SIX EYES

Coming back to Kansas City after visiting Los Angeles is to come back to a small town. The airport's a long way off from our house, out past every place to buy cars and TVs. There's a field by the exit to the airport where I've seen both deer and wild turkey. Shawn tells us he's relieved when the road matches a curve in the river and he can first see the heights of the Kansas City skyline. He says he feels like he's back home.

We went to Los Angeles at the end of September to see our friends and also Beyoncé. Shawn was born there but hadn't been as an adult. This was maybe my sixth time going. Josh's third. Our first trip all three of us together anywhere. Josh swam in the ocean for the first time. I cried to see it, but we were all in the water, so no one could tell. He swam in his underwear because he forgot his swim shorts. No one cared.

We walked as much as we could. Miles and miles every day, and the city never got smaller. A friend of Josh's mother invited us to stay in his guesthouse years ago. We took him up on it this time. From the porch, we could stare into the mountains. There was a foil tray of homegrown pomegranates in the kitchen. Dogs in the yard sometimes. One night, a skunk. Shawn saw it and froze. They're larger than you imagine they'll be. On the same porch, we met an actress we'd wanted to meet for a long time. She emerged from the cold dark carrying a lantern. I won't tell you more about it here, but the next time we see each other in person, sure.

I've always wanted to see a rattlesnake in the wild. Whatever evolutionary benefit there is to fearing snakes and spiders, I lack it. Like the time I was a child trying to trap a spider in a jar to move it from the back door to the yard. It fell onto the deck and tried to run from me. I picked it up in my hands without fear. I like to think I wouldn't do the same with a rattlesnake. I wouldn't pick it up. But I'd want to get a good look, and that would be my undoing. The only rattlesnake I've ever seen in California was ground up into a sausage I ate near Venice Beach.

There was turbulence on the plane but nowhere else. We ate everywhere there was to eat. We saw Joan Crawford's false eyelashes behind glass. We watched a play. We visited a friend's beautiful new home. A tree in her backyard demanded you look at it. Like the city at night, it was covered in lights, best seen from a distance, but even then, it was impossible to take it all in with only two eyes.

We had six, and it still wasn't enough.

Pulling the Tail

Was I bullied, or wasn't I? Did I suffer or not? That it seems so long ago as to make no difference tells me all I need to know. It either wasn't that bad, or it was worse than I allow myself to remember. To look back for even one detail is dangerous. To glimpse the tail of my history is to pull that tail all the way to the mouth that first bit me, to the time where I was confused but was expected by everyone else to be surer about this one part of my desire than they'd ever been about anything in their life. All this not from a safe distance but pinned down in their judgement, their teeth in me trying to taste what made me different, and I hoped that instead of trying to stomach me, they would just spit me out and let me go. 

And in my case, they always let me go. Distaste has an evolutionary power greater than hunger.

When I got that one thing I hoped for, to be released, I had freedom for the other thing: the near-naked men on the underwear packages at Wal-Mart, the guy who dated my best girlfriend and who would change his voice and hit me with pillows when she left the room, the memory I had of someone beautiful at a urinal at the mall, the neighbor who took my cousin out on his jet ski at the family reunion to be part of the search party for a boy who'd drowned. Always my attraction was tangled into secret spaces where no one else thought they'd find me. I was the snake under the rock, my tail the only hint to where I hid. And they, unlike me, would never grab that tail, would never suffer the resulting bite. I get it now, maybe too late, maybe just in time, that looking back, the tail of that history, the tail I grab for is, of course, my own. The tails of my bullies fell off a long time ago and never grew back. Their teeth as well. They bite me now but softly, like when I used to feed the carp by hand from paper bags of cat food at the lake. The same lake where that boy drowned. 

If I can say anything for survival, I can say this—at least I wasn't that boy, and even if it felt like it at the time, my bullies were not that lake.

Sometimes people think I'm younger than I am. I'm tempted to take it as it comes. What I like to think it means is that I look younger than I am, that I'm "well-preserved." The white in my beard betrays me but not enough. Because I know what it means when they're surprised I'm older than I look. For a lot of queer people, life is lived backwards. We remember when we were really born, and we know what it's like to be an adult as a child, to parent ourselves to a free space to be kids again. What I'm saying is if I seem young now, it's because I had to be old first.

Often, I think I'm over it, that it's buried deeper than I can find. But the dirt gives up both bones and treasures. Which are these? Bones or treasures? They are both. What I buried yields growth now. A lot of love. More love than my straight friends can imagine being able to handle. "I just couldn't do it," they say. 

But I can. 

I've done enough to know, I can do anything.
 

Chorizo



There are bright, absurd moments hidden in the day, secondary to whatever else I'm doing but persistent.

"Where's the dog?"

I know where the dog isn't. The dog isn't in the kitchen. The dog isn't on the back of the couch, curled tight but eyes open and staring out the window. The dog isn't in my lap, the place he preferred, sighing every time I drum colored pencil dust off a drawing and onto the floor.

The dog is where dogs go when they die. Or the dog is still a memory of habit being overlapped each day by the habit of his absence. Or the dog is in the ground on a friend's farm. Or the dog isn't anywhere, a place and an answer I resist arriving at because it's too painful. After we took out the bathroom trash two weeks ago, trash that included the messy beach towel where Chorizo slept his last night, I went there. The truth and the painful place.

He's gone.

There was a woman at my childhood church who'd lost her young son. I sense a little now what I could only marvel at then when she would clip her fingernails into her open purse during the quietest moments of the service. Any little thing to drag your fork across the world's plate, a screech you now find comforting precisely because it grates.

Curses



It's October now, and it's hot enough in Kansas City during the day for shorts but cool enough at night for a sweater. Feels like every time I've been to Los Angeles and left my friend's apartment after dark, although I've never packed a sweater on any trip there and always regret it. I can't drop the image of LA as a desert, even if it technically isn't. Maybe it's the longest beach I've ever seen. Just t-shirt shops and places to eat all the way to Vegas.

