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The Morrígan

This morning I was trying to find a place to pull over and let Zephyros run. He had been so patient with my new AM routine of a cup of tea and book time that I wanted to find him the perfect place to stretch his legs. We came across an empty school yard with a dirt pile that had Zeph’s eyes glistening. I knew this was the place and pulled in only to find my signal hawk staring us two travelers down. 

“Morning my friend,” I said, jumping out the door, pup right behind me. A gentle head nod to the side showed off the brown and gold of his feathers and the sharp nose of his beak. 

Zeph took off, finding the mound he had so anticipated, climbing it with an ease I can only envy. I needed yoga before attempting the hill myself and plopped on the ground below him. 

Before I could convince myself into any one certain pose, I saw a large crow fly high overhead. It circled the area above Zeph and I three times. 

“Hmm, that’s a luck,” I think, finally reaching down to grab my toes. 

Then, into the circle of the first crow adds in another. They dance together, one behind the other for a few rings until another crow joins them. The three jet black birds find their pace around our heads and all I can think is, that’s the Morrígan. 

I’m not sure why the thought pops into my head, or how I even learned of the Morrígan in the first place. While my mother is part Irish, I can’t recall ever hearing this bit of folktale, but the name came to mind and as I said it, the crows dispersed and found their way back into the woods. 

For those of you who may be less familiar with the Morrígan, she, in Celtic folklore, is known as the Phantom Queen, or my personal favorite, the Queen of Nightmares. While her title may mean royalty, she is in fact the goddess of death, a shape-shifter who fancies the flight of the crow. She is the queen of the triple goddesses of war and at times appears with her two sisters, Macha and Neman. 

Now being the Goddess of War and fate allots you certain privileges, respect, and a reasonable amount of fear. This is one woman you would not take lightly. Her ferocity is literally legendary. She is seen as a powerful and not-always-so-great omen, assisting some in their coming victories and others in their imminent deaths. 

So what was the Morrígan bringing for me today, death or victory? A prophecy perhaps of the coming wars of the world? Or simply the wars to be won within one’s self. 

As it turns out, I had been reading that morning with a subtle, or perhaps not so subtle, upset in the thought: who would ever read my writing? I was in utter turmoil thinking myself so presumptuous that folks might even consider picking my book off a shelf. My family, of course, to appease me, but the world… No, girl. No. 

However, I’ve recently made large transitions for this life. I live in a van these days (no shade there, I actually love and feel grateful for my ability to try this out). I hang out with my dog probably more than I should. I write when I get up and before I go to sleep, and anytime words find me in the middle. I’ve turned down job offers and pay raises, opportunities to rope me back into the social work realm. So why, if I was doing these things, would I be so anxious as to the readability of my work? 

In comes the Morrígan. 

Now I can’t say with any real certainty that I was visited, much more likely is that this was a few crows who got a whiff of a van dweller’s stink and thought death was lurking. Either way though, they were right. The birds came to verify both my imminent death and victory. Once I fully let go of one, I would have the other. It was both prophecy and present – you can win all, by losing some now. 

Long story already long and not getting shorter, I sat on the ground feeling my whole state of being in the force of the dirt against me. I closed my eyes and wiggled my way into a high plank. My hands gripped the earth and with each squeeze, I intentionally let go of something. Squeeze; insecurity. Squeeze; unworthiness. Squeeze; unlovability. Squeeze; incessant anxiety about my goals. Squeeze; pain and anger for my lack of progress (yes, I admit to feelings of failure for not being a selling author right now!) Squeeze; overly idealistic criticism. 

I came out of the plank to look back into the sky at dozens of crows who had joined me. They were circling the length of the field in which Zeph was running about. A murder of crows isn’t exactly a calming sight, unless you have foes to battle. Like the witch I wish to be, I twisted my head back and laughed, inviting their horror to fill me. When both sides live within you, you get to choose who wins and who gets dirt duvets. 

I know my hawk was there to protect the parts of me who are adventurous, bold, witty, resilient, and wise. The crows were there to help take out any others who were not so helpful. Thanks be to birds on this day in the field, and cheers to the Morrígan – may we always fight side by side. 

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Scrambled Eggs for Breakfast


I went over to my sister’s house the other night, and she asked me what she always does. 

“So… How are you?”

The question comes genuinely, but has a historic hint of ‘I see you crazy little sister, you’re on one of your epic adventures, how are you? 

How am I? I’m not even sure how to answer the question. I’m at an absolute turning point, and, as it is, no matter what, I’m already turning. 

“I’m at this point of transition. I dunno, it’s like… It’s like… Choosing scrambled eggs for breakfast.” 

Now, at this, Katie (my sister) is looking at me with a confused, skewed face, thinking I am going crazy. Hang with me. I might be, but at least this makes sense to me. 

“It’s like when we go out to breakfast and the waiter is at the table, asking for your order. Do I want scrambled eggs this morning, or should I go a potentially less problematic route?”

What should first be understood is what eggs are capable of to a sensitive stomach like mine. A nice hash has two prospective paths. One, it will pump me up and put me in just the right mood to achieve great things throughout my entire day. Or, they could turn this girl’s stomach into knots within an hour of consumption. A half a plate could keep me cuddled on the couch for the rest of the day. 

To make things worse, the ladder option comes with two additional possibilities. One, I am crippled and in bed praying for cramp relief, or two, I cramp, I cry, I spend an hour minimum on the toilet, but then I feel great. Like a single moment of intense intestinal distress will take me back to the path of superwoman. 

So, now you see the position in which I find myself. The cosmic waiter is patiently cuing me to get on my horse about it, to take the risk or not. Everyone at the table seems upset at the sweat rolling down my forehead and the general look of confusion on my face. 

While eggs are a nice allegory, the reality is I need to leave on my trip. I’ve been planning a cross country study abroad adventure for myself to make the next move in my life. I bought a van, plotted out some points to make sure and visit, and stashed my account (a bit) to help feel more secure, but I don’t. I have the unwavering feeling that I’ve just had a lovely breakfast of scrambled eggs and I’m moving into the territory of pain or pride. The chance terrifies me in a way I have not felt in all my years of traveling. I can’t say that I’ve always felt safe, there were moments of hesitation and concern sprinkled into each trip. However, I have never felt as unsafe at the front end as I do now. 

As an adult, The United States is not someplace that I’ve chosen to roam. Most of my goals have taken me away from the country entirely. I have never been very interested in checking out my own nation, and have had an overall feeling of displeasure about it for years. 

I remember as a child, I would frequently travel with my mother. She was a big fan of finding a direction and taking it until we ran out of interesting things to look at, or gas, whichever came first. We drove to the east, all the way up to Massachuesetts, and from Michigan to Kentucky about a hundred times to visit my grandparents. The west has been largely unexplored by me, something I feel needs to be remedied and I can’t wait to go. 

Unfortunately, something else I remember from childhood is driving down the street of my home city with my mother and best friend at the time. We were all of ten, maybe, on our way into town when suddenly my mother looked back through the seats and told me to put my head down. Put my head down? Where was this coming from? Not something she had requested before.

I did so, with some hesitation, but not before seeing the line of men wearing white robes and hoods walking down the road the same way we were going. My mother is white, my best friend was white, I am not. Therefore, my head was the only one in any real danger. 

I’ve been thinking about this as I’ve found it to be one of the leading stopping points in my progress. It’s not that racism wasn’t present in other countries, quite the contrary. I have found this hierarchical system in every location I’ve seen. There were inherent beliefs I could recognize and places that didn’t seem invested in making me a customer, lest friend, but I didn’t have concerns about being lynched by white men feeling insecure about my potential. 

Maybe it sounds ridiculous, but it shouldn’t. Violence against Black folks in the states is constantly present and ever increasing. A young Black woman traveling with only her dog in tow seems to me like the perfect person to pick on when it comes to racial brutality. 

To top it off, I have to be present with the reality that I am largely ignorant to the ins and outs of race relations in the United States. A theoretical knowledge is all I can claim at best. I’ve grown up largely sheltered from the truth of the violence, aggression, and hate present in the world. 

I grew up in Ann Arbor, MI. Not without its racial redlines, but at least optically a bit more progressive than some. They jokingly call A2, the bubble. Inside the bubble it’s peaceful, people are engaged, they are academics, the townies wear Birkenstocks and the newbies smoke weed. Many like to put signs in their yards calling for change and vote blue to make it happen. 

In my mind, this is not a bubble, but a dream. Everything is perfectly sweet on the surface, but a continuation of the nightmares below. Neighbors ignore you with smiles and greetings, only sneering upon turning their backs. The many with yard signs widely refuse to pick them up in protest of local issues. Gentrification is masked by terms like community improvement or education expansion, and huge systemic issues are always ‘over there’ but not here. A good place to raise the kids, and totally adhered to the system of subligation. 

For me, the bubble broke, or I arose from childhood dreams, when my therapist (one of the newbies, not townies) shared with me her thoughts on providing money to a man experiencing homelessness. Then further deteriorated when speaking to an old teacher about the injustices recapturing the attention of the contemporary world. The complete and final rupture was when a figure from my past told me flat out, I was not woke. And as much as I hated to admit it, she was right. 

So now here we are, me on a trek to fully recognize what I don’t, and you reading a piece you thought was about breakfast foods. So let’s get back to that. 

Leaving for me feels like this important choice: to egg or not to egg. Do I chance the risk of completely failing, falling on my face and potentially into real, serious danger? Do I escape into a world of waffles – sweet, filling, but empty and all together unhealthy? Or do I jump into the hash, expecting a day full of greatness, intestinal distress or not?

As it goes, I’ve already ordered the eggs, I’ve taken the first few bites, and I feel the oncoming stomach ache. What’s to come is to see if, in the end, all the shit is worth it.

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Patterns

Getting into new patterns of life is not always simple. I’ve been working on this for the past several weeks and am seeing how hard it is to keep to this idea of consistency. I fight it. I can feel it throughout my entire body, this visceral child within yelling “I don’t want to! You can’t make me!”

This is part of growing up, right? Finding that inner child who has been hiding behind the kidneys every time you try to have an adult conversation with them.
“Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, you can’t find me. If you can’t find me, you can’t control me!”

