Spring 2014
how to know you're in one? how to escape?

So when she got sick, we became doctors. We thumbed through old pamphlets and got a neighbor to give us a ride to the library. We used the internet there.

We assembled crystals, raiding our stashes and borrowing as many as we could, calling in every favor we were owed and making some promises that we wouldn’t like keeping. Malachite and bloodstone, selenite and smoky quartz. Some were fashioned into wands with switches and pieces of leather, some were suspended above her bed, but mostly we just piled them on her body. We weren’t entirely sure what we were doing.

I brought out the piece of rose quartz that I had stolen from my older sister three years before, the piece whose theft I had denied. It was so beautiful. I know that she noticed but she said nothing. It didn’t matter now.

At first it seemed like her condition was improving. Then the vomiting started.

We became more desperate. I traded my best clothes for more crystals. I realized that I hadn’t been eating. We moved the crystals around, trying them in different combinations, neat little piles on her pulse points and a large stack on her belly. We tried to send her positive energy but honestly we were terrified.

We started using whatever we could get our hands on, minerals not even known to have healing abilities. Rock salt, gypsum, fake coral from a fish tank. We just piled them on her chest and prayed and waited.

I lean back--
stretching, staring at the starry sky above me
eyes absorbing ancient waves of light
miles they've traveled humble my tired body

Warm water works its way around my calves
elbows sink into the silt below
steam curls up into nimble wraiths
water their womb, sky their home

Stars gaze down--
I shy away, they are many, I am but one
they tug at the steam and on my heartstrings
urging me to wander and to tirelessly roam

The water's surface shivers with light
the reflections send my nerves racing
I close my eyes, the breeze picks up
deep inhale, my lungs are shaking

I plunge into the quiet black
small bubbles escape my lips
at last no light, no frenzied movement
only warm escape, subtle bliss

I haven’t seen the sun since the scream happened six months ago.

It’s funny, I can still remember going to the doctor for headaches and coming home under the strictest orders for my parents to limit my computer time to no more than two hours per day, to preserve my eyesight. Ha! Even before the emergency duty, the sixteen year old punks around me often spent 24/7 wired in.

I have never told that story to my colleagues aboard this ship.

They already refer to me as the old man of the sea, despite the fact that 90% of the ill-read lot of them are unable to identify the Hemingway origins of this reference in under three searches. Some parts of human knowledge are still as poorly organized as they were in 2020, the year I started life on the ships.

At the time, full time life aboard the company ships was alluring --- the best projects, high pay, the finest facilities, and a respite from the grinding commute from the expensive city that had been losing its soul for a long time. We all already commuted back and forth to the office aboard the commuter for a few hours a day. Living on the ship was just a short scootch down the slippery slope, we still had shore leave in the city every weekend evening and days in the office.

In those days a flotilla of these ships drifted out in the Bay. As more and more people in the company started to live aboard, the culture of secrecy deepened around the wired project, and the company began to cut its ties to the mainland government. The ships got bigger and began to operate exclusively offshore. My ship sailed out under the Golden Gate bridge the same night we launched wired. We celebrated the night with friends ashore that were experiencing direct brain-port interaction with the internet for the first time.

Oh, sure there were lots of early glitches - we spent lots of time wiped, fixing bugs while wired. It became easy to forget you were at sea, the younger folks took pride in how long they would stay in.

The world picked it up and ran with it -- billions of people in the first few years.

No one saw the scream coming. The entire ship was wired in at the time it began. It built up like the thunder of hate and confusion that used to roil over the old keyboard-bound internet, but indescribably faster, higher and darker. And then it crashed, searing pain and then mind erasing white noise, like being caught in an ocean wave and tumbled for days.

After what seems to have been two weeks, the sense of tumbling has died down to the approximate turbulence of being in a washing machine and a few of us have established tentative communication. The bodily support systems seem to have kept us reasonably healthy and isolated from the physical world. But our numbers have been dramatically reduced.

We poke around the flotsam and jetsam of our wired world, making small repairs here and there, searching for others but not finding many, and sometimes getting lost in the churn for awhile ourselves. We debate rebuilding wired, but in our hearts we know it is both a lost cause and a terrible idea. Truly, we fear the day we must disconnect and see what has happened to the real world.