Vegas. Fuck. All roads end somewhere tragic. If we thought we'd escaped cultural calamity and lived in an age of small, personal tragedies, we were wrong. Whatever poison the South has sucked on since forever has spread like the hot and angry climate. It's not enough to worry about getting rear-ended in the parking lot. You have to worry about being shot at the concert. Not hunted down for some intimate vendetta. You're not even a character in his story. You could be anyone to a man and his guns. It doesn't matter. The point to him is you're no one. He has no love for the personal. You're a number. You live a life he doesn't fully control until he does. Until he takes it.

Once, my husband and I were walking to the library. A man in a red truck tracked us down the main road there, passing us a few times to yell at us. We met at a long light in a busy area. People were there is what I'm saying. We were witnessed. The man yelled more from his window. He was drunk. I stared at him as he abused us. I won't write what he said. It's too boring, a cartoon of cruelty. If I wrote it, you might think, "People don't really act like that." But they do. I looked at him like he was throwing a tantrum, like he was a baby who could be waited out. Cold, patient. He wound down but never stopped. The light turned and so did he, finally off our path. Some women leaving a store behind us apologized. That they didn't do anything in the moment is something I couldn't forgive then but understand with potency now. We were all waiting, hoping he didn't have a gun. That day, he didn't. Or that day, he wouldn't. I'll never know. You can never know.

A defensive prayer: Never. No.

And then we continued walking to the library. From the deadly to the mundane. I decided then, as I decide over and over, that I'm going to scrape out whatever's left in the shell. I have love, and I have loved. I live in a house full of books. I have friends to celebrate. I make art that surprises me as I make it. And now, after two years of drawing, I'm not just making art; I'm selling it. Small indulgences find me out. Pleasures from careless childhood. Video games, paying someone else to cut my hair, a desire to wear pretty rings. Last night, a local jewelry maker sent me a message about three new opals they'd cut. Each one striking in its way. I picked the third one. Dark and streaky. Bloody with cracks of fire. I showed Josh and Shawn. They were both born in summer. They would have picked the first opal, the brightest one, the white one with green flashes and delicate veins. You could call it optimistic if you lean that way, if you believe every object in this universe has character, even a stone.

But I picked the opal that reminds me of a curse because I believe in generational strife, a suffering that links our bloody past to our bloody present. A curse that burns, but not a curse that can't be understood. Hot days can end in cool nights. And like a stone set into a ring, I have to believe that one day soon, in the right hands, our curses can be contained.

Almond Skin



My floor is soft. The fresh snow of cat hair. Some weeks I sweep every day. Other weeks I don't sweep at all. I think, No one's coming over because I'm fine with no one coming over. Josh and Shawn are either at home or at work. I'm always home, and sometimes home is work. The cat sits in the window and sleeps. The hardest work he does is beg for attention, the default work we all do no matter what other jobs we have.

My dog is the color of an almond skin. He eats food I didn't know dogs would eat--broccoli, carrots, apples. Almonds, too. I gave him an almond earlier when I was knitting on the couch. I'm finished knitting, but the almond is still there next to him, a small mirror of his own golden coat. They are like two horses in a field of winter nothing. This one closer. That one farther away, a smooth abstraction in the distance.

My dog is saving his almond for later. He'll eat it when he feels it's under threat of being stolen. No one in this house would steal his almond, but he doesn't know that. He doesn't know there's a large bag of almonds in the kitchen where this almond, his almond, came from. And he doesn't know he's lucky to be alive, that after he was adopted, his mother and siblings were torn apart by a larger dog. His only brother now is the cat who sometimes hisses at him and sometimes grooms him. Here, we are all as good to each other as we can be.

My drawings are in a box Josh gave me. I add a new drawing to the box once or twice a week. Each one takes a day to imagine and another day to draw. Eight of them will fit on the clothesline in the dining room. When I'm feeling colorless, I'll hang a few drawings on the line. I'm surprised by them, that I made them. Those are mine, I think. Shawn says they come from me naturally. Only I could make them. I like to think he's right. How could they not be me? And still, I stand there, proud and confused to see what I've done, to measure the distances I've travelled to get my own attention.

40th and Bell



Brushing my teeth today and I see a perfect hole cut from the middle of a leaf in our bathroom. The leaf is part of a vining plant a friend gave us four years ago. I brush my teeth too hard, and the spit comes out pink. I look at the hole in the leaf again. I thought I was seeing the white floor through it, but what's really there instead of a hole is a dot of paint from when the landlord fixed the moldy ceiling a couple weeks ago. The dot is clean. Beneath the leaf, the tile is not.

Shawn moved in last month, but not all the way. He's here. His cat and dog are here. His clothes are here. The antique tea cart he insists we'll grow to love is still and unused in his small, dark apartment a few blocks away. So are the two haunted portraits of a married man and woman that will go in his new bedroom, our spare room, the place that's changed more than any other since we moved in almost a decade ago. It's been a studio where I knitted dinosaurs, made skull candles, cast spells to stave off seizures, emptied out completely and turned into a summer bedroom for my oldest friend, home to a snake, and then turned back into a quiet studio for Josh to draw people with impossible hair. Now, we keep the door closed so the cat and dog can't get in and the plans we have for it can't get out.

I didn't think it would actually happen. Even when I agreed to it, it seemed like the kind of promise you make to hang out with a friend you ran into at the grocery. You want to believe it means something that you ran into each other. That it means you should see each other again and soon. But then you never do. It was enough to see them on accident but not enough to see them on purpose. Shawn would move in someday, when everything else was perfect, when it made sense, when we were all so comfortable it seemed inevitable. I should have known better.

Ask an astrologer about Taureans and change.

At the beginning of May, I went to Seattle to visit my brother and mother. We did edibles and drove two hours to the coast. "This may be the only time I get to see the Pacific Ocean," my mother said. My brother and I had seen that water before. I never doubted I'd see it again. When I think of luxuries, I count those certainties among the richest.

