Jill Bolte Taylor's Stroke of Insight


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Black Holes

"The heart that breaks open can contain the whole universe." --Joanna May

I didn't know you, not really; I called you a friend but you weren't, not really. You were a face, a constant presence on my peripheral vision. You were the friendly conversation I could always count on. You were the smile that was always waiting to catch my eye if I glanced in your direction--that made me a little nervous because it was always ready, always lit up, and I thought you wanted something from me. Maybe you did. Warmth, touch, chat, companionship, alliance against the dark that closed us into a cave every winter and the light that sent us too high every summer.

A few times I opened to you--in my braver moments--and we talked for far too long: life, love, dog mushing, travel, the holes in the universe that lead to the unknown. We didn't know where we were going and on those nights we didn't really care. You were a good person. We were two good people who had plenty to regret, and we met on that common ground. Regrets. Love. The great unknown. Black holes you can fall into and never look back.

And then the next time I'd see you, we'd have forgotten. Back to being strangers who knew each other once, just that once over a beer at a bar that felt like home. I moved away and never thought about you but once or twice; a mutual friend would mention they'd seen you, and I'd think, uncomfortably, of that connection that lasted no longer than a breath and didn't lend itself to my understanding.

Last night I read online, from an impersonal distance, that you'd taken your own life. Not discreetly, in a moment of private anguish, but publicly, hanging yourself from a tree in the middle of town. Why would anyone do such a thing? but I thought, suddenly, of a Tibetan monk setting himself on fire in protest of a situation that is unlivable, unthinkable, untenable. This is public, visceral, frightening, sickening. It tears our hearts out. It leaves us numb. It is a statement of abhorrence of the Thing That Should Not Be. No one can live like this; no one should have to. Isolated, alone, no help on the horizon. No matter the appearances on the surface, no matter how many friends, acquaintances, warm alliances you have--this dread solitude at your center, this maelstrom of demons that stole your mind--they occupied your inner territory, claimed it for themselves. You had to get out.

Now I understand. This is what we had in common, and this is why your presence made me so uncomfortable. I was looking into a mirror. I think, though, that you were better than I was back then. You reached out. You tried. You made friends, chased adventure, gave your heart, fought to live. It just got to be too much. A decision had to be made: live in chains, or set yourself on fire and hope someone saw.

Well, someone did. We all did. You are mourned. You are loved. You will be missed. No one, no matter what the demons say, is ever alone. Not you, not the Tibetan monk burning to death in a pillar of fire. We are all everything. We are all connected. Go back to where you came from; discover the secrets of love, black holes, time travel, your place in the universe. Go on and on till you find the place you were meant to be. Find peace there, and ease. Gather a team of eager dogs and mush them down the spine of the universe. Let their laughing mouths guide you to freedom.

© 11/18/2014

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Wise Woman

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in my heart) i am never without it.        --e.e. cummings

It was years ago and yesterday
You clambered up into my bed

Wearing your fuzzy footed jammies
With a book in your hands that needed reading.

I don't remember the book, there were so many:

Jabberwocks, Care Bears, Alice in her Wonderland.
The point of them was us telling stories
Funny lively stories in the morning
Scary keep-you-up-late ones in the night
Stories that lit up your green eyes
Made you ask questions
Made you trill with laughter and sometimes
To my mingled pride and shame, made you cry.

I was twelve and 
angsty and still a child

Skating on the edge of a grown world;  
You were five and followed me endlessly

Soft yellow-duck hair haloing your head
Ticklish feet, bitten nails, a penchant for Rice Krispies. 

How I loved you--fiercely, furiously, a love that wrapped itself 
So tightly around my adolescent heart I felt at times 
I'd have to scream to get it out. 

Sometimes I did and it scared you a little. 

Sometimes I protected you from others who screamed.
I tried to warn you about the world so you wouldn't get hurt
The way I was already hurt--all that made-up wisdom
I thought I possessed but didn't, all the stories I told
To scare you into not growing up.

I wanted to toughen you but you wouldn't toughen
You insisted on loving openly

You trusted, you laughed, you were real and warm
As only a child can be.

Much later, when the world finally did hurt you 
It tore me open all over again
The way it does every time
The way it feels watching someone 
Take a punch in the gut and having
No power to punch back on their behalf. 
These are the simple equations of love:
I carry your heart in my heart. When you hurt I hurt.
When you are glad I am glad.

But I am beginning to learn from you
(I see you were the wiser woman all along):
It is always worth it.
To love, to hope. To keep loving. Keep hoping.
To fall down and get up and love again, hope again,
Returning to the path you've marked for yourself.

So you don't need my raging adolescent protector.
She can keep her mouth shut while she holds your hand:
You've got this, you will make it, sister--
She can give you center stage
To love openly, to trust, to find your laughter again
To be real and warm
As only a grown woman can be.



