It’s a Helluva Place

Thoughts at home…
~
visions
Sort of having this vision of the sixteen acres of my parents’ home becoming a retreat/healing center (as my father works to complete the sauna he started years ago). A place for intentional community for people of many faiths.
This is some sort of variation of a pipe dream to start a school or to start an organic farm we bring up now and then.
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I find this deep respect for my family as they are spending chunks of their retirement tending to our property as well as volunteering for a Christian mission group that works to bring Syrian refugees to the US/Canada. As liberal urbanite who seems to be surrounded by lots of fellow Trump-bashers seemingly “woke” folks, I can kind of think “well duh” but I forget all of the fraught biased politics surrounding this as they live in the middle Trump country (1)
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Driving home I see a truck that says TUMP 2020 in 10 ft tall letters sitting across from an elementary school where I used to shadow ESL classes. I remember meeting kids from Mexico…China..Thailand…etc. Sort of makes me think the Latino children I worked with at least had each other and their communities to fall back on emotionally when the hate speech started to spew from the mouth of the ‘most high,’ but these kids are alone, maybe the only one of their countrymen in that town and having to see that propaganda every day on their walk to school.
(1) Ryan Dueck, “I’m Sorry, Christian, but you Don’t Get To Make That Move”  https://ryandueck.com/2015/09/16/im-sorry-christian-but-you-dont-get-to-make-that-move/       
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football and crybabies 
My friend reads my blog and sends me a wonderful meditation by a Lakota grandmother but I do not play it at the dinner table. Shortly before our family prayer, I hear my father saying to my uncle and brother “I don’t get why people are such babies these days, wanting to be so politically correct, crying about how the name of the football team is the Redskins, give me a break.”
I keep a lot of thoughts in my head. It takes me some time to process things I find, and I am already conditioned to keep my mouth quiet. Maybe why I’ve turned to writing as a means to expression, as what I usually want to say is not understood, or received well, by the people around me. It’s a gift and a curse, sometimes, I’m sure.
So I’m silently replying … “Maybe they are ‘crybabies’ because of genocide..then suffered centuries of conquest, relocation, boarding schools, etc. etc. and peoples and now have to be reminded of it by it everytime they see the logo that perpetuates stereotypes (1)…not to mention it harms the brains of men, maybe even men who have DNA of their descendants with concussions (2-3)…and not to mention the ones at said sporting events refusing to stand for the anthem in act of protest and to stand in solidarity with opressed peoples.(3)”
But then again, what would a girl like me really know about football.
(3) Antonia Moore, Vice, “Footballs War on the Minds of Black Men” https://sports.vice.com/en_us/article/eze4gj/footballs-war-on-the-minds-of-black-men 
(4) Edmund DeMarche, CNN, “Kaepernick Participates in Unthanksgiving Day on Alcatraz” http://www.foxnews.com/us/2017/11/24/kaepernick-participates-in-unthanksgiving-day-on-alcatraz.html
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social consciousness and the children and the generations and the going on 
Question: Does our social consciousness shift as we age to find “belonging” within the political consciousness of our peers the current trends of politics? (My dad going from sweat lodge builder to a more conservative view on ‘political correctness’?)
Question: Or do those remaining bits of what was not understood or manifested by the previous generation pass on to their children – like me, now caught up in my own research and my own life-playing out in some spirit lotus wrapped up in healing ‘whiteness’ as an identity and how it can be healed in order to seek more expansion and freedom for all peoples. Are we the ones left trying to sort out the parts of us we left behind in previous generations?
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ancestral dreaming
We played a game at the dinner table that my mother and I made with creative self-reflection questions and the first one my grandfather picks up.
Describe heaven.
“It’s a helluva a place,” he says.
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Today I’m talking to my mother about my previous school year as a teacher in urban DC, fraught with all kinds of things I can’t even begin to explain in a simple post. My mother was a teacher and so was I.
I show her the slideshow I made for a project I did with a colleague in the music-biz to try and get statues erected in DC of local women and people of color who made an impact on the city’s history. She’s editing my work. I’m showing her the slides of a local DC artist who played with folk musicians of the 60s and participated in the Civil Rights movement. “You spelled Pete Siger wrong…It’s Pete Seeger.” I know mom, I know. Typos are inevitable.
Then I show her videos from the poetry slam I attended of my old students, Latino kids who wrote poems of unity,  dreaming, how hard their parents paved the way for their world of success. One of my best friends from my old school coached the team and wrote the culminating poem. I helped her edit it.
The kids stand up and say “Unity, we stand for a better tomorrow, but now you tell me no more dreamers?”- these children descendants of a generation of immigrants denied access to opportunities before the DREAM Act and DACA. The stuff the Puppet and his minions are working to overturn. Now the bilingual children of the ancestors are on stage shouting out what their parents are still denied from saying in the public space.
Note from self: Remember this isn’t the conditioning of your white savior complex or need to prove your worthiness shown through your dedication to the children of color over other children because that is still a manifestation of racism.  This is trust that individuals will free themselves as individuals communities will free themselves as communities and this is the healing of our century that we all must take part in as a whole. I have called you to participate.
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We watch old home movies of my grandparents on my father’s side. My father’s baba, who didn’t really speak English at all but he and my uncle remember telling them to eat. Standing next to beautiful flowers in her garden. Chickens running around the backyard in front of the outhouse. Always wore a babushka and a dress, they said. It’s all that they’ve remembered, they said.
I sit to wonder. What the ancestors have asked us to carry on. What they have asked us to change. What they have asked us to heal. What they are watching us be.

