Sleeved sessions: 1.

2 min read | 506 words

Before last Friday, the last time I got tattooed I was freebasing cocaine and fucking my tattoo artist. Not while he was tattooing me, obviously. That would be incredibly difficult and definitely irresponsible (WHAT IF WE DROPPED THE DRUGS?!). 

It was the last of three sessions I sat through to finish up the floral and, as he called it, ‘alien plant life’ half sleeve on my right upper arm. And it was punctuated by periods of sex and substance abuse, just like the other sessions, and most of my life during those days, had been.

Eighteen months later I stopped doing drugs. All of them. The summer after that I decided I was going to ink this story onto me; that I was going to use art as a testament to my past and to my future.

Last week — a decade after last being tattooed, eight years into total sobriety from drugs (I still smoked cigarettes for a few more years and I still drink), and two months into being 31 (I don't know what that has to do with anything?) — I finally sat and started the sleeve I’ve been wanting (and planning) all this time. Incomplete as it currently is, it has already become that testament to my past and a reminder for the future; for when life feels real and hard and dirty and unfair.

The first session only saw the outline of the main element completed: flowers and entangled serpents. Flowers because I like flowers, and serpents because: symbolism. The serpents represent the duality of life; the constant ebb and flow of yin and yang; the quest to achieve balance; the acknowledgment and acceptance that light and dark exist together. Plus, serpents are associated with primal energy, and a serpent’s shedding of its skin symbolizes transformation, rebirth and healing. Also: I’m a Gemini. 

We still have shading and minimal coloring to complete on this specific section (element (piece (???))) of the sleeve, and then the outline, shading and minimal coloring of the entire rest of my arm, which means it’ll be awhile before it’s completely finished. BUT IT’S BEEN STARTED AND THAT MAKES ME SO HAPPY.

I thought this new piece would take time to get used to. That it’d catch me off-guard out of the corner of my eye, or when I looked in the mirror. That I might forget I had it or not like it or not like it on me. But nope. I loved it before it was one me. I loved it after it was on me. I still love it. It took exactly no seconds to get used it. No bullshit, it feels like it has always been there; like it’s always been a part of me. Maybe because it’s healed perfectly. Maybe because it’s incredible work. Maybe because I’ve been living with this concept, this idea, this story for so long and after nearly a decade, I’m finally living on the outside the story and the truth I’ve been living on the inside. 

 

Not sponsored, just FYI: Original artwork drawn and tattooed by AmyxBarrow at Rick's Tattoo Studio in Arlington, Virginia. HIGHLY RECOMMEND.

Writing: how u do dis?

5 min read | 1,313 words

Writing is like Christmas with relatives: a love/hate kind of thing. When it’s going well, when you’re in a rhythm and shit is clicking, you’re flooded with joy and excitement and peace and all that other cliché feel-good bullshit that borders on euphoria. You wonder how you could possibly do anything else; why you would want to. But when it’s not going well, when you’re burnt out or have nothing to say or forget what you have to say or don’t know how to say what you have to say, it shits on your face a huge and heavy pile of stress and frustration and insecurity and self-doubt that you can’t get out from under, and that leaves you questioning your self-worth and life’s trajectory for weeks. 

Seriously. Writing is hard. Even for those of us who enjoy it, and who feel called to it; who feel that it comes naturally (except for when it doesn’t).

I’ve noticed that since being in this new space my dedication to writing seems to trudge through bipolar cycles, maniacally hovering exclusively at either end of the “How committed to this am I?” spectrum: either I’m thoroughly committed to it (“Let’s fucking do this!”), or I’m not (“Fuuuuuck this I give up forever"). I have no idea if there’s a pattern to these cycles aside from the pattern of existing (on repeat), or what triggers them. I haven’t paid attention as closely as I should to figure that part out. I just know that these cycles, they come and they go. And when it’s good it’s ✨✨✨, and when it’s bad it’s 💩💩💩.

When I’m committed to my writing that commitment is unwavering. I literally can’t stop doing it. I spend every free moment at work click-clacking words into one of (at the time of publishing) 107 draft posts. I spend every moment not near a computer dictating words and sentences and entire paragraphs into a running note on my phone that, at last count, is a few weeks old and more than 12,000 words long, or scribbling in one of four notebooks I leave in my car, my bag, my desk at work and in the kitchen at home. I constantly talk through essay topics and structure with anyone who will listen, which is usually just the voice in my head. I spend hours referencing old blog posts and photos and contacting friends to verify, as best any of our drugged-out brains can, details from the past. I read read read and write write write with rabid fervor and at the same time; I usually devour three or four books in a single weekend while also knocking out one or two solid essays/posts. I will skip the gym, sleep, the pool, sometimes even work, to write. 

