My love lives in the distance between us

In the memories that I edit and expand

Abbreviate and delete

I will never know how you see me

When a Monday morning fog rolls in

Or when I come home with a depleted heart

We are lonely children playing a game

To one another we are symbols

And so you see, my love

I am not your love

And you are not mine

And somehow I feel less alone

Kneeling in the truth

Of this painful aloneness

Than I ever could

Imagining myself in your arms

I will gently place your photo

Where it belongs

In a cupboard or a drawer

As a distant memory and nothing more

I am besotted and haunted by The Mundane. As I drink my wonderfully mediocre cup of morning coffee, I look at images of paintings online. I am inevitably drawn to those that depict things and people in their “Everydayness”: a forlorn servant carrying a tray; a forgotten overly ripe piece of fruit. I am pulled by that which evokes the loneliness and ennui of everyday life.

I am often alone (though not always lonely) and I find solace–and even joy–in noticing what others might overlook. I take delight in clocking the minutiae that make things and people unique. Give me enough time (and an open heart) and I will locate the grace in almost anyone.

It is my duty–and, perhaps, survival necessity–to embrace and celebrate the mundanity of life. When I do so I find peace. When I do so boredom disintegrates. When I succeed in singing its praises a transformation happens: The Mundane becomes Sublime. No, that is not correct. It is not the external that transforms–I am the thing that transforms.

The obvious natural beauty of the world does not need me to sing is praises. It sings its own. And it has has countless devotees: a universal choir. But the old stapler on my desk—who will celebrate it if not me? I see where the dust gathers and how it clears up at the highest point where my hand strikes. I have an intimate relationship with this object. I touch it. I touch it more than I touch humans. Disproportionately sized noses, unkempt hair, beat up cars hanging on by a thread, ugly parking lots: they need me. And I need them.

I begin in a small dark room. Eyes clenched shut. Heart full of fear and loneliness. Arms flailing. Legs kicking. My efforts are quixotic. I exhaustedly give in.

I relax my limbs. Slowly open my eyes. Soften my focus. I am alone in a bright yellow field. The loneliness becomes solitude. The fear turns to melancholy.

Here I can love like a ghost—quietly and unseen. I can haunt the world with my love and presence. I can send my warmth through a gentle breeze.

Here I am fearless. Nothing is needed. Nothing is owned. So nothing can be lost.

Here I can be.

Last night I witnessed the unbridled expression of a deep and soulful anger. It was raw and yet somehow tethered. I observed the beauty and power of it. I watched it with respect and awe.

I love her very much. Her kindness. Her sensitivity. Her lisp (that she is so ashamed of). She worries about her weight and carries the belief that she is the least intelligent one in her PhD cohort. I wanted so badly to point out the ways that she is such a lovely and brilliant human being but also knew that it would do nothing to help her. I sensed that what she needed was to feel the anger about the experiences and people who convinced her that she is unattractive and stupid. About a world that automatically assumes that a woman of color with an accent and a lisp is less than her white counterparts.

So instead of telling her that she was wonderful I looked at her and asked, “Where does all the anger go?” She looked at me, slightly taken aback by my question and then settled back into herself. It was as though she was jarred by what may have seemed like a provocative non sequitur and then quickly settled back in by placing her trust in me and in our history together. “I don’t know. I’m trying my hardest to find the anger and I can’t. I don’t think I feel anger.” She looked as if she had failed me by not being able to find it. I looked at her and said, “It’s okay that you can’t find it. I’ll hold it for you until you can, okay?” She nodded tearfully.

She entered the room last night her typically friendly self. Walking around the new office and expressing interest in the books (many of which she has read for school). Within minutes of sitting back down she began to cry. She told me that she felt like she was going crazy. She described a work load that would make packing mule buckle. She said she had the first panic attack of her life; that she is worried she is going crazy. I explained to her that I couldn’t do one-half of what she had described; that she may feel crazy but that the craziness resides in her situation and in her advisor. That was all it took…

She raised her voice and cursed for the first time. She pointed out the ways that she is expected to carry an extra workload as a bilingual woman of color and the lack of appreciation from her white professors. She yelled about the hypocrisy of “diversity”; the way that institutions believe they have done their job by hiring or accepting into their midst people of color without actually supporting them once they are there. She cursed her advisor for lacking empathy and humanity.

I asked her if she had any feelings about me canceling her last week when she was in the thick of this. She nodded. “Yes, I was irritated. I was looking at the session as a lifeline and it was the first time you failed me.” I nodded and told her that I would be pissed at me too. She reassured me that she understood; that it was merely an emotional reaction. I explained to her that I welcomed her anger and that she didn’t need to reassure me.

Though I’m sure there is a recency bias when I say this, I don’t believe I have ever seen someone vent so much anger while also staying so grounded. In that moment I saw her in her full glory. So much life force. So much soul. I gave her a wide berth of space while staying present. Afterward we explored how it was for her to do so and how it was for me to witness it. Then she was ready for an action plan.

There are moments with my clients where I am both pleased and perplexed at how they can outgrow me so quickly. What I witnessed was a person well on their way to knowing how to express and contain their anger; to knowing how to use the energy in it to create change. And if I am honest, the person who helped her get there (me) is now well behind her in that arena.

I know my strengths and weaknesses as a clinician. For the most part I don’t get too high or low about that (my clinical self is much better resourced than my day-to-day self). I don’t know what “theory” my interventions came from. Interpersonal? Psychodynamic? CBT? I honestly don’t know and it’s not far from the truth to say I don’t give a fuck. I just know that what I did was grounded in love and appreciation. And that, combined with a person who is open to receiving it, is what made whatever I did helpful.