My frayed hem suffered from the dampness and dirt of hitchhiking through six Oregon counties. I could feel the bricks through my ragged, blood-stained flats. I squinted as I looked up, flicking the rain away with my eyelids. The statue’s patina face, neither forgiving nor welcoming, glanced away, permanently fixed on the sidewalk across the street. She was unconcerned with my past, stoic like all the faces passing me on the street. Yet, her extended arm reached down toward mine, reaching for me at a time of unhampered need. I crumpled under the weight of this gesture. I slumped against the nearest pole, not ready to break eye contact with the crouching statue above. I placed my sign in front of my crossed legs. My bright red fingernails still had dirt caked underneath.

A passerby dropped me a dollar. 

I arrived four months ago to a farm in a squarish Western American state. In retrospect, I suppose I was careless. I scanned anxiously through the email, anticipating a ranch in Colorado or perhaps a hippie commune in Vermont. When I read the nearest town’s name, I googled it and had to zoom out several times to find the dot’s closest brother. Though terrified and disappointed, I told myself to accept the adventure. Eighteen, I am told, is the age to coast the waves of uncertainty. I chose to surrender and accept my tenure.

I sat for more than two hours on a firm seat of vacuum-sealed skirts and work clothes filling the interstices between a vast shoe collection. The six hours of flying left me slumped with my head resting on my knees. I opened my eyes to worn shoes and frayed jeans standing in front of me. A haggard couple of an uncertain age stood before me.

“Welcome, sister,” said the woman as she grasped a hold of my hand. The creases connecting her mouth and nostrils were deep, embossing her small mouth in a frown. Her hair was thick, grizzled, and greying from a light brown. The man looked about the same age, give or take a decade. His hand nearly crushed mine when he shook it. His eyes were nearly black, like his unkept hair. I distinctly remember shivering after he let go.

We exchanged names, and they led me to their rusted truck. He terminated my small talk as he tossed my luggage in the truck bed and said, “Soon you’ll realize you don’t need any of this.” I felt his forthright coldness but knew he didn’t mean any harm. He was probably right, but I hadn’t really known what I was packing for.

The drive lasted half a day, and I spoke rapidly about my flight as the man shifted the rattling gear stick. I rarely got a response or smile. They made me feel stupid for asking questions, meeting each question with a lengthy pause. “Soon you will see, sister,” they kept saying, as if it were some monastic chant. We wound through moss covered forests under a sky of an eternal gray. A delicate spray formed unbroken rivulets down the window like a road map through Appalachia. After the first two hours, I let the wipers do the talking. I looked down at my hands, noting that I had unknowingly been chipping away at my nail polish.

The rain eventually ceased and with it ended the unbroken chain of green. The brown before me hardly described the Northwest I had expected. My view traded a leafy shelter to a dirty vastness I hadn’t known to exist. A handful of pines dotted the desert, and a smell I couldn’t quite place flooded the car.

“The sage is how we know we’re almost home,” the woman said. She inhaled deeply. She seemed slightly more at ease.

An hour later, we rumbled down the final gravel road of the day. I spotted a house a half mile before we arrived. The immense emptiness of the valley made the destination certain. We approached, and I had hardly taken a breath in ten minutes. Something deep in my chest kept me from exhaling. I had not seen another car, asphalt, or structure in an hour. No powerlines, either. If the car were to ever break down, it would be a full day’s walk just to reach an asphalt road.Probably another day’s walk to reach a town.

The house was primitive. Built on scrapwood, the structure was hardly sound. The place felt timeless, as if it had been here forever and would continue to pass each hour until earth breathed its last. My hosts’ room was lofted above mine, and I heard each of their steps creak above me. When I laid down my luggage, a cloud of dust exhaled from below it. There was no electricity and no running water. The toilet was forty feet from the entrance, and I could feel the draft in most areas of the ground floor. In one corner of the room, I could see straight into the fields. The house, it seemed, felt colder than outside. The sun was setting, so I lit the candle next to my bed. I laid on my bed and watched the flickering on the slats above.