God I’m tired of her.

Yesterday, I had a good little cry about it. At first I thought, wow how childish of me to let the tears flow simply because I’m frustrated, because the young one in me hates rules and routines, because despite my attempts I’m not getting what I want. How dare I use the time I’m meant to start my running/reading/writing journey to be here weeping in my sister’s kitchen. Get up and get it done, right?!

Wrong.

I needed to cry. I needed to release all the tension that builds up when you are trying new things. You see, right now it feels like there are too many things on the good ol’ life plate. I moved out of my 8 year house and back in with my parents, I quit my job to start being a creative and now I’m broke, not meeting my posting goals, and unsure what comes next. I’m rehabbing a van out of which I’ll run my creative life as well as trying to rehab myself from a nasty little marijuana and nicotine addiction. And, to top it off nice and pretty, the anxiety and depression that lay right under the surface have been… surfacing.

Patterns.

This is me. Tears streaming, choking, flailing me. And as I was feeling helplessly, overwhelmingly, dishearteningly me, I recognized the pattern.

I slowed down my thoughts and tried to breathe. Think Jaz, think. When do I feel this way the most?

Ok, first stop is how am I actually feeling? Horribly disorganized, utterly disgraceful in my work ethic and my outcomes, terribly unwilling to be better yet still expecting better. Ok, next stop, are those real? Disorganized? Dear god yes, always. Disgraceful in my work ethic and therefore outcomes? Perhaps. Terribly unwilling to do and be better? No, not in the whole of it.

So what’s the pattern?

It’s my thoughts. No matter how well I’ve done at something, my mind has a nasty comment to offer.

Finished a painting – “oh well anyone could dribble on a piece of paper such as that.” Write a new story – “well that’s trash and you know it, no one will read that.” Wake up early and take my dog for a run – “congratulations, now you’re doing as much as everyone else.” Make dinner for myself – again, congratulations on this menial job.”

Didn’t I tell you, that little me is ruthless!

So how do I stop her? And, not just stop her, but change her mind and therefore our patterns?

This morning I decided to challenge her. As a kid, I was always the dare-choosing, tree climbing, knee-skinning, jump-off-the-top-of-the-play-structure kind of kid, so I knew I could get her attention with a bid.

“Hey little Jaz!”

“What?” I hear her in the back of my brain.

“I bet you couldn’t go for a run this morning.”

“What?!”

“Yeah, I bet you’re too scared to go for a run.”

“Oh you think so huh? I’ve already got my shoes on, LET’S GO!”

Got her.

“Oh little Jaz!”

“What?”

“I bet you can’t finish one post for this morning. You couldn’t, I know you couldn’t.”

“Oh yeah? Well check this out!”

This may seem infantile and maybe a therapist would question my methods here, but I know me. Sometimes I can be a bit too competitive, a quality I’m actually working hard to tame oddly enough. It’s not something I’m easily rid of, so instead of exiting competition from my life, instead I work to compete only with myself.

“Liiiitttttlllleeee JAAAAAZZZ!”

“WHAAAT?”

“I bet you can’t finish that novel you’re working on.”

“Oh, you are on!”

Patterns.

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First Painting

Ever have that moment when you realize you can do something you hadn’t previously conceptualized? Like ‘Oh, how did I never know I could enjoy cooking and eating cicadas, or lift a huge truck tire?’

I had this experience when at the turn of the year 2019 into 2020, I took a marker in my hand and drew myself a vision board. Normally, my vision boards were collages filled with the pages of many a Nat Geo or People, even Better Homes And Gardens, but this one was unlike all the others. My hand glided across the thick paper, the Sharpie finding lines and angles that were not of me, but were mine for the moment. Each small shape was meaningless, random, until I moved back to observe the page from a height. Suddenly the picture unfolded in front of my eyes. On either side stood a figure: one masculine, the other a veiled feminine. It was astounding, not only to see clearly this lovely piece of art, but to think that it came from me. I had done this.

So as an experiment, I decided I should continue to draw. I found more of the construction paper and decided to doodle. It turns out, my little jottings are lovely! And, I enjoy doing it, which is always nice to realize.

A year and a half later, I’ve sold my first painting and commissioned two more! I’m not sure what will come of this adventure, and I’m holding closely to the reality that the adventure is what will come and has already started.

Do I dare call myself an artist? Yes. Not because I’ve sold a painting, not because I have an ability to put what I see in my mind down on paper, but because I claim the responsibility of perceiving and do so by continued practice, faith, and pride in myself and my work. Let’s draw y’all!

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In Hell

I.

I used to like killing. I liked it a lot. And I was good at it, once I really figured it out. You see, the trouble in taking a life for me wasn’t the death. I didn’t love blood, but I could stomach it enough to get the job done. For me, it was the creative aspect, the method. I quickly got bored with the single shot to the head. While it is the most efficient, it’s highly monotonous. Besides, blood is one thing, brains are another, so switching it up every once in a while was advantageous. I always figured it would come back to haunt me, but I never guessed it would be in this way. 

Recently I died. You know what they say, can’t be number one for long, number two is always gunning for you. I guess in this case it was more car bombing for me, but you get the gist. 

I had gotten to be rather decorated in my career. Did two tours in Afghanistan and came back with few applicable skills, fewer friends, and a fifth-a-night, smoke myself into a stupor case of PTSD. Now please don’t think that PTSD and killing go hand in hand, I was a murderer before I went into the army, they just didn’t know. The training honed those skills, but made me utterly useless in a civilian job. . 

I started being a gun for hire in my teens. It was more than a career, it was a lifestyle. I lived in the bad part of the neighborhood, where even the bullies from the rough part refused to spend any time. There used to be a joke about getting shot every time you walked out your door, but we had to stop saying it when it started to be true. Guns were a common part of life. You could check most trunks and they were filled with glocks, shotguns, and semis. Shit, if you knew where to go you could find AKs, grenades, and pipe bombs. I’ve even seen a few hatchets and, of course, each car was also selling an assortment of drugs. It was a crazy time growing up. I had several friends who didn’t make it to middle school. 

When I was on the block, I killed mostly junkies. Folks who were supposed to pay up, but “innocently” forgot and missed their deadline. So I remembered for them. 

I got paid good money, though it wasn’t ever enough to get out. The connections were all invested in making their dime and they paid out for it. I started with intimidation, showing up at 3am in your apartment for reminders, the removal of a finger or two when you tried to play me. That was interesting, but I started to pick up kill jobs after not too long. The money was better and the jobs were quicker. I didn’t have to clean up, that was someone else’s buck. 

The first few jobs I did went terribly. Thank God I never got caught. I left more than enough evidence for the cops to convict me, but they never seemed to chase me. One of my mentors told me that the pigs didn’t come down this far on the road. There was a rumor that the folks from the neighborhood would jack and strip their wagons every time they did, and the city told them to stop showing up, they couldn’t afford any more police cars. 

Despite my naivete, I was a quick learner and found ways to make things easier on myself. I had a hard time looking at faces at first, so that single shot to the back by the river was perfect. As I grew, the faces stopped bothering me and I started to branch out. I kept a notebook of all the different ways I discovered I could kill a person; cool shit like dropping bricks, hungry rats, or poison. The list went on and on. Which brings me to where I’m at now. 

As I said, I died recently, and in my last moments, I remember thinking ‘Hell’s going to be a piece of cake compared to this world’. I was very wrong. 

II.

I woke to find myself fully formed, the same age as when I died. I was relieved, I’m sure the explosion left me looking pretty rough, but the broken mirror on the wall of wherever I was showed my wispy gold brown hair, my furry eyebrows, and cool green eyes intact. I actually looked pretty well rested. The dark black bags that had annexed my eyes were gone, and a few of the creases around my mouth from years of Pall Mall Menthols disappeared. I even had a tooth regrow that I lost ice skating with my little sister. See, I wasn’t always such a bad guy. 

The room I found myself in was small but comfortable, other than the fact that it didn’t have any windows or doors. The broken mirror was on one side, and an unlit fireplace on the other. There was a desk on the far end with two chairs, one on either side. I went over and found a few books placed on the desk: Toni Morrison’s Sula and Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code. I picked up Sula and scanned through the pages. The book was largely empty, the sentences all erased, teasingly. I flipped and found one single word randomly placed on various pages, Hell. I picked up the other novel and found the same occurrence. Someone really wanted to make a point here. Luckily for me, I’ve never been much of a reader. 

Suddenly the fireplace lit. Large flames began leaping and smoke filled the room. Then, she was there. A young woman; not too tall, not too short. She was dark and had short curly hair. Her features were sharp, pointed, with large brown eyes. She looked both scared and dominant. She stood erectly, silent. 

“Uh, hi?”

Silence

“That’s a neat little trick you got there. This is… uh, not exactly the place I’d expect to meet a beautiful woman, but…” I smiled, she did not. “I’m Char…”

BOOM!

What the fuck? That bitch shot me! 

III.

I woke up in the same room; same broken mirror, empty fireplace, same desk. However, upon closer inspection, I see that the books today are different. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd and Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Similarly, the pages in these books were missing the majority of their words. The only one I could find was ‘loss’. 

Within moments the fireplace sputtered and coughed more smoke. Before I knew it, she was there in front of me, just as silent as before. 

“Hey,” I say hesitantly. 

I don’t want this chick to go after me again on some rampage, but before I could get out anything more, she raised her arm, gun in hand, and shot me in the stomach. 

I fell to the ground gripping and gagging on the pain.

“What the hell was that for, huh?”

Silence. She raised the gun to my head. 

“Please, no! Just talk…”

BOOM!

IV. 

We go on like this for what feels like years. Everyday is the same. Wake up alone, wait the five minutes for her to arrive, then die. Always in silence. Well, hers anyway, I keep on chatting. I’ve taken to calling her Angel Baby, which she loathes. I see her cringe every time I say it. Until she tells me differently, this is her name now. 

Angel Baby seems to be getting more creative in her killing of me. She moved from guns to knives and has enjoyed cutting me in various ways. 

“Knife sharp today Angel Baby?”