Sunday, September 14, 2014


“You have to give to the world the thing that you want the most, in order to fix the broken parts inside you.” 
Eve Ensler 

Shame to give it away
this iridescent thing inside you
rooted in your being
the thing you can't express
no matter how many poems paintings
works of art new colors you invent.
It was always going to mean death
to get it out; like the quest for the human soul
this one requires that you spill blood
open the body cavity
eviscerate everything in the search.

Shame to give it away
to find the words for it and hand them over to
some stupid boy in a campfire-lit moment
that he will not remember
and if he does, will not understand
nor care about.
He was merely listening because
he thought wide-eyed attentiveness
was the gentle crowbar
that would prise apart your legs.
When he found you were naively pleased
to have an audience he grew impatient
did the prying by force
and this is how you learned:

Pinned down, screams clenched between your teeth
silent chaos, cruel intimacy--
ultimately these become fuel
for the flame at the center of your being
the thing that makes you you: an alchemist
that takes every evil indelible moment
and transforms it into light.

Shame to give it away
but shame is a liar: the thing itself
can never be taken, it is you
and you are here
and no one gets to say how, or why
or in what form.
So spill your blood. Pry yourself open.
Tear it all apart until you find you
and hold yourself high
this being human, this human being
this thing made of light and hate and love and fear.
Show us. Light us up, be truth, heal for us.

KB © 9/13/14

Monday, August 18, 2014

Monkey at the Wheel

I've never had a great relationship with my brain. Does it seem weird to tell you that? Yes. It is a strange thing to say, but it's true: my brain and I never really got along. I have learned, slowly, that just because something consists of my own flesh and blood; just because it is mine, or is me, this gray lump encased in hard bone riding around on my spindly neck; just because I feel its weight every time I nod my head yes or shake it no, does not mean it has to do what I tell it to.

In fact for most of my life my brain was doing pretty much the opposite of what I wanted. While I was a kid, busy climbing trees and getting in trouble and riding horses and flunking math, my brain was a space ship traversing the galaxy. I'd space out in the midst of whatever I was doing and come back a few minutes later to find a teacher, a parent, a friend or a bully staring at me in confusion, as if I'd just arrived from another planet. In most cases I'd been in the middle of an interaction with these people: a lecture, a game, a fight; and blip! gone. My brain had just done the equivalent of stepping out for a smoke break without notifying the boss--ostensibly, me. I had no idea this was happening, and it was usually awkward. My high school history teacher wrote me up for "humming in class." I was unaware I'd been disturbing his lectures with my musical predilections; my brain had let my body hang out on its own, and my body decided humming in class would be a fun thing to do. 

As I got older, the blips became less amusing and more worrisome. I became a master at "stepping out" of my body. I practically majored in it in college. When my best friend was killed in a car accident two weeks before the advent of my freshman year, I took it relatively in stride. She was gone, and so was I. Off to school went my body, off to the galaxy went my brain. I don't remember very much about being at university. I made some friends but didn't retain many of them. I think I did alright in my classes; I found a major I liked, and one or two professors I connected with. I learned some things but most of them had nothing to do with academics. Mostly, I was depressed. Whenever I bothered to check in with my mind, it hurt; so I didn't check in very often. I got married, then finished school, then got divorced. The pain worsened, so I fled to Africa, a continent of pain, and I drowned myself there in other people's injuries. 

Over the years it began to feel like my mind had special rules that I wasn't aware of. It was a sensitive thing, a high-revving, shaky, frighteningly unpredictable machine. It was a Ferrari with a monkey at the wheel: in hyperdrive one day and the next, mashed into a ditch. I started having delusions. I started seeing a therapist. I didn't know I was having delusions and if the therapist knew it, she kept it to herself. Telling a delusional person that she is delusional is a tricky thing, obviously, but it does fall within a therapist's job description--so maybe she just didn't know. And I wasn't dangerous. I think I was probably just sort of weird. Well, weird and funny and tragic, from the outside. And internally, I was a wreck on one hand and rather enjoying it on the other. I fancied myself a writer and would stay up late some nights, sipping whiskey and emoting on my laptop. Other nights I went out to bars and shows, and danced myself into a dark, frenzied place that felt panicky and claustrophobic. It was those times that I'd feel like something inside me was trying to claw its way out: this deeper mind, this animal brain, this souped-up monkey-driven Ferrari. It couldn't get out, of course, but it did some damage trying. Scars began to appear on my arms and legs. I burned and bit, cut and carved. These were calming activities, they took the engine down a notch, kept the car on the road.

