These Yet Unanswerables

Posted: March 9, 2014 in Uncategorized

13 years of parenting has taught me more than any other thing I’ve ever done in life. No matter how prepared you are you aren’t ever quite prepared enough. 13 years. Whoa. My baby child is shedding a time of life that we can’t regain. Ugh, so brief— childhood only a pause in the on-going mixed tape. 13 years of parenting has been exceptionally challenging, although, not in expected ways.

I’m supposed to be more prepared for this moment, more self-reflective, a better role model. I’m supposed to be everything I expect of myself and twice more and elated and strong and healthy and, and, and. Instead I find myself questioning all of my belief systems: is this way of living good enough for my kids? What am I passing on? How will they look back on this time? Do they get enough time in the wild? No. Have I set them up with the best possible opportunities for the future? No. Do they eat well enough? No. Do they love themselves? ________.

Do they love themselves? Do they listen to their own needs? Do they have self-worth? Do they feel loved? These yet unanswerables keep me up nights. If I only accomplish one thing, please, let it be that they enter adulthood with a deep sense of self-worth and love.

13 years to gear up for these next seven crucial ones.

I imploded in adolescence. At this distance, I see all too clearly all the uber hard choices I made along the way. I can’t fail my kiddos. Yet, at the same time, I cannot—I repeat—I cannot weigh my self worth based on how they turn out. I have spent 13 years enmeshing the fibers of our beings to one another, tending to their everything; and the next 10 will be a process of uncoiling, of holding space that I’m not invited into. As if the first decade of parenting is an extended welcoming, an on-going getting to know each other and the second decade of parenting is the drawn-out au revoir, the disentangling.

This next chapter of my family’s story is not yet written and, damn it, what has passed does not have to dictate what will come. Everything will be different. No matter how prepared you are you aren’t ever quite prepared enough.

Z is a good person. She is smart and motivated, determined and huge hearted. I am seriously effin lucky to know her. Bringing her into the world was the hardest work my mind and body had ever had to do. Watching, feeling, supporting her in creating ever widening circles away from me catches my breath and with it my soul. Happy Birthday Z, love. Here’s to many more years of deep, deep breathing.


G  E  N  D  E  R                                        Written by: my 11-year-old daughter

Gender is above and beyond our imagination. The meaning of “gender” has been questioned for a very long time. That’s the question I’m going to discuss.

A lot of people (including people in this class) might think you don’t get to choose your gender. Some people think you are born with your gender, which matches your sex organs.

If you are somebody who feels the same gender as your sex organs this term is called cisgendered. For example, if your sex organs are female and you feel that you are a girl then you are cisgendered.

That’s not all gender is though. Maybe you have or maybe you haven’t heard the term transgendered. People, who identify as transgendered, feel their gender differently from the sex organs they are born with.

Other people (including people in this class) might think gender is what you decide it to be for yourself. For example, if you are born with male sex organs but you feel that you are a girl so you choose your PGP (preferred gender pronouns) to be female pronouns, this could be called transgendered.

Ok, enough talk about boy, girl, male, female. Have you ever thought about if someone doesn’t identify as a boy or a girl? People who don’t identify as either of these genders sometimes identify as, what we call, genderqueer.

People who do identify as transgender/genderqueer have the right to have their beliefs, feelings, and properties respected whether you believe in the spectrum of gender or not.

Even if you don’t believe something that other people think about gender it doesn’t mean that your thinking is wrong or that their thinking is wrong, everyone’s opinions about gender are valid.

Poem X

Posted: January 25, 2012 in Uncategorized

Let me tell you about the letter X. How it marks the spots I have left behind me. Long lost treasures for others to have and to hold. Wow, some trails can express remarkable colors and patterns. If you wave the past in front of your face over and over again it repeats itself in stunted intervals. I would like to throw all these tenacious traces over my shoulder and shove off into my nearest future. Let’s burn every map to ashes to resist crossing over the same paths. I’m telling you repetitions happen without permissions, without excuses. No X I’ve written or read felt the same until I turned round and round three or four times and spun back and looked again and see only X X X X X lining up in reckless nonlinear orders—as if order matters when each looks like the last and next. Let me tell you, the letter X has the shortest section in the dictionary, the fewest words inspired from it. Let me tell you how not all Xs are created equal yet once you’ve rolled it around in your mouth they all taste and sound the same—or don’t say a word. So many words don’t start with X. And those that end there, well, I’d rather not start that sort of litany. I already feel sprained in those places. Let me tell you, when explaining the rights and the wrongs Xs cross over the wrongs and also fit onto forms to mark yes, yes that’s mine or is me. Xs have a slew of uses and misuses and make a sharp sound that tickles my throat. Let me tell you, X keeps cropping up when I’d rather it not. X marks attempts I work at erasing, erase where an X could go. X don’t go here, don’t go there, don’t sit in my rearview and make faces, don’t follow my lead or be a reflection of me. Me and my X X X X Xs looking all smug but not saying a word. If they don’t talk and I don’t talk then no listening will get done. Well, like I said, very few words start with X. And those that end there—sheesh.