Silence. Man this is getting tedious. 

One morning, instead of waiting patiently to see what fresh hell she’ll serve up to me today, I sat in the chair behind the desk and opened up one of the rotating books. This one was The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien and all that is still available to be read is the word fire. 

The fireplace comes to life with her arrival and we start.

“Good morning my friend, how are the chambers these days?”

She glares at me. 

“Uh huh. Get some good sleep did you? You look rested.”

Nothing. She pulls out her knife. I notice she doesn’t gleam it in front of me in some sadistic parade of murder fantasy. She just holds it knowing the job needs to be done. I realize too, that I’ve been letting her kill me. It was different when she had a gun. It’s a little room and there’s really no escaping her. The knives were avoidable though. Why haven’t I been fighting back? 

So I tried it. When she came towards me I threw the book at her. Surprised, she took a step back, obviously not having considered that at some point I might retort. 

Every advance she made I made in the opposite direction. Each step led us both together and further apart. She tried to jump over the desk, but I pushed her down. In the process she clipped my arm, but it wasn’t bleeding badly enough to distract me. 

“Angel Baby, let me ask you a question. How long have you been in this room, torturing poor souls like me.” 

She angrily swiped her knife at my neck and barely missed. I fell back and quickly bounced up and out of the way of another thrust. 

“Do you like it down here? I can imagine the solitude is nice, but the humidity is a bitch!”

Another swipe and miss. She was fuming, but holding her tongue and looking for the best position to capture me in. 

“Do you know any other women around here? You’re too quiet for my liking. Plus I love a girl with big…”

“Will you shut up.” 

She speaks! 

BAM! Her words startled me long enough for her to get a stiff jab to my neck. I can feel the blood flowing down my throat as I fall into a sitting position. It is painful and I can feel the lights fading. Until tomorrow. 

V.

“So you gonna talk to me again?”

Silence. 

“Come on, now I know you’ve got pipes. Give me something.”

  “… Why did you run last time?”

“Oh whoa! Can’t even be friendly enough to ask me something about me, who I am, first huh?” 

“I don’t care who you are.”

“Well shit. Ok. I ran because… I guess I hadn’t thought to before.”

“You can’t leave. There’s no way out.”

“Oh yeah? And where do you come from in that fireplace?”

Silence.

“You either don’t know or you can’t tell me. Which is it?”

“I don’t know.” 

“Do you die too?”

“I don’t know.” 

“So, what now?” 

She pulls out the knife again. 

“Are you ready?”

“And what happens after you kill me?” 

Silence. 

“Let me guess, you don’t know” 

“Why do you care?”

“I want to know what you do, Angel Baby. After you take care of me do you go off to some other furnace? Do someone else in? Another room with no window or doors?”

“No.”

“No? Okay then, so what?”

“I sit.” 

“Sit?”

“Yes. In here.”

I look around. That must be the reason for the desk. 

“So what’s up with the books?”

She lets her head fall and I swear I see a tear drop onto her leg.

“I love to read.”

“But these books are all empty.” 

She shakes a little, lifts her head and shows me those tears I saw before. 

“I know. I guess that’s part of my punishment.”

“Your punishment?”

I didn’t even consider the fact that she was being tortured just as much as I was. 

“So, you’re here, what, all day? Are there days here?” 

“Yes. You die and I sit. At some point you disappear and the fire turns on. I walk into the flame, through to the next… day, I suppose. And there you are, waiting. Like it never even happened.” 

“Shit. Heavy.”

“Yeah, I guess. So, can we get this over with?” 

“One last question. How did you know to do all this?”

She knelt down and opened one of the drawers in the desk. She pulled out a black and white composition notebook, which I instantly recognized. It was my book, my list of ways to kill a contract. 

“It’s the only thing with more than three words around here.” 

She smiles and hands it to me. I flip through the pages remembering each and every mode and method. It’s all there written down like a goddamn instruction manual. Fitting as that’s what it’s become. 

In the front there’s a note not in my handwriting. Conduct the following, is all that says.

“Where did this come from?” I hold up the note. 

“I don’t know.” 

“I didn’t write this.”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, that is interesting. Who gives out the demands around here?” 

She sighed and shrugged as she stood up, knife still in hand. 

“You ready?”

I sigh too, what else can I do? 

“Sure Angel Baby, go ahead.” 

SLASH.

VI.

“Why do you call me Angel Baby?”

“Because you won’t tell me your actual name.”

“Yes, but, why did you start talking to me at all? I was content to be in silence.”

“Yeah, well, I’ve always had a big mouth. Plus, I am stuck in a room getting killed everyday in some variation of my own mind. I wanted to know what was going on.”

We had taken to chatting in the mornings, finding bits and pieces of each other after these terrible days. It was comforting to have her, despite the fact that by the end of our conversation I had her knife in my neck, or was savagely beaten to death with the table lamp. 

Today, she was binding my legs with a thick rope. The smell of the fire and cord together were making me sick; or perhaps it was the fact that I knew what was coming. 

“I remember this one.”

“Huh?” She looked up from my feet. 

“Blue Segay. He was later in my career when I had really gotten bored. I was struggling and I think this method hurt the worst.”

“Hurt who? Him?”

“No, me.” 

I went on to tell her about Blue, a short skinny guy who was starting to sell his goods in a competitor’s terrain. He went up against the one connect who didn’t care to talk it out or try to discuss things. It was his way and his way only. 

She griped at my cool head around such a conversation. 

“It’s all I know, money and murder. I’ve been doing it all my life.”

“So what made this round different? You’ve never been able to put a name to your days here in Hell.”

I thought a minute.

“I don’t know. This kid was… just a kid I guess. It was the first time I remember thinking maybe he didn’t deserve it. He was just a kid.”

“And you killed him horribly.”

“Yes. Then I almost killed myself.” 

Angel Baby looked stunned at that, but stayed quiet for me to continue. 

“I took all the money I got from that hit and gave it to a food pantry in Blue’s neighborhood. Thought that would help me clear him from my mind, but it didn’t help at all. Not long after, I took all the money I had and gave it away, sometimes to individuals, sometimes to organizations throughout the country. I needed it out of my bank and out of my life. I actually started to donate everything I was making.” 

“Did that help?” 

“No. It all felt blank, numb. I couldn’t give enough to account for the terror and trauma I was causing. Of course to the person I was going after, but even more I started to see it in the neighborhood and environment I was perpetuating.

After moving the money didn’t help, I tried to donate my time as well. I worked at an afterschool program as a mentor.”

At that, Angel Baby snickered with a disgusted tone. She knew the idea of me tutoring children was a bust, both for them and me. 

“I know, I shouldn’t have gone in that direction. What kids had to learn from me, they shouldn’t be learning. It was the only thing I could think of doing. But I had to stop after one kid got to me.”

“What happened?”
“He asked me about the afterlife funny enough.”

“Like Heaven and Hell?”

“Yeah, just asked me right off the bat where I thought people went when they died. It caught me completely off guard.”

“What did you tell him?”
“I told him I didn’t know. Told him to stop spending so much time thinking about stuff like that. You know what he said to me?”

“What?”
“He told me that when someone dies he thought they went right back into something else on Earth. He said you could come back as a cat or a blade of grass until you die again and then jump into something else. He called it The Great Transition. I thought he was full of it and told him so, told him that when you die you just die and there’s no more breathing, chewing, or fucking. Just death.”

  “And what did he say to that? Stand up.” She had finished the bindings on my legs and moved onto my chest

“He told me,” I say, shaking my head, “that his brother, Blue, had just been killed, and that he was going to come back to be with him. He told me that he was going to get a dog or a fish and that this would be his older brother in a new form.” 

At that I choked. I remembered the pain of my purpose draining from my body. Remembered the sensation of nausea and love playing bongos on my intestines. 

“I wanted so badly to reach out and give this kid a hug, but I couldn’t touch him.” 

“Because of the program rules?”

“No, because of me. I… I couldn’t even put my hand on his shoulder. I didn’t want any of me on him, taint the purity of his life with the destitute of my own, poison his peaceful mind. Neither did I want any more of his energy in me. It might take me over the edge, I was already feeling too much.” 

Angel Baby finished the chest straps and started to tell me the next steps. 

“I know what comes next, honey.”

I laid on the ground and she hoisted the rope to pull me upside down. It took her longer than it had taken me with the boy, he weighed less though he struggled more. I would have helped out, but my arms were glued to my sides. 

Finally she got me all the way up. I was swinging by my feet, head barely missing the floor. The blood was trying to rush to my head, but with all the bindings I had on it remained where it was. My feet were going numb and my heart was beating double time trying to reach them. Oh this was painful, but no more than my confession. Angel Baby picked up the remainder of the rope which had a large knot on one end. I remember the feel of that rope in my hand: rough, heavy. I wanted it. I was already hurting. It hurt to breathe, the air didn’t take into my lungs as my ribs refused to expand. My head started pounding as the first blow hit me. 

BAM!

Right to my side. I coughed and choked on my own struggle. I could feel my body shaking with the pain. Everything, everywhere hurt. I looked up at Angel Baby and she was crying. 

“Don’t cry, please.”

BAM! Another hit, this one to my face. 

BAM! Another to my stomach. It sent me spinning in the air where she could land blows to my back, legs, and head. Her hits were frantic, she was trying to speed up the process. Good for her, take care of yourself. 

“You want to know why I call you Angel Baby?” I say through wheezes. 

Silence, but I could see her eyes, tortured. 

“Because I know you are no demon.” 

BAM! 

VII.

“What do you think would happen if we just refused to ‘conduct?”

“Like if you stopped killing me?”

“Or even if I refused to step into the flames.”

She was getting excited. In her time alone with my corpse, Angel Baby had thought up a plan. 

“I guess I don’t get it, what do you think would happen?”
She frantically ran around the room, easing her anxiety through movement. 

“I mean there must be a way out right?”

“You were the one who said there wasn’t.”

“I know, but… maybe I was wrong. I mean I keep thinking about that kid. Blue’s brother?”

I nodded my head. 

“What if he was right, the great transition moves us from one form to another. What if this is just one more form we could take? Death doesn’t kill us, instead we rejuvenate like when on Earth we slept!”

