Rage, and Be Kind

I wrote this as a Facebook status update this afternoon, trying to work through my body the grief and rage I feel at the murder of so many queer folks at Pulse in Orlando yesterday. I wanted to share it publicly as well.

Rage, and Be Kind

Note to everyone I love:
I cannot help you right now.
I can reach out my hands
And wrap them around you
And extend to you my broken heart
And witness yours.
But I cannot live in the mundane world today
Cannot hold the ordinary.
Fifty members of my family were slaughtered yesterday
And today I am trying to be a midwife
And not let my heart break open wondering if the babies my queer hands welcome
Will grow up to be queer and live in a world
Where they might still be slaughtered for it too.
I cannot bear it.
I can take a brief nap in the sunshine with my cats
And let the tears fall.
I do not know what I need
Other than to live in a world
Where I do not always need to look over my shoulder
Where families love their children exactly as they are
Where my people can pee without it being a political act
Where being myself is an act of fierce authenticity
But one that doesn’t risk my life or my safety
I want to live in a world where speaking my truth
and my name
Doesn’t cost me my family
And where going somewhere that should be a safe place
Doesn’t end in violence.
A friend asked how she could help
And all I could ask her is to raise her infant son not to rape and slaughter my people.
That is not an ordinary answer.
That’s where I am today.
Nothing is ordinary.
Please love hard.
Please be kind.
Rage, and be kind.

A Serious Thing

“It is a serious thing
just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in this broken world.”
–Mary Oliver

I awoke this morning to the news that fifty lovely humans were murdered in a club in Orlando while I was busy answering numerous pages in the wee hours of the night. Dozens more were injured. These were my people, queer people, trans and gender non-conforming people, people who went out on a Saturday night during Pride month to a place where they could be themselves, even if they were not fully out to their families or communities. The vast majority were queer and trans people of color.

And a man offended by a gay kiss showed up and ended so many gorgeous lives.

I cannot begin to wrap my mind around it. I took my queer little broken heart to Cal Anderson Park tonight and stood with thousands of people from my community, including quite a large handful of friends and lovely humans from my inner circle. We stood there and listened to a chorus of voices sing “We Shall Overcome,” we lifted our candles high into the air while counting out the number of the dead (whose names we do not yet know), and we took turns holding each other as tears streamed down faces and sobs racked our bodies.

I cried because this act of violence is being and will be used to fuel further violence and Islamophobia against the Muslim community. I so appreciated Sonj Basha’s “I am Muslim. I am Queer. I exist.” speech at the vigil, drawing the two together in her own radical assertion of existence. “I exist in a world that is constantly erasing my fullest identity, in a society where living safe means denying my own margins.”

I cried because I know someone who had a friend murdered and another one seriously injured in that night club. Her friend who was killed was not out to their family; they had gone out to the club for Pride, to be themselves, to feel safe in a way that they could not feel safe at home. And they never went home again. And their families are left grieving and picking up pieces.

I cried because counting to fifty is such a mindless, easy task, until each of those numbers represents a beautiful queer human whose life was ended by a homophobic man with an assault rifle.

I cried because I know what it feels like to look for a place where I can be myself, where who I am and how I express my love and myself and my gender and my wholeness in the world is all welcome. They were looking for that, too.

I cried because I very recently came out of the closet even further than I did over a decade ago when I cracked that door open for the first time and poked my queer little head out. Claiming both my queer and my non-binary genderqueer self was a radical act of vulnerability and authenticity. Telling my family took an enormous amount of courage. Signing my letter to them with my full name–which I legally changed, in part, earlier this year to better fit who I am in the world–felt incredible. And I stood there in the park tonight with a candle in my hand and a rainbow flag wrapped around my shoulders, feeling my way into my name. The meaning of my new middle name–Jude–is “kindness” or “generosity” or “goodness towards others” in Arabic. I held close to my heart the idea (shamelessly borrowed from the Dalai Lama) that my religion is kindness.

I thought of the enormous percentage of queer and trans youth who attempt or commit suicide because being themselves in the world we live in is just too fucking much. I thought of the queer and trans people–especially trans women of color–who are murdered every year. I thought of the times when I have had to fight my way through depression that threatened to swallow me whole. I thought of the trans people who have been murdered in the country of my birth, and in my backyard here. I could just as easily be in a coffin now as at a vigil mourning others in my community whose bodies lie on cold slabs at a morgue somewhere in Orlando.

I thought of the massive need for blood donations, and the cruel irony that gay men were not able to donate blood to their own goddamn community because of outdated federal policies requiring a year of celibacy before they can donate blood.

I looked around at the sea of faces that surrounded me on all sides. I saw rainbow-striped costumes and colorful hair and tattoos and piercings and queerness everywhere. I felt the arms of my friends around me, and we held each other close as waves of grief swept through us. I saw the people who have become my family, and I felt their love giving me strength.

I felt the weight of our thousands of collective stories. Most of us have lost something by claiming who we are. Some of us have lost so much. We all have stories. I have some that I have only recently begun telling, because silence felt safer. But, as Audre Lorde says, “Your silence will not protect you.” And mine has never protected me. So I speak.

I had no clue when I chose “storytelling” as my word for this year how much it would ask of me, of me as the storyteller, how it would urge me to claim my name and my authenticity and my truest self. I could not have predicted what stories I would be telling, or what courage I would unearth to tell them. The year isn’t quite half over yet. There is so much more to say, and I feel a renewed commitment to speaking up. I feel so deeply tonight how stories have the power to remake the world.

As I walked back to the light rail, I found a heart-shaped chunk of gravel that caught my eye, and I put it in my pocket, marveling that love finds me everywhere. Even when my heart is broken and leaking out through my eyes, blurring my vision. Love still catches me by surprise.

heart rock from vigil

I’m sure I will have more thoughts as everything settles. For now, I want to put my energies towards kindness and compassion. My broken, queer little heart keeps beating. And as long as it does, I want to be of service. I want to bring more healing, to be more healing, to spread love around liberally in this broken world.

