impermanence

I fell asleep one night in the middle of reading a paragraph I didn’t want to let go of. I wrote down mono no aware, so that I’d remember it the next day. The Japanese phrase (an empathy towards the inevitable passing of all things), reminds us to maintain awareness of impermanence: the first rule of life is that nothing lasts forever. The power of spring and autumn lies in their transience. I’ve been writing letters to my body, thanking it for being my home. Life isn’t easy on the body, but here it is still, steadfast. Still providing me a home. Knees are amazing.

***

We plan to meet at the farmer’s market. It’ll be… pretty early, he tries to warn me. I am relieved when I reach the top of the stairs coming out of the subway station: blue skies.

He teaches me about selecting oyster mushrooms, gives me leaves of sweet spinach to taste even as I glance at the vendor, wondering if it’s okay to just walk around tasting things.

“Don’t worry so much. Just put it in your mouth,” his eyes crinkle knowingly. Even in my thirties, I still haven’t gotten over double entendres. I vow that I never will. Apples, potatoes — Yukon gold. He balances the sourdough on the top of my head, and I laugh. It’s just warm enough that I don’t mind being outside, but still cold enough for him to ask me if I want apple cider. Of course I want apple cider.

When he chops vegetables, it sounds like that time he improvised on the djembe. I tell him I’m in a meeting, but I watch him out of the corner of my eye as he slices through the apple and tastes it. The Q train rumbles underneath us so that it feels like we’re suspended in the sky or in a secret cellar underground; one of the two. I write scattered notes about it. I don’t want to forget.

Some things that I tasted, I forget. I can’t remember the name of the apple, but I have never been able to find the same kind since. But other things I tasted, I can’t forget if I tried.

After we slather homemade jam on the sourdough and eat all the apple mash, his brown eyes grow soft. We’re sort of dancing around a subject, and to pass the time he talks about how much he admires the work I’ve done.

“What about you? Look what you can do with an apple.” I put more jam in my mouth.

“Well. It’s just food,” he says, his tone bordering on something between discontent and hunger.

For the sake of avoiding other topics, we debate the importance of technology versus food for a while, and he gets up to give me a cookbook from his shelf. His hand is tracing circles on my hand, and I close my eyes. I take the stance that a chef would be more coveted than a technical project manager in the event of an apocalypse, but in the end there is a larger point I am making about the importance of food.

Mono no aware,” I mutter at some point.

“What?” he asks.

“It’s nothing, I’ll tell you later.”

Ferran Adrià said, “Painting, music, movies, sculpture, theater, everything — we can survive without it. You have to eat, or else you die. Food is the only obligatory emotion.”

***

Poetry books are stacked across my desk because I’m recording poems for friends. This evening I recorded and sent this one to M., who requested something about reclaiming power. It’s by Ada Limón.

Instructions on Not Giving Up

More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out
of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s
almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving
their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate
sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees
that really gets to me. When all the shock of white
and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave
the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath,
the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin
growing over whatever winter did to us, a return
to the strange idea of continuous living despite
the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then,
I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf
unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.

***

That aphorism they say about April showers: now that I live somewhere with seasons, I can finally confirm that it’s true. The blooms fall all around me whenever I walk in the rain. I am already contemplating this year’s roaming battles: both emotional and physical. I am contemplating last year’s abundance, the tenderness, the growth from the tender places, the stagnancy, the struggle. The clouds that passed overhead and then cleared up. It’s not organized, it’s never been. I tidy and tidy, like Marie Kondo tells me to, but somehow it still feels so messy. How do I embrace all this uncertainty? Is it ok to be so affected? Are havens meant to be temporary? Aren’t our bodies, also? I’m lazy on the grass, staring up at the blossoming trees. The light from the sunset spreads so quickly, and leaves so steadfastly. C. writes, “Bad things, like all things, are just a type of light.” Well, then. I’ll take it, with open palms. I’ll take it all.

“you are beautiful”

The pressure of social norms seems to increase in the digital age. Social media places a new pressure on everyone to remain forever photogenic, forever young, forever thin and fit, forever wrinkle-free. While eating Instagrammable food.

