I live in a very old house (by American standards, anyway). It’s from the mid-1800s, in an area of London that was settled around the 1200s. And my house is haunted.
From what I’ve learned about the building, it used to be priest quarters, and before that, a school for boys. It belonged to a psychologist at one point. It was divvied up into apartments in the 1980s, and poorly so; it’s easy to hear the lives of others through the whisper-thin walls and the time-worn floors.
But at night, my husband and I often hear the door to our downstairs bedroom open and close on its own. It happens a good two to three times per week. The floorboard in front of our master bedroom upstairs, that only creaks if you step on it, creaks in quiet of night as we’re lying in bed. Every now and then, we’ll get a cold draft across us when we’re watching TV. When I’m up late writing, I feel someone come into the room and watch me, and then drift away…
As if to say hello. (Maybe even ask, “are you done yet?”)
It’s not a scary feeling. It’s eerie, yes, but whoever’s ghost it is doesn’t mean us harm. My husband is Scandinavian and grew up in much older houses located in much older places at the top of the world. The idea of ghosts doesn’t really register or trouble him. City kid that I am, houses and the idea of ghosts always freaked me out until I moved away for college and started sharing houses with people. From then on, I’ve had many strange experiences in houses, but also learned to love them, and listen to them. The personality that can constitute a house used to be something totally alien to me. If anything, I was taught to distrust them. I blame it on the superstitions I learned from my parents. I blame it on movies I’ve watched too many times alone at night.
Throughout my thirties, I learned to appreciate houses a lot more. They do “talk”; they say what ails them in their creaks and groans, they can hum or sing when the wind is just right. Clouds, like thoughts, drift across them, and their window eyes can brighten and darken just like humans’ do. They learn words through our conversations. Their wood and paint can carry the scars of our moods, just like our flesh can. Things get lost in them, just like things can get lost in us, too.
I guess houses and ghosts are on my mind lately because sometimes, I feel like a ghost in my own house. I wander it daily. I’ve been unemployed for a long time, way before the virus hit, and it’s the photos of my pre-virus life on the walls that sustains my hope of better times to come. Framed by the past, like most ghosts tend to be.
I talk to digital ghosts all day; Zoom classes and video calls have reduced connection with my friends back in NY and elsewhere to talking heads that react to me when I say something. Eyes that cry, voices that shout or wail, or laugh with me at something stupid.
Footsteps that danced with me are gone. There’s just music, repeating. Reminding: one day, things will be fun again.
I go upstairs, I go downstairs. I clean, and I bathe, and I write, and I draw things. Ever the introvert, my husband enjoys his time downstairs with his gadgets, and upstairs we talk and try to find a show to get hooked on (and often failing), in need of distraction. And all the while, there’s that feeling of drifting around.
Waiting for something.
So many people are dying to get back to “normal,” whatever that may mean to them, but I am ready for something new. Ready to join the proverbial afterlife and start the next adventure in a different incarnation. I can only hope that doesn’t mean more waiting is in order. I want to keep traveling, and keep writing. The world should never fit inside of a screen.
Yes, sometimes, I feel like a ghost in my own house. Haunting myself with words. Knocking on your screen for attention. Wandering your inner floors in memory, when something I’ve said rings true.
It is with the utmost interest in our common humanity that I direct this post to any of the white people here in the UK who don’t understand what’s happening in the US, and why it matters here.
The Lay of the Land (or, why people are so angry)
The protests are not an “American problem”. Media coverage has been a bit lopsided in explaining what is at the core of all this, and it’s not just about George Floyd’s murder or the issue of police brutality. It all comes down to systemic racism.
The most concise explanation of systemic racism that I’ve seen online goes like this:
Reinforcing manifestations of systemic racism in the world of the arts, for example, are things like movies where the non-white characters are in support of the white lead’s development, or, non-white writers only getting published if their writing is about their background, their different-ness, or the related social struggles and pain. From children’s picture books, to the way advertising depicts and arranges non-white bodies, to the consistent presence of “the one black person” — also known as the token — in movies, TV shows and ads, systemic racism manifests and is reinforced again and again.