 

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On Native American History, Cultural Appropriation and Facing Our Work Today

books
I sit and write this post from my childhood bedroom, where there are Native American literature book lining the walls of what is now my parents’ library.
I’m sure this post is preaching to the choir a bit, seeing the friends who follow my feeds – but let’s just remind everyone – it’s that time of year! Time to remind everyone in our lives about the destruction of Native communities in the Americas. To celebrate your holiday with gratitude for your loved ones, while simultaneously disassociating from the traumatic history of our very blood and soil!
“History is not the past, it is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history.” Thank you Baldwin!
This November the Keystone oil pipeline has already leaked 210,000 gallons of oil in South Dakota into the Lake Traverse Reservation. Last month we had the “largest massacre in U.S. history” in Vegas, but what they forgot to say is that it was the largest in recent history. Least not to forget the massacres at Sand Creek and Wounded Knee.
Now let me say this I have found in the past several years of my development that my experience serves as an excellent case study of an individual and a family unit that benefits from white privilege and all the shit that it causes under a country founded on the notion of white supremacy. (Yes, thank you 2017). My personal self-work has involved healing from “whiteness” in an era where we see the dark manifestations of this around us in our everyday activities and speak.
At the same time, I am also thankful I grew up in a household where I felt educated about cultures outside of my own, where many of my peers did not have this experience whatsoever and stayed inside a very narrow bubble of understanding.This encouraged me to dutifully and in intentionally interact with people who may have lived a different experience or hold a different perspective than myself, and proceed with respect and understanding. With a hold shit ton of mistakes. I have also been encouraged to live a life of service towards others.
(Not that there are problems with that as well, but more on that at a later date)
I would like to examine myself as a case study.
I writing this objectively, the history as I remember it.
I do not claim to be an expert in identity politics, a only my experience as I see it playing out today.
Some of these experiences may be problematic. They may be totally a manifestation of human curiosity and cultural exchange in the global era. It’s perspective.
I wrote this a few weeks ago, and I’m still exploring the idea. So bear with me.
Let me see…
childhood
My father used to teach Native American literature as a high school teacher. I don’t know where his passion for it came from, but I remember participating in it. I remember hiding under a teepee in my backyard. Doing a sweat-lodge and then immediately running around in my sprinkler outside. Taking trips on the river in a canoe. I remember asking my father about the lines on the faces of the Natives in the books he had, black and white photography. “Why do they look so old?” I asked. “Those are their wisdom lines,” he said. I remember my father reading books to me before I went to sleep. There was a fictional book with Native woman protagonist who had a baby with blue eyes not long after she had a visit from a Nordic man. I started understanding how gene expression worked before I had an understanding of how babies were made.
I also remember Pocahontas coming out around 1996. Then dressing up as her for Halloween.
Let me see…
high school and college
It actually crossed my mind once as a naive freshman in college that I would “dress up like an Indian” and put on a lot of makeup. Yes. Literally, brown face. (It never happened, thank god.) I remember seeing an indie singer-song writer I knew wearing headdress at one of a show. And despite my healthy dose of literature as a child, I don’t think I read a single book about Native American history during college. Except perhaps, the Chicana writer Gloria E. Anzaldúa, who blew my mind and stole my poet’s heart, in Borderlands/La Frontera. And then, I remember a student in that class saying “I like her writing, but why does she have to be so angry?’
Let me see…
last year
I did sweat lodge again in upstate New York with one of my best friends. We had been wanting to try the experience, on the night of the full moon at that. The crowd, however, did not comprise of any Native participants or leaders. There were people from the community who had studied with Lakotas, but were not of Lakota origin themselves. There was a river, and we all felt it was too cold to jump in. It was a beautiful experience, but a few weeks later, the actual spiritual experience really hit me in the head with this insight:
Merritt, give up the yoga. Give up the Native American ritual. You need to start writing again.
And in many ways, telling me to look at, this very thing.
Let me see…
So what’s coming up now. 
I’ve participated in some spiritual communities in the past few years and here is something I am really curious about.
I don’t see an overwhelming amount of Native appropriation, although I imagine it’s in there, hiding in the dark.
I’m sort of just putting this out there as a question, from a place of curiosity for other people who may participate in other religious/spiritual offerings from cultures that have been historically and presently oppressed in the Americas.
Have you had your mini-Rachel Dolezal moment where you find yourself going to “take the ‘good’ parts, leave the rest behind”? Like, you want to participate in a Native American ceremony, but do you want the high rate of suicide and depression? Sexual assault and rape? The alcoholism? Contaminated water?  Poor rates of education for your children?
I have been writing and researching a lot about shamanism lately, from a multi-cultural perspective. While the word “shamanism” might bring up the image of someone of a Native American culture, the practice is seen all over the world. I know there is history from my own heritage in Western and Eastern Europe, and yes, I’m really sad that that’s been lost over time through my ancestry to my own present.
As I imagine, there are people in any community who know about their own culture, but who are too ashamed, scared, feeling low-self worth, to stand up and share about it.
And it gets lost…and lost…and lost…until it becomes invisible.
….
Let me see…
What would the healing of this look like from a perspective of exchange? 
We need to be in community with other communities, otherwise, I fear the resurgence of a colonial complex (” I/my ancestors took your culture, now let me teach it back you you) and we will see another disappearance of marginalized people all over the world under this umbrella of white supremacy.
A few weeks ago, I attended an online conference on called “Grounding in Life” work hosted by the modern mystic, Thomas Hübl. Through events of dialogue and exchange, he has worked at healing the Holocaust’s cultural shadows, bringing together thousands of Israelis and Germans in the process.
So now I sit wondering, who is going to bring this type of work to the Americas? When it is so very traumatized at its core over so many things.
A few things that stood out to me from his talk:
  • “The body of the human being around the world has deep scars”
  • “Whole societies are built on dark lakes of the unconscious”
  • “Stream of conscious awareness runs throughout the generations “
  • “We recreate the same structures again and again”
There’s this sort of sick pressure I find in the spiritual/self-help world of an individualistic nation that thinks you are going to accomplish all of this healing work on your own. Not really possible. Especially with the wounds we have inflicted and have to carry.
So! In gathering in “We-Spaces” (or places where there is not a ‘me’ or ‘you’ but rather a ‘we’ in the gathering) this can be accomplished:
  • “When there is a coherence and intimacy in a We-Space, big eruptions of collective unconscious comes up, waiting to come back into the conscious awareness”
  • “Coming together in intentional We pace, something about the greater field that allows us to work with material that would be overwhelming for us if we were just trying to do that on our own..”
I could see the work being much more fruitful towards a healing discussion for both parties across racial and cultural lines.

airpoem

The House of Entheogens

house

She met him in October on the Georgetown campus. He was wearing a red a blue baseball cap. The wind blew it off and she picked it up. Returned it to him. They started talking about the weather, then science, and soon philosophy. Quickly, they became friends.