The trope of “doing it for the ‘gram” has become an inescapable religion with impossible, Sisyphean expectations. We watch the stories of already-thin women lamenting that they are “so behind” in their Coachella diets, and other people proudly starving themselves before Burning Man (a festival ironically born out of radical inclusion). When women don’t eat, it is criticized as anorexia; when men don’t eat, it is lauded as “biohacking.”

With all the messaging about “wellness” and “clean eating” and “intermittent fasting,” do you really even know how or what to eat anymore?

Taffy Brodesser-Akner writes:

About two years ago, I decided to yield to what every statistic I knew was telling me and stop trying to lose weight at all. I decided to stop dieting, but when I did, I realized I couldn’t. I didn’t know what or how to eat. I couldn’t fathom planning my food without thinking first about its ability to help or hinder a weight-loss effort.

Do you feel pleasure at sitting down to a meal? Would you feel healthier anticipation about a trip if you didn’t worry so much about how your body looked?

Are we exhausted now by what we’ve defined as beauty?

Megan Nolan writes:

It has seemed to take up so much of my life, being desperate to not only be acceptable to look at, but also beautiful, exceptional, enchanting. What might I have experienced if I had not been trying to claw my way toward beauty? What things might I have thought, feelings might I have felt, if that space were freed up inside of myself?

What would it have been like to pass that mirror in my hometown, and to see myself — on the way to the library, or a party with friends, or a walk in the park — and simply feel glad that I was able to do those things, that I have a body that allows me to? What would it have been like not to look at it at all?

dancing the blues

The songs have been bluesy and slow so far, dumdeedumdeedumdeedum; that laggy sultry rhythm that hangs in the air and drips from our bodies. In the winter, a basement somewhere can feel like the center of the earth.

“What is blues dancing like,” my friends sometimes ask when it gets mentioned.

“I don’t know how to describe it, you just have to do it,” I respond.

The band is about to play the last live song.

T. jumps off the stage after playing the harmonica for the previous set and finds me at the back of the room. I’m trying to cool off, is it even winter time? In that room, no one can tell. Time stops, weather ceases to exist. After he takes my hand, just our luck: the band plays the first few notes of the fastest song they’ve played all night.

“Do you dance balboa,” he shouts over the rapid brmbrmbrm-ing of the drums. I yell back my signature answer, “Um, I have before… I think?” with a sidelong glance that means, “No, I have no idea how to dance balboa,” but he’s already started hopping around with his arms around me. Immediately I feel overheated; at once anxious yet also electrified about how quickly I need to follow his feet.

We are whirling now in feverish half-circles. Among the things you learn later in life: one day, you will finally have danced in so many different people’s arms that you will no longer feel panic at not knowing the steps. Just a lot of sweat from the movement. I don’t even know what beat we’re stepping on but the turns are fast and I can’t think about anything except speed and breathing fast enough to keep up. The room is orange, afire with heat and beat. I’m committing the often-warned-against sin of looking at the ground while flying.

He is cheerful at my frenzy and relents over the music, “Okay, okay, we can dance the whole notes,” and suddenly his embrace stills and the air flattens out like the Mississippi river photographed from afar. I’m riding the whole notes, I’m swimming in my uncertainty and delight ― the steps like taffy now.

It’s humid against the stage. I feel myself wanting to dance fast again, I’m always wanting more of the thing I just had, the thing I didn’t think I could take more of. Like sweetness, like direct sunlight, like the break-your-heart kind of love. But he is already pulling me back into the basic blues step, dumdeedumdeedum and I’m swaying again, for once not keeping track of time. In blues dancing, they always dip you at the end. If they don’t know when the song is ending, they keep dipping you until the last note sounds.

“Aren’t you afraid of falling,” my friends say.

“Aren’t you afraid of never having the chance to fall,” I respond.

Ten minutes later I’m going home, I’m walking west on 14th street, the cold hitting my skin and reminding me what life feels like. I don’t even put my coat on, am I even from Texas anymore? I blow my breath into the air, watching it twist and rise in the wind, balboa-ing into the sky.