Invincible

For those of you who have been following my blog for a while (some since I wrote my very first post as I was starting nursing school!), it is not a big secret that I am something of an open book. I was having a conversation with someone recently who was surprised at the level of vulnerability I share in such a public space, and they were curious how I came to the place where I decided I wanted to write this deeply about my life.

I can think of no better answer than Nayyirah Waheed’s beautiful words:

it is being honest
about
my pain
that makes me invincible.

I spent nearly a decade of my life swallowing down pain so deep it threatened to drown me and could have succeeded. I fought hard to claim ownership of the voice that allows me to find the words to speak of the pain and joy that have made up this delicious beautiful mess I call my life. This body and mind I live in has survived an enormous range of experiences, some which should not have been survivable. The very fact that I am still breathing sometimes takes my breath away, and the exquisite poetic irony of this truth teases the corners of my mouth into a smile.

Finding words to attach to the experiences I have had as a member of the human race alive in this body on this planet at this particular juncture of time and space has given me a sense of delicious freedom, as if by writing something into being I am simultaneously creating it and acknowledging my utter lack of control over anything.

I had a moment of piercing clarity in a clinic visit a while back, during which time I was working with a client who was struggling with health concerns that I have had as well. I saw myself in her suffering. I remember the despair, and the longing to be seen. I did not go into detail with her about my story–it was time to focus on her own wellbeing, not to shine the spotlight on me–but something in what I said alluded to the fact that I knew on a very deep level what she was experiencing, and that gave her a measure of relief in itself. She was not alone. I understood and believed her. Isolation gave way to validation, and her pain abated, if only for a moment.

When I was lost in the despair of the closet that trapped me, that I had no idea how I would ever find my way out of, hearing the stories of others who had been there gave me strength to keep going .Through witnessing their bravery, I found my own. What I discovered is that I am made of ferocity beyond my wildest dreams, and that some measure of that courage is borrowed from others who came before me and, in the raw sharing of their stories, pointed me towards my own north star.

It is being honest about her pain that makes Nayyirah Waheed invincible. It is being radically vulnerable with my life story that revealed to me the expansive magnitude of my courage. I know that by owning every aspect of my life, I am risking loss: I have lost dear friends, family members, and social relationships because of it. I am potentially risking my safety (because queer folks still face violence for existing) and my employability (in states I would not choose to live in because my human rights can be legally discarded), among many other things. Because me being me is more than some folks can handle. But me not being me is more than I can bear.

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Case in point: my hair is a little more queer this week than last, and there’s a lot less of it. One of my lovely people cut it for me, and I’m rather delighted by it. I had briefly forgotten the vulnerability that comes from instantly being recognizable as being a little too much, too “out there,” until I twice yesterday got called out on why I cut my hair the way I did. I cut my hair because it’s my body and I get to do with it what I damn well please. And because it’s adorable this way. And I really don’t even need to give that much of an explanation, because I don’t exist to make anyone comfortable. If anything, hang out with me for a minute and I’ll be sure to ask you a question that will take you to an edge that makes you wince a little and think a lot. It’s what I do.

I have already given up way too much of my life to fear. I let anxiety about what other people would think of me and what I stood to lose hold me back from all that living from my authentic wholeness would open for me. I played small for too long. I made myself palatable. But I’m not easy to swallow. I am a fireball of healed trauma wrapped in non-conformity with sprinkles of compassion and a heaping side of mindfulness. I am incapable of moderation. I love with abandon because I know how desperately short everything can be and I have no idea how much time I have left to soak up what the world has to offer me and to splash my own magic around liberally. I’m okay if that’s messy, and I hope you are too, because I hope that my wholeness can interact with yours in ways that makes each of us more ourselves.

So I choose in this period of transition to step out of all of the closets that have held me captive, and pry back the lids of every box I have ever tried to conform my queer little self to fit into. I embrace my wholeness as a person whose interlocking identities defy easy categorization, whose gender and sexuality don’t resonate with binaries, and whose heart has longings that don’t always make logical sense but always, always point me towards home. I say yes to loving wholeheartedly, to seeing deeply, to creating glorious messes, to arriving wherever I am in any given moment and finding myself ever only always here now. I am willing to sacrifice the illusion of connectedness with people who are incapable of loving me in my authenticity so that I can see and be seen by those who want to play in the richness that vulnerability has to offer.

At a workshop a couple of weeks ago, I stood in a circle with other folks and spoke my deepest fear and my greatest desire into the center. I learned in doing this that what I fear and what I long for are light and shadow to each other. I am most afraid not of being vulnerable, but that in my vulnerability, folks will see my true self and find me either inadequate or excessive, not enough or too much. I won’t be good enough, and therefore I won’t be lovable. The flip side of that is that my greatest desire is to belong, both to belong deeply to myself as well as finding a home in a community of family, friends, and lovelies who see me in my authenticity and love me precisely in my too-muchness.

I am taking steps towards creating space in my life for my greatest desire to be possible. One of those steps is telling my story, making myself visible, taking up space and giving others permission to do the same. I do this with a fair bit of trepidation, and also with great courage, remembering the words of Albert Schweitzer, who asked for divine help to “fling my life like a flaming firebrand into the gathering darkness of the world.”

This is me. This is what I have to offer the world. This is who I am, in my broken, unapologetic openness. This is my queer body that defies any attempts to categorize it. This is my immoderate heart that loves with abandon. Here are my stories of pain and brokenness and violence and healing and discovering that I am made of exquisite magic that wants to do big things in the world. This is the space I take up. This is me becoming invincible.

If I could send any message back to my closeted self, I would say this:

Robin,

I wish you could see how much you would fall in love with your life, how much love you would give and receive, how free you would feel on the other side of that closet door and with a good decade or so to work through all of the shit that put you in that confined space to begin with. I wish it was possible to give you a glimpse, in just a few words or photographs, of how much you would come alive.