 

They spent several Sundays taking walks to the local farmer’s market to pick out apricots, then going to eat them on a blanket in the park. It was the most romantic thing she’d ever done. But they remained nothing more than friends, yet something more than casual acquaintances. After all, she had recently finished her journalism degree and worked at a restaurant part-time, and he was pursuing his Ph.D. at Georgetown. Both of them, divorced. Neither had time for dating – or at least – no desire in walking the path to another broken heart.

 

Once it got cold, he invited her to his house. When she walked in, she wondered why he had a rice cooker with aluminum foil on top. A device to make gold out of, he told her. He explained the whole process. His alchemy. She trusted him. He studied quantum mechanics after all.

 

The house was full of strange things. (No, not the kind of strange things mothers warn daughters about before they sneak away with a glass of wine and the latest E L James novel.) The kind of strange things that made her curious and ask a lot of questions.

 

In the kitchen he kept tiny bottles on the shelves, full of substances that looked like chemicals or powders. Others were full of herbs, leaves, and varieties of tea, with perhaps a few strains of medical marijuana in the mix.

 

“Entheogens,” he told her. “Meaning ‘generating the divine within.’ Or more simply put — plant medicines. They produce non-ordinary states of consciousness. People around the world use them for religious or spiritual reasons.”

 

“Oh, right,” she said. “I knew that….and what exactly do you do with them?

 

“Oh, sometimes people come to me and buy them. If enough people are interested, I’ll lead retreats where people could take the entheogens within a safe container, like a Santo Daime church, someone’s backyard in the woods, or a yoga studio.

 

There was nothing ordinary about him, she thought. And maybe that’s why she hung around.

 

 

“So….you’re dating a drug dealer?” Penelope gasped.

 

“Well, no, not exactly,” she said. “I don’t know if we’re actually ‘dating,’ we’re just friends. Anyway, he’s more of an um…urban shaman.”

 

“Is that what he calls himself, or did you just make that up right now?”

 

“I mean….I guess it’s the term he uses, but I still find it pretty fascinating.”

 

“Come on Nat,” Penelope reached out to touch her hand. “I’m worried about you.”

 

“He’s getting a Ph.D.! In quantum physics!”

 

“Hah….Denver worked as Noam Chomsky’s literary agent, and you saw how that turned out when I needed someone to drive me to Planned Parenthood last summer!”

 

“What, you prefer I date a nice normal guy? Like the guy at the coffee shop with muscular arms and the compass tattoo who talked to me about The Unbearable Lightness of Being and then asked for validation for the quality of his pictures on his Bumble profile?”

 

“No! No…that’s not what I’m saying. I just think you deserve someone who genuinely cares about you, Natalie. Drugs and things…whatever. I just don’t want to see you settling for someone who just who only cares about himself again.”

 

 

She enjoyed exploring his house. She experimented with the musical instruments he collected from his travels around the world, like the Aboriginal didgeridoo and Malian n’goni. She watered the twenty potted plants and herbs sitting by the window. She bought him a bamboo plant, a snake plant, and a bonsai tree, just to add something a little more ordinary to the most exotic mix.

 

The jars of entheogens were meticulously labeled with the common name and its psychoactive constituent:

 

Ayahuasca – Harmala alkaloids and DMT

Bolivian torch cactus – Mescaline

Fly agaric – Ibotenic acid and muscimol

Magic mushrooms – Psilocybin and psilocin

 

“When did you know you were….you know….a ‘shaman?’ ” she asked.

 

“Maybe as young as twelve,” he said, not noticing the glint of sarcasm in her voice. “I started out having out of body experiences. Lying in bed before I would fall asleep, it felt like my body was being submerged in water like I was about to cross over into spirit realm. Started perceiving what was going to happen in the future. Sometimes clairvoyant. I didn’t know what was happening to me. When one of my college professors gave me some of C. G. Jung’s literature on archetypes and the collective unconscious, some things started to make sense.”

 

He paused to take in the confused look on her face.

 

“Don’t worry,” he laughed, almost reading her mind. “I’ve looked into mental health issues – I don’t have schizophrenia, not possible. Doesn’t run in my family line. I believe my ancestors carried this knowledge, and it’s coming through me in this generational incarnation of the bloodline. And of course, Western medicine doesn’t have a name for these types of things. Hence, a lot of people do end up getting a mental health diagnosis. What I experience is just that – what I experience. Weird things happen from time to time, but it doesn’t dominate my life. And I find the plants guide me to what I need to know.”

 

Remarkably, Trevor was the most normal person she had been with, even out of her male friends. When she was with him she felt safe and calm.

 

“And how did you find the plants?” she asked.

 

“Maybe you should be asking ‘how did the plants find me’?’”

 

“Oh my friend,” she smiled and laughed. “You are such a mystery. I could write a whole book on you.”

 

“Oh? What would it be – fantasy?”

 

She blushed. Fantasies. She had a few. There was clearly some sexual tension between them, of course. But the two hadn’t had sex, or made love, or even fucked, or whatever you want to call it, in the time they had now known each other.

