Remembering Grayce

Grief in a digital age is a surreal experience.

I wasn’t sure if I could go to the memorial, or if I should, but I wanted to.

I wasn’t sure if I’d be welcomed, I was worried it would be intrusive of me to show up somewhere, uninvited, knowing no one.

And I’m pretty sure Grayce wouldn’t have expected me to come.

I’ve gotten to know Grayce more and more ever since she died. People from all over the world have posted their memories of her on her facebook. We complain so much about social media, bemoaning what it has done to society, but without it, this space would not exist. All over the world, the people who would be grieving Grayce individually are now connecting and sharing and remembering.

From facebook I heard about the memorial in Minneapolis, at her parents’ farm. I connected with one of her friends there, and with another Evergreen alum who would be driving from several states away to attend.

And so I flew to Minnesota.

It was my first time in Minnesota, my first time renting a car, first time attending a memorial for a friend, first suicide, and as I exited the freeway the banks were covered in thistles and dandelions and I could almost hear whispers of botany, the poetry of the plants she studied and loved.

She sticks to our fingertips

like thistle honey

her sweetness remains on our tongues.

The hills of Minnesota were green and vibrant, and I welcomed the warmth without the humidity I’d grown accustomed to in Texas. Her parents live on a farm with no town in sight, and as I approached the base of a driveway so long you can’t see the end, three people greeted me.

The ceremony took place in front of the barn. Loved ones shared their memories, sang songs, played drums. People continued to arrive, a long procession bearing homemade food to contribute to the festivities.

Grayce loved her potlucks.

People remembered her independence, laughed at her stubborness, marveled at her adventurous spirit. Her life ended far too soon, but it was a life well lived.

She laughed from her belly, with her head thrown back.

She ate from the woods and danced with the moon.

She read in Spanish and dreamt in Turkish.

Even though she’s gone she’s left behind a sticky sweet web

her friendship

her community

her love

gathered in the sun under a blue sky

singing songs for Grayce.

She was magic.

Sometimes, depression is terminal.

Later I sat on the grass with her friends, and one of them pulled out a salve, made with Grayce’s recipe, containing rose hips that Grayce herself had picked. She passed it around, encouraging all of us to partake in Grayce’s plant magic medicine.

Programs lay in the grass, the smile that filled her whole face peeking between green blades as people laughed and ate off of paper plates.

Online, someone posted a poem she wrote about spring, and you can hear an appetite for life, screaming, pulsing, lusting. An appetite she was no longer capable of feeling.

How much she must have longed for rains to wash away her stagnancy.

I was honored to sit in community with the people who knew Grayce better than I did, who loved her more intimately. I was afraid my grief would be appropriative, as if I don’t deserve to her mourn her when others knew her so much better, but they welcomed me. They carried me with them.

Long after the memorial was over and the sun had set, we walked down a dark trail to White Sands, on the shore of the Mississippi river. Beneath my feet the sand felt fine as ash, and it glowed in the light of the full moon. An unattended bonfire was waiting for us, which was fortunate since we’d come ill-prepared for fire making (though well-prepared for wine drinking.)

Kelsey sent her hoop around the moon and back again.

She pulled out a much smaller container of salve, one Grayce herself had made, and with reverence we each took some, rubbing into our palms what her hands had made.

She passed around a crystal that had been held by Grayce, and read aloud poems they’d written together, both serious and silly.

Sitting around a bonfire, getting to know her more and more, piecing together our stories and memories until together we’ve remembered a more complete Grayce.

We’ve shared our Grayce with each other and in sharing, grown richer.

She has brought us together.

What I remember most is her gaze, how when I ran into her on Red Square, she would stop, turn her attention fully on me, eyes bright, nodding and affirming, seeing.

And I remember how goddamn loud she would Om in the mornings.

And her stinking armpits.

And nettles. Always nettles.

On the plane ride home I wrapped myself in the dull smokey softness of my clothes, warmed by the company of so many good souls, and thought to myself, yes, Grayce would approve of this. This is what Grayce would have wanted.

. . .Grayce. . .

How did I meet her? When? It’s hard to pin down the exacts. When we met, I was tumbling out of mania and into the depths of depression. I was hiding from the hardest year of my life, and she was brave enough, kind enough, compassionate enough to say,

“Yes, I will live with you. Yes, I will witness your grief without flinching. Yes, I will accept your absence, embrace your presence, encourage your very existence. Yes.”

