A birthday gift

39 years ago today, an infant girl child saw the light seeping through the womb she'd known for many cozy months. Muscles shifted and subducted like tectonic plates, blood and hormones swished and swirled nosily, surely awaking this infant girl child from her creation slumber. It was time to move from this life to the next, from her human mother's belly into her human mother's hands. 

Kelly is 39 today, wherever she continues. She was a lover of birthdays, happy to celebrate her life. She often took to sunrise drives to some body of water or a hike to a tall vista to catch the very first rays of sun that marked the next go-round. Her next year. Her life. Oh, how she owned it. Today, in honor of her, I renew my vow to do the same. More owning, more celebrating, more watching the waves, more seeing it all from above.

Also, I made you a gift. Last night, I spent a few hours combing Kelly's online presence for her birthday posts, and I've put them all together for you with links (click on the dates below each photo). Please enjoy spending time with this medicine woman.

2017, age 37

2016, age 36

2015, age 35

2014, age 34

The rest are links to her blog:

2012: The Birth of a Day

2011: A Day in the Life: Birthday Edition

2010: The Day Umber Turned 30

2009: The Polls are Open and I had Great Hair

2008: Birthday Month

2007: Untitled, near her birthday

Happy Birthday, Babe. I shall see the salt water this morning and taste the goodness of a meal and the love of our women...in your fabulous honor. Forever.

Best Of 2018: Music for writing

I need music to write.

Music, I've discovered this year especially, makes all the difference in my ability to get into the emotion of what I am writing. (I'm even considering making a suggested playlist for each chapter in the book I'm currently writing). This year, I've been able to compile my go-to music for writing, but I have two different playlists depending on the kind of writing I'm trying to accomplish.

Music while working is tricky for me because I am also extremely sensitive to auditory stimulation. I was one of those college students who would trek to the library and plant myself into a desk with the walls all up around it, just so I could have near total silence. But now, since I work at home and have a lot of solitude, sometimes that silence can be deafening, demotivating. That's when I discovered that a certain type of music actually would really help me - it had to be wordless, ambient, but also have driving beats and a strong sense of emotion. I needed to be placed into the other world and music transported me.

So, for writing where I am needing to get things flowing and moving, to really get it done, to do a lot of editing for stuff already written, I've complied this Write: Produce Mode list. It's full of Tycho, Ulrich Schanuss, Brian Eno, and more.

For writing that's meditative and painful (I am writing a book about death and grief and my dead best friend, after all), I created Write: Temenos Mode. 'Temenos' is a Greek term describing a piece of land set aside for kings or reserved as sacred and protected. Carl Jung used it to describe a personal container, sense of holy privacy, a protected space where creation happens (just writing, no editors or judgments allowed). This music is also great for tarot pulls, meditation, and naps!

I'd love to hear any more recommendations!
Get writing.


Best Beauty/Skin Products of 2018

Continuing in my "Best Ofs" for 2018, here is my recommendations for skin and makeup products that I fell in love with this year.

I've been more focused on skincare (hello, 40!), so I did a lot of investing and testing. Here's my results in video format:

Product Links:

I have several new makeup products and tools I'm loving, too. (That's an epic thumbnail pic, haha):

Product Links:

Earrings are by Lynzee Lynx

Any questions? Any recommendations for stuff you love/found this year?

Best Books of 2018

I'm feeling inspired to share some of my "Best Ofs" for this past year. I'll start with books!

The fiction novel, "Freshwater" by debut author Akwaeke Emezi was such a thrilling story and imaginative concept, delightfully disorienting. What if several gods took up residence in one person - what would that do to their actions? It's about the inner life of a Nigerian woman, Ada. Mysterious and mystical, this book lingers with me still, months later.

I'll read anything by the formidable Jesmyn Ward, but "Sing, Unburied, Sing," gives me chills just remembering the ending. This fictional account of a family in rural Mississippi on a fateful road-trip. As the family drives to retrieve the father from the local prison, the teenage boy encounters a ghost that only he and his gifted baby sister can see. Ward's fascination with the way the living and the dead interact is gripping, and fuel for page-turning.
Elena Ferrante's fictional Neapolitan series, which starts with "My Brilliant Friend," was recommended to me by my friend Niki and is confusingly addicting. We've both discussed how strange they are to read - how intricate and detailed. And how they shouldn't be so interesting, this account of a decades-long friendship between two girls from Naples, but it is. I'm finishing up the fourth novel now, eager to see how it will all wrap up. What I like about the series is how she shows the complexities of life as a woman and her relationships. It's also highly entertaining AND is now an HBO series (though, of course, the books are so much better because of the richness and timber of Ferrante's voice).