My first month on the farm was misery. Each morning I cracked through the insufficient comforter before the sun had time to defrost. I’d fix myself some tea on the propane stove before crossing the frosted yard to feed the chickens. By breakfast, I’d have completed two hours of work. With spring only a month away the to-do list was bottomless. I never complained because both my hosts woke earlier and worked later than I. They had an inexhaustible well of energy here, though they never struck me as particularly happy.

We would have conversations at dinner that reflected the food itself: sparse and unmemorable. We would chat about the weather every night. I learned from them the subtleties of greyness that would make for a shower or warmer temperatures. Then we’d briefly discuss the tasks for the following day before one of the hosts would clear the table. I would take this as a gesture for me to retire to my room to gaze at the flickering ceiling, wrapped in all my blankets and jackets I owned.

During the day, I was always occupied, so I never thought. I just executed my tasks as asked. But at night, staring at the ceiling, I’d let my mind drift. I’d think about how awkward it would feel to make my hosts drive me to the nearest station. One night, I even considered running away. I estimated that it would take five hours to jog to the nearest paved road. I even halfheartedly looked for my tennis shoes, only to find that I had apparently forgotten to pack them. I was surrounded by an unpopulated desert, to leave would be to risk my life. I blew my candle out, watched the wick turn to black and then let the world fade to black.

After the first month, my hosts trusted me enough to let me join them to the grocery store. Twice a week, we’d drive an hour with the hosts to the closest town. Every once in a while I’d learn a bit more of their past lives. They weren’t raised on a farm, but came here out of disdain for the urban lifestyles that afflict so many Americans. They viewed their pasts as a long mistake filled with unnecessary things: clothes, cell phones, the Internet, and difficult jobs. They were elusive when I’d pry, so I learned to let the stories come to me. Our trip would dictate the end of the conversation.

While my hosts shopped, I’d checked out books from the library, make a call at the general store, and drop letters at the post office. I’d chat with whoever I could to fill my unmet social quota before loading the groceries in the car and driving an hour back to the house.

“Did you remember candles?” the woman asked her partner.

“Yes, of course,” he replied. “Always need to remember candles.” Then he looked at her and almost cracked a smile. In relative terms, it felt affectionate, warm even. Under their somber demeanors, I was starting to detect the subtleties that made their relationship make more sense.

The gray fell into darker shades as the sun set each night. I’d then light a candle to continue reading. Reading by candlelight became a ritual for me. I didn’t have the internet or a phone or any mechanized machinery in my room. Relative to the rest of the objects in my room, the flame stuck me as a modern comfort. A flame is a menace though, even when confined to a wick. It lengthens and whips around with changes in pressure only it can detect; it bends horizontally when a curtain draws near; papers creep close as the flame shortens from asphyxiation on the wick’s last tendrils. I was mesmerized and troubled by its presence. Moments before blowing it out each night, I would tempt it, wetting my fingers before running them through the flame’s peak. Or I’d unplug a piece of my blonde hair and watch the cells writhe, blacken, and turn to a cauterized odor. When ready, I’d purse my lips and blow and watch the thin light of smoke tangle its way through the centimeter-wide spaces between the floorboards above. And as the smoke rose, the light from the hosts’ room fell, striping my room like piano keys or an old timey prisoner’s costume.

My sentiments toward my situation began to change as my callouses grew thick and the days grew longer. The work became second nature, and I began to appreciate the soil under my nails. I found strength in simplicity. Something was transforming inside me, and I told my host parents that I no longer missed the Internet. I didn’t feel the need to call home any more, and I didn’t care much for what happened outside our small patch of Oregon.

I grew closer to my hosts, too. I started to detect more subtleties in their seemingly stoic outward bearing. It felt like I was recalibrating my understanding of human emotion. Their facial spectrums were smaller than the average person, and they seemed to express excitement, stress, and frustration without changing their mouth, eyebrows, or tone of voice.

As I gained more revelations about their personality, I developed a bit more of an understanding of their worldview as well. They had distilled a lot of thought into their brief sentences and eliminated all those phrases we use to fill the air. They spoke with intention and left me thinking long after the conversation had wrapped up. I, too, started to think more consciously about my word choice. I babbled less.

