A poem about having nothing to say about having nothing to write about.

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Do I have anything to add to this blank page?
I’m starting to think, as I age
that I don’t have as much to say—
and besides, it’s all been said anyway,
but I sure like to try!
And honestly, I’m not entirely sure why.
I suppose that the happy adult
that I appear to be now is the result
of the awkwardness I felt as a kid
that both enjoyed and hated stayin’ hid.
Back then, I could be awfully shy,
and I’d rather let every chance go by
to receive any sort of attention,
except when it was my intention
to play the piano for you or sing in the choir.
Now, that’s when I’d feel a real fire
in my belly—doing what felt so right and freeing.
And I didn’t even mind anyone else seeing
the love in my heart on full display,
so as long there was always a way
for me to hide my own voice in the crowd
and not ever, for a moment, be too loud.
I always felt safest sitting behind
a piano or a keyboard. I find
that I can say things there
that I find impossible to say anywhere
else. It’s still true at times, and I’m sure I’m not alone.
I suppose every creative person’s bones
are chock full of the same sort of marrow
as they navigate a path that is both painfully narrow
and wildly expansive. It’s a balancing act,
to find and stay on the right track…
Anyway, I have to say that I’m really glad
that I finally got over always feeling awkward and sad
when singing alone in front of a crowd.
Now you can barely shut me up—but I still try not to be too loud.
And at the end of the day, I don’t need
to understand any of it, really. Every seed
that is planted will eventually take root.
And if it doesn’t, it gets the boot—
that is to say, it’ll just add to the fertile ground
and hopefully ensure that the next go-around
will be built on something solid and true.
Well… I don’t know about you,
but, even though the way isn’t always clear
and I’ll eventually lose all that I hold dear,
and in the meantime struggle with writer’s block,
I say this: the time I get to spend on this rock
taking one stab after another at… whatever
is far better than staying quiet forever.

An accidental gift?

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I received a notification last week that I needed to log into my Yahoo email account before it was closed for good.

Why not, I thought.

I typed ‘mail dot yahoo dot com’ into a browser for the first time in ages, logged in (successfully—and amazingly!—on the first try), and found a handful of unread emails from long-forgotten email subscriptions, all of which I deleted without opening.

Then, I looked again, and a realization suddenly took hold of me.

Everything was gone.

Inbox, Sent, Drafts, and the many folders I’d once created to organize nearly two decades of my online correspondence—each one completely wiped clean of its contents.

I set up this email address back in the late 90s, and it was my primary email address until early 2010.

As I stared at this big digital goose egg, I felt twinges of sadness, and also of embarrassment. How could I have let this happen? I thought. An entire archive that I’d taken for granted for years had slipped through my fingers—a record of correspondence with old friends and lost loves; volleys between my mother and me; a zeroes-and-ones trail winding through some of the toughest years of my life; chronicles of a both hopeful and troubled twenty- (and soon thirty-) something trying to figure out her place in the world in digital connection with others—and there was no way to recover any of it.

I did a quick Google search and found similar tales of woe from journalists and bloggers who had discovered their own Yahoo mail accounts erased while searching for something they’d left behind—a high school pal or a contract or an old flame, some ember of the fire that once lit up their younger selves.

And then, as the sadness fell away, a strange relief washed over me. I thought of the pack-rat-ish parents who raised me, who saved every magazine and catalog and Christmas card, and the many boxes and piles of all these things I’d had to sift through when cleaning out the house after Mom died, and how I experienced those same waves of grief and relief in getting rid of so much of it.

Hadn’t I, in some sense, given myself an accidental gift by forgetting about my old email account? Hadn’t my neglect of this archive saved me the energy and time that would have been spent at some stage sorting through it? And would I want to relive much of that correspondence? The misunderstandings between me and my mom, for instance? Isn’t it good to know that there are some things that can be scattered to the winds in this digital age?

Maybe some things are best tossed into the fire without reading them first.

The Yahoo mail account is still active, of course, though I suppose I will let it go entirely into the fire now, once and for all. And I’m smiling.

Thousands of pages later…

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I’ve kept a journal off and on since 7th grade.

My first journal was a bright pink, lock-and-key ‘My Diary’ that was a gift from my Grannie in Scotland, my mum’s mum. I cherished that little volume and the time alone that I spent with it, with my special pen, in my room, recording thoughts and observations that I was certain no one would ever read.