But ultimately there are only so many roads. So many red lights and blind corners, so many tanks of gas burned up circling the same few blocks. Over and over I did the things that had failed me before, hoping this time--this new relationship, this new job, this new residence--would be the right one. Circling that block with manic high speed and razor-sharp turns didn't work, and neither did dragging around the same block in low-speed choked-up depressive reverse. One night in the middle of a new relationship and a promising new career, having just bought my first home, I gave up. Found myself in the bathroom with a bottle of pills and a crazy person in the mirror. Brain: checked-out. Stalled. Gone off the shoulder of the road, in free-fall.

It didn't really come back from that night. Not that brain, not that person in the mirror. I didn't die, but monkey-mind began to. The free-fall lasted eighteen months, and when it was done that car hit bottom and blew up. My life as I knew it died in the resulting fire. It wasn't a quick death, but it was thorough and permanent. I didn't think I'd ever see the road again.

It's weird, though, what can happen after you give up. When your hands are taken off the wheel, by choice or chance. Because of that night I received a new name: Bipolar. It was, I see now, only one name among the many other names I have taken for myself: Writer. Rolfer. Maker of Mistakes. Woman. Lover. Healer. Destroyer. Student. Teacher. Friend. Because of that night I received help, in the form of family and friend support, medication, and therapy. I began to see my delusions for what they were. Now, they are my comedians, a source of laughter in a world that appears to be ever more unaware of its increasing delusions.

And my car is back on the road, at last. It's not the same car. It doesn't do flashy turns and go from zero to sixty in .001 seconds, but it's fast as hell if need be. It's got meds in the tank and love in the headlamps. It's a sweet-ass Cadillac circa 1959, with hot-pink fins and zebra stripes and a set of moose antlers bolted to the grille. This Eldorado is all about moving forward, high speed or low, smooth and quiet, the whole world plastered to the windscreen like it's smiling for a closeup. I'm at the wheel now, most of the time, but there's a tiger in the backseat and every time I gaze in the rearview to try to guess what I might have left behind, his toothy grin reminds me: You got one day to live, lady. Do it. Do it now.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Rites of Passage

Female friendships that work are relationships in which women help each other to belong to themselves.
Louise Bernikow
Drawing the circle tonight in an ancient ritual
the sharing of food and wine
this coven of females that fit one another
the way soft old jeans cradle our curves.
Mad as maenads
wild-haired women who, when we laugh
throw back our heads and roar
above the hum of the crowd like lionesses.
Fierce pride, this tribe: boundless affection
smiles full of teeth and words
shouting advice, swapping insults.

Our edges are sharp. When we collide we cut and bruise,
we bleed. People look at us and say
we are crazy, and they are not wrong:
we build up heads of steam, eyes lit up like Mars.
But post-collision we embrace
we soothe and murmur, chuckle and weep.
Our talk turns soft as summer wine
and we give it generously: this love
that absolves, accepts, forgives, moves on.

We know what all smart women know:
friendship among lionesses
is careful ground.
Inside us these ferocious hearts
that beat
and beat
and beat us to pieces
until we do what they demand.
And they demand this: you will love your sisters
like it or not
you will learn the lessons your tribe has to teach
you will hit your lows and reach your heights
to love and be loved every step of that journey:
This is how you become a woman.

KB © 7/9/14

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Mad Season

10:19 PM and sunlight is streaming through the windows, writing its name on the walls: the shadows of trees are pen and ink. I had to force myself to come inside tonight. It seems I can never rest enough these days, though I drench myself in sleep and rise to the surface and dive for more--when I come up for air the light teases me, sends my dreams on walkabout.

Rain: they say this is good fishing weather, but that depends what you are fishing for. Salmon are plentiful or not, regardless of weather; some days they leap one over another into the net and others they swim quietly around without a bump. Rain stirs up the lake fish; trout, pike, Arctic char, grayling. Deepwater fish don't care what happens to the air; storm, sun, rain--they'll eat whatever comes along, hooks and sinkers included. But salmon--it is something deeper than hunger that drives them. The end of the world wouldn't deter them from finding their way home to that one inscrutable place, coveted above all others, seven years' journey to find it again.

The end of the world. Some say it is here. Here, in this place: the edge of so-called civilization where people fall to the middle of the food chain despite the rifles they noisily tote around on backpacks the size of small houses. The edge of a mountain chain so vast and high small planes and airliners can disappear and never be found. Here, in this time: where civilization has run up against the edge of available resources and the planet's exhaustible ability to rebound from the abuse of its children. Science has become our religion, and its prophets tell us we are doomed. There will be no god thundering in on a white horse to avenge his own. No trumpets to announce our redemption.

2:29 PM and the wind has just flared up. Trees nine stories high bowing and swaying, their leaves silvering under a lead sky. But a flock of three-ounce birds flutters and dives through the branches, bustling about with seed-gathering and business as usual. The fishing boats are fighting hard against the wind today; unsecured items are falling over on people's decks and in their yards; bits of siding are preparing to flap loose; but the birds smooth their feathers and flit from branch to porch rail to rooftop, singing little songs to their babies who are just now learning to fly.