I think of you daily, and am grateful to the point of tears that you didn’t give up. You could have, and I wouldn’t be here doing the work that I love (catching babies that share my birthday!) and loving the people that I love and sleeping snuggled next to the cats that I love and wandering through the forest just to be caught completely off guard by the incredible beauty of the world.

“I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being,” Hafiz said, and this could not be more true of how I feel about you. I wish I could help you see how deeply worthy you are of love. I wish I could reassure you that you will find it, and that it will knock your socks off. I can’t go back in time, but I can share your story moving forward, and I will.

Thank you for holding on. Thank you for putting one foot in front of the other on the days that you wanted to die. Thank you for choosing to do the hard work of healing so that I can do the hard work of being healing in a wounded world. I am fiercely in love with my life now, and if any tiny bit of this message were to make it back in time to where you sit, I wish it would be this: you will come home again. You will discover what your name is, and you will live your way into it. You will never be without family, though it may not look anything like what you expect. I promise you: you’re going home.

In the meantime, keep doing the hard work of being a whole person. I love you more than words can ever say.

Ever,

Robin

Dare to be Powerful

Sometimes things don’t go as planned.

I talk about this as a midwife, in prenatal visits and birthing rooms. Labor might have different plans than I do, might choose a different path. Sometimes a GBS test comes back positive and antibiotics are added to the plan. Sometimes a breech baby won’t turn and a cesarean birth is now up for discussion. Sometimes waters break and labor doesn’t start and augmentation becomes the plan. Sometimes, despite every trick in my book, babies won’t come out vaginally without help, or at all, and operative interventions become the plan. Sometimes uteruses won’t stop bleeding and lots of rapid interventions are added to the plan. Sometimes babies are born sick, and need treatment, or surgery, or a decision when enough is enough. Sometimes labor starts before babies can survive and saying goodbye becomes the most terrible plan ever.

The majority of pregnancies are healthy, and most labors can and do go smoothly. Most pregnant people do well with encouragement to put healthy things in their bodies and stay active, and we can expect them to have mostly-normal labors as well. As a midwife, that is my plan. But, as a midwife, I am also ready for when things don’t go as planned. I train for those moments, not for the normal babies that would essentially deliver themselves and the parents that would recover well on their own. I learn how to have difficult conversations quickly, expressing necessary information and getting consent to perform an intervention. I am flexible, and I know how to respond when plans need to change.

So, then, when I’m not in scrubs anymore, and my badge is no longer clipped to my chest, one might assume that I would be similarly flexible when my personal life takes unexpected turns. After all, I’m good at responding to new information and acting quickly. And sometimes, this is true.

And sometimes, it is not.

Sometimes, I want my life to follow the plan I have set out in my head. Sometimes, I don’t want to have to be flexible. Sometimes, I wish that I could snap my fingers and turn the image of “my perfect life” that I carry in my head into reality. But I’ve tried that before, and even when I was on track to achieve what it was that I thought I wanted, I was miserable. My life felt solid but I was not whole. And it took me a bit, but I realized that more than anything, I needed to be allowed to be whole.

Sometimes, just sometimes, when curiosity and self-compassion settle into my heart, filling in the cracks where worry threatens to submerge me, I feel the deliciousness of having no solid ground to stand on. For brief moments, I rest in the stillness in between thoughts. I remember that my life today looks nothing like the plans I had laid out for myself a decade ago, and that it is ever the more beautiful for every time I have shouted or sobbed or whispered “yes” to the offering of a new adventure.

Transition is hard. It is a hard part of labor and it is a hard part of life. That liminal in-between space that links before and after, here and there, past and future and right now–that space is home to me. My queer little self exists outside of the binary world of easy opposites. I have never found a box into which I easily fit. It would stand to reason that I would spend much of my life in in-between spaces. Sitting in a labor room, pregnant with anticipation, holding the intensity of a new person crossing over into this realm and guarding their passage, I feel this liminality. Sitting in my bedroom late at night, trying to remember what I am doing with my life, I feel it too.

What I am doing is telling stories. And I learned this weekend, in a conversation with a delightful new friend, that I am also un-telling stories that I have been told and been telling myself for a long time. I am rewriting my narratives, tracing a trail of breadcrumbs back to myself, back to a body I am constantly trying to belong in, back to a life that I am making that feels like mine, back to a family I am assembling for myself, back to the fire at the center of my being that drives me to be more fully myself in the world, as terrifying and vulnerable a thing as that is. I am ever and always making my way home.

Like all explorers, we are drawn to discover what’s waiting out there without knowing yet if we have the courage to face it.
–Pema Chodron

Recently, doors to new adventures have been offering themselves to me, asking me if I have the courage to open them. And I don’t yet know what my answer is, other than that my curiosity about where these invitations will take me is stronger than my fear of everything changing. And everything is always changing. The times that I feel solid ground beneath my feet are little more than an illusion.

When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.
–Audre Lorde

I am afraid. Of course I am. I want desperately to know what is going to happen and how it all works out. I want to know what my life will look like in six months or five years or three decades. I love stories, and I want to already know how this one ends. But it is so far from ending, and if I knew, I think I would shrink back. I think through all of the moments of my life where I would have run away if I knew what was in store, and how much I would have missed out on by not showing up. So I dare to be powerful. I feel the pounding in my chest and the clenching in my gut and I move forward anyway. I find my strength and hold clearly my vision of who I am called to be in this world and how I am being asked to serve, and my fear, though still powerful, becomes less relevant.

New people have joined the planet today, and others have left us. Cells are dividing inside me at a dizzying rate, going on about their processes without so much as a guiding thought on my part. Winter has left, for now, and spring has squarely taken hold here in the Pacific Northwest. The days are longer than the nights again, and the sun shines through my window to wake me. Doors are opening and closing before me, before all of us. Ground is illusory. The best-intended plans are constantly in flux. We are only ever always in transition.