It’s cliche, but she embodied grace.

Never have I met a girl so aptly named.

I knew her well, several years ago,

and although I have forgotten the details, I have not forgotten how she made me feel.

She moved into

my

dark,

damp,

depressed

apartment

and we nested together.

We cocooned ourselves from the world,

wrapped each other in blankets and long conversations of words that have long since slipped from my mind but still I remember

how she made me feel:

loved

cherished

worthy.

Real

whole

acceptable.

How is it that the purest of us keep departing? Again I want to rage against the unfairness of someone so good and kind and wonderful being taken away so abruptly.

So I don’t remember the details, but I remember how she made me feel.

News of her death came the way most do these days: a tragic flash that stops you in your tracks, the scroll of a newsfeed brought to a grinding halt by a harsh reality:

the beautiful soul that went missing two days ago has been found.

Why couldn’t our paths have crossed again? Before things came to an end?

One thing is certain: she will not be forgotten.

Her light sparked similar glows in every person she met.

Her kindness still warms us long after she’s gone.

Her image remains imprinted on our souls.

I will remember

how she made me feel.

If you didn’t know Grayce, you might think I’m romanticizing, glorifying someone just because they are gone. But if you knew Grayce, you know that everything I’ve said is true, all of it. She was the purest of the pure, sweetest of sweet; you could see it in the smile that reached her eyes. Watching her dance with her hoop was mesmerizing and meditative and marvelous. Being in her presence was like stepping off of a noisy street and into a quiet room. She felt like safety and calm.  

I don’t know what happened to her, or how she died, and that not-knowing is hard, because distraught imaginations are not easy to reign in. It will come out eventually, as all things do in this digital age, so for now I’m remembering how she made me feel. Sitting in front of a warm light, breathing deeply, remembering deeply. The newsfeed will continue to update, there’s no need to sit and watch. Now is the time to sit and remember. 

I can’t & I’m sorry: the thoughts before suicide

When I’m suicidal, I’m angry at other people. They ask me to hold on, to not give up. They beg me to think of my family, my friends, who will be devastated by my death.

What right do they have to tell me what to do with my body, with my life? I think.

I suffer.

I suffer so much, so deeply.

When I heard Robin Williams had died of an apparent suicide, I wasn’t surprised. I wasn’t shocked, not even slightly. Just immensely sad, and scared.

Bipolar is deadly. Depression is deadly.

With each depressive episode, I find myself feeling helpless. I did everything I could, I think, And I still couldn’t stop this. 

Or, even worse, I failed to do everything I could. I brought this on myself. I fail at life, I can’t do it. 

I can’t.

In the moments when I have been closest to suicide, those are the words playing over and over in my head, the ones I sometimes cry out into the isolation. I can’t. I can’t do this any longer, I can’t suffer like this, I can’t cry any more, I can’t sit around and wait to be well, I can’t keep trying to live.

And then: I’m sorry.

To call my suicide selfish would be to deeply misunderstand the act. When suicidal, I hate myself for burdening the ones I love. I know my suicide would hurt them, but my depression feels like even more of a burden. I know how much it hurts them to see me struggle, and I don’t want to hurt them like that any more. I want it to be over, I want them to be able to live their lives without the burden of my pain. I want us all to be able to move on.

I don’t talk much about the times when I’ve been suicidal. I’ll bring it up occasionally, briefly, when talking about those times in my life, but I never go into detail, because I don’t want to upset anyone. Suicide is really scary. I’m not sure who it’s scarier for, the people on the outside, or the people on the inside.

The people on the outside, who have never been suicidal, they don’t understand how anyone can feel that way. They are afraid, deeply afraid of it, so they reject, minimize.

You’ll feel better. Don’t be selfish. It’s only temporary.

The people on the inside, who have reached out to touch the edge of death, we’re afraid because we’re wondering when things will get bad enough that we take the leap. More like a stumble really, because leaps take too much energy. When will we stumble over the edge into a decision we can’t take back?

When we are suicidal, nothing feels temporary. Everything is agony.

In fact, I wouldn’t say that I’m afraid of suicide. I’m afraid of what comes before suicide, the pain and anguish that could eventually lead to that decision.