My daughter is a pleaser. She’s always concerned for other people’s states of mind, always doing what she can to make folks happy. On the one hand this quality brings remarkable capacity for empathy and awareness; on the other, it can strip the self of boundaries, tear away a person’s personal ethics as they go further and further away from their own truth to live up to someone else’s. Children can be so so pliable, they bend and flex and cartwheel on behalf of making their parents pleased. Sometimes this bending stretches the supple muscles too far, asks too much of the body.

The other day I held my daughter’s growing-fast body while it shook and clenched and spasmed with grief. She screamed, “Why can’t he work at making things better, why do I have to do all the work? Why can’t I just be a kid?!” Three years after the fact, she still feels her father’s abandonment deep in the very core of her sensitive being. She tries and tries to make sense of her father’s leaving, of his disengagement from her life, her feelings. I did all I could think to do, I empathized as best I could, repeating back to her all the frustration and anger and disappointment she expressed. I gave her what she only wanted to receive from him. I stroked her hair and bit my lip and waited.

I couldn’t say, “don’t worry, it’s not so bad,” for that would only dismiss her sorrow. I couldn’t tag-a-long to her anger with, “yeah, what a jerk he was for baling on you,” for that would discredit my position as space holder. But I tell you what, I wanted to cry along with her, yell at the top of my lungs too, “how could he!” Somehow, I didn’t speak an ill word of him, focused on her suffering and solutions to it.

Are there solutions? How else to dispel disappointment other than just getting over it, resigning yourself, accepting the lesser version of a dad than you had hoped for. How do you account for a loss when the person you’ve lost is still technically there but also totally and completely isn’t. I ask this for her as much as I ask for myself.

I never wanted to parent solo, shit I barely wanted to parent at all. But after our separation, which was necessary, the co-parenting set-up really worked great. He had them for a week then I did then he did. Back and forth and we would communicate about big decisions, hell even little ones. We worked as a team, a family, albeit an alternative one. Though we didn’t live together, and we didn’t parent on-site together, neither one of us was alone in our parenting. We had the other to consult with, vent with, and make plans of action to tackle the latest developmental phase. So when he completely severed the co-parenting relationship–going from half time to barely ever time, to living in a different state time–we all were devastated. Yes, I’m using such a dramatic word even though this word can mean so much more in much more drastic situations, I recognize this. But I am using a large word for a huge gaping feeling in me, in my children, in the very center of my family’s pathos.

To lose the camaraderie of the other parent, the solidarity of two heads, the relief of pressure from sole responsibility, this is a type of devastation. When you are on a team going through life everything feels surmountable. To find yourself suddenly without compass or landmark, without burden sharer or reassurance, and to see infinite forks in any given direction–this arrests all movement forward. My essence was blindsided.

All I could think was how do I spare them hurt, how do I protect them from, well, from his leaving? How do you explain to a child that a father leaves but not for any fault of theirs? How do you convince a kid to believe they are his priority even while he is turning away, moving miles and miles and miles away–both physically and emotionally? You don’t. No words work. If bell hooks is right, if love is an action then, well, what do you call the inverse?

Every cell in my being shifted when he abandoned his children for a new life, with a sudden new family, and new rules and new ways of relating–or not relating. My certainty suddenly gave out and my ass got real sore from the fall. When he abandoned our pact to raise these kids, not as a nuclear family, but as an equally important type of family structure, I lost all faith in people’s ability to stay, to push through for each other. If a man cannot stay for his own children, how is anyone to stay for someone unrelated? Everyone knows the old saying about blood and water.