Burying Sadness

But if you bury your sadness under your skin instead of letting it out, what else can it do but grow in your veins, to your heart?

–Nikita Gill

My life is full of joy. I have spent delightful hours over the past couple of weeks at my new job, getting to know a new population of clients, most of whom are expecting to welcome babies into their families in the near future. I have had the immense honor of catching their babies in my hands and whispering a blessing of welcome into this big world. Witnessing contractions opening bodies so new members of growing families can come through never ceases to amaze me. I have no doubt that I am doing my work in the world. I am lucky that my job is also my vocation and my calling.

Mixed in with that joy is now and always a fair bit of sorrow. Sometimes my experienced hands cannot guide the Doppler to a heartbeat. Sometimes a scan shows worrisome findings. Sometimes the lying bastard known as depression tries to steal away the happiness of welcoming a new little love into one’s home. Sometimes a partner unexpectedly turns violent, or cheats, or leaves, and my client is left with a mess on their hands. Always, always, there is fallout, and often this bubbles up in my clinic room.

And my life, too, has its measure of sadness. It is not easy to be a healthcare provider and simultaneously the adult child of a mother with cancer. It intense to live in a body that so regularly reminds me that I am made of flesh that aches and bleeds and can sometimes break open. I have not hidden the fact that my mind has myriad reasons for big feelings to arise from time to time, and when I am in periods of transition, everything in my history tends to ask for my loving attention again, which I am willing to give, and which offers me insights into deep and beautiful things when I slow down and show up for myself.

It takes its toll being queer in a world that doesn’t have a box to check that easily defines me, always being “other.” No part of me easily fits into a box, and while I would not trade in my queerness if I could (though I did spend the bulk of my teens trying, without success and with plenty of damage to my wellbeing), the idea of being understandable and understood by more than just other misfits and weirdos has its appeal every once in a while. Coming home to an empty house after a long call shift spent helping other folks create their families doesn’t always touch that place in my heart that aches, but today it did. Being a wounded healer is a privilege with a heavy price tag attached.

So on nights like tonight, I feel my sadness instead of letting it settle in my flesh unexamined. I notice the ache in my sternum where my awareness of mortality lies. I feel my ovaries begging me to use their eggs. I feel my belly (always), chugging along, painfully digesting my life as it so diligently tries to do. I sense the vast empty places in my bed that for now will be filled with feline companions. Sinking into my body, I remember that sadness is a universal experience, one which links me to the whole world. Catching my breath, I feel the ice around my heart melting. Tendrils of compassion wrap themselves around me and extend outwards to hold the shared sadness of others. I feel all the feelings at once. It is not possible to feel so alone when I remember that I am a part of everything.

So much is shifting for me, and so quickly, that it is easy to get lost in what is different. And also, in the groundlessness, there is space to rest as well.

We are always in transition. If you can relax with that, you’ll have no problem.

–Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

Transition is hard. In labor, it’s when many people hit a wall and feel like they can’t do it anymore. In life, it’s when the maps that used to prescribe where I should go next no longer show me the road ahead, and I must wander through and trust that the way will open before me.

Choosing “storytelling” as my word of the year is kicking my butt. I didn’t realize that such a word would call me to more deeply question and explore who I am as a storyteller. This year is not even a quarter over, and already I am not the same as when it began. My life is dynamic just now, and while all that is changing leaves me feeling like I have no solid ground on which to rest my feet, relaxing into that reality is bringing me comfort. Not long ago, I felt very stuck, and while I had solid plans for what direction I would be going, I wasn’t happy. Now, I am most definitely not stuck, and I have no idea where I will be in six months or a year, but I feel free in a way that I didn’t before. Free not only to tell stories that have been holding me back, but also to release their power over me.

For me, I have found that in my vulnerability and acceptance and willingness to face the things I haven’t wanted to write down or speak aloud, they lose their power over me. As I claim all of my life experiences and actions as mine, I become free from them. Integrating every last bit of my life into one complicated whole has been some of the hardest and most rewarding work I’ve ever done, and there is certainly plenty left to do.

Sometimes, when I remember to pause in the midst of chaos, I ask myself, “What is the work of this moment?” And then I do that. Tonight, my work has involved rearranging furniture, answering pages from clients, remembering to feed myself, having a good cry, reaching out to friends to break my isolation, and writing a blog post under the warmth of a snuggly purring cat-friend. And now, the work of this moment is to rest (until morning or the pager goes off again, whichever comes first!). Much love to anyone and everyone who has ever felt sadness, and may the willingness to feel it deeply open you to greater joy as well.

The Word Beyond Home

what is the word beyond.
home.
after home.
where is it. this word.
why can i not remember
how to say this
thing. this feeling that is
my whole body.
–nayyirah waheed

This is my first blog post this year. I have sat down many times to write and have found myself in a state where I am too full of stories to tell any one of them.

I am in transition. That is a story in itself. I am in an in-between place, where I am becoming more fully myself but not entirely sure what it is that I am becoming, where I am going, who I am in the world. I know I am a midwife; this part of my identity is solid and lovely to me in its reassurance that I know this much of who I am, at least. The rest of it feels like it is up for grabs.

In my last blog post, I wrote about the word that I chose to represent this year for me. I was anxious about choosing “storytelling” as my word, because I knew that it would ask big things of me and I wasn’t sure if I was ready. I was not wrong about either of those things. “Home,” my word for 2015, took me to some incredible places. This is a new year, a year for storytelling. This, for me, is the word beyond home.

This word, in under two months, has already called me to rise in ways that I cannot fully describe in language (ironic, given the word I chose). Committing to tell my stories this year is a radical, political act as well as an intensely personal one. I am making the intention of owning my whole self, every facet of my being, without shame. This authenticity and vulnerability is game-changing. For me to stand up and say, “This is who I am in the world,” and to be that person, involves a depth of wholeness and integration that is revolutionizing the way I walk through my days and show up in my interactions with other people.

