The Little Pocket Lights

There once was a little light, a little light surrounded by a dark and suffocating empire. 

The empire started, itself, with a little light, once, a long time ago. But the light had grown and grown and each time it grew people worried that outside forces would snuff it out, so they built little walls around it to keep the wind from blowing the light out. And as the light grew and jumped from place to place, it lit up in new little places that people quickly rushed to surround with walls. Soon, the walls were bigger than the lights, and the people whose job it was to build and mend the walls became anxious that the walls stay in place, because they were very grateful to have a job at all.

After many generations of this light-moving and wall-building, the walls, black solid things at right angles, were clearly much bigger and more imposing than the lights, and the lights trapped in different pockets began to be snuffed out by the walls that were protecting them. The people outside, who wished to be warmed by the lights, complained that they couldn’t see the brightness nor feel their warmth, and they protested that maybe all this wall-building was overeager and a bit misplaced. Couldn’t there be openings and windows through which to see the lights? In response to this, the people whose job it was to build the walls sought out individuals who maybe had little lights hidden in their hands or stuffed in their pockets, and built walls around them. This happened even if the person had agreed to join the wall-building project on the condition that their personal light would not be engulfed. But these promises were never kept, and the pleas of the people who now shivered in the cold, surrounded by walls meant to keep in a light now long snuffed out, went unheard. 

After a long time this hodgepodge of black brick walls became disorienting and ugly, and it was impossible to navigate around or through it in a straightforward way. Sometimes wall-builders who had been in their jobs a particularly long time would learn specific routes and pass them on to their fellow wall-builders in the form of maps, maps that would serve you well for as long as that specific path remained the same and no new walls had been built on top of it in the meantime. Archaeologists began to study the labyrinthine huddle of walls, and figure out when particular ones had been built, which ones were served by which wall-builders and when the wall-builder posts in important places had changed hands. 

After a period of time many people forgot the walls had been built to protect lights at all. People would come from far and wide to marvel at a particularly tall and imposing collection of walls, and be led by tour-guides among a handful of straightforward routes along the outskirts of the complex, marveling at how complicated and powerful and specific it all was. 

As the years wore on many wall-builders began to struggle to keep their walls, now weak and crumbling, from falling down and the whole structure from collapsing. And furthermore, people both inside and outside the structure started to complain about how cold and dark everything was. Some people started to tell stories of little personal lights, personal lights that had been the start of this whole project to build walls in the first place. One prophet in particular claimed that if you had enough light you wouldn’t need walls to protect you from the cold outside because the light would be warmer than the outside was cold. Some people denied that such lights could exist at all. This was a common view among people who held the jobs of maintaining and protecting the walls. They claimed that the best way to stay warm was to stay well inside a set of walls, or at least, if you couldn’t do that, then along the side of the outside walls to be protected. Even if such lights existed, they said, they could be dangerous and they might get too hot and burn you, and you probably couldn’t control them anyway. What if they got too big? Nevermind that by now no one could remember ever having had enough light, never mind having too much of it. 

Many people were convinced by this and returned inside to join the wall-building project. There were always job openings, you see.

A few people who had listened to the prophet didn’t believe that it was impossible to have enough light. They thought, well, a light is a thing like any other, there must be nothing so mysterious about them, so it must be possible to learn how to find them, to nurture them, and to protect them at least enough so that they grow bigger over time. Some of the people who believed this most fervently were the ones who had once possessed little pocket lights of their own, and who had been accosted and surrounded by energetic wall-builders in generations past and whose lights had since been snuffed out by the walls. They no longer had lights in their pockets, but they remembered the times when they did. And they would tell stories to the younger ones about these little pocket lights and tell them where and how to find them. In each tale, the teller would mention that if you went to a quiet, outside spot, with nothing to disturb you and nothing around you, that your little light would, more likely than not. spontaneously pop up on its own.

Some youngsters heard enough of the stories, then raced out to find theirs.

