she wasn’t supposed to.

I can remember the conversation.

 

“Mom, if I’m going to work to save up for college, I really don’t want to be wasting the money I earn on the gas it takes to get there!” (ha! so young, so naive) “And it’s really not my fault that we live way out in the country,” I continued in a reasonable tone. “If it had been up to me, we would have situated ourselves smack dab in the city so that my twenty minute commute would take just five minutes. Then, I wouldn’t mind paying for the gas.”

 

Sierra is a truly kind and generous soul, so she agreed. But before finalizing the deal, she mentioned the idea — compensating me for gas so I could keep all the money I made waitressing — to Padre, and – being a man of firm work ethics – he answered with a decisive no.

 

“She’s an adult, Lucy. SHE needs to pay for gas to get to and from work.”

 

Sucks, doesn’t it? But here’s the thing: Sierra was good at finding loopholes, and I adored her for it.

 

“Hey Rose,” she’d call out (every couple of weeks). I’d visit her in whatever room she was in — usually, the kitchen or living room.

“Yeah?”

“Here’s twenty dollars,” she’d say. “Thanks for helping me with the laundry!” she’d smile mischievously.

 

We both knew, though, that laundry money was gas money. No clarification needed.

 

I first noticed her loopholes in childhood. 

 

The home phone would ring, which was terrible, because Sierra hated talking with people on the phone, as well as talking with them in-person (unless the other person was me or Bobby or Grammy or Padre).

 

“Ohhhhh,” she’d fret. “Rose, will you grab it? Tell them that I’m in the shower,” she’d plead, bolting, like a deer, into the bathroom. I’d answer the phone, recite what I’d been told to say, and hear the shower nozzle spray into life on the other side of the house.

 

After a minute or so, the sound of water would cease, and Sierra would creep out of the bathroom — fully clothed, and totally dry. “You told them?”

 

“Yep.”

 

While she never really got IN the shower, the shower was running, and she was in the room with it, so… it counted.

 

Another famous and recurring loophole was the unstated-but-implied “this is all I got at Ross, Dudley,” loophole.

 

We’d go shopping at Ross together (Ross is a place that sells clothes and decorations for the home) and Sierra would assign me a dollar limit.

 

“You can have forty dollars’ worth of clothes,” she’d say, “so whatever you end up liking, try it all on and figure out what you like the most and we’ll get it.” It seemed very fair to me; walking in to a store with nothing and then leaving with a couple of cool, new things.

 

When we’d arrive back at home, I’d scramble out of the passenger’s seat, eager to put my goodies away, but I’d always end up waiting in front of the locked front door. Turning around, I’d see Sierra walking towards me, carrying her keys and a single bag in her right hand.

 

“Mom, don’t forget about the other stuff — it’s in the trunk. Want help getting it inside?”

 

“No, that’s okay,” she’d answered quickly. “I’m going to leave it outside for a bit.”

 

Weird, I’d murmur. But eventually, I understood the logic behind the delay.

 

Scenario A: Come home from Ross with two bags and five new pictures (mock-royal art for the walls) and Padre’s going to start asking questions.

Scenario B: Come home from Ross with two bags and no pictures and then slowly replace current pictures with new ones (over the course of a week, or a few), and Padre probably won’t notice.

 

It was brilliant. I had to admire her foresight.

 

 

And I think I, subconsciously, adopted her charming system of loopholes as an adult — clearly, with the waitressing, and in other ways, too. Yesterday, a new loophole became apparent to me.

 

I was helping out at a local branch — opening new accounts, pinning debit and credit cards, and taking loan apps on the desk — when an email from a co-worker appeared on my screen. It was short, simple, and full of both intrigue and impact. I noticed that they had sent it to a group of people whose names I couldn’t see (and I’m wondering, now, if the email affected them as deeply as it affected me). It read something like:

 

“(Insert name), I forgive you for… you choose the name and find out what’s been holding you hostage. Then, let it go, and have a wonderful weekend.”

 

Huh, I mused. Who do I need to forgive? A name jumped out at me, which I won’t share here, because it’s personal (and I never get personal on this blog, do I?).  🙂

 

With this person’s name in mind, I asked myself, what have they done to hurt me?

 

“They’ve made me feel small,” I thought. “Well — that’s not exactly right. I don’t know if that’s an intrinsic thing or because of them.” So I dropped it and continued thinking.

“They’ve — made me feel inferior,” I offered. “Ahhhhh — that doesn’t work either, because again, I can’t get at their motive.” I sighed.

Then, it hit me. “They’ve made me feel jealous — which is an authentic emotion that I’ve unintentionally been burying because, growing up, jealousy was a sin.” It was a kind of earth-shattering realization. Emotions — even the “bad” ones — help us navigate the world around us, and help us understand ourselves. If you’re feeling jealous, why? Then, why? Then, why?

 

For me, it went like this: I’m jealous because this person is taking up all of that person’s time. I’m jealous of that because I want to spend time with that person. I’m jealous — and feel inferior and small and uninteresting — because the person I want to spend time with wants to spend TONS of time with this other person but doesn’t want to spend any time with me. I’m jealous and sad because I feel unloved. 

 

So I didn’t really feel jealous of this person so much as I felt unloved by that person. Bam. Uncovered. Ever hear of a ‘rebel without a cause’? Well, most of  the time, emotions have a cause, or a root, and you’ve gotta dig to find them. If you don’t? I mean, they won’t kill you, but they WILL try to run your life and will certainly rob you of a great deal of your peace.

 

And honestly, I don’t think that they — this person — meant to make me feel jealous, or unimportant, or unloved; I think that – and this is probably their honest, faultless motive – they are just trying to be happy. And I shouldn’t confuse their pursuit of happiness with unkindness, and I definitely shouldn’t imagine that someone else being happy restricts or limits my own capacity for happiness.

 

And you know what? Feeling jealous (but not fessing up to it — not even internally!) and maligning this person’s character in my mind was a loophole for me. It was a way of pinning my unhappiness on another person and making it their fault instead of accounting for my own sadness and (lack of) peace of mind.