“I’m not sure I ever felt any real rejuvenation after sleeping, but I guess I see where you’re going.”

“You defy sleep when you stay up all night. Maybe we can defy death by refusing to ‘conduct’.” 

“Death, in our case, equals continued life?” 

“Right.” 

“So by obscuring death…”

“Maybe we die.”

VIII. 

“It’s getting late.” 

“How can you tell?”

“I sit here all day. I know when it’s coming, I can feel it. It’s getting late.”

“What do we do if nothing happens?”
“I don’t know, I hadn’t thought that far ahead.”

She paced anxiously around the room and stopped to peer into the broken mirror. I see her push a bit of her wild hair out of her even wilder eyes. She was terrified. In honesty, so was I. What was the likelihood of making it out of this day without any consequences? 

“Can I ask you another question?”

“Of course. Whether or not I answer is another thing entirely.”

“Smart ass.”

“What’s your question?”

“How did you know to step into the fireplace?”

“There was another note in the back of the book.”

“What did it say?”

“It just gave the instructions.” 

“To walk into the fire?”

“Yeah, sort of.”

“Sort of?”

“Don’t worry about it, it was just a note.”

“Yeah, but what did it say exactly?”

“Nothing, it just gave the instructions, ok forget it.”

“Come on, I know you’re lying. What did the note say?”

She turned her back to me and dropped her head. 

“It said, ‘kill yourself daily.’

“Kill yourself?”

“Yes. That’s how I originally died.”

“Oh… I didn’t realize.”

“I didn’t really want you to know.”

“Why? I’ve practically bared my soul to you. Why would you keep this from me?”

“I was ashamed. Not to tell you, but when I did it. Ashamed of who I was.” 

“And who were you?”

“I… I was nothing, no one: angry, envious, impatient, impractical, and lazy. My existence was only ever harmful to others.” 

“Whoa, where did that come from?”

“I just know it was true.” 

“So, that’s why you killed yourself? Come on, I need more than that.” 

“Look, I used to be a social worker for Child Protective Services. I did my job blindly without ever questioning anything. There was a certain protocol, a list of reasons we would come into different families’ lives, and I would follow it to a T. Sometimes we would provide simple resources like food, education, cribs even. However, there were other times when we would take children altogether. We took them from their people, their communities and threw them into this system, a hungry ghost, never satisfied. 

There was one kid in particular for me too. When I first started my position, I took a baby out of a house. She was placed with a foster care family miles away from the parents and there was a court hearing for custody. I will never forget how she screamed, the mom, when the judge ruled against the family. I visited them a few weeks later and found mom devoid of everything. Like an empty shell she walked around the house mumbling and asking where her child had gone. The case stuck with me, but I did my job faithfully. I believed in the system, that it was only ever there to help and provide.”

“But that’s not the case?”

She shook her head and continued. 

“I used to take my paychecks and do all the things I loved: yoga, art, reading – I loved books and had hundreds around. I would save up and take vacations, buy jackets from pricey stores simply because I could. I even drove up to the homes of people who had everything taken from them by my system in a flashy, fancy car. I had everything I wanted, except I never seemed to be happy. There was something wrong, out of place that I wasn’t seeing. 

Until one day I met that first child I had taken from her parents. I was in a different service position, but I recognized her name. She was six. She looked so similar to myself, brown eyes and curly hair. Her case landed back into my hands after her school discovered that she had been raped by her foster father. I started to question what was going on. I studied the history of not only my system, but of myself, my people. I realized the expansive issues that the system was meant to take care of were actually created by it in the first place. The more I learned, the deeper the work cut into me. I realized how my failure to think for myself, to analyze situations with my own intuition, was hurting others.

My sadness now had some meaning and reason behind it. I tried to discuss it with co-workers, but none of them could or would allow themselves to go there. I couldn’t handle it. I was torn up about the harm and terror I had perpetuated in these communities. How hard I worked to not see it, to shelter my mind with the fantasy of books, buying, and believing that all was well, that the past had gone and we were together building the future. The little girl, without knowing who I was, told me that the one thing she had always wanted was her real family, to know where she came from. That hit me. I couldn’t take the anger I was feeling, the despair.

So one night, I gathered everything I had. I pulled my car into my garage and laid my pricey jackets out on the bed along with all my other clothes. I went through the house and plugged in every electrical thing I could find. I turned on Norah Jones, a favorite of mine, as I went through and dumped gasoline and alcohol on all my things. I lit a match and threw it onto the drenched clothing on my bed. It ignited quickly and as the flames rose higher, I stepped onto it. My pyre.” 

She sat back into her chair, it was the first time she’d stopped moving all day. Her head heavy in her hands, she fought back tears. 

Antsy, I picked up a book on the desk, Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. In flipping through the pages, the only word I could find was compassion

 I stood up and walked slowly to her chair. I found my arm around her shoulders and drew her in. 

“We’re going to be ok.”

“How do you know that?”

“I don’t, but I figure we’re in this together.”

IX.

“Has the fireplace always been on?”

The stacked charred wood had ignited and was continuously getting bigger. 

“Oh, no! It’s starting. What do we do?”

“Throw water on it” 

“Have you seen any water since you got here?”

“A blanket?”

“Again, do you know where you are?”

The flames kept growing until they spilled over onto the floor below. The room was beginning to heat up as the fire spread to all corners. I could feel it lick at my feet. 

“What do we do now?” 

She looked surrendered, conceding to the ultimate reality that they would die despite their efforts not to. She closed her eyes and I watched her take a few steps towards the inferno. 

“Angel Baby, no!”

I grabbed her back into my embrace. She was distant, dissociated, numb. I was burning, the pain was unlike any she had ever dealt me. I realized she died this way every day. Her pain was much more intense than my own. 

“It didn’t work. Whatever oversees us has realized we didn’t complete our cycles. It’s stepping in to take care of what we would not.”

I held her closer, trying as hard as I could to take her pain as much as feel my own. I pressed my cheek into hers to absorb the heat infiltrating our bodies. All I could think about was that one word from the book, compassion. I felt her suffering, I had taken it on to be my own. In that moment, we were one person, one entity, together. What was hers was mine and vice versa. Just when it seemed we couldn’t stand it any further I started to see the lights fade and felt the dizziness of death lay its hand on us. 

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” I whispered into her neck. Then it was dark and I readied myself to wake up. 

X.

It was a bright day with a sunshine I hadn’t felt in ages. A crisp breeze wisped through pushing me side to side rubbing against the others next to me. Everything was green except the brown below. My feet dug into the deep dirt and chilled me as the sun beat down with its heat. It wasn’t unpleasant, just two sides of the same coin. Heat and cool. Heat and cool. This was daily, my new day anyway. 

Sometimes, there would be a loud noise, a huge humming. Suddenly, I would be chopped in half or at times ripped from the ground all together. Then the night would come and up I would grow again, unharmed, waiting for the heat of the sun. 

One day, it didn’t shine. The sky had turned sour and grey. I could smell the anticipation of the green around me, waiting for the relief of thirst to come. The sky opened and down fell the rain. I loved it. It was beauty. 

There was something familiar about the landing of each drop. There was an energy to it that I knew, a cool that I could feel pressing into my cheek. As I absorbed the rain into my roots, my blade, I realized what it was. 

“Morning Angel Baby, how are the chambers today?”

Featured

Progress vs Perfection

For a woman who has almost ninety unpublished drafts, this topic is certainly one of great interest to me.

As I’ve stated throughout the past several months, my goal is to flourish in writing. I have been creating stories and journal pieces most of my life, but only at the turn of thirty thought anything of making a life from it. I was a social worker. I went to school to complete my masters degree and now I was thinking of dropping everything and heading into the writing world… Am I crazy?

Perhaps, but there are worse things. Like not living up to yourself.

I recently heard somewhere, probably on a passing Instagram post, that every human has genius level potential in something. What that thing is will be different for everyone, but that everyone indeed has, at least, that one thing.

I took some time to think about this, meditated on it. It immediately stirred my anxiety. I’m not brilliant at writing. I don’t have all the fancy words to put me on an international bestselling list. I’m not some unfound soul whose writings are going to change the global narrative, but that is what I want. So what the heck do I do?

Therein lies the true meaning of genius.

This statement could take me in two very different directions: one of perfection and the other of progress.

Perfection, while it seems like what one should strive for, is actually the path to be left behind. It’s the reason I have eighty-six drafts and only twenty-two published. Perfection is not standard, which means it is not to be expected out of every output.

I believe that perfection is actually a form of fear. A fear of failure and rejection. It’s that little voice in your head telling you that you aren’t going to amount to anything, that you can never reach your potential because you could never be as good as perfection.

What I use to visualize this is Junie B. Jones. Know her? It is an old school series from my elementary years. In the books, Junie B. has this friend, Lucille. Lucille is rich! She had the best dresses, on-point ringlets, and THE socks with little ruffles to go with her black patent leather shoes. Lucille was perfection and Junie B. knew it.

I see perfect in this way. Like a little girl on the playground battering me with her separateness. Singing praises about herself and the things she has that no one else seems able to achieve.

“Nah, nah, I’m special and you’re not! Ha, ha, I’ve got everything you want!”

Fuck perfection.

Instead, let’s investigate the other path, that of progress. It sounds much less… exciting, and that’s because its not. Progress isn’t the spark that sets everything aflame, it’s the act of adding twigs to light the base of your fire. Progress isn’t the book that simply writes itself as though from the lips of the Goddess, it’s the daily grind of attending to something you say will happen whether you believe it will or not. Progress is the steady, ongoing pressure of knowing that everything you do comes from you. That your action is the perfection being constantly sought. This, in my mind, is a genius concept. Had Einstein stopped and simply said, it will come all at once perfectly or it will not come at all, where might we be?

So, I’ve decided… No more drafting! I don’t care if what I write is absolute dribble, it will be placed on my blog for progress. I think I can even add another category to hold the things I know are trash, but get put up anyway. This post just might be the start of that category.

Today, I choose to find my genius, which is the agonizing, painful process of recognizing my humanity, and blogging it anyway.