This is not a place for the civilized. It is a crazy-making place, a place for rituals and revolutions, but not for everyday life; not for homemaking and grocery shopping and daycare. Putting civilization on this place is like dressing a grizzly bear in a debutante gown. Sooner or later the thing is going to come apart, with results varying from carnage to comedy.

People go mad here. That is one way the gown comes apart. Their minds bulge and fray at the seams, they turn on one another, they turn on themselves. Some go quietly, slowly disappearing over the years via the neck of a bottle. Others flare out sideways and leave scars. Last week a neighbor man went into his shed, nailed the door shut, and set himself on fire. People "flip out" with guns, machetes, kitchen knives--every week, it seems, they murder each other in gruesome and public ways. A few years ago, a friend of mine stabbed herself through the heart. Life is hard here. It turns out, living is often harder than dying.

But madness comes in many forms. There is the madness of a summer night where the light stays and stays; the madness of rooting down in wet, sucking mud for a weekend of camping and music and mosquitoes; the madness of waking up to a foot of snow that wasn't there the night before, and whooping for joy. There is the madness of running up a mountain pass at night, in sleeting wind, breathing the freshest cleanest air left on earth. Have you ever brushed up against death and thanked it for sparing your life? Ever watched a mama grizzly move her cubs away from you instead of ripping your head from your neck? Been bluff-charged by a moose and felt your belly turn to water? This is life, mad and fierce and lovely. Every day of not-dying here is a gift, a rarity, a statistical improbability.

This should be a lighter post. If I were writing from anywhere else, it would be. But I could never speak lightly of this place; even most of the jokes we make about Alaska have punchlines that involve drinking, road accidents, brain damage, freezing to death, spousal abuse and small plane crashes. Gallows humor much?

6:30 PM and the wind has stopped. Rain falls steadily now, plinking on the barn roof, darkening the horses' coats. Their wet eyes gaze at me, large and soft in a bid for carrots or grain. The rain is good to them, comforting after the fierce sun, softer than the winter snows that freeze their thick coats. Tucker cocks a back hoof and lowers his head, settling down for a nap in the drizzle. I take his cue and prepare to do the same; the hay smells sweet and lulls me, a place I used to hide as a child. There is nothing to do today, and no one to do it with, and that is a good thing. Let the rain say what it may; later, I will make up an answer.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

For Philip, Who Was Weird

If you're a human being walking the earth, you're weird, you're strange, you're psychologically challenged.
Philip Seymour Hoffman

In the end it's just your voice
your own weird bright lone song
blossoming from the beautiful dark
that lives in your head.
You hide in that dark
though your beating heart lies exposed;
you've pried yourself open for the world to see
but nobody sees.

I know the virtue in hiding.
Evening comes and I tread suburban streets
by my weird lone strange self
looking in lighted houses and wondering
how can ordinary people seem so magically out of reach
backlit in their perfect frames
sharing a meal, arguing, embracing
or simply sitting quietly
staring at something just out of my view?

Maybe in your own way you did the same
eavesdropped on ordinary human life
took it in then decided it wasn't for you
that your existence would not be framed
in a precise square of light that signified normal.
You lived outside that frame until you couldn't
write yourself into the story anymore
then left via the narrow path of a needle.
Strange, such a tiny place for a human being
to disappear into
that single point of reference in a sea of madness.

I know the virtue in coming undone.
The hectic symphony of rhetoric and prose
every role you play becomes a cage that won't open
until you've left a part of yourself in there
so many parts and pieces taken, chewed, spat out
and the chorus cries for more.
Sometimes the sanest thing to do is embrace insanity.

In the end I am compelled to say of you
that you were weird
and that is the bravest thing a person can be.
I am not there and no one is there to say these things
or try to change the hand you've dealt yourself;
it's just you coiling down to infinity
singing the song that only you know
your weird lone voice ragged and ecstatic
the voice of enlightenment or madness
which are one and the same, you see at last.

KB 7/8/2014

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Love! Now! This!

If Jesus Christ came back today, he would probably say something like


It doesn't have to be Jesus. This crowing, laughing loon could be the Buddha, he could be Dr. King, he could be Rumi. The message is the same: Love. Create. Be good. Don't judge. It's easy to write this guy off as just another maniac--we do that every day, every time we pass by a street dweller holding up a sign that says any variation of the word "Help." We do it every time we come into contact with a person whose hygiene, social status, mental acuity or personal opinion differs from our own.

