WHERE I WENT (REGARDING THE DEACTIVATION OF MY FACEBOOK ACCOUNT)

Me toasting the New Year and all of my beloveds! May you find all the magic you deserve this year, beautiful ones.

If you follow me on Facebook, I didn’t unfriend or block you.  My account was hacked in a way that felt particularly invasive, and I deactivated both my personal and author profiles. I’m not sure I’ll ever put them back up. The bot in question gathered sentences from my private messages and posts from the last year, glued them together to create messages that sounded like me, posted one to my Facebook story, and then sent bizarre, jigsaw-puzzle messages to scores of my contacts.  At first, I thought someone who knew me well was imitating my voice, but once I calmed down, I realized all of the sentences in the messages were drawn from things I had actually written. (I realized this when I recognized a sentence from a public post I made about a lion that was stalking Knoxville last year, and another from a very personal message I had written to my best friend.)  I think the bot was simply using my own language to sound like me so that people would open the message (several friends who opened the messages also got hacked), but it still felt very invasive, even if it wasn’t personal. I felt my privacy was violated in a very alarming way, knowing someone or something was in my private messages and was extracting content to post on my wall and pass around. 

In other news, my best friend recently had content deleted from one of her private messages because it violated Facebook standards.  (We were having a conversation about crazy conspiracy theorists, and she sent me a link about Qanon.  I don’t mind that they are trying to keep fake news off of social media, but it disturbs me that they are scanning our private messages.) 

I am increasingly alarmed by the state of our country, as are so many, and I am increasingly interested in preserving my own privacy, despite our world’s insane obsession with life as a constant act of performance art.  I had already been considering taking down all of my social media profiles, as I was having a very strong intuition that something sinister was lurking beneath the “fun” platforms we’ve all shared every minute detail of our lives on.  Sometimes, when I ignore these subtle urgings, the universe gets a little more emphatic with me.  I felt this hacking of my profile was the universe putting her foot down.  So I’m off Facebook.  I will still post here from time to time. Though I’m so over the gathering of “likes” as the ultimate measure of success, I would like to stay in touch with those who are precious to me.  I just wanted my beloveds to know I hadn’t blocked them.  I’m sending everyone tons of love and prayers that you find all the magic you deserve in 2021. 

My family, the dogs, and I are safe, happy, warm, and very, very loved.  I know you miss pics of my puppies (because everyone has to love them as much as I do, right?), so here is Sekhmet with her teddy bear…

“Self-Portrait in a Pandemic, AKA: Apocalyptic Whatev-Man”

Because it’s 2020, it has been a strange holiday seasons, full of blessings to be sure, but also laced with tragedy. My meditation practice has been my lifeline for years now, and I turned to it last night in order to process recent events. But my brain just wouldn’t STFU, so rather than sinking into zen, I had the pleasure of facing down some of my least favorite demons. They left eventually of course, because demons are weak, wormy little mofos, not good for much of anything, and like all bullies, they run when you punch them in the face. Afterward, the zen finally came, and I heard the words, “Most of your problems are imaginary.” I looked around my beautiful casa in the woods, chocked full to bursting with art, warmth, and love, and I knew that was true. In that moment I had no problems. The “demons” I had been facing down were beliefs about myself, worries about the future, regrets from the past. In that moment, I had not one single solitary “real” problem. There were no lions flouncing about my kitchen looking for a meal. There were no psychotic axe men outside my door. I was not being served an eviction notice. All of my worries were about things that did not exist in the now, which meant they did not actually exist (for me) at all. I applied that thought to current events–all the fear, horror, and what-ifs that dominate our existence these days–and this little holiday poem came through.

Happy holy days, beloved ones. Most of your problems are imaginary, and the ones that aren’t will pass. I pinky swear.

“Self-Portrait in a Pandemic, AKA: Apocalyptic Whatev-Man”

(Written on Solstice Eve, 2020, after viewing the Bethlehem star, visible for the first time in 800 years)

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

–W.B. Yeats, “The Second Coming”

Apocalypse is upon us

just long enough for us to see that

at the end of the day, the demon horde

is just so many flabby, flaccid

expendable extras in tinfoil armor.

Enough about rough beasts.

They have done their slouching

(between you and me, it was anticlimactic)

and will now slump back to their haunted hellhole-in-the wall

stinking of sulfur, wearing worms for hair.

There.  A puff of heaven

and they are gone.

Now that we’ve cleared the air, let’s talk about Christ, baby.

That boy is a tall drink of water if ever there was one.

The coming of the New Age is upon us

(but first the Old Age must pass)

and the stars funk it up

flashing gang signs and golden teeth.

Saturn is amazed down his very rings.

Apocalypse now

and so what?

That was never the end of the story.

Night has had its day.

Do you see dawn breaking tangerine-sweet on the horizon?

Mother Birth never fails

to give way to a

Child.  

