Sunflowers in my see

Acrylic. After Van Gogh.

The Ancient Ones

The Ancient Ones, oil on canvas

Fleas on the Dog Interview

Check out my interview by the Canadian dudes at Fleas on the Dog in Issue 11 (Fiction).

On Marcus Aurelius Meditations

My newest project confronts Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. This is the first in what I plan on being a series of 10.

Book IX # 19: “All things are in change. You yourself are under continual transmutation, and, in some sort, corruption. So is the whole universe.”

Pencil, watercolor, gouache on canvas.

Paranoid Purging of Self

	It happened on Sunday, August 15th, in the Best Western Plus on Vancouver Mall Drive, at about 3:00 pm, after eating Vietnamese, the last night of motel before checking into our extended stay at AirBnB. 
	By nature (or upbringing--who can be certain), I am sensitive to paranoia and anxious thoughts, so it shouldn't be a big surprise that greedily ingesting two-and-a-half Cannabis edibles would create the perfect psychotic storm. I should have known better. I had a similar experience in San Diego, when I had returned home because of my father's passing in 2018. Ate one, nothing. Give it at least 30 minutes, my brother had warned, but impatient for feeling any effects, I ate another, laughed uncontrollably, lay on the couch in the living room, had only minimal paranoid feelings and fast went to sleep.
	But the trip I had in our hotel room is the worst I've ever experienced, so much so that I never, ever want to do that again, is what I vowed when the effects finally wore off. It had only been a few hours, but believe me, it felt like infinity.
	Before I describe my terrifying trip, I should backtrack and explain what I think amplified the effects. We had gotten on the road five days prior for our exodus from Texas to the PNW, so we were motel nomads, living out of our bags while caring for our four pets. For months, we had vacillated between the decision to stay in Texas, where our lives were relatively stable--both of us had stable, decent-paying jobs and a house we had purchased together four years ago--or to take advantage of the outrageous real estate market and move to a place more amenable to our political and social leanings, and our love of nature and the outdoors. Ultimately, we decided on the latter, which meant for me having to resign from my tenure-track assistant professorship at Temple College. Part of me was excited for the new adventure, where I could challenge myself and try a new career; I had been questioning whether I really wanted to continue teaching. I have various other interests I wished to explore, such as the pet industry or starting my own business. The other part quarreled with my adventurous spirit, asking What are you doing? You're so close to tenure (in 2023) and you make more money than you ever have. In the end, the itch for grand change won; all worked out smoothly in selling our house with a nice pay-off that would permit us to buy a nice house in Vancouver, which is still being built and won't be ready until October. 
	Simultaneously, during these rollercoaster months of getting ready for the move and applying to hundreds of jobs, I lost connection to my writing--I just didn't have the head space necessary. I did keep up with the Healthy Minds app, which offers guided mindfulness meditation. I did finish a short manuscript too, early on in the summer, In all My Lifetimes, a fictional meditation on the Buddhist concept of re-incarnation. If there is no self, as Buddhist thought claims, then what is reincarnated, was the big question in my mind. I'd like to think that I experienced brief moments of Nirvana, of ultimate awareness in the background of the waterfall of life, during my routine meditation sessions, and when I thought back to such moments, it felt exhilarating and frightening to think that all this life is is passing through, and what remains at death is a subtle mindstream that only vaguely remembers past lives.