Which leads to the question--Why do we, as a culture, automatically assume someone like this is "crazy?" He's not wearing enough clothing and he is not speaking below a decibel that allows us to walk on by and pretend we haven't heard. He doesn't modify his behavior to fit inside the bounds of our culture's "acceptable" limits. Therefore, what he has to say is meaningless. (Who's crazy now?)

Here's a thought: maybe crazy is a good thing. Maybe it's a wholly unprecedented way of seeing/interpreting reality. Maybe it makes room for growth, for miracles. If you're crazy, you can't understand the impossible. You can't put limits on what this day, this present moment, might hold. It holds everything. It is Now. It is Perfect. And it is all we have.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Walking Meditation

Batshit brain stuck in a spin again. Always trying to figure things out. Always analyzing. Turning inward. Blaming myself when things don't go right. Civil wars, forest fires, tornadoes: my fault. I didn't do what I could to help.

The dog takes me for a walk tonight through warm darkening streets. Doves chuffing softly in the dusk. An old man treading the muddy shoulder of the road. Long, flowing grey hair, bare feet, sandals in hand. He squints a sideways smile at me and I look down, to his mud-painted toes. Beautiful. Serene.

For a moment the world seems flooded with compassion. The sky is pinkening overhead, deepening to rose and then red, navy, turquoise. I feel stones through my thin soles. The dog pulls gently at his leash, his nose poised delicately over a dead squirrel. Its soft beige fur somehow unruffled, eyes half-open like the Buddha, a study in stillness. Contemplation.

It's hard to turn my brain off. And I know it will never be off till I can be like that squirrel, eyes turned inward yet resting outward, nothing in my head, my outsides as still as my insides. It won't happen until I am ready, until I can let go of the idea that I am responsible for everything, that I am to blame. Until I can stop analyzing, self-hating, turning things over and over in my mind. Put off the narcissism in favor of compassion.

This will happen slowly. Slowly as that old man padding along, feeling stone and softness alike beneath his feet, saying Yes to the night sky, Yes to the road, Yes to people passing by.

I try it. With my next breath, I inhale No and exhale Yes. No to the hamster-mind scrambling in its endless wheel, Yes to the Buddha-mind allowing all to flow through. A thought: maybe I don't have to die in order to be still. Maybe I just have to stop caring so much. It's alright to stop caring. It's alright to say, "I can't," and leave it at that.

Dog, deciding the squirrel is not after all very interesting, moves on, and I go with him into the night, toward home and the everyday/everynight that is life. One moment at a time.

KB© 5/29/2014

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Ode to Pink: or, How I Became Female

You could say childhood was sort of a weird time for me, and that would be a nice way of putting things. I was a sexist brat by the time I could talk. I hated all things girly: dresses, dolls, lace, etiquette classes, any sort of personal hygiene, and especially the color pink. My first full sentence was, "When I grow up I'm gonna grow nuts and be a boy." This is not fiction (I did say times were weird).

I loved matchbox cars, model horses, airplanes, trucks, and firemen (because I wanted to be one). It got worse as I got older: I resented the hell out of my mother when she forced me into dresses for church or school; clad in frills and shoulder pads and those horrible things called "pumps" that made me sound like a Clydesdale clop-clopping down the hallway, I felt like a freak. A horse in a ball gown. 

The color pink stood for everything that had gone wrong with my world--namely, not being born a boy. It's like I had unconsciously decided, at some point, that pink represented the feminine and being female was equivalent with weakness. And I gave boyhood my best shot: climbing trees, beating up kids on the playground, taking my shirt off so I could hang out bare-chested like the boys who played street ball in my neighborhood, declaring my allegiance to the color blue. But I still couldn't make myself into a boy and thus, pink offended me wherever I saw it. Looking at a bottle of Pepto Bismol invariably made me queasy, and in kindergarten I once told a little schoolmate, in all truthfulness, that her Pepto-hued dress made me want to vomit. She burst out crying and I found myself in time-out, mystified that telling the truth had gotten me into trouble. 

The shift was bound to happen eventually. I was running away from something, and the something was my own body with its breasts and vagina and soft round hips; my own female brain with its desires and thoughts and passionate, freakish chemistry. I hid it all under baggy sweats and flannel shirts and the pretense that I had no feelings and thus no moods. But eventually it all burst at the seams, and in my ripe old mid-30's I finally "bloomed" and stopped trying to be a male. Other people could tell I'd bloomed because a sudden obsession with tulle and frills replaced my beer-swilling, 4WD-wielding, belch-contest-winning persona. Not that I stopped swilling beer or driving off-road. Or belching. But now I was doing all those things in a tutu, a pink one no less, and for a tomboy in her 30's that is the sign of a sea-change. It also may be a sign of madness, but I prefer to think of it as a healthy shift from identifying with (redneck) men to accepting--no, embracing--my female-ness. I was sort of like an amphibian that changes its sex from male to female just because, well, it was time.

