My mother is not necessarily a baker, but her love and persistence with cooking in general instilled in me at a very young age a deep need to create and connect with people through food. I also think of my father’s mother Emma, who was indeed a prolific baker, but whom I did not get to see very regularly while I was growing up. We lived…everywhere, and my extended family lived in Southern California. It was usually a trip around this time of year that I would get to see my father’s huge family and share in the magic that was my grandmother’s kitchen in sunny Torrance, even in December. I loved those visits. I live near there, now, in San Diego. I never dreamed I would wind up in the state my mother was born in, and in which my father’s parents died. I love it here – it reminds me of those visits. Of family I only tentatively knew. Of joyous get-togethers. Of the reminiscent smells of bougainvillea, of ocean breeze.
My hands shape pie dough, fold bread dough, cut scones and biscuits as if this was their sole purpose. My hands have always known when to stop kneading, stop rolling. My hands show time now. My hands are attached to this body that has lovingly seen me through 50 years on this planet, revolving around this sun. My hands are busy but weary today.
It is sometimes not enough for me that my baking is only shared with my family and friends. I have bread, and I have writing. And while I’m aware that my worth is not tied to what I do, I still want to share these gifts – these precious talents that, knowingly or not, I have cultivated for this long. I am not out to change lives. I’m not out for recognition. I just want to give you a piece of my heart. The reward for giving these gifts away is immeasurable. Sometimes my effort varies. Sometimes I only have so much in the tank to give, like today.
But I heard a phrase when reading and learning about the making of sourdough bread: Even when your loaves don’t turn out exactly perfect, “send them out anyway.” Let the world see your imperfections, let the world taste them. Bread is a living thing. Life is a living thing. You grow it, feed it, tend to it the best you can. Let it be seen.
And ya know, there’s an end. A transition. The bread gets consumed. Our bodies are finite. Taking that in is hard, sometimes impossible to grasp. Difficult to welcome. How do you just accept the not knowing? How do we trust?
I don’t have the answers. I won’t have the answers. I want to keep connecting. I want to keep trying to trust. I want to keep baking and writing. And I want to live as wholly as I can for as long as I’ve got. For me, what that looks like is what you are reading right now – more this. More bread, pies, biscotti gifted to as many people as I can. More hard conversations. More laughing until I cry. More singing at the top of my lungs. More phone or video calls with family and friends. More quiet Saturday mornings with cats nestled on both sides of me. More noticing of the small moments. More space for the big ones.
Life is so bold, gigantic, and momentous when you let it happen. My holiday and New Year wish is that you find ways in which to accept that expanse. Whatever you’re going through – and I know you are going through something, because we all are – know that there is another person out there that sees you and your vulnerability and humanity.
As we near Samhain, I wanted to share something I wrote a while back. While I like watching scary movies and checking out really amazing Halloween decor (who knew San Diego was so into Halloween!), it’s not really a time of year for me where I am super festive. I find myself drawing inward, and really focusing on past relationships – especially with those who have died and with whom I have been close. While everyone is carving pumpkins and thinking up ways to scare each other, I’m writing long letters, meditating on loss and death, and feeling very somber in general. It is a time of deep and reverent communication with myself and the dead I honor.
This piece was originally submitted to and published in Wyrd & Wyse, Issue the Fourthand has also appeared in the Hex Rated newsletter.
Death is a casual stranger. Sometimes I see her on the street and I smile and nod or sometimes barely look up. I hear his voice, a visitor talking in the cubicle across the room. I don’t bump into Death. I don’t shake hands. I don’t seek out Death’s eyes. Maybe I want to, though. Maybe I should. I’m a line-strider, right? A hedge-rider? I’m a witch, aren’t I? Aren’t I supposed to nuzzle up to Death like a warm blanket in the cold? Well.
