Psychic Soldiers and the Heart of Boss

Every day, I wear shiny black tourmaline beads on a bracelet to ward off any “unwanted energy.”

Not energy like enthusiasm, or the third cup of coffee. Energy like bad vibes.

All of  my empathetic wanderers in the room will know how this feels: the abject reality of picking up others’ mood and emotions without ever asking for it. It’s the mailman who just received a distressing phone call, the barista who had a fight with his kid, your partner who clearly hit traffic during rush hour – that speaks loudly and clearly to some without anyone even saying a word. Intuitive people pick that stuff up without even wanting to. So…I wear the tourmaline around my wrist. It wards off the bad juju and I get on with my life.

If this all sounds like “woo woo” hippie talk, I will admit, it is. That’s why I was delighted to learn that the Department of Defense has invested millions of dollars in researching “intuitives” and how to teach others in the military their keen perception skills (although they never mention black tourmaline.) Of course, the U.S. Military doesn’t call the psychic phenomenon “magic intuition.” They call it “sensemaking.” 

The Department of Defense frames their studies like this, “a motivated continuous effort to understand connections (which can be among people, places, and events) in order to anticipate their trajectories and act effectively.” Ok. So they want low key psychics. That’s fine with me, I think it’s true: there is immense power in what our gut is telling us.

Apparently, this study was inspired by several reports from Iraq in the early 2000’s. There were accounts of field agents, that when debriefed after a mission where they narrowly missed an attack by an IED (improvised explosive device) could explain nothing further than they “felt it was coming” so they made plans to circumvent the attack. Several of the agents described a sixth sense that helped them avoid the dangerous situation and, in turn, saved themselves as well as hundreds of brave soldiers. 

Currently, the U.S. Military doesn’t seem interested in getting to the bottom of why this intuition occurs. They are more interested in seeing how they can teach that type of intuition to others. I will admit, I am an intuitive person, but I don’t think I would be cut out for the military. (I cried when I caught a fish this summer, and spent the evening googling what level of pain the average fish could feel.)  But even if you are not using this power in combat, I genuinely believe it can be used to better your life (or our world.) 

What a long winded way to tell you I quit my full time job at a Public Relations firm to start my own content and ghostingwriting company, Ella Kerr, LLC. I talk to people and help them tell their stories, whether that is in the form of a full length memoir, or simply getting their thoughts into text onto their website. It’s hands down the most rewarding thing I have ever sunk my teeth into.

Ella Kerr, LLC – http://www.ellakerr.com

The decision came at a strange time: I was holding my own in the PR world and I was thankful for the stability it provided in the midst of the pandemic. But that pesky sensemaking! Nagging at my gut and whispering, “You were made for something different than this. Comfort is not your calling!” Oh Lord, wasn’t that the truth.

Pair that with the subconscious planning I was doing in the back of my head. This newsletter marks one whole year of (and fulfills my 2020 resolution) of writing something true and inspiring each month. That’s a hard task to take on when your world is inundated by a PR job and Covid. Yet, I promised myself that if I fulfilled this resolution, then something good would come. Something spectacular even. And now, here I am. Leaping off the precipice of certainty and into the world of owning a business and highlighting stories I believe are worth sharing.

I suppose this is a way to tell you that if you are looking for a sign, look inside. If there is a strange uninhibited voice inside talking (incessantly) about big dreams and big plans that you constantly silence with the phrase “One day we will. One day.” Or if there is a gaping whole in your heart, or if there is an opportunity that flirts with your brain like you are the last woman on earth, dear God, I pray you take it. 

There is more to intuition than a zap of lightning in our consciousness; and it can’t be repelled by a black tourmaline bracelet. And if you feel it, and are drawn to it, place value on that. The Department of Defense sure does.

Adam, Eve and the Bad Girls Club

Worth Noting. I wrote a version of this article for Elephant Journal that can be viewed here.

I was at the Seattle Art Museum recently and read the caption underneath a giant strange canvas. Instead of just paint, it was smeared with ash and concrete and silk, ripped and strewn across the canvas. The painting was called “Lilith” and gave the summary of an old Hebrew Myth that I had never heard of before.

Lilith, supposably, was Adam’s first wife (that is, Adam – the first human created that lived in the Garden of Eden.) Unlike Eve, Lilith  was created from the same clay Adam was made from: she was not a rib pulled from Adam’s side and formed into a woman. Instead, God created her with the exact same dust he used to form Adam, not aware of the consequences of this action. 