Pink was really at the bottom of the whole thing. I fell in love with pink once I admitted to myself that constantly wearing red was just not cutting it for me. It was pink I hungered for, even as I picked red t-shirts and sweats and tennis shoes, and eventually a red car to accessorize my newfound womanly nature. Red was good to me, but it only symbolized the beginning of a love affair with pink. Raspberry, mauve, shell, magenta; the blush of sunrise; the fuschia violence of a bruise; the roseate, ravished pink of sex. The firm pink flesh of salmon, the neon of nail polish, the pink sparks of brilliance leaping off the ocean at sunset: I craved it all. It was like my brain, so long denied, suddenly went into florid hyperdrive. I dyed my hair pink. I wore pink girlie tank tops with my pink tutu. Bought shoes with neon pink laces, wore pink scarves, dressed my dog in pink. 

Recently I found this rosy factoid on the internet about magenta-philes (yes, I googled Color Psychology, don't act all surprised): With a vivid imagination and creative ability, you are a non-conformist who sees life from a different point of view. Different from what, it doesn't say. I'm assuming "different" from the norm, whatever that is. Different from before, when I hated my female self and tried in every possible way to negate it. Different from a culture that still denounces the sacred feminine. Different from the sad fact that many women, their own self-image and self-worth torn apart by a misogynistic society, will then tear one another apart in competition. 

It doesn't have to be that way. I don't have to reflect that culture, that societal norm, anymore by hiding who and what I am: a weird, emotional, nutty, sensitive, loud-mouthed maker of mistakes and lover of the femme. A pink-addicted makeup-wearing tutu-clad tomboy, a dreamer, the architect of my own future. I still love cars, horses, airplanes, trucks and firemen (because I want to bed one). I don't have to pick one way to be: I am big enough to be them all. 

Sunday, May 25, 2014


The last time I cried myself to sleep I was a fragile mess, a mental case, and it seems like years ago but it can't have been that long. I tend to complain and weep a lot when there's not much wrong, but then clam up and remain dry-eyed when things are truly falling apart. A peregrine, I feel best when on the move and far away from the familiar. Novelty distracts and entertains me, keeps me from missing what I can't have, and ensures that my tendency to look for greener grass remains in check.

But now all I want to do is go home--to my familiar childhood home, which is being devoured by a 100,000-acre wildfire. The forest I used to smell at night, whose trees spoke to me in the wind, is dying. Ash and smoke blanket my mother's house, dirtying her newly washed windows and blackening the air she breathes. She's not in danger, not really, but I can't tell that to my overanxious brain. Somehow I feel threatened, though I am thousands of miles away and the fire can't touch me. It can touch my life; it can do damage, no matter if that is real or imagined. There is something violent about it, a blind and unconscious violence that could take away everything I love. My mother talked today about dying, about how all things die--trees, animals, and eventually herself--and her voice was so far away, so muffled and distant, and panic strangled me so that I couldn't reply.

And suddenly I find myself aching for what I can't have. For the touch of my horse's nose against my face. For the sharp briny scent of the air, the half-dark at midnight, the shush of birch trees talking at dusk. I miss the mountains. I miss living in the lower half of the food chain, bears and wolves above me; and above them, earthquakes and avalanches and wildfires. I miss the feeling of being a tiny cog in a giant wheel that overwhelms me with its deadly beauty.

My place on the wheel tonight is so obscure, so far off-center, and here on the outer rim I spin so slowly, like Pluto--the sun a distant memory. Crying myself to sleep seems childish and surreal, because after all nothing is wrong and no one I love is dying, and yet everything is wrong and no one I love is close enough. What is close enough? I would like to pile my loved ones into my bed with me and fall asleep hearing them breathe, feeling their limbs entangled with mine, knowing we would wake in the morning and all would be well. There would be birdsong in the trees and the light would already be full, having crept into our closed eyelids well before we ever thought of coming awake.

KB ©5/25/14

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Vipassana Day 4

“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man's-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again. ”                
--Pema Chodron

She says:
close your eyes and picture an orange

This is meant to focus the mind
slow down the hamster wheel that is my brain
reduce the chattering to a whisper.

But there behind the dark of my eyelids
and the quiet rush of my breath
my orange glows like a harvest moon.
It is the orange of a monk's robe
it is the bounding recoil of a rubber ball
the sweet freeze of sherbet on the tongue.

Eyes closed, I am peeling the orange
I am feeling its skin tear softly
tasting its sudden sharp juice: I have never
seen an orange so beautiful
or brought such a lovely color to my lips
the color of prayer
the color of desire
the color of a fist raised in celebration.

But this is not why I am here
this fierce joy that translates as pain
stinging fresh and hot against my eyelids
nor the sudden vision of a face I've tried to forget
how he smiled with his whole being
and how I lit up for that, my heart a harvest moon--
No, I am here to let go
I am here to breathe
I am here to be here.