I WANT TO BE FOREVER YOUNG (IN MEMORY OF MICAH JEREMY, AKA: SHARING MICAH’S MAGIC WITH THE WORLD)

If you are a praying person, please pray for my sweet cousin Micah and his beloved ones. He flew home unexpectedly this week, much to the heartbreak of all who loved him. He and I were raised together and were incredibly close in the first halves of our lives, though we drifted apart as we grew older, as marriages and moves and kids and life happened.

My first memories of him involve watching a very-small him collect pretty insects (the word “pretty” is relative—I did not agree that they were pretty) outside my family’s first house on Elephant Mountain, that shock of dark hair falling over his ever-curious and bright eyes. In later years, we sprawled on his bedroom floor in Roswell, listening to bootleg tapes of punk music, hoping David Bowie (or maybe a few aliens) would show up for a dance party. He was infinitely curious, brilliant, and rebellious into his bones. (I mean that last bit in a good way—I’ve always loved the rebels of the world, as I am, for better or worse, one of them.) Throughout our youths, he was a lover of art and a hater of boundaries. Recently, I was lucky enough to hug him for one long, last time at Doug Hackey’s birthday party. We both cried a little.

Because I remember the important people and moments of my life as a montage-style movie clip, with cool music playing in the background (music is my soul’s first language), when I heard he was in the process of making his exit, I turned on Alphaville’s “Forever Young” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RHIIATt0BaM) in honor of his memory, raised a glass to him, and cried. (I swear I kissed his soul goodbye as he left this world.) No matter how far apart life took us, or how long it had been since I’d seen him, I always thought of him every time I heard it. For me, it was the quintessential Micah song, though I’m not even sure he liked it by the time he passed. He loved it when we were in our mid-teens, with big, rebellious hair (we thought it was rebellious, anyway—looking back, we appeared to have had unfortunate encounters with light sockets, but I digress) and bare midriffs, and one night, when we took Uncle Cliff’s (now Cliff’s Amusement Park) by storm, it played over and over on the park loudspeaker system as we rode that Tilt-A-Whirl until we almost threw up our funnel cakes.

He also brought the wonder of the The Cure into my sheltered adolescent existence, along with numerous other musical miracles (mostly of the punk rock and/or new wave variety) I might have never encountered in my little mountain oasis without harbingers from the outside world. (He first introduced me to the Ramones and “Sedated,” a gift for which I will always be grateful.) I remember him most sporting punk-star hair, wild colors, and big black boots, which I envied something fierce, patiently trying to teach me to skateboard, which I could not do. (Maybe he will bequeath me with his grace and athletic prowess as a going away present. A girl can hope). He was funny, kind, and oh-so-clever.

Cuz, I daresay that without your influence, I never would have fallen in love with rock ‘n’ roll, which is arguably the force that shaped my life, so thank you for giving me the music that was the scaffolding of my soul this time around the theme park. Go out with a bang and ride that Tilt-A-Whirl in the sky as many times as you can stomach. (I’m guessing there are no lines in heaven. I do hope they have funnel cakes.) Teach those yahoos on the other side what a skateboard is for, will ya? And for God’s sake, let them know we need a few real punk stars down here. This new-fangled music leaves something to be desired. (WTH is “Gangnam Style” anyway?) Also, can you push for a return to the big-hair aesthetic? Because “hombre” is something you call your cool cousin, not a hairstyle…

We will be spreading your ashes near my daddy’s grave, as you wished, mister. I have a sneaking suspicion it will be pure magic. You will be so missed. I know Uncle Timmy has you. Forever young indeed. Part of my heart always will be that, thanks to you and the memories we made together. I love you.

Xo,

Tawni Scrawny

THE TREE OF LIFE WHISPERED

I have not been posting much on this blog, or on social media, of late, though I have been writing up a storm. My Covid-enforced isolation in my little temple in the New Mexico wilderness with my passel of rascals (my name for my little herd of chihuahua-esque creatures) is the most healing and transformative I have ever experienced. Mostly, I schlepp about in Baby Yoda sweatshirts meditating, writing, responding to student work, and building stone meditation labyrinths, the building of which has become a meditation in and of itself. I’m sorry, but this whole “Keep up with the Joneses” thing we put so much stock in is B.S. Isolation has taught me that. We don’t need the things they say we need. A simple life is a beautiful life.

Every day, I lose more of my desire to use my writing for anything but the healing of the world. Forget success. I already have everything I could ever want or need. Forget fame. I am already the object of the most intense and fulfilling love imaginable. But still, poems burst through my fingertips, mostly at night, when the moon is schlepping about the sky, dusting tree leaves with milk, and the stars are blue-ing in that dazzling way they do. As I pondered the plight of our sacred planet, this came last night. I thought I’d share with my brothers and sisters in light.

THE TREE OF LIFE WHISPERED

(For The Light Bringers Who Bled In The Trenches)

Dance heaven

and all hearts born of innocence.

It was only a matter of time

until fate conspired to free you from the prison of your mortality.

