The Sentinel

This is a piece I contributed to my friend Sas Petherick’s book The Body Stories

I poke holes into my body 6-16 times a day, every day. That’s 2190-5840 holes per year. Some of those are for bloodletting. Others let in the hormone I long ago stopped producing. Contrary to what is a weirdly common question: I do still feel it, even after nearly 27 years. In fact, over the last year or so they have all begun to hurt more than they ever did before, a fact which makes no scientific sense; but there it is.

I listen intently to my body in order to be able to hear the beginnings of things I need to ward off: low blood sugar, high blood sugar. A migraine. A panic attack. Sometimes an innocuous thing sounds malignant, and I gather up all my tools and strategies for what turns out to be nothing at all. Other times the opposite is true, and I’m soundly defeated because I misheard.

About once a year I am overtaken by a huge bitterness over this hand I was dealt as a ten-year-old. Why can’t I just live my life? What I wouldn’t give to be able to simply give myself over to the moment, without reserving some part of myself to act as sentinel. To not deal with medical professionals who understand so very little about what it’s like to live this way, yet pass judgment upon the way I manage it (which is, I’ve been made to understand, pretty damned well). To not answer the same five inane questions from mostly well-meaning people. To not keep a constant algorithm in my head. To never again ask myself silently, and almost unconsciously, If x equals insulin and y equals time and z equals food, then what is your current state, factoring in hormones and nutrition and energy levels and depression and stress?

The truth is, I’m lucky. It’s not cancer, or AIDS, or any one of what must be a million other more difficult, more immediately damning, conditions. Had I been born one hundred years earlier, I’d have died before my eleventh birthday. Had I been born to a different mother, one without a medical background, I’d likely not have done so well.

I never remember that you’re diabetic, many friends say to me. You just don’t make a big deal about it.

I never know what to make of that. The truth is, it’s not that interesting. It’s not likely to kill me, despite all the secondary conditions that have struck the majority of people who’ve lived with type 1 diabetes for this long – all of which I’ve managed to avoid. Borrowed time, I suppose. Still: not all that interesting. What’s more, I’m not interested in turning it into a cause I discuss, let alone champion. It’s a hoop I jump through, all day, every day, and I’ll be damned if I let it be anything more than that.

But this body? Oh, I know it’s not much to look at. It will never win any awards for fitness or graceful carriage. Still, this body deserves a medal. For swift and mostly accurate communication. For diligence. For endurance.

 

The Latest

Just a brief roundup of things I’m finding interesting right now.

Some Thoughts On Depression. I wish everyone could read this article.

Letter to a Future Republican Strategist Regarding White People. And I wish everyone could read this article, too.

This Downton Abbey-themed poster would look great framed.

A beautiful, edgy teapot with a line from one of my favorite songs of all time on it.  (So very sadly: now unavailable.)

And finally, this thought: The election is over, yes; but for quite a few of us, the avid interest in politics has only just begun.

On drifting

You lose your way.

You move on because it’s time to move on.

And as your determination loses steam, you drift.

Picking up trails of flotsam, tantalizing by virtue of their other-ness, you sift and arrange and cast lot after lot. And a new direction takes shape.

This is the one.

This is it!

And you wear the new direction proudly, a new coat that bears the cold for you much more effectively and much more beautifully than any coat ever has. Buoyed by this fantastic new technology, you continue. Borne up by a fantastic new outlook, you travel quickly, fiercely, with certainty.

Until once again you are drifting.

You find yourself searching for a new kind of meaning. All at once you find you do not wish to be contained in this space, which not so long ago held answers you’d needed with a narcotic sort of desperation.

You wonder whether anything will seem true again.

You lose your way.

And then you think you recognize something in a trail of flotsam. You think you remember that it was bigger, before.

You confirm: it’s lost much of its mass. Still, it seems complete. Efficient, even.

It’s not at all like a coat. In fact, once you slip it on, it’s nearly invisible.

But it bears the cold for you. And with you.

You know you’ll slip it off again.

But next time it won’t be because you’re lost.

 

How do you like your blue-eyed boy?