 

So, in my head (I didn’t feel the need to message or call or approach this person, because I really don’t think they even knew how I’d been feeling), I said: Person, I forgive you for just trying to be happy. I want to be happy, too. And I let it go.

 

And then I was as weightless as a feather and drifted, instead of down, up into the sky where I dissolved into outer space and then, somehow, woke up perfectly reassembled on a planet with people who didn’t kill animals but loved them instead and we all coexisted happily ever after until we all died, all of us at the same second so that no one felt sad or alone, and there was no heaven, and no hell, and nothing in-between… just peace and quiet.

 

 

Still here,

Aun Aqui

 

 

Like my blog? Read my book!

I self-published my first novel in August 2017 — a delightful tale called “Jinx the Rabbit.” Whether you’re 5 years old or 500 years young, I feel sure you’ll enjoy it. Purchase the book by clicking below and then I’ll ship your signed copy to you within two business days! (Or, if you’d prefer to order the book on Amazon, you can easily do so by visiting the website and searching “Jinx the Rabbit”!)

$9.99

Cheddar Grits and Tycho’s Turf

On Tuesday night, around 15 classmates critiqued a short story of mine (ten pages long). I called it “Checking into Checking Out”, and it detailed the possible last day of Zee’s life — Zee being a suicidal cashier who is (not) recovering from a bad breakup. The reader watches and listens as Zee rings up items at The Food Hole — a free-trade, free-range, all-organic, blah blah blah grocer — and deals with your stereotypical clientele: royal and entitled jackasses of white privilege.

In the first draft of my story, I killed her off, but my professor (who previewed my original draft) challenged me: “Take Zee out of the box you put her in, and ditch the narrator.”

So I revised the ending by killing death itself off and inserting a halo-holding hipster who took the girl out for ice cream. It was a vomit-y ending, and I totally got called out on it.

“I mean, why do that?” one classmate asked, looking right at me. “Why have her reason to not commit suicide be some dumb guy, riding in to save the day?”

 

Holy shit, I thought to myself, gazing back at her. The truth of what she’d said literally struck me. I was dumbfounded.

I did that… I — a feminist who REALLY DOES BELIEVE that we make ourselves happy and that other people can’t and that romantic relationships can’t — I WROTE that!

 

Along with this classmate’s wake-up call (which was VERY appreciated), every other student had valuable advice and pointers to offer as well, and I ended up leaving class with a page full of notes — barely legible phrases that read: consider placement; less parenthesis and italics, sub w/dashes and commas; develop your characters so that they’re likable; keep your narrator neutral so s/he contrasts w/characters; make your audience feel empathetic; have your character change (for better or worse); intrinsic changes are powerful — manifest these; allow other characters to change your character; some things exist only in your brain, so make sure you share them w/your reader; balance weaknesses with strengths; balance the tangible with the intangible; balance dialogue with thoughts with description with action; think: outside, inside, outside; and – I underlined this one – keep authentic endings

 

I’m not going to share my short story here, BUT I would like to share two short journal entries that I drafted last weekend for my creative writing class. The assignment was to select (2) urban spaces and then observe them on separate days, focusing on setting and your sensory experience of it. I chose Red Cat (Saturday AM/favorite couch spot) and Saturn (Sunday AM/a bench outside), and I like how they turned out.

 

“Grits”

Thick spoonfuls of cheddar grits are relocating from bowl to plate. She raises one of these spoonfuls to her lips, and I notice that a tiny, orange thread is connecting the isolated, elevated round from its plated congregation below; hanging on, or at least trying to.
She takes the spoon into her mouth slowly; I can see the rouge painted onto her thin lips, the wrinkle lines encircling her mouth, and the silver chain resting against her neck (which is probably leaving temporary indentations in her leathery skin).
Several feet away, three pairs of shoes seem to be holding a conversation among themselves: Converse, Nike, Nike. Their owners have positioned their chairs in a sort of triangle; they face each other, chew on fingernails, pick at bejeweled earlobes, and bite down on bottom lips. Behind the thoughts they choose to verbalize, what are they thinking about? They seem comfortable — confident with themselves and their current company — but none of them really look happy.
An iPhone drops to the floor with a dull thud, causing the shoes to scatter.
In the background, the many voices in this room interweave and, sometimes, collide with one another. As disjointed and strangely pitched as their collective noise sounds, they provide a constant, even droning that’s somehow reassuring.
But the industrial coffee machine — black and chrome, classic — produces my favorite sound: a metal churning; a perfectly-pitched whirring. The air in the room smells sweet, like caramel syrup; salty, like this here cup of Gouda grits; and even a little spicy, like the sweetly-bitter Ecuadorian cortado swirling in the white mug that is sitting on the brown table. I asked the person to top it off with whipped cream, making the beverage equal parts adult-like and fun.
A young woman in a mustard-yellow shirt heard the barista call her name out a few seconds ago; she took her coffee from him and exited the cafe, but I was able to read the words on her shirt before she disappeared:
“Wake up and smell the coffee.”

 

 

“Tycho’s Turf”

The green turf totally looks like grass, so I’m hoping my German Shepherd doesn’t pee on it.
Little white tables line the brick wall on one side and the short chrome fence on the other. So, to be clear, there are brick and metal borders with pretty white fences staged in-between.
The tables offer chairs that are orange-orange, orange like a tangerine, but I’m sitting on a bench, because it’s situated the furthest away from everyone else.
One couple is seated at a table nearby, on my right; a familiar couple. My best friend used to attend recovery meetings with the one guy. I remember my best friend telling me about these men’s relationship; how it quickly blossomed and then slowly decayed. But here they are now; chatting over empty bowls of cereal — an iced coffee on one end of the table, a latte on the other. I lower my gaze, see a heel touching a toe, and smile.
My best friend is inside of the cafe right now, ordering a caramel vanilla latte for me and, likely, a traditional, boring, and flavorless coffee for himself.
My German Shepherd who – weighed down with stress – panted heavily moments ago has now surrendered to her new surroundings, compliantly lowering her hefty body down onto the green turf. She’s listening to the train sound down the street, the car doors closing across the street, the sneakers slapping against the pavement on the other side of this fence, and the cool kid music that’s lazily trickling down to both pairs of our ears from the speaker up in the corner.
No pee yet.

