Undress.

dirty clothes

He said, “undress.” And then I did. He looked me over. And I went stiff.

He reached out a hand. And I glanced away. Eyes to the ceiling. Body frozen in space.

He touched me once. Discreetly at first. Then urgent, emphatic. With all my senses inert.

My brain was absent. My nerves aflame. I had no response. And I made no escape.

His fingers trailed. I watched their descent. This could not be real. Yet still my gut clenched.

He found just the place. That biological switch. Where my insides caught fire. And guilt came unhinged.

He finished his conquest. And I snatched my clothes. But his touch left its mark. Sharp and exposed.

Now I was tarnished. And no longer the same. Now I was weakened. And no longer safe.

If I could rewind the clock. Before all these regrets. I would yell, “no.” When he said, “undress.”

dear body…

in all our years together—two decades plus eight

i never said “thank you” for being constant and safe.

for this miraculous tangle of blood, skin and bone

this shelter for my heart, this home for my soul.

this flesh that can rupture, bruise and then heal

this lattice of imprints and imperfections revealed.

this face streaked with laughter and tears unabated

this frame that’s been tough yet frail and berated.

sometimes unsteady but always strong to endure

a bittersweet mural of both stories and scars.

body—you were resilient in spite of all my disdain

when i branded you a traitor, the root of my shame.

you are the warrior who fought to keep me alive

chest breathing, pulse beating and a will to survive.

i wanted to tame you and i ferociously tried

i ached just to separate, to denounce you as mine.

but you were a force, relentless, stormy and wild

you would not be conquered, outcast or exiled.

i made you the villain but no—you protect and defend

so for the first time: “thank you, my friend.”

 

 

An Elemental Manifesto

i am a seed anchored by the earth

i am a feather skimming the breeze

i am a vessel who dances on water

i am a spark awash in amber flames

my body is of the soil, my heart belongs to the sky

my vagabond spirit calls out to the rivers and seas

my russet brown eyes crackle with stardust and fire

my voice is tuned in to the rhythm of the wind

i am a creature of the elements

both above and below

outside the reaches of space

unclasped by the hands of time

fully human, shred of mystic

a piece of my soul in each world

but this terra which roots me

this ground that nourishes me

is not mine to call home

i was planted on earth, baptized in water

refined in fire, then unleashed on the cosmos

but my inheritance lies beyond the clouds

it’s there i am bound

there i am summoned

and there,

an elemental manifesto of heaven and nature combined,

i am destined to fly

 

Why Do You Write Like You’re Running Out of Time?

write like you're running out of time

Two mind-blowing, earth-shattering weeks ago, I joined the ranks of people who have officially seen Hamilton.

And yeah, it’s just as phenomenal as what you’ve heard. But enough #humblebrags. There is a point to this besides me needing an excuse to talk about its genius. Although I will take advantage of the opportunity. No shame in this girl’s musical theatre game.

I knew that I would be enthralled and obsessed and astounded and moved to sloppy tears. I was right, of course. The stage mesmerizes me in ways I can never explain. And that soundtrack will forever blare inside my brain. But one detail of Hamilton has stuck with me in particular—the sheer force of language, the depth and soul of words.

They’re like characters in the narrative. Breathing, pulsing, sweating, living just as the actors are. More than 20,000 words comprise the Hamilton manuscript, and a certain Alexander scrawls them into the art of revolution. What he creates with the flourish of a quill rouses the other Founding Fathers to pose my favorite question in the entire musical:  “Why do you write like you’re running out of time?”

I love it since I’ve been asking myself that same question for decades. So when I heard this turn-of-phrase chanted from the mouths of Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Burr, my first thought was, “This could make a dope tattoo.” My second thought was, “Here’s my next blog post.” Because I relate to Alex—I too write like I’m running out of time.

I have always written from the moment I learned how. Since the time I grasped that letters form sentences which contrive stories which animate worlds. This became more than a desire or passion—it was a necessity.

Intrinsic as hunger. Insistent as oxygen. Writing for me is a matter of survival. And like my dude Alexander, I’m consumed with the notion that words can speak to life resistance and deliverance.

Words make poets and iconoclasts out of ordinary people. Those who resemble me, and those who don’t. Our contrasts are not important—words are the equalizers. Under responsible direction, words turn strangers into lovers, enemies into allies. Words mobilize warriors and actualize movements. Words raise a sigh into a clamor. Words inflame conviction. Words effect change.

Words are the product of human minds and tongues and hearts. And writing is the heart’s semantic. Traced with fingertips, fleshed out with ink. Alex understood that words can either be decisive or divisive, so wielding this power justly is a delicate mission to undertake.

But for some, there’s no option or alternative. They write because their souls demand it. Because each minute elapsed is one minute less to craft the message this world needs to hear.