 

“Are you winking at me?!” she jested, then coughed. “No, you know I write nonfiction. And hard journalism.”

 

There was an awkward silence between them. She pointed to the stack of books on his table.

 

“Speaking of nonfiction, tell me more about the intelligence of plants they talk about in your books. What does it mean exactly?”

 

“Let me think…Well, you can’t compare the intelligence of plants to that of humans, exactly. It’s not as if they have a rational, thinking mind, like a brain or a computer. Scientists who study plant intelligence see plants as highly sensitive organisms – rather than passive players in their environment. Plants monitor their internal and external worlds for informational and functional shifts – like changes in soil, water, light, etc. Just like our eyes have a sensory inflow from the spectrum of light to perceive colors, plants have gates of perception that allow sensory inflow from a spectrum of what is going on around them. Then, they integrate that information into their own state of being”

 

“Yes, now, go on.”

 

“When I take the plants, they can guide my body into that same level of perception. I can’t explain it well, poems seem to do the talking for me from there.” He pulled a book off of the table and turned to a bookmarked page:

 

It is actually a kind of dreaming

And not the kind of dreaming you are thinking about either

But a different kind of dreaming entirely

(It’s like the dreaming you do when you are reading this book)

The dreaming is the central core of what this book is about

It is the kind of dreaming that Goethe was engaged in

When he learned about plant metamorphosis

And Luther Burbank when he looked deep into the plant

And saw every environment its ancestors had ever lived in

And the same kind that Barbara McClintock did

When she watched individual chromosomes in corn shift their structure

It is the same state of mind that writers enter when they create words

It is also how Gaia dreams the world into being

And is the kind of dreaming you can do, too, if you wish,

If you decide to walk through the doors of perception

And find out what is on the other side

 

 

“It’s lovely. I love it. You know I love poetry. But let’s go back to what you mentioned earlier – how DID the plants find you?”

 

“Ah! Right. Five years ago, not long after I moved to the city for grad school and was living in a condo, and I had a dream that I was wandering around this big house with secret passageways behind bookshelves, hidden staircases, and a big front yard. I felt curious and elated like I did as a child discovering life’s mysteries for the first time. The next day got a lead from someone I had met randomly at a bookstore in Adams Morgan. The price was unbeatable for the city, almost like a gift from the gods.”

 

“Yeah, really, it’s impossible to find something these days,” she commented.

 

“And the next week, I bought this house. Everything you see here, the books, the jars, the labels – all already on the shelf from the previous owner. An Italian immigrant, I heard, who had passed and left nothing to his grandchildren who all live in various parts of the country and want nothing to do with his past. The plants were the passageways waiting for me to explore their world of insight. Their potential to heal us and bring us more into our true natures.”

 

She stared at him in silence.

“Trevor, I think you’re pretty cool, you know that?”

 

He laughed and went to go prepare her a coffee. “I guess you’re not so bad either.”

As much as Natalie enjoyed hanging out with Trevor, she simply couldn’t bring herself to opening up to him intimately. Perhaps is came from her unhealed past. Her first boyfriend told her about his trips on acid at 17 and became a heroin addict by the age of 22.  In her last serious relationship before her marriage, her boyfriend smoked a joint nearly every time they saw each other, which would make him fall asleep during sex. And then in her marriage — the most disastrous of them all – her husband was a physiatrist who eventually began abusing the opioids he gave to patients and had convinced her she was both anorexic and had bipolar disorder. Neither of which were true.

 

Natalie was never sure why she attracted these types of men into her life. Aside from the usual alcohol and weed in college, she had never really taken drugs herself. Things had not been great, and her friends never knew what she saw in these men. All of them, to varying degrees, had expressed interest in social and political change, but never really seemed to put much action behind their words. Their drug use came first.

 

Trevor, on the other hand, didn’t seem to care about politics at all. When he wasn’t working with the entheogens, he put all of his energy into his studies. She knew there was something different about him. They kept their boundaries, and she let the man remain a mystery.

 

In February, Penelope and Natalie got their nails done for Valentine’s Day. She told Natalie she has a dream where she is pregnant. They stop by a drug store for the test and sure enough –

 

“I can’t believe it’s going to happen. I’m going to be a mom!”

 


TO BE CONTINUED

Coffee Date

Coffee Date
 
Sucking on this straw
And my coffee ice clinks
My new date
And I are out for drinks
He asks for a story
Before he asks for a nude
If you stick with me boy
You won’t need Pay-per View
“What happened to you?
To make you look so fucked up?”
“Dammit,” I think
“I even did my make-up!”
“Let me tell you
Last night I had one too many drinks
I ended up with my head in the toilet
At least I didn’t go for the sink!
But don’t worry
I didn’t start a fight!
I just lost my front tooth
When I tripped down a flight!”
Shit
….
..
.
Will you still love me?
Or will you get bored?
Hey  – my whole life I’ve been a whore!
According to who? According to what?
If the stars aligned – I’d be your slut.
You know – my last boyfriend – he was addicted to smut
Oh…I’m sorry! Is that gross?
Did I just reveal too much?
I know there’s a lot of ladies out there
But did I make the cut?
I have lots to say
And lots to do
I know it’s our first date
And this much is true
Baby boy
If you can listen to me
For more then five minutes
And your ball still aren’t blue
I’ll have to be honest
I think
I have to say
I’m falling
In love with you