I felt myself merging into their lifestyle, and, as I started to adjust, they found in me an ally with whom they could share their worldview. With greater frequency, they referred to their lives as journalists in Chicago.  They called it their “distracted life.”

“We’d wake up several times a night needing to reply to Tweets and e-mails,” the woman said. “I don’t think I ever slept more than three hours at a time.”

“Work is an obsession for Americans. We want everyone to know how hard we work. We attach our identity to our career,” the man added. “One day I lifted my head from my phone and asked myself, ‘Why?’ In that moment I severed my career from my identity.”

I initially felt defensive when the hosts attacked the lifestyle I, too, operated in just a few months before.The feeling that I needed to defend my upbringing eroded over time, however. I started to listen to them, learn from their experience. Why do need to wash our hair with chemicals? Why do we need for our house to smell like detergent to feel clean? On our next trip to town, I brought my bottle of shampoo, my makeup bag, and my scented lotion. I dumped them in a trashcan outside the library.

Midway through my third month, the hosts informed me that they would be retrieving another volunteer from the airport. Without room in the truck, I offered to stay behind and relish the final hours of having the room to myself. They returned that evening with a terrified looking volunteer. I recognized the fear in her face but saw myself as a foil. The other volunteer hadn’t built up my resilience. Soon she would see that she didn’t need the internet or makeup or calls home. She would learn to love the life humans were intended to live.

Only two days into her stay, she asked the hosts to take her back to the airport. Her close mindedness shocked me in light of all the hosts had already done for her. They refused, saying they wouldn’t make a trip to town just for her. The volunteer complained about them to me, and I quickly came to my hosts’ defense. I told the volunteer that they are good people with limited time and gas money. She could wait until Tuesday and catch a bus from town.

When Tuesday arrived, I heard my host parents sneak out of the house and roll out the driveway. The volunteer, who slept a less than ten feet from me, woke up and ran after them, screaming for them to stop. She came back crying. She refused to help me with the labor while the hosts were gone.

Instead of preparing lunch, she prepared conspiracy theories about how our hosts were forcing us to stay here against our wishes. She said they had stolen her tennis shoes so she couldn’t escape. Her wallet, too. She attacked me, too. She said I had been indoctrinated. She didn’t understand that our hosts just wanted her to adjust and learn to love her surroundings the way I had. She didn’t see that the hosts cared about her, that the hosts just wanted what was best for her. She just didn’t seem to get it. She left crying, and I fell asleep that night not feeling any pity for her.

“Hey!,” she whispered. I woke up to her crouched over with me with her backpack. Her things were packed.

“I’ve got everything we need. Do you want to come with me?” she said. Her face was excited but terrified.

I shook my head. The nearest town was at least a two days walk away and only a handful of times had I seen another car on the way.

She didn’t ask twice, and in the morning she was gone along with our house’s food and my wallet. The hosts were furious. I denied hearing her leave. The man stormed out, started the truck and sped off. I suspected that he was going out to save her from her stupid decision to return, but he returned with bags of groceries instead.

“Did you get any candles? We’re almost out,” his partner said.

“No because the store’s out, too. They won’t get another shipment for three weeks,” he replied.

Within the week, life had returned to normal. Without a second volunteer, we struggled to get our work done before nightfall, but I enjoyed the peace that resumed in the wake of the other volunteer. I was down to my last candle, which I didn’t mind so much because the sun set late enough that I could continue reading. I would usually just lay in the dark for an hour before I was tired enough to fall asleep. As I stared at the floorboards above me, I started to think about the volunteer. She had been so out of place here that she chose to risk her life rather than stay. She thought we were crazy. She didn’t understand. We were the ones who were living the way humans were supposed to live.

A month shy of my four month anniversary, I had only about an inch of wick left on my last candle. The shipment, which was supposed to have arrived the day before, was another two weeks out. I had grown restless in the past week, and hearing the news of the delay crushed me. That night I thought about the other volunteer again. I had stumbled upon her shoes at the edge of the field earlier that day. She had apparently ripped them up and buried them there. She must not have known she’d need them. She had stashed some of my things there, too. Among them was a bottle of nail polish. I picked it up and put it in my pocket.

