In my recorder ensemble this term, we are playing “Ave Regina Coelorum”, a piece by Isabella Leonarda. Her music is some of the oldest known compositions written by a woman. It’s rich and layered, and when played with soprano, alto, tenor and bass recorders, sounds like a choir or an organ. Outside of rehearsals, I’ve been listening to choral arrangements for context on how my part fits into the whole, and it’s gotten me thinking about choral music in general, and why I and so many others are drawn to it, even if we aren’t particularly religious.

My friend Nina and I attended a unitarian church service last summer. It was the same church Nina had grown up attending, and they wanted to see what it was like as an adult. I’ve been searching for a church-ish experience where I can feel like part of an intentional community without a lot of the god stuff: a sort of humanist, nondogmatic atheism based on critical thought, community activism, and kindness and generosity in all things. Even better if I could sing in a choir.

After the service and several rounds of singing, Nina said something like: “I don’t know what it is about that kind of music, it just gets me every time I hear it.”

I agreed. Even with all my ambivalence about institutionalized religion, the singing is still just incredible. I used to feel confused about that: why did I love the act of singing religious music in a group but feel so disconnected from religion itself?

This may not be a revelation for most, but it was for me. When I stopped feeling weird about it, I realized it was the human voice I loved. The sacred is in the sound of voices, trained or otherwise. The rising and falling of voices in a place that is spiritual to so many, and has been for centuries before, will always give me a slightly choked-up feeling.

Same with my “Ave Regina.” If I stop to consider it, it’s staggering to be playing music over a thousand years old. Most amazingly, it is still vital with life, and it will outlive us all.

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I started taking pole dance classes almost 5 years ago. I wish I could say I’m amazing at this point, but I am not. For one thing, my commitment has been sporadic at best. For another, I’m pretty uncoordinated in general, and many forms of body movement do not come easily or naturally to me.

Still, I’ve tried many other forms of “fitness”, exercise, and dance, and none have stuck as much as pole has. I like that every time I go to class, even though I’ve been to lots of classes previously, I always learn a new move. There’s always some novel way to hang or climb or spin. Even just sitting on the pole, you can make all kinds of shapes with your limbs and hips and torso. You can be silly or weird or pretty or just a person making anguished faces because you’ve just smashed the top of your foot midkick, AGAIN. It’s great.

If you’ll allow me a little zen indulgence, lately one of the most interesting parallels I’ve seen between poling and real life is the act of letting go. Many polers are afraid of the spin; they fear falling midair so much that they can’t take the initial, required step. I’ve never had this fear. I fling myself at the pole with abandon, because I trust that even if I do the spin all wrong, the strength in my arms will keep me from doing a face plant. I won’t fall because, at the very least, I can hold myself up.

My problem, my fear, is letting my arms go. In specific sits or inversions, it looks fierce if you can let go with one or both hands. Trouble is, I don’t trust my legs to hold me like I do my arms. I convince myself, as I’m slowly lowering myself backwards, that I cannot possibly, possibly take my hands off the pole. Even though I know logically the ground isn’t far, even though I have never fallen before, even though there are people all around me ready to spot me in a flash, I … just … can’t … let … go. Any and all encouragement is drowned out by my mind just saying no, over and over. I will hold on if it kills me. Which is interesting, considering that letting go probably won’t kill me at all.

To bring this terribly on-the-nose metaphor to a close, sometimes I do finally let go. Oops, spoiler alert. And it’s always the same, after I’ve let go, I am never as afraid as I am in the moments leading up to it. I hold my arms outstretched, or behind my head, and I’m relieved. And then I forget, and fight the same battle all over again the next time.

I know I crave control. So many things in my life feel out of my control, and so much of the time I find myself reaching and grasping and holding on for dear life. It never feels good, but I sometimes convince myself it’s all I have. If I could just hold on tighter, grasp harder, maybe then …

Maybe then what? My life will be perfect? I can finally relax? Loneliness and boredom and frustration and fear will disappear?

At the very least, I expect I would feel the relief of my arms flung wide and my palms open to everything.

Content warning: the complete dumpster fire of the Kavanaugh nomination, talk of sexual assault and trauma, no talk of hope or solutions.
I want to say up front that there will be nothing of substance in this post. Nothing new that hasn’t already been said. But since this is my own special-snowflake Millennial platform, here I am to repeat a bunch of things that are better said by others, because I feel that not saying them would be inauthentic and because I almost feel that I cannot move on to writing about other things without plunging through this dirty river first.

