I am a bag of meat.
I am a collection of bones and water in a protein and fat based cover.
I keep my true self in my brain box up on top of a ladder of unreliable sensors.
It can’t be extracted.
It can’t be pointed to on a scan.
I’m not confident it really exists.
I spent nine months in a meat incubator
Then eighteen years in meat apprenticeship
To learn how to interpret what my bag of meat tells me
My fingers tell me about hot and cold
My nose identifies honeysuckle pollen
My mouth reports fried chicken.
Piece of cake.
My eyes and ears report the body language of another bag of meat,
Report the sounds and gestures,
Send messages to my brain box using both electrical and chemical signals
Pass the interpretations through a sea of mind-altering hormones and steroids who are busy just running the shop
My grey matter receives all of it
Compares it to past memories, degrading them
Tries to fit it into a framework
Increases or decreases other chemicals as a reaction
And then somehow instantly and interminably I “understand”
Sending new messages from the brain box to other systems to reply
It’s a wonder we get anything done
Every system has cells, every cell has memory.
My thighs remember things.
How to stand
How to run
My fingers remember complicated sequences.
Take away their memories and my brain box’s orders can’t be completed.
Is my true self in my fingers?
I guess so.
I don’t feel like me when I’m re-learning how to something my injured hand forgot.
I host an ecosystem.
Possibly even a parasite or two.
I like to think my true self is independent of my meat farm
But studies of toxoplasmosis say “probably not”
I am in a totally different meat bag than I was seven years ago
Every part of my meat bag is under construction every minute of the day
I am the city that never sleeps
It takes seven years to swap out the oldest parts
So at best I change a little each day
At worst, the meat bag’s intricate systems fight to keep me alive
I prefer the slow change, to be honest
We are all bags of meat.
We are each a collection of bones and water in a protein and fat based cover.
We are all changing ecologies of life
We are all trapped in cells
Trapped by cells
“How are you today?”
Damned if I know.
Let me check with the meat and get back to you.
Things I saw in my dream last night:
- The remains of a 12th century highway overpass, which was standing over a 12th century cottage, both made of medieval plywood.
- An ancient frying pan which was glazed in a salmon pink coating with my great great great great grandfather’s initials (in fancy script) molded into the bottom.
- A set of kitchen canisters and salt and pepper grinders made of glass and pewter that stacked around each other like matryoshka dolls from the 16th century. The far-flung relative of mine who was showing them to us on the family estate wanted to have recreations made so we could have some too.
- Scenes from said relative explaining our (totally dreamed up) family history including the doctor who cared for a now-poor family from the aristocracy.
- An ancient microscope hooked up to a 15th century touchscreen that allowed said kids to discover and draw extremely small details of natural things, and somehow also the whole town, but with extremely small lines. Sorry Antonie van Leeuwenhoek but we got there first, with better tech.
- The beginning of a plague that made people vomit extremely large volumes of something that looked like pepto bismol
I am relatively confident that during my next trip to England (whenever that is) my cousin and I will not be able to locate any of these family heirlooms.
It starts as a purr
then a hum
then a growl
then something deeper than a whine, but just as frantic
And you can feel it coming up
through the bottoms of your feet
the engine vibrating against the soles
the rattle and growl of the pistons meeting explosions
of such great force
three thousand rpm
thirty five hundred
faster faster faster
get where you are going
until you’re aware of the vibration
of your pillowy lungs against the
casing that protects them from your
steel ribs and
the whole of your skeleton humming along
with the yowl of the machine
from the top of the steering wheel
to the gearshift cradled in the palm of your hand
Seeing your chance
you change lanes, swing to the right
then slam your left foot into the clutch
all the way to the floor
the engine sighs
you start the car, idling the engine warm and texting a note
“I’m done work, I’m heading home.”
Never were there such devoted blisters
Covering the surfaces of hands and feet
I only shoveled out the sleet
Proving that my nerve endings have feeling
When a certain storm drain clogged up from the plow
I cleared it off and then said ow
My skin is like tissue
It’s got some issues
Blisters from every run
I get dog hair splinters
And in the winter
It wrinkles in wind or sun
Trying to toughen up
so no more blisters
Many socks have promised to protect
But nothing can
Lord help the blisters
From walks with my brother or sister
And Lord help the blisters
Covering both of my hands
We are less than one week until the Rock and Roll Virginia Beach Half Marathon, which means we are in the sweet spot for total anxiety. What if I don’t finish? What if I fuck it up? What if I do it with all those people watching? What if I annoy my family or embarrass them or something stupid? Maybe I just shouldn’t go.