There were some tragic tales, in those days. A young boy had heard stories of the pocket-lights from his beloved grandpa, and then raced outside the walls to sit in under the big open sky and wait for his pocket-light. But just as he arrived so did a big storm, and in the rain and the cold he perished. A search party was sent out but his body was never found. Some of the wall-builders used this story as a cautionary tale about those foolish enough to seek out pocket-lights. Better to stay here in the shelter, they said.

But this never fully deterred those who believed strongly that the lights could be found. Later on, the ones who believed in them had the idea to band together to venture out to find their lights in a group. They would all spread apart outside waiting for their lights on their own, but they were close enough to each other that they could come to each others’ aid if there was a cry for help.

Soon, people began to discover that yes, it was true. You could find your own light, if you waited quietly and patiently in that open place. People would bring them back into the complex of black walls, ecstatic that they had found them, but very soon they found that this would lead to their lights being extinguished. The hollows between the walls often lacked oxygen, and the lights were thirsty for it. People tried to smuggle them in to empty rooms, which worked for a time, but then, for some reason nobody could ever figure out, it was always the case that if a fugitive came into an abandoned room hiding their personal light, that shortly after some arbitrarily new wall would be built right through the middle of or on top of it, and no wall-builder would ever give a reason why.

By now there were a lot of people who knew how to go and find their own lights, and had either done it or who wanted to. They were frustrated, you see. They wanted to have their own warmth, and not rely on the warmth that the wall-builders promised the walls would deliver but never seemed to. And they knew the lights were possible to find but it just didn’t seem to be possible to keep them alive inside the wall-complex.

But–a magic thing happened when the light-bearers got together to discuss their predicament. They found that just by being together, each of their lights got stronger. Each light warmed up the air around it just a little bit, and when many of these lights were in the same room each little light didn’t have to work so hard to create the same level of warmth. And so they began to grow. The people thought ‘if only we had a way that we could keep our lights together, and stop them from being snuffed out when we tried to protect them’. Within the group were some light-bearers who had tried to build walls, the regular kind of walls, outside the main wall complex, around their newfound lights to protect them, and had found them snuffed out just as easily as they had been inside the main complex. This disheartened many in the group. 

Over time a little experimental group developed, and all this group did was try out new ways to protect the lights from the weather that wouldn’t snuff them out. In the whole history of the wall-complex-empire, none of the wall-builders had ever paid much attention to whether the lights had been snuffed out by their efforts. The lights were weightless and lacked substance, they said, and couldn’t be measured as simply and precisely as the walls could be. So at the very beginning they had developed the habit of measuring the success of various parts of the wall project by how many miles of wall had been built and ignoring anything about the lights at all. 

But this group knew that if they stopped paying attention to the quality of the lights that they would end up going the way of the wall-builders, protecting crumbling walls with the memory of the warm, bright lights long gone. So, they kept their eyes on the lights. Even though they could never write down exactly what they had done, even though they couldn’t tell if they had succeeded or failed merely by looking at a set of numbers like the wall-builders could, they knew this was the key to the whole endeavour. So every person who held a light and wanted to protect it within this new experimental group knew that they had to look, with their own eyes, to see whether their tries were working. And that was in fact, all they could do, at first. The different members of the group couldn’t write down, couldn’t exactly compute their successes and failures as if with calculators, so they had to find new, abstract, creative ways of communicating them. Thus–myths were born, and some of the earliest myths come from the earliest generations of these light-bearers. 

The myths began to work well as ways of communicating the wisdom that individual light-bearers developed in working with their own light. Lots of things were tried. Some developed wings that they could flap to keep cool winds away from their lights. Some developed fine meshes that accumulated and expelled droplets of water around the lights but that allowed multiple people to interlock their meshes and thus share in the radiated warmth. Many different people came up with the idea of protective shields that surrounded a person’s light in a semi-circle, that could only truly protect the light if the person was faced towards at least one other person, ideally more. This meant many people began to rely on joining up with others in order to keep their lights alive.