Those pages were the very definition of safety—and for a shy, brainy oddball of a kid like me, playing the piano, listening to music, reading books, and writing in that diary were the whole world to me.

In short order, my need for putting thoughts to paper outgrew the few lines that were allotted to each day in that first diary, and I began dedicated entire college-ruled notebooks. In high school, I abandoned notebooks altogether, and my folks kept me in college-ruled, three-hole-punched paper by the ream, with which I filled many three ringer binders.

Making the leap from the pen to the keyboard was a joyful one for me. Being able to type rather than write meant I could get a lot of things down faster, wow!! And I had a Gateway tower in my first apartment (with an enormous 9 GB hard drive!!!!) with which to journal and write bad (and some not so bad) poetry.

Most especially when I was younger, the act of journaling was an affirmation of my need for understanding and clarity, and also for expression and relief. I’ve often thought of journaling as the cheapest form of therapy, a way to get things off the hard drive that is my brain, and to wring out the sponge and make room for new experiences and (hopefully) new insights.

There have also been periods of time in life when I haven’t journaled at all. Often I was just too busy. Other times, the raw emotions of grief or anger were too volatile, too close to the surface, for me to dare to lift the lid on any of it. For several years when I was in an increasingly abusive relationship, I didn’t feel safe keeping a handwritten journal, so I learned how to password-protect documents on a computer. Those rare moments of solitude at the screen were precious to me, and reminded me of the nights under my parents’ roof when I stayed up into the wee hours nearly falling asleep with my journal in my lap, pen in hand, trying to make sense of the world and of my place in it, one hastily scrawled word at a time.

Right now, as I type these words to share with others, I am reflecting on the many thousands of pages, both physical and digital, that I have amassed in my lifetime, most of which will never be read by anyone.

Why do it at all? I have often asked myself in life.

After another period of years of not much journaling (this time, because I was so happy and busy with life and other satisfying forms of expression) I rededicated myself to daily journaling a few years ago, and especially during the pandemic, I’ve rarely missed a day—until a couple months ago. Then it was every other day, and now it’s only a couple of times a week. Then just the other day, on the 17th, here is the entirety of that day’s entry:

‘The urge to document here, in this way, is fading from me, and I am really okay with that.’

I still write every day—object writing, poetry, song lyrics—but the emptying out of the previous days celebrations and grievances is an impulse that I seem to be outgrowing. For now, at least.

Once in a great while, I dare to open one of my ancient journals, and I find myself holding my breath as I read. Teenage angst; the anxieties of young adulthood; this boy; that song; this situation; that argument; these places; those feelings… as I read, I appreciate how much I’ve survived, how much I’ve lived, and how much I’ve learned.

So maybe that’s why I journal—messages and lessons for my future self. Or is it just entertainment?

Maybe there doesn’t need to be a larger purpose to the journaling. Maybe the act of coaxing those lines from my experience and my fingers into document form is simply a flexing of a creative and expressive muscle for its own sake, in those moments when I have needed a safe place in which I could whisper my secrets and my celebrations.

May all beings feel safe and protected. May all beings have a place to safely share their joy and their sorrow.

‘Just another extraordinary Wednesday’

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Last Wednesday started out like an ordinary day, or as ordinary as they have been during a pandemic—I woke up around 7:30 and moved through my usual morning routines and practices, took (with permission) a single sip of Shawn’s coffee, and set about my Wednesday morning work list (I am lost without my many lists).

More than I usually do, I kept glancing at the time on every available device. At 10:40 a.m. I got in the car and headed to Hannaford in North Conway. I walked in, breezed past the carts and baskets, and headed straight to the pharmacy.

Four of us arrived at about the same time, checked in, submitted IDs, and filled out some paperwork. As I took the clipboard and pen into my hands, the friendly pharmacist rolled her eyes a little and smiled, anticipating the question that never left my lips but certainly bubbled up in my mind: ‘And yes, this is the exact same questionnaire you just completed online… this is Hannaford’s version.’

