As Soon as Darkness Falls

Opustena by Franz Kline (1910-1962)

Opustena by Franz Kline (1910-1962)

As soon as darkness falls
I am split in two
One part jovial hostess
One part reluctant ghost

When darkness falls
I am not as lonely as most
People don’t have parties anymore
So little touching these days. So little.

When it falls
Thoughts blow right through you
Wind on fire
Shut out by heavy sighs

It falls
So short– this darkness
You depend on
For sweetness and solace
a bit of candleight

How Not to Swim with Dolphins


First. Just don’t.

Dolphins don’t have bucket lists.
They don’t care about yours.
They get a little depressed
when you look timid
and scrunch up your shoulders like
“OMG. I am so proud of myself
for doing this.”
Then jump in
feet first.

when you tell your buddies
you roll your eyes
and say
“It was no big deal.”
And they press you
asking if it changed you.

Because Facebook
tempts you with the treasures
of trips to Helsinki or
learning to play a banjo
or getting a civics award or
swimming with dolphins.
You want all of this.

But be warned.
Afterwords you’ll question
the arch of your life.
You’ll start dreaming
of the one who got away
near the beach
in Oregon
when you were barely 22.
A boy
Not a dolphin

After you swim with a dolphin
you may Google
“Dolphin Trainer Certification Program”
even though
you live
200 miles
from a beach.

Then you’ll get depressed
and make a list of
the pros and cons
of getting rid of it all
and buying a tiny house
which you can drive
to any beach you want.

It’s all so much to think about.
So you get bold and
go down to the tattoo shop
that you’ve passed every day
for the last four years
on your way to work.
And you get your first tattoo-
a little one-
of a dolphin
inside your left wrist.

Mostly, don’t swim with dolphins
because they shouldn’t have jobs.
They should be with their friends,
not stuck inside a lagoon
becoming lazy and dependent
on a lousy, but steady meal
of tasteless, but plentiful fish.

If you meet a dolphin
some day
you’ll make a connection.
But it’s not what you think
it probably is.

You think the dolphin
sees your soul.
You can finally say,
“I have a soulmate
who lives in the sea,
and who is very happy
to see me.”

You don’t realize
that it’s an “Office Space” dolphin
who thinks he’s made it to the big time
hanging out with executive humans.
Everyone in this equation
seems to have made it big.

If you must swim with dolphins
go 400 miles out to sea
not totally sure
if you’ll ever see one,
let alone meet one.
Go blind from
the water’s reflection
and sink under the weight
of a billion stars.

You still haven’t seen a dolphin.
But if you don’t head back
right now
you’ll die.
Because of weather,
and your poor lack of planning,
and the probability of panicking
if you actually get what you want.

So you make your way back to land
and then burn your stupid bucket list.
You’ve thought about this
way too much and
on the thought that you could have stayed longer.

You come to your senses
and realize that you would have been
a true blue castaway
and the only thing you could do,
if you met a dolphin,
would be to kill it for food.

But none of that happened.
The list is gone.

There is a barbeque on Saturday.
If you don’t go,
people will stop sending you invitations
on Facebook.

You go because the host will fill you in
about his trip to Ecuador
where he ziplined
and drank hallucinogenic tea
that made him forgive his parents.

And you’ll go
because the invitation said
“We’ve got tampenades!”
And that’s sort of your thing now.
You like taking pictures
of all kinds of tampanedes.

But once you get there,
you’re obsessing
about your fucking bucket list
and you jump into the pool
to escape the chatter
and a 25 year-old woman
in a tankini
hands you her baby
so she can get a beer.

“My baby can swim,”
she says.
“Even if I thrown him in the pool,
he’ll float right to the top,”
she says.
“Don’t worry,”
she says.
“He’s had lots of lessons,”
she says.
“You know. For safety.”

You smile nervously
and stick your hands flat
under the baby’s arm pits.
But he wriggles.
He’s strong.
And then he kicks away from you,
smiling and flapping,
going underwater,
popping up for air.

He looks you in the eye
and you reach for him–
his skin is slick and cool,
vibrating with joy–
glowing in the sun.

This is What Depression Looks Like


Last year my father-in-law shot himself. He died.

For all the hundreds of hours I contemplated my own suicide throughout my life, I never thought I would know someone– someone in my own family– who felt that all encompassing desperation and pain with which I was so intimate. My father-in-law was ex-military and earned several degrees. He was funny and never left my husband’s presence without giving him a full body embrace and the words, “I love you, son.”