Happy progress and fuck perfection.

Featured

Don’t Wait To Say My Name

Don’t wait to say my name

Don’t wait until my life is gone to tell your children, ‘Black Lives Matter’

Don’t wait to say my name

Don’t wait to throw your hands up in protest

Until mine have fallen bloody to the ground

Don’t you wait to say my name

It’s not just yesterday’s children that we fight to remember

Not just the ones aligned to be buried

But the mother afraid to send her children to school

The wife, her husband to work

Don’t wait to say my name

I stand before you asking for no more that recognition

Asking for respect

Asking for life

Don’t wait to say my name

Don’t pass me on the street and bow your head with implicit biases

Allow the thought to pass through your mind that you know me somehow better 

than I know myself

Don’t you wait to say my name

I am here

I can hear

I can see

And I can thrive

I am alive

And you don’t get to wait until I die to recognize

Your hands around my throat

Your poison in my veins 

The blades of your hate in my heart

Let me live, hear my cries and 

Don’t wait to say my name

Featured

Death By The Fire

The road was bumpy and my dog, Zeph, jostled in the back seat. A long, dramatic stretch and yowl told me he was displeased with my driving skills.

“Oh hush,” I chide him. “My ass isn’t loving the up and down either.”

What could I do? When I said I wanted seclusion, that meant bumpy dirt roads.

The lake house wasn’t too much further. A few more twists and we would be there. The wind was cold, but at least it had stopped raining.

As we pulled in, Zeph perked up, sniffing the pine trees around us.

“Excited bud? Let’s get stuff put away and we can check out the trails.”

The afternoon is spent exploring the local paths, finding small deer tracks to follow. Zeph chases squirrels with deft irritation. He will never get them up here. Too many trees for them to climb before he even has a chance. His droopy puppy eyes show his disappointment. Like I would ever let him touch a hair on their bushy tails.

We stroll to the end of a lane opening to a lake. The wind has picked up and it sends splats of water into our faces.

The stones around the area are flat and smooth, perfect for skipping. My father taught me to skip stones as a child, I remember watching him fly fish while I practiced off to the side. I made sure to throw the rocks opposite of his direction as to not disturb the fish he was trying to catch.

I must have tossed 100 rocks to their watery graves, delighting in the hopping path each took before rest. Zeph is running the length of the beach, his tail flipping back and forth. He jumps on a wave crashing into the sand, burying his little paws in the cold, wet, ground.

“I’m freezing, pup,” I announce. “Let’s get back to this cabin and start a fire.”

I go to throw one last stone, but it catches me and I can’t let it go. The rock is black slate and perfectly ear shaped. I, instead, put it into my pocket, grab Zeph, and head back. He’s not happy to leave, but the warm car is a welcomed sight and he jumps right in.

The sun is going down when I start dinner. Nothing fancy, just PB+J with chips and carrots. Zeph hates the crunch of the orange sticks. He wants some, to share, but he’s not a fan of vegetables.

It’s dark by the time I finish and head out to the pit. I had already dropped the wood by the fire, and thank goodness I had, I couldn’t see anything past the end of the house.

The wind was blowing so hard, I didn’t know if I was going to get a flame going. Zeph decided it was too much for him and left me to cuddle up on the bed inside. It was for the best, I needed some alone time.

This summer had been hard. I let my mind wander to the troubles I had. There was a point when getting out of bed was the most difficult part of my day. There were times when I didn’t even do that, days I didn’t leave the house.

One morning, I remember back, I hadn’t showered in almost a week. I found myself sickly attracted to my own smell. The scent of sadness, a sweet yet fetid reek that filled my pajamas, my sheets, and my nose. I couldn’t stop smelling it. I liked it. It smelled like I felt: rancid, rotten, dead. When I finally did shower, I watched the water run the old skin and stink off my body into the drain. I wanted to go too, to sink into the abyss of the plumbing.

Depression is a bitch. For me it means being incredibly functional during the day, coming home, getting high, and crying into my pillow at night. Depression means working each day towards nothing. The hopelessness of the never-ending, never helping cycle.

I’m a social worker and I see the same clients everyday. They all have different names, different lives, but they are all the same. They never stop coming in, never stop needing care. I can’t figure out if I’m helping or harming, but either way I’m hurting and it sucks.

I set up the wood in a pyramid and stuffed the inside with dry leaves and a bit of lint I collected from the cabin’s dryer. I fed it small tinder until the flames grew large enough to combat the wind and ignite the larger logs. The blaze grabbed for my face as I snuck closer to warm my frozen nose.

“I can’t take it anymore,” I whisper to no one. “I can’t do it any longer.”

I can sense myself going to that dark place. The one that questions whether I want to step into the fire and let it take me to wherever I came from. The voice that asks if I’m ready to stop, to leave behind this thoughtless place.

I can feel the tears beginning to form, but they don’t fall. They haven’t truly shed in weeks now. I’ve grown tired of the failed release of crying. I’ve become jaded against my own emotions. They don’t suite me, or perhaps, I’m not understanding them correctly.

I put my hands in my jacket pockets to keep the tips from freezing off. There’s something warm in one and I pull it out to find the unskipped rock. It’s smooth and running my finger along the edge puts me at some rest.

“What do I do, rock?” I ask. “How do I stop this feeling? These feelings, of wanting to be dead. It keeps coming up, and I can’t get the thought from my head.”

No response.

I’m not sure what I was expecting. Some wisdom or life-changing messages? I placed the stone on my forehead hoping to absorb some earthly understanding.

“Hi!”

I’m interrupted by an intruder. She’s young and looks cold as she takes a seat by the fire.

“Umm… Hi. Do I know you?” I ask. I can’t tell if I’m perturbed at the woman’s arrival, or blessed by it.

“You don’t. Not really, but can I keep warm?” She points to the fire, which has impressed me with its stamina. The wind is still blowing hard.

“I suppose so,” welcoming her. “Interested in a shot?”

“Ooh, whatcha got?”

“I’m a whiskey woman myself, but there’s vodka in there too.”

“I’ll join you for a whiskey, certainly.”

“Great,” and I head into the cabin to get the bottle. There aren’t any shot glasses so we would have to make do with a couple of tin camping mugs. I take off out the door, surprised I didn’t wake Zeph.

“Here you go, it’s all I’ve got,” I say handing the cup over. She takes it gently and I marvel at her long delicate fingers.

We sip and make small talk about the burn of the alcohol and the fierceness of the wind.

“You know how to handle blustery nights like this, right?” She asks me.

“How?”

“Pick up a stick, any stick, and hold it, upright, against the wind.” She picks up a random piece of timber and with two hands grasps it out in front of her.

“With confidence say, ‘Wind, I command you to stop!'” Nothing happened, and so she handed me the branch to try.

I laughed. There’s no way, but screw it, what do I have to lose?

I hold the stick just as she did and clear my throat.

“Wind. I command you to stop!”

Nothing. My guest laughs.

“You can’t say it like that! Be assertive, forceful even. Do you know the power of wind?”

“Ok,” I say turning the stick in my hands. “Let’s try this again. Wind… I command that you stop.”

And it does.

There’s an eerie silence to the lake. The fire rises high, no longer challenged by the gale. I stop.

“What just happened?”

A smile creeps onto the young woman’s face. It’s an unsettling smile, the one you might imagine a killer giving to his victim.

“You took your power.”

I pull the stick closer and see that it is not just a random twig from the pile, but a long, thin, mangled wand suddenly painted all black. It is segmented with several knuckles. Some of them broken, twisted bones etched onto the top. It’s smooth and is covered with some sort of well worn cloth at one end.

“What is this?”

“My finger.” She laughs. Unsettling. She lifts the hood from her head and I can see that she has no other skin but her face. I can see all the bones of her spine, the skull masked by youth. What’s more, I notice she is missing an ear.

That whiskey must have me pretty far gone. There’s no way this is real.

“Wha.. wha.. wha…”

“Ha! Yeah, that’s what they all say.” She pulls up her hood again and shivers as thought the endeavor had actually chilled her.

“What in the hell is going on here?

“No hell, come on. We all live everywhere around here.”

“What?”

“There’s no heaven or hell like they always say, that’s just some shit humans made up. I’m different and apart from any system like that.”

She’s talking in riddles and I can’t keep up. Heaven? Hell? Humans?

“What are you talking about? Who are you then?”

“Death! Come on, you knew that!” She’s laughing at me.

“I thought death lived in hell?”

“What kind of sense does that make? Don’t you have to die to get to heaven?”

I suppose she’s right.

“Death lives in everything. Some people call me the great shadow. I sneak up on you both when you see me coming and when you don’t.”

Made sense since she had just appeared out of nowhere tonight as well.

“So, wait… Does this mean I’m dying?”

“That’s what you asked for wasn’t it?”

I let the drink fall from my hand. Thankfully it was empty, it would be a shame to spill booze on Death.

How had she known? Were the untempered emotions written on my face? Did Death have the key to my diary?

“No,” she said, clearly able to read my mind. “You whispered it into my ear.”

I remembered the rock in my pocket. It was still warm. I rubbed the edge to calm my nerves.

“Hey! Don’t do that,” she said touching the space where her ear should be. “That tickles.”

I threw the stone to the ground, upset and disgusted. She picked it up, placing it in her pocket.

“I’ll put that on later. One less thing to freeze out here.”

She put her feet up on the rim of the fire pit. They were bare and again, only bones. She roasted them against the flames, careful not to get too close. Odd, since the ring she rested them on must have been blistering.

She leaned over, chuckling at my thoughts, and took the finger wand from my lap.

“Don’t want this to end up getting tossed too.” And she placed it her pocket with the stone.

I’m stunned and don’t know what to say. I want to leave, to go find Zeph. If it’s my last night on Earth, I want to spend it with him by my side.

“Can I see my dog before I go?” Those tears that had withheld themselves earlier were making another appearance. “Is it possible? Please?”

“Go? Go where? I’m just here to talk and keep warm. Oh, and get my ear back.”

“Talk?”

“Yeah man, talk. It seems like you have a lot going on. You must know me pretty well, you wish for me all the time. Tell me what’s going on.”