Steel snaps, and behold, luminescent wings flutter

like fireflies in the firmament of heaven

which is a fancy word for forever

(the place your soul knows as home).

Oh, why do you cry sacred stones?

As if God did not know your names.

It was branded into the folds of his brain

before there was rain.

Beloved, chain-laden suns of god,

in the not-days before stardust conspired to become

mud-ocean-fish-flower-fowl-cat-cow-humanontrainwearinghoodie

the goddess formed you in the fiery cocoon of her womb.

Be born, and singing, your mother will rock you

until you have forgotten the nails

that brought you to her arms.

The sacred sons and daughters have risen,

lambs for the slaughter no more.

Lions have crept from wool

leapt into the abyss

intent on sending all crosses

back to the hell they grew from.

We have banished death from our bones

risen as tongues of fire

and set our souls to the healing

of our precious children.

Cry as long as you need to.

There is no need for shame.

Your wounds matter.

Your tattered hearts will be tended to at once.

(You never lost a thing. Nothing dies. You’ll see.

Coming soon to a theater near you: The man behind the curtain

reveals the secrets beneath the turning of water to wine.)

If only you saw the miracle of your own face

the way it moves to become a new brand of magic moment by moment.

You are amazing grace incarnate, and we aim to make sure you see it.  

Go unblind.  Rewind.  You never fucked up.  Not once. See, it was all

an intricate dance, and it turns out you were Fred Astaire after all.

Beautiful ones, the shreds of your skin are treasure of the sparkliest order.

Your teeth are diamonds, and as for your tears, paradise will collect the gems

of them in her rainbowed bottle, shake it thrice, pour them over your skin,

a lifetime’s worth of the dew of heaven

a hymn which dropped daily from sanctified eyes.

Krishna himself gathered your pain in his palm

threw it into the fire

cast the spell for your divine transformation.

Your cocoons will split soon,

and then you will see Christ

looking back at you from the mirror.

Nebula-eyed ones, wearing bruised wreathes

clutching shreds-of-sacred-scripture-still-sewn-into-the-seams-of-your-jeans,

break free from your rusty prisons, and know this:

you are wholeheartedly forgiven

for the original sin of not seeing

your own beauty

until now.  

AFTER THE STORM

after the storm

It’s been raining for days on Elephant Mountain. The sky has put on a big dazzling show, throwing lightning around, burping thunder. I have watched mercy fall in sheets over a desert landscape that takes my breath away every minute of every day, through the windows of my precious home, feeling so utterly lucky, and wondering why I consider this, of all times, the best time of my life so far. It’s so unremarkable in so many ways, compared to other eras of my magical journey through this wonderworld we call Earth. Yes, I have irons in the fire, blissful possibilities that might manifest fully in the future, but for now, it’s just me, a few dog-angels, a cabin in the woods, a pen, a notebook, and some dreams.

Today during my hike, when the rains ebbed long enough to allow me to wander, I realized that this time is the best ever because it’s the moment in which I’ve finally given myself permission to stop striving to be anything more than what I am, to have anything more than what I have. I have given myself permission to see myself as beautiful as I am now, cellulite, wrinkles, and all, to soak up the beauty around me in every second that is, to put aside the “Shoulds” of life and just be in the “Is.” I have decided to accept each now as it comes to me, and it has changed everything. I don’t need the now to change, become something better. Every day, every molecule is perfectly configured to be today’s brand of heaven.

sunshine and rainbows

We spend every second of our lives worrying about the second that comes next, waiting for some award or accomplishment or love affair or paycheck to give us permission to stop worrying and say, “Ah, yes! This is the moment I have been waiting for. I have finally arrived. I am finally worthy of the air I breathe. I finally deserve love.” But I have come to see that every single moment is the moment I have been waiting for all of my life. And every single moment is an arrival at the gates of destiny, at the gates of love, at the gates of wonder, at the gates of awe. We have been brainwashed into blindness by the treadmill upon which we are all forced to run. Get up, don’t notice the sun, run off to work, stare a screen, come home, eat something you don’t taste, stare at a screen, fall asleep, forget to dream. Who says we have to live like this? And why the hell do we listen? What is the payoff? Dying without ever having lived so we can accumulate a nice wad of green shit to pass on to someone else so they can work and die without living, without seeing a damned thing?

I spent so much of my life looking for miracles, noticing the moments in which the universe winked, and the more I noticed, the more it became perfectly clear that every moment is a miracle, and the tapestry of time is a picture of the face of God, sewn together from a billion God-strands we like to call “nanoseconds,” and there was never one strand of time that was anything but heaven disguised as mundanity, waiting for me to notice its once-in-a-universe brand of pretty.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not always zen, though I am more and more often. I still get riled up about all the ugliness going on in our world these days. But when I walk outside and see, really see, the world in which I actually live (not the one presented to me on screens), I realize I am sequestered at the heart of the most beautiful visionary dream. Yes, the infrastructure of our man-made bullshit is crumbling beneath our feet, and yet, every single day, the sun still greets our tired faces with a loving kiss. And yes, somewhere out there loveless politicians are trying to prove to themselves that they are worthy of their breath by making themselves into vicious kings, but can they really stop us from being, from seeing the way rainbows slither through the petals of flowers, making a wonderland of mundanity? And can they stop us from hearing the voices of angels that come to us disguised as breezes trickling through treetops saying, “Here is the secret of the universe. Right now is heaven if you stop to notice. There is no such thing as mundane.”