I'm still drawing and writing, though sometimes the dog sits on my lap while I do it. His breath smells like an open can of sardines. The cat screams at the other cat in the upstairs unit through the vents. They will never meet. Shawn runs hot, so the snake sees him as an opportunity for expansion, tapping the glass with her nose whenever he's near. Josh adapted quickly and peacefully. He isn't bothered by the people he loves, his changed home, the floors that never stay clean, the elusive quiet, the strange scents and their animal sources. He loved them immediately, and I loved them eventually, the doubts that moved in and have become luxurious certainties.

This Is Real



I dream whenever I fall asleep. Josh dreams once a week. And Shawn dreams so hard he can't tell whether he's awake or not. Sometimes he'll look confused and ask Josh and me if this is real. "This" being the world around him.

When we're all together, I ask myself the same question. "Is this real?" In January, we hit a year. Josh and I have already been together almost 13 years, and Shawn has never been serious with anyone the way he's serious with us. At first, he worried we'd wake up and leave him. That it might be too much for us. Those fears still have echoes. Sometimes he'll be short with me out of nowhere and finally admit it's because I cheated on him in a dream. The other night at two in the morning, he called me in his sleep to ask if the pies had been delivered. He continued to ask until I said, "Yes, the pies are here."

"All right," he said. "Goodnight."

Of course, there were no pies. There are only ever pies if I make them, and in Shawn's dream, I'd made the pies but had forgotten to bring them to an important pie contest. In other words, his dream was real enough for him to believe he was awake.

I don't know what I'd do if I couldn't depend on accurately reading reality. It's the only thing keeping me hopeful in a violently ignorant time, and I imagine it's why Shawn, Josh, and I spend at least an hour catching each other up on world events every night.

Even in a two-person relationship, there's worry over maintaining the thread. There can be stress in that maintenance. Some spiders eat their web each day and rebuild it overnight to keep it strong. We try to examine our pieces and put them back together often. There's a reason I've been playing with LEGOs again for the first time since I was a kid. There's a reason Josh has been eating sugar cereal and watching old cartoons on weekend mornings. There's a reason Shawn reintroduced himself to his orisha, Ochun, a couple weeks ago in a Santeria ritual by the river, a ritual that required him to smoke an old cigar that made him ill for three days. The future can be guessed at but can't be seen straight on. For all the talk of facing what's coming, we need to look back to acknowledge what's already changed. And what hasn't. We can do the long work of trying to better the world and at the same time embrace old comforts where we find them, where they'll have us.

Right now, we have each other. I wrote this relationship over and over in short stories before we even met Shawn. My friend, Roxane, has asked, "Why three people?" and I never have a good answer. Maybe I don't know yet. Maybe I just know it works.

Soon, we'll all be living in the same place together. Josh and I are getting rid of unnecessary junk, and Shawn has acclimated more and more to sleeping in our house. Last week he was taking a nap on the couch while Josh and I worked on projects in other rooms. We heard the front door open. Shawn had walked barefoot out onto the porch in his sleep. He stopped and stared into the dark, staying on the porch with us beside him, a warm spot on a cold night. Stronger together, and even in his sleep not asking the question he's asked so many times before, only knowing the truth of it somewhere beyond whatever dream made him leave our house in the first place. We would find him.

This is real.

Hold Up

Hi xTx,

I'm sorry you haven't written in so long, too. But don't worry about it! But also...don't let it happen again. But seriously, no problem!

Remember when you did that naked bike ride? So long ago, now, but not long enough ago that I'll ever forget it. I ride an exercise bike (clothed, surprise, surprise) at home, and sometimes my legs are sore after that. Give your legs a break and the soreness will go away and muscles will appear. I've seen it happen. But even so, I don't run much. I hate running. R is right.

You're talking about that other running, though. That running yourself ragged type of running. Usually for other people. It's OK to stop for a minute, a day, a week, a month, a year, the rest of your life. You've earned it.

Thanksgiving happened in three parts: dinner at a friend's mom's, another dinner at Josh's dad's, and then a brunch at Josh's mom's. Thanksgiving is Josh's favorite, so I haven't been back to Kentucky for it in 13 years. Our family tradition then was to go down to church and box meals and drive them to people who needed them. I remember a woman who was so grateful one year she gave my brother and me all she had, which was a couple of dimes.

T.F.P is walking, not running. I work on it, then I work on some drawings (I have another show in February!), then I do some work for the UFO reporter who sends me interviews to transcribe. The most recent one involved a stone doorway to another universe. OoOoOoOo. Spooky stuff, but the spookiest part was the guy who walked through the doorway and visited another universe and then decided to come back to Earth because he loved his wife so much. Uh, all right, guy, all right.

The year was terrible in big, planetary ways, but it was great in small, Casey ways. I turned 31, which meant I could finally post that Aimee Mann song on my birthday. My second little book came out. Josh and I got married, which you know because YOU WERE THERE! We met Shawn, fell in love, and are still in love, thanks. Oh, and remember in September when Josh and I came to L.A. and we saw Beyoncé with you and R in concert from the front row. Beyoncé! And she gave R a wave of recognition!?

Last night, Josh and I took a foggy Christmas Eve walk through a neighborhood of beautiful houses and understated light displays. My glasses were wet and visibility was low. Behind me, I heard the bright sound of chains. Loose dogs. Two full-grown but playful golden retrievers. They ran between our legs the way people who swim in shallow tropical waters are sometimes surprised by dolphins. And they kept running, away from us, keeping pace with each other like they knew where they were going.

Maybe next year can be like that for you. If you have to run, run like you know where you're going.

Love and miss you, too.

-Casey

The Other Coast



Last week, I went to LA for the fifth time, a place where I had no history for nearly 30 years but for which I now have a quick but unpredictable sympathy. Some of my friends have ended up there. Some of them have already come and gone. Another is deleting the Midwest from her system with each flight over the desert. For myself, I don't know about all that. I don't know about second homes. A long time ago I made my body my only home. I'm never not at home, except when I have a seizure, when I black out and my body jerks like it's cursed, but who knows where I go? Maybe I rest somewhere deeper and quieter. A dog under the bed during a storm. Even when I sleep I'm active. I always dream. Joan of Arc had visions some historians attribute to epilepsy. I have no such visions during a seizure. I just go.

I haven't had a seizure since January. I've been to LA twice since then.

