And The Walls Come Tumbling Down

I’m taking a sick day for the first time in forever, and I’ve spent much of it sleeping.

I wrote this a bit ago after another re-reading of Junot Diaz’s This is How You Lose Herwhich is evident in the style. This is a highly excerpted and edited version of a much longer piece that I’ll probably never publish (though, thanks to Doug, Colin, Leslie, and Lindsey, who gave me feedback on the full reads). But it felt good to get this out.

Oh, and for what it’s worth, story-truth is an interesting thing. Timelines are fuzzy, things get fictionalized, etc.

And I’m sleeping just fine now.


 

You always assumed your love triangle phase would happen in your twenties. Some youthful lark, you figured, some princesa shit you’d pull on some guys when being young and bitchy was acceptable and you could chalk it up to youth. You’d roll your eyes at this younger version of yourself someday, and you’d be able to blame the selfishness of it all on your twenties and be happy you moved on.

Now, though, you are thirty and the stakes feel higher for everything. You still wear your hair long, your shorts short, and cling to something you cannot yet name. You didn’t spend your twenties being bitchy and pretty like you hoped you would. Instead, you were chubby and awkward and terrified you’d die alone. You nurtured and loved and were so desperate to not miss on the opportunity for “the love of your life” that you ended up letting the brief period you thought could love yourself selfishly slip through your fingers.

So, after kicking the last heartbreak, you figured you finally had all your shit figured out. You knew what you wanted, you told your friends. You were gonna focus on you. You weren’t going to rush anything and you were gonna be patient and wait for the right guy. They nodded their heads hopefully, encouragingly, but silently laughing that you’d fuck up again and end up causing the same internal drama you always do.

That’s what makes your current predicament so fucking annoying. You end up with the same internal drama. Now, you find yourself in a weirdly shaped cage that you don’t know how to get out of.

You have not slept properly for nearly two months— you refuse to admit that the myriad of reasons your friends list (post-breakup trauma, current inner-turmoil, a new job) may matter. You insist to your parents that you are seeing a therapist and that you are fine and that you’ve simply never slept well. These things are all true, but even you quietly admit to yourself that three hours a night for a month doesn’t make for the most lucid version of yourself.

This is the version of yourself, though, that is riding high-octane fuel into each weekend, turning yourself into a woman with a variety of interests that you vaguely hope will not only make you happy, but pique the interest of a dating life that sometimes feels dead inside you. You teach all day, then run three-miles as a coach, then run to CrossFit, then run to Jiu-Jitsu for few hours. You are usually tired, but feel like if you stop, you will be turning your back on things you fought so hard to regain control of in your life. You often don’t come home for twelve hours, dripping with sweat and barely able to stand. You’ve never been in such good shape, and you keep silently praying that putting your body through this will mean that, finally, you will sleep.

But you don’t. Somehow, sleep still eludes you.

So, you have to fill the time.

We’re not talking about sex, though. It was never about sex for you. You just miss having a person. The one you talk to throughout the day and night. The one who listens to your dumbass jokes and sends you news articles throughout the day and gets your shit. You have friends who will be there, sure, but you’re consistently concerned that you are bothering them. Secretly, you’re worried that if you’re not repaying someone with love or money, they have no obligation nor desire to listen to your shit.

It’s the nothingness, though, that scares you. It feels foreign, unreal, unfathomable. That night, for the first time in a while, you cancel a second date. You have no desire to go out that night.

It wasn’t the date. It was you.

To be fair, you’ve had another three-hour nap for sleep, and this week you have realized that sometimes your eyes don’t focus properly for a few minutes. Still, you don’t know what is going on. You, who were always so passionate. You, who were always so ready to jump into the arms of the next great love story and open your heart. Where are all those feelings now? Where have they run off to?

You’re so tired and your eyes still won’t focus and you don’t know how to stop your mouth anymore. Instead of the date, you call a friend, rambling and lamenting to him that you’re scared you’ve lost the parts of yourself that wants to want someone else.

He listens. Then, he asks you: what if you’re not ready?

You sit with that for a second. You ask yourself— did you want to bail on the date because you wanted something else? Or did you bail because you wanted a friend and not the work of being someone’s thing-I-got-right?