Namaste, beloved ones. The god in me adores the god in you.

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STILL THE RIFF RAFF (A LOOK BACK, FIVE YEARS AFTER WINNING THE ILA)

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It was five years ago this week that my soul sister Polyxeni Angelis snapped this photo of me at the award banquet where I was presented with the ILA for Beauty of the Broken. I’ve told this funny little story about that weekend when speaking at conferences, but I don’t think I’ve ever shared it here, and I’m really looking for a way to avoid vacuuming, so I’ll toss it out there.
 
It took me decades of busting my sweet hiny to publish my first novel, and when Simon & Schuster bought Beauty of the Broken, I thought a gorgeous mist would envelop me (maybe a twinkling spacecraft) and wisk me off to heaven. I was sure my life would never be mundane again. Then, I started editing the book and found out very quickly that real life stays very real (and even grueling) after you sell a book to a big five publisher. So then, I decided that maybe I would get that “crossed into the promised land” feeling after the book launched. The book launch, while lovely, did not launch me to heaven. I woke up the following morning with blisters from the ridiculous high heels I wore to the party and also a hell of a hangover. (Hangovers still exist? I thought. NO FAIR!) So then, I decided that I would probably cross over into the promised land when I started my book tour. Well, I started wandering the world speaking and signing things and occasionally having small children deliberately wipe boogers on me while I was reading (this really did happen), and the whole process, while beautiful, still felt a lot like real life, which was horribly disappointing. So then I decided I would cross into the promised land when I won a major award.
 
So I did that. I won the ILA, which is one of the biggest honors a young adult novel can receive. Simon & Schuster put me up in the St. Louis Four Seasons, and Polyxeni and I stared deep into the ridiculous bathtub in our suite and wondered if we could drown in it and ate all kinds of food we couldn’t afford and drank fancy drinks, and while all that was , amazeballs, it still kinda felt like real life. So then I decided that I would feel the big “breaking on through to the other side” feeling when the award was actually presented.
 
So the night before the public award banquet, Simon & Schuster rented a gorgeous room in a fancy restaurant and threw a private, swanky party. No one but the woman who had organized the dinner, Polyxeni, and I knew what the dinner was for. When I was told I had won the award, I was also told I wasn’t allowed to talk about it until after the award was presented, so I had to stay agonizingly quiet. I couldn’t wait for that dinner, when my big win would be revealed to the world, and that sparkly spaceship would show up, and I would be teleported to paradise.
 
So I sat there nervously guzzling champagne, waiting for the big moment, and finally it came. The dinner host clinked her fork on her glass and asked each of us to introduce ourselves. When she got to me, I just said my name, and she said, “Don’t you have something to tell us?” And thrilled to be relieved of my secret, I blurted, “Beauty of the Broken won the ILA!” And people looked genuinely impressed and lifted their hands to clap and be excited for me, and I could actually hear that spaceship to paradise humming in the distance, when a horde of hundreds of nude bicyclists rode past the picture window behind me and stole my thunder with a timing so impeccable, it made me believe that God has an incredibly sadistic sense of humor. Everyone squealed and ran to the window and snapped photos of flopping and bouncing nude body parts, and by the time the nude cyclist parade was over, no one gave two shits about my award.
 
That was the day that I learned that there is nothing in the publishing industry, or any industry, that can give you that “crossed into the promised land” high. Only one thing has ever done that for me, and that is love. But still, I’m pretty proud that I won the ILA, even if the next day, when Meg Cabot officially presented the award to me at a giant banquet, I made a huge ass of myself again. (No nude bicyclists showed up to the public banquet, but I kinda wish they had. In retrospect, they were the best part of the story.)
 
I wrote about the experience better and funnier right after the event, if your looking for a way to stave off vacuuming, and you’re even mildly curious to know the utterly inappropriate way in which I behaved around good ol’ Meg. Otherwise, as you were. I’m gonna go grade some stuff. (Anything to avoid that vacuum…)
 

THAT’S THE POWER OF LOVE

me at daddy's grave

A visit to my precious daddy’s grave in a remote New Mexico cemetery is a cherished part of my sacred Sunday ritual. As I was driving here today, Huey Lewis’s “The Power of Love” came on, and it made me cry, because love really did save my life in ways I keep trying to write about and simply can’t. All I know is that if I was not loved deeply, with a death-defying brand of love, by a few sacred souls, I would be a pile of bones in a box right now.