 

 

Still here,

Aun Aqui

 

Like my blog? Read my book!

I self-published my first novel in August 2017 — a delightful tale called “Jinx the Rabbit.” Whether you’re 5 years old or 500 years young, I feel sure you’ll enjoy it. Purchase the book by clicking below and then I’ll ship your signed copy to you within two business days! (Or, if you’d prefer to order the book on Amazon, you can easily do so by visiting the website and searching “Jinx the Rabbit”!)

$9.99

Suicide-inducing billboards and television shows and a few good reasons to stay…

I drive downtown every single weekend, and in the past two months, I’ve seen some really shitty billboards out there.

For instance, within about two miles’ distance, the following four billboards were pinned up, each of them hazardously competing for my attention (when I should have my eyes on the road):

  1. Freeze Away Fat! (photograph of a relatively thin person pinching “the unsightly fat” on their side)
  2. Levy’s Fine Jewelry (a presumably naked woman marketing a fancy necklace)
  3. Friends from College: Coming to Netflix! (I watched the first episode and am sharing my opinion of it further below)
  4. Grapico (something about being older than dirt but a whole lot sweeter)

 

So Grapico, whatever, but the other three — BOY did they disrupt my peace. First of all, freeze away fat? What the hell is THAT process like? Is literal freezing involved? I couldn’t resist Googling it.

SO, per Google, when you freeze away fat, this is what happens:

The FDA-cleared procedure suctions in the skin surrounding the area of fat you want to freeze, then uses controlled cooling (aka cryolipolysis) to drop the temperature of the skin down to where the fat cells die. The body then eliminates the cells in the following weeks. 2. There is a tendency for uneven removal.

(Involuntary internal thought: Or you could NOT freeze your fat off and just lighten up on the sugar-dense Grapico…)

Okay. So keep that billboard in mind.

Now, let’s throw “naked model advertising for jewelry company” into the mix. This gal is – without words – telling me that, to be desirable, I need to be thin, naked, and bejeweled. What if I’m broke? I could take out a loan, I guess (TERRIBLE idea, btw)… but what if I’m not thin enough? Heyyyyy, I KNOW! I’ll JUST FREEZE MY FUCKING FAT OFF! Problem solved!

Synopsis: drink the Grapico; now you’re fat; lose the fat in this weird and likely expensive way; then buy this jewelry.

Body shaming people is disturbing enough, but when you use body shaming to market products and services and make a profit, you’re operating on a whoooooooole other level of evil. And think about how many places do that. Really — think about it.

I can remember (back in the early 2000s) the Clearasil commercials that would come on while I was trying to watch Drake and Josh on Nickelodeon. The commercials:

  1. featured some red-faced, insecure teenager who seemed miserable,
  2. gave a side-by-side comparison of what they looked like pre- and post-Clearasil, and then
  3. wrapped the commercial up with the the guy or gal looking happy and confident and picture-perfect.

I remember asking my mother to buy the stuff so that I could look “normal.” This was around the same time that I realized that, as a budding woman, my naturally-growing body hair was, for whatever reason (none were given), unacceptable, and that a push-up bra would be required to put me in the running with my female contemporaries (all of us vying, at the ridiculous age of 15, for a mate). I continued unhappily shaving my legs and underarms and sensitive, upper thighs until the fall of 2013. It’s been a great four years.

And as far as wearing a push-up bra is concerned — forget about it! I’ve learned to love the body I’m in, and truly, my body suits me; I love being active, and being small-chested enables me to run around without feeling any sense of discomfort… so go me! On the weekends, I don’t even bother with wearing a bra, and it’s not because I’m a hippie; it’s because 1. I like being comfortable and 2. I despise how this strange society weighs women down with senseless restrictions and rules pertaining to beauty standards and ideals.

Beauty is so subjective. A comfortable, welcoming, and kind person is, in my eyes, the most beautiful person.

 

Anyways, I could list about thirty other body-shaming-rooted marketing ploys, but I won’t bother; you get the idea.

Companies first point out why we should feel insecure, lacking, or bad, and THEN they provide the “solution”. The whole thing — our materialistic consumerism and costly vanity and how, through studying humans, the mercenary brains behind corporations know how to easily influence our wants, needs, and perceptions of self — sickens me. But then again, I blow hundreds of dollars on tattoos and, come the end of my life, will have spent thousands of dollars on fancy shampoo, “inspiring” necklaces, and “cool” clothes… is wanting your face to be clear, or painted, or thinner any different? Not really.

My main point: Do what you want — what makes you feel good about yourself — but please take some time to ascertain that it’s an organic desire and not one that you’ve subconsciously adopted slash internalized because of bossy family members, opinionated friends, or the soul-crushing media.

 

What about billboard number three, you ask? The “Friends from College” one?

UGH. I watched the first episode of that show last month (while the plot didn’t really intrigue me, I like to stay somewhat in-the-know when it comes to what’s trending… if nothing else, I do this so I can relate with coworkers, especially new hires) and I hated it.

First of all, the opening scene was a sex scene (gross), where I stared awkwardly at my German Shepherds, Silo and Tycho, and waited for the “suggestive noises” to cease.

Secondly, within 5 minutes of the show, the viewer learns that the two people who were engaging in coitus are both married to OTHER people and have been sustaining their affair for twenty years. 

 

Holy shit, I thought to myself. So THIS is what people watch now. 