I can’t lie, she seems to know everything anyway. After some hesitation, I begin to unravel the ills of my life, the problem of my emotions, and my deep empty feeling. Death listens silently, adding in a ‘Hmm,’ or ‘Right, right’ now and then. She scratched her chin when I finished and looked at me. Her eyes were real. I wondered to what they were attached.

“So, I guess I don’t understand where the want to die comes in? You aren’t even half way through this story.”

“What?”

“Come on, you know. The story. The hero fails and falls. Then he hears the call and falls some more. That’s when it gets really good, he almost gives up, but he triumphs in the end.”

“What does that have to do with me?”

“Hero, heroine, herothey’m?”

“So I’m the hero?”

“Kid, you are in your own story! You’re the friggin’ lead.” Death chuckled.

“What is it that I’m meant to triumph over?

“Oh, come on. That’s simple. Yourself of course. The only true defeat is when you stop writing. If this is your story, the plot goes forward because of you. Anything you do is a twist, or a turn. Yes, outside things will happen, but you are ultimately the one who owns the right to claim victory or failure. Nothing is permanent, trust me in that.”

And, I did. How could you not trust death to be the most knowledgable in the reality of impermanence.

“So, you’re suggesting..?”

“I’m suggesting kid, that you listen to your heart while your head hangs that low. Can’t you hear it beating? When does it beat faster? Where and what are you doing when the thumping turns from fear to future? Who does your heart want you to be and why?

“That’s exactly what I don’t know,” I retort, the tears welling in my eyes again.

“Of course you don’t,” says Death cooly. “Nobody does. You think humans just inherently know how to utilize their skills in the most efficient way possible? No – humans don’t know shit. They do what they’re told most of the time, which is likely why you’re struggling so much.”

“Because I do what I’m told?” I feel offended by her judgement. I have tried hard to break away from the mould of normalcy, to separate myself from other’s expectations.

“Oh yeah? And how has that worked?” I forgot, she reads minds.

“Look,” she continues, “you’re always trying to follow in someone else’s path, while internally screaming about being unique. You are your own leader. Get out there and create some more plot. Forget about the other books and stick to writing your own.”

I hear Zeph stretch and groan on the bed inside. He jumps from his spot to pad outside and find me, but stops in the doorframe staring at Death. With a small whine he stands confused on what’s happening. Death barked at the dog, sending him flying through the small cabin and back to his spot on the bed.

“Scared him shitless, huh,” she says with a laugh.

I think on all that Death has said here tonight, think of my story and writing my path out of misery. She was right. As much as I’ve tried to be an individual, I’ve followed the steps of others which has gotten me tightly wound in someone else’s book.

Death stands and hands me her empty tin cup.

“Thanks for the spirits!”

“You’re leaving?” I ask.

“Yup, you don’t need me here anymore. You’ve got everything you need to succeed.”

“And, you’re not taking me with you?”

“Nah, that wouldn’t be any good. You’re not living in some tragedy. One last thing though.”

“Yeah?”

“Remember that to fight, one needs a sword, and not all swords are iron and brimstone. And, in every good story, there’s a villain. Find yours and defeat them.”

“And what the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“It means whatever you want it to mean, it’s your story.”

I put the empty cups on a table by the door and walked Death around to the front to leave.

“I expect the next time we meet, you won’t so easily let me sit by your fire?” Death says cooly, giving me a gentle but boney hug.

“Next time? Is that when I’ll..?” Despite my previous wish for it, the thought now seems jarring to me. “How old will I be?”

“I dunno!” She laughs. “As I’ve said, I’m Death. I see life, not the future. The future is only a dream. No death in dreaming.”

And with that, away she went


I walked back around to the fire, which was still going though the wind had begun to pick up again. I sat down in it’s orange light thinking about all that had occurred here this evening. I wanted to reach out to someone, tell them that I had just met The Reaper and she was a foul-mouthed, whiskey drinking, mask-wearing badass. No one would believe me.

I stood to put the fire out when I saw it, laying innocently on the seat. The dark stick stuck out brightly against the whiteness of the chair and the glow of the fire flickered making each knuckle pop with vibrance. The wand. Death’s finger.

I picked it up, held it upright against the growing blow of the breeze.

“Wind, I command you to stop!”

And it did.

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Grow’n

Whoa! Preteens are a straight up thing!

It’s not that I was unaware of this, only that this morning’s meltdown from my 11 year old nephew caught me by complete and utter surprise.

Due to the recent opening of schools in Michigan, I’m helping my sister by staying at home with the boys. She is a teacher at the school and needs to be there daily. The kids are on opposite schedules; while one is in class the other is home working on online assignments. So here we are, me and my baby boy – the first grandson of the family – sitting at the table, glaring at each other.

“I HATE THIS AND GROWING THINGS IS STUPID!” He writes at the top of his paper making sure I can see every ‘T’ crossed and ‘I’ dotted. This is his assignment. He’s supposed to be writing about what it means to grow things, plants specifically.

“Alexa, put 15 minutes on a timer please!”

“15 MINUTES!!” His young pain fills the air. This is potentially the longest he’s ever gone without looking at a screen. “I can’t write for 15 minutes!”

All I can do is laugh. I’ve been doing this short burst writing for the past several weeks now and I find that he’s right, writing for 15 minutes is really hard. To get out all you need to say in such a short period of time is nearly impossible.

He sits there, looking around, changing his music, cracking his knuckles, pursing his little lips until they look ready to fall off of his face. There are several eye rolls, a few big sighs and a steady head banging as I add time to the Alexa.

“Alexa, add 5 minutes to the timer.”

“ARRRRGGGHHHHH UGHUGHUGHGUGHGHH….. THIS. IS. SO. STUPID!”

He starts off slowly, despising me and the task I’ve asked him to take. However, after not so long, the words turn from hating me to really thinking about the questions he’s been asked to solve. I can see his brain turning as he settles into his seat and feels the words flow from his mechanical pencil. He thinks as he clicks more lead to the tip.

“Five minutes remain,” Alexa patters in the background.

The air around the once hostile table is cooling. A few pieces of cereal make it from bowl to mouth and his demeanor finds balance. He’s still not happy, but he’s not angry either.

I dare to speak, requesting small bits of information.

“What question are you working on now?”

“The stupid question is stupid. They want to know if I would rather grow a food plant or a decorative plant, which is stupid,” he snaps.

“Why stupid?” I place innocently.

“Because! I would prefer not to do either of those things because they aren’t productive and are therefore stupid.” His syntax is surprisingly apt.

“But what about the cereal you’re eating… Someone had to have grown that. So for them growing plants is productive. What’s something productive for you?”

He thinks.

“Swords!”

“Well, then, how about a sentence that says just that: ‘I would prefer not to grow either type of plant, because I feel putting that time and energy into the things that I enjoy is best for my growth’?”

“Meh.”

Wow, can’t get anywhere with this little ball of feelings. He goes back to his writing, yet I look over and see him rephrase my example onto his paper. I instantly worry. I don’t want him simply copying down what I’ve told him, but then he goes onto the next prompt. He remains on the topic of swords.

I can feel his energy begin to rise as he pours into the page his love and interest in the matter of sword craftsmanship. The pouty lips turn to straight lines as his concentration and focus take a turn for the better. He just starts to roll with the writing when…

*RING, RING, RING*

Alexa breaks us the news that our 15 minutes are up. There is actually a small sign of disappointment from the other side of the table.

“Are we done growing for the moment?”

He finishes his sentence, puts down his pencil, and looks up at me.

“I like writing,” he reports jumping down to find his screen again.

“See,” I add rubbing his back. “Growth doesn’t have to be so bad.”

Little shit.

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A Piece on Personal Philosophy

“Stay the same age until you turn a different age. Nature versus nurture; honor your parents. Learn how to forgive while you’re still young.” – Larzell Washington

Each and every one of us goes through this life with our own individual paths and purposes. We find our clarity and direction by being guided by our principles and values. Personal philosophies help us to see the path in front of us and make certain that the steps on the way are filled with harmony. Things are not always going to be wonderfully happy, but with a strong personal philosophy, you can often find the most joy possible. 

For Groundcover News vendor Larzell Washington, the above quote is what he uses to get through the good and the bad times. Each part of the statement holds its own set of significance to his life. 

‘Stay the same age until you turn a different age.’ For Larzell, this means staying in your lane; finding comfort with your time and current understanding. A huge feat when much of the world seems so focused on either the past or the future. However, for Larzell, he works to remind himself and others that there is beauty in the present moment. There is value in knowing who you are and what you have. For Larzell, it’s about gratitude, the ability to cherish and respect one’s life and life’s decisions, to be happy and love others for all that they are worth. Larzell, in trying times, works hard to focus on the here and now and appreciate the living of life, not just the building of it. 

‘Nature versus nurture. Honor your parents.’ Larzell calls the attention of college students in this piece of his philosophy. When asked his understanding of the difference between the two words, Larzell states that nature is the act of carrying, delivering one into the world; whereas, to nurture is to be there. While there is a special space for nature, and we must give homage to our parents, he calls on all to respect the nurturer, reminding us that this extends further than a mother and or father. Many in our lives work to fill us of the things we need to get by. It takes a village to raise a child, and one might say our continued learning makes us, in a way, always children. We never stop needing our village, and Larzell reminds us to respect and hold gratitude for that. 

‘Learn to forgive while you’re still young.’ Forgiveness is a virtue, but it can be hard. It can be difficult to forgive others of their trespasses, and perhaps even harder to forgive yourself for yours. For Larzell, forgiveness is key. He reminds us that adverse situations are happening all the time and if we don’t learn to forgive it can become a sticking point. Going forward in life depends on being able to move on from the moments that harm us. To integrate difficulties into the spirit of who we are, not as to wear one down, but instead to build one up and make us stronger. We are better for the challenges that we face in this world, each obstacle working to build resilience — a teaching of how to get by. Don’t dwell on the things that can be changed by exercising forgiveness. According to Larzell, the younger you start this practice, the easier it will be when you are faced with the need to offer a big forgiveness. 