You need only claim the events of your life to make yourself yours. When you truly possess all you have been and done… you are fierce with reality.
–Florida Scott-Maxwell, “The Measure of My Days”

That is what storytelling means to me: claiming the events of my life, making myself mine. Being fierce with reality. And my reality has been fierce with me, to say the least. Those of you that know me in person or have followed my blog for a while know that my life has been full of some not-so-easy stories to tell. As, likely, has yours. I feel compelled to tell my stories, even the seemingly shitty ones, because I have found that my vulnerability bridges a divide that exists when we walk around in the world trying to pretend like we have it all together.

So I sit here not for the first time this year, but for the first time that I have been able to put words together in a form I can share publicly. I am taking Nayyirah Waheed’s advice and writing “the thing you are most afraid to write.” Almost. I’m not quite ready to share that one. Close, but not quite.

But I am ready to sit down with myself and write me a letter. I think of my fifteen-year-old self, closeted and lost in a mire of depression and shame, with unresolved trauma and a sense of never belonging. I think that person that I was needs to hear from the person that I am now.

Dear Robin (the 1999 version of you),

Oh, honey. Just to think of you brings tears to my eyes. I see you trying so very hard to make it, to make a place for yourself. You invented crushes (on boys who grew up to be gay–good gaydar you had!) because all of your friends were dating and you wanted to fit in. You went to church and Bible study and missionary kid youth groups, and you did your best to fit into the molds you were presented as the only possible good way to be. You sat and studied your Bible for hours a day, highlighting verses and taping them up around your room, and tried desperately to pray away parts of yourself that were becoming undeniably true for you. Parts that you knew, if you invited them into the open, would possibly cost you your friendships and family relationships.

I also see you desperately trying to stuff down secrets that wanted to come out of your body, stories you’ve held inside for too long, words you’ve told no one. I see you struggling to fight off the demons of shame and a sense of doubt in your value that comes from the violence you experienced at the hands of people who should have been safe for you. I see you holding these secrets inside you, piling food on top of them to choke them down. I see you gaining weight rapidly (a hundred pounds last year alone) in an unconscious attempt to be invisible. I still see you, and Robin: You are a lovely human. I know that the size of your body feels to you like it will make you safer. You have already internalized the sense that fat bodies are not seen the way that slender ones are, and the safest thing to you seems to be being unseen and unseeable. So your creative self, the you that desperately wants to stay alive in the world despite how hard and painful it is for you, came up with a solution. You survived, and I am proud of you. You did what you needed to do to make it.

Nothing about your body needs to change, though it will, and drastically, and soon. Over the next 11 months, you’ll lose more than half your body weight, as you lose your appetite for life and your ability to stuff anything down anymore. Your guts will literally turn on you (you were born with them tangled and “defective,” though you don’t quite know this yet), and you will have a long struggle ahead of you that will involve many invasive tests, a surgery that will take three times as long to heal from as anticipated, and a lot of pain and anxiety. And you will pull through it, and at the end, you will finally come up with the courage to tell someone about the violence you suffered through as a young child.

Sometimes the pain will feel like too much for you to hold. Sometimes it will burst out through lines traced in your skin, the blood leaking out a reminder that you are alive. There will be a time you “put the sharpness back,” as Mary Lambert so beautifully says.

Fathers and uncles are not claiming your knife anymore
Are not your razor, no
Put the sharpness back
Lay your hands flat and feel the surface of scarred skin
I once touched a tree with charred limbs
The stump was still breathing
But the tops were just ashy remains
I wonder what it’s like to come back from that because
Because sometimes I feel forest fires erupting from my wrists
And the smoke signals sent out are the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen

You will not have to wonder what it’s like to come back from that. You will come back. Do you hear me, love?

You. Will. Come. Back.

You will come home to yourself, in new ways, again and again and again. You will find words to attach to the deafening silence you’ve choked down for years. You will cling to stories of other survivors like life preservers. You will read Alice Sebold saying of her rape, “You must save yourself or you remain unsaved,” and you will set about the work of saving yourself. You will reach for the doorknob on the closet door, and you will come home to your queer self. You will find yourself with a new name and a new body. You will come to a place where you feel the permafrost in your muscles melting in dance class, and you will move in your skin and learn–little by ever so little–that you belong here.

You will do thousands of hours of hard work and self care that make it possible for me to do what I do now. Had you not invested so much into your healing, there is no question that I would not exist, either on this planet anymore or in my current role as a midwife. Death would have taken me ages ago if you hadn’t worked to keep her at bay. So you worked. You wrote. You put your pain into words on paper in dozens of journals that now fill boxes in my room. Your words pour off the lines into my memory and I send so much love back to you, back in time. I think of how much you despised yourself, how lost you were in shame and loneliness and grief. I think of the body that you hated and treated with such contempt, yet managed to keep alive. Here’s a secret: You will love this body one day. Joy and pleasure and happiness will show up beside pain and sorrow and loss, not taking their place but coexisting with them. You will expand your capacity to feel all of these things.

From where I stand, 17 years later, I am so grateful to you for your courage, and your strength, and your creative tenacity. You could have taken your life, and by extension, mine. You certainly thought about it. Your childhood friend did, last year, hanged in her closet full of despair after holding onto life as long as she could. Your closet reeks of pain, too, my love, and nevertheless somehow you held on. Thank you for holding on.

Thank you for somehow believing that there was a world with room for all of you in it. Thank you for making your way out of oppressive spaces and finding a path to a city and a community where you could be big. Thank you for following your passion to a profession where you get to do work that you love and make a difference in the world. Thank you for claiming your authentic self and wholeness in an environment that wanted you to be small and normal and ordinary. Thank you for the immense work you put into becoming me. I am in love with my life today because you did the heavy lifting and taught me how.

You are a goddamn tree stump with leaves sprouting out of it, reborn, my love.