Dream Stones

Dream Stones
Stream of Consciousness, Ethnography, Personal Narrative, Travel, Drugs
Dog
I wrote, I wrote, I wrote, because I don’t believe in writer’s block and even though I’m an expert at naval gazing I know I need to get out of the house and be around people, but no I don’t really feel like talking to them, I just need to watch them and their habits, kind of like how I watched this dog all week, who would wake me up in the middle of the night licking her wounds, a bad habit she’s acquired just like I have of picking my ears, so I’d yell at her to please stop and blame her for the reason I wasn’t really able to sleep but eventually I figured out she actually needed me to lift her legs onto the bed and then she took up all of it but at least she was peaceful.
.                
..
So I went out and I watched, I watched, I watched the whole world like I was traveling. I don’t have any money to take a trip but I can pretend that instead of those thoughts on is the path I always take and these are the same people I talk to rather to think this is the first time I have ever set eyes on this place and who are these people and what sort of culture do they have because I remember the time I went to Beijing for the first time and it felt like one week lasted me a whole year because nothing made sense but at the same time everything did because I just saw everything around me and felt free from wanting anything at all.
Dream stones
There’s a certain freedom when traveling but I can’t travel right now so I’m staying in this house with a meditation room and burning Chinese incense that reminds me of when I lived in Dali, Yunnan – the province of the Southern Clouds – and I am almost certain without a shadow of a dreamer’s doubt that in fact the people shaped the clouds descending over the mountainside with their thoughts and memories and dreams and hopes because the marble they mined from the mountain had the same look of the clouds and they sold that marble they called it dream stones.
.
..
When my father came to visit me he went to every little just so he could stare at dream stones for hours before he decided to buy a whole suitcase full and I suppose they activated something in or I suppose it was the kind of shit he saw when he was high so maybe that explains why am I sitting here at breakfast Googling pictures of Ayahuasca for my desktop background because I remember that day after church we came back and ate bagels and talked about Jeremy Narby’s The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge for hours and how everything the Amazonian shamans told the anthropologist made complete fucking sense to me and now I hope every time I open my computer I can get activated and be reminded that life is not actually this but really that and be reminded there are some trips you don’t actually have to buy a plane ticket to take. 
Bus Stop Jamaica 
Sitting next to a Latina woman sitting at the bus stop, we are both watching the man across the street putting on a tie before he takes out two cases of bottled water from the trunk and I’m trying to remember that word…corbata…la corbata de civilization, it’s something like that, something like a choke hold that puts its arm around your neck and chokes you to death when you are just a man just a simple man and you surrender your whole head to the king of capitalism.
.
..
He’s in front of a tire shop it reminds me of the kind in Jamaica because its yellow small and has some people milling about outside and when I went in 2010 with my jazz band it was the first time I could recall not knowing if I was awake or dreaming and it was the first time I could recall not having access to technology so I couldn’t call my boyfriend for a week and thank god because he called me every day ugh a way too co-dependent relationship I broke free from for a while but so I ended up cuddling with by the piano player in a hammock I couldn’t tell if it was okay to do that even though I really wanted to because there’s a certain way you can connect with people when we played music under the stars and the other piano player almost bought a ‘shroom from a guy on the beach but instead all of us when out to a trampoline on the sea and looked up at the stars and got high and thought maybe they made the shape of a cannabis leaf.
.
..
The bus isn’t coming so I think maybe I should call a car but then I remember how I noticed the people who have white skin like me who have any bit of money don’t actually ride public transportation unless they are going to work, but at some point I learned that I’ll always get where I’m going anyways and at some point I learned time doesn’t actually exist and have you ever noticed that people think they need to be stressed out in order to get anything done and have you ever noticed people here use that word productive a lot but they don’t actually produce anything and at some point I removed that word from my vocabulary. 
Your Unreliable Ethnographer  
What thoughts are mine and what are not mine? I don’t really know anymore. 
.
..
When you observe a different culture, you assume the people you watch are genuinely happy to be together. 
.
..
I picked up a biography of Margaret Mead in a free library on the side of the street today and I don’t know anything about her much other than I agreed with her when I heard she said adolescence might really just be a sham invented by Western culture so why did I ever have to be a teenager I’ll never forget my remembered my first year anthropology professor who told us that when he was in Papua New Guinea the people worshipped sweet potatoes and even ate enough of them that they women used them as a form of birth control I have an IUD and people have all kinds of feelings about it but actually I probably eat like five sweet potatoes so I think I’m good.
.
..
I went out to watch the world like the world wasn’t watching me
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..
When I got here I joined the spiritualist subculture because I started doing a lot of Kundalini Yoga too many days of the week until my body was beautiful and blissful and I had a killer set of abs but it’s about being spiritual right not the superficial way your body looks after a year of training so after I left that community I still found myself just as disconnected from people as I was when I lived in a place where I couldn’t speak the language.
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..
So turns out your manic pixie yoga girl thinks fondly of her favorite anarchist Christian anthropology professor who had us question multiple interpretations of movie Jesus Camp and who told me to read David Graber when he met me in the park for a beer and who had us read an article called “Spiritual but Not Religious” which always sounded good to me but it seems that anytime I really sit with myself I remember I was still raised in the Presbyterian church and turns out so was Donald Trump and so fuck you Calvinism and your theory of predetermination and welcome to the terrifying side of something I need to come to terms with. 
.
..
I’m just here. Writing in a notebook and helping children climb up on top of the statue of Joan of Arc. Remembering no matter where I go in the world, this is what I’m destined to do every day. 
Yoga
There’s a man with white skin walking past some women with white skin lying in the grass on yoga mats and he laughs to maybe a woman who is his wife and says “Look – I could do that, just lie there” oh to just lie in the grass for a moment off my feet, it would feel so good, oh it would feel like I’m going home.
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..
Now watching this couple a smaller man maybe of Asian descent and a woman with brown skin and I’m not sure if they’re not a couple couple but the very adept yogi man doing handstands is helping this taller also beautiful woman try one for herself and you can tell it’s hard for her so then he shares his watermelon with her and she looks nervous sort of to have this gesture of human kindness but at some point in her life someone told her to just follow her heart and for some reason she thinks to share some fruit right now just really feels right and good and loved.
.
..
Later I see her dancing around with two white flowers in her hands in sort of a freedom dance and she’s I wonder if this like a mating dance she’s thinking of that yogi guy from earlier and how he helped her with her handstand.
Drum Tribes
A lot of the people here have different colored rainbow hair as I imagine the Capital in the Hunger Games while on the inside I know they are caught up in an Arena of the heart, competing with each other to be sexier, slimmer, more booty shaking style smooth. 
.
..
There are two drum circles and one side people say these are the real musicians who are commemorating a man who died and on the other side people are just banging really loudly and there is a guy playing a drum set and from this statue I can just see everything and it’s the best seat in the house and I can hear feel smell taste the palo santo burning 
.
..
A woman with blue-colored hair is dancing and banging on a pot with a spoon and dancing with a guy who was spinning sticks with the people who reminded me of some traveling clowns I met in Argentina once who could juggle and had teardrops drawn under their eyes and the girl with blue hair is having fun and looks like the way I felt in a dream once. 
.
..
A man with white colored skin is playing djembe pretty well and sitting next to him a girl wearing a black wide-brimmed hat with a button on it and she’s cute but looking kind of bored so I wonder maybe she’s a poet so I’ve noticed a lot of girls around here wear hats because so a few months ago I bought a black hat to make me feel like a New York Patti Smith or maybe a New Mexican Georgia O’Keefe and to make me feel like maybe someone would pay attention to me while I read poetry.
Bathrooms
I buy a cold homemade drink from a girl with brown skin wearing a black value hat selling juice from a cooler and it makes me have to pee and I can’t believe there is only one public bathroom for all of these people plus I don’t want to wait in line so I go back to observe the human phenomena even though it’s not going to leave and will still be here once I return but I keep feeling like I need to see more feel more be more do more
.
..
I check my phone to see when I can catch the metro and I start to walk towards it but I can’t even last that long, and when I walk back and I girl walking with a boyfriend says I like your outfit! to me it seems like a friendly version of anonymous female-to-female catcalling, so I go back to the park to pee under a bush and it reminds me of that friend in college who insisted of peeing every time we went to the park to drink or get high and I walk back to the stairs and see this interesting inlet in the stone stairs and two women ask me if I’m looking for the bathroom because apparently this is where it used to be and I say no I just find it interesting looking, I just peed anyway in the bushes and they don’t reply back so is that appropriate for their culture I don’t know. 
Prayer
When I get back the drummers pause for a moment of silence for the man who died and I wonder is this how the tribes pray together? I’ve never seen anything quite like it except for in this temple of air. 