Of course, this is NOT limited to the US. A friend of mine recently used the word “tetchy” to describe how some white people feel when talking about issues of race in the UK. There’s a profound discomfort that comes with accepting a history as direct (hateful) or indirect (unwitting) oppressor. It’s frightening to think what your role may have been in this situation, daunting to think about what can be done, and worrisome to think about whether those efforts will be taken seriously.
But you HAVE to do something. Here’s one of the many reasons why.
Many people are afraid of “black anger”, but imagine if the consistent cycle of injustices found in that triangle above, and the ones so passionately put forward by Kimberly in that video, were repeated on you. And then imagine if you were constantly told, both directly and indirectly, to deal with it, get over it, etc. You would be outraged, too. It’s a human reaction for rage like this to be present, and build, build, build…
Race and racism is a reality that so many of us grow up learning to just deal with. But if we ever hope to move past it, it can’t just be on people of color to deal with it. It’s up to all of us—Black, white, everyone—no matter how well-meaning we think we might be, to do the honest, uncomfortable work of rooting it out. It starts with self-examination and listening to those whose lives are different from our own. It ends with justice, compassion, and empathy that manifests in our lives and on our streets. I pray we all have the strength for that journey, just as I pray for the souls and the families of those who were taken from us.
Feel. the. discomfort.Feel it. Ask yourself the tough questions. How many times did you see something awful and not say something? Roll your eyes at a family member’s or colleague’s racist comment and not say something? How many times did you participate in a behavior “subconsciously” (anything from hugging your purse tighter to you near a non-white person to not getting into a taxi driven by a non-white person)?
There are a thousand questions I could come up with, but the point is, I won’t. This is not my work to do, this is yours. Educate yourself, and examine every piece of your life. Yes, really.
Change at your own level.Start where you are. Your home. Your town or city. Every level is needed because racism and bigotry exists at every level. That’s the system of racism. This work is painful and hard because racism is painful and cruel. It does not have to stay that way. It changes when you do something.
Talk to people you trust who would engage you in a tough conversation. Yes, this means tough discussions with spouses and close friends, siblings and parents. Yes, this means tough discussions with friends and colleagues who are black and other non-white ethnicities. Yes, this means potentially re-teaching certain things to your children.
Ask out of the genuine desire to do better, and say that, too. Listen to people’s stories, honor their feelings.
Some of my white friends are dealing with their own families’ racism through consistent posts on social media to show where they stand. A good friend of mine in the US posts things like this for her racist family to see:
This is not easy work. I understand. But this isn’t the time for anxieties and hyper-politeness. The time for that is over. Discomfort, awareness, and information must beget change.
Once you know, you can’t unknow. White silence allows the evil of racism to go on.
You HAVE to do something, especially if your main deterrent is fear of facing your country’s/countries’ history in colonialism and the Atlantic slave trade. Being part of a solution, today, is how you undo the actions of your ancestors. This work is how you undo guilt. This work is how you start to address pain.
You HAVE to do something.
This post is as much a letter as it is a conversation. Please, give me your thoughts in the comments below or contact me.
I look forward to the pleasure of your company.
P.S. – June 12 – Anyone expecting this blog to be a go-to site for race-related posts will be disappointed. This is a blog where I write about a variety of things, and my being a Hispanic woman of color is only a piece of what makes me, me.
My friend Nicole and I were talking recently about an Osho quote:
“Don’t seek, don’t search, don’t ask, don’t knock, don’t demand ~ relax. If you relax it comes, if you relax it is there. If you relax, you start vibrating with it.”
Wise words. But, there are also wise words regarding the opposite:
“You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” – Dr. Martin Luther King
Figuring out whether to be active or passive in a situation where all options are viable, and pressing, is really frikin’ stressful. This happens especially when we feel at a crossroads in making a profound life decision. Ego and faith are having an arm-wrestling match, and all we can do is watch!
The conclusion: Discernment is a bitch. I mean this in a tongue-in-cheek way, but, I mean it.
Spirit and the Universe (I think of them as separately connected things — like a body and its hand) aren’t stupid. They’ve been running things way before we showed up and will continue to until they get bored. But we have to let Spirit and the Universe –or just ourself!– work. So, we have to get out of the way in order to know what to do.
Observe: The main thing to remember when faced with the need to make a decision oh-my-god-right-now-right-now-right-now is to take a second and ask yourself if that pressure is internal or external. If external, can it wait one minute? Five minutes? Ah, even longer? Perfect. If the pressure is internal, even better, because in both cases that pressure is anxiety trying to run the show.