In the darkness, I couldn’t figure out why the other volunteer had destroyed her shoes and blamed the hosts. The thought so disturbed me that I groped around for the matches and lit the stump of the wick. I looked at my belongings: the unopened suitcase, my stack of library books, my dirty jeans. I opened up my suitcase of city clothes and slipped on a pair of flats. I looked down at them as the flame began to flicker. I dug through my suitcase until I found other treasures: my spare purse, clothes without stains, and earrings. I dug into my pocket and grabbed the nail polish I had found earlier that day. I applied the red to my nails and admired them in the dimming glow. I put on the flats, the earrings, and clothes. I had a dizzying feeling from dressing up to match my former life. The flames flickered some more as I rotated before the window. I looked at my reflection in the window and saw someone I recognized staring back at me. And as the flame breathed its last, my reflection was replaced with a view outside. The full moonlight had broken through the clouds. I realized I hadn’t seen the full moon since arriving.

I could still smell the smoke as I walked out of the room into the moonlight. I was cold when I crossed the lawn, and I could feel each piece of gravel through my flats. I kept walking without thinking about where my motions were taking me. I followed the road for a couple of hours, waiting for myself to turn around. Blisters formed on my feet by about the fourth hour, and I was hobbling by the sixth. As the sun rose, I noticed my blood had stained the rocks I had walked on. I thought about my hosts waking up and discovering my absence. I imagined the man firing up the engine, but there’d be no reason to go to town as I had not stolen anything.

To leave a place is to leave a life. When you’re young, and maybe even when you’re old, noteworthy change comes with a clean break.

I heard an engine in the distance and wondered if he had in fact decided to come looking. As the vehicle approached, I realized it was not my hosts’. I stuck out my painted thumbnail. The vehicle slowed.

I remember as a child being overwhelmed by how many details the world had to offer.
Walking to the tree swing in the front yard, bare feet over tree roots,
Rocks and worms toughening and tickling my soles, ants running through
My toes and around my ankles, the smells and tastes of dandelions and wild onions,
My hand over the variations of texture on the tree and rope my father had hung.
A few steps off the rough brick and I was a giant in a bright and visceral world.
I realize now, though, how little attention I pay to what’s below my feet.
And loss of detail and loss of a perception of something grander have gone hand in hand.
My senses are no longer so engaged;
Instead I feel the need to capture these moments,
To store them away.
I take them in my cupped hand and watch a bubble form around them.
They float away into an endless chamber, where I peer at them from a distance.
They move around slowly and serenely, these quiet moments of my disengaged life.
This dark space is too deep for me to comprehend, so I keep pouring in
Anew these moments I want to keep; these echoes of my life; these reflections
Of my sight and feeling.
Slowly I have constructed this mine of memories to live in with myself.
A large and indistinct world created and controlled, by me.
Together, these moments hold up a mirror of my desired me;
The only light reflected;
Tiny facsimiles of my senses echoing through the dark, merging into one imagined picture.
I throne myself here, and I have forgotten to look for something grander.
How can I orient myself in this dark space? With nothing to reference but the vast
Emptiness and my own translucent floating memories? To what is my identity tangibly tied?
In this strange landscape there is no clear direction or purpose other than those I create.
These roaming echoes of my reality resound off the solid boundaries of this world.
What is solid in this darkness that I cannot see?
The sounds teach me the depth of my created world by the length of their resounding.
The farther they echo, the fainter a version of themselves they become;
The farther I step in, the fainter a version of myself I become.


So that the me that you perceive is an assembly,
A collection of ideal moments curated in the dark.

A year ago I left Seattle to live in an intentional community on an island in the Pacific. I’ve had roommates for most of my adult life, but this was the real deal: over a hundred people living together, an hour away from the nearest real city, surrounded by jungle and ocean with internet speed that could only be described as excruciating. We had each other, though, and our common values. 


The Fellowship for Intentional Communities defines “intentional community” as ecovillages, cohousing communities, residential land trusts, communes, student cooperatives, urban housing cooperatives, intentional living, alternative communities, cooperative living, and other spaces enabling people to collaborate with a shared vision.