 

Why it depressed me: Normalizing infidelity (this show is, by the way, a comedy) is OBVIOUSLY terrrrrrrible, but my heart really goes out to the partner who is in the dark regarding their spouse’s infidelity. The emotional devastation resulting from the betrayal would be heart-wrenching enough, but what’s really repulsive and sickening is the fact that that innocent person has been exposed to the biological chemistry and spiritual energy of another human being without knowing it and against their will. It’s absolutely horrific. Cheating on a partner is probably one of the most selfish and hideous decisions you could possibly make.

 

And in the show, we laugh at it. Oh boy… when are these two going to get caught! 

 

I couldn’t stomach another episode.

 

And the messages on these billboards (that promote being thin, and sexy, and bedazzled, and entertained) just weigh me down, because they really suck the joy out of life. They burden you with things you need to fix and change; things you need to watch (rendering you a consumer instead of a producer, which robs you of your creativity); and things you need to take out loans for so you can buy them and have them and wear them… meanwhile, life passes you by; the whole principal amount of it, and you accrue zero interest.

 

Didn’t you also mention a suicide-inducing television show? 

Yes, I did. That 70s Show.

 

I discovered the sitcom a few months ago (super late to the game, I know), and ohhhhhhhh, I fell in LOVE with it! I enjoyed watching the characters develop (especially Hyde, Jackie, and Fez) until one DREADFUL episode played across my television screen. It was so disappointing and infuriating that, out of principle, I had to drop the show.

The plot: Donna discovers dirty magazines underneath her boyfriend, Eric’s, bed. She is understandably furious. “Am I not enough for you?” she demands. Donna storms out of the room and consults with a few of her guy friends on the matter.

“If you were in a relationship, would YOU look at that sick stuff?” she asks them.

“Of course,” Hyde answers. Damn it, Hyde… I liked you so much.

“Uh, I once had TWO girlfriends at the same time and STILL looked at those magazines!” Ashton Kutcher volunteers. But he was already a moron, so his response didn’t surprise me. 

And then Fez mumbled his assent, admitting that he, also, would still buy these dirty magazines.

SO, armed with this new knowledge, at the very end of the episode, Donna walks upstairs, enters Eric’s bedroom, and apologizes for being a prude. “You’re a guy, so it’s normal for you to like this gross stuff!” she jokes.

 

“Are you sure?” he asks, flabbergasted. “You… really don’t mind if I keep looking at them?”

 

“Nope!” she smiles. “And to make up for how mean I was earlier, a naked lady will be in shortly…” (referring to herself).

 

I almost physically vomited

 

How could you, Donna? How COULD you, That 70s Show writers?! What the fucking FUCK?!!!!! Progressive? Yeah RIGHT! This is NOT progressive writing; this is deplorable! 

 

What they did wrong: They took a strong female character and totally destroyed her in less than 30 minutes’ time.

With Donna’s words, they said: Pornography is acceptable. You can’t get mad at him for it.

Through Donna’s actions, they set the standard for other women: If you want to be cool like Donna, don’t be a prude. Remember… SHE ended up okay with the magazines. And btw, porn totally isn’t infidelity (even though the only real difference between it and an in-person sexual encounter is that the guy or gal you’re cheating with is stuck on a piece of paper or behind a television screen). That’s the only difference, but it’s a damn important one, because it means that your guy or girl isn’t REALLY cheating on you and that means that you CAN’T get mad at them.

 

Buuuuuuullshit. 

 

This subject hits close to home, because I used to have a close friend who caught her boyfriend watching pornography a few years ago. She was absolutely devastated when she realized it and spent the evening at my apartment, crying her eyes out and refusing to eat.

They got back together within a week, and while I was very disappointed with her, I said little.

She caught him looking at porn again about a year later — I guess he’d forgotten how badly it affected her; how him looking at unrealistically perfect female bodies exaggerated her already low sense of self-esteem — and after he apologized again, their relationship returned right back to normal. This time, I was furious. She ended up marrying the guy, and I still worry about her; if he knew it hurt you the first time and yet he STILL did it again, how the hell can you trust that person? And if they’re willing to chance hurting you by stealing looks at a TV screen or a magazine, how do you know it will always end there? 

It’s disturbing beyond words, honestly. Our society is so degraded, so morally bankrupt now, that all of this is the norm, and I’m just that conservative prude. 

 

“I think it’s hilarious that you, as an agnostic, have higher moral standards than most christians,” a close friend joked (when I shared my outrage with her).

 

Tagging onto what she said, I believe that morals are mostly intrinsic; that we’re born with a soul that holds its own moral compass, and that we can – independently – figure out which direction is the right one to go in (without the input of people or books or gods or goddesses). But I think that a lot of people train themselves to be moral — that they discipline and mold and sculpt themselves to, even if their thoughts and desires betray them, ACT morally — but for me, it’s more a matter of intuition, compassion, and empathy.

Your soul knows what’s right and wrong; what’s fair and decent and respectable and heartwarming and what is NOT. 

And the fact that the media is polluting people’s hearts and souls and chemically altering the organic makeup of them fills me with fury — fury that I have to shape into a ball and then hurl into a song or a blog post. It doesn’t feel like I’m doing much, but that’s where the fire goes to burn and die, because I’m just Jace… an opinionated 26-year-old living in the good ole’ South.

 

The world’s gross and it’s only getting worse, and on top of that, I have no faith in a soul-redeeming afterlife… so where’s my consolation?