Try to take a step back, breathe, and quickly write out the options you have. This helps to release the charge and the urgency and the oh-my-god-ness out of the issue. Then, do something else that has nothing to do with your decision, and come back to it. Remember, it can wait a minute, five minutes, or even longer*.
When you come back to your notes and ideas, you’ll likely find that that little interruption in urgency helps you see things a bit clearer. You may be more willing to assess the situation a little fairer than you might have done a minute ago. This is letting Spirit and the Universe, just yourself, or “the pie” work. In this scene from Men In Black 3, Agent K recommends eating pie to figure out how to find the man they’re looking for. The idea is to take their minds off the problem, and let the distraction (in this case, a pie) do the work for them. Agent J, partly embodying the role of anxiety, sees no damn rhyme or reason to this approach. [Clip starts from 11 seconds in; the embed code is being cranky.]
*Careful not to tread into the area of procrastination.
You’re not putting off making the decision. You’re putting off making the decision under duress from a perceived threat, constant rumination, or basing the decision on what happened “the last time” the issue came up. The goal is to make your decision from a clearer place.
Hopefully, you’ll come to your decision in a way where you understand why you’re making it, and how the outcome can be a positive one no matter what.
Now, I’m talking about decisions where the outcomes aren’t exactly life or death, but they feel that way, and are still pretty important: You could be offered a job you don’t want, with toxic people you can’t stand, but you need that paycheck. You could be really interested in someone who keeps ghosting you. You could be in the process of trying to create something because you’re expected to or you’re supposed to, but you’re drawing blanks up against a deadline.
Looking closely, there are underlying issues in each of these examples that — I think — are being obscured by the anxiety. You can learn to tweeze that out over a time. This is something I’m just getting the hang of myself thanks to meditation.
A toxic work environment is an awful and common thing, but when it’s the better of two evils, are you willing to learn new ways to interact and keep yourself safe until you can get into a better environment? That’s conscious action. In the second example, constantly going after someone or something that rejects you or otherwise makes you feel like shit, might point to a belief you’re holding that rejection is your only option. How do you accept yourself? If you don’t, what would it look like if you did? What if you didn’t need that immature dating ghost? That’s conscious passivity — you’re envisioning a new reality for yourself.
In the last example, what is motivating you to create? Is it inspiration? Or the end result itself? Could you work with the process and the love for it in mind, and think about the end result when you’re done? After all, one of the most common things people say when they reach their goal is “I worked so hard, I’m so happy.” To me, this means the value is in the work, not the end result. If you fail at reaching the goal, the typical lament is “But I worked so hard! This is terrible!” Again, the value is in the work, that isn’t changed by the result. So do it with love!
Whatever you’re up against, just breathe. Take the charge out. Do something else for a minute or longer. Let Spirit, Universe, yourself, and “pie”, work together. Then, discernment should start to feel like a little less of a bitch.
In case you’re wondering, the pie does work for Agent J and Agent K in the end of that scene. Men in Black 3is a sweet little film (and a good anxiety interrupter).
This Saturday I’m launching the first of three workshops on submitting fiction and poetry for publication! It’s called the _mission Workshop Series for Writers, starting off with “submission”. It’s free, donations requested (I am in dire need of a new laptop and don’t have a job yet).
It’s soon to be 2:00 a.m. here in London, and I just read that Jimmy Webb died in NY 😦 It’s funny to remember people you didn’t really know, but “knew” because of some key time in your life. I used to love going to Trash with my friends in the 90s before going to Batcave or God knew-what-party where the threads had to be tight, expensive, tight, expensive, and cool. Jimmy always had an interesting suggestion; his style ideas often felt like a dare after two or three shots, presented with that same headiness, that same giddiness of playing around in a closet with new personalities and new looks.
He helped me get into a pair of Lip Service pants once, but I was too shy to buy them! He did get me to fall in love with a mesh shirt that I loved and loved, until it fell apart about 10 years later. We also talked about hair dye a couple of times. He was never wrong about my now-infamous double blue.
We all have our little memories of the old characters of St. Mark’s Place. I met him maybe a dozen times but he was always so upbeat — a sign of a good night to come. He was kind, engaging, and taught me a lot about the goodness of being oneself during those impressionable days in my youth.