Some people who had developed a new type of fabric that could repel wind and water tried to build a coalition to get all the light-bearers in the group to adopt their technology but luckily, others disagreed and fought back; it was clear by now that one of the only tenets of the new culture of the light-bearers was that decisions about how to protect a light should come from those closest to it, adaptively and involving something you could change if the method you had been using suddenly no longer stopped working. Awkwardly, in this new culture it wasn’t really possible to get a job maintaining protective barriers like you could in the wall complex; at best what you could do was open up a sort of repair shop that others could take their idiosyncratic protective barriers to, or open a school to teach a method of protection that had worked for you in particular. There was a lot of gossiping and arguing about this point, particularly from former wall-builders who had (sheepishly but with secret eagerness) joined the culture of the light-bearers and hoped to find a niche where they could be easily rewarded for their special knowledge.

Over time the old wall complex began to crumble and soon it became clear that it was falling apart entirely. Many rescue missions were arranged; it was difficult but, many felt worthwhile, to seek out and find the people still trapped inside–those huddling in the freezing dark next to each other, waiting for the walls to fall in on them. There was a lot of discussion amongst the light-bearers about whether to search for the wall-builders who still remained in that rubble. it was dangerous, many said, and the complex was very hostile to the pocket-lights in a way many people had grown unaccustomed to since their had developed their own protective barriers. Some kinds of barriers wouldn’t fit and you would have to take them off to get inside, which was like running through a collapsing building, the ones who had joined earlier search parties said. In the end, some people did decide to go and do a methodical search for survivors, but what they found wasn’t pretty. 

There were some particularly nasty wall-builders who had pieced together detailed maps of their specific interior regions of the complex many generations ago and knew how to navigate them and get out for air. They kept these maps close to their chest and assembled gaggles of hangers-on–some, poor citizens and some, furloughed wall-builders who had previously had their own domains of expertise, who depended on the whims and mercies of the person with the map for their daily survival. Some of these hangers-on could be persuaded out of the building, gently, but many more starved to death, still begging information and by-now obsolete routes from the masters with the maps. The map-holders almost never left the complex, and many died there–but not all. One or two let the light-bearers lead them out and then wept when their feet touched the open ground, and wept again when they were brought into the society of the light-bearers and taught how to find their own lights. They often still made trouble but they were charismatic people, and when they no longer were able to manipulate others by withholding things from them it was found that they settled down and often others liked having them around.

All in all, the retreat was not perfect, and many lives were lost, especially amongst the wall-builders. Even some members of the search parties perished, filled as the complex had become with toxic smokes and difficult passageways. But after a long time, everyone inside was either dead or freed, and the people rejoiced. Everyone had access to their own personal source of warmth. Over time people forgot what it felt like to be in the dark, or to feel cold, or stifled.

Now, because they had seen the collapse of the wall complex empire, the people knew that they could not take for granted keeping their eyes on their lights. Many took personal vows, privately and in front of others, to keep their gaze on their own lights and not allow themselves to be seduced by the tyranny of easily built walls or easily measured progress. They knew these things had been the downfall of the wall complex. Some vowed to teach others how to find their pocket lights again if by any chance their own became extinguished, and others tried to record the best of the communicative myths that had contributed to the development of so many of the individual protective technologies, even though they knew much would get lost in translation.

For generations to come, storytellers would tell tales of the old wall complex and when they did, many wept, and they boggled at how lucky they all were to have, after all that, managed to find and protect their personal lights again.

The Gift of Life

I wrote this a long time ago as a gift to someone else. Over time it has become more of a gift to myself.

Legend has it, that we were once a species with four arms, four legs and two faces peering out of one giant head. And when we became too powerful Zeus cut us in half, cursing us for eternity to wander the world searching, blinded, for the other that would make our souls whole. We call these soulmates. 

Once upon a two there were two women. Each was strong and brave and beautiful, and had long been the protector for countless others who did not have the strength to see themselves clearly. 

One, the smaller of the two, had long mahogany curls down to her waist and deep open eyes that were blue and green and when they awoke would stir liveness in you. She was an artist; a vessel for the muse that would pour through her and into the souls of those who had the good fortune to see her speak. She had practiced the arts of healing souls, and could reach in to your mind and gently and lovingly untangle all the knots so you could see clearly. Her name was Life, and when she graced you with her full presence you were being graced with the presence of Life itself; none other than the full essence of creation. 