Today, I Run

Today, I Run
Today, I run.
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My friend loaned me her car, so I drive to a trail head I’ve never been to before. I want to explore. I want to go up the rocks and jagged pathways and be completely immersed in nature. I love DC for that. You can escape whenever you need to into a National Park.
 .
I’ve caved in and started using the Samsung “Running Coach” app on my phone. I pride myself on being a self-motivator, but it looks like I am falling into another millennial trap of covering up the feeling of loneliness with a button on my phone. Hit this one to find a lover, this one to help you meditate, this one to find out where you are going.
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I find it hard to believe we are still born with any sense of intuition at all.
Looks great! says Samsung.
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How the hell do you know how I look? I say back. All that matters is that it feels great. I remind myself. Getting my heart rate up feels great.  
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Keep up, you’re going too slow.
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Of course, I’m going slow! I’m going uphill on a trail, dammit! This is as hard as shit! 
I give myself the break.
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Thankfully, I’ve learned how to do that in the past four years. 
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Four years ago I was not a runner. I was not even a mover. If the doctor asked me if I worked out, I probably would say I had sex pretty regularly– does that count?  Oh, and sometimes I take a walk. I wasn’t fat; I wasn’t skinny. I just didn’t really see the point of exercise when there were other things to do.
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My mother said my childhood pediatrician told me I had a body of an athlete. But the narrowness path of public education set me up as someone who was supposed to get good grades and be in marching band. I felt embarrassed around athletic people. Couldn’t really keep up. Leave me to the brainy stuff, I thought. Forget the body.
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So, when did I start running? I think back first run I took at my summer teacher training after I had arrived in China as a fellow in Teach for China, a program similar to Peace Corps or Teach for America. We lived and worked at a rural school for a month to prepare us for teaching in our villages in the fall.
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A few of my friends would run. But they were very competitive, as many of the people in my program were in they had first arrived. Many hailed from Ivy Leagues and were used to being the best. On many levels, I felt intimidated.
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I’m going to be quite vulnerable with my readers and say I have a slight, but sometimes major, emotional trauma from childhood when it comes to becoming a part of new, big social groups. Ironically, I seek the experience out constantly. Such is the paradox of souls yearning to heal.
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On top of that, the general atmosphere our training was just, well, difficult. I had become so depressed from nights hardly sleeping on the hard-wooden bunk-bed. We had ridiculous deadlines of lesson plans to meet without any real Wi-Fi connection. One weekend, I developed a low-grade fever and just wanted to nap the day away.
I think after some lucky Skype call connection with my dad, he reminded me to try and exercise more. I remember putting on an album of Afro-Cuban music and going towards the hills, the day-time glow of a full moon in sight.
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A la luna yo me voy sang my iPod.
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I guess this DOES feel good, I remember thinking.
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The fever disappeared and I forgot I had ever had it to begin with. 
Good pace. Keep this up.
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Thanks Samsung!
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Today, I run alone. I’m going to an event later tonight with a new friend that I don’t really know. Samsung talks in my ear but grounding down into my body reminds me about real emotion.
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Slow down and keep breathing.
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Stop pretending you’re not anxious. Just breathe.
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Run at a pace that allows you to still sing a song out loud.
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To who? About what? I’m alone Samsung!
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I wonder if I can make new friends who will want to run with me. Or maybe I do have friends that will run with me; I’ve just never asked.
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I pass an older gay couple with the two black dogs, the family of four that got lost from the trail, and a mom and her daughter racing in the grass to run into dad’s arms. 
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Belonging. I think to myself. I also have that sense of belonging. Matching my emotions to manifest my needs.
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I think back to the friends I used to run with. 
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I think of Derek, I think of Brittany and I think of Li Hai Peng. My co-fellows, two Americans and one Chinese, in my village, who convinced me to start running with them.
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Derek had a long, lean and muscular build. Brittany was tall and fit and had been running cross-country for years. Hai Peng had shorter legs, but they carried him along quickly.
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The first year I attempted to go with them two or three times after dinner. Teaching most days was a nightmare. And with running, I did not believe in myself at all. Someone in my family sent me a giant jar of Nutella in a care package, so and truth be told, I just ended up eating spoonfuls of that in my room after teaching to combat the stress.
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The second year, I settled in. I had a mastery over my class, my Chinese, and my emotional well-being in general. I started doing a lot of yoga, but I got bored. There wasn’t really much to do in the village, so I joined the run.