Thanks, Jimmy. I hope it’s wild and loud and fun, wherever you are.
I finally managed to organize and label a stack of photos I’ve had with me for years. They’re what’s left of my life in several states back in the US and in some cases the only evidence of certain moments that occurred before the net.
The exercise was the result of another exercise: I decided to write my Will & Testament. For no reason in particular, I just wanted to have one. I don’t have “much” in terms of material possessions, and I was surprised that my pictures played a very big role in the document. I am leaving some of them to people (should I be the one to go first) and that was a profound thing. It’s like the literal passing on of a memory, entrusting something we both love with its survival in mind.
I won’t share those here, but there are two that I felt like sharing. I feel like they connect to what a lot of people may be feeling. It’s been such a hardass bunch of days…put mildly, I know. I have no soothing words or sage wisdom. Sometimes, all one can give is an emoji, so… ❤
If you’ve got pictures to go through, go through them. Go somewhere that doesn’t exist anymore, and take a vacation. Appreciate what maybe you didn’t at the time. The present, while powerful, is optional.
These are things I want back. I’m not sure why I lost them, and I sure as hell know this lockdown is making them near impossible to retrieve, but I hope that in whatever world rises out of this one, I can get them back.
This is from a thai restaurant here in London. I was out with my inlaws and my husband for dinner a couple of years ago. It was warm out. The place was full, and so we were sitting at one of the outdoor tables. I was … somewhere else. Thinking about the plot of a book I was trying to write, and subsequently destroyed, but that’s another tale for another time. I remember I was feeling really crappy, though, and kept spacing out. Just watching things around me. And then this arrived! I love Thai iced tea. The waiter had just poured the milk over the top and gave me the glass with a spoon wrapped in a napkin. I stared at this glass for a long time. It reminded me of Hubble’s view of Jupiter. It reminded me of Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain. It reminded me of how fucking beautiful the simplest thing can be. I want the feeling of wonder in the everyday back.
Fifteen (!!!) years ago, I was trying out life on the left side of our great map. My therapist and I were working on ways to get me to reintegrate myself into the world after many years of trauma. One of them was to experience nature on my own. Drama queen that I am, I didn’t just go to my nearby park, or do a weekend hike in the mountains. No, no — I rented a car and spent five days driving around I-25 and I-40, hanging out with my beloved deserts of New Mexico and northern Arizona. For being a born-and-bred New Yorker, I have a spaghetti western love for the desert that I can’t explain. I wanted to see all the parts of it I still didn’t believe existed, even though I’d driven through it plenty of times before.
I hadn’t been to the Grand Canyon. I hadn’t seen Meteor Crater in Winslow. I hadn’t hung out with desert truckers and tourists from other countries in lonely rest stops. And I hadn’t seen the mystic miles of Sedona, where spirits roam free in the red earth. I got to do all those things on that trip, and this photo was the first one I took when I got to the holy grail of my journey. I took photo after photo of the same thing, because I couldn’t believe it. It was as big and silent as God. I felt like I was looking at time itself. I felt, and I felt, and I felt. It was wonderful. The world was big again. I want a sense of a big world back.
I’ve been thinking for a few days now about how much the public reaction has been similar to when there’s a death in the family — the stages of denial, panic, bargaining and acceptance, shuttling between each other. So many people can’t stop eating (I’ve turned into a living food vacuum and have named my fridge). Drinking, over-planning, obsessive thinking, poor sleep, constant cleaning have all been ways to numb out the shock for myself and many others.
It’s incredible how much people are trying to “keep busy”, expecting to translate fully-physical lives into digital ones without a hiccup, expecting to live in perfect harmony with kids and spouses and roommates at the snap of a finger that they otherwise would see maybe once a day. You can’t tweet through the profound effects of uncertainty. Even if your job is safe, and you, your family and friends are healthy, whole systems that we’ve relied on for shelter, comfort, release and relief, are gone. Some may never return. Others are gone temporarily, leaving us floundering in the meantime.