And tomorrow, you will start your second job as a nurse-midwife, at a new hospital, with a new group of colleagues, in this city that is becoming home. You will continue to show up for your life and tell your stories. Day by day, year after year, you will become ever more yourself.

And so I send love back to you, in hopes that somehow it reaches some part of your psyche. I think of you with fondness and gentle compassion, in the complexity of the person you were and are. I think of the wars you fought and the bravery you showed just by showing up.

I have tried for a long time to escape you, because who you were at 15 is not who I am or want to be now, is not the life I want to live. I never want to return to your closet of death again. But I see now that running away from you is just running away from the person who would become me, and showing you kindness is cultivating self-care. In every way, you are me. You learn how to become an ever-closer approximation of your whole self. You live your way into you. Into me. You find your way home.

You find the word beyond home.

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Jealous of Trees

When people ask me where I am from, I am never quite sure what to say. The short answer I give is “everywhere,” but the long answer is ever-evolving. Do I say I am from Colombia, where I took my first breath in a cold operating room (illuminated only by flashlights in the middle of a power outage) and spent the majority of the first decade of my life? That makes sense, as it is the only physical place in the world that I have ever truly, truly felt I could call home. But my home there is a place that does not exist anymore. I can never return and have it be the same.

Home is not Minnesota, where I spent one very cold, dark winter of my childhood.

I also refuse to say I am from Texas, even though I spent more time there than any other place. The house in which I grew up is not home, though it is mostly familiar when I return for brief visits.

Do I say I am from southern California? That is where moved here from, but I never really belonged there. I loved the four years I split between Santa Monica, Santa Barbara, and Pasadena, and still find myself craving satsuma tangerines grown in endless sunshine. I came back to life in that place and will be forever grateful for it, but I don’t think I could truthfully say I am from there.

Between leaving Texas after college graduation and moving into the house where I currently live, I have had ten different addresses in six different cities in three different states. I have spent much time packing and unpacking and packing and unpacking again. I have settled and unsettled and resettled quite a lot.

I have spent much time jealous of trees because they have roots. I have leaned my back against their solid trunks and gazed up into branches than have been home to many birds, and I have wondered when or whether I would ever feel truly at home in the world.

During panic attacks as a teenager, the most common sentiment that would arise from the depths of my anxiety was, “I want to go home!” I didn’t know where home was, or what it even meant. I kept looking for a literal place that felt like all of the things that I thought home should mean, and I kept not finding it.

When I was in Haiti this summer, during my relatively terrifying 24-hour stay as a patient in a hospital in Port au Prince, listening to the agonal breathing of people mere feet from me who died before my eyes, feeling dreadfully sick myself and attempting to coordinate travel back to the States and doing my best to advocate for my wellbeing in a healthcare system I didn’t understand, communicating in a jumbled mix of college French and self-taught Creole through my feverish haze after not having consumed solid food in five days, I had a moment. It was a moment so striking in its clarity that I doubt I will ever forget it.

I wanted to go home more than anything. I wanted to be off that sweaty stretcher, away from the fierce heat and the flies and mosquitoes I had to keep swatting away (the same ones that got me into that dengue fever-induced stupor in the first place!). I wanted to be able to sleep in my own bed. I wanted not to have a poorly-taped-on IV in my arm. I wanted not to be surrounded by the sickest people in Port au Prince, who were vomiting and seizing and gasping their last rattly gasps. I wanted to be in my own hospital with healthcare providers whose language and medical culture I understood and tests I could research and friends I could call on for support. I, without apology (at the time), wanted access to all my various forms of privilege, which was getting me much farther than the people laying in the beds beside me but was not getting me home. I wanted to go home.

In that piercing moment, I realized that if I could climb into my sick body and be at home there, I could be at home anywhere. I wanted nothing more than to escape the whole situation, but I chose to be exquisitely present, one breath at a time. I counted them slowly, breathing six deep belly breaths per minute as I was trained in meditation. I calculated how many breaths to get through an hour at that rate, and rationed them out. Breathing deep into my sick body, I felt as if I was sending love into the body of the earth, pouring out whatever medicine I could conjure into every wound she showed me. I reached my energetic love towards the dying man in the corner and, from my cot, felt the same ferocious love that helps me welcome new people onto the planet gently help him leave his body. I dug deep when the keening howls of his grieving widow threatened to undo me. I looked at every person in that intensive care room with me–the skinny elderly woman two feet to my right, the young man carried in by a friend during a seizure that would not stop, the woman propped up in a wheelchair sucking on an oxygen mask as if it were her only hope at survival, the plump woman vomiting right in front of me into a metal bucket held by her young daughter, the woman beside her moaning in agony, the man in the other corner coughing violently, and a few other folks that I could hear but not see–and held the intensity of their suffering, and then blew it out the open front door with the force of my carefully-measured exhales.

I felt myself settle into my body, this body that has during my 31 years in it been my friend, my enemy, my lover, my muse, my agony, my inspiration, my limitation, and my delight. I came home to myself in that moment, something I have spent the better part of at least two decades trying to do. This is my body. I am here now.

I still wanted out of that place. I still wanted my own bed and my own country and my own language and my own food and my own kitties to keep me company as I healed, and in the space of the next couple of days, these all reappeared in my life. But when I walked through my front door again, I was not the same person who had left, nor did I live in the same body.

For the past couple of years, I have chosen a word at the beginning of the year that I want to spend that year exploring. In 2014, I chose “delight,” and found it around every corner. This year, these past 365 days, I have been exploring the deepest meaning of the word “home,” and I could not have picked a better word to explore. Looking back now over the past year, my journey with this word did not take me where I expected it would. I had been planning to build a home and a life with a person, and that did not go as I had anticipated. But home took me to even deeper places. Home brought me to myself.

In the last fifteen minutes of this year, I am committing to my word for 2016. I had a hard time deciding on this one (there were several strong contenders!). I know what this word will ask of me, and I am not quite sure if I have the courage to show up for it. But I want to go to the places it will take me and stuff my pockets with anything worth bringing back.