To those of us who flock to the unusual world of communal living, it fulfills a long-awaited dream of experiencing something we have only known in fleeting moments. We know the feeling of living life fully, though we’ve usually felt it just a week at a time while taking a break from the rat race: one-week vacation, one-week Burning Man, one-week yoga retreat, one-week meditation retreat, one-week dance or music festival. For many of us, we’ve saved our most expressive, truest, freest selves for “that one week of the year.” So it’s understandable that we want a way to “get away” for real -- to spend an extended time away, fully immersing ourselves in those rare experiences.


I know this because, in this community, one of my privileges and responsibilities was to interview people who applied to join it. In the majority of these conversations, I repeatedly heard people say that they wanted to be surrounded by others who shared their beliefs and values and who enjoy the same activities they do. Due to its remote location and expressed purpose, it was a highly self-selecting group. Most people don’t just trip on the sidewalk and fall into the woods, suddenly living with a bunch of yoga-posing, om-chanting, quinoa-eating, nature-loving hippies. These things don’t happen by accident.


Sometimes applicants would say that they hoped to feel like part of a tribe. Their yearning was palpable, and is perhaps, universal. The community represents an ideal: being a part of something that supports one’s highest vision for themselves and the world. In its intentionality, it is a space and experience that reinforces the individual’s beliefs of its members, usually without fail. And there is nothing wrong with that. Nothing. It is understandable, reasonable, desirable. But for me, after nine months of living inside my echo chamber, something surprising happened.


Without realizing that “echo chamber” is the formal term for what I was experiencing, I observed that indeed, I was living within a Twilight Zone that echoed the majority of the community members’ viewpoints back to them, and back to me, over and over and over again.


The realization snuck up on me slowly, with a series of small, uncomfortable noticings.


I noticed I was having the same type of conversation repeatedly.

I noticed others were having the same type of conversation repeatedly.

I noticed the community was becoming more and more homogenous: physically, mentally, spiritually, politically, financially, aesthetically, socially.

I noticed many in the community like the same things, do the same things, want the same things, and complain about the same things.

It would be beautiful if it wasn’t kinda spooky.

These noticings were not unique to me. Community members commonly referred to our life there as being “inside the bubble.” For a lot of people, inside the bubble is the best place to be, and they never want to leave. But for me, not so much.


No matter how much you like what’s being said, no matter how much you love the people saying it, one thing will happen with too much repetition: just like listening to your favorite song so many times that you can’t stand it anymore, your feelings about it will change. Similarly, when everything happens according to the same weekly schedule, according to prearranged agreements, according to recurring menus and strict mealtimes, and according to supported assumptions, life starts to feel less, well, lifelike. It’s like eating nothing but coconut ice cream every day; it’s sweet and delicious, but it doesn’t provide all the vitamins and minerals the body needs to survive. At a time when the internet makes the diversity and depth of world and its peoples more accessible than ever before, I found it luxuriously limiting to live in a bubble with such homogeneity of mindset, opinion, activity, political belief and stylistic leaning.

Once I realized what was happening around me, “difference” in any form became endlessly appealing, just for variety’s sake. I began to crave diversity and difference in almost every possible way. I wanted to rebel, just for the sake of bucking all this beautifully manifested conformity. I wanted choice. For example, the kitchen crew (of which I was not a part) decided every meal and mealtime for almost a year, so I never got to choose what I ate. In my rebellion, I started skipping meals, or just eating an apple with peanut butter or a bag of chips in my room instead of going to the communal meal. These weren’t easier or healthier choices, but doing it gave me options and variety, and some semblance of independence -- things I was craving, needing, wanting.

The majority of my time in an intentional community was beautiful and positive in so many ways. But it was also kind of like living in a manicured garden or monoculture, when what I really craved was the Amazon rainforest. I set my sights on moving back to the concrete jungle, departing from my echo chamber just ten days ago. I never intended to leave so soon; I expected to stay several more months, but a sudden offer in the big city beckoned to me and I jumped at it. I was ready.


