I Cannot Explain This.

I cannot explain the insects in the south to my northern friends. I can’t. I can’t! I try, and words fail me. Feelings, somehow, fail me. I search desperately for a turn of phrase that will convey the size, the multitude, the tenacity, the sheer prevalence of insects here, as well as spiders, and I come up short, every time. I thought I might be close, recently, to giving an idea of it; the biggest grasshopper I’ve ever seen – the length of the palm of my hand plus some – was riding the sliding glass door at the grocery. It was perched on the outside, comfortable and settled, going back and forth like it didn’t have a care in the world or a fear of getting squashed or of human beings and the consequences of their presence, and indeed, it was doing just fine. I couldn’t take my eyes off it. I must have stood there for ten minutes. And when I collected myself, I took a picture, thinking, okay, maybe this will at least begin to explain it. Perched just above the long red sticker on the door that says “Push in case of emergency,” the thing had even given itself a scale; it was as long as a four-letter word (“push,” now. “push.”). A few of my northern friends were duly impressed, but one of my coworkers made fun of me. “It’s just a grasshopper!” she said. “What’s the big deal?”

The big deal is a thing I’m genuinely afraid to show anyone, honestly; I’m afraid if I tell anyone the stone cold truth, they won’t come visit. A grasshopper that looks like it was exposed to radiation is weird and a little funny; the much more commonly gigantic things I come across around here really aren’t. Cicadas, for example. Have you ever seen a cicada? They are, with all due respect, the most profoundly ugly creatures. At first it was just one, hanging on the low cement wall that fences in our steep front yard. It was as long as my index finger and utterly grotesque, like something out of a horror movie. It left me uneasy for days, but I said nothing. When three more appeared on the steps, I took it as a sign of the end times and wrote a living will. Ben told me what they were and not to worry, but I worried. I checked the neighbors’ steps; no one else had them. I concluded they were a plague and a sign of some impending personal misfortune and did some research.

Cicadas, it turns out, are, in addition to being unspeakably hideous, also wholly remarkable. Cicadas are, essentially, cool AF. I commonly think of cicadas as on some kind of cycle – seventeen years and the like – but around here, most are not. Around here, most cicadas choose when they will be born. They sense predator levels and choose the most opportune time to emerge. They can rest beneath the ground for years and years, for more than a decade even, waiting until some sense within them says, “Now, it’s safe now,” and then they emerge.

Oh, and predators. Predators. Nothing in this world is so preyed upon as the damn cicada. There is a wasp dedicated solely to their destruction, did you know that? (You did, if you are from the south; you likely did not, if you are reading this from the safety of your home comfortably north of the Mason-Dixon line.) They are called cicada killers and they are larger even than those giant beasts, thin and mean beyond the telling of it, and they hunt the cicadas toward extinction with a terrifying and dedicated zeal. They are horrible.

So, rather than endtimes – or so the internet tells me – cicadas are actually a phenomenally cool sign, symbolic of things including, but not at all limited to: change, metamorphosis, renewal, rebirth, patience, timing, and illumination. Which is to say, of course, that even if I could have before, I can’t bring myself to kill or even relocate the hideous things now. And here’s another fun fact about cicadas: once above ground, they simply drop dead, and quite quickly. Seventeen or some-odd years of stasis and they emerge above ground and kick it in four weeks, sometimes less. And when they die, they leave a perfect, empty shells just lying around, mostly on my front steps. They also shed! It’s a process beloved by science and, I feel comfortable saying, far less by homeowners. They shed their entire selves and just leave it there and walk away – hence the “rebirth.”

The result of this is I can’t kill them, I can’t move them, and I’m trying to figure out how to dispose of their remnants in a way respectful enough not to anger the many gods who so obviously exalt them.

Visit the south. Come up to the porch for some sweet tea. Mind the cicada graveyard on the steps now, darlin’. Stay awhile.

What We Lost in the Fire: Part 2

The day I wrote a post called “What We Lost in the Fire,” I met up with my friend and his wife for dinner. I turned down freelance work for the first time to see them, because they’ll be leaving the country soon, and there are no longer infinite future imaginary nights out together. A little something more lost, for everything gained in return.