But quickly, God realized his mistake. This brand new woman was too much like the man, they were made from the same material after all.  Lilith was hard headed and stubborn. She was opinionated and outspoken and when God told Lilith he had created her to be subservient to her partner, that she had been made with the sole purpose of tending to him, she calmly reminded God that he had created her with the same clay that he had used to create the man. That alone made them equals. And she would not submit.

I’m sure God threw up his holy hands and rubbed his holy temples and muttered under his holy breath to the stubborn woman, “Fine, just go then. I’ll create someone else to serve this man.”  And Lilith did go, carried on by her rebel soul, content to leave the Garden of Eden that was supposed to be paradise just so she could retain that independence. And God started again, Plan B this time. He put Adam to sleep, took a rib from his side and created Eve,  a new partner, a better partner, with fewer rebellious desires, albeit, an affinity for strange fruit.

But the world didn’t let Lilith leave without gossip. They were not content for the confident woman to find her own path outside of the prescribed paradise. Instead, the stories of Lilith multiplied. Lilith was a demon, a night screamer, someone who wanted nothing more than to steal your babies at night, and carry them off into whatever cave she lived in, wherever she hid since leaving the Garden.

“That’s why you do what is asked of you,” I picture some tired parent with rings under their eyes saying to their daughter, begging her to sleep or come home, or stay out of the mud, “You know what happens to little girls who think they are something they are not. Who try to be more than what the world asked them to be.”

The little girl nods because she knows. Those little girls become baby stealers who live in a cave. They become ash and soot and concrete smeared on a canvas.

But still. But still. There is a flutter in that young girl’s chest. And she thinks that perhaps, there is a chance that she was not created to submit but to lead. And perhaps that flutter grows louder until it pounds in her ears, and the name Adam doesn’t ring a bell anymore. And she ties her shoes tighter and she holds her head higher, because there is a chance that she was created for something bigger than a Garden and passivity. For a moment, she has a feeling of knowing, of being absolutely certain  that she was created from the clay and not the rib, that she was made equal to the leaders and that this stubbornness was not a curse, oh no. That stubbornness was put there with intention.

But I don’t know. It was just a painting.

The Creation of Lake Washington (and other mindless things.)

The first thing you need to know about cold water is how to entertain yourself.  Otherwise, you won’t last too long.

I try to think of something light, something playful that I can easily bring to mind. Like the song that played at high school homecoming. Or when my dad would let my sisters and me eat cookies for breakfast on Saturdays, so long as we ate them like cereal: with a bowl and spoon.

I learned these things because I swim at the lake after work some days. Even when it’s cold. If you can keep your mind positive and warm, you can usually stay above the chill. If you can’t, you are in for a very long swim.

Usually, I stand at the shore for a moment with my feet in the wet seaweed that grows by the edge and wish a shock of sunlight would burn through the fog and illuminate the frigid water, but it never does. So I breathe deep, swim out to the graying dock, adjust my goggles, and swim back home again. 

The first day back in the water after weeks of being cooped up inside during the West Coast wildfires was especially tortuous and the lake shockingly chilly. While the rain had provided some relief from the smoke, it cooled the water, and my lungs burned with remnants of ash you could still see when the wind blew north. 

Someone had told me of sensory deprivation chambers: small pools with no light and no sound that instilled a sense of peace while you floated. This swim was not like that. It was panicked and tiresome: my arms hurt and my mind was blank: too chilled from the water to recall anything to occupy my mind, let alone relax in stillness. No recollection of music from 2009. No sugar rushed memories of Saturdays mornings. My brain was as vacant as the strip of water I had flung myself into that afternoon: numbing and void and getting colder.

It occurred to me, as I made my turn at the dock, that I could invent my own song or story, if there was truly nothing I could recall to distract me before making it back to shore. It wouldn’t even need a tune or structure, just a mantra to mark the time and distance, a few words strung together to give me something to hold onto until my hands brushed the slippery weeds that grew just before the shoreline.

Love, love, love I began singing in my head, and forced my strokes in cadence with what I had created. I told myself to sing it three more times before I captured another breath, before I took stock of where I was in relation to the shore.

 Love, love, love. 

Love, love, love. 

I read recently that at all times people are doing one of two things- either showing love or crying out for it. I wondered which this was.

Love, love, love.

Love, love, love. 

And that is how I made it back to shore: swimming through dark water in a gray world, singing love into the waves because that was the only thing I could remember. Then, foggy rocks of the shoreline came into view, and goosebumps pricked my legs, but the panic lifted from my chest because I knew I was close. 

 Then, the strangest idea caught in my brain between my tangled braids and my second hand swim cap as my strokes quickened for the homestretch.