Near the ocean, I hear a drone, the soundtrack to time travel. My friend suggests a past life as a sailor. I think more like a shipwreck. The sibling to a car abandoned in the desert. Josh and I ride to Venice Beach on our last day and are fooled by the breeze into neglecting sunscreen. Later on the plane home we turn pink in the dark. Our cooked bodies instead reading raw. We do what we can not to rewind into our basic parts, but then two nights earlier on the freeway after the Beyoncé concert our driver avoids another driver and we slide across lanes toward a concrete wall. Our unbuckled friend flies sideways into our other friend. We don't meet the wall like in Venice the knife thrown low across the boardwalk by a stranger doesn't meet our legs. But we glimpse the usually invisible thread, the thinnest thread there is.

A gull pulls out what's good from a washed up skate, the cousin to a stingray, the shark flattened into a triangle with an eel's tail. Josh stands back so his shoes stay dry. I pick up empty shells for Shawn. His history is Santeria and his present is squirming between a future with us and that original history. He's a quick collector slow to jettison the unnecessary. We part with a little liquor in the yard if we spill a sip while laughing. A sign of upset spirits. Even ghosts could use a drink. Other belongings are more solid, more permanent. A placemat Josh and I drew on during our six month anniversary dinner with Shawn is kept safe under a bell jar in Shawn's apartment. We joke he's saving these pieces so he can cast spells on us. The truth is he doesn't need charged ingredients to make us love him.

Out to dinner before the concert, our friend, Roxane, orders a cocktail with Hendrick's, but the bar only serves California spirits. Whatever comes out tastes good, but can't be replicated. No one remembers what's in it. Some actors you've seen on TV are with us. We talk about tattoos and weddings and the Industry with a capital I. I hug someone I've met several times but who's never needed to remember my name. The restaurant is new but the circumstances are familiar. I email a friend that some days I'm content to be at the table, but others I want to be the reason people are at the table.

That night, I'm content. Most nights, I'm content. Today, I write to keep the drink in the glass, to feed the ghosts without getting them drunk. Tonight, Shawn comes over to do laundry. Tonight, Josh tells us about a comic he received in the mail. Tonight, I make dinner and ignore the invisible thread. I sit down and follow the other threads, the ones I can see.

And I thank you.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Twister



I know one day I'll swallow this wedding ring. I tried smoking a few years ago to calm the fidgeting, to ease the eating, to excuse myself to be alone. Now I'm never truly alone, as the ring reminds me and excites me, a thin band I place between my lips when I draw, write, read emails to which I say I'll respond but never do. Why?

Anne Boyer talks about publishing as ego-making and writing as ego-depleting. Two forces in rotation. The rise and the fall. The rise and the fall. It's hard to get going when you're feeling good. Some people liked my recent book, The Three Woes, and even more than that, I liked The Three Woes, which has prevented me from writing almost anything new since it was published.

Instead, I drew.

And now my art is being shown in a gallery downtown. At the opening, I read from The Three Woes, some of which inspired my drawings. Other moments in the art are taken from life. There's one of Josh, Shawn, and me. Simple but colorful. We're admiring each other. It's the image The Pitch used when they ran this great review of the show. Scroll down, scroll down. Yes, there. More ego-making. I haven't drawn much since the show went up, and now, near the end of the high, the removal and maybe sale of (some of) the art, I want to draw again but also finish writing a nearly there short story collection and a far from formed novel. The dip. The distance. Not that I'm feeling bad. I'm just feeling normal again. Less up there and more down here.

And so instead of smoking or snacking or staring out the window like a cat, I'm chewing on my wedding ring and feeling antsy to make more work.

(Oh, fine. I'm still snacking. One of our wedding gifts from a good friend was a subscription to a monthly snack service. Currently, I'm unable to stop with these honey hard candies.)

Elsewhere, I'm still high. Josh and I are doing great together, like you'd expect if you know us. We've been seeing Shawn for about eight months now. I told you this last time, but some of you didn't get it. In fact, that drawing of the three of us has been misinterpreted as what would happen if Josh and I combined to become one person. A visualization of our marriage. But no. That third man is Shawn, and we love him, and like I said last time, if you have your doubts, they're your doubts. They're not mine. I'm sure. Josh is sure. Shawn is sure. We're all sure, and we're all that matters.

Other things I love right now:

-Gilbert Hernandez's "Heartbreak Soup" and "Palomar" stories from Love and Rockets.
-Josh finally having a phone that works.
-Playing and beating old Pokemon (Yellow) and new-ish Pokemon (X).
-xTx writing again.
-My mom, the Storm Chaser, running out the door where she works to take this picture of a funnel cloud yesterday:




Us


Over a month later, and I can't recount it with accuracy. Like forgetting a dream as soon as you wake up, then remembering it in the shower days later. You were there, and you were there, and you were there.

There was here. Right here in Kansas City.

Josh and I got married, though we've acted married the entire time we've been together. We met in 2004. I was a year out of high school, and Josh was a year out of college. Jumping from one institution into another. As a teenager I'd been obsessed with a future I couldn't quite imagine. I just knew the present was untenable and the only way forward was to keep my hands busy and maybe move somewhere I could meet the man of my dreams.

And I did.

The dreams weren't the ones anyone told me I should dream. I was working against the dreams I was given. Making up new dreams even before I could be grateful for that wherewithal. That privilege. I'd abandoned the afterlife, and this life became more urgent. Marriage seemed impossible and unimportant. Never in my lifetime, I thought.

And so what?

I moved on. It's hard to spare feeling for institutions that feel nothing for you.

So last summer when marriage became accessible to me for the first time, I wrote against it. Not marriage as something you claim when you're ready, but marriage as something you're finally allowed. Josh and I were in New York on the day the Supreme Court released its decision, which also happened to be Pride. We watched Ian McKellen walk down Christopher Street followed by a small car with his name on it followed by a happy rainbow of everybody else. Josh and I just wanted to cross the street to get to a bakery. We'd been together 11 years at that point. We were having a summer fling with a friend back home. Marriage did not exist on our level. We were above it, in theory, and we were busy testing that theory.