I am an intrinsically spiritual person, a fact I used to be horribly ashamed of, because it was a part of me that insisted on being a part of me, whether I consciously liked it or not.  I thought I was some kind of a freak and longed to be “normal.” A huge part of embracing the real me has been letting go of any desire to fit in or be the thing our culture calls normal. I’ve come to accept and cherish the fact that my soul’s deepest longing is connection with Spirit and pursuit of invisible wealth–peace, joy, love, truth–the things you can’t quantify that make life so very beautiful. I love solitude. I meditate for hours a day, not to be pious, but because I find it to be quite blissful. I have had enormously beautiful experiences engaging with various religious traditions, and I believe that all things in this world, including religions, contain a deep layer of truth and a superficial layer of meaninglessness, so that truth isn’t in Christianity but not in Hinduism, but rather, truth is in Christianity and in Hinduism, and truth is also not in Christianity and not in Hinduism. I have been touched and changed by both (and many other religious traditions).

And yet, I cannot call any of the religious traditions I have engaged with my religion. My religion is Love. I’m not talking about the cheap sentimentality we throw around so often in our culture. I’m not talking about pretending to be nice and singing kumbaya. I’ve very little use for superficial relationships anymore, because in my experience, they detract and distract from a quest for truth for all parties. There is nothing to them but fluff, and fluff goes up in smoke the first time it faces the fire of life.  Superficial relationships feel like a waste of time to me these days, and the trite, feel-good kind of “love” that fits neatly in Facebook memes and T-shirt slogans comes off as cheap and pointless.

When I talk about the religion of Love, I’m talking about that divine fire that blazes between your own heart and another, the one that makes you brave enough to look into the face of death fearlessly, the one that makes you say, “I will sacrifice everything I have, including my own life, to save you, if necessary. I will forgive you for anything because you are bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh, and to live without you is to be without something that is more precious to me than breath.” I think that most of us who are parents experience that with our children. Many of us have a few family members or friends with whom we are connected in that way. Some of us who are very, very lucky experience that with romantic love. In my life, that brand of love has been my salvation. That brand of love is where I have glimpsed the face of God.

I used to hang out with people who liked to tell me I was crazy and try to change everything about me. (For the record, I hung out with them mostly because I thought I was crazy and wanted to change everything about me.)  Some of them would say, “What is up with your obsession your dad? He’s been gone for decades. It’s not healthy.” And so I became ashamed of my enduring love for and devotion to my father, one of the most sacred pieces of my soul.

I am no longer ashamed. I will visit this man’s grave and talk to him, and listen to him talk back, until I pass through the veil between this world and the next, and throw my arms around his neck, because he was one of the ones who taught me the meaning of Love. He was a Christian preacher, but he did not teach me the religion of Christianity.  Underneath the superficial layer of Christianity, he showed me true religion. He showed me the way of Love. When he died, he didn’t die. He stayed with me, coming to me in dreams, warning me of danger, guiding me toward hope and truth and light. His warnings have literally saved my life multiple times, and his presence in my world, from beyond the grave, has taught me so much more about the true meaning of life than almost anything else ever has.

I have tried on so many hats in my life, playing at various identities, looking for me (when really the real me was right there all the time, underneath the layer of meaninglessness and pretense, just as real truth exists under the layer of meaninglessness in religions). Life had the compassion to set my world on fire, and when the shit hit the proverbial fan, so many of those identities I tried on burned.  Life’s fire is a great gift because it burns all that is false.  I like to think it is a phenomenon Bruce Springsteen prayed for when he wrote:

“Well there’s a dark cloud rising from the desert floor
I packed my bags and I’m heading straight into the storm
Gonna be a twister to blow everything down
That ain’t got the faith to stand its ground
Blow away the dreams that tear you apart
Blow away the dreams that break your heart
Blow away the lies that leave you nothing but lost and brokenhearted”

I  found the twister he wrote about.  Having been burned down to bones, I now know that one of my identities that will endure until the end of time and beyond is this: I am Timothy John Hackett’s little girl. My devotion to my father is part of my religion. My devotion to all of the ones I truly love is part of my religion. No, not part. My devotion to the ones I love is my religion.

And if I live to be 100, I will still be continuing my “unhealthy” visits to my daddy’s grave every Sunday, because he was one of the first ones to teach me this: “It’s strong, and it’s sudden, and it’s cruel sometimes, but it might just save your life. That’s the power of love.”

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I GOT MY SNAKES

Isis and Osiris rainbow butts

I have recently moved into the isolated cabin in the New Mexico woods that my father built as a prayer cabin when he was alive.  It had been rented out for decades, but just as I was winding up my seven years traveling full time, it became available, and I was able to make it my own sacred home.  Miracles find me daily here.  (Granted I see miracles where most people see mundanity, but I still contend that they are miracles, as all of life is a miracle we can’t begin to comprehend or explain.)