The other, bigger, stronger, was a creator of a more practical sort. She had mastered both the art of loving beings and the art of knowing things; a combination rarely able to flourish inside one person. She could dance with, around and inside systems of all kinds; so complex that they wrapped you up and threatened to strangle you, but she could. She had full lips and a heart shaped face with bright blue full deep eyes, a rare mix of strong and softly open. She was a Gift, a Gift from God, as was her name, and the gifts that arose in her were not hers but merely manifestations of some deeper presence.

Both women had been wounded early by the one who should have been their strongest ally. Their mothers, whole and fragile humans as they were, could not see out of themselves clearly enough to see the damage they were causing their daughters. Their mothers had been wounded themselves, and, thus, trapped inside the remnants of ancient accidents, would become unpredictable demons; alternating between anger and sadness, shining and isolation. Their hid themselves from their daughters, and their daughters felt the clammy absence of the one who should have loved them the most deeply, protected them the most fiercely. Each girl, as a young girl, in her own way had found a way to clean and tend the wounds that had been wrought by their mothers’ illness; quietly moving away to a corner so as not to disturb anyone with their screams. They were careful not to frighten anyone else as they themselves had been so frightened when their mothers’ pain became too much to bear. 

And in this way they had begun the process of healing themselves; of finding the strength that had been borne to them as children and uncovering it from underneath the false resilience forced upon them in difficult childhoods as their mothers’ keepers and family saviours. They learned a real form of strength; the strength that allows to show itself in vulnerability and softness, in the arms of others that let you feel truly safe and loved. And each girl, as the girl became a woman, had found what she had never had as a child in the people she assembled around her – promising to that young girl inside that never again would she be made to feel so weak and alone. 

And it was in this moment, having already been the subjects of their own healing, that Life and Gift met. They had been in similar places at similar times, known the others’ names and seen a quiet sparkle of intellect from across a crowded room, but had never thought of the other as anything other than a kind soul and potential good friend. 

But on the day when they truly met, they were much closer in physical space than ever before, and the sparks that existed in each one were able to make the jump across the small chasm to swarm with the energy of the other. Each recognised a light that was there but previously unseen, and once the light was shown, it could not be turned off.

Often, falling in love is a process that is fraught and has its fits and starts; certainly Love finds it difficult to navigate around the rocky duet of each lover’s insecurities. But in this case, the women had each already carefully picked out the rocks and left the chasm clear, so much so that when the dam was gently pried open, Love immediately flooded in. Time became a series of cascading moments in which one offered a new, terrifyingly raw glimpse of herself and the other responded eagerly with a new trembling glimpse of her own. They immediately recognised each other, a twin soul spiraling around itself in its eagerness to become one again. They had been separated for centuries, and in realising this their hearts ached for the young ones they had been who had not known how cut off they had been from their true nature.

For this duet, these twin souls rapidly merging back in to one, was a mirrored instantiation of the same warrior goddess, Athena. Each had seen the resemblance in her early lives, but had not had the hope that they could fully become her unless they were able to build up the strength to put on that cloak and crown alone. Neither ever imagined that the energy to hold her head high as the goddess would come merely from being in the presence of her own true and vivid reflection. But it was so, and for each woman, for Gift and for Life, they realised they must put down and put away their fearful selves that didn’t allow them to be this, that listened to the world when it told them to be small and told them to take on unyielding struggles with no respite. They realised more fully, as both had realised much earlier but much more tentatively, that the twin soul that had been unlocked when they fell into each others’ gravity was not theirs to own; it was merely a way in which the universe perceived itself flowing through the vessels of two human forms. 

Over time, for both of the beings now held in this gravitational spin, the crusty shells and casings of the smaller, fearful selves fell away and they became used to their big, awakened presence. They learned how to shield others who weren’t ready for it from themselves, without pulling their souls back into a dark cold box. Unshackled by fears of not being enough (for they were both, always and forever enough, so clearly in the eyes of each other), they began to open their mouths and to speak. They spoke into being the loving reality that could be so if only the fears were not the ruling class; they woke up their hands and used them to heal the others who were needed to do the work and to carry the pieces of the future into being that were not yet where they needed to be. 