So let it be.
Look back into the eyes of the dark
and let the colors go
give up the fruit with its violent goodness
give up my love
hunger fear pain joy need want belief
all the names I call myself
and when they are gone there is only
breath and a beating heart
so big it strains my ribs.

She says
now let the orange go
and I open my hand and it goes.

KB ©5/3/2014

Monday, April 28, 2014

It Is Always Now

Today started out with a crying jag. I like to use the word "jag" because that's how it felt: jagged, sudden, an icicle in my guts. One minute I was okay and the next, my face was doing that thing where it feels like a mean person is pulling at your lips, distorting them, making your nose sting and your eyes well up. And then I was losing it in front of a group of people. Compassionate, loving people who were there to listen; but still, I felt like a jerk for bawling uncontrollably when I was sure they all had much worse problems than mine.

But you know what? They didn't have worse problems than mine; they just had different ones. Pain is relative, and personal, and subjective. I was bawling because I felt alone, and abandoned, and that's what people do sometimes when they feel abandoned: cry like babies and hope someone will hear. But some of the people in that room would have loved to be left alone, for just five minutes--the harried mother, the patient husband taking verbal abuse--they'd have traded places with me in a second. From the depths of your own pain, it can seem like none of the other humans really understand.

They do, though. After a very difficult day at work I came home still feeling isolated and misunderstood, to be greeted by a text from a friend who knew nothing about what I was going through. She just wanted to say hello. And that she loved me. And she sent me this:

It turns out that I can do "now." I can't do the past again and the future, honestly, doesn't look all that great. But Now, well, it's just me on the couch with a headache and some fresh tears and a little bit of hope. It's not comfortable, but it's doable. It's just a moment. I'm breathing into this moment--and this one--and this one. I still have to deal with tomorrow, but not Now. Now is filled with its own beauty, its own ache, it is filled with the love of a friend and the peaceful sleep of my dog at my feet. And I find that if I give thanks, then something out there--or in here--returns that gratitude with a quiet nod. It's enough for Now.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


It's better to look at the sky than to live there. Just a country where the thunder goes and things disappear.    
Truman Capote 

They say bad things come in threes
but in the case of love I don't believe it
just a steady trend from bad to worse
lesson after excruciating lesson.

I paid a doctor to cure my love
but all he said was
Try to see the invisible
Look for the beauty in the world
that no one else perceives.
So I am lying on my back, gazing
into a hot Texas cauldron of clouds
looking for visions and hoping to erase you.
It seems to be working;
the clouds say many things but never
your name.

I see a deer lifting its head after
drinking, drops of sky falling from its muzzle
I see rabbits chasing a dragon's fiery form
and a salmon swallowing the sun.
Some shapes emerge more readily from the queendom
of my own imagination:
a heart slowly shredding in the wind
the spreading wing of a pterosaur*
a dog's ear flapping as if waving
from the sidecar of god's motorcycle.

They all come and go
shape-shifting like wizards
blending their furred outlines together to become
exactly what I want to see;
and I am reminded of the ways we tried
and failed time and again to soften our edges
to keep from damaging each other.

But in all the stories the clouds have to tell
I don't see your face
not once.
The face that was lasered into my brain
those fingertips whose prints
traversed the whole of me;
I can't see you
I don't feel you reaching for me.
It could be the person you were reaching for
was born in the kingdom
of your own imagination.

Maybe good things also come in threes:
our past with its indelible scars
the present which offers so much to forgive
my future that is wide as the sky
and peopled with souls who might
one day love me whether or not I soften
into a shape that doesn't bruise them.

KB ©4/23/14


Saturday, April 19, 2014

Death by Progress

Before I sat down to write this poem
I put on my cowgirl boots
and a straw hat
and a pink tutu bought at the vintage store
that was my favorite till it was closed down
to make room for more condos.
Some asshole built a castle on South Congress
overnight, it seems, which has nothing to do
with what I'm wearing and everything
to do with Austin's death by progress:
Farewell music town full of grit and legend
hello Disneyland.

Before I sat down to write this poem
I sipped a bit of Tito's graced with lime
and put on the album of an artist
nobody outside of here would recognize
in other words like most of the talent in this town
brilliant, unfettered, unknown.

All is not lost, I tell myself;
there are still moments when beauty glances out
an aging face reflected in vintage glass.
Afloat today on water so smooth and clear 
I could see the bottom 30 feet down
turtles rising for air then oaring away:
slow torpedoes aiming for sunken logs
their mossy shells belying any urgency.