You tell him he may have a point. He tells you to get off the phone and write.

That night, for the first time in months, and without the aide of liquor or medication, you sleep for six hours straight.

And the walls of the cage come tumbling down.

Today is my birthday.

I’ve been thirty for about an hour. I guess I could say I won’t officially be 30 until 6:18PM PST, but we’ll call it right now.

If you had asked me at 16, at 21, at 25, and even last year, what my life would look like right now, I would’ve given you a very different picture than what I am living. I would’ve mentioned marriage and maybe a kid. I would’ve painted this picture of myself– caring, accommodating, wrapped up in the life of someone else and completely entwined in giving everything to anybody but myself. If I’m honest, that’s what I wanted: I wanted to disappear into someone else’s world, content to play the role I thought I was supposed to.

And every day I thank my lucky stars I did not get that life.

Today, as I turned 30, I went to a job I love and taught my students. Then I coached kids while they ran. Then I lifted heavy shit above my head as best as I could.

I went on live TV and didn’t completely lose my cool. I called a friend I trusted when I needed to vent. I stood up for myself when I thought I had to, and then let laughter and love lead to forgiveness, acceptance, and moving forward.

I had a beer at my favorite neighborhood bar, Pint and Jigger. I had good, honest conversation that made me laugh till my stomach hurt. Now, I am sitting here typing this while a big bowl of my mom’s arroz con pollo cools and a can of one of my favorite beers– recommended by another friend– waits for me. Tonight, I will hopefully be sharing another beer with some of the people I love the most.

And I couldn’t be more content.

If I’ve learned anything this year, it’s to trust so deeply in the idea that the more loving a life I lead, the more love will come to me. I spent so much of my life– for reasons beyond my understanding– scared I would not find love. I clung to it, dug for it, tended it in the places that it clearly could not grow in any healthy manner.

In the months leading up to this birthday, however, I have been reminded time and time again, just how blessed I am with people that put up with my bullshit and support me. I don’t know what I did, if anything, to deserve it, but I am in awe of it each day.

So, today is my birthday. Today, I was reminded that my greatest power, my biggest strength is my ability to love big, wide, open, honest, and fiercely.

And I feel like that’s a pretty important lesson to have learned.

Asking the Moon to Cease and Desist

I was reminded that I wrote this 5 years ago. To date, it might be one of my favorite pieces of poetry I’ve ever written.

I’m turning 30 on Friday, and I know I should sit down and reflect, but I really don’t know if I’ll have time. If anything, I listen to this and smile at the girl I once was. I no longer talk to the subject of this poem, but it is such a nice time capsule of who I was. And I am joyful that while I’m wiser and more self-sufficient, I am still as unfettered and loving as I was then.


I would like to request a cease and desist
That you stop with these over-the-moon
tactics. Don’t shake your head and
act like this is news. You created the
moon-tide strategy. The one where I take
a big running leap off your surface
and you somehow wield gravity and
centrifugal force and I don’t get
very far— a wave grasping at the shore
trying to regain my own center. But it’s hard
because the weight of your hand
on my back is a powerful force, and the
gravity of it still leaves a print on the
moonlit beach between my shoulder blades.
and the centrifugal force that
made as you spun your fingers through
my curls over and over again
until I lolled my head against
your chest is too strong on warm
Hawaiian nights, even after a few longboards.

So I am requesting a cease and desist and
maybe even a breach of contract.
because when we set up this agreement
no where in the bylines did you disclose that
conversations with you would be this easy. That they
would reveal the same level of comfort my immigrant
mother once described she felt when she finally finds
someone that speaks her native tongue.

and when we entered into this binding measure there
was no fine print to warn me that
you could make me laugh so hard, or
get me so frustrated with how ridiculous you are.
Trust me, I’ve checked. Waiting for you text before
I go to bed has left me a lot of time to learn some things
about contract law.

And the contract was clearly signed under duress.
there was that moment where we could and maybe should
have walked away but instead you put
the barrel of possibility on my lips and
pulled the trigger. And no red-blooded woman
could’ve withstood firepower like that.