We talked about where to meet up and I was relieved when he suggested, “Cheap sushi?” because I am very broke and even cheap travel is more expensive than staying home on the couch. “Cheap sushi” is a restaurant – if we may call it that – on St. Mark’s. I’ve never once remembered the name of it, or the actual address, only the cross streets: 2nd and St. Mark’s, which I think still isn’t exactly accurate. Sushi is half-price during happy hour and it is permanently happy hour. It is never not happy hour at cheap sushi. I used to meet my siblings there for “family dinner,” (New York is very different than Kentucky) and I dragged every friend there at some point to play my favorite game of food poisoning roulette. The only way I know for sure to get there is to walk from Union Square, take a right on St. Mark’s, and keep walking until you spot the bright red lanterns, then text your friends the address, which will mysteriously disappear from your phones so that you can never find it again unless you follow the ritual.

My friend texted for the address as I turned right on St. Mark’s, so I texted him the not-totally-accurate cross streets for the time being and kept walking. St. Mark’s is small and crowded. If your mental image of New York is all skyscrapers, this squat, claustrophobic, busy street will disabuse you of the notion. But suddenly I was staring at an empty lot where an empty lot had not been before.

I remembered that a gas explosion has taken down a building on the lower east side – I had spent all day following it on the news – but mentally, I had placed it on a different street, closer to where a friend used to live, grateful that he had moved and there was no chance he was injured. Once I had checked in with everyone I still knew in Manhattan and everyone was fine, my concern became the more diffuse concern of one civilian for another, one person for one city they used to live in. I had had no idea the explosion had happened on St. Mark’s. There was a fence up and memorials to the lost lining it, pictures and flowers and a balloon, and angry letters detailing how neglect and greed had caused it. I stopped to look at the faces. One of the men who died in the explosion was a father.

I kept walking and stopped. I was at First. That was the cut off. If you walk to First, you’ve gone too far. You have passed cheap sushi. Go back. I turned around.

I walked past the empty lot and I passed Stomp. Stomp is too far up. I turned around again. Where the hell was cheap sushi?

It took a full minute for it to dawn on me.

I went back to the fence at the now empty lot and looked more closely. There it was, clearly visible in one of the before pictures: the red lanterns. Before, red lanterns; after, fiery ball of death. Cheap sushi wasn’t even in one of the buildings that collapsed after the explosion. Cheap sushi had definitely, actually exploded.

I stood there, staring, over and over, trying to make my brain understand this simple thing: a thing was there, and now it is gone. That explosion wasn’t just a news story that concerned you because of its wide-reaching implications and the profoundly sad loss of life that resulted. That explosion blew up the restaurant you were planning to eat at, pretty much for the rest of your life. A horror that had been clearly delineated as belonging to other people suddenly occupies a far murkier border territory. It is a lot closer to home than you knew, and yet it only changes this: you were going to eat at this restaurant, and now, you are not.

I stood there and stared again, at the pictures and faces, like a moron, unable to form a coherent thought. A thing was there and then it was not there, and it will not ever be there again.

Summers are hard now in a way they were not before. My friend died in the summer; another friend lost their father; another lost their mother. These events come into contact with each other, grief bumping up against more grief, all of it bumping up against the mundane. We have to grieve but we also have to go to work and pay our bills and talk on the phone and love our friends and get our car re-inspected and go to the bank.

I’ve been thinking about a line in a Jason Isbell song that goes, “I thought we could all grieve one at a time.” There’s a mental comfort to that image. Let’s get in a line. You grieve first. We will all be there for you, in your grief and sadness, with none of our own; we’ll take nothing in and carry nothing out when we leave. When you’re done grieving, the next in line will move forward, and we’ll do the same. We’ll order our grief and sort through it and put it in neatly labeled boxes on shelves. Except, of course, we won’t.

The older I get the more grief becomes a completely natural part of life. Grief and loss are as much a part of any ordinary day now as a cup of coffee in the morning. And like coffee, there’s an opportunity for more, some days, when you didn’t expect it. Over the two weeks I traveled up the east coast I mourned friends and opportunities. I mourned strangers. I mourned for losses that weren’t mine. I mourned Charleston as part of a nation; I mourned my own losses and the losses of others by myself.