Over time, the twin souls came to be recognised as dual queens, a pair so fierce and loving because of the infinity mirror that continually reflected energy from each one back into the heart and soul of the other. Far from the once helpless girls without big enough arms to hold all those who were suffering, the pair of queens had gradually and steadily expanding strength, strength that not only allowed them to protect the ones in need of protection, but to draw in the others who could see the glimmers of themselves reflected in the queens’ awakened presence. Many found the strength to leave their bindings and come be servants of Goodness at the radiant pair’s feet; knowing that what emerged from them was not selfish or fearful but the pure energy of compassion – great-heartedness – that the world needed to be drenched in. 

Gift and Life ruled as queens for many years; their power constantly opening up and reorienting in service of the true desires of the universe. Gradually their lands came to be known for their strength and compassion; for their clear-eyed nature and their gentle rigour in knowing both what was True and how to use the Truth in service of what was Good. Over the years Gift and Life bore many children; each developing into a cherished facet of their mothers, raised enveloped in the warmth and cool safety of their mothers’ protection. As the years went on these children grew into the gravitational centres of the awakened community that was growing in the loving shade of Gift and Life, and some scattered to the far winds to plant the seeds of clear-eyed compassion in lands that were strangers to it. 

Gift and Life also had many apprentices; the eager students who had first come sat at their feet even when the pair didn’t know how or what they could teach. In time their apprentices became a broader instrument of goodness than even Gift or Life could be on their own; their ministry and apprenticeship serving as a beacon for many, many others who otherwise may have spent their lives asleep. The strength of the apprentices (many of whom later became masters in their own right) allowed the kingdom of Gift and Life to begin to challenge, small as it was, the bigger kingdoms that built their livelihood on the domination and extraction of life’s finite resources. Much of their challenge came from simply offering another path forward; many refugees appeared on the castle’s doorstep and the academy and the kingdom of Gift and Life patiently but gently learned how to take them in. 

Some of the converts were the biggest zealots, but also the greatest trouble. For they had come from faraway lands without a detailed understanding of how this new way of seeing the world worked – all they had heard were stories. And so Gift and Life and their apprentices and children needed to learn how to prune and reason, how to push some away in order not to poison that which was so good for others; how to exile some when it was needed without breaking their own hearts. This was difficult, but it was work to do in the land of the living. Every day before they had met Gift and Life had each wondered whether they would continue to live their lives in puzzled fantasy, and puzzled fantasy this was not. There were real, wrestling decisions to be made in each moment, and the only way to truly make them with integrity was to truly be aligned with the orienting desire of all beings. 

As time went on, Gift and Life started to become weary. They had brought so much energy into the world and become such bright, strong flames in the process. But living beings do not last forever, and they were never meant to either. By this time it had been many decades and the flame that had ignited with their love had since been spread out many, many times over into the souls and minds of many, many people. Their love, which in each case had started as simply as the love of a little girl for her mother who could not be saved, had grown into a force that rivalled and outnourished the hungry ghosts of the competitive realm that had their stranglehold on the neighbouring kingdoms. And yet neither woman was infinitely young, nor infinitely protected from sickness. 

One night Gift returned to her bed, ancient bones falling softly across the floor as she walked, and discovered Life lying in it, all life gone. 

In her grief, she was sent mad, spiralling away from the centre of gravity that had held her so tightly for so much of her life, that was now shattered in an instant. All the castle heard her wails and the ripples of grief spread out from their central chamber into the courtyards and the streets of the kingdom. 

By morning, Gift was gone too. 

Once their spirit was awoken, neither was meant to exist when the other did not for very long. They, in their limited but enlarged time on earth, had tipped a balance so imperceptible, so unknowable, that the momentum of history was forever changed. All the kingdoms of the world had felt their presence through the ministry of their apprentices and their apprentices’ students. Their kingdom’s gifts and trade had altered the balance of a world economy formerly ruled by anger and coercion, and the cogs continued to shift even as the two were laid to rest surrounded by those whose lives they had touched. Those who had seen them and what they had built, or heard the stories and they traversed the many kingdoms, now knew what kind of life was possible and the ways in which they could truly be awake. The total future of the world would forever be unknown, and it was not for Life nor Gift to know in their compact human lifetimes, but the push towards Goodness had been made. 