If marriage is just a commitment, we made it a long time ago. We made the only promise we can hope to keep as humans. We promise this life. We're partners on a level that operates against the cold machinery of the universe. We're one and we're separate at the same time. No wonder people in public confuse us for twins. It's not our faces. We don't look alike. But we're knitted together in a way most people never see two men knit.

More than anything else, we gave in and got married because of our one dividing line. I have a history of seizures. Josh has witnessed some of that history. It runs concurrent with our own, and likely will for as long as I live. We decided marriage was a pretty way to stay protected. If anything were to happen to me because of my family curse, Josh would have the legal right to be close when I need him most.

That closeness is love, of course, and we have more than enough. So much love we're sharing it with our boyfriend, Shawn. Another dream we weren't handed. A dream we found. Six months in and every lesson we learned with each other we're learning all over again with him. If you think you have something to say about this, you don't. You're not qualified.

We are.

In spite of mass murder against our community, we continue the work we've done our whole lives. We define ourselves while we can. I write the stories I wish I could have read when I was younger. I make the art I still want to see. We're visible now because we can't afford to be invisible. No wonder I used to try moving objects with my mind. It's the only tool I have to move you.

What I'm saying is look at us while you can.

We're beautiful, and we're here.

Get Lucky



I used to whistle "The Ballad of the Wind Fish" from The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening while at work in an art museum. The gallery I worked was large enough to fit a Buddhist temple. An openness that carried and sharpened my whistle. High ceilings. No windows. Few visitors. Only statues that stared wherever I stood and me, whistling to soundtrack the emptiness, soothe the ghosts, glimpse the future. Minutes elongated on that job. I watched the old get older. The paint was dry and had been for centuries. A statue's face was cracked. Time is a vandal. One day I fell asleep walking the marble floor and ran into a fabric covered wall. I could have paced there forever. I walked miles but nowhere. Circled a square room. At best, a dream. A game where the puzzle of the place held an open secret: nothing I make with my own hands will ever end up there. A block away, the art school I attended. One of my former professors caught me working the museum temple and told me something that sounded like the truth, though I still don't know. He said museums are where art goes to die. Still, he sat in the temple for almost an hour and stared into a statue's eyes.

Saying I wasn't prepared for life after graduation isn't true, even if the only preparation I paid any attention was, "Get lucky." Artists came in to talk about the path to success. Less a path and more a lottery. "We got lucky." Four years at school trying (and sometimes not trying) to be the best, but what it's always crumbled down to is this: "Just be the best in front of me right now."

In LA this past weekend my friend drove me up La Brea after dark and told me I've changed a lot since we were in school. "You were kind of a kid, then," she said, which is to imply now I'm not. I'll accept it, but the truth is I'm still making fun of bad dreams.

The darkest nightmare to me is a shipwreck. I snorkeled once in clear waters and could see the entire wing of an airplane 20 feet below me. On the same trip I watched my father climb a rusted out shipwreck and jump off the bow into the same water I'd just seen a barracuda. What possesses us?

My new book, The Three Woes, is out at conferences and festivals right now. You can pre-order it online here: http://threewoes.sporkpress.com/. I read selections from it last Thursday at the Ace Hotel in downtown LA. A small dog barked when I finished, and that's good enough praise for me. I wonder if a dog has ever barked at a painting?

I stood in another museum last Friday. A guard came up and asked me to please carry my backpack at my side like a bag of groceries. The same thing I used to say to strangers at the museum I worked. I would have stayed all day and stared at the walls and never seen anything close to the work I make now. My boyfriend claims there's nothing original anymore, that every fire we light is just the same fire over and over again. Well, he's wrong.

I didn't light those other fires. I lit this one.

Untitled



I'm doing a lot of invisible work (you'll have it on your desk by Wheneversday), meaning I sit and type and my hands are still soft and clean. People say that. Josh says that. It's hard to point at some of my other work as work because it's equally soft. Every once in a while someone will order a pie. The dough is soft. The filling passes soft and arrives at liquid. You hardly notice the work on your hands, and that's fine. Cutting in the butter. Rolling out the dough. All by hand, but really all by forearm and upper arm and back. Push, push, push. It's no one's business and the soreness doesn't last long. Nothing lasts that long, especially the pie.

This time last year I finished writing a small book. This week I'm going through the edits the publisher sent and simultaneously patting myself on the back and covering my mouth because how did I miss that or that or that? I'm reminded a book is like anything else I've ever made. It's mine while I make it, but when I'm done it's someone else's. Let's say when I was 25 I would have had a problem with the passing of ownership, but let's also say when I was 25 I tried cultivating bad habits just to look cool.

And it didn't work.

I held a cigarette like I learned the pose from a cartoon character. I drank bourbon fast. Now I drink bourbon slow if at all. I smoked one cigarette last October because I wanted to keep a cute guy company in the cold. I did what I usually do, what one friend accuses me of doing too well--I pulled out the cute guy's history like I wasn't pulling at all. When I can't do that, when I can't find the thread, I'm at a loss. 2015 was me finding and losing, finding and losing, my own thread. The older I get the less I fear intangibles and so the less pressure I feel to make a scene with my words. I work on a lot all at once, but the stuff I really care about is physical and immediate. I've cycled back around from ideas to objects.

Drawing comes from a different hand than writing, and I've been drawing. This is no indictment of anyone but myself, but I can do a drawing and the same day get the approval of a hundred or so people on the Internet. Wait a month and maybe a thousand people have seen that drawing and approve. Writing takes longer and maybe seven people approve of a story unless that story wins me something, which is to say someone loudly approves of the story and gives you the permission to spend your time reading it. Even a few months ago this would be where I judge you.

Now I get it.

Maybe I should have gotten it earlier, like when I started getting tattoos. People ask what they mean, and I always say something different. Here's the truth time and distance deliver: I got tattoos to give you permission to acknowledge my body, something I neglected for a long time and now can't stand the thought of neglecting ever again. Repeat, the physical, the immediate, the shorthand in the interest of saving time. Typical Taurus.