You know how we often get caught in cycles where the cliche “doing the same thing while expecting different outcomes” applies? (Hi, welcome to my career, relationships, exercise goals, and life in general.) Well, I feel like this has happened for progressives for at least the last two years: re: our current administration. Two years ago, when “grab them by the pussy” was part of our daily soundbite consciousness, we thought that there was no way that dude could hold the highest elected office in our country. Then, when that indeed came to pass, we thought there was no way any number of other parts of his agenda would make it out of his on-a-different-planet brain: the Muslim ban, the wall, the continuation of his narcissistic tweets and racist rallies. We continue to watch him say appalling things about whatever minority he feels like mocking and squashing at the moment. You know this. I know this. Why summarize it? Why continue to give it air time, which so often, regardless of our intentions, can mistakenly become legitimacy?

Why indeed. I believe my repetition is incredulity. I’m still shocked. I still feel punched in the stomach when I hear the president mock a victim of sexual assault. “I had one beer. Well, when was the party? I don’t remember. How’d you get home? I don’t remember. Was it upstairs, downstairs? I don’t remember. But I had one beer!” I feel dizzy and about to vomit when that mocking gets cheered for and laughed at by a huge crowd of my fellow humans. The wound scabs over and opens again and again. I feel like I can’t breathe, like I will faint, I’m screaming and who will hear me.

(Please note: the quote above is not in order verbatim because I could not actually bring myself to go back and listen to it again. I would apologize for any misquoting or inaccuracies, but frankly I could care less at this point.)

I have been walking around in a fog the last two weeks, which have felt like years, which have felt like a lifetime. A fog of despair and fear and helplessness and bone-deep rage. I’ve heard so many women say this week, “I no longer feel safe in this country.” I nod and think about the generations of marginalized people before us who never had the privilege of feeling safe.

I am thankful for my therapist. And, interestingly, I am thankful that he is a man. I know it’s his job to let me rage and cry in his office for an hour. I know it’s his job to listen to the sexual trauma I have wrestled with and slept with for years, because I felt I would not be heard or believed by those in power if I set it free. But even though it’s his job, I still hear the compassion in his voice, the generosity of his silences, the respect he has for me in the questions he asks. As far as I can tell, he has never not believed me. I am glad he is a support in my life because he reminds me of all the individual men I love, even when my hatred for the men with the most power feels as though it will crush me.

In conclusion. If your name is Brett or Mitch or Lindsey and you are thinking of changing it, I wouldn’t blame you.

In real conclusion, and on the risk of sounding pat, please, please take care of each other right now. Reach out, check in, hold one another, belong with each other. The three seconds it takes you to say, “I’m thinking of you” or “how are you feeling?” or “I believe you” can be the steeliest strength in the armor that helps us keep fighting. For justice, for love, for safety, for survival.

This morning when I stepped outside to water my plants at 6 AM, the air felt like fall. The light was dim, whereas for months it had been full and bright at this time of day. During the night, a spider had spun its web over the leaves of my tomato plant. Summer Lauren had no qualms reaching through the fragrant stems and demolishing those threads, but today I couldn’t bring myself to destroy someone else’s home.

The breeze was chilly and damp. I slithered my bare arms through the tomato leaves to pluck the small bounty of fruit. I was relieved to stand in mist and coolness. I love fall, though its coming sometimes makes me exquisitely sad.

It’s been a strange summer. Without school, I feel anchorless. My writer friend Kate, who whizzed through Seattle to share a meal with me on her way further north to visit her sister, says I’m right on track with the post-grad blues. She’s two years out, about to publish a book, and finally starting to feel grounded.

I’m also unsettled because of our nation’s climate of hate. I know there are well-made arguments about staying and fighting, or even just staying and witnessing, but I am heartsick over what we know is going on and has gone on in this current administration, and I imagine we actually know very little about the whole of it. Just call me a conspiracy theorist. I am, not in jest, trying to think of any viable strategies of getting out of this country and into one where I feel safer, where I feel like my fellow citizens are safer. Maybe not permanently, but for a while. Canada is so close.

As is probably apparent at this point, it turns out I have very little to write about today. But I did want to sweep the cobwebs out of this corner of the Internet and say hello to you, and that I’m alive, and that I’m glad you are, too.

I often picture a reservoir of joy in my body. Joy that could drown all who I love in its effervescence, infect us all with energy and empathy and depth. I can almost feel it as a physical thing zinging around inside me and making me want to dance ecstatically. Sometimes I feel as though I can’t reach the joy, though. It’s locked up, afraid to be uncorked. Or, I can’t get to it because it’s stuck behind a bunch of other crap: sadness, the difficulty of navigating every day life, the crush of financial trial.

What if this joy in my body is something everyone feels but, like me, struggles to access? What if we could all access this joy, if barriers were demolished so that we could feel the depths of our happiness and love? It’s undoubtedly pretty woo-woo, but it’s what I dream of. What if we all could feel it?

