I come from the desert, where cloudy days are few and far between. Because they have always been a scarcity in my life, they feel like the ultimate luxury to me. I love them. I love rain. I love storms. I love having to wear fuzzy sweaters because it’s cold. I love being able to curl up in a cozy chair with my computer all day and respond to my students’ work, feeling locked in because, hey, it’s cold out, and the sky says stay inside. It’s like that often here at the Rosemont College Campus, where I am living and serving as writer-in-residence for the fall semester. I am mesmerized by the beauty of it, by the silvery sky and the blazing leaves and the nights that come earlier than anything I’ve seen in my life. (It’s starts getting dark before five here. What???)
This is the first time I’ve ever spent the entire fall season in a place that has fall. It’s been wondrous. I was lying in my bed last night, staring up at the latticework of light created on my ceiling by moonlight streaming through my lace curtains, thinking that the life I am living her on this campus is as close to the life of my dreams as I have ever gotten. Most days, I wake up late, drink coffee, eat my bagel, work for a few hours, work out, go meet with students or teach classes about the art I love (depending on the day of the week), come back to my gorgeous little suite, write/work, read for a while, lie in my bed praying and feeling lucky, fall asleep at like four in the morning, rinse and repeat. My boss, Carla Spataro, is one of the most generous, brilliant, delightful human beings I’ve ever known, and I get to spend all kinds of time with her.
My colleagues and students are incredible. Just often enough, I get to participate in social events–readings and panels and dinners. I get to meet and spend time with amazing writers. I get to share my work at readings regularly, which is so exciting. When I’m hungry, the cafeteria is a few hundred feet away. I never have to cook. As if all that weren’t enough, housekeepers take care of my suite once a week.
Often, I walk over to the stone Mary that stands guard in the steeple of the chapel, next to the castle in which I have the luxury of staying. I look up, take in the beauty of the night sky, say thank you. Last night, I went out at midnight. Soaked in starlight, she was breathtaking. I thought about how I could have settled for all the things people told me I was supposed to want. But I didn’t. I thought about how happy I was that I followed my heart even when it cost me. Because it brought me here.
And as sad as I’ll be to leave when the time comes, the wonders don’t cease when I leave here. Next, I go stay in a house by the ocean for a week. While I’m there, I’ll finish the draft of the novel I’m working on and teach a class for amazing writers in Manteo, North Carolina. Then I go home to New Mexico to spend the holidays with my precious family. After that, I get to go teach at an amazing conference in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, one of the most beloved cities in the world to me, where I’ll stay until I leave for my residency at a lovely, castle-esque manor in La Rochelle, France. I am already scheduled to speak at three French high schools, where they are studying my book, Beauty of the Broken.While I’m there, they are going to do a translation duel of my work, meaning a bunch of French translators will be competing to translate my work. (Fastest? Best? I’m not sure.) I can’t believe I get to say all this. I can’t believe this is really my life. I can’t believe people all over the world are studying my work, that work that sat in my desk drawer for a decade, being read by no one.
The beauty of it overwhelms me sometimes. Every time I walk back from the cafeteria, see this astonishing house I get to call home for a few months, I have to remind myself that this is really my life. I don’t know how I got so lucky. I don’t know that I deserve it. Somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good.
Stone Mary, this one goes out to you. To me, you are a symbol of the gorgeous spirit that has guided me, that has gently taught me who I really am, has strengthened me to become the thing I was born to be, is helping me to understand the difference between love and lust, beauty and glitz, art and kitsch, truth and lies, wealth and greed, need and want, kindness and insincerity.
Sometimes, I get weird letters from people who don’t know me anymore, who never really knew me, saying I’ve changed, as if it’s a bad thing, as if success has gone to my head. These people always want to offer their kind services to “fix” me. Fix me how? It makes me angry. Of course I’ve changed. And if I did need fixing, I would go to the people who really know me, who have stood by me through the darkness and the light, for advice and help.
I’m successful because I changed, because I let the still small voice whispering in my heart, telling me to live my truth, turn me into something better than the thing I was pretending to be. Maybe I’m not as much fun at a party as I used to be. Maybe I’m more solitary and contemplative. Maybe I’m more about work and less about rock-n-roll. Maybe I don’t let people who don’t love me touch my body, because I love myself too much to let me be used ever again. Maybe I don’t have that many close friends because friendship has become a sacred thing to me, and I don’t give it away easily. But this is me. This is who I always was. So much of what I did before was just trying to be something I wasn’t to make everyone else like me.
As I’ve spent the last three years being homeless by choice, traveling the world, trying to find myself, Stone Mary, and what she represents, has taught me how to know, sit with, and love, the real, perhaps boring, me. And I’m so glad I’ve changed, because my life is magic for it. And I have peace, real peace. And I have joy, real joy. And I am so grateful to the powers that be for giving me this magical, incredible, unbelievably beautiful life. If I spend every breath I have left saying thank you, it will never be enough.
Corpses howl in the streets, clacking corroded teeth, and I should be scared, but I’m not. I weave them marigold crowns, lie down among the headstones, call them to me to talk. We know secrets, we dead things. The only difference between me and them is I still have my skin.
Three drinks in because the only time I feel alive is when I’m high enough to hallucinate you.
They say I’m living the dream. What they don’t know is this was never my dream. My dream was me curled into the question mark of your body like an answer.
There is no rage left. Not at you. Just my insides rattling around like shattered glass. Just the sucking sound my rib cage makes 24/7, reminding me it’s empty.
Today, I ran until my lungs almost exploded, and when my heart was clobbering my chest, I fell in the grass, and looked up. Heaven was broken, slit into strips of gray and white. The air trembled. Night was coming, and the sky knew it. I slept and dreamed I was Lazarus, wrapping those clouds around me like bandages. You were Jesus outside the tomb, saying, “Come forth!” And I came, your blessed name on my lips.
You are Jesus, so build me a ladder to heaven.
You are Jesus, so build me a stairway to your face.
I will climb it, crawl into the amazing grace of your mouth, and sleep there, warm on the mattress of your tongue, my head propped on the pillows of your teeth.
Tell yourself you are beautiful and brilliant and strong. Whisper these words to yourself in the night. Offer yourself the gift of compassion, of forgiveness, of kindness. Do not conspire with those who have misunderstood your magnificence, have sought to put out your light. Never repeat their lies while staring into your own eyes in the mirror. By loving yourself fully and completely as you are, you give your soul permission to love others fully and completely as they are. Do not mistake cruelty for humility. If you would never be cruel enough to tell a child he was stupid or weak or fat or ugly, do not be cruel enough to say these words to the child living inside you. When you degrade yourself, you degrade the Creator, insulting the wisdom, the perfection of the Is. Self-loathing is not humility. It is blasphemy.