Now for the non-fiction/memoir:

Nina Rigg's "The Bright Hour" will leave you utterly undone. She wrote it from the time she was diagnosed with cancer to just weeks before she passed. Riggs is an artist, masterfully crafting some of the most tragic happenings with a killer sense of humor, profound depth of insight and intelligence, and admirable restraint - it would be so easy to rant and rage, with every right to do so, but she doesn't. I wept when I finished, and not just because she died, but because it was such a deeply beautiful book and an example of how impactfull I want my own book to be. A favorite passage of mine:

“I am reminded of an image...that living with a terminal disease is like walking on a tightrope over an insanely scary abyss. But that living without disease is also like walking on a tightrope over an insanely scary abyss, only with some fog or cloud cover obscuring the depths a bit more."

And another:

“For me, faith involves staring into the abyss, seeing that it is dark and full of the unknown—and being okay with that."

"The Shame of Loosing," by my friend and local author Sarah Cannon just came out and I devoured it! This is the account of Cannon's living through her ex-husband's traumatic brain injury - back when they were in their early 20s and had two small children. What could easily be a rant by a woman put upon by shitty circumstances is in fact a thoughtful and introspective journey that I loved reading.

"California Calling," by my very-dear friend (and mentor, but shh! don't tell her), Natalie Singer, surprised me. I mean, she's my friend (I'm lucky because I'm in a writer's group with both Singer and Cannon), so I am going to like it - but it is a fascinating piece of art that I wasn't expecting to find so thought-provoking. Here's my Goodreads full review:

California Calling: A Self-InterrogationCalifornia Calling: A Self-Interrogation by Natalie Singer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Every time I open my mouth in public to speak, it feels like I am on a witness stand. My chest tightens and my heart crawls up my neck. Even when I'm asked something as simple as my name, it seems like I'm being asked to account for everything that is."

When the narrator was 16, she was asked to testify in family court and she found herself totally mute. This is a pivotal moment in her life, the losing of her voice. The book takes the reader through the beautiful, confusing, complex journey of Singer finding that voice all over again.

I marvel at how Singer was able to see into her memory with almost shamanic magic, reclaiming the soul and spirit of the moments, in addition to the details. She had no fantastical events in her life from which to draw on, but her life, like every human life, is fraught with story and rich in curiosity. Finding the magic when looking back at one's own life is so hard to do - and she inspired me to do the work of forcing a re-frame. How Singer knows what her reader will find interesting is part of her sneaky greatness.

Singer feels almost tangible. She appears before me clearly; sometimes I am her. I'm sweating on that hike in the desert when her boyfriend randomly sits down in an old, used chair and wants to reclaim it; I'm in the car during conversation she had with a California ranger in the moment where she reclaims her voice; I'm a witness on the street when she faces off with the bitch in the car who won't concede. Singer's meditative pace is a joy - in her subtle capturing of the mundane and infusing it with color and movement, not unlike a painter would paint. Not unlike standing in front of a work of art at a museum. There is so much more than we are seeing, and we know it.

The form also excites me; reminiscent, I think, of the artistry and genre-bending form ala Lidia Yuknavich's The Chronology of Water or Abigail Thomas' Safekeeping: Some True Stories from a Life.

The language is sometimes poetic in lyricism, other times journalistic in concision. And while it feels like a gentle read, Singer's searing intelligence and the things she does not say…they cut deep. A gentle cutting, I suppose - but Singer has enough love for her fellow human to sew them back up again in the end. Instead of bleeding out, we close the book with a gift: an invitation into deeper introspection, nostalgia, and sweet little wisps of our own life's story-ghosts.


What are your best books of 2018? 

p.s. I've linked all the books to Powell's, in the hopes that if you purchase - you'll buy it used, and hopefully from an independent bookstore. I'm trying to wean myself of the convenience and monopoly of Amazon.com - and books are the easiest way to do that. Let's spread the love to the little bookshops.

The lasts

Today is June 8. On this day last year, I sat at this very table in this very coffee shop. I awaited Kelly, who texted me 20 minutes earlier, "Hi you. Any chance you're free right now? I've just finished at the Tummy Temple and have an hour until I see Aylee."

"I'm at Cafe Kopi, come on up," I texted back.