“This must be how the world was created,” I thought,  “One lonely god, whispering love into the darkness until she felt something below her feet.”

Rum, Raspberries, the Gray and the Art

Technically speaking, the universe smells like rum and tastes like raspberries.

Well, more accurately, it smells and tastes like Ethyl Formate; the chemical that gives raspberries their taste and rum its smell – but that doesn’t sound nearly as poetic. Astrologists have gone out there and done it: taken a sample of the dust cloud that forms our Milky Way and tested it to see what our universe was made of. 

Rum and raspberries pair well with a variety of things. Like Brie. And Sprite. And dark chocolate almonds, and for a moment, the briefest moment, as I consider what I would eat in conjunction with a big bite of the universe, it seems like everything is going to be okay in the midst of a dark and stormy year.

When I was young there was a hymn we would sing in church, called “How Great Thou Art.” I was admittedly way too old (mid twenties)  before I realized that song was not about how great the art was, it was about how great the God was, spinning mystically in the universe above us, drunk on raspberries and rum, and insisting that we use old English to discuss how wonderful the divine is. But the truth was, I thought singing about the art was more interesting than singing about God. I think that God did, too.

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“Art.”

There’s a name for the color that you see in the dark. It’s called “eigengrau” and it means intrinsic gray, or the color when you are thirsty at 3am, or restless at 3am, or just coming home at 3am. It is the color when dark that surrounds you. I’ve talked to a lot of people lately, who have told me that life these past few months have been fairly eigengrau: shapeless and gray, fuzzy around the edges, with an increased probability of stubbing a toe. I understand that feeling. I think a lot of us do. 

To every person who has admitted shyly with a nervous laugh that waking up is depressing right now, I wish I could tell you that the eigengrau feeling would be lifted soon – but I can’t. I would be lying if I said that. I can’t say if the bleakness of the world will miraculously dissipate when the wildfires are under control, or the pandemic is handled or the economy is fixed or the society is not broken or your family is together again. In fact, coming from someone who lives in the Pacific Northwest, I can assure you: the world is fairly gray, regardless of the current crises we are experiencing. Because of that, I have half a mind to suggest we start seeing the gray as part of the art.

In those moments when the sun is not yet risen and you stare blankly at a ceiling that has yet to give you the answers, or stare blindly at a screen that has yet to accurately determine your worth, I beg you to remember this: we live in a universe that tastes like raspberries and smells like rum, even on the gray days. A world where sunflowers reach stories high and babies are born with perfect curled ears and the rain hits the roof when you are the only one awake.  And someone has whispered “I love you,” and someone else has whispered, “I’m proud of you,” and someone else doesn’t need anyone whispering to know they are strong and capable and enduring. 

And tomorrow might just bring some more sun but maybe not, and tomorrow might just be enveloped in the biggest peace you have ever known, but maybe it won’t and tomorrow might just be the day that the world changes. Tomorrow you may feel the butterflies inside your chest instead of outside your walls and there will be dancing. And there will be you, looking for the light in the eigengrau, and swearing you caught the faintest whiff of raspberry in the evening breeze. 

And that, my love, is the art I’ve been singing about.

Shy Movie Stars and the World’s Newest Hostage Negotiator

If you can get past the neon gel pen ink, the salacious amount of acronyms, and the fact I kept citing my favorite color as “clear,” reading childhood journal entries are kind of cute. I will admit there is a lot of skimming because the details can get a little cringey, and some wondering how I ever passed eighth grade English, but I had some big goals. The real problem, in those childhood journals, was my dreams and perceptions were unfocused and scattered and quite frankly, unreasonable. I wasn’t going to be something I was going to be everything. 

For example it was a priority for me, around age ten, to become a movie star, noting that I would really like this job, but I wouldn’t want to do the kissing part.

Around age twelve I determined I was destined for the Olympics. The entry was a lengthy pro-con list of whether I should pursue swimming or track and field for my Olympic dreams, with a sad asterisk at the end noting that at age twelve and nearly 5’7” I would probably be too tall to ever be an Olympic gymnast.

This was also around the time I vowed to buy myself a tree house when I was grown up, and wrote (what apparently was the main critique of this idea) that I would still be okay with living in a treehouse, even if I couldn’t get a refrigerator up into the tree.

In 2006 there was an entry about being nominated for homecoming princess. I wrote that this was the best day of my life. I wrote “there is no way I could possibly be happier.”

Senior year of high school, I wondered what people possibly did with their free time in college if they didn’t have a sports practice to attend, or weekends filled with games or tournaments.

In 2012 I would never get hired again, for the rest of my life.