I lost a co-parent and very soon after, no surprise, lost my partner of that time. Loss atop loss, like dominoes shoving into each other. My kids lost their dad and then they lost their step-parent. So much heart loss in the span of a couple years. A couple years blow by, get swept in the current of flipping light until the winter comes and one parent and two kids alone together are grappling around in its dark. How am I to forge a strong healthy family bond? How do I remain present for these children when everyone else leaves, can’t I just leave?

My parent-self wasn’t fully formed until I was completely alone with it. Only once I didn’t have the other parent’s input, a partner’s input, or care, did I truly realize that everything I do in my life weighs on my kids tremendously. My every move is under pressure; my choices are not mine alone to contend with. To make good choices for a good self, working your way through a good, albeit difficult, life is already crazy making. Add to this difficulty the fragile lives of two un-autonomous beings and impossible becomes an active noun. Or rather, I feel impossible. The sensation that you are alone in deciding on behalf of three people weighs like a suffocating fog that blurs the landmarks, conceals the destination point.

“What exactly is most important for my children after basic needs?” “Is love a basic need or a bonus?” “How do I fill the void of their loss when I too feel lost?” “What do I need? And does that even matter at this point?” “How do you mend a broken family when some of the pieces have gone missing?” “What does family even mean if members leave and don’t look back?” All these questions to ask myself and answer myself. Or not answer.

You know I used to scoff at and feel angry towards the phrase, “a broken home.” But I agree now, our home is broken: we are distrustful of others and alone with each other and only one leg to balance with, we don’t let people in anymore, as if our threshold has shrunken to an un-findable proportion. Once a thing’s been broken there’s only fixing left to work at. I guess naming a home broken begins the long process of making a home repaired. Whether I like it or not, I must get to it.

Everything boils back down to just me. Just me and my two kids. And I don’t like it, and my kids don’t like it. No one ever says so, not at least, until my daughter is a flooding street on the living room floor. And then grief presents itself as if it was there the whole time, underscoring all the small moments. Each of us grieves differently but for every spell the time stops to kaleidoscope past events into the present while sucking the future down in. Every time one of us is taken by our grief I naively think it is the last time. Every time, I think it is the last time.

Ultimately, I would like to raise a whole person–two whole people actually–and I realize, of course, that I cannot protect them from hurt or abandonment or worse even. So how then, do I guide them through to the other side? And if I too, am not a whole person how then do I pass on something to them that is bigger and better than I am? I want more for them. I want them to grow believing in the fantasy that I rejected over a decade ago: I want them to believe that love is the greatest thing; believe that love and loving is what saves us all from despair. How do you pass on a tool you do not yourself wield? And how do I convince them that love is everything when it wasn’t enough to keep their dad near and engaged and actually parenting?

I don’t have an answer. And though it’s unsatisfying to not have an answer I do keep staring grief down thinking if it gets enough airtime eventually it will tire of surfacing. I suppose, at the least, I pass on resilience simply by making it through every time. And though I don’t let people in yet, at least I am fortifying myself, my home. And raising a self, or two or three, really takes it out of you. And building a home out of guesswork and trial and error and miniscule hope growing and letting the past out the back door repeatedly and waiting and waiting–the future is bound to show up whole someday. Let’s hope I’m done flipping off grief by then.

Post for a New Year, Yes, New.

Posted: January 17, 2012 in Uncategorized

This year comes a full circle. 1. Nearly two years post grad school; post my last decent job, post the break-up of a long meaningful relationship, this long awaited year feels full with potential. Tangible potential, this year the future becomes a present tense in a way I have been waiting for. The slow unraveling of a self imposes a limbo built mainly of waiting. My last thread pulled out from its knitted place in order to begin again in a new form. Flip turn.

I like circles: their completeness, how they encompass whatever they surround, that they are found in nature, in recollecting, in my daily swimming practice. I swim in circles, long rhythmical circles. Daily face water, give myself over to it’s conditions. Lie face down and forge headfirst against its yielding. Flip turn 2, extend and reach with my triangle hand, rotated shoulder against my cheek, and my ears full with liquid, hips twisting to further my reach. Stroke, stroke, stroke, neck turns for a breath. Ear empties to fill again. Exhale in strings of bubbles, bubble, bubble, bubbles. Legs straight and long and kicking and kicking incessantly. Stroke, stroke, stroke, breath; a rhythm I cause eagerly. Stroke, stroke, stroke, breath. Flip turn.