And, in many subtle and unknowable ways, the world had been forever changed. 

The Staircase

(short story, NSFW)

She’s close enough to me that I can sense her breathe; far enough away for me to feel the electricity between her body and mine. Nothing particularly special is happening; we’re walking down a public staircase. And yet, that dial, that sensitivity; I know it exists down so low. When she meets my eyes it becomes achingly, sweetly resonant; those eyes a living electricity rod for whatever energy sits behind my own.

I bring my fingers up and let one fingernail just touch the back of her shoulder. It’s soft, and warm; she oozes maternality and gentleness without thinking or actively doing anything. That single touch is a held back expression of what I might otherwise hunger to do—hold her arm firmly, work the fingers of my other hand into the thick tangle of hair at the nape of her neck, press the long part of my stomach solidly against her and sink her into the cool brick wall behind. Catch her involuntary moan with my eyes and eat it whole as I soak into kissing her.

I wake up just thinking about it. And that moment, that way she meets my eyes, tells her and I the rest of the story that could be, with my hips against hers and robustly settled with my upper leg pressed between hers, my whole body knowing exactly where her clit is. It tells her how I’d hold her hair, even as holding her hair tells her what I would do with my mouth on every other part of her body for the rest of time. It’s cloying, how differently my sense of time develops when her eyes are in it. In this minute of fractioned reality, my hand’s on her hips, pressed firmly and lovingly into the wall, then released, and I bring my long fingers up to the incredible white softness of her neck. Every single part of her is a different kind of instrument, connected together by the conductor that is her eyes and her attention.

I spend a lot of time letting her not be afraid of me; I’m afraid of her in the way I’m afraid of the sun—that she’ll blind me with her brilliance and break my heart as she’s now already done. But that inevitable reality is also bound up here in now; that vivid future and uncertain past bringing with it the acceptance that this jewel, this heartbreak is never fully mine.

I’m practicing losing her, always.

A walk next to her has this possibility inherent in it, and that is why walking alongside her has such vivid intensity. She’s listening to every unspoken word I’m saying, me muting myself to match her intentions regarding the sexual energy that exists within me. I know that cloud is so strong that merely letting it be turned on unbidden is tantamount to betrayal. In an honest space between us, the gas already collects in the air, so it’s dishonest to light a match. That flicker, that possibility—the part where I pull one arm around her waist and bring her forehead and soul to mine, both of us taking seconds to go from silent to panting, fiercely, and from whence barely looking at her eyes sends a rush of red light up through my spine and makes me dizzying and falling—that possibility is always latent. I used to believe it was not; that the glowing addictive spark would disappear from my mind one morning without warning. If anything, the opposite is true; that latent dynamic now sits, coiled like the barely-sleeping snake at the base of a kundalini spine.

I haven’t seen her in months. I might not see her in years. Seeing her eyes even through the disjointed grain of a video camera cuts into my soul; it’s disorienting to become so rapidly honest, like being naked in a grocery store. I’ve started to resign myself to the idea that she will always open me up this way; that our bodies will always somehow connect through a thin wire that doesn’t listen to whether she has a girlfriend or not. I listen, of course, to whether she has a girlfriend or not; I don’t put my hand on live electricity. I build houses for earthquakes and I learn how to avoid pulling her open unintentionally. We work around this luminous sinkhole together, unspoken; as much as so many fibres in my being want to pull her open and light the match and just start; that fraction of a touch on her hand that takes a little of her breath and brings her, in that second, into what she knows, into what I know and into inhabiting only the two foot space between us and no space else—as much as I yearn so deeply for the way her face looks when she comes with me, moment-by-moment, exactly in the moment, alongside me to an orgasm wrought by her own fingers, and I cannot tell where she starts and I end—as much as I feel the absence of her hair in my hands and her head in my hands and her shoulder in my hands and every part of her, gently cradled in my hands—as much as I miss even knowing what it feels like to look in her eyes; like a vision of God that I can no longer even explain to myself, but remember only by the memory that it flooded me and overwhelmed me with an intensity I’d never felt before and perhaps won’t again—all this, I know just as deeply as I know she isn’t there, that the shoulder in my dream is in a dream; that ever accidentally finding ourselves alone in this space together would constitute a betrayal of the kind she is trying desperately not to accuse me or herself of again; that wanting is different from allowing, and my love for her leads me away from the very wanting that loves her.