I took my seat with the others and filled in my answers. No one spoke until a young woman named Anna wheeled out her cart and introduced herself, telling us that we would be receiving our first dose of the Moderna vaccine today, that our second appointments would be made for us, that we would be cursing her that night for our sore arms, and asked that we stay for fifteen minutes after our shots to make sure there were no adverse reactions. And were there any questions?

There were not.

Suddenly, purses were set down, jackets were coming off, and sleeves were being rolled up. I watched the other three people get theirs first. The first recipient took a selfie and said nothing. Anna wheeled over to the next two, a married couple, and asked, ‘Are you excited?’ And after a moment’s hesitation, the wife said, ‘I suppose’ and everyone laughed along with her. The wife got her shot, and then the husband, and then more silence.

Anna wheeled over to me. I asked her, ‘Do you mind if I take a selfie?’ She said, ‘Not at all, please do!’ I added, ‘I rarely take selfies, but this moment seems pretty important.’ She said, ‘Absolutely!’ The first recipient then chimed in, saying, ‘My selfie didn’t turn out, I missed it somehow.’ Anna said, ‘We can stage one for you afterwards,’ which made both of them very happy.

I felt her swab my left arm, and as I looked at the screen of my phone, I felt no hint of pain as she administered the shot. As she was finishing up, I looked in her eyes and said, ‘Thank you,’ and she smiled and said, ‘You’re so welcome’—and it was at this moment that I felt the enormity of the whole experience. Suddenly, there was a lump in my throat, and tears of gratitude welling in the corners of my eyes.

I watched Anna with the first recipient as they reenacted the moment for the missed selfie, everyone smiling behind their masks. After I quickly posted my own photo, I put my phone in my pocket and decided to spend the fifteen minutes sitting as mindfully as I could. I paid close attention to the warm and strange feeling in my left arm; to the beating of my heart, now much more relaxed and settled; to my breath coming and going on its own; to the motions of those picking up prescriptions; to the small, friendly conversations that bubbled up here and there; to shoppers wheeling by with fresh vegetables and bread and toothpaste; to the sounds of a barely perceptible pop song playing through overhead speakers (‘Just another manic Monday…’); to a feeling of awe at the marvels of modern medicine and the human triumph over disease; to the thought of the many thousands of people who were not fortunate enough to live long enough to receive this vaccine that could have saved their lives and those of others.

Every Wednesday, every moment, is extraordinary, when I look closely enough.

Fifteen minutes later, we were sent on our way with our IDs, new vaccine record cards, and information about our next appointments. I walked out into the early spring sunshine, more aware of my posture and of my left arm, feeling lighter, happier, and so full of hope and gratitude.

I arrived home to the intoxicating smells and sounds of pancakes cooking on the stove. I really am lucky beyond belief. I hugged and kissed the chef and thanked him, ate my pancakes, and got back to work.

Taking baby steps with (and like) a hornet.

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(the pre-show view from the balcony at SMAC on Thursday night)

This past week was all about taking baby steps and knocking the rust off of things—my in-person performance chops, my out-in-the-wild social skills, and, most especially, my ability to stay present in the quickly changing circumstances of all these things.

This past Thursday night, Shawn and I played in the barn of Stone Mountain Arts Center, a local listening room gem that has hosted everyone from Lyle Lovett to Judy Collins to… me?? The main hall is dark right now, and so owners Carol and Jeff have transformed their barn lobby into a magical place with little ‘hobbit holes’ where folks can dine in little pods and then move their chairs a little and take in whatever is happening in the middle of the barn—and on Thursday night, it was Shawn and I that were happening.

It was my first time in front of a living, breathing, in-person audience since last August. Applause?! Wow, what is that?! Faces not on a screen?! Really feeling someone’s presence. Really hearing their silence. Really noticing their eyes smiling above their masks. How full of life each and every one of us is. Every moment was beautiful, and I leaned into every second without reservation. The waves of joy and surprise and ease and even awkwardness and discomfort that rise and fall during what used to feel so commonplace are an experience that I hope to never take for granted ever again.

After we set up and sound-checked, we were seated up in the corner of the balcony. This was a five course dinner deal, and we weren’t excluded from this star treatment. Vegan delight after vegan delight arrived at our station, and we were stuffed full before the main course.