So this thing we are still creating each
time we talk, it must cease. it must desist instead
of continuing to wrap itself around my thumbs
every morning when I text you and around
my throat every afternoon when I wait for your
call and around my eyes every night
when I scan the bar for something that will
serve as your poor-man’s version
but everything I see is shaded with a tinge of
our poorly-lit what-shouldve-beens.

But that’s useless to me now because you are
6000 physical miles away and 12000 emotional ones
and when my head is hitting the pillow you’re already in the next day.

And all I want to do is call and ask you what our tomorrows look like and
if we every course-correct this sinking ship or we just keep
filling in the blanks with poor-quality facsimiles. I already
see it in the guy who almost smells like you but it’s tinged
with cigarettes a whiskey different from the one that
was on your breath when we met. And I see it in the girls on your
Facebook who have curls like mine but lack my… funny thumbs that
could press into your palm when we walked down Hollywood blvd together.

And we’re still walking now, the image of us goes around
and around in my head and beats on my heart like
the waves, pounding the shore for no other reason
than that the moon commands it because no one has
begged it to stop.

The Day I Learned to Swim

I have been running from the ocean since I knew I could swim.

It’s a strange paradox, I know. But at some point early on it
seemed like the ocean of my own heart was
too big to bear. The first time I tried to navigate it on my own,
I was hit with tidal waves of heartbreak and currents
of unnavigable passion that I had no idea how to control.
I was terrified of getting sucked underneath.

So, I jumped on the first floating object I could find.
I sought hands that I was sure could lift me from
the riptides of my own stormy heart, I looked for lips
that would breathe air into lungs too salty with my own
sadness to have a voice. I was so terrified by the first chill
of the water that I desperately clung to the first source of
warmth that would wrap its arms around me and
name me as complete. I played keep-away from the ocean,
And when one lifeboat drifted away, I jumped on the next
insistent that if kept moving I wouldn’t ever get swallowed
by the waves of my own sadness.

After a while, though, as wonderful as the feeling of floating
is, I realized I was missing something.
I learned I can never really feel safe if I don’t believe
in the buoyancy of my own being.

This time, I am trying to be brave.

I stepped out of the ship I built and
decided I needed to learn how to swim.

I jumped into the ocean, felt the chill, and when
I felt like I was going to drown, I began to kick. Hard.
I flailed and churned my limbs. When the winds roared
in my eardrums, I roared right back. I screamed
The sadness out of my chest. I learned to listen to the slapping
of the waves and hear the rhythm of my blood pumping.
I notice the way the tide pulls and clinches at my heart and then lets it go.

And after a while, I realized I could use the currents to push me along.
I could rest in the quiet spaces in the sea, when my
ocean heart would slow the storm and allow me to float,
calmly, from one place to the next. I flipped onto my belly
and began to glide through the water, and embracing the chill.

That was the day I learned to swim.

 

A Happy Girl

Yesterday, during some downtime on set, I called my abuela. She has a surgery coming up, and I wanted to check in and say hello.

After a few rings, I heard her pick up. She has a cell phone now, and so I was greeted with an immediate, “Mamacita!” one of the many nicknames she has for me.

I can’t help but smile when I hear my grandmother’s voice. It’s ingrained in my system, I think. For years, as a small child, she was my world and my protector. Her voice meant extra hugs and kisses while being called, “consentida” (another nickname, which I would later learn didn’t mean “sweetie” like I assumed, but “spoiled,” which was… accurate). Hearing her voice meant I was coming home to egg salad sandwiches with extra egg salad on the side in my favorite little bear bowl and Reading Rainbow would be on the TV. It was the voice that rang after me as she took me on walks to the park so I could run around and play in the grass outside.

So, when I heard her yesterday, I smiled again. I asked how she was, she updated me on her surgery, I told her (in my best, broken Spanish) that I was doing well, waiting around at work, and that I was going to try and see her again in a few weeks for a friend’s wedding.

She paused for a second, then she said in English, “You sound good, mijita linda. You sound like a happy girl.”