She sauntered in, ordered a green juice, and flipped her hair as she sat down across from me. We'd never met here before, I had only just moved to the neighborhood and was trying out new coffee shops. She was impressed with the juice, and I was happy that my espresso wasn't bitter.

It was that day, that conversation, that cup of coffee...when the news really began to go downhill, gain momentum, fuel the worst anxiety of my life (and also marks the day I stopped drinking caffeine. Anxiety and caffeine hurt each other). Ever since we'd returned from Maui a month ago, she'd been fearing that her lungs were filling with malignant fluid. She was getting winded just trying to walk from one end of the house to the other and it was not improving. She would be going later that day for a scan.

She hugged me and sashayed off to her day.

Bad news came in. Worse news followed it. She died five weeks later.

June 8, 2017                                                                                   June 8, 2018         

I couldn't come back here for months following her death, avoiding the last place we were okay, when everything was fine.

There are so many things the same. It's gloomy today, just as it was one year ago. I am wearing a gray sweater, same as last year. Hair newly bleached, again, the same. I've been here several times since and it hasn't changed at all in a year. The traffic from Lake City Way continues, the bell on the door rings with every entrance and exit, my black decaf (sigh) Americano tastes the same. Motherhood is kicking my ass, just like June 2017.

And just like last year, I feel the need to fight but cannot find anyone's face to punch. There is no enemy here, just as there was no enemy then - not one I could battle, anyway.

Death would have claimed her at some point, just as it will claim all the hearts I love. I am learning how to live with death, but I am still ruined by the how, the when. The difference is that I know her how. I know her when. I would do almost anything to not know those things. To go back to this date one year ago when my worries were about wanting to be a better mom to Bowie, which I journaled about. Every single entry since then has Kelly's name in it.

Everything continued on without her, a feat I swore would be impossible.

But just like with Love, Death performs the impossible.

I feel my physical system going through these adrenaline spikes just like this time last year, when we were ramping up for...we'll, we didn't know what. I am ramping up again, awakening to phantoms, echos of bad news. Reports of this same phenomenon are coming in from the other women, too. The body does indeed keep score.

"The world was ending," texted Jess recently. "Because her world was ending."

Of course we didn't know that then, but we did feel the tidal wave of something approaching. And as the five-week countdown to the one year anniversary of her death begins, that inkling builds again.

Perhaps this is what to expect every year: a reliving, a reprocessing, a re-experiencing that my body must go through. Grief people say so.

The last few weeks, I've been happy. Curious, even...about these weeks approaching. What will they feel like? Making plans to commemorate so many lasts...the last coffee date, the last day she hugged Joel in the entry way, the last time she ate at my dinner table, the last text, the last voicemail, last communal meal at Niki's, the last time she and I spoke alone.

I miss her, so I wanted to relive it. I invited myself back into hell. And so here I sit, brick after brick of lasts piling on top of me.

Elizabeth Gilbert recently posted about loosing her wife to cancer earlier this year and it's haunted me ever since:

"Here is what I have learned about Grief, though.

I have learned that Grief is a force of energy that cannot be controlled or predicted. It comes and goes on its own schedule. Grief does not obey your plans, or your wishes. Grief will do whatever it wants to you, whenever it wants to. In that regard, Grief has a lot in common with Love.

The only way that I can “handle” Grief, then, is the same way that I “handle” Love — by not “handling” it. By bowing down before its power, in complete humility.

When Grief comes to visit me, it’s like being visited by a tsunami. I am given just enough warning to say, “Oh my god, this is happening RIGHT NOW,” and then I drop to the floor on my knees and let it rock me. How do you survive the tsunami of Grief? By being willing to experience it, without resistance.

The conversation of Grief, then, is one of prayer-and-response.

Grief says to me: “You will never love anyone the way you loved Rayya.” And I reply: “I am willing for that to be true.” Grief says: “She’s gone, and she’s never coming back.” I reply: “I am willing for that to be true.” Grief says: “You will never hear that laugh again.” I say: “I am willing.” Grief says, “You will never smell her skin again.” I get down on the floor on my fucking knees, and — and through my sheets of tears — I say, “I AM WILLING.” This is the job of the living — to be willing to bow down before EVERYTHING that is bigger than you. And nearly everything in this world is bigger than you.

I don’t know where Rayya is now. It’s not mine to know. I only know that I will love her forever. And that I am willing."

Meet me for coffee, Dove?