My hands might be soft, but my fingers are crooked, and deep under the skin of my palms there are points of graphite, unpullable threads, stories I can't dislodge without a knife. The work's not so invisible then, just small and only as long-lived as I might be.

That said, I find new reasons to write. New routines. Coffee, which I never drank until last month, I now make and drink daily. I play records while I try to finish a story for someone who asked nicely. Josh wonders if I can concentrate on telling a story while listening to someone else (Neko Case, currently) tell another story. Good question.

We'll see.

Not Your Future, Mine


I'm now convinced I'll do anything. No switch was flipped. Nothing that instant. More like my sweater snagged on a branch and unraveled me topless. I didn't notice until I was nude. Never in my teens. Never in my 20s. Only a few months into 30, in the woods standing on the end of a dead tree and pissing on fallen leaves, I wondered where I was even though I knew better. I was in Michigan with Josh and two nice, attractive men I met on the Internet. Even if I knew where I was, another question struck—how the hell did I get there?

Being literal, a flight was how I got there. Josh took the aisle because I took the window. I always take the window. If I had a therapist I'd ask what that says about me. Instead, I'll make something up. The short story: I want to see out. I want constant proof the world's limits aren't manmade. The deeper story, the lake, dark and endless, the therapist would ask me to identify when I close my eyes: I want to see what's coming before it arrives.

Two service dogs sat across the aisle. Black labs. They made no noise. No one on the plane needed their help. Someone out of sight and in the future waited for them. I took a nap. When I woke up over Lake Michigan, I looked out but couldn't see the water. Pink clouds erased the descent. Still, I knew the lake was down there, just as I knew Chicago stuck out from one shore and was unseeable from the opposite dunes. I knew from experience. I anticipated. I can't imagine dogs anticipate more than food and love. Maybe the service dogs anticipated a purpose for their training. A need without a face, for now. Josh and I, too, trained or not, hoped for strangers who would embrace us like friends, those two men who invited us somewhere (their place in the city) then nowhere (their cabin in the woods).

Skip the ride into Chicago. Skip the woman with no hair and enough tattoos to make me jealous. Skip going up the wrong escalator out of the station. Skip the brief wait in a community garden. Skip the pie I held as a handmade thank you. Skip all of that. The weather was 70 degrees in November. Chicago was more or less as we left it in 2012, except there was no wind and none of my friends. There was me, and there was Josh, and then, as promised, there was a tall bearded man to collect us.

Where next? I insist on a followable trail of evidence, the physical markers of my life I can use as simple notes for a complex future story. Messages saved. Photos, videos, phone calls. Times and dates. Promises and fantasies. A line exists. I refuse to walk the entirety of that line until I'm off it. Right now, I'm on a train home.

We took a nap in our hosts' bed while they worked downtown. Another blind intimacy. A personless hug. Josh's throat hurt. When he spoke he sounded like Kathleen Turner. My nerves were bad. Worse than I've known them in a while. I worried for two, that's why. I napped and didn't dream. Left all the possibilities out there where they were born. The men's spare apartment. The interaction that started online and now had four bodies instead of a phone. The feeling crawling toward me while I wasn't looking, the feeling that finally caught me with my pants down in the woods. Josh and I have been together almost 12 years. We've observed for so long. We've made a small life of observation. Writing, reading, drawing, making. But now we have to participate, too. We have to touch the world back instead of just letting it touch us.

We have plans. We're getting married. That's just part of it. We'll have the life we want instead of just the life we were given. We'll have that together no matter what else. Blame the train. We flew to Chicago but didn't fly back. We took the long way home. If our plans started anywhere, they started there. We traveled a circuitous route like a witch casting a spell. We threw our hair into the river and circled back a different way than the way we came. We made sure not to cross our own trail or we'd jeopardize everything. We forgot we cast the spell. We forgot we left our home at all until the spell started to work, until anywhere might seem like home just because we were there.

Walk Too Fast



Josh and I are noticed in our neighborhood for walking. So rare to see people walk just to walk. We're like stray cats who have as many names as there are neighbors. "The Guys." "The Gruesome Twosome." "Hey, Girls!" "Trouble." We have names for the neighbors, too. Mostly the guys. They're on their porches or in their yards or walking their dogs. Sometimes the guys say hello. I swear I'll wink. One of these days I'll wink. All the names we have for these men end in "Boyfriend" or "Daddy." Sorry. We're creative in other areas of our lives.

I sold some drawings. Good for me.

More walking.

We walk fast, and we walk furious. We thought New York was our pace until we went back in June. Still too slow. Snaking between innocent people just to get to the next restaurant, the next summer sale, the next chance to see someone sing with tears in their eyes. Walking like that is dangerous. I ran into scaffolding and kept running. Metal burned my forearm. Looked like a bruise for three seconds until the purple oozed. People kept a distance. The blood became a shield of personal space. Now it's a scar in lieu of a tattoo.

It's time. Nothing's happened to devastate me in a while, but it's time for a new tattoo. You won't see this one unless I show you. And let me be honest, I'll probably show you. It'll be red, simple, and cute like the rectangle on my right forearm. The rectangle gets so much love. The squares get less love than they used to. The deer collects curiosity. Sometimes confusion. From a distance, one guy thought it was a cockroach.

Upstairs was for rent again. A sign appeared in the yard. A number to call. Still, a woman hugging a clipboard and a stack of paper rang the bell and asked in person. I'm not the landlord. I told her what I could, and she told me a few things, too. She told me there was a leak in our basement (there was) and that the electrical needs some work (it does). She'd not seen any of this firsthand. She claimed clairvoyance and descended the porch without a hurry. "Bless you," she said, with all the weight her voice could gather. "All right," I said, where I should have thanked her. I knew when move-in day came she wouldn't be our new neighbor. Ours was the wrong haunted house and she knew it.

Before she left she dressed down my deer tattoo like I dress it down when I notice it in the shower. Not like when people ask about it. Feels both too heavy and too obvious to explain at a party. But here, like the shower, I can be dumb and easy and not have to look you in the eyes.

The deer has been pierced by an arrow, but the deer survives. He chews the laurel of peace. 