It is important for all of us to find our unique personal philosophies. These guiding principles shape everything we do from the way we speak to ourselves and others, to the duties we fill our days with, and most importantly how we see ourselves in this world. Our understanding of who and what we are to our communities, societies, and ultimately the universe will construct how much we achieve. Sometimes we must remind ourselves that a successful life isn’t about constantly moving upward, but instead, moving forward. 

You likely already live by a set of values or a personal code whether you realize it or not. However, if you can’t articulate your personal philosophy, start by asking yourself the following questions: 

  • What am I passionate about in this life? 
  • What things bring me joy? (Try thinking outside of the material here. Cars and money are great, but isn’t there also joy found in making someone smile?) 
  • What is my/what do I want my mindset to be?
  • What do I value?

Make a list of these things and see if you can’t find some clarity on what you believe is important in life. Happy philosophizing, and thank you Larzell for sharing this powerful bit of perspective for us all. 

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2021 and the Covid Vaccine

On Monday December 14 2020, trucks packed with a newly approved Covid-19 vaccine rolled into cities and towns to set up shop for distribution. A highly anticipated event as by December over 1.6 million people had perished from the disease, more than 300 thousand of those in the United States alone.

The vaccine was furiously sought by many labs and drug companies. In the end, two took the lead: Moderna and Pfizer. Both vaccines are mRNA derived, which is different and new from what we have seen of vaccines previously. Instead of using small amounts of non-viable virus, mRNA enters into the cells and produces a small part of the germ so the body can recognize it as an intruder and learn to defeat it. Plainly put, mRNA acts as a blueprint for our immune system to fight back.

Both Moderna and Pfizer report seeing 95% efficacy in preventing serious illness and complications, though, one can still become infected with Covid.

However, vaccines are only effective if you can convince people to take them. As the rollout amps up, so does the variance in people’s willingness to be inoculated.

There are two obvious camps here: ‘yes, I will take it’ and ‘no, get that thing away from me’. Within each reaction, there’s a spectrum of reasons why and how people are making their decisions.

According to Groundcover News vendor Jon MacDonagh, it’s all about the science.

“We have to believe in science,” reports MacDonagh. “We must have hope – I feel [the vaccine] is a good idea and it’s going to help.”

This is not an uncommon phrase heard from proponents of the vaccination. Many are choosing to believe officials who advocate for the safety and effectiveness of the Covid vaccine.

Dr. Anthony Fauci has striven to drive out conspirators and strengthen the confidence of those waffling with the decision. Misinformation and divisive rhetoric from the Trump Administration has left some worrying that they don’t have enough fact to make the right decision. Still some choose the shot.

“It’s like a car,” reports community member Lisa Gizzi. “I don’t know how any of that works, but I trust the mechanics who do.”

It seems reasonable to have trust in a system that has been growing and evolving over many years, developing some of the most impressive medical advances seen throughout our history. However, history may just be the reason others refuse.

“The vaccine is bullshit,” states GCN vendor, Joe Woods. “Maybe it’d be good if it was done right, but this is a money scheme from the government – you never know what they’re putting in it.”

“I’m not getting that shot!” cries GNC vendor Gary Robertson. “I don’t want to be tracked or nothing. I just don’t worry about it, that’ll only cause more problems.

These statements may seem hyperbolic, however, medicine has a sour history of exploiting communities of color in the name of medical progression.

Many are aware of the Tuskegee study where over the period of 40 years the United States Public Health Service falsely treated 600 impoverished Black men diagnosed with Syphilis. The goal of this violation was to study the effects and progression of the untreated disease.

Perhaps not as commonly discussed is the long standing mistreatment of the Black community. Forced sterilizations, historic inequity of healthcare access and resources, as well as the use of Black bodies for medical experimentation are just the tipping point of exposing the structural medical violence communities of color have faced.

Others take issue not with what’s in the vaccine, but who gets what out of it. Another vendor, Derek Allen, notes his concern about the quick turn around of the product.

“It’s a setup. [The government] made the virus and spread it so they could sell the vaccine. It’s all for the money.”

In a time where capitalism is being called into question, the concept of the vaccine being just another financial swindling isn’t too far outside the realm of possibility.

Others still declare concerns of the long term effects .

GNC vendor Larzell Washington makes it clear that he is not planning to take the vaccine. Washington reports hearing too many mixed messages regarding the potential for problems from the vaccine down the road.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” concludes Washington.

While the long term effects have yet to be realized, they may or may not be worse than the lasting realities of the Corona virus. As we get further away from patient zero, there have been reports of lasting health conditions as the virus viciously attacks the lungs, heart, and brain. Enduring fatigue and joint pain are the most common, but lasting heart defects and permanent brain fog are not unheard of as well.

When it comes to the vaccine, there are several reasons people chose one way or the other. We don’t have all the answers, which can make it difficult to decide. Hope, health, and being heard is all we can ask for as we work to battle this new age pandemic.

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#DoYouSeeUs?

Please come and stand on the front yard of the University of Michigan’s Angell Hall (435 S. State St Ann Arbor).

Dec. 31st, 2020 from 5-6pm

We will be ending our year with a final cry for assistance in providing best health and safety outcomes for the unhoused community. Ann Arbor needs to come together to challenge U-M’s commitment to their mission and values, to our community, and to their own calls for systemic change.

Accept respect or expect dissent.

*Masks and 6ft social distancing are required. Signs welcomed.

** If you are uncomfortable standing with others at this time, or cannot join for other reasons, please use #DoYouSeeUs? to help spread the word. Posting pictures and videos is just as helpful as attending.

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Do You See Us?

As of November 2020, a 24.5 foot statue of a young woman’s face with hands covering her eyes was erected outside of the University of Michigan Museum of Arts (UMMA). A piece by Spanish artist, Jaume Plensa’s, ‘Behind the Wall’ collection was gifted to the University of Michigan for display.

“This new work is arriving at a critical time in our country and world, prompting deep reflection on deliberate ignorance and collective inaction,” states UMMA Director, Christina Olsen1.

This message is much needed to address today’s social injustices. However precise, the statue is even more ironic.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Michigan was approached multiple times to provide emergency shelter for the unhoused population in Washtenaw County. A collaboration between Public Health, Ann Arbor City, Washtenaw County, the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County, and local citizen groups, sought resources to provide an indoor space where people could safely stay throughout the shelter-in-place orders established on March 23rd, 2020. The groups reached out to the University of Michigan for assistance, but none was provided.

“The request was not successful and alternative options had to be found,” reports Washtenaw County Commissioner, Jason Morgan, reflecting on the situation.

Morgan, and a team have been working since April to coordinate shelter provisions for those living outside throughout the pandemic. During the lockdown, the Red Roof Inn was used which offered direct access to showers, day time shelter, and the ability to isolate or quarantine if need be. The plan worked in the moment, but was overall unsustainable. In October, the hotel closed, leaving many outdoors.

With the number of COVID cases rising throughout the county and the days getting colder, the need to find indoor shelter has come once again.

In September, Ann Arbor City Council member, Elizabeth Nelson put forward a resolution to get the university to the negotiation table. Nelson expressed concern for those who are affected now, as well as those whose housing insecurities are still to come.

December 31st marks the end of the Center of Disease Control’s moratorium on evictions. With employment fluctuation, and many still not receiving unemployment benefits, officials are concerned about the growing number of unhoused individuals in the coming months.

Nelson’s resolution calls for the University of Michigan dormitories or other potential spaces to be opened to non-student community members. This being best practice for improving health and safety outcomes. The resolution passed on September 21st, and a meeting was scheduled to develop this effort. However, the meeting was postponed and has yet to be rescheduled.

Ann Arbor City Council was not the only group to make this request from the university. The Washtenaw Camp Outreach (WCO) put out a list of their demands for the unhoused community. They too asked the University of Michigan to open the dorms.

“U of M should step up,” says Greg Pratt, WCO member. “It’s like they don’t see us as part of their community.”

Perhaps he’s right, however, even their own students have not gotten the response they’ve asked for. On December 3rd, president of the Central Student Government, Amanda Kaplan, spoke at the University of Michigan Board of Regents meeting. Ms. Kaplan gave an impassioned speech also putting forth a resolution advocating for shelter assistance. Kaplan later confirmed that nothing had been done. No one seems to be able to get a hold of U of M.

For an institution to so proudly summon a voice for sight, it seems odd to refuse assisting the community in which they are deeply embedded.

In September, the University of Michigan decided to bypass the concerns and recommendations regarding in-person learning. Students from all over the world stepped onto campus and into Ann Arbor. As a result, the number of Covid-19 cases in Washtenaw County  spiked, causing an end to in-person learning and a return of many students back home. While U of M is assisting the Public Health Department in providing testing and contract tracing, it seems there’s potential for more.

In March, 2020, Suffolk University in Boston, MA initiated a program to utilize empty dorm rooms to house the unsheltered. With little notice, or true understanding of all the details, they jumped into action.

“This was unthinkable, quite honestly, two months ago or three months ago and now it’s right here on our doorstep. There’s no briefing and there’s no procedures in place to deal with this,” reports Boston Mayor Marty Walsh2.

“We stand ready to help in any way,” Suffolk University President Marisa Kelly said in a statement. “Boston is our home, and the University takes very seriously its responsibility to be a good citizen at a time when we are all being called upon to pitch in and help.”2

By the end of April, Sonoma State University in California had also set up a similar scenario. Apx. 150 individuals were placed in temporary housing to fully align with the state and federal mandates.

“We see this as an opportunity under these trying circumstances,” said Barbie Robinson, director of Sonoma County’s Department of Health Services.3

An opportunity indeed, to be a leader and best.

This is not to say the University of Michigan has been fully removed. In April, 2020, senior researcher for U of M’s Poverty Solutions Department, Jennifer Erb-Downward, published an article displaying the struggles and increased risks this population faces. Erb-Downward outlines potential solutions at the local, state, and federal levels, calling for protective plans at each. She lists using dorms and alternative spaces such as recreation and convention centers as temporary shelter.

In an interview, Erb-Downward raised concern that with the ending of the CDC’s moratorium, the number of people unhoused will increase.

“There is a huge number of people at risk,” says Erb-Downward.