Today, I had two magical visitors.  One was a rainbow that literally bit my Isis and Osiris candle holders in the butt.  I couldn’t figure out where it was coming from, but I thought it was beautiful, so I took a pic of it.  Just after I snapped the pic, my amiga Joyce’s Wycoff’s incredible masterpiece, Corona Wisdom, which melds stunning visual art with gorgeous writings surrounding the pandemic, came in the mail.  I’d known it was coming and was eagerly awaiting its arrival, as Joyce had written me and asked for my address so she could send it.  What I didn’t know is that I was included in its pages.

Joyce took this photo of me when I was teaching at the San Miguel Writer’s Conference in 2017 and then turned it into a goddess-y work of art. I love that she paired it with this Brian Adreas quote.  He is one of my favorite writers/artists ever, and this is my favorite poem of his.  I am deeply honored to be included in the pages of this masterpiece at all, and am especially honored to have my image enmeshed with such exquisite, empowering words.

Me Medusa

When my mom visited me this afternoon, we sat on the bench in front of my house and leafed through the stunning pages of the book.  (Buy it, kids.  It’s a revelation.  I mean that.)  She was wowed by the photo of me and commented that Joyce had turned me into Medusa.  No one (including my mom) really knows this, but in my heart, Medusa has been the primary symbol of my growth and transformation during the past year.  Myths speak deeply to me, and I often find that a mythological figure will start showing up in my life at every turn when it has something to teach me.  Medusa taught me about embracing my anger, a gift from the divine meant to let me know when my soul was being violated.  She also gave me permission to take action to protect myself when necessary, even if it made me “not-nice.” (Oh, the horror.) Before I met her, I was pretty much willing to let anyone do anything they wanted to me, in the interest of being “nice.”  (Boy, did that cost me a chunk of my soul.  I had to fight like a mo fo to get it back.)

Right before I had my near-death experience (not sure what else to call it) in Philadelphia almost exactly a year ago, I taught a session about Medusa to my Writing to Access the Feminine Divine students.  We talked about how Medusa’s snakes could be viewed as symbols of women’s rage at millenia of abuse and rape, and also as symbols of their willingness to protect themselves from further violation.  (If you aren’t familiar with the myth, Medusa is a beautiful goddess who is raped and then transformed into a monster with snakes for hair.  The snakes kill any human who dares look upon her.  Though Medusa is traditionally viewed as monstrous, I view her as a symbol of feminine empowerment.)

During the past year, as I devoted myself to solitude and recovery, I grew in ways I can’t even begin to describe.  The first part of that process was accepting and working through my rage over some very real abuses that had happened to me. Since I’m a writer, my primary method of working through trauma is writing.  As I was coming to terms with my past, I wrote persona poems featuring Medusa often, and although they were probably the most rage-filled things I’ve ever written, they were also some of the most healing.  In a radio interview I did last year, I spoke about embracing my rage and said, “I got my snakes” to explain the change that was occurring within me.

And just last week, I finally found the courage to tell my Feminine Divine students the entire story of a life-altering rape that happened to me in my 20s.  (The rape in Beauty of the Broken is a very fictionalized version of that experience.)  I had never shared the full story with anyone.  I’d tried to put it into words during the Me Too movement, but the words simply wouldn’t come, and the attempt to bring them wrecked me.  But now, I felt strong enough to do it.  I rarely share such personal stories in my classes, but this class is pretty special to me, and for some reason, sharing that age-old trauma with them felt right. I was terrified after I let the story into the world, but my students, most of whom have been working with me for years, bathed me in all the love and light in their beautiful hearts, and it felt so healing, as if I finally let go of and made peace with that part of my story.  But I had to walk through the rage and find my snakes (my willingness to tell my truth and protect myself) first.

So for my mom to say that Joyce had turned me into Medusa felt incredibly empowering for me, like a wink from the universe saying I was at the end of the process of true healing that began when I started living on the road seven years ago, and racheted up to epic proportions after I almost lost my mind/died withdrawing from a Xanax prescription a year ago.  I knew that I had completed the process of embracing all pieces of myself and my past, including the not-so-nice ones.

Joyce, you amazing creature you, thank you for the exquisite work of art you sent my way.  You have no idea what it means to me.  I will be sharing its magic as often as I possibly can!

P.S. Here is a poem I wrote last year, in the throes of coming to terms with my history and my anger.  It’s furious.  It’s not necessarily pretty.  But it was a huge part of my acceptance of self, and for that, I am so grateful.

MEDUSA’S RESURRECTION

Who knew that when her redemption came

it would clatter in bearing the name “Vendetta”

wearing snakes for hair & a cloak sewn from rage

& 1,000 pages of an autobiography gone wrong

or right to the door of her true, badass-bitch-goddess self?

What seer could have foretold that her salvation would strike

like lightning, melt her skin, wake the lioness crouching

within her ribcage, swallowing a growl, suppressing a roar,

filing her teeth down daily in an attempt to be nice, bland

like white rice, conventional like canned split pea soup?