I got teary for a second. I knew what she was telling me. She was telling me she had heard about my recent, tumultuous life. She had heard that I had (again) uprooted myself, that I had stepped back from the fire to save my own skin. When she picked up the phone, she had been scared she would hear the sounds of my own failures and regrets weaved into my voice (though, she’d assure me, they were self-perceived since everything is a lesson). She was scared she’d hear the same little girl who cried when she came home from school scared by bullies and boys.

But she didn’t hear that girl.

I confirmed for her that, yes, I was happy. “Todo en mi vida está muy bíen. Tengo mis amigos, mi trabajo está bien, mi familia es tan buena. Sí,” I assured her, saying my life was good, I had my friends, a good job, and a great family, “estoy feliz.”

And I meant it.

It would be easy, yes, to have let myself sink to the bottom of the river. Just as it would have been easy, I know, for my grandmother to have made my life less-joyful as a child. She had struggled to get her family to a stable, safe place in the U.S. We were by no means wealthy, and my grandmother was sacrificing to take care of my brother and me while my parents worked hard at jobs that kept that for long hours, all so that we could have better and more than they did.

She could have let the weight of that sit on her heart, eat at her, and passed it onto me.

Instead, she showered me with a deep, intense love, filled with joy and laughter and walking adventures to the park. Her voice rings through, nourishing and loving. It’s the reminder to enjoy the extra egg salad on the side and laugh at a kids TV show. It’s that love that filters through my childhood memories. It reminds me, that in the end, nunca estoy sola, I’m never alone, because I have a surfeit of love and light.

And I am a happy girl indeed.

IMG_2376.JPG

First Neighborhood Meeting

Today was my first NB meeting and… I really dug it. Definitely a lot of issues to consider re: board efficiency, community involvement, and getting work, but I had a blast.

I’m going to do quick summaries of cool community services I hear about via Instagram Story. If you want more details, you can always check out the minutes.

 

It’s about You. It’s about the collective Us

I saw The Last Days of Judas Iscariot and it hit me right where I needed it to. I’m re-reading the play and stumbled upon this gem in the first few pages.

I also think that religion gets a bad rap in this country and that non-maniac-type people who are religious or spiritual have a responsibility to stand up, be counted, and gently encourage others to consider matters of faith and to define for themselves what their responsibilities are and what it means to try to be “good.” It’s not about joining a team or a church or choosing sides or learning a prayer. It’s not about man-made concepts of good and evil. It’s not about doing “enough” or “too little.” It’s not about shame and guilt. It’s about You. It’s about the collective Us. Thomas Merton said, “To be a saint means to be myself.” What if that were true? What is it that we need to overcome in order to truly be “Ourselves”? I won’t pretend at all that this play answers that question, but if it provokes the question in you, then please let it. Ponder it. Because we need you.

—STEPHEN ADLY GUIRGIS NEW YORK CITY, 2005

Guirgis, Stephen Adly. The Last Days of Judas Iscariot: A Play . Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition.

From Education Week: Honesty In The Fight: What ‘Game of Thrones’ Teaches Us About Education Discussions

I’ve been thinking a lot about trust, honesty, and transparency lately. Here’s something I put together for EdWeek.


 

There are always three ways to handle a difficult conversation: you can skirt around the issue; hoping someone understands your meaning; you can simply run from it; or you can stand up, look the problem in the eye and tell it like it is.

Jon Snow definitely tells it like it is.

Many people watching the Game of Thrones season 7 finale watched with bated breath as Jon Snow decided whether to lie and gain allyship with an enemy queen or tell the truth. Many yelled at their televisions when the King in the North (the aforementioned Jon, for those of you who don’t watch the show) decided to tell the bold-faced truth and potentially ruin that allyship, frustrating his current allies in the process.

I, too, was struck by Jon’s honesty, and wondered about the need to lie to help the greater good. Then, Jon Snow said something that stuck with me the rest of the night. He looked his frustrated allies in the eye and told them, “We need to be honest with each other if we’re going to fight together.”

I was struck by the simplicity and truth of that line, and how much it applied to so many aspects of our life. If we’re going to be on the same team, we have to trust each other. That means being transparent, up front, and telling our truth even when we think it’s difficult for other people to hear.