In 2013, I would never be in love again, for the rest of my life.

In 2016 I would never leave Africa again, for the rest of my life.

In 2020 I would never leave my house again. For the rest of my life.

I don’t know when it was, but at some point I decided, “You can be a movie star or live in a tree house, but good Lord, you can’t do both.” There seems to be a threshold where we all determine that the wild and outlandish and all consuming convictions were far fetched – and only probable dreams and reasonable goals are acceptable. It is a defense mechanism, I know it is: our brains shield our hearts from unlikely plans with the hope they don’t stop dreaming. But the result is this: we edit our dreams so they fit in a box when dreaming is half of the reason to stay awake. 

My partner and I have an agreement where if one person is excited about something, no matter how ridiculous or unlikely, the other shares that excitement too. (This agreement came after we watched Waco and I claimed I was quitting my job as a consultant to become a hostage negotiator. ASAP.) Because maybe it never happens, but maybe it does, and maybe I just want to dream about. And because we get to choose if we are confined to the tiny cages of our identity that our world puts us in: we do not have to stay. Even if it’s unlikely. Even if it never comes true.

Recently, I read this poem Hafiz caught my attention:

The small woman

Builds cages for everyone

She

Knows.

While the sage,

Who has to duck her head

When the moon is low,

Keeps dropping keys all night long

For the

Beautiful

Rowdy

Prisoners.

The way I see it,  this small woman is the one who puts their aspirations in cages to protect them from “unlikely.” But I turn thirty this month, and I hope this next decade makes me the sage: dropping  keys at the cages of anyone who has ever changed their mind, and telling them to keep wondering, keep dreaming.

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Cageless.

I hope I say, over and over again, “You lover and fighter who thought they wanted to be a businesswoman, then thought they wanted to be a healer, then thought they wanted to be a teacher, but turned out to be wrong: it’s okay to change. To the heartbroken heartbreaker, peacemaking instigator, treehouse lover in the city: step out of your cage and be all of those beautiful, breakable, unshakeable things. And if it doesn’t work? Then dream again.”

What’s Inspiring Me Lately?

Monique Sar. Monique and I grew to know each other through our non traditional methods of navigating a career – trying a lot of different industries and professions until finding one that sticks. She is now a success coach and consultant to help clients create a legacy for themselves and their families through their business accomplishments – something Monique says is what motivates her to keep pursuing her dreams. “I grew up with immigrant parents and what do immigrant parents know how to do best? Work hard. So what did they do? Work hard. They didn’t want me to live just an average life. They have really worked to give me the opportunity to have a better life, and I am motivated to continue succeeding to add onto the legacy that my family has already started.”

What does she recommend to other entrepreneurs or dream seekers in the making? “Take some time to write down and journal literally everything you really enjoy doing and find a way to monetize it. Do this in the morning when your mind is clear, grab your tea or coffee, and get into flow state. It’s not going to be easy – but it is worth it and I hope it inspires action. After your journaling exercise, really DECIDE that from this point forward you’re going to bet on yourself and chase your dreams and all that you desire.“

 

Sixty Cigarettes and the Boston Marathon

The book I am reading right now is about a guy who decided to stop smoking sixty cigarettes per day and pick up running instead. He made that decision in his mid thirties, with no prior athletic experience, and he turned out to be a pretty impressive runner. Or, if not impressive, at least consistent, despite the fact that he didn’t even buy a pair of running shoes until he was three decades and thousands of Marlboros in.

I haven’t finished the book yet, but I looked ahead and the writer didn’t win any big races. He didn’t qualify for the Boston Marathon his first time out of the gate, and he didn’t light a celebratory smoke at the end with a zippo lighter engraved with “26.2.” He didn’t go to the Olympics. He broke no records. In fact, not a lot happens in the book that is worth putting on his resume, his dating profile, or arguably, a full length memoir. But here I am, intrigued by a story of a man who didn’t always get it right.

The point of the story is that this guy’s big win wasn’t crossing a finish line (as you may have guessed). His big win was Tuesday mornings. When he was tired from closing up the bar where he worked, and the sky was spitting half snow, half rain, and he still decided to wake up and run. 

I’m sure our human obsession with victory can probably be traced back to some sort of evolutionary criteria.  We want others to know us as the last woman standing! Not “explorers.” Not “learners.” Not the lady who “got it wrong lots of times, but still hangs out.” We tear up our rejection letters and frame our degrees and fail to remember any journey that wasn’t success. We mold and form the very fibre of what created us into this mindset where we must come out as victorious or nothing at all,  instead of better than we were. We complete a milestone and are forced to answer “Did you win?” Instead of, “Are you stronger now? Did it hurt less this time? Are you learning?”