But now the flaming phoenix of her rises screaming

from smoldering ash. Her past is on fire & she doesn’t mean

that in a good way. Every day she almost died is tattooed red

just behind her third eye, writhing inside her cobra haloed head

as she ascends shrieking, reeking of hell dust, wearing a crown

forged from rusty nails & splintered dreams. Her seams

are splitting, spitting smoke, near misses & a hit list

with the words EVERYONE WHO EVER RAPED ME scrawled

at the top in blood. She has made peace with the seraphim

who disguised themselves as snakes & sewed their souls

to her skull. Day & night, they lick her, watching monsters

stalk her. Her hair whispers, hissing:

 

Rise up from the abyss. Steal one more kiss.

Rape us, mother fuckers.  We dare you. 

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IN THE SUMMER OF THE BUTTERFLIES

elephant mountain
I love my new little casa in the New Mexico woods so much that I am hard pressed to leave it, but today, workmen spent the day and evening installing a chimney for my fireplace and repairing my porch, so I wandered to the meditation labyrinth I built during the first months of social distancing and wrote some stuff. I also took this picture of the elephant that lives at the heart of my labyrinth. (He lived on my daddy’s grave for many years first.) I picked this photo to share because I think the smoke from the incense looks really cool, like a cross or a sword or some other such awesomeness. (Maybe a plus sign, but that’s not nearly as cool. Let’s go with sword. Yeah, yeah, that’s the ticket.) Also, here is the poem I wrote. I have never been good at submitting my poems to journals. It feels like a lot of work for a little payoff, and I’m always like the little girl who wants to show her mommy the picture she drew the second she finishes. And I’m way more into sharing than I am into beefing up my resume these days anyway, so here is the word-picture I drew (or something). If you like it, you can hang it on your fridge. I’ll crayola you something snazzy to go with it.
 
IN THE SUMMER OF THE BUTTERFLIES
 
In the time she came to think of as the summer of the butterflies, there was an infestation. Inexplicable monarchs rerouted themselves to hover yellow over cracked stones and yuccas, their glitter-tipped wings flashing in starlight, whispering the secrets of the angels, as they had been since before the pillars of the earth were dragged onto the cosmic stage, but this time, she shut off the T.V. and listened.
 
Folded into a lotus, she erased everything she thought she knew and stared at the sky until she came to understand the miracle of blue. At last, she was able to comprehend gospel disguised honeysuckle, sacrament served up as cactus fruit, blood of Christ gussied up as puddle of red mud. She stood on tiptoe to see the light of the world dressed as a cloud of fireflies Christmas-tree-blinking over a bonfire. She wrote prayers on old love letters and burned them, watching wide-eyed as they smoke-writhed toward heaven to kiss the face of God.
From afar, humanity’s petty race for prizes of mirages and cobwebs raged on. Rich kids got richer. Cool kids got cooler. Puppet kings scrabbled and scrapped their way to the upper-crust of nothing-but-dust, cut twisted strings and fell. Day after day, hell fell like fire from the lips of liars. Headlines begged for her attention, and she wanted to listen (and sometimes she did for a day or two), but oh, how could she obsess on and on about war and bombs when there was such a thing as an ever-purpling moon? She found she lacked the conviction to sustain rage, the commitment for depression, the ability to believe that she was ever a victim of anything but her own mind. It turned out she could leave anything behind anytime she wanted. And so she left everything that didn’t shine and rebuilt her life, one red pebble at a time. She bought a million pictures of Mary and Krishna, turned her whole world into a shrine.
 
She let her to-do list fall to the floor, burned her five year plan, astonished to find that every breeze, every breath, every life, every death was a step in an intricate ballet choreographed by a mind a billion miles wider and two zillion times wilder than her own. Her own feet stuttered and stumbled when she danced, so she surrendered to the arms of love, gave up her chance to be someone in order to be a speck of nothing-but-love flying straight and true into the blazing eye of an immortal sun.
 
That was the summer people really started to call her crazy.
 
That was the summer she realized she really didn’t care.
 
#tawniwaters #elephantmountain
#namaste #didyougetaloadofthatsky?
me on elephant mountain

WHAT THE ANGELS SAID WHEN I WAS DEAD

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A year ago, having given up my home and traveled full time for six years, looking for truth, peace, wholeness, and God (the real thing, not the trite bullshit so much of humanity uses to excuse their worst behaviors and stave off facing themselves), I finally found what I’d been looking for.  While withdrawing cold turkey from a prescription for Xanax, I went eight days without sleeping or eating, throwing up everything I tried to ingest.  At the end of day eight, in the throes of dehyrdration and what felt like death, I had a psychotic break.  When I was released from the hospital the next day, I had another. (I am grateful to say I fully and miraculously recovered within a few weeks.  I can play-act “normal” as well as anyone.  And please don’t try to tell me that you aren’t playacting when you perform the stultifying dance Western humans call “normal.”  I won’t believe you.  I’ve never met a normal person in my life, thank God.)