Shawn joked, ‘Carol, you’re spoiling us! Every gig should be like this! Play a couple songs, eat some food, play a couple more songs, eat more food…’

Shortly after the second round of music, I was making my way back upstairs when I was stopped by someone wanting to briefly chat. As I looked deeply into the eyes of this fellow human—another action I hope to never take for granted ever again—I thought I felt something crawling on my left hand and, without looking away from my conversation that was now coming to a close, I brushed away the nuisance. What came next as I walked back to my table was an excruciating pain along the edge of my left palm below the base of my pinky. The hell is this? I thought to myself, and then realized that I had just been stung by one of the few hornets that all of us up in the balcony had been noticing as they performed their early-spring, aimless, slow-motion drift, newly awakened from within the walls of the old barn.

The side of my hand was swelling quickly. I went and got washed up and someone brought me a bag of ice. Within minutes, I was eating more delicious food, laughing the whole thing off, and ready to play the rest of the night with no problems. Carol apologized to me profusely. I smiled and said, ‘I appreciate that, but it’s no big deal, really. It’s just preparing me for my first vaccine this week.’ (This Wednesday!)

‘She’s a tough kid,’ she told the chuckling crowd as we started the next round.

Later, after getting home and feeling so full in heart, body, and mind, I realized how similar I am to that hornet—slowly waking up from the hibernation of this whole last year, moving around with some sloth and uncertainty, not quite in my rhythm yet—and, in my exhaustion, not without some venom and the ability to use it! I hope I can always remember to contain my grumpiness, and laugh and be grateful instead, as we all take these baby steps back to shared in-person experiences.

I wanna be like water when I grow up.

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(A wall of ice with Shawn for scale)

Shawn and I were able to observe one of our yearly traditions this past week—hiking up to Arethusa Falls as close to the first day of spring as our lives will allow.

The falls are accessible by a fairly easy, in-and-back trail at the southern end of Crawford Notch State Park, with about 800 feet of elevation gain. It’s beautiful any time of year, but March is our favorite for several reasons: there are usually very few people around; there’s still enough snow and ice on the trail to both smooth out the usually rocky, rooty trail and require the use of our micro-spikes; and the unique beauty that awaits us at the top—a wall of water over a hundred feet tall almost entirely encased in bluish ice.

What draws my attention most strongly to memories of past years’ hikes to this gorgeous place is the sound of the water moving, rumbling, tumbling, behind and underneath the ice. I love hopping here and there when we get up to the top, seeking out all the different sounds and tones and harmonics that are unique to this short window of spacetime.

We didn’t make the trek last year. We had just gotten home from the cancelled tour and, along with the rest of the world, entered into isolation from the pandemic with a sense of withdrawal from the life we once knew, as if it were now out of reasonable reach and accessible now only by memory.

I have thought of these falls now and again over the past year, eager to see them again in the state we found them last Tuesday. In my rumination, I’ve been so deeply comforted by the fact that, while the humans of the world adapted to the new normal being built from and around the pandemic, the water continued to move, day after day, over that wall of rock and earth, following the ancient course of every drop of the world’s water back towards the sea from which all life emerged. In this way, each drop is coming and going again and again, partnered with gravity in an infinite dance.

I could learn a thing or two from the moving water. It’s simple and easy. It knows the way, and never questions it. It holds and changes its form, effortlessly, no matter the conditions. It’s essential for life. It’s best when it’s unpolluted. It’s flowing and soft, and yet steady and strong enough to wear away rock and earth. I wanna be more like water when (if?) I grow up.

Dirty dogs and frost heaves.

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The first day of spring here in the northeastern US is a big deal—it’s the official farewell to winter, to night being longer than day; it’s a celebration of the turning of this big beautiful planet towards warmth and light, rebirth and joy. No matter how much beauty one finds in winter—and there is plenty!—the anticipation of spring and all of its stored-up joy is immutable. The shiver one feels in the still-cold mornings doesn’t survive the warmth that is generated in one’s heart in mid-March as the ugly snowbanks give up their form and the sun bends just so through the kitchen window.

That stored-up joy leaks out in so many ways this time of year in the northeast. I feel it as I soften into the warmth of the fleece on my back as it absorbs the sunlight. I hear it in the thunder of sheets of melting snow sliding off the roof and onto the lawn. It appears as I stand in the driveway listening to a single tufted titmouse ‘peter-peter-peter’-ing in its search for a mate. It’s in the laughter shared with a friend while we watch their two freshly bathed dogs rolling around in the dirty, newly-revealed front yard.