One minute less to spawn a gender reform wildfire through a hashtag and a keyboard. One minute less to dismantle broken policies or biased ideologies with the stroke of a “publish” button. One minute less to scream out for children on the border, people of color on the margin, and females on the witness stand. One minute less to collude with other renegades who are done status quo-ing.

One minute less to exercise the sharpest artillery we humans possess—our voices and our pens. So I imagine that’s why Hamilton wrote like he was running out of time. Because otherwise, he would have been.

That’s why he wrote each second he was alive. If he was like me, Hamilton needed writing to survive.

On Befriending My Body: An Inside Job

Me and this body of mine—we are not friends.

Or rather, I’m not friends with her. She is the new girl in the high school cafeteria, and I am holding court at my designated table with no intention of leaving her a space.

She is the partner I am stuck with in a group project at whom I invariably point the finger if our score doesn’t equal A+.

She is the subject of my inane after-school gossip. Omigosh. Did you notice how my Body looked today? Who told her that was attractive? Such a loser, right? Like hire a personal trainer STAT.  

Our lockers are adjacent. Our classes are the same. We constantly brush shoulders but never honestly connect. Her nearness is unnerving. I sidestep her glances as we dart around each other in the hallway, and I scowl at her retreating form as she melts into the shuffle.

I resent her for existing, but I have no reason why. She’s just too close for comfort—a reflection in the mirror of a truth I deem intolerable.

She is me. I am her. And that’s the problem.

I discredit, disavow, distrust myself. And this body suffers the blame. She is the martyr in our relationship, the workhorse I bridle and tame, the machine I pump every last ounce of battery from.

I was 8 when I realized this body wasn’t small and submissive like the other girls’ bodies. I was 9 when I determined she was unsafe and unreliable.

I was 11 when she morphed into a stubby, chunky, lumpy frame I could not contain. I was 13 when I declared warfare against her inadequacies.

I was 15 when I learned to ration just enough food to keep her alive. I was 17 when her colorless eyes, vigorless bones and lusterless skin exposed my secret methods of coercion.

I was 19 when, together, we entered a treatment program that could “heal” our perverse dynamic. I was 20 when that approach didn’t work.

I was 21 when I became aware that bodies are objectified and exploited by outside forces too. I was 23 when I resigned us both to a lifetime of undercover opposition.

I was 26 when all the barricades, deceptions and assurances that “I’m fiiiiiiine” came screeching to an impasse in one cataclysmic swoop.

Now here we find ourselves at the age of 27—this body and this soul. Naked, disoriented, afraid. Tender in years though hardened in combat. I regard us both as enemies. But maybe we’re just strangers who never had a proper introduction.

So what caused this fragmentation, this departure from myself? I don’t think one precise moment bears the onus altogether. It’s a series of chain reactions and domino collisions which framed the dogma I succumbed to 20 years ago.

A dogma that’s informed my actions and decisions ever since.

A dogma that hissed: Little girl, be delicate. Little girl, condense your space. And little girl, for the love of God, don’t hunger. It’s unfeminine, unattractive, unacceptable. To hunger is to be human, and you should rise above that—an object of desire, a model of perfection. 

So I reached a conclusion then and there. Hunger is what makes little girls fleshy, greasy and messy when they’re supposed to be anything but.

Hunger is weakness. Hunger is mediocre. Hunger is repellant. But I am invulnerable to hunger. Or so that delusion told me.

Which meant abandoning this body. “Voting her off the island,” as Glennon Doyle words it. Dissociating from a part of my own essence. Dissolving into a pretense I felt stronger, steadier, safer behind.

I made a choice, so this body never had a chance. And in the fallout, we stopped knowing each other.

I didn’t know that she is complexity and intricacy, beauty and artistry. I didn’t know that she is resilience and vibrance and exuberance. I didn’t know that she is toughness and softness and fierceness. I didn’t know that she is precision and imagination and captivation.

She is a miracle—I just didn’t know.

I starved the wonder right out of her until she was all bones and no being. Physically and spiritually emaciated, both halves famished to unite again. But maybe I can restore these drifting islands into a single, undivided me. Remember the oneness. Reclaim the miraculous.

Maybe I can befriend this body. Maybe I can do it after all.

And maybe she can teach me a lesson or two in love.

love warrior

Its Name is Humanity.

It’s in the onyx colored irises of the Ethiopian orphan’s eyes.

Ravenous for a nurturing caress that she has never known.

It’s in the desert toughened leather of the Syrian refugee’s brow.

Etched and imprinted with the carnage of his nation’s diaspora.

It’s in the painted on smirk of the Cambodian stripper’s mouth.

Concealing her body slick with sweat and debased with bruises.

It’s in the russet grime and grit of the Mexican immigrant’s feet.

Straddling a border that divides his home and a fate unknown.