My English teacher from high school died in 2007, riddled with cancer all over her body. I graduated high school in 1989, and we remained close friends, almost as if she were the mother/friend I never had in my own flesh and blood mother. We spent countless hours in her tote-filled garage, totes full of granddaughters’ art, of old lesson plans, of endless Christmas decorations. We sat among the tubs of these memories – chain-smoking, drinking Budweiser, and talking about everything. Everything that life could throw at us. Her husband’s illnesses. Her son’s estrangement. My…my what, exactly? My 20-something-year-old drama, I suppose. Caught in a thousand dilemmas of unrequited love, I struggled to maintain a GPA that was worth anything while I drank and smoked my way through the 90’s. She read all my shitty poetry and critiqued it as if she were reading one of the Greats. She was my confidante. She was my advice-giver. She was a partner in crime. She offered comfort, love, and a house with no judgement. I helped her write out checks for bills when her husband could no longer do it. I took care of their house when they went on short trips. I did help.
When she got sick, I didn’t know at first. I had called her to see if she wanted to go to lunch. She told me that she couldn’t, that she had to go to the doctor because they had found cancer. I swear she said it in her heavy West Texan drawl like “I’m sorry sugar, not today, I have cancer.” How she said it – conversational, like it was a bug that would be gone by the next weekend – made me laugh. I didn’t know. We didn’t know. My laughter was just a symptom of my shock and confusion. Over the course of the next few months we discovered how bad it was. Bad, bone and liver and all the other organs. The doctors would try to treat it. She was in immense pain. Before it got to be unbearable, I would go visit. We would sit on her patio outside (no more garage smoking) and watch birds. One time I took a small voice recorder and had her tell me two of my favorite stories – the one about when she met her husband, and the one about when she met Steve McQueen. She got worse. She and her husband moved to a nursing facility, a nice one. I visited maybe 2 or 3 times. Maybe more. I don’t remember. All I do remember is getting a call from another ex-student that said if I could make it there right then, I should. That she was going to be gone soon. I had just started a new job. I couldn’t get there fast enough. She died surrounded by people who loved her, and I am glad for that. But I hate that I wasn’t there to put my hand in her frail, warm, too-thin hand one more time. I might have been able to be there. I didn’t go. I was scared. I did what I could at the memorial service. She had planned it in advance. We had talked about it. She wanted my mother to sing and she wanted me to speak. My mother sang Ave Maria in a room off to the side of the chapel with a partitioned wall, so you could hear the music but not see the musicians. I read an ee cummings poem and talked about how much she meant to me. I choked back sobs. The next day, I drove 139 miles away to sing at her graveside, the August Texas heat blazing a hole through the back of my black suit. I visited her husband and sent him cards. He died a little over a year after she did.
I took and took and took from them, from her. In my youth. I took her advice, her cigarettes, her beer, her love. I took it all without thinking, without realizing what it would be like to not have our garage, our inside jokes. I keep the voice recorder next to her picture on my altar. Sometimes I listen to it. I bawl with regret. Grief. Gratitude. Did I give, ever? Was it enough?
When my own father was dying, I helped him. (Did I?) We were not close. He may have thought we were. Years of disapproval, stern looks, and a lack of demonstrative ability to really love had molded me, though. Dutiful daughter, yes. That box was entirely checked. Filled out with the blackest of markers. My father had a brain tumor that had grown back with a vengeance. The day we learned that it was back, my father and mother stood on opposite sides of a medical center lobby. There was no touching. There was no love passed between them at that moment. There was no hand-holding in comfort. In their 57 years of marriage, they couldn’t do it. Their fear was palpable. I sat in the same lobby, not knowing what to do. Who to sit by. Where to go. Judging them for not dealing with that moment differently. I sat there. Lost, angry, and small – like all the parentless days of my childhood. My father got worse. The tumor changed his demeanor. About 5 months after the diagnosis, he had to be placed in a facility, as my mother could no longer care for him. The last time I visited him when he was lucid, we shared just a few words. The last words he said to me were “blue jay.”
The hospice room. There was no TV. He had only been there 3 or 4 days. He was asleep when I came to visit. He looked hollow, his breathing raspy, uneven. I sat beside the bed a good distance away from him and recited spells in my head. I told him he could go. That everything would be ok. That he should go. That this was not a body that served him any longer. I did not touch him. I did not reach for his hand. I didn’t want to wake him. I was scared. He died 24 hours later.