I pay close attention to my every movement when I swim, stay aware of each muscle and how hard or not it is working and whether my form is efficient. I taught myself to swim mainly through youtube videos, podcasts, and the occasional living room chat with fellow swimmer friends. When learning mainly on your own improvement takes a lot of time. Flip turn, 3. And I have a long history with impatience. As a kid coming up I wanted to be older than I was, faster at everything I did, already done with what I was starting. I wanted the outcome before I put any time in. My focus always on what comes after instead of what I was in. Flip turn. Swimming face down through deep water where breathing must occur in a timely synced fashion causes this hyperactivity of mine to stop its flail-skipping. Time doesn’t say a word while I swim, the future doesn’t taunt me. Time only measured in how many strokes my inhale will last. My thoughts dappled with numbers I recite as I go, flip turn, 4.

My orange tinted goggles fog up after three laps, this fucks with my depth perception but I adapt and keep kicking and reach and keep kicking and reach. I am calling this my creation year. Year I find fulfilling work, year I exhale grief and loss and carry on with starting something, and then finishing it. This year I make and sell mini tunnel books. Year my son turns nine and my oldest turns twelve this year, turns a corner she can’t unturn; my daughter already seen by men. Well in this year of full circles, I keep swimming. Flip turn. Twelve-hour work day—I swim. Kid home with chicken pox—I swim. Wake at dawn—I swim. Eviction notice—I swim. Frustration from break-up—I swim. Accept a humiliating job—I swim. Bank fiasco—I swim. Another job rejection—I swim. Thank you water for having all of me. O, this new year I welcome full-heartedly, as a relief from the past two years. Watch my dive full frontal into.

Flip turn, 5. I need to improve, am constantly driven by my need to improve. I keep swimming, past impatience; through the urge to forward think over critical steps, I keep swimming in long slow circles. I need to succeed in water, in my body of water. Stroke, stroke, stroke, breath; stroke, stroke, stroke, breath. Surface tension breaks easily when I dip my limbs down into the pool yet how easily those parted molecules become a force that resists my kicking and strokes and tires my muscles as I work to move faster through circles. Flip turn. Arms rise to arc over my head and slip back into water to grab at nothing. I reach with each stroke to pull that buoyancy under me, pull it all the way through behind me. Push the last of what I caught in my s stroke back behind my propelled form. Push my trouble with the tomorrow or the next day away from what I face in this next stroke. Right now. Reach to grasp again for the invisible resistance of water.

Numbers are too easy to lose track of amidst the repetition of movements and inhales and exhales. Flip turn, 6. My breath suspended in the Gaussian blur of sunlight lying down with water. I want to stop dead in this reflective spot but cannot. Am I living life right? Nearly two years of [un]settling down, down, down into resignation. I’ve shaved off the nearest and dearest to me, voluntarily or forcibly doesn’t matter which now. I live certain that dependence on others is mythical. I resist the touch of invisible connections with people but allow water to engulf me completely. Yes, I need to swim for all those lost years [I mean loves] behind me, you see? Flip turn. Now, I’ve heard good folk say, “ask for what you need.” And I say, “how [dare I].” How do you ask to be cared for, to be loved? When your only need is for nurturing and care, how do you ask for such a thing? Love me, ok, even if you’re busy with whatever we’re all busy with or if you barely know me—or if you tire from loving, if you tire from caring, what, how, who to ask for then. Flip turn, 7.

Can you see how I swim? Can you see how hard I work to get going, to get anywhere? My heartbreaking a sweat, the bubbles of exhale, the scshlock of my hand cutting through, the soundless pull and push of my arms dancing with resistance. Flip turn. I share the pool, sometimes my own lane, with the other bodies in this body of water. Some bodies push me to work harder or boost my sense of accomplishment, “well, if I am faster than him, than I must be excelling, I must be great.” Other bodies stir up self-criticisms and disappointment, “why can’t I go any faster, why am I weak.” See how I swim, see me at the start of myself. Flip turn, 8. I want to be seen. I want to be seen through water, my horizontal feet, the back of my head, my arcing arm reaching to gain on this unmoving liquid.