Really at this point it’s the money spent that keeps me going. Too late to cancel the race. Too late to cancel the hotel room. Time to just do the job and finish the race.
I know exactly what this is. I go through it for pretty much every social event. It’s the fear that everyone will stare at me and think I’m a freak and that nobody actually wants me around. A few of my friends have figured me out, and they call me an hour or two before a party or a talk or a session with a “But I’m going to be there so you have to come!”
I’ve been known to return the favor.
It doesn’t take much to set it off when I’m this close to a big event, and I’m well-aware that my usual anxiety meds probably can’t do the job against a fear the size of Texas.
My psychiatrist has me on strict orders that if I’m about to totally lose my shit, I go for a walk. All the running magazines say that before a really big race, I should rest my legs. These, as you may guess, conflict.
I’ve been resting my legs since a 5-mile walk on Sunday, which means I was primed and ready to blow by this afternoon. Instead of freaking out at someone, I went for a walk.
I went for a walk, and I got lost, and I walked 3.5 miles on my lunch “hour” that was a lot more than an hour because I couldn’t figure out which of the three trails to take and why are there no signs on the trails? And when I got back, I was as good as new. Well, as good as new for someone who was supposed to be resting her legs so her hips don’t fall off on mile eight anyway.
But I did what was good for me, which was the right thing to do, and which is still something I’m learning to do.
So now there’s a pain in my hip and four days to the race, and you know what? I’m going to get good and mad at it and I’m going to take that sucker down.
Many days, I think that depression can’t be beaten, can’t be controlled, can barely be contained.
This is one of those days.
Robin Williams is reported to have committed suicide.
He was a crazy alien who always found something to love about humanity when I was a child.
He was the teacher who pushed his students though – and beyond – the breaking point of experiencing life.
He was the father that forgot, then remembered, he was the boy who wouldn’t grow up.
He was the man who said, “it’s not your fault,” and made me believe that maybe it wasn’t.
He was the stand-up comic who made me laugh at pain and drugs and alcoholism and sexuality and all those things that a young woman is trying to figure out in the world.
Whether it was good parenting on my folks’ part or good timing on mine, I couldn’t say, but I never saw a character that Robin Williams played that didn’t keep that spark of hope that we are good people who do the right thing alive.
His irreverence made me feel alive.
It is almost unthinkable that such a man would ever consider extinguishing his light.
And yet there are the dark days.
The demons are sitting on my chest, whispering in my ears that nothing is worth the effort, painting my eyes with blackened brushes.
The monsters in my heart are calling for me to bury my feelings in anything, food, drugs, sleep, anything that will stop my muscles from aching and my heart from shattering.
The bastard voices in my head are detailing everything that will go wrong, magnifying every fear and every pain.
On those days it’s a miracle that any one of us survives.
I accept my depression because I know it isn’t my fault. The chemicals in my brain aren’t balanced the way I would prefer.
I accept that my broken brain leads me to feel things differently, to approach them differently, to value them not the way that others do.
I prefer to take medication that helps my brain feel and do things more normally.
I understand that some may not.
I understand sometimes the medication doesn’t work.
I’ve learned both of those lessons during a dark spiral that tore my world apart.
Every day I have to accept my depression again, have to choose irreverence over darkness and life over silence.
By the time I’m 63, maybe I too will no longer want to fight.
I hope I will.
I hope I’ll continue to seize the day.
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
If you ever feel like suicide might be an option, please talk to someone. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline will talk to you online or over the phone. No matter what problems you are dealing with, they want to help you find a reason to keep living. By calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255) you’ll be connected to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area, anytime 24/7.
My dad was a Lightship Sailor with the Coast Guard. Not only is Dad no longer a Lightship Sailor, but all of the Lightships have been decommissioned. They’ve been replaced by unmanned buoys.
The Virginia Association of Museums is accepting votes for the Top 10 Endangered Artifacts to help raise awareness (and funds) toward saving some of the state’s historical artifacts. The Lightship Museum has a mushroom anchor on the list.
Please visit, check out the artifacts, vote for the mushroom anchor, and consider making a gift to the museum. (Or for that matter, any museum. Museums are important.)