These deaths happened years ago. More deaths will happen. I am closing in on 50. Aretha is dead. Bowie is dead. My husband’s twin brother is dead. He shot himself: Too young, too young. 42 and all the time in the world to…
I go to my normal job every day that is not too demanding. I make pies and bread and other baked goods when I feel like it, and give them to others, sometimes sell them. Sometimes I make offerings out of what I bake. This time of year, I make soul cakes or breads that I place outside for my spirits of place, or the deities that I work with, or for my loved ones who are dead. My loved ones. Like I own them. I burn those offerings. I burn them wrapped in paper, letters to the people I still talk to now, regardless of the whereabouts or even the existence of a body they no longer inhabit. I want to be better friends with Death. I don’t want to be scared. It doesn’t make sense. Death will come for us all, and it is natural. But it’s like we walk through this life with our hands over our eyes, fingers slightly splayed apart, knowing what is coming but not looking at it, like we watch horror movies. Death brushes up to us, sits on a bench right next to us, stares at us. We don’t stare back because we are scared.
I’m not afraid of riding the hedge, right now, in life. I talk to my English teacher practically every day. I talk to my father, with whom I have a better relationship in death. They both visit me in the form of birds: a cardinal, a blue jay. I talk to my brother-in-law. He is a large grey cat, and I have only seen him once, but I’m sure it was him. Pulling back the veil a little is not the fear.
So I have this really unattractive tree in the backyard right by the back door. It’s very fast to grow, has kind of an unpleasant look in general, and the biggest drawback has been the fact that one bajillion spiders decide to make their little homes in it. I had been pruning and de-spidering for the last year, and then a great idea hit me to just chop off all the branches and make it my witch bottle tree. I did that about 2 months ago, and chose my bottles with care. I found vintage inkwells and sauce bottles on Ebay and proceeded to be delighted with creating and caring for this new purpose for the tree.
But. Every day, I’m greeted with new shoots of red tendrils that will turn into leaves very quickly if I don’t pluck them off. While I know that I can buy a product to put on the cut branches to prohibit growth, I’ve found that visiting this tree every day, plucking off its new growth, and making it part of an intentional process has secretly woven its way into my practice, even without realizing it until this morning. It’s kind of full-on goth to have this tree serve a magical purpose – one of protection and warding – and also keep it in a state that is between veils, living but also not being allowed to live fully, to be this purgatory tree trapped in this state for my own devices.
It makes me consider my own power, intentions, and how infinite the possibilities are between and beyond life and death. I want to treat this tree with care, and it seems like despite how much I really resented it’s presence, I’ve learned to work with it and appreciate it in a new way. The tree tries and tries. I think it knows what I’m trying to accomplish, though. It grows. I inhibit it. It gives in to the cycle. I give in, as well. We become symbiotic, and the bottles sing with energy.
“Be creative.” I would argue that my creativity for handling a crushing mountain of fucked-upness is the extent to which my brain can go. I have not written much, I have not started large projects, I have not built anything, I… I got plants. That’s as creative as it’s getting around here.
“Listen to music!” Weirdly, you would think this would be a solace. It might be, but I have yet to figure this out. I am one of those extreme weirdossensitive motherfuckers completely mundane people who can’t really work and listen to a podcast at the same time, or really handle any format of 2 or more noises emitting from a device simultaneously (i.e., someone watching a video on their phone while watching TV) so while I probably CAN listen to music while I work, I just haven’t due to my 2-noise issues. Working on changing this.
Get “ripped”. Suffice it to say that we are lucky lucky lucky (like Ripley at the end of Alien lucky) that I make it out of bed every morning, oozing onto the floor like a puddle of soupy instant mashed potatoes, much less do any kind of rigorous physical workout. Edit: I am kind of lying here. This was true the first 3 months of the pandemic. It is still true for how I wake up, but I have discovered in the last 2 or 3 months that riding this open-air dresser with a wheel on it is pretty invigorating for not wanting to sleep all the time. Also, kettlebells. Also, husband that knows what is good for both of us. And while the result isn’t “ripped”, at least I feel better. Except when I do my 90 seconds of planking. I do not feel better right then.