The thing is, once that trust is broken, we start playing Littlefinger’s game in our heads. At one point in the finale, Littlefinger, an aid to the Lady of Winterfell, asks her to imagine someone’s worst intentions for doing things, to see if the possible reasoning matches up.

Once we lose trust and faith in the word of those we seek to ally with, it is difficult to trust their intentions. It becomes harder to assume they want the same things we do and for us to grow together as a team. Disagreements and tension can be worked through, but losing trust means losing the ability to be vulnerable and honest with those in the trenches with us. Without trust and transparency, we cannot challenge each other to do better.

How many of us have lost that trust on our school teams, within our community, or with our students? How many of us are unable to trust that we all want to move forward despite disagreements, and thus have been unable to make that progress?

In order for growth to happen, we have to model honesty and trustworthiness by having difficult conversations because we know that they’re important. We have to make the first step to look our problems in the eye and name them so that we can fight together. We have to challenge each other to be better, and we need to disagree sometimes in order to grow everyone’s thinking. Is it scary? Yes. Can it threaten our ability to ally? Sure. But if we all name the real problem, we can all move towards a common good.

And our students deserve that. They need us to be honest and upfront with each other and with them so that we can fight the common enemy of systemic oppression and educational inequity. When done with the right intention, it is the compassionate thing to do. It allows us to demand the best and push each other and allows others to challenge us when our own thinking needs to be changed.

So, we need to trust each other to fight together. Without it, we find ourselves isolated and weakened. We can’t afford that now since we know that the winter of our national discontent is no longer just approaching. It is here, and only our work together can begin to let the light back in.

The Ragged Sweetness of My Own Voice

“You need to get up now. I need you to get up.”

I am kneeling on a cold floor, sobbing into bedsheets.

“You need to get up now.”

I brace myself against the command, the voice thick with emotion and wet with tears. I grasp tighter at the soft cotton, the smoothness of it against my palm soothing. I shake my head, sobbing harder. My anchor-heavy heart sinks further into the ground, the leaden weight ripping a track down my gut as it goes. I open my mouth, and my sadness begins to tumble out and patter to the ground like broken shells, each one cutting my throat and making a thin, little wail and cough each time they hit the floor. I actively open my jaw wider, as though I could let out all this feeling, all this hurt, all this stuff out with tears and small-hurt-animal-sounds. I shake my head again, so sure I will not be able to get up, sure I will not be able to pick up my keys, sure I will not walk out the door. I am sure I will be anchored forever by the bed, in a broken harbor of my own making.

“You have to go now. You have to do this. I need you to do this.”

Even more strained, the seriousness makes me snap back to myself. I struggle to take a few deep breaths, my own inhalation rushing into me like ice. I blink my eyes a few times. I cough, the last few shards of sadness sputter out again, cracking once they land.

Stop. Breathe. Again. Good. ”

“You know you need to get up now. You know you can do this.”

I nod, recognizing the voice as my own. When panic hits, the separation between the head and the heart becomes so clear, so precise, that it’s jarring when the wall shatters and comes down.

Still, after years of begging others to help me come home, I take a deep breath, and hear my own voice– ragged and strained, but still sweet and drunk on its own agency– bring me back to myself.

“You know you can do this.”

I take a breath again. I see so many faces, people who have wrapped themselves around me like warmth in the storm, nodding as I finally, for the first time, come into myself as master of my own fate.

Today, that fate is merely picking up my keys and being able to leave the house.

I take another shuddered breath. I nod to myself again.

I pick up my anchor-heart. I feel the weight of it in my palms, notice how my arms strain to carry it. I sweep away the bits of my own sadness, mindful not to get cut, not scared if I do. I listen to my own broken voice, a siren’s call, begging me to come home. My throat is ragged with painful truths. I hear the sweetness of its own power. And I leave the house.

Today, that small victory is the flag on top of Everest. It’s the medal at the end of the marathon. It’s the ravaged warrior, finally come home again, not dead as once-believed but scratched, beaten, scarred, and smiling that they came out the other side.

Today, the call was my own voice. Today, I listened and came home.