A completely transparent opposition resists my progress—this has a dizzying effect. I am circling the same force repeatedly, indefinitely. Only movement and light make this visible. I can see everything through water: dropped hair ties, band-aids, a lost gold chain, shed skin. Oh the water is mine, every invisible molecule of it and I am of it entirely. Perhaps I too can be seen through. Yes, I have been long practicing my invisibility. Once crossed into Canada as a hitchhiker in a car of strangers without the border police asking for my story, purpose, name, I.D. or anything. The border cop looked right at me; I was sitting with my green card at the ready, in the back seat behind the driver, nearest the little booth he was leaning out of to interrogate our company of strange. Flip turn. Many a kerfuffle my existence somehow blotted out of. An avid conflict avoider, I am quick to raise my hands and walk away, or up and move. Though I suspect I’m being followed. But this year, after Pluto’s crossing shadow flees, this year I’ll spend training to become a conflict mediator. Yes, I will sit at every table with conflict. I will look and prod and question conflict until it buckles under the pressure of speaking and listening. And until I exhale the held breath of my unmet needs. Flip turn, 9. This year for coming full circle.

These last difficult seasons I somehow held onto a blind faith that the seemingly unmovable would falter, would break and give air back, give movement and light to the invisible so my pulling against all the unseen resistance would finally yield. Flip turn indeed.

In this story buildings keep learning in order. I have been through a slew of learning buildings, some I remember vividly such as my first school, Starr Elementary: an old stoic red-bricked building that held me carefully as I stumbled through learning to speak and comprehend English. My high school, though, stands as a vague hazy sprawl of red, black and white lockers, cigarettes, LSD, and angst. I nose-dove in high school: went from a 4.0 to a 0.16 in one term. I had brains and I was really determined to lose them. Needless to say I dropped out of high school. Left the routine of classes, the stream of familiar snarly faces, left in a whirl of self-loathing fury.

I traveled the country by thumb and bravery only the naivety of sixteen allows. I followed an underdeveloped compass of whims, curiosity, and rage. Angsty dissatisfied rage led me away from everything familiar to the outermost western islands of Canada. I had disappeared from boring suburban life to wake up in the middle of a temperate rainforest and find that I didn’t really know my own name.

Every body has a name to answer to. When I first started school in America my Russian name, Yulya, was changed to Julia on account that my name wasn’t American enough. (Although by fifth grade I had a classmate named Hoa–pronounced hwah–go figure.) I stayed Julia until I was seventeen, until I was alone in a tent with my dog on an island sixty miles off the coast of Canada. I stayed Julia until I had to say my own name aloud around a campfire of strangers and suddenly felt tongue-tied. What is this name? Who is this name? How am I this name? Why this name?

The name, Julia, put a wedge between my family and me, between my ethnicity and me. Being named more American put an awkward pit in my gut whenever I sat behind a desk. But I was starved to learn, to read and write, to understand how my eyes are green though my father’s are brown. Perhaps this original undermining branded me with a sense of inferiority or shaved off any husk of entitlement. Though I always excelled in school I continually felt that I had to prove my right to exist, to be at the desk, to raise my hand and have a question answered; I had to prove I was allowed an identity.

There I was in the middle of nowhere, no buildings, no lockers, nobody who knew my name and finally, for the first time perhaps, I believed that having a name identified me as my own person, titled my story. I took back that name my parents (actually my sister) gave me, Yulya. My sister named me for Shakespeare’s Juliette, she loved that play, and loved her first sister. With my own name I had permission to take up space in America, more importantly in academia.

I sought out a liberal education, barely recognizable as an academic place. A campus constructed originally as a prison complex—gray looming buildings with thin slits for windows plus the centrally located watchtower that became converted into the clock tower where all the hippies would meet up. I spent ten years off and on here, in the thick of another temperate rainforest, pursuing my first degree, my first graduation.

This school was so liberal there was no requirement to wear academic robes. In fact graduates often streaked naked across the rickety temporary stage erected on red square for graduation. I didn’t wear the conifer green robe or cap or the stringy white and green tassel with the fake brass ’06 dangling from it. None of my immediate family came for the ceremony, just a couple close friends and my two small kiddns. The dean mispronounced my name and my picture was taken alongside the campus president with a kid in arms and another clung to my leg. After ten years I graduated something.

I haven’t returned to this or any of the buildings of learning from my past, not yet anyhow. While traveling I picked up a motto I clung to: never return to the same place twice, always approach everywhere anew and with awe as if seeing for the first time. I can’t say that I live up to this maxim at this point in life, however names carry some of this power for me.

Russians do not have middle names; they are given patronymics. A child takes the name of their father and adds ovna if they are a daughter or ovich if they are a son. I apparently take
my hybrid existence quite seriously; before heading off to grad school I took my patronymic and dropped the ending, kept only the name of my father: Mykhiel. This name permits another version of me. A story in which the narrative begins to confuse the pronouns, the descriptions blur, the outline of the main character hybridizes until they can only be defined by not being defined. A character that wants to match whichever suit but only finds that androgyny fits best.