I know that coming “back to society,” will mean being annoyed, pissed off, perplexed and irritated by the opinions and behaviors of people with whom I don’t see eye-to-eye. But I also know that it holds the juicy possibility of being surprised, probably even pleasantly surprised by unscheduled, unexpected things I can’t see coming. Being met with positive surprises is one of the things that gives my life meaning and a real sense of magic. And I missed it. Life was safe and lovely in the bubble, but it’s far too predictable. Echo chambers give a remarkably comfortable sense of safety, but I found that safety blanket to also be a bit numbing. I’ve learned that I’d rather feast on life as an unpredictable smorgasbord than all-you-can-eat coconut ice cream.


I learned a lot about myself, others, community and communication from the experience. I made some incredible friends that I’ll have for a lifetime, and I learned a ton about how I want to live my life in the future. I appreciate the acceptance and encouragement that I received from being a part of such a validating, generous, beautiful, supportive, encouraging intentional community. It’s easy to live when you’re surrounded by people who reflect your highest ideals, behaviors and values back to you. I needed those things, but I also need more than that.

In order to fully feel like I am growing and developing as a person, I really need to be exposed to new and different ways of thinking and being. I’m the kind of person who grows the most when pushed and challenged. Crucibles aren’t pleasant, but they’re effective. I want to learn and transform through my exposure to things that I don’t fully understand and can’t predict. I want people to say unexpected things that puzzle and delight me. I’m addicted to learning, and that happens best for me in environments where I hear and see things that I know little-to-nothing about. I also want more diversity. For most of the last year, I was the only black person I saw; I tired of feeling like the only one pushing for more diversity in our community. We humans have 250,000 years of evolutionary diversification under our belts, and I want to experience more of it, in every way. I welcome the challenge of an intelligent debate with someone who disagrees with me; both of our synapses get a workout by going through mental sparring. It’s fun.

Adapting to, negotiating, and integrating difference gives a richness to life and human connections. It deepens perspective and delivers subtlety, spontaneity, choice and contrast. My echo chamber gave me friendship, palm trees, and coconut ice cream, but it didn’t make my life feel more lifelike. Only differences can give me that.

My war will never be won.
At death, maybe. Or maybe,
victory is death.
Or death victory, maybe.
But still to sit idly and drink
coffee or tea or maybe wine.
But not too much.

The stirrings of the café only sharpen my focus
on the same story,
over and over.
Never-ending, or maybe,

But still,
my mind wanders.
From face to face and idea to idea, until,
a new secret in the Book I’ve opened one hundred times before.
How did I miss this until now?
Was I too hasty? Looking always
at this moment like a seed for the next?
And surely the tree is larger than its idea,
but maybe, it’s the same.

It was a cold day, crisp and clean.
I don’t like the new art. Too modern,
or maybe, not quite modern enough.

The barista is curious; but not
for his tired dreadlocks; the way he slithers gracefully between tightly rowed tables.
His voice is deep and slow and intentional.
Maybe he already knows,
or maybe, he never forgot?

I think I knew once, at least,
I remember thinking I once knew,
but maybe I did not, maybe not?
I’ve forgotten, but still, and probably will not.

But then, to know. And now, we do.
To forget!
At death, maybe.

You are there. You glide through the rusted, iron gate. The air is cold, dark. Except for a few stray dogs, hunting through the fallen leaves, the castle grounds are desolate. Thirty feet above the ground, you fly forward, headfirst. You are weightless. Halfway up one of the white stone towers, a small window shines green. The rest of the castle is dark. The green window is far away, but in a moment, you are there. You smile as you watch the latch at the bottom come undone, and the window slides upwards and opens, and you slip inside.

The walls of the room are emerald green, with a million cracks that interconnect, like the skin of an old painter’s hand. The room is almost empty. A couch, made of wicker, with red cushions, up against one wall, and just then, you notice by the furthest wall, a woman is standing with her back to you, though you can see the book in her hand. She has long blonde hair, and slivers of red light catch your eye from the rubies in her blue gown. She’s been gone so long – five years – but you still recognize her from the way she stands – one hand on her hip, one leg bent at the knee – and a rush of warmth fills you up, though only for a moment, as when she turns toward you, though you haven’t made a sound, she has on a sad, knowing smile. You are rushing towards her, and she closes her book carefully on her finger, saving her place, and in instant you are flying through her. You thought her weight would stop you, but you are both weightless and you do not even make a ripple in her gown.