An ex-partner of mine told me once that I had “infectious joy.” As the years go by, it seems harder for me to reach. It’s still there, it must be. I feel it when I hear a resolved chord, when my dog leans her body into my side, when I feed people, when people feed me, when I am invited into a web of connection and misfit community, when I am welcomed into a family, however briefly. During those times, I feel open, vulnerable in a way that is not terrifying, able to give and love with all my defenses down. I am empowered to be soft. These times have been way too brief in my adult life. I want my infectious joy to be more accessible, more ready and willing to come out.

My favorite Lucinda Williams song is called “Joy.” The song’s protagonist says she’s lost her joy and she wants it back, so she’s going to go to different places along her life’s trajectory to try to find it. It’s easy to assume that, “You took my joy and I want it back” refers to a severed love, but for me, I think of it as what the world has taken. It is so easy for our systems and our society to grind me (and others like me) down. We miss our joy. We want it back.

Where do you go, or what do you do, to get your joy? Do you find there are ways to extend infectious joy to others even when you’re still pining for yours to come back?

My parents grew zucchini when I was a kid, and my mother magically turned it into bread. Sweet and spicy, I couldn’t imagine that it contained a vegetable. When I started cooking and baking in college, I used my fledgling Internet skills to track down zucchini bread recipes in the hopes of cinnamon-sweet replication.

Most recipes I found used about a cup of vegetable oil, 2 cups of sugar, and very little zucchini. I’m certainly not opposed to oil and sugar, but I understand now why I had trouble believing my mom’s loaves had any zucchini in them.

I started experimenting with more savory breads. I’ve baked ones with barely a tablespoon of sugar, flecked with sesame and flax seeds, and dense with whole wheat flour. I’ve made a loaf with a combination of zucchini and carrots, with raisins that all sank into a clump as it baked. I’ve considered cream cheese frosting. I’ve considered that my mom’s bread might just be the best there is.

Then I started adding lemon zest, ginger, and curry powder, based on an idea I got from Heidi Swanson. It hits all the notes for me: sweet, savory, spicy, mysterious, something that people have trouble pinning down but find intriguing. I find it addictive.

As a kid, my friends and I would eat zucchini bread for snacks after school. Even my most suspicious-of-zucchini friends were won over.

As a teenager, my August breakfasts were always similar: a hunk of zucchini bread, a handful of blueberries, and whatever awful flavored coffee I was into at the time. (I was partial to hazelnut and caramel.) I’d spend my mornings on the computer, poking around chat rooms eating every last crumb.

I am generally not a romantic person. I will usually side with progress and don’t subscribe to the idea that the “good old days” are worth returning to. I am romantic about food, however, and about food traditions. As a typical midwestern family, our food was not precious or unique. Yet, every time I pull out my mixing bowls and box grater, feel the green watery zucchini strands clinging to my fingers, smell the warmth of spice, I think of being young. I think of my childhood Augusts with autumn breathing around the corner, the start of a new schoolyear, the promise of hurtling towards some bright future. My recipe may have changed, but the feelings remain the same.

Yesterday, I got on a bus and at the next stop, a woman barreled towards where me and my dog were sitting, and screamed, “Ahhhh move I’m getting off!” There was no where for us to move to, we were scrunched as far as possible into a seat; Kiva was well under it at my feet.

Before I could even react, she yelled, “Good thing you’re blind, bitch!” and hightailed it off the bus.

I was left perplexed and pissed, my body instinctively full of adrenaline. The other passengers, in their typical Seattle way, looked everywhere but at me. Their silence held all the desperation of trying to pretend they hadn’t had to witness the last 30 seconds.

Only the bus driver said to me as I was leaving several stops later, “That woman’s been off her rocker for years.”

I nodded in acknowledgement and thanked him for the ride. It took me hours to shake the experience.

I keep wondering what has gone on in her life to make her react that way to me, or to anyone. This incident is similar to others I’ve experienced on transit or walking down the street. I’m always left shaken and wondering why.

I imagine the majority of these incidents are way more about the other person, and about society, than they are about me. This doesn’t hold much comfort in the moment, but it is likely true.

I want some action step, some way to make the life of this woman better. I don’t know how to do that.

This is the thing I tell myself all the time: if I am fortunate enough, some day in my life, to no longer be poor, to not be lonely, to have the community and family I so want to build, to not pay for groceries with EBT, to have health insurance, to not have to compromise for love, to have easy days, I must remember what it was like. I must not be complicit in forgetting, no matter how seductive the thought of forgetting is.

I must remember her, because we are not that different. I must remember, no matter what happens, how struggle feels.

I must never forget compassion.