Get a new hobby! Look, I have one hobby and that is fucking staying alive. All my original, in-use hobbies are what other people call “life skills”: Cooking, plants, reading. These are not hobbies. These are just things one does when one runs out of Netflix/Prime/Hulu/Disney ideas. I have tried some new things in all of my life skills categories, but I dare not knit. Or macramé. Or, you know, try art of any kind. The world is not ready for my “art.”
Drink enough water. Well, this is true with or without a pandemic. I am improving this, but to tell me that store-brand LaCroix does not have the same value as regular water will mean death. I can drink that shit like there’s no tomorrow. It’s regular-ass boring-ass water for which I have no use. My husband keeps trying. I fill up my ridiculously large vessel and attempt, but really, it’s just for show.
Here’s the thing, good readers: You don’t have to do fuck-all but keep on livin’ as Jen Kirkman would tell you. Right now, that should be of utmost importance. Stay safe. Wear a mask even if you don’t know anyone who has gotten sick. Stay in if you can, because the virus is still out there, doing horrible damage to good people. You are not doing it for you. (Well, it is kind of for you, TBH.) Do it for the millions of people that aren’t lucky lucky lucky like Ripley. How lucky Ripley actually was is a whole ‘nother post.
Do it because you believe in basic human kindness. Do it for your Gammie? Your neighbor?
Me? Because I swear, I am going to get through this. So will you.
Our friend Brandon died this week of a brain tumor.
Brandon was the shit. He was funny, smart, active – a trusted friend, a caring husband, a great dad, a thoughtful person, just the guy you knew would always be in your corner. Even if he was across the country, he would be the first person to encourage, throw out a joke, just A. Great. Guy.
And let me tell you about the love he shared with his wife. When I met Brandon and Ericka, I just thought they were both so cool. Young, vibrant, full of laughter and inside jokes and just, the way they were together made my heart sing. There is a quote from my favorite book ever – Beloved by the great Toni Morrison:
“She is a friend of my mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order. It’s good, you know, when you got a woman who is a friend of your mind.”
This is how I thought of B & E. Just, friends of each others’ minds.
Last night I went into my backyard and looked up at a hanging, shrouded sliver of a moon, surrounded by specks of pinhole white. I didn’t know what to scream into the night, only that I wanted to. That I wanted to just launch myself like a rocket straight to space – to leave this planet and everything that is hurting right now, if only for a few hours. To just let it slip away. Nothing this year makes sense, and Brandon was always looking for that. To make it make sense. I want to do that. I need to do it. I don’t know how. There’s no amount of sense I can make out of his death, not right now.
I know this, though: I will strive to be like him. I will always try. I will be that corner person for others. And I will be there for his family and the family he had in our little group. I will show up for my friends. I will show up, period. I won’t wait.
If you are reading this today, know that you too can be there for someone who needs you.
That you too can always try.
That you can touch the stars, and the stars are infinite.
There’s no one else I’d rather be with at the end of the world than you.
I think it’s fair to say – even though plenty of sci-fi writers were able to nail it, I don’t think we ever thought it would go down like this. And for what it’s worth, I do believe in the power of us. I believe – no matter how recklessly foolish it is to believe – that you and I are going to make it through.
We have seen tough times. Out of 17 years together, we have been on both sides of the life coin. We’ve had no savings, lived paycheck to paycheck, a boatload of debt, and nothing but Kraft macaroni and cheese in the cabinet. (Not the creamy kind. The bright orange powder kind. Some would say that’s the best shit.) Countless long hours away from each other. Silent rides home in the car, words unspoken. Arguments before bedtime, words shouted or said through gritted teeth. The death of those we have loved. Days we didn’t think we were going to make it. Nights where no one slept. A lot of unbearable farts. Job losses, friendships ended, hormones, and crashing waves of fear and hurt.