	It started with cry-laughing with tears and snot streaming down my face. We were both laughing for no obvious reason, staring at each other from time to time, then bursting out laughing repeatedly. Time slowed to an excruciatingly level; there were two time frames, overlapping, the one I was trapped in trying to keep up with the other where my husband and two dogs resided. I could hear him asking if I was okay, and the panting of my pacing dog as if it were happening right inside my head, yet far away; I could not move or reach out, they were so far away. He asked if I needed water, I nodded, he brought a jug to my lips and I sipped, but this did nothing to pull me out of the black hole I was sinking into. I needed to sleep, but when I closed my eyes, I felt certain I would die, so I lay unmoving on one of the twin beds, in a hellish in-between space, wondering when the suffering would end.
	At one point, I thought of saying, Take me to the ER, where maybe they could save me, but then that would fuck everything up and we would lose our house and I would never recover, I would get my just desserts and anguish in purgatory. Then came the urge to vomit; I'm astonished I made it to the toilet instead of vomiting on the bed or the carpet. Crouched on my knees and while Ryan held my hair back and massaged my back, I lost just about all of the tasty smoked salmon vermicelli that had been my lunch. After returning to recline on the bed, there was a tinge of hope that I had thrown up the majority of the THC I had consumed. I even said, "I am me," pointing to my chest, and Ryan just smiled. You see, the trip split me from me; there is no self, I felt, then where will I go? What will I do? Fractured, I held onto whatever fragments of identity remained. I am me. Just when it felt I was coming to, awareness/self sank back down, down, down, I was losing it again. Altered senses, altered sense of time, impaired movements, incoherent thought. Ryan said he would take the dogs down, one by one. I wanted to help, but knew if I tried I would stumble down the stairs. So I lay frozen. He would later say he didn't know what was going on. Of course he couldn't. I was trapped inside, my amygdala over-stimulated I would later learn in researching the effects of too much THC, especially on those prone to anxiety. My stomach hurt again, and I didn't know if I would throw up or take a shit. It ended up the latter, and my dog Mei Mei followed me into the bathroom. When I petted her, I felt grounded, and I said, It will be okay. Petting something solid and real helped to anchor me again, but then afterward, when I stopped, I returned to the bad place. 
	At some point during my hallucinations, I messaged my brother, who lives in Korea, and here is a copy of the exchange: 
	"We're in a hotel. This is really bad. I don't like the feeling."
	"Oh I'm sorry. Just relax, close your eyes, and listen to some soft music."
	"Help me get back to reality."
	"I had too much, I feel sick"
	"Drink lots of water, maybe eat something"
	Moments later...
	"I'm coming down. I threw up."
	"Man I've never tripped so badly. I really thought I was dying."
	There was a bit more, but you get the gist.
	Did I really think I was dying, or afraid that what was happening was the real reality, and I wanted to return to the fake. 
	I believe that the stress of the previous months exacerbated my paranoid trip. I also believe that one of my greatest obsessions of late also was pushed to consciousness--the concept of self is a construct. Why couldn't I just go with it? Let go of self in my altered state? Isn't Nirvana or Awareness supposed to be freeing? Isn't ingesting marijuana supposed to be pleasurable? But no, I could not let go of the concept of self, even if it is an illusion. It is a necessary one until one is ready for the ultimate death of self. 