I cannot be certain of the way people receive me, if they see my chapters and their cliffhangers, the dips and trips of my dug up identity. The digging out from beneath the coulda, shoulda, wouldas. I only have the names I have as starting points that can be chosen, a choose your own adventure book where you may find the tough or tried of me.

I try; still, to fit into academia. To fit into my multi-syllabic names that most folks avoid twisting around their tongues. To fit into gender, whichever way it has to go but find I only want to be busy with learning. Busy touching books in search of stories I can see mine fit into. Busy choosing words that shift if I press them just right. I cannot help but run up and down those ivory tower steps finding buried volumes to bring into a too long dimmed light. Perhaps I scratch like a feral dog at academia’s porch because I ultimately want to rip its boards off. I’d like to tear at the moldings and frames until an entirely different building remains, one that can house all my names (and by my names I mean anyone who isn’t the right shape or color, the right genre or country).

None of the buildings I have learned in possessed any sense of grandiosity. None of my colleges held five hundred seat lectures or were renowned for their grand architectural facades. In fact I feel larger than any of those buildings, since each of them is built into me. O but I long for those small sterile rooms, the non-descript furniture and dry erase boards. The hard thinking of determined minds filling up the bland generic space. In these non-specific rooms I honed in on names, American and otherwise, that long felt beyond my comprehension. Men and women from an America I hadn’t quite belonged to.

Well, I wore the gray cap and gown, the gray tassel, when I crossed that ship of a stage to be hooded for completing my master’s program. They butchered my un-American names before wrapping me in that tremendous hood. Once a functional garment worn to protect one’s head from rain and sleet and snow, my master’s hood, with its thick velveteen brown outer lip and sateen periwinkle lining, looks like an enormous vulva (o yes). I have been named a Master. Names infuse into me as a powerful elixir. I can’t help but sit up now I am properly named. Have completed becoming a master—master of nothing tangible—of language and how it can dance in a field, but master nonetheless. I, master of the fine art of poetry, armed with an education and a mispronounced name, direct from the ivory tower’s bellboy, have been granted a vulva.

Posted: October 23, 2011 in Uncategorized

Pain as a way to thrive

Posted: October 14, 2011 in Uncategorized

Fuck I miss running, miss that sensation of burning power surging in my thighs. I used to look down at my legs once in a while during a run and become thrilled and thankful that wow, I have legs that can do this. Bummer is, I injured both my feet (damn you plantar fasciitis) while training for a marathon so I can’t now spend the morning circling the river or running through a downpour (ah-mazing!). I really felt like I was getting somewhere though I only ever made complete loops. I used to run and sometimes badger myself about not going fast enough or feeling tired but then I’d get through it, I’d add on the extra mile or shave off a minute or two total (which is an accomplishment, really). I felt proud of myself, proud that I succeeded at pushing past a limit I thought I had. The body is an amazing device in this way, where one mechanism—my brain—says whoa there, no way, can’t keep doing this, while the rest of me—my legs, lungs, shoulders, arms—keeps going further further further.

The body produces endorphins during exercise, extreme joy, pain, when eating spicy food, when in love and from orgasms. Ha, I love how one of these things is not like the others. Although I suppose that pain commonly partners with the four other methods of juicing up on our own form of morphine. The what-goes-up-must-come-down reality of chemical highs (no matter how natural).

Pain fascinates me. And immediately I am disappointed with the lack of language for this complex and oftentimes nuanced human experience. Exercise pain differs wildly from love pain, or spicy food pain, or labor pain. And sex pain or phantom pain or memory pains register uniquely in the system. Pain is a dramatic word for discomfort—dramatic, yes, and also lacking. The foremost definition for pain relates to bodily injury and suffering but the “pain” or distress of working out is precisely the opposite, the body working out is in high functioning mode, fine fine machinery.

I understand the science (though it really seems like magic) of the body’s ability to function so efficiently: the blood vessels dilating to deliver more oxygen rich blood, the lungs breathing heavier to get more oxygen into the bloodstream, the stomach shutting down to not waste unnecessary energy, sweating to cool off, I get all this–but the brain’s incessant attempts to get me to quit and my ability to not quit, to keep going, this I am baffled by. Why wouldn’t I just quit as soon as my brain says, but I’m tired, you can’t do this, you’ve been going for so long, how much further, can’t you do this another day?