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Running for the journey (not the medals.)

And I am one of the guiltiest. I shy away from challenges, where winning is not in the cards, or where failing is likely. Yet, here we stand halfway through 2020 where we are asked to do one of the scariest (or bravest?) things that any human can do: be wrong. The social fabric of our world and the hope for a better future depends on our use of this battle cry, “We got it wrong before: our laws and our actions and our words. And we will probably get it wrong again. But I am still going to put my running shoes on.” That is not a short story with a big win.  But I am realizing now, that’s never what the world asked for. All we have ever been asked to do is to show up even when it’s raining.

Beautiful humans, this life, this world, this desire for a better humanity is not a sports game with confined rules and time limits, and you will not win with defense. It’s a jog by yourself after you have decided to stop smoking sixty cigarettes per day. There is not a winner, and no one is handing you dixie cups of blue Gatorade at the thirteen mile mark. It’s just you. Deciding what the bravest thing is for that particular mile. 

I wish we could remind everyone of this fact, especially those who sit behind keyboards on social media, and wait, crouching in the figurative Facebook bushes for someone with a differing opinion so they can pounce.  I wish we could let them know that the ferocity that you defend your beliefs does not count as a win without integrating new ideas or new perspectives or new facts into your thinking. Neither does staying in your comfort zone. You don’t score points by being loud or being right or having a track record free from any past mistakes. In fact, you don’t score points at all.

Our hurting world does not need one more perfect person ready for contests they know they can win. Our desperate earth, riddled with growing pains and battle cries and a faint glimmer of better days on the horizon, only asks for this: someone who is going to show up on Tuesday after thirty years of smoking cigarettes, knowing they probably won’t win this one, but they are here. And, Lord, they are better than they were before.

Weird Prayers

NOTE: I wrote a version of this article for Elephant Journal.. I hope you check it out!

When I was a kid, I used to do a lot of what I will call, “Pictionary Praying.”

That is, kneeling on the carpet in front of my bed with my eyes closed and my hands folded (you know, how you’d draw prayer if it was your Pictionary word).

But carpet on skinned soccer girl knees doesn’t feel good, and there were times where I had something to say but it wasn’t time for bed. And that, my loves, is the start of lawless prayers.

For those of you worried that all of this talk of prayer will morph into a diatribe on faith, church clothes, or the role, or gender of God—it won’t. (But if you want to go there, in your own time, may I recommend Glennon to you.) 

Instead, when I say prayer, I mean prayer loosely and comfortably. Easy to nap in and no bra required. The kind of prayer that everyone has felt whether you’re Catholic, Muslim, Agnostic, or tired. Not because I am trying to mold my message to fit everyone’s box, but because I think everyone just needs to throw up their hands and admit they don’t really know where their box came from.

What we need is to be more free with prayer than how it is currently used. I am trying to paint prayer everywhere. I want it to get on the ceiling.

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A strange place for prayer?

One of the main drawbacks of “Pictionary prayer” is the inaccessibility.

We can’t drop to our knees in the middle of the supermarket when we see our best friend’s ex the next aisle over, and pray to God we don’t jump into the soliloquy that we practiced in the shower for months for such a time as this.

We can’t kneel while we drive (duh).

We can’t close our eyes on a run when we’re feeling grateful for our powerful legs and unstoppable lungs.

Succumbing to the traditional prayer-like posture is doable, but not with the type of frequency this life calls for. Not when work stress creeps across our brains every hour, or health concerns are caught in our throat every waking moment, or we’re up with the sunrise to start another early shift, and we don’t have the time or energy to drop to the floor right then and say, “This morning is beautiful, thank you.”

But the posture isn’t the only thing keeping us from praying. There’s also the issue of who to address.

I was confirmed Catholic, so we keep it pretty standard, praying to Jesus (black or white—not specified, but strongly inferred) and we throw in a prayer to Mary now and then for spice. But other Christians are really quite adamant that we don’t send any of our prayers to Mary, ever, not even sometimes just to say hello.

Jews, Hindus, Muslims, religious faiths and traditions all over the world—all pray in their own ways.

You can see the issue here is not the postage, it’s whose name and address we’re putting on the front of our prayer—and then hoping that they haven’t moved or changed P.O. Boxes by the time they receive our awe, or requests, or our trembling gratitude.

And these boxy conditions, these straightedge guidelines that are simultaneously so black and white and blindingly gray, create a resistance. We’re hesitant to pray in the chance we get it wrong, or, God forbid, get it right and actually receive what we’re asking for.