“I never wanted to be well-rounded. I do not admire well-rounded people nor their work. So far as I can see, nothing good in the world has ever been done by well-rounded people. The good work is done by people with jagged, broken edges, because those edges cut things and leave an imprint, a design. If you’re gonna write, for God in heaven’s sake, try to get naked. Try to write the truth. Try to get underneath all the sham, all the excuses, all the lies that you’ve been told. Writers spend all their time preoccupied with just the things that their fellow men and women spend their time trying to avoid thinking about. … It takes great courage to look where you have to look, which is in yourself, in your experience, in your relationship with fellow beings, your relationship to the earth, to the spirit or to the first cause—to look at them and make something of them. There is something beautiful about scars of whatever nature. A scar means the hurt is over, the wound is closed and healed, done with.”

— Harry Crews

Take a break.

ALL DISTORTION, ALL THE TIME
by Derrick Brown

Someone plug my lungs back into the guitar amps!
I want to live on
All distortion, all the time.

Aren’t you sick of being appraised as just wholesale?
Aren’t you sick of sailing on listing ships?
Aren’t you weary from playing cellos with ex-lover’s bones?

I want the butterfly brigade to grant me a year with no stomach drama.
I want a piano that will not warp outdoors
when the rain demands slow dancing.

I want to skew the difference between Tai Chi and Chai tea,
and end up drinking a tall glass of your graceful force.
I want to lick my hands after I touch someone that has just become
razzle dazzled by tomorrows oncoming lightning.
I want birds to come close enough to hear them speak Aviation Spanish.

“Abierto! Abierto!”

I want your record collection in my throat,
and my thumb in the electric ass of the all night jukebox.

I want my shoulder blades mounted in the museum of the most fantastic knives.

I want church in a bar. I want to pass out and hear you say Amen.
I want a skeleton night light in the closet.
I want your wow in my now so we become NWOW.
I want the light in your attic to shine down to where the sidewalk ends.
I want free shit to not cost anything. That’d be nice.
I want you to feel like a disco ball of fish hooks
so you can hang on my words and I can spin in your small miracles of light.

I want my kitchen to be a Brazilian dance floor
with a pot of your sweat in the oven
and a fridge stocked with booty lust.

I want your silver muscles cut into a quilt. Let me sleep under your strength.
I want more pony lamps. No reason.

I want to sing this feeling into all tail pipes
until I’m exhausted.

I want to smell everything.
I want to remember that the sky is so gorgeously large.
I feel stranded beneath it.

When I gasp beneath it,
I only want to gasp for more.

(Thanks to Meg Worden for the introduction.)

The Greatest Show on Earth

Like the fabled little-girl-with-the-little-curl-right-in-the-middle-of-her-forehead, when branding is good, it’s very, very good. And when it’s bad, it’s horrid.

And here’s the thing: There’s a great deal of skill, finesse, and psychological fill-in-the-blank-ing that goes into the very best branding. But creating good, solid branding is not all that difficult; it just requires a level of commitment that many of us lack.

What are you selling? You are selling a microcosm.

You’re selling small parcels of an entire, perfectly-formed, miniature world. A world with its own logic, order and beauty. This world does not exist, could not possibly exist, as a whole, on this planet. But the parcels you sell make their buyers feel as though they carry bits of this world around with them. They serve as covert membership cards, touchstones, rosaries, IDs.

Your branding needs to be utterly earnest, regardless of tone, about the world it’s selling. Earnest about its cheekiness, its usefulness, its temporary nature, its atemporal nature, its status, its cuteness, its superiority.

Believe. And then make me believe.

Consider the circus. When I visit the circus, I know that, very probably, the Bearded Lady is not truly bearded; the Alligator Girl is probably rocking a whole lot of dried Elmer’s Glue; the Wolf Boy is not some sort of lupine missing link. (And the clowns, obviously, are neither jolly nor intent on making you laugh; they are, in fact, waiting for you to turn your back so that they can sneak up on you–a fact best left for another post.)

But this is the circus, and I came to believe.

So let your production value be over the [big] top. [Sorry.]

Show off for us.

Or don’t: Let the stark, non-showy nature of your branding speak to us in reverent tones about your practical, tactical, no-nonsense world.

Commit.

Because my money can go in any direction my browser can pull up.

Make yours the greatest show on earth.