A fellow clinician just sent me an email. They want to know how I work and what my theory is and what my specialties are so that they know who to refer to me. These are perfectly legitimate things to want to know. But I can’t respond right now. I have to wait. Because all I want to say right now is, “I don’t fucking know. I do my best to love my clients. Sometimes I do really well at that and sometimes I don’t. I’m not sure who I want to work with. It’s a feeling I get when I hear them on the phone or meet them. I know you, as an intern, probably don’t want to hear this but fifteen years into my career these sorts of questions bore me. I think they are good questions. You aren’t doing anything wrong by asking them. But they sound exhausting to answer. This work takes so much out of me that I don’t want to think about it academically anymore. I just want to occasionally clock my tiny victories, not think too much about my failures and get home.”

At times I feel so young that I fear I cannot walk through the world with poise. In those moments I preserve my dignity by removing myself so that my puckered mouth and eager eyes will not be witnessed. With blinds drawn I sob and, with this release, age just enough to function.

I will get through today. I will survive. Perhaps even help someone (I hope). I will peel myself off the ground and support six other adults (none of whom will know that I woke up an infant). I will buy groceries in the half-hour before the supermarket closes. I will come home and heat up a pre-prepared dinner before dragging myself to bed. And if I’m lucky–if I manage to do everything I am saying–I will rest without shame and with my dignity and pride intact.

When I placed your photo on my shelf last week I was full of doubt: I wondered whether it would feel good or whether it would hurt.

A little over a week in I can say that I only say greet you when I’m full. When I am empty and lonely I don’t stay engaged with you. When my heart is big I send you a quiet hello. I don’t linger or wait for a response.

I do not use your photo to feel happy or sad. I do not pick it up to idealize or to fantasize. It is not an altar. Perhaps I have grown weary of haunting ghosts with my loneliness; or perhaps they have grown weary of me.

I look at the photo now only to make sure I am being honest with myself. I see someone imperfect and beautiful. I see someone who broke my heart and also filled my life with love. I feel love and respect.

If I were to share this with you would tell me it was unnecessary. You gave me your blessing and called it “sweet” that I printed the photo. You trusted me. My way of honoring that trust (even though you are not asking for anything) is to not use your photo. And if I do so I will only use it as a barometer: a way of seeing where I am in relation to my heart.

I am sad and lonely right now. But there is nothing in this photo that can make that any better or worse. I place it back on the shelf and quietly make my lunch.

I walk toward the sea cliff and sit upon the sun bleached trunk of a fallen tree. I trace my fingers over it enjoying the bumps and cracks and the way the dust makes my fingertips feel silky. I lift my head and watch the sea foam embrace the fierce craggy rocks on the shore. I close my eyes and listen to the waves, the howling wind and, in the distance, the high pitched voices of people calling lovingly to their dogs.

All week I felt the pre-verbal terror of annihilation or–to put it less dramatically but more paradoxically–an emptiness filled by anxiety. And yet here I sit.

I was initially taken aback when you called Thursday night but it soon became apparent that you were high and aroused and seeking relief. Though I was in a different place, I wanted desperately to be distracted from the anxious to-do list plundering my brain so I decided to engage with you.

I slowly and gently described how I would touch you and taste you and, when I heard your breath quicken, I knew you wanted to hear more about what I would do to you. I added intensity and tension to the narrative and eventually you came. After catching your breath you asked me why that was so easy for us. I said:

I don’t know about you but for me…maybe it was the first sparks. Something as simple as liking your eyes and your mouth. Then maybe it was seeing how you parented your child and or how much you cared about your work. And then when we finally got together…maybe it was about how embodied and open you were and how that made it easy to tune into your body.

I didn’t ask you your thoughts because in that moment I wasn’t interested. I said what I said because it was true but not because I actually wanted to reminisce. You imagined I had enjoyed our phone call in much the same way you did. I confessed that I had actually been sitting on my couch and that my experience was more akin to telling you an adult bedtime story. You laughed joyfully. I knew that you would find that amusing; that you would not misunderstand me. Had I thought of it I would have said: I feel as much lust and excitement as you do, but I haven’t quite been myself lately.

The next day you called again. You said you were embarrassed; you worried that you had used me. I explained that I didn’t feel used and that it was a fun escape and a creative outlet. And as I check in with myself now, all of that still rings true. Then we talked about the day-to-day. It felt nice to do so.

Lucidity can be freeing but it can also leave us empty-handed when our identity and survival is based on unconscious lies and strategies. It was fun to play with her. It was was nice to catch up. But I keep waiting for the longing and fantasy to fill the emptiness and it does not happen. The illusion that someone will step in and save me resides exclusively in my false self. The reality is that I will never be found. I will never be saved. The time for mother’s milk has long passed. I can love and be loved but there is no salvation in that; it is, at best, a balm. Maybe even a foundation. Love from the outside is a gift, not a cure. Saying this creates a nagging pain in my chest but leaves me with the reassurance that I am free to seek something more substantial than illusions.

The clouds amble across the sky, blocking the sun and lessening the glare on the water. I stare straight at the ocean and am drawn to its terrifying vastness and power. I want to be held by it; to be carried along like a piece of driftwood. I want to give myself to it in the way that some people give themselves over to their gods; to let go of everything I hold tightly and trust that I will be carried to whichever shore is meant for me.