I take comfort in a few things:

  1. I don’t know what religion is right; to a degree, they read like fairy tales, and I notice a number of similarities that they all share, but I really like the idea of reincarnation: reappearing in the past or future as something else. Hopefully, I’ll return as a planet, a rabbit, or a river. Or a German Shepherd! I’d hate to be a person again.
  2. I enjoy food. Paneer tikka masala warms my heart, burritos make me laugh, and a slice of tiramisu is cool on my throat.
  3. I love all animals… especially rabbits and German Shepherds. I was staring at a picture of Bruster last night (I keep it beside my bed) when I thought to myself, he wasn’t mine… I was his. And I was the lucky one. Then, I was petting my other German Shepherd, Tycho, this morning; she was wet and gross from splashing around in the pool, but I rubbed her tummy anyways (she loves it). “I’m so fortunate to know you,” I thought at her, smiling.
  4. I love (and hate) people. Humans can be downright awful, but some people are very, very wonderful. I have a small circle of friends — genuinely good-hearted people like Shelby, Ivey, Jarrod, Kiley, Frank and others — and my bestest friend, Charlie, is one of the kindest souls I’ve ever known. The world might be shitty, but we’re all in it together, and when we’re together, we make it so much better.
  5. I feel the most alive when I’m A. being creative or B. experiencing new places. Right next to writing a story or playing music, traveling is, for me, the most magical thing you can do; you get to see so many lovely and interesting things when you’re off exploring, and it’s almost like you can feel your soul wake up, lift its head, and open its eyes when you take it somewhere special.

 

About two months ago, I began forming tentative plans to study abroad next May (in Salamanca, Spain), and as I renewed my passport at the post office and scheduled early-morning meetings with counselors and coordinators at UAB, I foolishly began to raise my hopes higher and higher — watching videos and reading blogs and articles so that I could learn all about the country’s culture, scenery, public transit system, social happenings and – most importantly – cafes. But because of my work schedule, I was unable to finalize my plans, and for two days, I was really down in the dumps. (Some of you might be thinking, why not just quit your job? Well, I really love my job, so for me, that just wasn’t an option.)

I was talking with my mom on the phone (on Thursday) when I casually mentioned my disappointment to her; I generally don’t like talking about sad stuff, because I hate the idea of bringing other people down, but it was something I knew she already knew about (I’d been talking about the idea for weeks), so I wanted to go ahead and permanently cap off that conversation.

“Oh Rose — I am sooooooo sorry!” she whispered into the phone. “I know you were really looking forward to that…”

“Yeah, but it’s okay; I’m still going to take these college classes locally — it’ll just take me eight months to complete them instead of five weeks,” I replied, beginning to feel heavy again. “I’m mostly sad that I won’t get to experience this country’s culture, but hey, everything happens for a reason, right?” I offered, smiling weakly at the strange sound of my voice endorsing the old cliche.

She paused. “You know what you should do? Go on a trip ANYWAYS! I know you wanted to go, specifically, for this school thing, but you could at least take a little vacation next year! Go somewhere you’re excited about… have some fun! I want you to be happy. Please make plans to travel.”

 

My soul stirred in its sleep. I could feel my pulse quicken.

 

“Wowwwwwwww…” I exhaled. “Oddly enough, I hadn’t even considered that. Sierra, this is a SPLENDID idea!”

And you know what? Her encouragement slash idea has made all the difference.

 

The next day, I spent my lunch break in the car with Charlie. We both spooned leftover, home-cooked navy beans out of plastic containers while I rested my feet on the dash and purchased two plane tickets to Quito, Ecuador.

 

“This is going to be an absolute adventure,” I breathed to Charlie; I was thrilled to the core, and I could feel my soul swaying contentedly within me. It’s nice to have something you can look forward to… you know; something other than blowing money on stupid shit or feeling like you have to do weird things to improve your already wonderful, capable, and perfectly lovable body.

 

 

Still here,

Aun Aqui

 

Sidebar before publishing: I fully realize that there are lots of weight loss methods and programs out there, and I respect that; my beef is with how they are marketed. I don’t think that anyone should be made to feel like they need to take drastic measures to look more beautiful, and – being the holistic type – I, of course, think that if someone DOES want to lose weight, going the natural route (IE reevaluating your diet, increasing your time spent exercising, etc.) is preferable. With that being said, I had a brother who, for biological reasons AND thanks to the score of medications he was stuck on, inexplicably gained weight while eating virtually NOTHING, so I understand that drastic measures are sometimes the only ones available to a person.

My main point (reiterated): Do what works for you, but don’t feel like you can’t love the skin you’re in if you’re not stupidly thin. Basically, I hate the “freeze fat away” billboard and hope that someone (not me bc I’m not about that #vandalismlife) launches a bunch of cow manure at it.

 

Like my blog? Read my book!

I self-published my first novel in August 2017 — a delightful tale called “Jinx the Rabbit.” Whether you’re 5 years old or 500 years young, I feel sure you’ll enjoy it. Purchase the book by clicking below and then I’ll ship your signed copy to you within two business days! (Or, if you’d prefer to order the book on Amazon, you can easily do so by visiting the website and searching “Jinx the Rabbit”!)