At least in reality. My endless protector protects her even now from this dance she’s so hungrily sought before. It protects me from her eyes, those endless portals that I and seemingly only I am susceptible to tripping into. And so my love pulls back and does its best to listen to all of her, to her coldness and timidity and rage and loyalty to the lover I rarely often felt in her but hear in her words and her choices. My love pulls back to negotiate, that kind of awkward sidle where we navigate to try not to bump into each other, the shuffle where no one meets the other’s eyes.

I’m not waiting, like waiting for someone to be done in a fitting room. I’m longing, truly, and the longing is likely to be a longtime companion; I’ve known her now and I—I just know that. That history in and of itself is intimacy. It means things keep mattering; whether she’s angry or joyful, and oh God—whether she’s safe. She still sits in a deep slice of my soul somewhere, even as we’re zipping up the body bag of the assumed openness and vivid quality of what we used to be able to say to each other; do to each other.

In any moment there is that whispered breath of the divinity we’ve felt and that sits, coiled; waiting for a release that may be infinitely, forever stalled.

As one cell in the organism

I wandered down the main street to find aspirin for a sick partner. I also, selfishly, wanted to go walk in the mountainous park across from our house before it got dark.

I stopped into a few places; no aspirin. I then stopped into a hippie grocery store, and as I walked out, a mother and daughter stopped me because they recognised me from TV. We talked for a little bit about the show; I mentioned I was now working in tech, unrelated to bodypainting, and they asked to if I would take a photo with the daughter. A passing-by Santa photobombed our photo as we took it.

I kept walking and got a WhatsApp call from my dad. As I answered it I saw a stunningly ugly bulldog standing alone at the entrance to a hairdresser. I went up to say hello, still with the phone to my ear, and the bulldog turned his back into me and backed up with the international signal for ‘pats, please’. Three or four people came up to pat him and at no point did I see his owner. Apparently his name is Gabriel and he hangs out at the front of the store every day for ten or so hours.

I kept walking. Maybe Wholefoods would have aspirin? A homeless girl was begging near the entrance. As I walked past I heard her say something like ‘just some apple juice?’. She looked about my age, maybe a bit younger, and sad but healthy. I wasn’t afraid of her. Almost at the entrance of the store, I turned around and walked back up to her.

‘If I were to get you something while I’m inside, what would you like?’

‘Some chicken noodle soup, or, a big thing of apple juice – I’m trying to get enough apple juice to last the night.’

How is there some amount of apple juice that will stop you being hungry overnight?

We discussed what kind of juice (cloudy versus clear – she prefers organic) and she made it clear that she wasn’t fussy (‘anything, I don’t mind’). I noticed close up that she had artsy tribal looking markings on her face – maybe light henna? I tried to come up with a back story for her but nothing clicked that would explain the white girl with body art begging for oddly specific food items from a Whole Foods.

I dove into the store and quickly found the chicken noodle soup, noting that it was mostly pasta – hardly the kind of thing that would be optimally nutritious if you weren’t eating much. It took me longer to find the apple juice, and I needed to ask a shop assistant. There was no plain, organic, cloudy apple juice available in the big, but not stupidly big size (I didn’t want to give her a chunky glass gallon thing that might go off and be hard to carry). I spent an absurd amount of time debating whether to get the apple ginger cider or the clear kids apple juice – what if she didn’t like ginger? That would be suboptimal, and she would feel picky, but if I couldn’t stand ginger and someone bought it for me I’d feel ickily obligated to them with the same feeling you get when clueless relatives buy you bad Christmas presents. I thought about getting the smaller one (same price, glass bottle, no ginger), but if you were so hungry you were begging for food, why would you want the smaller one? I briefly wondered whether she had looked through the selection in the Whole Foods deciding what to ask for. I decided on the apple ginger cider and hoped for the best.