All of this joy is also accompanying the news of loved ones near and far who either have received, or are about to receive, their second vaccination. While I’m feeling really hopeful these days, I’m also noticing the urge to skip right over the ugly-dirty-snowbanks-melting-and-the-frost-heaves-are-still-flattening-out-and-when-can-I-please-get-my-first-shot phase and get right to the yay-it-is-finally-summer-and-it’s-safe-to-come-out-now-and-travel-and-hug-and-sing-with-my-friends-and-do-all-the-happy-things-all-at-once-right-this-damned-minute phase.

Then I remember that wanting is the root of suffering, and the other day I started singing, over and over, the seedling of a new song:

Does anything need to change right now?

It’s a really good question, and one that I am constantly asking myself these days.

Yes, I’m impatient.

Yes, it’s seemed like an especially long winter, and it has certainly been a long strange year.

And yes, it is possible to be happy right here, staring at this screen, or staring out the window, or laughing at a clean-oops-now-dirty dog rolling in the dirt. I can even find happiness in slowing down, over and over, as I navigate the frost heaves that are flattening out— and yes, maybe more slowly than I would like, but flattening out all the same.

Just like those frost heaves, both my impatience and my joy continue to rise up, make themselves known, and then fall away again.

I don’t want to resist the dirt. I wanna be like those pups I saw this week and roll around in it—carefree and full of laughter and an openness to the fullness of experience.

Equanimity, anyone?

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Many are marking their one-year-of-COVID anniversaries with an outpouring of stories, colored by every hue of disbelief, despair, longing, grief, and also hope, resilience, surprise, and even awe.

Awareness of the pandemic, and especially of the immediate impact it would have on my life, exploded in my brain on the evening of March 6, 2021 at the Mudville Music Room in Jacksonville, FL. Shawn and Davy and I were eating our pre-show meals and scrolling through our phones when Shawn announced that the entire SXSW conference had been cancelled.

‘They cancelled the whole conference?’ I replied, my voice loud and incredulous enough to draw the attention of others in the venue who were awaiting both their own meals and their entertainment from us.

‘We’ll probably all be going home in a week,’ Davy said with a bit of a chuckle.

No, I thought, pushing on this unpleasant idea as strongly as I could. I was immediately carried off on a train of thoughts:

Dammit, that means we won’t get to perform our SX showcase!

and

Are we gonna have to cancel the rest of this tour?

and

I don’t want to get sick.

and

I don’t want to get anyone else sick.

and

Shit, I’m never gonna sell all these brand new band T-shirts.

Davy was right. Over the next few days, the tour fell out from under us. Except for a live radio spot in Tampa and our last scheduled Florida show on the 14th, all our remaining gigs cancelled on us. We wouldn’t be touring Texas this year, nor would I be seeing any family in Houston, nor passing through my beloved Crescent City on the way.

This past year is the longest I’ve spent anywhere since before 2010. I worried that after a few weeks of hunkering down at home, I would get too restless not being able to get the hell out of Dodge on the regular to see and experience something new. I worried about the future. I felt powerless to the changes.

In fact, what I’ve realized in the last year is how happy I can be keeping completely still, and how deeply satisfied I am with the choices I’ve made in my life—who my partner is, who my friends are, how I structure my days with various practices and disciplines and joys. Happiness isn’t out on the road somewhere. It’s right here, in my heart and mind, even when it seems a bit out of reach, even when I believe that it’s not possible. If I remember to look, it’s available to me anytime. I have thousands of photos, videos, and journal entries to scratch the itch of reliving past adventures. And I have the time and ability to gather up and set down some new observations, plans, and hopes. There’s time now for new song ideas and new ways to share them, and for noticing the subtle changes that occur along the path of my daily walk—new bird songs, new growth on the forest floor, new beer cans discarded out of open windows, new sets of footprints from fellow creatures following impulses of their own.