One in every five Michigan rental households has fallen behind on their payments because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Michigan League for Public Policy.4

Erb-Downward discusses, in her article, the already strained resources of shelters throughout this time. She adds with the potential of more people coming, a new practice needs to be considered.

“It’s possible; complicated, but possible.”

What it requires is innovation, creativity, and inclusion. It takes leadership, empathy, and a commitment to common good. It takes us adhering to our words and making them our work.

Even with aligned missions and values, solidarity statements, and artistic calls to be the change, the University of Michigan continues to sit this game out.

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Who Gets To Vote

From the beginning, voting has been an essential tool of democracy. The ability to choose our representation, the candidates who will fight for the needs and wants of our communities, is an intrinsic part of being civically engaged in the United States as well as other democratically oriented nations.

While this right has been consistently provided to a few here in the US, there are a great many actively denied their participation. Since the nation’s inception, groups such as Black Americans, women, the current or previously incarcerated, and other minorities have had to fight for their place at the polling stations.

Throughout our history, as the right to vote was won by these groups, new and improved ways to stop their voices came into play. We call this voter suppression, and it can take multiple forms including legal restrictions that impede access to intimidation tactics, aggression and violence.

In 2020, a year built on turmoil, it should be no surprise that our society is beginning to shine a light on the inequities built throughout our institutions. With a deeply divided presidential election taking place this year, voter suppression reared its ugly face once more.

In Michigan, there has been a longstanding ban against transporting folks to the polls on Election day. A state law passed in 1895 made it a misdemeanor crime to hire transportation for ambulatory voters unless they are physically unable to walk. Historically, this law was passed to limit or at least lessen a type of voter fraud called ‘vote-hauling’, which looks something like:

“I’ll give you a ride if you vote for my candidate.”

In our modern day and age, many organizations throughout the state use transportation as an opportunity to make sure that their clients, who may have limited access otherwise, are able to vote. Due to a federal court upholding of the state law on October 22nd, 2020, these organizations must stop the transport or be at risk of penalty, which can range from 90 days in jail to a $500 fine.

“It is extremely disappointing to see a federal court actively disenfranchise Americans and we are exploring next steps to determine what would be best for the voters in Michigan,” said Guy Cecil, chairman for Priorities USA.

Disappointing indeed. There was a silver lining to the scenario, though, and may groups were able to secure volunteers. The law does not say anything about free rides, so transportation companies can offer vehicles and drivers as long as it is done on a charitable basis and there is no reimbursement for time or gas.

In Ann Arbor, the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County was able to coordinate with Estella Express who provided 100% free transportation for those at the shelter to the polls. Estella is normally hired to take people to and from the airport, but donated her time and vehicle for the day to support the cause.

Loopholes are possible, but should they be necessary?

Getting people out to vote is difficult enough. However, voters experience more disincentive upon arrival. Registering to vote can occur up until the day of the election. It must be completed at the City Clerks Office, and you must have a form of ID and proof of residency. This could be a piece of mail that reflects the address on the identification, something often taken for granted by those who are consistently housed.

For individuals experiencing homelessness, this can be an immediate and insurmountable barrier. Addresses on forms of ID are not always current or local to where the individual is hoping to vote now. Transportation to their polling places could be impossible to secure, and so many choose to change their registration residency. To do so, that piece of mail is imperative, but not always available meaning individuals are turned away, voiceless.

These are barriers within our policies and procedures, but what happens when access is restricted by the people?

For months we have been seeing the divide deepen in the United States. This particular election has been a spark igniting anger and, unfortunately, danger.

Prior to the election, Michigan’s Secretary of State, Jocelyn Benson, attempted to ban open-carry of guns to the polls. The attempt was thwarted by the Michigan Court of Claims who ruled the law illegal as it did not go through the proper process. After an appeal was made, the decision remained firm. Guns could enter the voting arena.

One might inquire as to the necessity for armed weapons in a democratic proceeding such as choosing our next president. It seems there are two potential reasons: protection or intimidation. If for protection, the question is from whom? If for intimidation, the question changes to are we willing to allow this?

Appeals are currently in place to contend with Michigan’s transportation ban as well as the open-carry policy at the state and federal level. While change will come too late for this election, let us come together to decide what we want to see in the next. Always remember, the people are the power; our voices of today are the reality of tomorrow.

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To Write

This is my first post, my attempt to take a passion and make it into an art, a craft, and maybe even a living. I don’t know where this will go, I only know that it’s the first time I felt power in awhile. The energy of an ‘AHA’ moment can do some incredible things.

So, here I am, sitting under a window, freezing my butt off trying to lower these bills, writing my first blog post. Who am I? Goodness, if you know, please tell me. I’ve spent the last thirty years trying to figure that out, cheers to at least one more.

I guess that’s what this blog is about. An adventure to find the adventure of my life. I’m sharing it because I’ve seen and done some badass things looking to find ‘me’, I’ve learned and experienced more than I sometimes can convince myself is real. Maybe, if I can put those moments into the world, it might work to connect us that much further. Because if I know anything from these age old years, it’s that is just us in this life, all of us together. And that’s a pretty powerful thing. We need that power now more than ever. Let us take it and remember JustUs.

No Return

I always try to come up with a clever title to help me write the story, but right now I can’t find the words.

Today, I went to the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, MI. I must be honest in that it was my first time walking through, despite what I have told some out of embarrassment. The museum is beautiful and I thought that the exhibits were well laid out, everything really brought you into the experience from the waves of the African shore to the Detroit barbershops.

It was the content, as one might expect, that caught me the most.

I have always learned about African American history, I’ve taken full courses designated to looking at U.S. history from a minority perspective. However, nothing brings history to life than seeing it. Touching it. Feeling it.

Writing this post is hard for me because it forces me to recognize how blind I’ve been, how complacent. Even with a degree in social work, I’ve still, until now (and maybe even still now), failed to understand the depths of the pain and torture experienced by the enslaved Africans stolen and brought to a foreign land.

I wish I could blame it on faulty school curriculum, lack of national public commemoration, or whatever else will make me feel better, but in truth I know its me. I’ve failed to recognize this, because largely I’ve refused to accept it, accept that I’m a part of that history. In fact, I am that history made modern, as are all the descendants of the Africans taken and of those who held the whips.

Walking through the door of no return onto the top deck of a slave ship really stirred me. As I trepidatiously ambled through the passage into the faux sun, I had a feeling of absolute sickness. The kind of ill that makes your stomach drop. Where you’re not sure if you have to vomit or shit your pants, but neither is planned to be pleasant. I could hear birds swirling around the ropes high in the air, large plates of canvas blowing in the breeze. Calming sounds, yet mixed along with it is the pleading in foreign languages, the screams and despaired moans of the Africans in the ship’s hold below.

There’s a piece you see before heading down the stairs into the underbelly, and it’s two white men holding down a Black man. The man is begging his captors to stop. He knows what comes next is horrific and brutal, he’s seen it happen multiple times already that day. After blatantly ignoring the man, laughing at his submission, they pull a hot poker from the flames and brand him with the initials of the boat’s owner. The only thing worse than the man’s screams of searing pain are the sizzling noises the iron makes as it lays on the skin. I can only imagine what the smell must have been like. A wreak of cooking flesh that flowed straight down into the prison where all of the other people were kept. They could not only hear the torment, but practically taste the charred meat of a man.

I cringed away from this piece of the exhibit, tears threatening. I attempted to busy myself in learning more about the Zong Massacre, a disgusting yet significant bit of history – more of that on another post – but the screaming filled my ears and soul which started to chill my heart, numb my fingers, and race my mind.

To stop the physical symptoms, I went down the stairs and made the first turn into the cargo hold and the visual was… There is no word. Jarring is not enough, startling is too simple. Disturbing still leaves much to be said, but it’s the closest I’ll get for now. Disturbing to see the rows of people jammed together. To see my people laid out in every nook and cranny, all the better to get as much money from them as possible. No matter their… anything! No matter their anything. They are not valued in any way other than the compensation they will bring in at the markets once they arrive in this new land.

I went through the rows and found the tears to flow quickly. I knelt to touch the heads of children, offering a silent prayer of seeing. I fingered the plastic dreadlocks attached to the women who looked like me and touched my own growing locs for connection. They all stared at me, their words came to me, known. I knew them, I know this story. I can feel it. There’s one whole half of me that has been missing and I found it in their eyes and cries, I found it in my own, and it was anger.

I’ve always felt angry, terribly terribly angry. Like kick holes in the walls of my bedroom angry. Constantly confused about who and what I am, finding ways to throw that anger back onto myself. I am nothing, I am wrong, I am a horrible person. What was wrong with me? I had fantasies that I would go on killing rampages, huge destructive dreams of bringing down buildings and toppling governments. Whole countries brought to rubble from my outbursts of rage. In the end, I was the only one turned upside down by these feelings and my refusal to seek their source.

No pity party here, instead quite the opposite. As I left the hold of the ship and stepped into the new world, I felt it. Empowerment. My rage previously my own enemy turned into passion, an enemy of history. What was a huge realm of shame for me had, in a single moment of connection. drawn a spotty outline for the path I both need and want to take forward. The one I’ve only brought to life in dreams. While I may never take down an empire, I now understand the reason why I would. I feel, if not in full, at least a tiny bit liberated. On a path of no return. And still we rise.

The Hiss

It happened the moment before I struck thirty, the golden year.

I heard them as I said it. I heard them as they sank into the sea.

Snake tongue.

Deafening.

The overpowering energy that comes from the vibrations of a singing chorus. A song of sadness, of terror, peace, anger and acceptance.

Fire and water.

I scream.

I can’t scream loud enough.

Tears falling, smudging the pages. It’s silent, too high to be heard, screaming into the heavens.

Body shaking.

I hear them.

Torn from their children.

Ripped from life into service.

I can’t stop hearing them.

133. A number I wear around my neck. A house. Wanted so badly.

The number of hearts forced upon the sea. She accepts them cruelly, gently.

Taken by the slow rock of her waves.

The sound rings in my ears as the words go through my mouth.

Sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss

Deafening. No air.