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Today, I look up the hill I’m about the climb. I can almost hear my childish cry after Derek and I see him up ahead on the trail. 
.                                   
“Derek slow down! Not fair, you’re too fast!”
“No, Merritt, you’re fine. Keep up that pace. See, you’re doing so well! Lengthen your stride. You have long legs, you can do it.” 
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“Thanks coach!” 
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Hai Peng and Derek used to sing songs in Chinese. Derek told me he liked to run to sad, melancholy songs, rather than upbeat ones. While we ran, we would talk about what was happening with teaching, or just ourselves, and even our lives outside of that place.
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I’d wave at my students, playing outside at home after dinner. Derek would always see that 14-year-old picking grapes who had dropped out of middle school and who he had befriended.
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When I ran alone, I’d hope the stray dogs wouldn’t chase me, but sometimes they did, and it made me run faster. Adrenaline is a nice drug of choice. In my mind, I’d plan out my trips I’d take to Vietnam and Cambodia. I’d think about what kind of life I’d have once I got home. I’d look at the grape fields and the mountains, but I never thought that one day that this place would be the home that I’d miss.
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Eventually, we started training for a marathon in the nearest city, about a two-hour bus ride away from our village. Hai Peng’s friend, Kun Zai, had come to live in the village because he had a job in computers that allowed him to work remotely and have time to play lots of video games as well. He always brought along a much needed sense of joy and humor to our running conversations that were often dampened by the stress of our work in the classroom.
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The day of the race we lined up early in the morning. There was a man smoking a cigarette and with a Red Bull in hand jogging in place.
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Yeah, I think I can do this, I thought. 
,
We were off, running past a large beautiful lake and through alley ways of shops preparing fresh包子Bāozi, or steamed buns, from the windowsills.
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Derek and Hai Peng took off quickly, both of them taking a stab at the half-marathon. Kun Zai promised to keep an eye on me as he and I were both attempting our first 10K. 
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Near the end of the race, I found myself alone, tired, and ready to have the whole thing over with. But then Kun Zai met up with me.
,
“You can do it! Defeat the enemy!” he said, a quick as a gunman from one of his games.
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I looked forward at a girl running about 30 meters in front of me. Sure, I can do it. Why not? (Or as I was probably thinking in Chinese 为什么不?Wèishéme bù?)
I crossed the finish line and came in 9th place for the women’s race.
…………………………………………….
I’m not really sure there’s an enemy to defeat anymore. I don’t hang around competitive people and I can’t say I’m competitive with myself like I used to be. 
The only “enemy” was the voice in my head that told me I couldn’t do anything.
Now, I just enjoy the view from the run.
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Derek e-mailed me a few days ago. He still lives in China. I suggested that he and Hai Peng should make a motivational bilingual running app. It would sell millions! He said he’ll pitch the idea to him. 
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Across oceans of disconnect, it’s good to know technology can help make us feel we still belong to some greater tribe of friendship.
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 Nice job, you’re almost there. 
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Thanks Samsung.
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But where exactly is ‘there’?
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For I know with each breath I take, I have the chance to begin again.

The Whole World

Listen to a tale of how the whole world came to be
Sit on my lap and sink in close to me.
God rose at dawn, fell asleep by a well
Took man from an atom
And descended to hell
It was then that he saw
How the great sun grew bright
He put up stars in the sky
To make that thing we call “night”
With blue boomerang balls of fire in fists
Blazed rock laden coasts with the air we call “mist”
Moonbeams and sunstreams and water did not
Exsist at this moment for God had forgot
The Goddess inside and her good word delight
Spreading an unyielding love upon a vibration called fright
So they danced and they withered with some special light
Not the kind you turn on, but the kind you ignite
And they waded and walled in all of that pain
Thinking that one day, in some dimension we’d exist on this plane
of projects and problems and death’s brutal brew
so that I could sit here my dear one, and feed it to you

Sunday Mornings Are Never Really Sacred

A poem I wrote years and years ago that I am reminded of today. I like to think something really new and beautiful awakened after I wrote it. I don’t really go to church or am A practicing Christian” any longer, but I do find something wonderful about a Sunday.
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Sunday Mornings are Never Really Sacred

Sunday mornings are
never really sacred.
You walk to church,
like your feet are carrying you there.
You can’t say why.
It just feels like something you’re supposed to do.

Minds eye takes me home
Meandering road
Pennsylvanian vistas of the
Hilltop crest past the Christmas tree farm,
Barn door tucked into valley folds of
sunlight soaked evergreen pond.
Tampered by the promise of
Lumped on fracking wells
To end this recession.

In the city you arrive at the church
and climb to the balcony.
No familiar faces greet you. The sounds of a passionate piano do not guide the way.
No tapestry of a labyrinth, or a Pentecostal dove.
No smell of flowers or wax dripping off of candles.
No need to brush legs with your neighbor while you step into the pew.
No prayers of concern, no reverend who raises his hands –
Let us stand and greet each other.