$9.99

Memories and Dreams: Brought to you by the Coosa River

On Friday, my fiction writing workshop classmates and I visited the Coosa Riverkeeper. The manager of the shop sat down with us for nearly two hours and told us all about the river’s history, the challenges it faces, and what the Coosa Riverkeeper is doing to help maintain this water source and protect it from polluters (who are, mainly, big industries).
Our professor commissioned us to — as we visited 1. the organic farm down the street, 2. a stretch of the Coosa River that was adjacent to the farm, and 3. the Logan Martin Dam located further ahead — record our thoughts on and observations of everything, documenting (especially) setting and our sensory experience of it. Cool assignment, right?
I’m sharing my three journal entries below (which I’ll be presenting in class on Tuesday). Before I share them, though, I’d like to mention something that I found interesting.
I really enjoyed the event (slash field trip). It was nice — being outdoors, and socializing with people my age. I smiled and laughed a lot as I took note of my surroundings and recorded my experience. So it was very surprising to me, when I studied my finished journal entries, to realize how dark and gloomy they read. Looking back on the day, it was beautiful out, and I was happy! But immersing myself in the beauty and lightheartedness of the day also caused me to feel and remember and imagine things that were not quite as cheerful. Talk about dichotomy.  🙂
The farm, the river, and the dam
by Jace Yarbrough
1. The river
There were lights flickering on the river. It looked as if something, or someone, far underneath the water was pushing them right up to its surface.
I watched dragonflies hovering above the river — looking busy in a lazy sort of way with their bluish-purple tipped wings breaking the air. Individual blades of grass floated easily on top of the water like little, aimless kayaks. The trees cast their magic on the water, turning its natural, algae-green into a moving black shadow.
The trees cast their magic on the grass, too; creating trippy patches of dark green here and there and then leaving the rest, the untouched blades, a cheery light green. I walked forward slowly — feeling the soft smoosh of grass underfoot; reassuring, and familiar.
When I made it to the top of the hill, the river actually appeared to be more olive-colored. I felt the pleasant warmth of sunshine on my skin, and the hot burn of sunshine on my black denim jeans.
2. The farm
On the farm, a brown dog held a frisbee in his mouth. The dog wanted you to want his frisbee, but he did not want you to have it.
I noticed a canoe waiting by a tree. I imagined myself in the canoe. I imagined my German Shepherds with me in that canoe… chasing the shadows and the lights and the air bubbles out on the river.
As I ascended the hill, breezy air followed me, and in it, I caught the mixed scent of cut grass and old dirt; the dirt was a nostalgic scent, one that caused an achy, burning sensation in the back of my throat. It was the scent of old puppy dog paws; the German Shepherd’s paws. The special one. My favorite one. Before the horrible man shot him, I used to love holding, and kissing, and smelling those paws. I imagined keeping the other two safe out here, on the farm… letting them roam and explore without fences, without terrible men around, and without the strange confines of a painted, laminated, air-conditioned home.
At the hill’s peak, I saw that peeling, rotting onions had settled themselves down into the ground. A long, black hose that was nearby coiled wildly around itself, poised like a snake. Ahead on my right, there was a whirring fan humming in the green house, which wasn’t really green; the tarp surrounding it was, in fact, clear-colored, although I couldn’t see through it. Around the area, a push broom leaned against a table, and a straw hat dangled from a hook. The hat was eggplant purple, tomato red, and squash yellow. I wondered if any of those things grew here.
A plant’s dead leaves drooped their heads within a ceramic pot, and when I turned my sad eyes away from them, a scale suspended from a wooden plank in the ceiling whispered my mother’s words back to me: “You shall be weighed and found wanting.”
A high-pitched bark surprised me; the dog had allowed someone to throw his frisbee.
3. The dam
I thought you’d be more organic. Natural. A gentle and easy collection of snug and soiled logs, trying their best to stay strong.
But you were different.
Over time, I guess you’d changed. You were modern now. Sophisticated. Impossibly strong and, worst of all, impassable.
I felt like the lake, on the side of the dam that I couldn’t see; stagnant, and staring at your back. Waiting for you to turn your head and see me. Why don’t you? Do you want to? Will you ever?
Then, I felt like the river, on the side of the dam that I could see. I was rushing away from you — leaving an endless, babbling protest of profanity and blame in my wake. I was shallow, I was deep, I was smooth, I was jagged. I was surrounded, on all sides, by grey, green, and a hazy dark blue. Damn you.
IMG_20170908_182329_474
Still here,
Aun Aqui

Processing Anger and Choosing Between Two Mysterious Vials

I’ve got some general life updates to share for the month of August:

  • I wrote (and self-published!) a book,
  • I sent Chris a nice email,
  • I returned to school,
  • I bought a weird lamp,
  • I watched a video about dealing with anger,
  • I was presented with two very mysterious vials…
  • and I woke up with an interesting phrase lingering on my mind.
Here are some deets on each (ha, that rhymes!) update.
***

First… the book!

Earlier this year, I decided to take a break from the blog (for a few reasons, but mostly one; I had deeply offended one of my closest friends with a comment I’d made on religion, and I hated myself for it). As you can see, I’m clearly blogging again, but I’m now doing so more… thoughtfully.

And during my quiet months of non-blogging, I had to find another avenue for writing, so I finally did the damn thing: I wrote a book — an entire book — from start to finish. The beginning and end were both constructed here in Alabama while a large chunk in the middle was drafted while I was adventuring out in Colorado.

 

The idea for the book wasn’t new.

 

I’m not going to reinvent the wheel here, but just over seven years ago, I broke up with my long-distance boyfriend in the late afternoon. That same evening, I curled up in my twin-sized bed and cradled a phone to my ear in Florida while a boy up in Alabama, who I would marry two months later, told me the short tale of a charismatic fox who happened upon a timid rabbit in the forest and quickly became her very best friend.

The story was two, maybe three minutes long, but it comforted (and heavily impacted) me that evening.

Seven years later (and two years after separating from the fox), I flipped my laptop open on a cool January morning, sipped on a latte at the Red Cat on 2nd Avenue South, and wrote the first sentence of the story. I named and developed these shadow characters and then set out on finishing the tale — speaking on love and loss, touching on religion and equality, pumping humor and anger and inquisitiveness into the characters and then leading them through the mundane as well as the magical.

These two friends — Jinx the Rabbit and Caldwell the Fox — are wonderful, lovable characters, and in the novel, I pop in from time to time, narrating their grand adventure into the Magic City where Jinx discovers herself and falls ears-over-heels in love with the big and beautiful world around her.

I won’t insert any spoilers here, but suffice it to say that writing this story helped me process the end of the closest relationship I’ve ever shared with a person. I believe that it helped heal me more than a thousand hours of therapy possibly could have. Journaling and blogging have helped a GREAT deal, but writing my heartache into a story was a totally different experience; I got to fall in love with these characters and then laugh and cry and grow with them. As I traveled and moved with them, I had to experience love and loss all over again, and while it hurt like hell, it also created a greater sense of empathy within me… empathy for the fox (him), for the rabbit (myself), and for all of us. We all hurt sometimes, and some of us hurt a whole lot for a really long time. And that’s okay; we all hurt and heal in different ways and at varying paces. But the big question is, where, what, or who is the consolation? Well, you’ll have to read the book for that.  🙂

And while writing the story was fun, it was also (as you’ve probably gathered) emotionally exhausting, so I totally thought that WRITING and REVISING (x300) the book would be the hard part of the “process.”