And every day that contained those griefs also contained the mundane: I got gas, I went to the grocery store, I sat by myself writing. And those days also contained real and overwhelming joy: I had conversations with my friends and their children, I made new friends, I spent time with people I love in rare and fascinating combinations.

On Friday, the Supreme Court of the United States ended the fight for marriage equality. The work of nearly half of my life, over in less time than it takes to blink. I’ve never seen a fight like that truly won before, and I don’t know if I ever will again; to see it once in a lifetime is a privilege I don’t take lightly. I can hardly understand that something I’ve been thinking about since I was 14 I suddenly never need to think about again. I can’t imagine how James Obergefell feels. I really can’t. I try, and I can’t. I’m still trying to make room in my heart for my own joy. His is incomprehensible to me.

There’s a quote from Joshua Ellis a friend gave me once, to which I am attached. It goes like this: “So everybody pretends they don’t know what the future holds, when the unfortunate fact is that — unless we start paying very serious attention — it holds what the past holds: a great deal of extreme boredom punctuated by occasional horror and the odd moment of grace.” Since I’m rarely bored, I find this comforting. And since I see what happens as we get older, I amend it thus:

“So everybody pretends they don’t know what the future holds, when the fact is that — if we pay attention and work very hard — it holds what the past holds: the mundane, happiness, grief, the grocery store, work, travel, love, and the trappings of the lives we build to suit ourselves, punctuated by occasional horror;

and the odd moment of grace.”

What We Lost in the Fire

I’m in New York City, staying on the couch in my old apartment on the first leg of a long road trip that will take me up through New England and back down home.

The dishes aren’t mine, but they’re where I left them; the kitchen is arranged the way I like it, with the coffee mugs on the bottom shelf, where I can always reach. The spices in the cabinet actually are mine, as is the reminder pad I left on the fridge. The walls are the gray color Stipps and I picked out together partially because the name reminded us of an inside joke; B came over and helped us paint them one long day, then stayed and watched basketball on the furniture that was all pushed into the middle of the room. The front entrance wall is still a bright statement turquoise.

Time – flat, circle, we’re trapped in it – won’t work for me in a linear way today; it stops and starts and overlaps and doubles back on itself. I’m thirty years old and crashing on my friend’s couch, but I’m also twenty-seven, standing in this apartment when it was empty and huge, all but mauling the broker in an attempt to make it ours, ours, ours. I’m three days past my twenty-eighth birthday, lying on the futon, too heartbroken to cry or make a sound. I’m sitting in the living room surrounded by friends and family for Rosh Hashanah; I’m standing over Remy in the kitchen with Stipps, learning to make a perfect old-fashioned; I’m breaking down in tears, telling Stipps I can’t stay here anymore, it’s time to go.

The futon is gone. In it’s place is a beautiful and incredibly comfortable sectional, which I coveted so deeply it certainly influenced my own first-couch purchase a year later. What was my room, cramped and crowded with almost everything I owned, is now Emily’s, done in neutral colors, gorgeous and light, a rom-com character’s perfect NYC dream. I had the biggest closet of anyone I knew; Em bought two more stand-alone armoires that dwarf it. I don’t live here anymore; I will never live here again; I will always live here, on a loop. The ghost of me is everywhere I’ve been, and I’m the only one it haunts.

I told my mother my twenties were for having adventures, and my thirties were for figuring out how to pay for them while I build a whole life. I meant financially – non-profit employment made those adventures scrappy, to put it politely – but it’s more than that, and I know it now. Little pieces of my life are everywhere, and I can’t walk away from them; they will always call me back. I know what I gained when I moved this time. It’s easy to assess when I’m sitting out on my porch in the warm Kentucky sun, sipping iced coffee. But I spent my twenties avoiding acknowledging what I lost, too. A short bus ride to South Station; several close communities that are now the diaspora; an idea of what kind of adult I was going to be. Those things and more I can’t name yet are gone, and I’m not getting them back. As much as what I’ve gained should be cherished and celebrated, what I lost can’t be forgotten and buried. It all wants to be felt, and New York City is not a place that will allow you to pretend not to feel things. After all, you’re not a real New Yorker until you’ve cried on the subway.