Love lives here like it always has
weird, mad, wonderful love
bubbling up from the limestone
tattooed on the walls and bridges that make this place home:
Hi, how are you?
I love you so much.
Let's band together!
Love still tumbles in the too-crowded streets
from the doorways and open windows of rundown bars--
love of music, love of dance, love of love. 
You can screw up the two-step and no man will judge
most likely he will save you from yourself
take you in his arms and let you lean into him
for three or five minutes, the slow 
to medium tempo of eternity.

The hills around here are high on wine and Thoroughbreds
rich with the ghosts of Comanches and Rangers 
hunting each other down the cliffs and canyons,
heavy with that sweet summer heat so slow and lazy
one can almost forget what we're killing--
sucking up resources like we're god's only children
replacing them with junk and promises.
But ancient footprints left in river-bottoms
and fossils in the stones write that we are not the first
to have faced extinction in this place.

We are just the first to have faced it in this way:
by our own hands
on the wheels of our own fortune
selling ourselves piece by piece: 
the land, the music, the love
trading grit and legend for fake castles and pre-fab housing
water and trees for high-rises and hotels.

Someday someone will write a song about us
sung low like the devil's own blues 
a palindrome where end meets beginning;
I can hear it already, flung out wildly
and perfectly off-key, belted by a songstress
with a whiskey-and-cigarettes voice
who is just getting her start
in the last rundown bar in old Austin.

KB © 4/19/14

Sent from my iPad

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Lullaby for a Tiger

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp? 

William Blake (from Tyger! Tyger!)

I would like to have myself back
That jagged, obstinate inner self whose teeth
were something to be feared.

I would like to have myself back
and not this sense of sleepy disconnect
This brain smothered in plastic wrap that dulls
perception, that thwarts the electric haywire
of my thoughts, fills the deep troughs of melancholy
and shaves the tops off my highest mountains.

The drugs are a sludge that soften my sharp edges
and those were the edges that made me feel alive:
cut and bruised but alive. I could fly
from those edges to a vantage point never imagined
without the aid of insanity; could fall off them
into depths that darkened and drowned me.

But the sludge blurs, blends, turns down the noise.
Putting the drugs in my brain
is like putting pajamas on a tiger
tearing out its teeth and claws and swaddling the beast
in layers of pink fleece. Its heavy paws and howling mouth
stilled and silenced--a drowsy kitten, chirring for milk.

I would like to have myself back
That huge, roaring, hysterically laughing
unpredictably weeping self whose radar picked up
every nuance, every scrap of art and poetry from the world at large
and built a private universe from the remains.

I would like to have myself back
scars and stripes and broken bones and all
but I am choosing life, choosing a self
that will not self-destruct.
Putting the tiger to bed
until such time when tigers are needed
if that moment ever comes.

Sleep tight, beast.

KB © 4/14/2014

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Bull and China

I am full of sharp corners
and hidden stairways.
The place that houses me
is a maze of neurons
and synapses in perpetual misfire.
I have bumbled and raged
down every blind alley
a Minotaur misunderstood
bawling destruction and mayhem
one moment, and the next
singing the stars down from the night
sky, a mess of shining and strangeness.

Moody Minotaur, so stoked for battle;
the sword has not been made
that cleaves my heart.
Only isolation can do that.
A friendless night stuns me,
drives me back to the maze
and banishes the beast.
Sloping off into solitude
balling myself up under the stairs
or tiptoeing, cloven-hoofed
across the beams of the attic (creak/screak)
while in the dining room below
a family pauses at dinner to look up
and listen, their forks frozen halfway
to their mouths, their eyes
wide with wonder
while I breathe so softly--and wait
to hear the clatter of silverware
on china.

KB© 2/20/2014

Friday, February 7, 2014


February. This is the witching hour, the midwinter night, the edge of the road where the shoulder is soft and yielding and there is no guardrail. There is no pill I can take that will make February feel tame. No song that will sing it to sleep at night.

February is a mouthful of awkward.

The dog waits up with me while my mind paces. I can feel the mute kindness of his gaze, pulling at me; he wants attention, love, a chewy, to hear my voice, anything. But I am lost in the spin of my brain which makes no sound in the room but rises to a siren pitch in my ears. February. I can't say it out loud; the word twists from my lips, a fish flung aimless and flopping to the carpet, out of air. Out of time.

Strange; after all it is only that the planet has orbited the sun once more and has now kept my continent in shadow for a certain period of time. This is how things work. There is a solar system that connects to a galaxy that connects to a larger universe that doesn't give a fuck what happens to my brain in February. This is how things work. And this is also how they don't work, how chemistry begins to fail, and neurons and synapses cease to have the conversations they so vitally need to have.

February. There is no guardrail and the turns are uncertain and you must keep struggling to stay on the road. You must do all the right things. Sleep, eat, exercise, have friends. That is important--have friends. People who know.

But does anyone know about February?