HA!

Next up was hours of borrrrrring research: how to copyright; how to get an ISBN; how to self-publish; who to self-publish with; how much self-publishing costs; how to format the interior of your novel; how to make a cover; who to contact to do all of this shit for you; how much it will cost to have someone else do all of this shit for you; revisiting how to do all of the shit you can’t afford to have other people do; how to raise funds for a project; where and how to distribute your book; whether or not a jacket is necessary; whether matte or glossy covers are better; how to calculate the correct width of a spine; how to alter page margins; what is page bleed; how to select the appropriate book size; how to convert pdfs to jpegs; how to safely convert pdfs to jpegs; is resize4free legit; does converting a pdf to a jpeg compromise DPI; what is DPI; are page numbers required in a book because Google docs is fucking difficult to work with and inserting them makes everything, including you, go crazy; why does Google docs keep losing my embedded sketches; why is Google docs so fucking stupid; how to get your book in libraries, bookstores, schools and etc.; AND ETC.

 

I’ll spare you all of the mind-numbing details, but after hundreds of hours of true devotion to this endeavor, it’s over — the project has finally ended, and it has ended successfully. Google “Jinx the Rabbit” on Amazon and my book pops up. My book. That I wrote and then published. That my best friend drew twenty-seven whimsical and wonderful sketches for (check out his website here). Holy crap! It’s still amazing. I’m still amazed.

If you’re a fellow writer who’s considering self-publishing, please feel free to reach out… I’d be happy to share every mind-numbing and detailed thing I’ve learned with you. Might save you one OR FORTY-FIVE hours.

***

In August, I also sent Chris (the ex-husband slash fox) what I would call a “nice” email… nice because instead of continuing to berate him for not wanting to be my friend anymore (as my emails usually read), I apologized to him for being a horrible friend back when we were divorcing by shutting myself off from him emotionally. I forget sometimes that I was the one who hurt him first… that I essentially (emotionally) cheated on him and put him in a terribly vulnerable position… and that any sane person wouldn’t want to be friends with the person who betrayed them. And that person was, sadly, me. I never thought myself capable of causing such pain. It’s humbling to admit to, disheartening to realize, and I think that it’s extremely important that I remember it.

I’ll always love Christopher, and I know that he knows that. I understand now (in a way that I didn’t really get before) how futile it is to wish things were different and to wish people back into your world… because once they’ve become a ghost to you, try as you might, you just won’t be able to find them. You can’t see them, and they aren’t talking to you, so you can’t hear them, either.

So stop wasting your breath speaking to empty parking lots. Quit straining your eyes, staring after shadows. Just get on your bike — feel the cool wind patting your shoulders and tickling your hair, and go find a warm, safe place to settle down for the night.

 

Present day, I’m just striving to become a better person because of us. At ARC Stories last week, the mother of an addict stood on the stage, her voice trembling as she shared how much she missed her son. I had to really steel myself against her words to keep my tears at bay.

“So what do I do, then? Since I can’t talk to him, can’t see him, can’t hold him? This is what I do: I hug my daughters tighter. I squeeze my husband’s hand when we go on walks together in the evening. We look at the trees. I write a story, bake a cake, make a wish… anything to reclaim my love for him.”

***

On a brighter note, on 8/28, I returned to school! I am a STUDENT! I was sharing this happy news with a co-worker three days ago when she asked: “I’m curious — what stirred you to do this? To go back?”

“Well,” I responded, “Chris and I got our degrees together a few years ago and then took a ‘sanity break’ to rest, play in a band, and gather our bearings… after he and I separated, I took a few more years to heal emotionally and spiritually. I feel like I’m in a healthy place now — one where I’m ready to further develop myself academically.” I smiled. It was nice to say it (and hear it) out loud, and it was really nice to know, in my heart of hearts, that what I was saying was actually true.

I’m majoring in Spanish (which is, to me, very meaningful) and minoring in creative writing. This particular semester (the start of my JUNIOR year!), I’ve decided to proceed cautiously and “take it slow” by registering for just two classes: one online, one in-person. I’m just one week in to this “full-time worker/part-time student” life and I’m already sleeping better at night. It feels good to set goals for yourself and then run, or walk, or inch towards them. Progress; it’s called progress, and it feels good to progress. I heard a soul-stirring quote recently that’s relevant to what we’re talking about right now: “Progress is the constant replacing of the best there is with something still better.”

I am a little under the weather today because of the inherent stress emanating from all of these exciting but intimidating changes, but I’m glad for them; I’m grateful for the opportunity to educate myself, and I’m very happy to be heading in this thrilling and fulfilling direction.

IMG_20170901_183833_070
studying Spanish + drinking wine mixed with OJ last night

***

I love visiting thrift shops and perusing all kinds of wares within them: vintage clothes, old furniture, tacky paintings and interesting little pieces.

Two weeks ago, I visited a local secondhand store with the intention of finding a raggedy old dress or a pair of high-waisted shorts to wear that weekend — I found the latter (and I’m still trying to figure out when, exactly, I’ll be able to fit into them), and I also nearly ran into an absolutely TERRIFIC lamp.

It looked ancient, and mystical, and it was full of intrigue — AND it was only ten bucks!

I awkwardly picked the heavy thing up with both hands (I’m guessing that it’s made of iron?) and then ran into one of my favorite members (from the credit union I work at); he was shopping with his twin girls.

“Check this out!” I said, indicating the lamp. “Cool, huh?” I smiled, surveying it proudly.

He tilted his head to the side and pursed his lips thoughtfully as he considered the piece. “Maybe if you… paint it… clean it up a little…”

Then, during checkout, I couldn’t help but gush about it again. “Oh, what a steal! Isn’t this lamp just magical-looking?” I exclaimed to the cashier. She eyed it with disinterest.

Ehhhh, whatever. Don’t YOU think it looks magical?