We’ve seen amazing times. 17 years of laughing until both of us cried, of having friends over and feeding them, of playing games until the wee hours of the morning, of talking about politics and philosophy and art and writing, of watching a million series and movies together. Of showing each other things we think are cool, or weird, or unsettling. Of reading to each other. Dancing, so much dancing. Of sharing music. Playing records. New careers. Of being there for each other. Of moves to new places, of meeting new people, of trying new things. Of celebrating each other’s successes, both apart and together. Of marrying some of our friends. Of after-parties and bouts and winning games we didn’t think we could win. Of falling in love over and over, all the time.
17 years of you hugging me tight so I won’t fly apart.
And I am flying apart right now. The thing I know for certain is that you won’t let me.
We have been married for ten years today, and it doesn’t feel like yesterday. But it feels like tomorrow is as real as the table at which I sit.
Yet I know we only really have today. Right Now.
And I only have this minute guaranteed to tell you that you are the love of my fucking life.
At least for now. For the time being. For the foreseeable future. I have never heard all the world so still in a city. I have never been afraid of the night like I am right now, sitting in my own backyard at midnight on a Saturday. Stripped of the comforting sounds of distant freeways, people chatting across the street in another yard, car doors slamming, motorcycles zooming, I am…disquieted.
Disquieted about so many things, really. And is that even a great description of what I currently feel? The stillness of the night is not what is frightening, it’s really what might be deep inside that stillness. Are there spiders and bobcats? Coyotes? Is there a snake in the tree next to me? Is there a rat on the roof? Is the natural world being lulled back into a sense of time before we started ravaging all of everything? Maybe not so much just yet, but then my mind wanders away from bumps in the night to the greater issue of all the living things we’ve ravaged.
My mind races and zooms even further out, then in, and I start to be aware of my breath. But not in a zen way, in a “holy shit why can I not just slow down my breathing” kind of way. Because we have all been forced to spend time with ourselves lately. Too much time. Oodles and fucking mountains of time. And yet I think about all the people in the country, on the planet, who would give anything for one more moment of it. I think about how my routine of extra precautions perhaps doesn’t even matter. That’s the one that really sends me over.
Here’s how I know I am not okay. That nothing is okay. I cannot be bothered to “move more.” I cannot find my fucking breath because it is everywhere and scattered and ragged and pregnant with fear. I cannot just go take a walk. I come back from one weekly trip to get an essential or two and I cry for 15 minutes in the shower. After I think I am done crying, my brain reminds me hey, do you wanna feel real bad? Good, because you don’t even know anyone who has contracted it. YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW ONE PERSON YET. You should be ashamed because there are hundreds of thousands of people who are crying for the loss of people they loved. There are a million other ways I know I am not okay, but the shower guilt cry is a sure sign.
I love that during this, millions have lost their jobs, that our government hasn’t even begun to do enough anything, that some of us who have been lucky enough to continue to work do so with active trauma happening continuously while we tend to children, spouses, and all other aspects of a life that has been drastically narrowed down to 4 walls. It is all a mess, a shitshow, a catastrophe of epic proportions, even before you start tallying any loss of life. The fact that I am inconvenienced regarding my comfort level without toilet paper means literally fucking nothing compared to nurses, delivery drivers, grocery workers, and many other essential service providers who are risking their lives without necessary equipment that is now required to do their job. Sometimes, a job that doesn’t even pay the bills.
Nothing, I repeat nothing, is okay.
Yes, I’ve read all the stuff, and I do mean ALL THE STUFF. Haven’t we all reached the end of the internet at this point? If not to search “is migraine a symptom of COVID-19” then surely to look at endless kitten pictures so we can try to wipe our brains before sleep?
There is a bird that sings outside our bedroom window all night, every night. I’ve never heard this until recently. If there’s one glimmer of okayness for me, it’s that. While I am in my panic, when the lights are out and my husband snores softly beside me – when my eyes are wide open and I can’t pull together the pieces of my entirely fragmented mind, I listen for the bird. I think about what it takes for me to just focus on this new thing. The thing that is happening right now.