It’s in the viscous crimson ink of the suburban teenager’s wrists.

Serrated, muffled tears which she punctuates by a razor’s edge.

It’s in the faint tremor of the varsity quarterback’s shoulders.

Fearful of an urge inside him that finds other boys attractive.

It’s in the bold, defiant keystrokes of the rape survivor’s hands.

Resorting to a hashtag when the courtroom denied her justice.

It’s in the clenching rage of the Starbucks customer’s jawline.

Hauled away in handcuffs for the crime of his chestnut skin.

It’s in the sacred chiffon wrapping of the subway rider’s hijab.

Absorbing the tension of her fellow passengers’ surveillance.

It’s in the sinewed, pulsing veins of the eleventh grader’s neck.

Fraught with panic that today his school might be a graveyard.

It’s in the boardrooms of Wall Street.

It’s in the brothels of Chennai.

It’s in the privilege and on the margins.

It’s in the protests and the marches.

It’s in all faces, on all tongues.

Its creed is universal, and its name is humanity.

Confessions of an Enneagram Eight…Who Also Happens to Be a Female

vulnerability

Sometimes I feel like the rarest of unicorns. Weird. Quirky. A downright enigma. Sometimes I feel like a charging herd of rhinos. Too much of me to contain in one body.

Such is the paradox of an Enneagram Eight. Now add in the “female” component, and I might as well have a tattoo on my forehead that reads: Walking Contradiction.

But I would embrace that. I love tattoos.

I’ve heard it speculated that a female eight is the most misunderstood type on the Enneagram, and call me biased—but I can attest there might be some accuracy to this claim.

The traits indicative of an eight personality are often the same traits our culture has branded unfeminine.

Aggressive. Outspoken. Intense. Combustible. An eight is all fire and fervor and fight. Energy and activity, tenacity and urgency. A passion for justice, a lust for extremes, an impulse for anger, a need for control.

Ahhh control. We can’t discuss this Enneagram number without using the “c-word.” Eights are motivated by a desire to control their own environments, relationships, circumstances and decisions.

They challenge norms with a steely persistence and rugged independence. They turn combative when that illusion of control is shattered, but it’s a reaction to vulnerability—something no eight wants to acknowledge. They fear being overpowered, so they micro-manage out of desperation just to keep themselves safe.

Eights appear dauntless and tough, poised for a feverish scuffle or fanatical debate at a moment’s notice. This wild, untamed presence sizzles through each atom of their bodies, making it seem like no fear can break them down.

But I assure you, that is not reality.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The female eight knows she doesn’t belong—not in the socially acceptable sense anyway. She instructs herself, “Fine. No sweat. I’ll just be a nonconformist then.” But somewhere in her depths, she feels the rejection and exclusion. She has a name for this, and it’s what her nightmares are made of. Betrayal.

She’s caught in the tension of longing to be part of the same institutions she defies. It’s isolating territory, but it’s also where she lives.

She perceives herself as an underdog, a crusader for the marginalized. She brims with such conviction that others find her intimidating. She is an acquired taste—and trust me, she’s all too aware.

Her universe is one of extremes. Too loud. Too quiet. Too brittle. Too fragile. Too opinionated. Too indifferent. Too emotional. Too stoic. Too invested. Too distant.

Too much. Just. Too. Much.

I am proud to be a female eight, a member of this beatnik tribe. But we eights have a dark side—an underbelly where our passion becomes antagonism, and our control becomes manipulation. We’ll browbeat. We’ll dominate. Because we can’t admit we’re scared. We’d rather be alone than love and be rejected.

But that’s another paradox—we do love. And we love hard. Once you’ve gained the trust and loyalty of an eight, I guarantee it’s for life. We rally for our people. We notice their potential. We believe in their impact. We’re not afraid to champion their cause before we’re even asked.

We know there’s electric power in our bones, and we ache for it to change the world. Because we love. If only we dropped our defenses long enough to accept love in return.

If you encountered me for the first time, I wouldn’t strike you as a powerhouse. I would strike you as small. But interact with me awhile, and I suspect you’ll wonder, “How does all that intensity exist in this 4’11” body?” To which I just smirk and shrug. It’s nothing I haven’t questioned myself. I’m a rhino-unicorn, remember?

This is how an eight operates—and it rarely makes sense.

A friend of mine jokes that she can gauge when I enter a room because my footsteps are loud. Emphatic. Purposeful. Not unlike the rest of me. And that’s Enneagram Eight-ness for you. A wildfire on the move with no intentions of slowing down.

Culture will not define me. Society will not restrain me. Stereotypes will not cheapen me.

So I’ll create the drum.

I’ll invent the rhythm.

Then I’ll march off-beat.

And if you’re reading this, chances are I love you—so reassure me that it’s better if we march together. I forget sometimes.