My husband and I were talking about eating and drinking too much, and how all our friends are complaining of the same, not to mention putting on weight. The obsession with image and appearance spawned in the digital world these days is being gouged out right now. The obsession with status in money, the weakness of social care, reform and benefits systems is showing how much we’ve passed the proverbial buck on each other. And of course, the self-imposed scrutiny of digital presence doesn’t want a reaction, it wants production: How much are you writing? How much are you reading? Are you accepting that workout challenge yet? How much are you gonna let COVID-19 “get” to you? Use this time wisely. Make the most of your lockdown. Binge watch stuff. Order stuff. Do, do, do, do.
How about don’t? Don’t turn this into a content mine, because it’s not.
Some people are losing whole ways of life, or are dealing with illnesses and deaths on a scale they’ve never had to deal with before. Doctors are being worked to the bone, not to mention traumatized. People are losing loved ones they couldn’t say goodbye to, and if they could, had to do it through a damn video screen.
Those of us fortunate enough to be watching all this from a distance should take time for self-care. I’ve often said grief is the mouth of a deep well. Through the relentless weight of its pain, it pushes you inward to ask all manner of questions, from the most vital to the most childlike. I can’t tell you how many times in the last two weeks I’ve questioned my value as a person, as a writer, or what the hell I’m doing abroad while my mom and friends are all in NYC in mortal danger, or why do I bother with anything at all? What’s motivating me, what do I want, what do I not want? It’s been a nasty time, but a useful time in this great shift of awareness and of heart and of soul. For all of us.
Cry. Sleep. Eat and don’t judge yourself for it, but don’t endanger yourself over either. Take these long-ass hours of sitting at home and journal through stuff. Have the heart-to-hearts and air-clearings you have been hiding behind work hours and gym hours to avoid. Why do you miss what you miss, need what you need? Look at what you use and how. Look at that job you’re slogging through from home now instead of commuting to — is it doing anything for you aside from paying your bills? When all this is over, how do you want your life to be different? If that’s not a question you can answer, who might be able to help?
All this panic, and pain, and grief, is mourning of the past and fear of future. What the hell is everything going to look like on the other side of this? Only we can decide. But it has to start, I think, with a pure personal intent and benevolence to ourselves, which will naturally extend to others.
Be good to yourselves. Follow the safety measures in place in your area. Wait out the storm, and build for tomorrow — somehow, in some form, it will come.
Gifts have a way of coming back to you. A few years ago, I gave my husband a gift certificate to Floatworks in Angel, following a period of prolonged stress at his job. Now, during a period of prolonged stress for me, he gave me a gift certificate to the same wonderful place, where he frequently goes to chill out.
I use the term “chill out” loosely here — it’s a whole lot deeper than that. In a foot of water full of Epsom salts, one can discover a whole new body, and a whole new soul. Welcome to floating.
This post is for those of you who’ve never tried it before, and are a little nervous about the whole thing. The idea of isolation tanks can easily conjure up some not-nice feelings — who likes the idea of not being able to see, hear, or feel anything? Well, it’s not that kind of deprivation. You are safe, comfortable, warm, and by yourself, and normally you float naked, although some prefer to do it in a swimsuit or swim trunks.
For max effect, go naked. It’s just you and the tank.
When you arrive, you’re greeted by the warm, friendly staff. You check your shoes at the entry and then go to your room. Every room has a pod as shown above, and a little shower area for you to clean yourself before and after the float. The water and air inside the pod is set to your surface body temperature, so when you get in and float, you don’t feel the difference between your skin and the water. You have the option to leave the lights on, or if you want to go for the full, in-the-womb experience, turn the lights off, and float in the dark. You can also crack the lid of the pod if for whatever reason you feel too warm. And of course, if you have any problems, you can call for assistance using a button inside the pod.
Floating is nothing short of magical. I had no idea what to expect. I am not that confident sitting in water or swimming, and I don’t like earplugs. But I just went with it, and man, the rewards are still coming to me even days later. You feel completely weightless, but at the same time supported, and this instantly dispels any kind of tension or anxiety you’re holding in your body for whatever reason. The feeling of peace immediately snuffs out any cyclical thinking, overthinking, planning, or other kinds of non-present-moment brain activity. It’s just you, and your breath.
After a while, you feel like you’re about to fall asleep. Yet the curious thing is that you sort of fall asleep, but you sort of don’t; you enter an inbetween space that taps into a very calm, peaceful, unique feeling, which presents answers to profound questions for some. For others, they experience visions, personal insights, or a general knowing that everything really is okay.