Storytelling.

That’s my word. That’s my goal. Now that I’ve journeyed back home to my body, I need to explore all of the stories I carry. I need to remember where I came from and who I am and what my life wants from me.

I need to rest my palms on my sturdy trunk and feel that I, too, have roots. I belong in this world, and this world belongs in me.

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Thanks to the trees and this gorgeous sunset at the end of the year for providing me with the angst to realize that I am jealous of their rootedness, and thanks to my amazing massage therapist/friend/fellow magician Nekole Shapiro for finding that jealousy in my right ankle (her way with finding stories in my body is phenomenal).

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Here’s to a year of storytelling!

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You Burn

“You burn because you carry fire.”

–Rune Lazuli

I know that I am not alone in this sensation of burning from the inside out, this intensity that has called my name since I was a child and has compelled me to follow a tough path with many opportunities to give up and choose something easier. I know that I take up more space than is “ladylike” or comfortable or easy to witness. I speak openly about some very difficult topics and don’t hesitate to move in the direction of big feelings. My dinner table conversations are likely to make some people squeamish. If I take a liking to you, I will probably ask to see your soul and show you mine in return. I believe in and practice radical vulnerability. As Brené Brown says:

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”

Sometimes this is scary. Not everyone can hold this much fire, at least not without practice. I have felt lately in certain relationships like I might be too much, too big, too intense, and have contemplated how to go about being just a little bit smaller. I would fit so much better in the world as it is now, in my family of origin, in polite company, if I could contain some of this potent energy, if I asked less of the people I love and showed them less of the harder-to-love parts of myself. But the thought of making my magic smaller hurts me. I feel like I would be less whole, less authentically me, if I worked to fashion myself into something more acceptable. I feel that burning, and lately, I’ve been struggling with what to do with it.

“You burn because you carry fire.” What a simple and potent statement! The ardent heat in my chest that put me on the path that has led me to becoming an ever-closer approximation of myself is not an anomaly. It is not a symptom to be treated, a burning to be extinguished. I burn because I have spent my life chasing down my demons and reclaiming their power over me, and this has made me brave, if not exactly fearless. I have gone to many dark places, some with company and some alone. I have made space in my chest for the enormity of grief, the agony of loss, the ugliness of shame, deep waves of sadness, isolating loneliness, and the bitterness of rejection, and in turn this has carved more room inside me for deeper joy than I could have ever imagined. I live in a body that I have only really known in a semi-broken form, and I invest much time and energy working to understand what level of wholeness is possible for me. I am a broken healer, burning because the fire I carry is not something I can put out.

I do not exist to make anyone comfortable, not even (especially not) myself. I am here to invite you to go to the scary places where you will meet yourself. If I extend a hand to you, it is inviting you to come with me to the edges and peer over to see what lies beyond them, to discover what wholeness you might claim from going to the places that scare you. I am here to hold up a mirror to show you the most beautiful things about you that you’ve never let yourself love. I am happy to love them with you.

This will likely be unpleasant. Big feelings will come up, and along with them all of the things we do to avoid feeling those big feelings. But if you can breathe, and stay at that edge, and not run away, I promise you that something valuable will be there to explore, something that will deepen your understanding of yourself and your life and your purpose.

I am at that edge now. I am breathing. I am wanting to run away, wanting to quiet the feelings with chocolate or mindless chatter or anything but actually feeling my way into them. So much in my life is shifting, and with these transitions come both the finality of closed doors and the invitation of open ones. In this period of liminality, I invite my whole self to show up and remind me who I am and what my life wants me to be. “Let your life speak,” the Quakers say, and I am working to create the stillness necessary for the quiet voice to come forward and beckon me into deeper wholeness.

Paying attention to the voice of the whole self is dangerous, because often it asks for what it needs, and these requests require action. I have been offered invitations to make some big changes in my life this year that are pointing me in the direction, ultimately I believe, of greater authenticity and wellbeing, but for the time being, I also feel a certain degree of chaos surrounding them. I am making changes in my personal life, in my most important relationships, in my work life, and in my home, and I anticipate that while I feel destabilized temporarily, I will settle into a place of greater stability in the long run. All of these choices presented themselves to me initially as a sense of unease, whether in my mind or body, and only as I explored them was I able to mine their deeper messages.

2015 has been a big year for me. I have had several major health issues to deal with (including needing surgery and having a couple of procedures under general anesthesia), an important relationship that grew as much as it could but ultimately was not sustainable, my first international midwifery volunteer experience, many dozens of babies caught and hundreds of encounters with pregnant folks as well as those seeking general reproductive health care or contraception, some lovely new friendships and relationships built, and the beginnings of transition from one place of employment as a midwife to another (which will officially happen in February 2016).

I am making choices that will stoke this fire that I carry, that will help me guard it and use it well and help it keep burning strongly for as long as I live in a body to carry fire in. It is not easy to stand up and say, “I need this to change for me to be my best self,” especially when claiming one’s wholeness risks disappointing others. But self-care is the least selfish act I know of, especially for those whose job it is to care for others. It took guts for me to recognize that the work situation I was in was not sustainable if I wanted to remain healthy and balanced, and to take steps to orchestrate the changes necessary to create that balance. The same goes for relationships, and for my interactions with family. Ultimately, I am only responsible for myself, and if I do not love myself fiercely and protect this spark inside of me, I risk it going out.

Robin Williams said, “You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.” He’s right. We just have that one spark. But if we care for it, that one spark is enough.

You burn. You burn because you carry fire. So carry that fire. Merge it with other flames, dance on dry twigs, and stoke smoldering embers. Let the fire inside you burn whatever does not make you your most whole self. Let it remind you who you are in the world to be, and then go be that.