This past year has also been a beautiful reminder of how generous and loving and caring folks are. As soon as we got home from Florida, I wrote and recorded a song about toilet paper, based on a poem I wrote during the loooooooong drive home, that kinda sorta went viral. And that was fun! And the laughter during a scary moment was appreciated so much by folks that they—strangers, friends, family—started sending money. Shawn and I started live-streaming that weekend, and again, the donations poured in. For the last year, I’ve made my living entirely from the value that others place on what I do. Donations, tips, gifts, pledges on Patreon, PayPal, Venmo, checks in the mail with lovely handwritten notes. That’s amazing to me. What a humbling gift!

And most of the T-shirts did sell eventually. And of course they did, because people rock!

With vaccines rolling out now—at the speed of imperfect and well-meaning humanity—I’m feeling hopeful and curious about the future. I’m also feeling so grateful for what I have, what I’ve learned, and for the reminder that life has always been, and will always be, uncertain—and being able to cultivate equanimity is the key to staying relaxed in the shadow of that fact. When I remember to breathe and allow myself to feel the negative feelings more clearly, rather than push them away, then they can burn out under the magnifying glass of mindfulness.

As we all mark this strange and stark anniversary, I hope that you can notice and reflect on the small sources of happiness around you that ring the gentle bells of beauty and joy in your own heart.

A year without hugs.

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I just realized that it’s been almost a year since I hugged anyone besides Shawn.

And boy, do I know how lucky I am to live with a hugger. And I am so grateful!

I’ve stayed healthy and happy over this past year, with a few dips of bummed-out-ness here and there. Those dips correlate with how much I miss my friends, and how I do miss hugging them, very much.

The last people I hugged were Davy’s brother and sister-in-law, in the driveway of their winter place in Florida as the trio shoved off for home from the cancelled second half of our six week tour. I even wrote in my journal that it was ‘going to be weird to not be gigging for a few weeks.’ Now, it looks like all touring is off the table until 2022. And who knew that hugging would be off the table for this long, too?

I remember distinctly the first time I thought that I shouldn’t hug someone. It was at our Pensacola show on that ill-fated tour. A new HPAT fan was regaling me at the merch table, buying a T-shirt and some CDs, very excited to meet me. The news had grown more worrisome in those first days of March 2020, but emergency had not yet been declared. This new and excited fan really wanted a hug, and I gave her one, and I remember feeling so sad at the possibility that this simple expression of affection and care could endanger someone’s well-being.

(Of course, in that moment we were all ignorant to the fact that the several hundred of us who were gathered at the venue that night may have already been endangering each other’s health! It makes me shudder to think of it now!)

The human spirit is strong and innovative. I know someone who hugged her aging dad through a clear plastic sheet while visiting him at the nursing home.

This past year has been so difficult, and we’re all finding ways to cope. It’s also brought into full relief the fact that we all have a finite number of encounters, and hugs, with the people we love. Cherish every single one.

Turning 11 at 45.

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Last Friday marked an anniversary for me.

I used to define February 26 in terms like: ‘It’s been (blank) years since I left that creep.’ Always in reference to him, to his presence in my life, to his behavior.

Over time, it grew into something like: ‘It’s been (blank) years since I took my life back.’ I was growing in appreciation for myself, but still in a defensive stance—not fully trusting yet, and still referencing a struggle with him.

Last Friday, I wrote in my journal: ‘Eleven years ago today, I asserted my self-worth in a very demonstrable way.’ Now that sounds like a bird who knows the strength of her own wings.

To tell you the truth, there is nothing special, really, about February 26, though I have to admit that I’ve come to think of it as a sort of birthday. On that particular day in 2010—on a Friday, in fact—with the help of a dear friend, I gathered a few of my things and fled to safety, and began the long road that brought me to this blank page, to these words, and to sharing my heart in this way.

Surviving abuse is time travel. Trauma, like grief, is something I experience as going in and out of remission. A face, a thought, a song, a fictional character, a scent—anything can transport the mind to the past. All is well until it isn’t. And when it isn’t, nurturing pathways of support—and the importance of a self-empathy practice—are key components to finding one’s way through the wormhole back to now.

If I’ve learned anything in the last eleven years, it’s this: Every day, every moment, every breath is a chance to start anew, and to ‘assert one’s self-worth in a very demonstrable way.’ Every day is a birthday—for a person or an idea or a new path in life. Every moment, when you look deeply enough, is truly a cause for celebration. And I intend to keep my party hat on as often as I can, for as long as I can.