As much as I want to call my father-in-law a fucking idiot for taking his own life, there is that part of me that knows the darkness, the inexplicable and crazy pain of hopeless depression. It’s only been about a year since my husband has started to truly understand the clinical reality of my own depression and anxiety. I’ve had to break it down through lists of medications, detailed accounts of therapy sessions, exploration some of my writings and my own intense efforts to ritualize the moments when I break down and need help. It goes something like this:

“I’m feeling a dark scream or big cry sitting in my chest. I feel it coming. Something isn’t right and I need to stop what I’m doing.”

My husband knows what to do. A glass of water, a hot shower, anxiety meds, a dark room. I cry and cry and cry until I feel my brain is about to separate from the rest of my nervous system. Rampaging negative thoughts mobilize and move in for the kill. All the while, I am verbalizing exactly what is going on in my head– however crazy or scary it might sound. He is strong and still and reassures me. “It’s not real. It’s passing. This is the storm.” Sometimes I hate his words and fight against them. Sometimes I fold into his arms and allow myself to fall quiet. And then it passes. It always passes.

I wish I had known that my father-in-law had it in him to reach those mysterious, sinister depths. They are tricks of the mind– that part of your brain which shuts down completely in the throes of pure anguish. It is a spiraling, tornadic grip that makes no sense to anyone except the sufferer. For the sufferer, it’s so clear. “I do not want this pain anymore” and “I have done my time here. I want to move on.” and “People will get over this. They are better off without me.” Lies. All of them. And i’ve been on the critical receiving end of those lies many, many times.

Because of circumstances, I was responsible for arranging everything around his death– cremation, memorial service, obituary, reception. Strangely, I was glad I had so much to do. When I was 23, I had to do the same thing with my own mother who had also died unexepectedly from a massive heart attack. She was only 51. So not only did I have experience as someone with depression, I had already gone through this parent-dies-suddenly-way-too-young scenario. And it sucked all over again.

I kept calm and focused through most of it. I was there for my husband, my child and did my best to coordinate a farewell that would ease so many people’s pain. But in my gut, I was terrified that once the initial chaos and activity passed, I wouldn’t do so well. I could feel the tension in my body, lack of sleep, no eating (which is not great for balanced blood sugar which is critical for staying well). And one day after the memorial, it hit me. I had a panic attack, followed by depression. I didn’t want to move, but it was different this time. I felt a deep sense of shame– shame for all the times I considered suicide and leaving everyone behind. I felt ashamed of my condition and hated it profusely. I was angry and bitter and felt trapped beyond description. This was made even more intense by the fact that somehow I’ve managed to protect and preserve that part of my consciousness which is aware of my disease and can identify when my brain is not functioning properly. This is not to say that my emotions weren’t normal. They absolutely were. But for someone who suffers from clinical depression, these experiences are dangerous triggers which can spark, like a match, a deep burning which enflames and engulfs your sense self. It’s awful.

So, as always, I came out of it. I stopped, slept, walked, and forced myself to eat something every 2-3 hours because, for me, my blood sugar is a monumental key to stabilizing my neurology. My psychiatrist slightly increasesed the dosage on my medication and prescribed something new for more intense bouts of anxiety. After two weeks, I felt like myself again.

It’s taken me a while to figure out the area in which I am truly an expert. Like many depressed people, I am a “highly sensitive person” which is a neutral way of saying that I feel things, like, a LOT. I am a passionate person with deep interests and substantial preoccupations with doing “great things” in my life. I want to explore my talents to their absolute fullest, love without consequence and steer the wave of unending ideas and plans that I have to help people, bring change and create art. In the long stretches when I am exceedingly healthy, I get to think about cool stuff like multiple universes, better ways to get books to kids in poor neighborhoods, sketches for my subversive stitching projects, the power of love.

But when you suffer from depression, you can get stopped right in your tracks. That beautiful poem lies there unfinished. The “free food” garden in my yard languishes, the novel moves into a bottom drawer for fear of being rejected more than it can take. My healthy mind is wrapped in duct tape and sits, paralyzed, in the shabby and dangerous basement of my illness. The intense desire to express and create is boxed up, even though you can still hear the pleas for help. In other words, I’m an expert in real clinical depression. Real. Clinical. Depression.

Mind you, I have been dealing with it since I can remember which technically qualifies me as someone with “early onset major depressive disorder.” That sounds downright Oscar-worthy. But the fact is that– like being poor or double jointed or a socialist– I just didn’t know there was any other way to be. I thought everyone had an annoying chorus of negative thoughts and weekends spent in bed and a dull sense that there had been a mistake in my being born. I had fantasies of joining the unknown in my sleep– my soul and neurons and unleashed bliss could rejoin the cosmic soup which has played a cruel yet hilarious joke on the whole of humanity. I was convinced we could all experience peace and joy when the lines between “me” and “others” could finally be dismantled in death.