But when I’m not committed, when I’m hovering over the “Fuuuuuck this I give up forever” end of the “How committed to this am I?” spectrum, I willingly and happily have absolutely nothing to do with writing at all. Like a crazy person, I actually on purpose bury my laptop under a couch cushion or my bed and leave it there for days, sometimes weeks (not an exaggeration in the slightest). I don’t read anything. I don’t write anything. And I definitely don’t think about doing either thing (while somehow also whining, at least internally, about not doing either thing). (I binge on Netflix shows or spend extra time at the gym or pool instead.)

My problem, I’m convinced, has nothing to do with passion. I feel like I have to clarify that to you and reiterate it to myself. My problem, I’m convinced, has everything to do with commitment to the craft. The passion is always there, but the ability (or maybe it’s the willingness) to act on it? Not so much. Why? Who the fuck knows.

It’s not that I don’t want to write because it’s too hard, or because it takes too long. It’s not that I have nothing to say, or no idea what to say or how to say what I have to say. It’s that I don’t know where to start. It’s that when I sit down to write or type the static in my head, nothing comes out. My mind doesn’t go blank, it goes haywire. Into overdrive. Jumbling everything together in a vicious and messy dark mass of overwhelm, insecurity and self-doubt. Decision paralysis.

I’m either asking myself: Who’s actually going to read any of this shit? Why does anyone care? What makes my story, my writing, special? How can anyone stand to read this word vomit? How does anyone think anything I write is good?

Or I’m asking myself: What do I share publicly in this space? What do I save for later, for “real” publication in a book? If I share all my good stuff now, I’ll run out of stuff to share later and then what even is the point if I have nothing left to be published published? What do I keep to myself and not share at all? What’s the point of writing at all if my writing isn’t going to be read? (Practice? Bullshit. I can practice writing without sharing or publishing it, so don’t feed me that tripe.) Paralysis by analysis.

Part of my issue is I keep placing parameters on my writing when I know I suck at having parameters placed on my writing. I always have. Word count, deadline, topic. Give me any of those and I can’t give you shit in return. Or, maybe all I can give you is shit in return. My inability to write when given parameters is innate, and why I never became a journalist. My writing thrives when it can be what it wants to be, what it’s supposed to be; not what someone else says it has to be.

Turns out that in this space that I’ve been having trouble filling, I’m the only jackass putting parameters on my writing. Naturally. I’m the only person telling me that I *hAvE* to write about a certain topic in a certain way with a certain number of words by a certain date (lulz yeah right). I’m the only person telling me what I should or should not post; what I can and can’t post; in what order I should or can post. I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself to abide by an arbitrary set of posting rules that I created for this space using a logic that I know (I guess???) made sense in the moment but that I can’t figure out now. 

This is how I make myself feel:

I don’t really know where I’m going from here, or with this rambling mess of word vomit. I’m not giving up or disappearing (hell to the fuck back to the hell no nope no way), but I also feel like at this moment I’m not really moving forward with my writing. And that’s really fucking frustrating. I have a lot to say; a lot to share. But I keep not being able to get any of it out. I keep freezing (WHERE DO I START? HOW I DO DIS?), or second-guessing myself; questioning whether or not what I have to say matters or is relevant; if it’s well-written; if it belongs in this space; if I should save it for a future book; if it’s long enough or too long; if it’s interesting or entertaining, or (*gAsP*) boring or cliché or offensive.

Anyway, there’s really no point to this except to say I’m stuck and it sucks but I’m still trying and maybe now that I’ve let out this brain fart instead of trying to hold it in forever it’ll take away some of the (self-imposed) stress and maybe, JUST MAYBE, I can start writing productively again.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The last dinner.

6 min read | 1,443 words

At the front of the restaurant’s patio a group of eight parents with half as many kids in tow have three or maybe four tables pushed together. All the grownups are smiling and laughing, only taking a break from laughing (but not smiling) intermittently to loosely scold the kids, who keep playing on the patio instead of sitting in their chairs no matter how many times the grownups tell them to stop playing on the patio and start sitting in their chairs.

One of the grownups is a sailor, which I don’t notice until he stands up to go inside but once he’s up it’s obvious because he’s wearing Navy khakis, and I wonder if he’s supposed to be dining and drinking in public in uniform but it doesn’t really matter because what am I actually going to say or do about it I think to myself after I see his ribbon rack.

Way above my pay grade I decide, which is another way of saying it’s not really any of my business and even if it were it wouldn’t count because I used to dine and drink in public in uniform too, and no one ever said or did anything to me about it and my ribbon rack definitely never looked like his.

RJ pulls up and walks over and sits down and the kids are excited and I put away my book, which is Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking and which I wasn’t really reading anyway. The book is good but my mind can’t focus because it’s too busy thinking about how we should do this more often but can’t because we’re leaving soon and RJ’s not coming with us.