Robin Williams was one of the survivors. He’d been to rehab, been through numerous treatments, had every resource available to him. He’d been fighting the fight for sixty-three long years. One of the thoughts that keeps me alive in my depression is There’s still more out there. There’s more to try, more medications to test out, ECT if it comes to that. Yoga. Good food. Routine. Community. Maybe those things will finally cure me.

When there’s nothing left to try, when I find myself again incapable and broken, then what will I do?

I will do my best not to listen to the repetition in my mind: I can’t, I’m sorry, I can’t, I’m sorry, I can’t, I’m sorry, I can’t.

I will do my best to listen instead to the people around me: We love you, we will not give up on you. We love you, we will be here for you, for as long as it takes. We love you, no matter what. We love you, we will share your suffering. We love you, we do not resent you. We love you, we know this is not your fault. We love you, no matter what.

These are the things we need to say to people who are suicidal. Do not call us selfish. Do not chastise us or plague us with platitudes. Just repeat, again and again: We love you, no matter what. We love you, we love you, we love you.

If you’re struggling with suicidal thoughts, you are not alone. Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255. Talk to someone. Email me. Many, many people have felt this way, and many of us survived. You can too.

(For my friends and family, who might be concerned about a post about suicide: I’m not suicidal right now, nor am I depressed. All is well.)

Amanda Seales’ Face vs Mansplaining

“I am more of an expert on this than you are, because I’m a guy.”

That’s right, those are the first words out of this man’s mouth during an interview on what it’s like to be a woman and experience street harassment.

Fortunately, Amanda Seales, a comedian who was also part of the interview, has facial expressions for all of the feelings he stirs inside our feminist rage caves. (Unless indicated otherwise, all quotes come from Mr. Mansplainer. And he doesn’t even get a name, because he’s clearly just a Ken doll spewing out YouTube comments, and therefore doesn’t deserve a name.)

The newslady starts by asking, “Is too much being made of this issue?”

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“You would not care if these guys were hot. They would be bolstering your self-esteem, bolstering your ego.”

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“There is nothing a woman loves to hear more than how pretty she is.”

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Then they begin to question/discuss the authenticity of the video. Amanda’s face says it all.

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“So, you’re telling me then if I compliment you on the street it’s some sort of abuse, no matter how I choose to do it? That means that if you don’t compliment ME when I walk by, THAT’S abuse.”

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Newslady asks, “So, what are you saying, Amanda?”

“I’m saying that he’s wrong.”

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Amanda says, “We’re missing the point” and no one listens.

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“You have to understand something…”

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“If you don’t like it, turn around and tell them to shut up. Stand up for yourself, act like a strong woman.”

Side comment: I would LOVE to hear him to say this to his daughter, his sister, his mother.

When Amanda points out that women have been killed for standing up for themselves, he has another great idea.

“Then carry a gun!”

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Newslady has officially lost it. Amanda is shocked. And Ken Doll is pretending his hand is a gun.

Moral of the story:

YOU ARE WRONG

If you haven’t read Rebecca Solnit’s piece on mansplaining, I highly recommend it.

You can watch the CNN interview with Amanda and Ken Doll here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-HI4DC18wCg

And Amanda’s response to this video going viral here:

http://www.xojane.com/issues/amanda-seales-mansplaining

Check out more of Amanda’s work here:

http://amandaseales.com/

Be sure to look at the organization behind the original catcalling video

http://www.ihollaback.org/

Posing for Men Myself

In a park in Denver, I thought about photography, and male photographers telling female models what to do with their bodies. It’s what every girl secretly wants: to be dolled up and told how to look beautiful, to have someone make her look like the pictures in the magazines. Photoshoots are an indulgence of vanity, a chance to prove that yes, I am beautiful. Quinceañeras, senior portraits, engagements, weddings: a chance to put our carefully crafted femininity on display.

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I don’t know what I have to say about all of this. It’s complicated, patriarchy deeply embedded in each pose, but it’s also empowering, for a woman to feel beautiful, appreciated, acknowledged. Living up to our society’s idea of beautiful takes a lot of work, which is one of the reasons I think we need to stop shaming women for taking selfies. Even the word “selfie” is loaded. When did we stop calling them self-portraits? Where do we draw the line between self-indulgent selfie and self-reflective self-portrait?

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I don’t have answers or solutions or even conclusions, but I know that I am not ashamed to take pictures of myself. I am worthy of a photograph.