Talking to Things

Up for a speculative read? My sci-fi short story is published at Bewildering Stories. Check it:

Letters (Un)Remembered

In an effort to exorcise my past and to clear out clutter, I have decided to take on the dismal task of working through a collection of letters that date back to my childhood. The collected letters made its way to my home here in Austin on my road trip back from San Diego after my father died the end of 2018. Why did I collect all the letters, notes, cards, and invitations I have ever received, and then decide to keep it going after all these years? I don’t think it was a conscious decision–more like this is where all letters, notes, cards, and invitations ought to go, a way of organizing things that I could not decide were worth saving so the pile grew larger and larger over time until they became this nostalgic thing I’d eventually get to sorting out.

At first, I thought of burning them. But too cliche. Then with all this time on my hands during Summer of Pandemic, I decided I could turn it into an art project. I’d been wanting to return to my childhood art practice of paper mache, and so was born the dualistic opportunity to preserve (albeit in a distorted fashion) the letters of my past rather than burning, shredding or destroying them in some way. Before tearing the sheets of old-fashioned letters and saturating them with glue and water mixture, I read them. I read the letter from a someone named Linda Belcher–that’s right–the name of the mother from Bob’s Burger’s–whose name rang a bell but even after reading her hand-written letter on stationary from 1984 (making me 15 years old) I could not for the life of me remember who she was. Even after she said she missed California (she now lived in Texas) and Montgomery Junior High where we both went. There was one dated July 26, 1999 (making me 30 years old) from a friend named “Carmen” that I imagine would have made me blush at the time. Carmen said she was enclosing three photos that included a photo of me and that when she went to get them developed, the civilian manager who worked there saw my photo and liked it, said I was very pretty and would like to meet me. When she picked up the photos, she thought he would have forgotten but he asked “Where’s my girlfriend,” and proceeded to give his phone number to give to me. Wow, bold I thought, and still couldn’t remember. Carmen decided on her own that I would not call him because as far as she knew, he was not a Jehovah’s Witness (I was a devout one at the time). All this to say that though she wouldn’t dare give me his number, she wanted me to know I had an admirer. Though I remember my friend Carmen, I don’t remember a single thing about this incident or this admirer, which is especially surprising to me because I was awful self-conscious even at 30. After reading it, I decided not to include this one in my collage. I wanted to preserve it as is, for what–I’m not exactly sure. Which is to say, this is going to end up being a long, interesting excursion down (un)memory road. I have all summer. By the end, I hope to have determined which letters should end up in the recycle bin and which ones should be salvaged for a future return to the past. I could end up with a bin of letters again or a letter burning ritual in my backyard.

Running Solo

Most runners nowadays have to run solo because of the restrictions in place over the Corona Virus. I just read this encouraging article from Runner’s World I want to share for those of you feeling discouraged about all the events cancelled in light of social-distancing:

Other circumstances forced me to slow down my running habit to a near trickle–my diagnosis of Urticaria (chronic hives) in recent months. I was hoping to work my way back to the goals I had achieved, such as running 5 and 10K’s at a pace I was happy with. Now, even if I want to, my efforts might become limited as it is some places, such as Spain, where apparently running outdoors is against the law. I’m grateful I have a jogging buddy in my husband Ryan; we run in the early morning hours when there seem to be few of our neighbors out. We don’t have indoor running equipment such as a treadmill, but we do have a stationary rower and bike. But there’s nothing like running freely in the outdoors, and I think I’ll take advantage of this freedom while I have it. For your other running-lovers, what are you doing to compensate for the loss of running events and running partners/groups?

Release of Giving Up the Ghost

My book is officially released today. Please visit my store to order direct. Cheers!

First Reading

I read from my book for the first time last night, at our first open mic of the year. I chose the first piece “Day of No Dead” because it isn’t too long or too short. When I got to the part about memories returning without effort, “her left leg trembling. The shock I felt at seeing her head nearly bald…Bending over to kiss her cheek,” and especially at this moment: “seeing dismembered strands of hair strewn on the pillow,” I choked up. I paused, tried to contain myself, almost didn’t go on. I couldn’t believe it–a rush of emotions completely through me off, un-beckoned, most likely repressed for too long much as a buoy forced underwater popping up unexpectedly. Perhaps it was guilt I had openly confessed in this piece–of mourning more for a lost pet than for a dying sibling. Or tangentially, still grieving over my father’s death one year and two months ago now. My relationships with both were not “typical,” whatever that means. As I ponder it now, I had conflicted feelings about both, which according to Zazen Buddhism, is essentially more about me than about them. I feel the loss of my father more strongly because I was in closer contact with him than with my sister. In his musings on the Singularity, Kurzweil claims that you really do lose a part of yourself when someone you love dies, the pattern of thought tied to that person. That part of your mind atrophies. And so I had lost touch with my sister long before she literally died. Yet memories of our youth filed deeply away, still within reach. Of course, when I read the part about seeing her shriveling body–a traumatic sight–it triggered all sorts of sadness, anger, misery, and confusion over what I was losing–a component of my lingering childhood and adolescence. You cannot cut ties just like that, no one can. And when you try, all the more mired you become, like trying to erase the stench of a dead skunk. I nearly stopped reading, but my kind audience, particularly a current student in English who had also read a brief but sweet poem about feelings. She said, “You can do it.” And I did. I had to forgive myself for indulging, I swallowed and went on to the finish, encouraged by kind faces of those enduring my long-winded essaying on the necessity of obituaries, and their overall failure to encapsulate any life.

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