"Isn't that the way of the world?" the clairvoyant said. 

Yes. Duh. Of course it is. We walk this planet. We're wounded, yet we're alive. 

Summer Lost in Space



There was a space in my summer, and I didn't tell you. And since I didn't tell you from the beginning, I refuse to tell you now, at the end.

Fine.

I'll tell you it was good, it was fun, it was easy, and then it was hard. I'll tell you the rest in a short story one day if I want. You know I'm stubborn. I can hold on. Typical Taurus. But I can also burn up. Typical Taurus on the cusp of Aries. If I keep anything to give you it won't be flames; it'll be ashes.

(Note: find a use for ashes. Keep them, spread them, or? Figure out the "or.")

A couple months ago I told you I traveled. What else? Oh, I was sick in bed for three days at the end of July from swimming in an unclean pool or eating at a pizza buffet or drinking beer from unlabeled bottles or swallowing a single bad shrimp. I don't know which was most guilty, but they were all decisions I made over the course of one day, so really it's me; I'm guilty. And I suffered. Boy, did I suffer. The saltines I didn't finish are in the kitchen cabinet going stale.

What else went stale this summer? Turns out not much. I pulled up a bunch of stories I wrote over the past three years since I sent Mother Ghost to my publisher, stories I wrote when I got stuck in places working on The Three Woes. They're still good. Most of them are still good. Some of them are still good. A few of them are still good. OK, the truth. I'm editing, cutting, killing, writing, and rewriting. Look for the resulting collection whenever I'm good and done with it, all right? Title: Slither Bomb. Publisher: ???

Other stuff I kept alive this summer but only just: basil, two cacti, a weird oregano varietal, jade (barely), and an elephant ear. The leaves on the elephant ear are bigger than my head, neck, and shoulders. The next step is something that sheds. People are convinced Josh and I need a cat. We don't need a cat. We walk at night and say hi to every cat in the neighborhood. We say hi to some men gathered on their porch offering to sell us a beer vending machine. Why aren't people ever convinced Josh and I need men on porches? I'm convinced we need those men more than we need cats. There are so many good cats but only just A Few Good Men.

I'm sorry. I couldn't help it.

Some nights in June and July I couldn't sleep. Not when I was sick. I slept when I was sick. Other nights. You know the nights. The outside screams through your window. Insects, not instruments. The ceiling fan stirs every hair on your body. The movement could be spiders. You convince yourself you're covered in legs. If you breathe, the mouths from which the legs radiate will chew your hot skin cold. Leftover fireworks drag your heart onto a familiar battlefield. If you're lucky the moon has no pull on you. Other celestial bodies tugged at your birth. If you're not lucky, if you're a moon baby, you're thirsty all night, your glass is empty, and the moon's a bottle you can see but never reach. Love, too, keeps your mind moving. Perpetual motion. Pleasant exhaustion after a run. Your legs stop. Your heart runs on fumes.

Those nights.

Somehow that's not horror. No matter what it sounds like. A person can be restless and content at the same time. I explore both territories. August is half in the door, half out. The space in my summer could have held a monument three weeks ago. Now it holds a stone. Easier to keep in my pocket. Easier to throw. I don't do either.

These days I look at the stone and love it for what it is.

LA Again


If Seattle begged for meaning, LA begged for nothing. Two West Coast cities and only the latter feels like a place people go because they can't go any further, because there's an ocean in the way. I said after the first time I visited LA the Pacific didn't seem to attract me like other bodies of water but to repel me. Though in the other direction, toward home, there's a desert to cross. No wonder I'm uneasy there. No wonder.

Back and forth. A spider in a glass. A trap.

But this was my third visit, and the volley I'd found so exhausting before excited me. I talked about magic with Seattle. LA might be the other kind of place, one I've denied exists. Where insane events don't seem guided by your own hand but in spite of it. There's a line in LA, and if you find yourself on it, good for you.

Where I found myself: a reading downtown to surprise a friend who wasn't surprised. The pin in that balloon was another friend, and to be honest, it was her balloon to pop anyway. She flew me out there on a whim. When I failed to be a surprise, I turned to my other role as a supportive gift. (Happy birthday!) It's not hard to support these women, these friends. The reading was excellent. The readers were a unique force. A team.

I traveled alone. Teamless. Arrived early to the reading to secure a chair with a good line of sight to the microphone. Chair secured, I stared at my phone, the Internet. An attractive man (the word is "hot" when I tell you in person, "attractive" here) messaged me something playful, a pun on my screenname. He asked if I saw what he'd done. "From outer space," I said. We exchanged. He canceled his other plans ("just gay shit") to attend the reading with me. After, I waited in line to meet the writers, and he browsed the store. I met the writers. The crowd thinned. The attractive man vanished. My friends and I went outside to say goodbye while they waited for a car. Their plans were sleep. Mine were awake.

The man reappeared in the same moment my friends disappeared. A hand off from security to a stranger. Again, the fear of regret. I was tired. And yet, I had to see him through. My night looked like nothing before. Now it looked like him.

You don't get the rest of the story because I don't know how you'd take it if I gave it to you. Just know this: midnight naked meditation with a sexy film industry man in his personal bathroom sauna in his fun downtown LA apartment can be the right medicine. I had not meditated in years. I had never meditated naked with another naked man. Now, I have. There's your story. When you travel, don't act like you're at home.

Next day, the best sushi I've ever eaten, an all right beach but the best nap in the sun, good friends, ice cream with black olive brittle and goat cheese, gin and tonics and s'mores. If I sought to write my own fairy tale in Seattle, LA wrote a fairy tale for me. (I get it now, Roxane. I do. I get why you love this place like a woman.)

That line I told you about before?

I don't have to say it do I?

I rode it the entire time.

Seattle Again


Parsing the details. Assigning value to daily experiences. I eat hotel bacon for breakfast. No meaning for me in the hotel bacon. No meaning in the eggs, the yogurt, the bottle of water, or the view of men washing windows on the adjacent building. No meaning in breakfast at all, a meal I often forgo.

There's meaning in pastry, though. I'll get there.