This is what I’ve always thought about– since I was 9 or 10. I can’t really tell you the exact age, which is one really terrible quality of depression. I have virtually no long term memory of years, places, people, experiences. But I do remember how I felt. I can tell you how I felt when I was three years old, seven years old, 12, 19 and on and on. But I depend on other people to give me back my memories. The memories I have are given back to me through filters of sympathy, confusion, judgment, remorse, victory and emotional peril. I take people’s word for it that I have always had an infectious laugh, a nice smile and a way with words. I don’t need to remember those times, because the smiles and laughter are my rewards for cutting through the infection of my disease, and that’s more than good enough. It’s good enough because every breathless, hysterical laughing fit, every happy tear, every sincere smile is mine and lives in me somewhere. For months and even years at a time, I can feel them running for their lives like the last living people in a zombie wasteland.

Lack of memories is a big reason I became I writer. I thought I needed to remember every last detail of my life– like soaking up Game of Thrones determined to watch straight through without needing to go to online forums to figure out what the hell is going on. But I don’t need to remember it all. What I do need to remember is that for every self help book or spiritual practice I have explored, I always left out some critical key ingredient in understanding myself, my pain and my place in this world. My brain… and its smaller than normal hippocampus.

It’s taken a long time to come to this point, fully realizing that only about 1/3 of people with depression and anxiety ever get diagnosed. And even if you’re diagnosed, it may be weeks, months or years before you literally stumble upon the right combination of meds and the right dosages. You have to be your own advocate, which is particularly challenging when you’re not at your best. And if you can find someone to talk to and guide you through the complex minefield of your mind with actual clinical research and facts, that’s even better. I take extra Vitamin D, fish oil and other natural protocols. It’s all a work in progress– it’s all an intricately designed plan to help prevent me from ever going to that dark, unforgiving space where thoughts of suicide live and thrive.

I will miss my father-in-law and I am so very sad for my husband, who will never know how thoughts can lead to such violence. I am grateful he will never know, and that I can bear that knowledge for him and truthfully say, “It was never about you. There was nothing you could do. Absolutely nothing.”  I can erase that guilt for him because he knows that I know what it feels like to be that hopeless. I’m not ashamed anymore of my former suicidal ideations, because I know it’s helped some people who are mourning to let go of my father-in-law without blame. And that’s something.

Poem-a-day #2: The Only Waltz

The only waltz

Worth a listen

Are the ones

That are played

After the party

Is finally over


The only waltz

That brings tears

Makes me walk

Down the hole

In my heart


The only waltz

I could learn

Is on strings,

With my voice,

Twinkling and sighs


The only waltz

Fit for dancing

Happens in rooms

Lit by candles

And your shadow


There’s a waltz

Purring inside me

Wanting to show

How to glide

How to swing


The only waltz

I can play

The only waltz

I can hear

The only waltz

I can dance

Never ever ends

But sometimes appears.

Poem-a-day #1: How to Escape a Tsunami


How can I let go of you now? You’ve seen my panic stricken face.

You know the sharp stone that vibrates in my belly.

I don’t know what it is, or where it came from. But you have one too.

I dream of scooping out the rock from my body  like an avocado pit. I carve it into a bookend and offer to do yours, too. The pain in our guts could be bookends shaped like funny monkeys covering their eyes. They each have a fez and wicked little smiles.

“Don’t read these books,” I imagine them saying.

And I invite you over and unveil our pain which is holding up a strange book called How to Escape a Tsunami. We’d scratch our heads and talk about how we would do it, even though our town is landlocked.

We would sit a long time.

We would discuss whether we should pick up the book and read it, despite the monkeys implied warnings. You say, “Yes.”

There is nothing inside this book except the word, “RUN” and then hundreds of drawings. Sweeping bits of landscapes and a beacon of light on a mysterious mountaintop all painted in gold. Dozens of pages filled with tree roots, twisted and gorgeous– thirsty and thrilling. Still.

“Is that real gold?” I ask.

“Are these real places?” you ask.

We can barely make out the world in this strange book that tells us to run and shows us what the world could be, and how it is. It is a map that shows a way out of terror. It doesn’t matter which direction you go. Everywhere is safe, as long as you’re not alone.

I don’t know what love is anymore. And that is beautiful.

When Worlds Fall Apart


When the world falls apart, and all that is left behind are charred bushes and ironic, blown over street signs and cats catapulting off of slumped over rooftops, it will be bearable if we are together. We would tackle the urban terrain like modern day Survivors and you would gather Pringles and dried fruit and keep me away from dangerous others—like gun-crazy hillbillies and politicians and bears. You will have a trusty survival guide and will teach us both how to siphon gas and live peacefully in the wilderness. It will be hard, but fun because the joy of life is in your music and my words and all the stories between us.