I had been scheduled to begin teaching creative writing full time in an MFA program.  Instead, I left my burgeoning career, and everything I thought I was and knew, in ashes, and retreated to the New Mexican mountain upon which I was raised to give birth to a new me.  I have spent an entire year in almost complete solitude, settling into the Tawni that emerged from the grave, trying to write a literal description of what happened to me, trying to explain why it was the best, most liberating, beautiful, transformative gift I have ever been given.  Five-hundred pages (give or take) of failed attempts leave me humbled.  I understand now that the experience was the ineffable gold at the end of the rainbow I had been chasing, the unspeakable “finding” at the end of all the seeking I had been doing.  (If you want to find truth, buckle your seatbelt.  It ain’t gonna be anything you think you already know.  I’m relearning everything, and here is a secret: Everything is love.)

The experience, and its impact on me, defy literal translation.  I’ve resorted to poetry to try to describe it.  It still doesn’t translate.  I think I should take up interpretive dance.  Maybe that will do the trick.

I’m not sure I’ll ever sell my work again.  Maybe it’s too weird.

Here is another secret: I don’t give a shit.

WHAT THE ANGELS SAID WHEN I WAS DEAD

Mostly, they said my name, though it didn’t sound like a word dropping from their tongues. It sounded like a stone that had been polished blue-pearlescent in the River of Life, like a song that had been written before there were stars, like a breath of love whispering from the very mouth of God. Mostly, they laughed, as if the whole of existence was a giddy dance, the kind children make up on playgrounds while jumping rope and swiveling hips.

Cinderella dressed in yella went upstairs to kiss her fella.

And I did. His lips were like fire. The heat of him burned through my skin and into my marrow. Staring straight and unflinching into the eyes of love, I gathered my courage and threw the bones. They landed at the shit-stained gate to the straight and narrow path.

(FYI, the Pearly Gates are covered in graffiti. The Road to Zion runs through the center of a silver hub cab in a Georgia ghetto.  I was baptized in torrential rain in Bristol, Tennessee.  Jesus showed up, dressed as a fat cowboy.  Cherubs disguised as geese waddled streets-of-gold-painted-to-look-like-brick.  Pre-death, the wind handed me three orange poppies, and I pressed them to my breast, the first true treasure I had ever touched.)

The angels taught me to see and never once said I couldn’t tell their secrets. They only spoke them in a language incapable of translation to any mortal tongue.  When I try, it sounds like nonsense, the mutterings of a madwoman.  I am relegated to the language of silence.  I can only speak truth with my eyes. I embrace aloneness because I am never alone. There is no such thing in all the universe as solitary. There is only the illusion of separation, the razor-wire fence cosmic Nazis have run through the center of your mind and dubbed the parameters of sanity. Every molecule is alive and longs to whisper its story. Every breeze throws its arms around lost daughters of God perpetually.

At twilight, I pour pitchers of holy water down the turquoise throats of holy flowers. I speak my truth to sacred thistles, who listen, purpling, when I say, “If I told you that to get to heaven, I had to walk through crazy, what would you do?” They toss white rose petals on my shoe, whispering, “Us too!  Us too!”

Half of me was trapped in hell, tormented in a crooked cage, nailed to a cross on the other side of the black line stone-blind humankind has scrawled through the middle of the stage of reality. I was a dismembered mind until I waded crown deep into madness and lowered my basket, gathered my other hand, my other foot, my other eye, my other ear, the other half of my tongue. I could never be truly holy, I could never be truly whole, until I found half of me drowning in a living river mortals dubbed Madness. (But the angels called it Truth.)

My dismembered mind flew back together, formed a constellation.  Who knew I was a star?

I understand this now, though I can’t say it in a way that means what it means. Every shred of my skin is holy. My veins run red with the blood of Christ. My very kneecaps are New Testaments. The bumps on my elbows shine like shrines. I am not afraid.  There is no such thing as losing.  And I can never win a prize that wasn’t already mine. As Hugh Glass said in that movie, “I ain’t afraid of death.  I already done it.” And I ain’t.  And I have.

Every morning as the sacred sun rises over a divine world dizzy with longing to be noticed, the ants bite one another’s backs and lay asphalt over Nirvana’s rainbowed glory, painting paradise black.  Their metal mandibles ravage the surface of heaven, chewing through yellow miracles and spitting them out as mud.

There will be a storm today. The sky will cry, and I will drink rain, mourning humanity’s insanity, knowing mundanity has a long history of thrashing about in chains forged of fear, mistaking the raspberry taste of freedom for crazy, mistaking the electric kiss of love for death.

When John, Paul, George and Ringo said the bird would fly into a black night, they meant it.

My third set of teeth has grown in gold.

On obsidion wings, I rise.

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