And then I think maybe the kids and I can do this more often after The Move but with my mom and Ron or with my Dad and Amy or with Morgan and Jes or with just each other instead.

And then I think about how that all sounds nice but none of those withs will be the same because none of those withs are with RJ; dad. Maybe I can FaceTime him in, I think.

There’s a middle-aged couple at the table to my left and the guy keeps looking at me in a way that makes me feel weird like maybe even though I’m just sitting at the table I’m doing something wrong.

He’s white and the woman is Asian and they remind me of the Vietnam vets I know who tell stories about leaving for the war as boys and coming back men with wives and I wonder if this guy’s a Vietnam vet and if the woman is his wife, a prize he brought home from the war, and I think about how if that’s true then maybe it explains why she looks so unhappy but then again maybe it’s because her husband keeps looking at me and not her.

And then I think maybe she’s not actually unhappy and I only see it in her because I’m trying to ignore it in myself. Maybe that’s the thing the man sees me doing wrong that makes him keep looking at me.

After I look at them, the could-be war-prize bride and her could-be veteran husband, I look around at the other people on the patio, like the couple to my right whose clumsy attempts at flirtation keep being interrupted by business calls that don’t seem to bother the woman, who’s working on three different glasses of wine at the same time.

And like the unusually tall lady a few tables over who has terrible posture that I wonder if is a product of her height or just a self-consciousness about it.

And then I wonder what we look like to everyone else.

I know I only see of them what they show us and that they only see of us what we show them, and what we show them is the mirage of an ordinary family enjoying each other’s company during an ordinary mid-week dinner al fresco on the last day of a stretch of nice weather.

What we don’t show them is that this is our family’s last dinner together before The Move and we aren’t happy about it at all but we’re doing our best to be happy for this moment and for each other and for our un-ordinary, fucked-up little family.

I turn my attention back to our table and silently watch the kids color their menus and listen as they argue over whether or not the salsa is good (it is) and spicy (it is). I keep pulling out my phone to take another photo and sometimes the other people on the patio turn to look and I imagine they’re thinking I’m an annoying millennial who can’t live in the moment and maybe right now that’s true. But only kind of. And only because these photos are my desperate attempt to balance living in the moment with preserving it, to freeze just a sliver of the time we have left together. And they will, I hope, be gifts to my kids that they can look at to remember a fun evening with mom and dad before mom took them far away from dad.

I’m not really hungry so I vacillate on my order, undecided between the ultimate quesadillas and the beef fajitas with no beans, extra rice, but for one not two because since she decided to leave without warning or explanation there’s no longer reason to order anything for two.

So I wait to order until I can’t put it off any longer, until I’ve pointed at everyone else at the table to order before me. But now it’s my turn so I open my mouth and what comes out is I’ll have the steak fajitas please. I remember to say But for one not two, which is pointless because that’s obvious but I forget to say No beans, extra rice until the food comes out a little while later. I’m worried I’m being rude but our server, who is good at smiling, just smiles and says Don’t worry about it honey and takes the bowl with the beans and the rice back inside.

I feel weird being here without her even though this place was never “our” place, because even though this place was never “our” place the only times either of us have ever been here were with each other. And now I’m here without her which makes me feel like I’m somehow betraying her, which makes me feel guilty, which makes me feel defeated all over again.

Even after I get a new bowl with no beans but extra rice I can’t eat so I don’t. Instead I keep my attention on our table, on my kids with their dad, watching and listening and pulling out my phone to take one more photo, to freeze one more moment, because I don’t want to do anything that takes away from being right here, from preserving right now, not even eat.

The kids have moved from coloring their menus and arguing over the salsa to mostly playing with and not eating their food, especially Madden, who ordered tacos that he empties onto his plate and mixes around but doesn’t (and won’t) eat. After however long it takes RJ to finish his platter of tacos and two oversized margaritas it’s time for us all to go.

RJ asks our server Can I have the check please and Madden asks her Can I have a box please and I ask RJ Do you want to split it and then say Thank you for dinner when he says No, I’ve got it.

She comes back, our server, and hands Madden a box for his tacos that he didn’t (and won’t) eat and he says Thank you and she smiles and tells him You’re welcome baby as RJ hands her the tray that has the signed receipt clipped to it and then she says Y’all come back and see us again.

RJ and me, we look at each other with a knowing glance and I stay quiet on purpose and count to ten in my head to keep from crying but then realize ten is the number of days till The Move, which will take the kids and me away and leave RJ behind, and now I have to work even harder to not cry, to not crumble, while RJ says back to our server with a smile on his face that hides the tears in his eyes, I will.