 

 

Impressionable

I remember meeting A. for the first time when I was not-quite-three years old. Although he’s my first cousin, he’s only two years younger than my father, which would have made A. twenty-two, then. There was something dangerous and a little sad about him, it seemed to me from hushed conversations I’d overheard. But he wasn’t dangerous himself: He was a sweet boy who’d done dangerous things. (Drugs, and jail time for said drugs, I would later learn.) Blue eyes blazing, he came to visit our aunt’s apartment, wearing a pin-striped suit with a pastel-colored shirt, shiny black Stacy Adams shoes, very short, gold-burnished hair, and sideburns.  He practically crackled, he was so phenomenally exciting.

I have a vague recollection of being introduced to him, of his being sweet to me, of sitting in my aunt’s living room and listening to what, in retrospect, must have been a whole lot of unsolicited advice from people who were only slightly older than he was.

What I recall with utmost clarity is the photograph.

It was time for us to go, and I desperately wanted not to be separated from A. I recall big feelings that protested going home, and the certainty that I had no way to get the feelings out of my chest and into words that would make sense to the grown-ups. And then my mother said she wanted to take a picture of me with A. We stood near the top of the stairway that led to our aunt’s door, and my mother went down onto the patio below. She told me to stand a little closer to A., for which I was glad. He put his hand down, gently, flat onto my head, and I remember feeling like there wasn’t enough room in my body for all the crazy joy that flooded me. And I knew later I’d be able to look at the photo and remember.

 

(A. remains a badass.)

I am he as you are he as you are me

Don’t forget: you are not immune from groupthink.

Even when (especially when) you’ve succeeded in surrounding yourself with people who get you.

Examine what you’ve assumed to be truth. Measure it against your empirical knowledge.

Never stop thinking.

 

Recuerdos de Mezcala

Estas memórias tienen todo que ver con los cinco sentidos. Por ejemplo, el olor
del verde zacate del potrero. El aire tan limpio, tan fresco, casi dulce. El sabor
del agua, traída desde el poso, casi dulce, como el aire. Recuerdo el sonido de
las lluvias que llegaban rápidamente, y que rápidamente se iban.

Recuerdo al paletero que salía cada tarde, gritando “¿Cuantas paletas?
¿Cuantas, cuantas?” Las campanas del templo que anunciaban la hora. Los
cuetes y las bandas que se anunciaban cada año para las fiestas de Agosto. El
sonido metálico de la puerta de la calle en la casa de mis abuelos. Las voces
de los vecinos que entraban, casi siempre sin tocar, diciendo “¡Buenos días!”
o “’Tardes…” y, muy de vez en cuando, “Buenas noches.”

Recuerdo el sonido de la risa de mi Papá Cacho, llena de travesuras y sabiduría.
Y a Doña Chepa, que seguido venía a la casa a cortar guayabas. Y a Don
José Gregorio, que todos los días pasaba, serio y digno, montado en su
burro. “Buenos días, mi’ija,” me decía al pasar, y yo me sentía muy importante.

Recuerdo el sonido de la nica sobre el mosaico del piso. Y la sensación de ese
mismo piso, frío bajo mis pies. Recuerdo las noches que se sentaban a platicar
los adultos en el patio, con tazas de té de naranja. Yo me sentaba con todos. Me
encantaba escucharlos. Cada persona tenía su forma de contar una historia.
Recuerdo los grillos. Los gallos. Las vacas que ordeñábamos. La caña que nos
comíamos. Recuerdo que caminaba por las calles empedradas y cada cuando
alguien me decía, “Tú eres la hija de Ramón, ¿verdad, mi’ija? Te pareces mucho
a tu mami.”

Recuerdo un gran sentido de libertad. Allí podía jugar todo el día sin tener que
reportarme. Podía ir a donde quería, jugar con cualquier chiquilla en cualquier
casa. Me imaginaba yo que era la protagonista de un libro divertido, más o
menos la versión femenina de Tom Sawyer o Huckleberry Finn.

No deseo, con todo esto, romantizar al pueblo de Mezcala. No me interesa pintar
una escena sin defecto. Simplemente, estas son mis memorias favoritas de ese
lugar en esos tiempos. Con cada año que pasa, veo más claramente que mucho
de la mujer que ahora soy, tiene que ver con lo que recuerdo de Mezcala.