I wake up from scraped up dreams all ice ages and cavemen and poodle-sized mosquitoes and wonder if we were sent to that time and place, would our love survive or would we succumb to tribal roles and vicious meat battles? I think you would amaze the cavepeople with your not-so-cavelike drawings, and tell them about the future and all of the history that lies between them and us—Roman intrigue and Chinese dynasties and Hollywood. They will think you are God or the Devil or least an Alien— in any case, they will be scared and give us pelts and whatever kind of jerky there is and we will leave and be together. And on their cave walls are cartoon strips and recipes and poetry and reasons why women should not be dragged.

The world is a fragile place, and for all of our sensitivities and causes, you would think that it would chew up and spit out people like us. But we are the ones who will survive. We are not Rooms-to-Go and 401Ks and Outback Steakhouse. Home is where we are, with our dog and cat pack, which we will have to protect because they can’t fend for themselves. Perhaps we think we are like them—once wolves and bobcats, now soft and finicky. No. We are not “once human.” Our love makes us strong—Oscar-winning, best-scene-ever strong. If we were POWs and were separated, I would not betray you. I would not believe their lies or their chocolates or their moment-of-weakness humanity. Whoever believes that our bodies are all there is has never believed love of God or person.

And if our injured country goes the way of Hoovervilles and soggy socked misery, our joys will be found in candlelight moments, and the sudden release– like humanity’s smile– in the need to hug and cling more than usual. Funny thing is, you give yourself to me, every single day, as though the world may very well fall apart.

Random Word Generator: New


The tide has come and gone. Again. As ever.  I live four hours from a beach, but I know this is true. It is not new. Neither is this poem. It has been written a thousand trillion times plus one in the minds of sleepy children uncertain whether or not their dreams were real or imagined. It was written by my10th grade English teacher one night after his girlfriend left him. It was written by my older sister in that hateful note she left me before she moved out for good. It was written by my neighbor who keeps her house dark on Halloween because she is scared of any sort of mask. It was written in every half-baked business plan, roads to fortune, that ever was. It was written when I fell out of my old self and into screaming love for the first time, and then it was gone.

There was one grown up without normal manners who told me once that everything that ever was has already been thought, written, sung, danced, painted and cried over.

We twisted spoons together with our minds, and drew pictures of heroic horses and their unaffordable, fine black carriages as though recalling a personal memory and not something from last Sunday’s movie at the empty theater with sticky carpets.

I wrote the perfect title for the book I will never write. I sang the first goose-pimpling chorus to the song that will never been sung. I stretched my tired, inflexible body in a modern arch I mastered long ago when happening upon harmless grass snakes in the woods behind my house. They summoned me, or perhaps the other way. But it was a dance always crouching in the silent anxiety of my days.

The drywall in this new house is textured and rough, but sanctimoniously uniform. For an hour, I grip an orange and green glass marble in a tight fist convinced that my best idea is trapped inside of it. I fantasize that I might be able to throw it so hard it will pass through the drywall without a scratch, the universe reassembling itself in honor of the only new thought to come about in five thousand years.

Instead, it is legitimately cold under a vast Texas sky. I find a scarf, but keep my flip flops on. The summer was a living hell, I say out loud to something without breath. The wind pushes leaves into my face, and I swat them away like fruit flies. I should be grabbing them like million dollar bills or kisses. I steer my head toward the stars and know this has been done before. I remember now. I bury the marble next to the dead Peruvian Lemon tree that died in last year’s freak snow storm.

I don’t long for the stars out of reach. Instead, I survey the leaves at my feet, gather them quickly and release them to the wind like wishes. Now, they are in my neighbor’s yard.


(Words in bold were gathered from a random word generator. )



Random Word Generator: Selective Memory

Run, Misery, Photographic, Flew, Julius

Crawl carefully in the mystical place of the heart– it is the most free you might be. This is the diary of a masterful claw. A song strung out serene, empty and without light has all the lure of a photgraphic journey flashed furiously on a wall at dinnertime. I have never been there, I will never go there, it was not my dream. Why, then, do we repeat the silly misery? It flew away from us once, now pesky and righteous, dripping in a heartless tapping that defeats our senses. Now, there is the cat to consider. Julius doesn’t smile or jump or cower. He never did– we made him up from day to day. We do that. Bending in time, stretching beyond our psychic means is very dangerous and fattening and overall quite bad for the heart.


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