I have heard “we are going to get through this” and “this won’t last forever” and “when things get back to normal” from a lot of people in a lot of places. Those phrases and statements, while hopeful, ring hollow to me. I want to hope, I really do. And I do believe we will – well, most of us – get through this. I have read that we won’t be able to go back to how it was before. That things will always be different and changed. I have to ask myself if I really think that’s true in the way I want it to be: To not go back to the greed, the fear-mongering, the lack of preparedness, the narcissism and puffed-up bravado of the immediately gratified culture we have been living in.
I had my last drink six years ago yesterday. What a weird feeling, weird thing to say. It feels weird. I wonder if that’s how it just…feels. Like the further you get away from feeling like you need that drink, the more foreign even saying “I don’t drink” feels. It’s not like it feels wrong to say, it is just a part of me, a habit/non-habit that I don’t really think about that much. Which seems ungrateful to say. Like I should be getting down on my alcoholic knees and praising the day I found whatever led me to that 5 seconds of clarity that said, “you are kind of done doing this.”
And I am. I do. I am grateful. There were a lot of hands that helped me through whatever was my initial fog. My initial inability to feel feelings; to name them. One in particular – my first and only sponsor, who now has 12 years. I remember when she had 6 years and I was brand new, and six years felt like…forever. I don’t take any of the help I received then for granted, even if I haven’t kept in touch with all the people who helped me. I know a common refrain is that I did not come to this decision on my own – that there was a force that guided me. That is true in my case. My god is not your god, which is also a common refrain, and I used to not feel ok saying that out loud. I don’t even like to say “god” – even now. I will say force. I will say universal power. I will say unnamed source. Whatever it is, it was the voice that said, “You don’t need this. It is just a story you tell yourself.”
There are times when I drive down a street with a bunch of bars on it – cool bars, hip places that advertise fun, old-fashioned drinks and craft cocktails. For a second, my brain will whisper, “oh shit girl that sounds nice, sipping a fancy drank in this beautiful scenery that is San Diego, feeling the cool breeze and looking at a sunset.” Except. Except except except.
That is not how I drink.
I drink Target box wine. I drink Cutty Sark scotch because that’s what’s around. You can even read posts here on this very site that will tell you exactly the ways in which I drink. I drink to not think about why life is hard.
I now don’t drink in order to make sure I think about exactly why life is hard.
What a difference six years makes. The ways – all the ways – have been opened for me. And I keep trying to live like I really believe that.
This is a love letter to my sister. She is 9 years older than me. Here is what I know:
She loves horror fiction.
She loves Dan Fogelberg and Kansas and Pink Floyd.
Her laugh is the best, and she laughs a lot.
Time and all kinds of miles in between us and there is not a day that goes by that I am not regretful of what we’ve lost. And grateful for what we’ve found. Maybe we couldn’t be there for each other every single time, but the times we have been able to be matter. They fucking count. I remember listening to Styx and Elton John in her bedroom when she wasn’t home. I remember driving up the canyon together listening to Pat Benatar. Or the Police. I remember seeing her laughing. Crying. I remember never feeling like I could get enough of her eyes. Of her smile.
We will be old together, you and I. I will always keep trying to make you laugh. I will never have enough time with you. I love you, and you are the one for whom I waited for so long.
I’m on the Pacific side this flight,
Looking out to the giant blueness,
Reading Freeman’s Dictionary of the Undoing.
I think about my wealth of privilege.
I think about how I have started this decade by paying an artist to adorn my One Body with her rendition of my protector.
I feel good about how this transaction benefits both our lives.
About how it might allow her son to get more and better education.
About how it allows me to feel empowered.
I think about Freeman’s words.
About how I have this one Body.
About how those in power manipulate us – me – through my “choice” of this very interaction with you – you.
About how I want to read this book out loud in a park for all to hear,
But ultimately afraid of being deemed a “crazy person”.
What have they –
Can we undo?
I want to refuse to be the Watcher.
I want to reject my own apathy.
How do I watch the world burn, how do I make meaning out of a life by just
My one Spark?
It seems too small.
gotta start somewhere.
There is a long black hair on this airplane window and I think,
This is a person
This is DNA
And I reach out in hope towards whoever wherever this person is