But first.

I'm on vacation with my family in Seattle. We eat. We have fun. We nap. In the time I find for myself, I look for other people to hold my attention.

A man I met on the elevator in my brother's building had a Shiba Inu on a leash. I knew the breed, but I didn't say so when the other person in the elevator, my mother, asked the man what kind of dog it was. The Shiba Inu, like my breakfast, is not a meaningful personal symbol. It's the man, of course. The man holding the leash. The first Seattleite I met when I arrived and I didn't say a word to him. I let him tell my mother about his dog. We parted. Mom and I took a car down the hill home. Well, hotel home.

I realize now, at this age, it's people. People hold the most meaning. I can't write another story about someone looking at a deer or a snake or a spider, I swear. I'm writing stories where people look at each other.

Late one night, the man from the elevator found me on the, uh, Internet. And that's all I'll say about that. You figure it out. He didn't remember me from the elevator, but I remembered him. There's no value to be found in the social media mechanics beyond the obvious power of a kind of omniscience. Whatever you like is out there and easy to find. Even though you search, what you search for seems more like it searches for you. No, really, I won't say any more about it.

Magic.

I believed in magic for a while. I believe in magic now, but a few years ago I believed magic had meaning, that it floated around and changed the world all on its own. Well, no. The truth is you, the person, are the initiator of magic. All I'm saying is if a random event seems to happen like magic, it's invaluable to me. Even if I know better. There's a reason adults still love fairy tales. The cruel are punished. The virtuous are valued. Change is mourned at first, celebrated later.

Give it time.

Pastry seems to require magic. But really, it just requires time. The places I find to hold my attention, the places away in Seattle for a moment alone, are bakeries. Not even coffee intrudes. Only me, the occasional cute clerk, and sugar, butter, and flour. I eat. I don't eat alone.  Don't ask me to explain that. I drank expensive ginger beer down by the water three times, and every time I was lonely. Countless pastries, though, and I've been content. Sugar, I bet. There's science there, but let's not dirty happiness with science.

More magic.

I spent a few minutes visiting a man who has the same rectangle forearm tattoo I have. Mine is red. His is black. We met on the Internet, too. The daily experience. The tiny details of interaction. I knew I had to meet this guy or I'd regret it. In the end, there's not much meaning there either. He was nice. I was nice. I walked two miles to the home he shares with his husband and their dog. The man greeted me at a charming gate. He gave me a glass of water. We talked. I sweated. We hugged. I left. I thought maybe I'd assign the experience something more. A story or a feeling. Instead, it lives in the place small twists of the narrative often live. Neat. Cool. Fun. A moment in the woods, per Sondheim.

What else? The trip continues. My mother mourns the inevitable departure. My brother, like myself, is a rational statue. We would be punished in the fairy tale version of this trip. It would be up to the third brother, the youngest one, the stupidest one, to marry the princess, to inherit the kingdom, to tie the story with a bow.

No such brother exists. The fairy tale isn't the one written for us; it's the one we write. Why assign meaning at all? The older I get, the bigger the picture grows, and yet, all I want to see are the detail shots, the close-ups. The big picture is too chaotic and meaningless to behold. The details soothe and distract from the inevitable departure. The only animals I've seen on this trip are dogs, cats, and people.

I look closely.

I work with what I have.

The Rat Bath


Last week, we were in New York City. I'm speaking for us both, Josh and me, when I say "we." We were twins if you passed us on the street and didn't inspect our faces, our bodies, our hair. We're husbands otherwise, if you get to know us, but we don't wear rings, and we don't call each other husbands. Marriage is now available to us even if we're unavailable to marriage. Like New York isn't home even if it seems otherwise on the outside, marriage isn't home either. Marriage is a place we travel when we're together and joking, another cute shirt we can share. But it's not our bodies like clothes aren't our bodies. Marriage seems so small compared to the rest of us.

We couldn't be on vacation while strangers accused us of being local, so we were Manhattan residents for a week. A woman asked me directions to the Whitney. I told her we were standing right in front of it. "I knew you were going to say that," she said. I didn't tell her I knew her question before she asked it. Someone else stopped me in Times Square and asked me where it was, where was the Times Square? "All around you," I said and gestured out with my hands like the place was rain and we were drenched. Our hosts gave us directions we didn't need. We live in a city, too. Smaller, sure. Kansas City is still a city, though. Right there in the name.

In other words, we've been around. Sitting on the fire escape one night, our first host called us Midwestern and unassuming, which was an assumption itself. If we don't seem regional it's because we aren't. A few years ago I tried to carry some of my Southern youth with me. Not just childhood signifiers. It was icons and tastes like smoking on porches and sipping bourbon and saying, "Ah." Nothing I ever did as a child. I attempted a foreign adulthood. I only grew up in the South; I didn't stay grown there. By the time I'd invested in the costume, it didn't fit. I donated it all to my stories. Read my first book, and you'll find the pieces there, the rags I couldn't wear in my actual life.

One afternoon in New York, Josh and I tried on rings at a clothing store. Fashion rings. Not the other kind. We're uncertain about jewelry. I used to wear a watch, but for the past eight years I've had tattoos on my wrist. A watch would intrude on the lines, cover what I want seen. That's my issue with marriage, too. Maybe it started out I wanted validation and rights, but in the meantime Josh and I built something better. The same way we can be regionless, at home in any city, we can be apart from marriage and appear married at the same time. Not above or below. Apart. 

Our umbrellas collapsed in the wind and rain. Friends warned us about hot city summers. The unexpected rain brought the temperature down. We waited for a train underground where the heat never left and watched water drain down the center of the track. Josh called it the rat bath. We saw rats and pigeons and squirrels, but not once did we see a spider anywhere. Maybe we weren't looking in the right places. Maybe we only saw what we wanted to see.

On the way home one night, another couple of men passed us and wished us Happy Pride. We were tired, and responded to the men as if they'd just awoken us. Not pleased, one of the men said, "You better get into it!"

We couldn't respond before they were gone. We didn't have the words ready to convey our pride.

"We're so far into it, you don't even know!"