Various Assorted Wildlife

In a house as old as ours, at this time of year, its sometimes difficult to distinguish between outside and in. Bugs think so – a good number of them cannot tell our kitchen, a place they do not belong, from our yard, a place they are essentially welcome to, there being eff-all I can do about it. We’re tracking in leaves and sticks. We’re dog-sitting for the weekend, so an animal is prowling the entirety of the premises at all hours. On it goes.

The eight cats who live next door consider our backyard their territory and the dog an interloper. When his back is literally turned, they slink along the wall, eyeing him imperiously, daring him out; the moment he whirls around, they disappear. Every now and again he catches the scent of one of them and becomes suddenly ferocious, following the smell everywhere, leaping in the air and snapping at nothing, enthralled with the imaginary chase.

Louisville is a nice place to grow up and our house is a magical place for small children. They are sure they know its secrets as grown people never will: a whole different family living in the attic we cannot access, a ghost in the basement, an archaeological dig site in the back. B’s nephews and niece played on the porch last time they came to visit and one of them summoned me. We turned left out of our the front door, where a narrow alley between our house and the one next to it leads to a low stone wall, to which he pointed.

“There used to be a cat there,” he told me with great authority. And there will be again. All creatures great and small come and go here as they please.

How Should a Show About Witches Be?

I wrote about witches and television for Bitch Flicks, and yes, I know every outlet I write for has the word bitch in the title. I am a child of the 90s, and it bothers me not at all.

I really appreciated the fine folks there letting me go totally off the rails with extraordinarily minimal editing. I love this piece.

Witches are in the very fabric and nature of gender and queerness and the margins we live in. So if “the season of the witch” just won’t end, how, exactly, should a show about witches be? How about this: Womyn-centric. Gender queering. Aware of race and ethnicity and faith and their role and lived reality in any particular time and space. Deeply intersectional and examining of those aforementioned spaces in the context of that intersectionality. And, without reservation and above all else: totally, joyfully bonkers.

How Should a Show About Witches Be?

The River Has Overflowed Its Banks.

Natural disasters must be ranked in several ways in order to determine their narrative usefulness. How much destruction they cause, and how long it takes them to cause it, for example. Hurricanes are excellent for sudden, violent, sweeping change. Snowstorms are about the slow grinding of hope into dust, and the re-emergence of love, and spring, when least expected.

And then, too, natural disasters and their associated adjectives must be measured by the phonetics, by the unquantifiable lyrical qualities that make mere vocabulary sing to the heart. Storms are cold. Tropical storms are humidity and power, a love affair trapped in a hotel room for days, building to a crescendo, only to open the door when the worst has passed and to find that outside, everything has been utterly destroyed in your absence. You will have to rebuild, after a tropical storm.

For the convergence of sheer grindingly aggravating reality and breathtakingly beautiful language, though, nothing will quite beat a flood. Just say the word. Flood. A quiet, paced destruction of everything you’ve known and loved. You are flooded with joy, flooded with grief, flooded with the knowledge of things past and of things yet to be. And the water – it flows, it over flows, it flows over. Over what? Its banks. The river has overflowed its banks. It has made its way into the city and past it, into basements and onto first floors, across low-lying farmland. It has stolen in, in the night, made off with fences and road signs and yes, the occasional car. In the morning when you awaken and the flood has receded, you are flooded with hope. Things can be suddenly untenable and then all at once better. You are flooded with peace. You can’t leave the house anyway. You sit on your once-porch, now lakefront property, and sip your coffee.

Of course, since the Ohio River has, in fact, overflowed its banks, one concern has gripped the city of Louisville, held tight to it, inspired fear and anxiety: how will this effect the NCAA championship games? What about parking? How early must one get downtown if one should have, say, tickets to a 4pm game? What if you’re hoping to buy one outside the Yum Center? Are the scalpers still out where they were last year, or have circumstances forced them to relocate? These are the chief concerns when the river floods a city south of the Mason-Dixon line in the month of March.

To the Ohio River’s terrorist flood. Long may it reign.