Just that little black book, where you write your name and check whether you are a member or not.
And the hymnal too. It’s the same shade of blue.
Without white walls to use as a pallet for the colors seeping out of organ pipes,
your gaze tracks the leaden frame of a stained glass window,
dodging eye contact with a painting of Christ.

Your mind drifts during the sermon,
And when the collection plate comes around you throw a dollar in,
hoping it will atone for the sin of forgetting to tip the cabbie last night.

These avoidances keep you vulnerable,
until the end of the service, when the man in front of you with a startling stare turns around and invites you downstairs for coffee.
Tells you about what a great church this is and boasts of former reverend with Princeton accolades who boosted membership with his own bare hands.

Walking back to your apartment under a grey sheet of sky
you call your father and remember that today after church
you won’t be watching red cardinals and clumsy squirrels
dancing in the big pine tree
outside your long glass window

Rather hum to yourself
Be Thou my Vision
While washing the dishes

Ode to 艾 and 爱 (Ode to Ai and Love)

— I’m not doing the quote full justice, and there’s much more I want to say on this but here is the story for now —
Today I went to go see Ai Wei Wei’s “Never Sorry” at the Hirshorn Museum.  It’s been over five years since I’ve seen the film. To be honest, at this point I define my life by “life before I went to China” and “life after I lived in China.” Most ex-pats who have lived there for any extended period of time might agree. The place changes you. I was curious – how would I feel about the film this time?
When I saw the movie five years ago, I went with a group of four Chinese teachers my father had dragged along with us. I respect my dad so much – for years Chinese teachers have been visiting his school and he always connected with them so beautifully – inviting them to dinners, Christmas, taking them shopping for groceries, and supporting them just as humans who needed to be seen and understood. Of course, having a bit of a radial edge, he always wanted to dig deeper into their experience. What was life in China really like? Were they a part of the Party? Were they religious? What was life like for their grandparents during Community rule?
So he took them to the film. Big mistake? Maybe. They yelled at the host leading the Q&A after the film. He was also Chinese. He originally came to the US to get his degree in engineering at CMU, but started learning about Chinese history in the 20th century, and switched his degree to nonprofit management. He had been working as a coordinator for wealthy Chinese high school students coming to the US. When I asked him afterwards what the Chinese teachers were saying to him he said, “They think Ai Wei Wei is a nobody, not important, worthy to be ignored. They are still so brainwashed by Chinese propaganda.”
When I saw the movie today, I noticed people in the theater laughed a lot at Ai’s antics. He is quite a hilarious activist, a modern day jester if you will.  There’s certainly shadow side to Ai in this context. He makes those privileged in the US feel safe in our complicity. To  feel good that we “aren’t” China. We are here, in a museum watching an activist film, for free, on a Sunday. I probably watched the film the first time in similar fashion. Amazed, fascinated, curious and in awe of the man. Knowing that “over there” people lived in repression and thankfully we had free access to art, music and culture. A dangerous dose of some American exceptionalism I was born into: the illusion of pure free expression.
My viewing of this film this time around was much more…human.
I cried much more than I laughed. I sobbed seeing schools destroyed by the Earthquake in Sichuan province in 2008, due to shoddy construction of “tofu-brick” buildings in schools in poor areas; meaning, tuition funds go to a fat salary for an official comes before the price of a student’s life in a safely constructed building. I cringed at the moments when Ai sat in the hospital photographing himself wearing a bandage on his head after being assaulted by the police. The audience laughed, but here I saw a man in pain, trapped in a cage he could not escape, no matter how humorous his approach.
When I came to Washington, DC in 2013 for an interview with Teach for China, I remember heading over to Hirschhorn afterwards, alone, to see Ai’s “According to What?” exhibit. Always was my favorite museum after all. I saw the backpacks of every student killed in the Earthquake lining the ceiling, the names of dead children lining the walls, read aloud by many different voices.
Knowing, in my heart at the time, these students and families would one day be a part of my own world. People I connected with, played music with, shared meals with, attended religious services with (Yes! religion exists in China!), talked about love and relationships with, danced with, cried with, spent the night in their humble homes with.
Today I sat shocked, at the lengths an artist must go to in order to humanize himself to the Other.

How to Get Lit

Lately I’ve been caught in
     the right way to hold your breath, how to meditate, how to stop the mind
     the right way to cleanse your liver, what to eat, when not to eat it
     when to go to bed, how cold to make your shower, what to put in the bath, what scent to wear
     how slow to dance, how to be a woman, how not to be tamed, how to be domestic
     what gave me acne, how to make it go away
     if I start smoking weed and cigarettes does that make me okay?
     i just asked the dentist if fluoride can close my third eye
     but my gums are bleeding! oh me, oh my!
     should I drink? do my armpits stink?
     is it okay to ask out a guy? or is it better to just sit around and wonder – why?
     be with the mama moon on your period or keep the IUD?
     but hey – if you get pregnant just don’t come to me!
     must I feel guilt when the Beibes comes on?
     or can I claim Despacito as my new favorite song?
     just live life by the fly, but please – don’t cry! it makes you seem weak
     you don’t want to loose your own winning streak
     drink bottled water, or don’t, just recycle the plastic
     hey look – you’re fantastic!
     do you compost? Throw your paper away?
     would you vaccinate your kids or raise them on an apple a day?
     do you ever how your gay friends have to pray?
     when so many rights are taken away?
     by those people who can split their heart into three?
     shoo away the Mormons at their doorstep but practice their own form of polygamy?
     I’m sorry to say, as I take a breath in
     I don’t really believe in original sin
     I sort of believe we are all just fine as we are
     all chasing that wish on some shooting star
     so join me perhaps in the “the Way” if you will
     because these self-punishment talks are not really real
     between vegan and kosher and old gluten free
     there’s no right way to do it
     I’m just simply
     me