The Love of Thousands

Yesterday, these hands of mine had the honor of welcoming three new people into the world, and last week, I caught my 200th baby. It felt like a terribly ordinary moment but one with an extra measure of delight added in. Counting c-sections I’ve assisted in, homebirths I’ve attended, births I’ve attended but not as midwife, and all of my doula babies, I figure that I’ve seen at least 350 births. This is probably already more than my grandmother witnessed in her whole career as a nurse and a midwife, which is hard for me to grasp.

I went to Seward Park this afternoon, just as the afternoon sun was beginning to sink low into the sky. The fall leaves were rustling in the tree branches above my head. A gaggle of geese huddled together in the water. Red, orange, yellow, and brown leaves littered the grass. I saw my breath in the crisp air as I exhaled.

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Just bringing myself back into nature, I felt my energy quicken. As I began my walk around the circumference of the park, capturing the sights through the lens of my camera, I noticed tears running down my cheeks. I paused, trying to make space in my mind and body for the immense beauty that surrounded me. A stiff breeze kicked up, causing the leaves to whisper their secrets to me. I felt the incredible aliveness of the world around me. As I stood still, I recalled the time I felt the trees breathing me in the redwood forest in northern California. I felt these trees breathing too, and reaching up to touch a branch, a gentle, “Hello,” escaped my lips, a greeting, a recognition of our kinship.

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I walked through the damp grass, my breath catching in my chest as if anticipating a lover’s kiss. I fell terribly in love with the world again, a sensation which surprised me given the various transitions that are occurring in my life at the moment. I expected maybe to be sad that I was walking in the park alone, when the last time I was there I was with a partner. This time, the whole park was my partner, and was showing me its beauty in ways I might not have seen had I been holding someone’s hand.

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Tears again came as I felt love coursing through my veins, and they come now as I find words to describe the immense gratitude I feel to have found myself again in the magic of the world. I think back to all of the people I have been throughout my life, all of the various iterations of me, and I am just so delighted that each one of them made the choices they did that brought me here. I am thankful to them for not giving up, for finding a way through some very difficult times and places, for continuing to believe in the idea of home.

The cold wind kissed my cheeks as I sat on a damp log on the shoreline, looking at rocks on the beach. Anytime I am around rocks, I look for any that are remotely heart-shaped; these make their way into my pockets and come home with me. Sometimes it is a stretch to see a heart in a rock, but if you look closely enough, you can find love everywhere. I look closely.

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I took my time wandering, and the sun quickly faded beneath the horizon. I found myself on a path in the dark, and was momentarily struck with the various and sundry fears that arise in the dark. But then my breath came back to me, and I stood still, watching leaves tumble from their branches down to the forest floor. I must have witnessed this for five or ten minutes, just soaking up the wisdom that allows the trees to release without fear what they no longer need to hold onto and trust in the cycles of life. These giants towered above me, and they’ve stood in this park for far longer than I’ve stood on this planet. They have seen countless seasons come and go. Millions, billions of leaves have been shed onto this ground.

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I thought of the following quote as I walked back to my car:

“Walking, I can almost hear the redwoods beating. And the oceans are above me here, rolling clouds, heavy and dark. It is winter and there is smoke from the fires. It is a world of elemental attention, of all things working together, listening to what speaks in the blood. Whichever road I follow, I walk in the land of many gods, and they love and eat one another. Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. Be still, they say. Watch and listen. You are the result of the love of thousands.”

–Linda Hogan, from Dwellings: A Spiritual History of the Living World

I am the result of the love of thousands. The babies that I have welcomed are the result of the love of thousands. You, you my dear, are the result of the love of thousands. Watch and listen.

The Soft Animal of Your Body

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

–Mary Oliver, “Wild Geese”

I drove to work this morning lost in the drizzle and fog that has settled over Seattle as fall creeps on towards winter, and lost in my thoughts, and in the transitions my life has offered me recently. The overcast sky broke open just for a moment to reveal pink-tinged clouds and a huge V of birds heading south towards warmer weather. I thought of the quote I had read the night before:

When your world moves too fast

and you lose yourself in the chaos,

introduce yourself

to each color of the sunset.

Reacquaint yourself with the earth

beneath your feet.

Thank the air that surrounds you

with every breath you take.

Find yourself in the appreciation of life.

–Christy Ann Martine

As the tears slipped down my cheeks, and the rain fell on my windshield, I saw the sky open further to reveal thousands upon thousands of birds in formation. Mary Oliver’s words then crept into my mind. “Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination,” she reminded me. “The wild geese…are heading home again.”

“Let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”

That is precisely what I have not been doing. I have been denying myself permission to listen to my body and respond to its requests. I have been minimizing the importance of self-care. Vegan marshmallows can only stuff down feelings for so long…

My relationship with my partner recently ended. I have had a lot of changes at work in the past few months. I’m still integrating my experience in Haiti. And I’m having continual health challenges. I am realizing that I am re-entering a period of transition in my life, which I seem to have the opportunity to experience with some degree of regularity. My resistance to where my life wants to take me (and thus, my lack of writing about it) has been more intense this time around. But then the sky and the geese and the rain broke me open, and now I’m here.

I’m here, not being good. Not crawling through the desert repenting. Just settling into the softness of my animal body, melting into my breath, reacquainting myself with the colors that the sun paints across the sky. Watching the wild geese head home. Realizing that I am finding my way home, too. As they made their way south and our paths crossed this morning, I remember standing still, captivated by their cries in unison. “Announcing your place in the family of things,” Mary Oliver asserts.

I, as much as anyone, as much as any of those birds in the sky or the cats in my bed or the patients on my clinic schedule, have a place here. I may not feel exactly what it is just now with any certainty, but there is a home for me.

Today was a good day. I got to see a handful of pregnant people in clinic in the morning before attending a miscarriage management workshop (complete with demonstrating manual vacuum aspiration on papayas!) in the afternoon and going to a Halloween party dressed as the notorious Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the evening. Just another day in my life!

I’m grateful for all of it, the whole beautiful challenging mess of my life. It is gorgeous, and exhausting, and fierce, and sad, and hard, and intense, and mine. All mine.