Wholefoods had no real medications, only homeopathic and herbal stuff, so I gave up on finding the aspirin there. I must have been inspired to be generous or something, because I impulsively asked my ex-boyfriend (who I had been idly messaging the entire time) whether he needed American melatonin. I don’t know whether I normally think of myself as that considerate. I figured I should probably buy something for myself otherwise I’d feel odd going all the way, so I stocked up on expensive chocolate caffeine balls I can’t get at home.

When I came to the checkout her food came to around $15. I realised I never would have given a homeless person $15 if they had asked. It’s unlikely I would have even had the cash on me (are there any homeless people who take Venmo?) She was a pretty savvy business woman, and I admired her sales strategy. Maybe someone should start trying to hire street people into sales? If you can stand outside every day and ask for money from people who refuse to look you in the eye then you can probably sell health insurance to people who actually want to buy health insurance.

I sought out her eyes when I left the store; the opposite of my normal pact with homeless people. It was like she was part of a secret game – honestly she looked like someone I might have met at a university arts club.

I put the food down at her feet, muttered something and strode off, both with furtiveness and to avoid being ‘caught in the act’. It was an impulsive, one-off thing, and I didn’t want to start thinking of it as something I normally did. As I walked back up the street (and brag-texted the ex, doing the least amount of social damage with the impulse to show off) I felt the urge to look back at her and see her reaction.

This was fun.

I kept walking. Striding, and enjoying it, because it seemed like in my new wedge rubber boots all I could do was stride. Either generosity or the boots, but something was making me enjoy walking proudly, feeling my hips sway. A hippie couple was slightly in my way, and as I darted around them the girl looked me solidly in the eye, and said ‘Hey!’


‘I like the way your face looks.’

It was such a bizarrely brazen, comfortable, and non-sexual catcall, and from a woman (who looked like me) that I was surprised, and actually enjoyed it. It seems strange, but of course I would feel less threatened by a catcall from a woman – I’d just never really encountered it before. I traipsed towards home in the warm afternoon sun with a smile on my face, wading through the Saturday people strolling down a cultured street purely for the fun of it.

Almost home, I stopped in an anarchist bookstore on a whim. I started chatting with the shopkeeper about Trump, and sexism, and traveling as a young woman. The conversation ranged widely and I could tell he was the kind of person who got professionally enraged about things. I was glad he felt like I could be an ally, because it would have been a different conversation entirely if he’d disliked me. As I gently made an excuse to leave to cut off what had become quite a rambling monologue about politics, he invited me to speak at their next performance night.

I had no idea what he thought I might speak about. He attempted to clarify that I was very eloquent, and I could speak about basically whatever I wanted to, and maybe my travels or where I was from? I left the store still really with no idea what attendees at an anarchist bookstore performance night might want to hear from a decidedly non-anarchist human with no specific agenda.

(Needless to say I never took him up on it.)

I got home, then turned around and immediately left again to take the train to a party across the bay.

A woman fell when the train shuddered, her bicycle landing on top of her. She was right next to me and I and five other people jumped up to right the bicycle, and pick up the sweet potatoes and bike lock that had scattered from her bike basket. The apple quarter I had been eating had landed near her on the floor and I scrambled to pick it up. The people in their bubbles had become, in an instant, a community of real humans with shared common goals working together. In an instant the invisible social agreement to ignore the rest of humanity on the subway had been broken.

One man put his hand firmly on her leg and asked her several times and a few different ways whether she was injured. She said she was okay. We passengers had been one community for minutes at this point, and the man’s compassion felt genuine and unashamed for being so public and watched by so many people. She halfheartedly insisted, again, that she was okay, perhaps a little embarrassed at so many eyes on her. Someone had called out to the driver to keep the doors open at the current station and with the whole train paused the woman managed to pick up her bike and wheel it off the carriage.

The subway doors slid shut, and in that fraction of a second the spell was broken and we became solo people in our bubbles again.