But what we’ve created is the ideal environment, and need, for lawless prayers: the kind unencumbered by numbers, pronouns, and memorized scripts. The kind of prayers that don’t exist because it says so in the rule book, but because we feel it in our stomachs. The kind not created by the time of day or the meal before us, but instead with a new formula for calling on the gods: two parts unknown and one part hope.

That overwhelming sense of gratitude that hits us the moment we view the ocean, or uninhibited freedom of a ski slope, or a smell that reminds us of the first time we were in love, or a sad song, or a waterfall, or child’s eyes: those are lawless prayers.

There are no words, or there might be. There are no sounds, unless you choose them. There is no time limit, speed limit, word count, or wrong answer. There is only this: the unshakable feeling that there is something out there listening and acknowledging our depth and beauty.

Listen to that feeling. Pray accordingly.

If you have read this far, I’ll pray for you. And if you stopped at the first sentence, I will pray for you, too. And if you have never had a chance to learn to read at all, or if you eyes hurt too much from squinting at the sun, or if the last time you prayed it was naked in the ocean; or the last time you felt God, she was opening her eyes in the hospital room, or in a flower field, or in a stranger’s arms, or in your lover’s arms, or in your mother’s arms, or in your home, then I will pray for you too.

And my prayer will be this:

“Lord, I do not know a lot, but there is something out there bigger than me. I know there is something bigger than me.”

Indigo Hair, Stardust and Social Isolation Tips You Haven’t Heard

Beautiful, quarantined people-

This piece of life is stressful and seemingly unending, and it appears that everyone has some sort of generic advice; either incredibly obvious or astoundingly bad, to share with the world. I wanted to create something that was neither monotonous, obvious or terrible, but instead, based off of my own experiences and struggles during a global pandemic (and not just something I heard tossed around on the news or the Gram.) I hope you read it. I hope it helps. I hope you wear gloves if you decide to dye your hair. I love you.

  1. Do not feel as if this time of global crisis is the only time you will ever have to inspire the world. There will be other times. Sit down, woman, good lord.
  2. Do not look at old photos on your phone from the summer of 2016 and compare that to your life now. You were tanner and had a pedicure back then, with more plans and less responsibilities. Now is not the time for that kind of reminiscing.
  3. Do not dye your hair indigo when trying to fight the writer’s block. This will not work.
  4. Do not call your friends and be disappointed or feel uninteresting if you have nothing more to say than, “Mentally, today is hard. I’ve eaten ramen and coffee for every meal for two weeks. Everything is mundane but also makes me cry. Why aren’t you playing me back in Words with Friends?”
  5. Speaking of which, do not drink coffee for every meal. Also, do not forget that canned corn counts as a vegetable. Tater tots do, too.
  6. Don’t be scared to take a day off from work, even if that day consists only of sleeping in and Facetiming your sisters. The fact that the world is in crisis does not mean prohibit you from taking a break.
  7. Do not apologize if your home seems loud or messy or out of sorts to the person on the other end of the phone call or video screen. They are in this too, they understand loud, messy and tired. Not apologizing gives them permission to feel human.
  8. Do not start every conversation with talk about the quarantine. Instead, start every single one asking, “How are you? Have you seen or read or felt anything uplifting lately?” If that feels awkward, ask what they are watching on Netflix.
  9. Do not dye your hair pink to try and neutralize the indigo. This also will not work.

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    The  indigo to fuchsia fiasco.
  10. Do not forget about mail. Like, real mail, that comes to you via postman to the mailbox. Send your family and your loves some stickers, or a recipe or a magazine article or a book you read or sketch you drew or the saying on the tea bag that made you think. It won’t be weird, it will bring joy.
  11. Stay creative. Do this by writing things down. Do not think you will remember all of the clever, witty, or goosebump inducing things you heard or you read or you think of in the middle of the night. You will not remember. I promise you. I used to be so opposed to taking the few seconds in my half awake state to write down the brilliant thing spoken in my dream, that I would take a book and throw it in the middle of my bedroom floor. I was convinced that when I saw that book on the floor in the morning, I would instantly remember the brilliant thought. Instead, I would wake up in the morning, see the book and say, “Man, I sure have been throwing a lot of things at night.”
  12. Do  NOT let lists boss you around, girl. This includes at home workouts, personal checklists,  and recipes involving garlic.  Feel the  flow. You  will know the right answer.
  13. Don’t feel embarrassed to say you are a little lonely right now. Or a little sad or a little frustrated, or a little bit of a feeling that doesn’t have a name, but you feel it when you laugh, and also when you cry, and you are not sure if you want more or less of it. We are here for you, love. That feeling is the joy of being alive in this world and the panic of the unknown. That feeling is being a complex being in a complex time who wants to wrap her arms around other complex people in a world where we are told we are not allowed. Hold on to that feeling. It keeps you  honest. It makes you relatable. You are so wonderfully, beautifully human.
  14. Do not be so hard on yourself, baby. We are all in such a strange time on this earth with a mountain of expectations we are supposed to fit in our small, one bedroom apartments filled with children, pets, partners, ideas, work, the future, workouts, recipes, and the eternal heartache of the unknown. You are doing wonderful, love, there is no reason to pick apart the tiny pieces of what makes you whole when you are made entirely of stardust.
  15. And never, ever, save the best for last.