 

***

There’s a person in my life who has, on and off over the course of the last year, made me feel sad. I don’t know if it was their deliberate intention to hurt my feelings and put me down, but I suspected that it was, so their negative comments and mean jokes have, slowly, eroded my sense of peace. I began feeling a sense of dread — not JUST when I was in their presence, but before and afterwards; replaying our conversations at night; recalling their tone of voice and facial expressions while driving; trying to guess at their intentions while cooking or in the shower. It was a massive disruption in my otherwise relatively peaceful life, and I hated it. Anger, pain, and sadness do that, don’t they? They insidiously ooze into all of our open spaces and soil everything.

So I watched a video by Thich Nhat Hanh (a cute, old Buddhist guy) on how to deal with anger, and his advice (which I took with, as with everything else, a grain of salt) was honestly helpful. In a nutshell, he said (and I’m paraphrasing here):

Do you really want to REMOVE your anger? Is it something that started externally, outside of you, and then found its way in, or is it actually something that originated within you?

Considering the fact that anger develops internally, it’s not so much a matter of removing it as of processing it, and the best way of processing anger isn’t to dwell on the feeling of anger itself but to understand why you’re angry… and, in many situations, why someone else has made you angry.

Have they said something unkind? Have they physically hurt you? Know that, when someone does these awful things to us, it is because they are suffering. They suffer, and suffering makes them angry, and they think that, by making YOU suffer, they will suffer less.

So when someone hurts you, don’t cause them to suffer more by retaliating. Instead, say: Friend, I know that you suffer. I will not add to your suffering. I am breathing in and out, and I wish you peace.

I kept this advice in the forefront of my mind for the next few days — breathe in and out; don’t take the unkindness of others personally; be compassionate; keep breathing; keep being compassionate; imagine the meanie as a silly rabbit; keep not taking it personally — but I reached a point where I just couldn’t take it anymore. For the first time ever, I stood up to this difficult person on an afternoon when they’d made another rude and antagonizing remark, and I simply said: “You don’t HAVE to make fun of me.”

Standing up for myself in this small way didn’t alleviate my sense of unease, however, because I knew that — unaddressed — these negative interactions wouldn’t cease or improve. So I bravely decided to request a private phone call with the person.

I shot them a brief text message: “After work, if you have a few minutes, will you please call me? If not, no problem.”

And they called; I had changed into shorts, a tank top, and flip flops and was walking through my neighborhood as we spoke.

I admitted to the person that they’d hurt my feelings and that I felt like they didn’t like me. “I can’t figure out if you really don’t like me or if I’m just being sensitive and FEEL like you don’t like me. I don’t know if I’ve said something that’s hurt you, or made you feel insecure — I just sense this negative energy every time we interact with each other and I want to understand why it’s there.”

They answered very kindly and candidly, and guess what? We were able to clear the air. Imagine that — some honest communication demystifying and burning to ashes months of frustration, hurt feelings, and sensitivity. Also imagine this: I could have spared myself the anguish of enduring said frustration and hurt feelings if I had just said on day one: “My feelings are hurt. Can we please talk openly… try to figure out what’s going on?”

 

So here’s my advice: Enjoy your EXTREMELY SHORT life. Don’t waste it away feeling sick to your stomach or inferior or worrying about stupid shit. Take time now (not later) to process your anger, your sadness, and your insecurities; get down to the sensitive root of them all and then ruthlessly pluck these poisonous weeds out of the ground. And then, plant something beautiful there, in their place.

20170819_092325
This is the plant that Bruster destroyed the day he died; when I came home that evening, she was reduced to soil. Look at her now.

***

It’s time to talk about the vials, isn’t it?

I was at work one morning about two weeks ago when a co-worker (and friend) emailed me: “I’ve got something for you, if you’d like to have it… swing by the department when you can.”

Ooooooh, a surprise! I was delighted. “AWESOMEEEEE! I’ll stop by in about twenty minutes!”

I wrapped up what I was doing and then skipped her way.

 

Once I was standing in front of her, this friend presented two vials. Intrigued, I waited for her to explain the nature of them.

“So — have you ever tried essential oils?” she asked.

“Oh, YES!” I exclaimed, eager for her to continue. “I used peppermint oil a while back to mitigate a migraine.”

“Okay,” she nodded. “Well, I’ve read about your ups and downs and wanted to see if you would be interested in having one of these…” and here, she loosened the caps on the vials. “This one is called peace,” she said, handing it to me so that I could catch a whiff of its scent, “and this one is named happiness,” she continued, placing the other vial in my hand. “I concocted them at home.”

“Wow,” I exhaled. “This feels so monumental — choosing between peace and happiness!” I laughed. But I’d known my answer before sniffing either vial. “I would love to have peace. Thank you so much for thinking of me!”

She nodded affirmatively. “Sounds good! That one has a lot of sage in it.”

“Oooooooh, sage! How magical…”

 

I’ve been rubbing it onto my wrists and neck (and even my cool new scarf!) all week, and I love the way it smells — but beyond the pleasant, distinctly herbal scent of it, I love the idea of arming myself with peace each morning. I think that being at peace with yourself and the world — the wonderfulness and awfulness and terrifying uncertainty of it — is the best feeling possible. I really do. And after you’ve experienced it — that indescribable sensation of peace — you know that you can always return to it. How empowering.

The best news is that you can bring peace with you anywhere — wherever you go, wherever you are; in a crowd, in an embrace, or when you’re all by yourself. It can follow you all through life — dancing in your heart, swelling with your lungs, and swimming through your veins. It’s the nicest, and chillest, and warmest and lightest companion ever. 

***

I woke up feeling inexplicably sad three days ago. I couldn’t remember what I’d just been dreaming about, but the last sentence I’d uttered IN my dream was still vibrating on my lips: “Should I write the name down and take a picture so you won’t forget?”

 

IMG_20170902_112653_114
= me writing this post for you guys this morning. Today’s a good day.

 

Still here,

Aun Aqui