Well I don’t run anymore because more than just my brain were shouting. So until my arches aren’t burning in pain everyday I traverse the terrain of my brain and body quarrels via water. I took to swimming even though I didn’t really know how to and was petrified of not being able to breathe right and possibly more scared of just not doing well. I really can’t handle it when I don’t succeed at something athletically speaking (I swore off baseball and softball simply because I wasn’t good at em). When I was a kid I would go go go constantly playing football, soccer, bike riding, climbing trees, beating all the kids at races. I cannot remember my childhood as much of anything but the physical activities of my daily. I was the first in three kids to pass the physical fitness test the first year schools required it, and I was the only one of my gender (whatever that was).

Running long distances and swimming revived a force in me that I only had in childhood. Relentless energy unhampered by the weight of ideas, identity, or ideals. As a kid I didn’t ever think about not having enough energy or time to runaround or jump up and down or have a spontaneous race. I know, I know, I didn’t have responsibilities then, or anyone relying on me in any way, of course, these factors make my adult-brain work differently (by differently I mean too much). But what I’ve tapped into with swimming especially is a method of switching my brain off a bit. Or more specifically, while I am engaged in tough physical activity my brain has less power over me. That nagging voice trying to get me to stop putting my body through discomfort doesn’t win because the efficiency of my machine is in autopilot. Some days I feel I could keep swimming for hours and hours. If it weren’t for the kids waiting at home for me I probably would.

When I swim I am a powerful fish, long and lank, buoyant, determined. Swimming is my best friend, my therapist, my sleeping pill, my medicine. To deeply embed myself into my own physicality makes being more human (vs. more animalistic) bearable. What I really mean is being in my brain too much can really fuck with me and residing in my body more through exercise, sex, what have you, I can better manage my brain and it’s out of control tendency to fuck with me. Perhaps my fascination with pain stems from this: it is easy to ignore the body unless some form of pain registers there. I prefer self-inflicted pain (vs. bodily pain caused by misuse).

Pain bottom-lines action, it acts as a catalyst for change. I hunger; I make food, grow it if I must first. Disease kills too many people; we funnel brains and money and time into figuring out the cure. Computer is too huge we make it fit on a desk. Computer is too slow we make it faster faster. Computer is too big we make it fit in the palm. Discomfort ultimately resides at the root of progress. Dealing with discomfort physical, interpersonal, communal, global, constitutes perhaps eighty percent (not a real statistic, just my feel for it) of our day-to-day functions. Daily deal with back pain, or road rage, or the simple pain of not getting what you want how you want and when you want it (a real tough one for a certain kid I know). To master discomfort, or rather master a functional response to discomfort, especially of the emotional variety (for many a modern day human), is to succeed as a humanimal.

My ability to overcome my brain’s incessant nagging on my weaknesses, my triumph over this perceived discomfort, however small, carries with it the mysterious force of life itself. There is absolutely no actual good reason for life to exist except just for the hell of it. I don’t mean this nihilistically—plain and simple, there is no logic behind why anything exists, why life force happens. Science can work itself into a frenzy explaining evolution and big bang but no laboratory proof or string theory explains why. Science explains life functions as is, but not why.

Precisely why I want richer language for discussing pain, for seeing its true role in our lives, our development. I worry we remain stunted by a negative connotation for this necessary element of life. We work incessantly at eliminating pain though we strive to live better due to it. Are we trapped by the lack of nuance in our language for pain, because pain and the adjectives used to describe it—ache, agony, torment, discomfort, nuisance, etc.—are relegated to negative experiences in life therefore eliminating these sensations makes life “better.” But at what point does making life “better” turn existence into something bitter, something barely thriving?

Can we please subject ourselves to experiences that cause internal conflict, high and low natured, that are not instantly gratifying per se, because we desire life? Desire a more nuanced and textured existence? Desire to feel life force more forcefully inside us? Desire, after all, is a type of power and living is not peaches and cream. To desire is to push against the bare essentials of existence, to see an ocean and build your way atop it. Every time I hit the water—push and pull my limbs through its viscosity, struggle to go faster, breath smoother, to ultimately get absolutely nowhere—I exist for this duration exactly as life-force does, I am neither human or animal, I just exist, out of gender, merely a force working itself.