New Orleans Vampire Girls Didn’t Have Tinder

Les filles à la cassette arrived in New Orleans in the early 1700’s, thin, pale, and feverish. They had spent three months under the deck of a ship from France  and told they had been carefully selected for this adventure . However, that adventure had been described as more glamorous than sitting in a stinking ship with minimal food or light for months on end.

There had been women before les filles à la cassette who were sent to New Orleans  to become the wives to the traders and trappers in France’s new territory – but had been adamantly denied by the men in New Orleans.  France had been lazy, scraping the streets and the prisons for women that could “lighten the burden” on French society, and start being productive members of the new world. But the trappers and traders who greeted the boatloads filled with female ex cons and witches  quickly turned the boats back around to France with the women still on board.

Next came the King’s backup plan: girls from the French Convent known as Usruline were gathered by the nuns and pitched this idea: “Do you want to go on an adventure? Do you want to see the new world? Do you want to help create it?”

The girls from the convent were poor, but at least they would be considered more morally chaste than the ship full of convicts previously shipped out to the new territory in the muggy South.

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Mardi Gras 2020 – Before the quarantine and where I learned about the Vampire Girls.

They were each given one box to load their belongings in: long and thin as to accommodate their petticoats, and said goodbye to the Sisters of Ursuline who had been their caretakers up until now. Les filles à la cassette made their way to the strange new land  that promised excitement and intrigue. There were rumors that New Orleans was rough around the edges, that there was voodoo on the streets and that the men were wild and reckless. But those were just rumors and there was adventure in the young girls bones and they loaded onto the boat with their petticoat box and said au revoir to their old home.

The king had given strict order to ensure these women stayed safe on the voyage – and the nuns did not trust the sailors on the three month journey across the sea. So the girls were loaded below deck, which stayed dingy and dark as the ship crept its way across the world to the fated New Orleans.

It was a tiresome and strenuous journey: three months in the dark with minimal food and no reliable access to clean water. Scurvy was rampant and so were the rats and seasickness, and when the ship finally pulled into New Orleans, I imagine they cried with relief, or excitement or nerves, as they anticipated the first breath of fresh air at their new home.

As the girls rose to leave the ship: wobbly on sea legs and pushing their petticoat boxes in front of them – the men gathered at the harbor, excited to see these potential partners the king had sent, all the way from France. 

But the girls had been underground and below deck without any sunlight for many months. The sun hit their eyes and they shielded their face from the light, it was painful to be this close to the light. Not to mention they were impossibly pale from all of the time below deck, and their cheeks sunken and their limbs thin and bony for going too long without adequate food. And then, there was the fact that they pushed a long box in front of them: representative of a casket, that held everything these girls had ever owned. The people of New Orleans were stunned. Had the king sent the undead to New Orleans? Surely, he did not think vampires were an upgrade from criminals.

Les filles à la cassette was the name they were given, “the casket girls,” for their arrival was pale and wild eyed.

Despite the vampire folklore, perhaps the most interesting part of the story is what the casket girls saw when they  left the ship. New Orleans was notorious for being lawless: drunken brawls and chaos were a daily scene. Not to mention that it was a city built on a swamp, nestled into the most ungodly hot weather.

The story goes that the girls saw the chaos and madness that was New Orleans, and turned around and pushed their box right back on to the ship. They sat back down below deck and told the captain to get them out of here. They didn’t care where they were going: back to France, to the Caribbean, Alabama, anywhere other than the unimaginable swamp where they had been told to create a family and an adventure.

Apparently a few stayed… created lives and homes with the traders in the port city. But many left. They counted their losses and prepared for another voyage.