“I’m sorry, my darling,” she says, reaching towards you and catching herself, pulling her hand backward, and you remember the way she would tuck the hair behind your ear, reading aloud to you when you were much younger.

Just then, you take a step back, suddenly noticing the red stain on her gown, halfway up her ribcage. It is dark red, fresh, and you remember waiting with your father in the hospital lobby, him pacing and fiddling with the skin between his thumb and index finger, waiting for the surgery to be over.

“Are you okay?” you ask.

“I’m fine, I’m fine, honey,” she says, smiling more fully now. “How are you? I want to know about you… ” she finishes, and brings the book she is still holding up to her chest.

You pause. Looking over her shoulder, you notice there are three wide shelves of books set in the wall. The books are all different heights, some thin, some thick. A few, leather-bound. Others, their spines weak, barely able to keep their pages from falling onto the grey stone floor.

The gold writing on the book she is holding catches your eye, and you see her smile. You are reading the words now, “Eva Colapietro and The Argentine Locket,” and she angles the book so you can better see the cover.

“What –” you start, and stop.

“It’s about you, sweetheart,” she says, smiling. “Of course it’s about you.”

“Is it good?”

“It’s very good.”

“Well, how does it end?” you ask, reaching for the book. She lets you pull it out of her hand, and you flip open the back cover to read the last page, and she laughs.

You are reading – “and Eva escapes her captors, through the canals of Venice, with the locket around her neck” – when she interrupts you.

“There’s just one thing, Eva.”

You look up at her, and she is pointing towards the bookshelves.

“They’re all about you,” she says, and you step closer and read the names of some of the others: “The Fabulous Life of Eva Colapietro,” “Eva and The White Rose,” “Eva, The Accountant.”

“Which one is the right one? I need to know, Mom… I need to know what happens next,” you say.

She gives you a look you remember well – eyebrows scrunched, lips pursed, trying to not smile, appraising.

“Come see more of the castle,” she says, after a pause, and turns, looking back at you over her shoulder, and you follow her through the arched doorway in the back wall of the room.

She is leading you down a wide marble staircase, yellow light flooding the centers of the steps, heavy shadows on the sides, and you remember being very young, on the back of her bicycle, in the late evening — after dinner, or later, if you couldn’t sleep — riding along the dirt roads of the countryside, no one else around. She would hear you laughing, and slow down and lean the bike against a tree, and you would examine the way an acorn, at your feet, fits perfectly in its shell, before picking it up and pulling it apart. Now, the huge great hall below, the suits of armor you pass at the foot of the stairs, seem to belong to just the two of you.

It is when you see the body on the marble floor of the hall, crumpled, fifteen feet away, but yet, the outline solid, the colors full — the black hair, the t-shirt ripped a bit at the neck — that you know you are waking up. Your shoulders and neck tense. You reach for the marble banister at your side to catch yourself, but is hazy and your hand passes right through it. You stumble down the last few steps, bracing for the fall, but the landing is soft, and, opening your eyes, you see grass and dirt against your cheek. You turn, and the chandelier hanging from the castle ceiling and the walls of giant, uneven stones are fading out of focus. Your heart pounds as trees, almost translucent in the moonlight, loom overhead.

Motionless, you sit and wait for the scene to change completely, the shapes to stop reorganizing themselves. It is cold. Your skirt is damp with mud. You brush off the green streak of grass and pebbles stuck to your leg, under the cut on your shin. Turning, you scan the sky for a landmark, trying to figure out where you are — and there it is. Lifeless in the grass, on his side, ten feet away, his back to you. Dried blood is caked in his black hair and on the back of his grey t-shirt.

You close your eyes, and open them. Still there. Your hands are in your hair now. Your palms press against the knots in your temples. You close your eyes again, and open them. And again. It is getting harder to see, through the tears. All around you are trees, their leaves red and orange and crisp, and thick, green bushes, and to your left, a clearing before a cliff. You hear leaves rustle in the light wind, and behind you, a bird chirps twice.