I didn’t gain any answers or insights, but I did feel like everything is fine — and it is.
The act of floating triggers a detox process in your muscles thanks to the salts, and helps to loosen knots, pop tight discs and joints, and literally helps you loosen up overall. As what goes up must come down, floating does have its downside of post-float pains. Because your body has deeply repaired and realigned some old hurts and tight spots, the hours after being in the tank can make you feel a little sore or out of sorts. This dissipates the more you float, however. The best way to ensure a quick recovery is to drink a LOT of water. When you’ve had a lot of water, drink more water. Remember, you’ve been lying in salts for an hour! Rest, relax, stay calm and comfortable as long as you can after a float. They’re nice to do in the evenings because you sleep SO much better. Some people, like my husband, prefer to do it in the mornings. The meditative headspace that results from floating helps him engage better with his day, and feel good overall.
A great video about floating and its scientific effects on the body and brain can be found here, from a CBS This Morning report:
When you’re done, you rinse off and have some tea, relax in the recovery room, dry your hair, moisturize your skin, and go back out into the much calmer world.
So, go for it. Book a float at Floatworks or whatever float spa is closest to you. You’ll be glad you did.
I’m celebrating a week of nice gifts from friends, starting with a wonderful morning at the Saatchi Gallery.
Commemorating the 100-year anniversary of Howard Carter’s monumental discovery in the world of history and archaeology, the massive, five-room exhibit is comprised of only a fraction of the items contained in the tomb. The artifacts will all return to Cairo for good later this year, finding their permanent home back on native soil at the Grand Egyptian Museum, Cairo.
I love all things to do with Ancient Egypt, and have studied hieroglyphs and Ancient Egyptian religion for the last 18 years. These studies have had their starts and stops of course, and by no means do I consider myself an authority on the subject, though I am much more than a passive admirer. Going to exhibits of Ancient Egyptian artifacts has always felt like some kind of homecoming — a kind of reunion with a great love.
There is, of course, an element of guilt to going to these exhibits…we are ooh’ing and ahh’ing things pulled out of someone’s grave. I’ve never liked that part, but in hopes of leveling the spiritual playing ground, I’m always respectful when I go. I bow my head and give thanks, do my little prayers of recognition, and don’t distribute pictures. I did take a few for my own study and enjoyment.
Besides, I’m not going to ruin the surprises for you 🙂
The exhibit opens with a beautiful video describing the life and times of King Tutankhamun, and how his reign affected Egypt’s history. From there, you go through five huge rooms full of everything from jewelry to coffers, calcite vases to drinkware and boats. I especially loved the structure of the exhibit which follows passages from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, taking you on a conceptual and visual journey that explains why all of these things were vital to include inside the King’s tomb.
My favorite part of all was the end. The exhibit closes with a huge statue of Tutankhamun made in quartzite. The positioning in the final room is powerful and poetic, much like the shadow it casts on the wall:
The exhibit is now in its final weeks, running until May 3rd. Tickets and further info here. If you can’t make it to London for the show, there are some wonderful videos on YouTube here.
I first heard of United Visual Artists (UVA) in 2014 when I went to see their beautiful Momentum exhibit at the Barbican.
Now, UVA is back with another feast for the ears, eyes, and the part of your brain that controls phantom feeling. Other Spaces combines unique audio visual elements that take you on a journey deep into your body and also out into the world.
Immersiveness is everything in today’s art and entertainment trends. I came armed with a willingness to step outside myself for a while and see what happens when dark and light dare me to dance. I also came armed with a little Samsung S8, which has a nice camera but not nice enough to demonstrate for you what the lightplays actually look like. So, I lovingly borrowed these from Londonist:
There are many standout moments to this show, but my favorite was the sound graphs of animals in their native habitats all over the world. Some were terrifying, like getting to hear a jaguar, which triggered a very primal urge to hide. Others were moving, like the aural comparison between the presence of birds near a lake 5 and 10 years apart, demonstrating the change in the landscape and the birds’ population.
After a half hour of these stylish soundbaths in the dark, kept company by whales, birds, monkeys, or synth’y sighs, I came back out into the streets of London a relaxed yet pensive woman. What will the experience do for you?
Other Spaces is a free art exhibit at Store X – 180 Strand running until 8 December.