I am not sure why this story is stuck in my mind. I was in New Orleans a few weeks ago (when traveling was still an okay thing to do) and heard someone tell it. I think the storyteller wanted to highlight the vampire aspect, but I was focused on the fact that those young women got back on that boat after such an arduous journey. 

I am not a fan of long boat rides: the last one I took being a family deep sea fishing trip where youngest sister and I spent the first 2 hours hanging off the side of the boat, heaving our breakfast into the waves and the next hour begging everyone to let us off. At that point in my life, I worry I would’ve stayed and married a New Orleans man if it meant I wouldn’t have to stay on the boat.

I wrote the story down, but I wasn’t sure why, I did not know the end point of such a strange legend.  Maybe I would make some joke about the benefits of Tinder so you don’t have to travel for months below deck to realize you don’t want to go on that date after all.  It struck me that those dear little casket girls had a lot more knowledge of who they were and what they wanted than I often do. They knew what they wanted (and what they didn’t) and didn’t let discomfort stop them.

Fo my fellow wandering vampires, I leave you with this: you can be chin deep in a situation and realize it was not right for you. You still have the chance to change. Decisions in this life are rarely so permanent that you can’t get back on the boat.

How to Love in a Quarantine

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NOTE: My piece was initially published in Elephant Journal – but I wanted to make sure you had a chance to read, as well!

Lately, I can’t tell if we are drowning or floating, or if we ever really liked swimming at all. Love breaks down walls, but in this strange world, we are told we need those walls more than ever.  Where does that leave us, then? A defeated decision to choose safety over community? I won’t resign to that. Perhaps, instead, we choose to learn how to love bigger than a quarantine.

First, we must learn silence. If you are an explorer, my dear, (which I know you are) you must now learn to be the mountain. You must creep in and listen at the feet of the world, while standing tall and unchanging. The world is struggling and hurting right now. You will hear things (while you listen) that you don’t agree with. You will see conversations that will make you red with frustration and blue with the coldness that so much of the world seems to deliver. 

But you are the mountain. And your first breath is silence. Fear often takes the form of angry words and short retorts. But love? Love is space for understanding. You are the symbol of that patience, dear one. You are not the one searching, you are the one they’re searching for.

Then, when the silence is filled and there is room to speak, you must whisper. Start with the small sweet things. You speak, “I miss you,” or “I wish you were here to cook with me,” or “These late nights with Bob Dylan make me wonder how you are.” You send texts that say, “I’m sorry we fought last time I saw you, but man, I sure hope that old dog is still around to keep you company right now.” 

Or you call your grandfather or your college roommate. And if they don’t answer, you leave a voicemail that says, “I hope you’re well. I’m thankful for you,” and you understand without regret that you may not get a call back. You stay soft in the hurricane and soft in the silence. You stay warm when the grocery line is long and the kids are loud and the internet is not working and neither are the bills. Your mantra is “thank you.” Your mantra is “praise be.” Your mantra is “I love you more than words and more than the sum of every bad day.” Your mantra is “steady,” love.

And now, dear one, you speak. You speak with heartfelt words and with readable actions. You say, “Now feels like a good time to say ‘I love you.’” You say, “I’m tired, sister. I’m scared about the future and I’m honest about now. Please tell me how you are feeling.” There is nowhere to be and everyone is waiting. Give words to the anxiety, make a song out of the fear, sing with others who understand. Don’t feel guilty for joy or for rest or for a moment of quiet and don’t feel guilty if it doesn’t feel like peace right now. 

State what you want, in your journal or an email or traced into the snow or the sand or across the couch from your love. Say, “I want a cat, or to marry you, or to move to the beach, or to write  a book.” Say, “I love your work ethic but I wish we had more time to talk.” Say, “The day we sat on the rocks near the lighthouse is the day that I think about when I am feeling alone.”

And when you have mastered the silence and the whispering and the voice, you have no choice but to scream. Scream about who you love and why you love them. Scream that you miss the feeling of sun on your cheeks. Scream that you want to go swimming and to walk to school and you wish you didn’t live so far from your parents.

Cry, if that feels honest, and dance if it feels right. Sing with the speakers turned all the way up and tell us that you truly did not know the intensity of being a human until you were told to sit in your humanity. Let tears bless you. Let exhaustion warm you. Let the restless feelings sit in your legs and in your arms and in your heart and think, “Look at all these things I crave and hunger for that I didn’t know I truly loved.”

Our world is tender right now, cuddled inside our houses with either too many bodies or not quite enough – too much sunshine pouring in or too much rain pouring out or too much unknown banging at the door. But you, my loved one, with your furrowed brow and worried heart, with the words to speak and unwritten art. You are in the perfect place to love.