Who has time to read letters anymore? Who has the audacity to really delve into the crevices of another’s soul?
I’ve been asking these questions to myself recently. Lately, I had forgotten the essence of why I had started these letters in the first place. I realize I hadn’t sent anything out in a while because I was feeling like I had to put together something profound or funny or super useful, and was putting unnecessary pressure on myself to create a product that would be worthy or important enough for my friends.
Looking back, though, this whole thing started so organically and simply. It began with just one person, a modern pen pal [shout out to Debie =)], a beautiful person that endured one of the most stressful work situations in life with me, and helped me carry the burden of guiding a severely fragmented kid with a rare physical and mental disorder. He also had a particularly tough home life and upbringing.
Debie was the case manager, the teacher of the student, and I was bestowed the title of behavioral specialist, whatever the hell that means. But apparently I played the part really well, at least from the viewpoint of the school and parent and staff, and I happened to really connect with the kid, although we were mostly in an isolated and somewhat illegal setting, even as we were within the confines of a relatively good public school.
Debie and I started writing each other after I had left the case and moved back to LA. For her, it was a way to feel heard, remain sane, and connected. For me, it was mostly the same, though a hint of what motivated me was a sense of curiosity and grounding that I often get when reading the thoughts of another person in their most honest form.
This kid that we were responsible for was a sensitive and creative child, and I felt that the parts of his brain dealing with stress-regulation, empathy, and instinctual safety (flight/fight etc.) were over-active and unabated, and were constantly vying against him. This showed up in extravagant ways – in an almost exorcist-like way his body and face would contort as he completely unhinged from this plane of reality and channeled a rage I had never seen in another 9 year old. It was so hard for him to control that switch, and it definitely took a toll on his body and psyche. What a harsh way to endure childhood.
I had to be intensively creative just to weather the school day and make sure everyone was okay and safe (he had a tendency to react quite violently to anything that off-set his emotional equilibrium). This happened almost daily, and affected the rest of the children in the class whenever we tried to integrate him for an hour or so each day. I had to follow his every footstep, acting like a human safety net, always within 2-3 feet of him, even when he was on the playground apparatus. This made for shitty hide-and-seek sessions.
I quickly learned that I couldn’t relate to the kid in a typical way. I had to delve into his world, connecting with him through simple metaphors in an almost fairy-tale like fashion. I created this character called Buku, an ethereal, magical bird that could warp time and space and was able to create the most delightful carnivals in an instant. Whenever I switched to this character, the child was immediately compliant. He couldn’t risk away a chance to fly back to Buku’s world and spend the rest of the school day creating and sharing and playing with him.
This idea worked like a behavioral opiate, but not in the sense that an actual opioid takes over an addict’s body. No, all I did was meet the child in his own world – or rather, the world of the child and Buku – and spoke their native language: play, reciprocity, respect. We expanded the middle circle of our Venn diagram through the everyday graces of a fictional character. The child reacted simply and viscerally, like any kid does to a well-crafted fairytale. Like any of us respond to fun, profound archetypes. These characters have the ability to make us feel warm and safe and cool to be human, even if we have to face mundane reality again a moment later.
When we brave the unknown and find the will and courage to act from a place of real honesty, compassion, and conviction – we’ll see that magic will be found on its own terms. It’s as easy and utterly difficult as it sounds – to remain faithful to the moment, to trust ourselves, and to practice kindness whenever possible.
Some of you I haven’t seen in many years, but every so often would tell me that you’re receiving these words. Sometimes that’s all we need – a reminder, a digital nod telling us that the brief or annual or every-day-for-7-years type of contact had enough of an impact on our memory and emotion to keep us curious about each other.
Many of you I met recently, and just through a moment’s interaction I knew we were connected, even in the smallest of ways. Some of you have been with me a very long time, and your correspondence (or even your silence) gives me joy, filling me with a new sense of peace each time. I can literally hear your voice and feel the energy of your words in your responses.
In whatever case, I think it’s beautiful that we are all connected and are somehow influencing each other through a giant webwork of collected thoughts. We’re not in random disarray, but are woven together through the tapestry of this digital space, even if for a tiny moment in time. And to think it all stemmed from a simple conversation…
I’ll close this letter by sharing with you some thoughts that I’ve been having, written in a more stream-of-consciousness kind of blurb:
When the inspiration runs out, it’s time to witness its expiration – not, as we often utter, in the literal sense of the term, in that our time or resources or powers have been depleted, but in the way that we beseech towards a being or thing beyond us, to a wellspring beneath the borders of our humanity, towards that which can restore the thinning string on our soul’s pendulum, which clings onto life to nourish our every breath.
I do art so I can live with some form of dignity still left inside. I write. I create melodic utterances that match the hummingbird arrhythmias of my heart – those witty blurbs from our innermost space that claims the divine for just the briefest of time. I cleanse and restore, again and again, before I break down once more. I make love, sometimes as penance to lifetimes of unbridled passion, holding together our lust and our holiest of holies, especially when that rare inamorata gleams in my hungry eyes, leaving my body and being in pure surrender.
I feel a profound urge to preserve and water that seed, but as soon as I feel as if I might understand her – the muse, the nectar of inspiration – she disappears from my grasp like an apparition of imagination.
Perhaps this is why I was taught, by what or whom I don’t know, to be humble, to dock and anchor the flail of the showboat, to refrain from shaking the colors of our own peacock feathers. I have applied this virtue to all aspects of my life, often in the most unbefitting of ways, unwittingly holstering my greatest gift, in a crude, tragic irony of the modern man.
But I often had trouble keeping my pride at bay. Like, who would willingly give themselves up to their captors? Could we really delay our most primal form of gratification that far out into the psychic distance? (Turns out, we’re all just as narcissistic as the next person. You know, the one who owns mirrors in her home?).
I know I must balance with this corner of self, the part that lusts after the affirmation of its own existence, that pesky allure of acceptance and adoration, the pull of requited sexual magnetism that polarizes every crevice of my body, causing the pillars of my heart to surrender in worship and awe and in supplication of something simple, unassuming, and sublime.
But I’ve learned, through much heartache and ecstasy, that we’re all gifted this burden, at least until its seed can germinate beyond the limits of its own flesh, finally bursting into infinite pieces, so that it may rest alongside, or perhaps nested within, its creator. But the last remaining scaffold, the final layer of the temporary self, the crutches that hold up our core identity until it can fully form and mature, is this ego, this fractured and fragile and magnificent shell of our authentic Self. And I must confess, feeding its appetite can feel so stupefying and delicious – almost as liberating as watching its layers dissolve before my very eyes.
This whole thing is supposed to teach me something, as they say. As if life is really just a school – one big joke – that provides the harsh tutelage of this corporeal journey, delivering lesson after lesson to us. Then when do we get to don our caps and gowns and march to the beat of pomp and circumstance? To what pretense are we supposed to yearn after? Will it serve us during the times we’re lost and broken?
We’re forced to quell these common fears, from the harrowing depths of such moments, and say a prayer from the tips of each one of our docile fingers – that is, to say, that we have 10 mantras affirming the existence of God who can help us wield enough courage and inspiration to even the most mundane corners of our heart. And here, she comes, like a sassy headmaster cracking the whip on her naïve students, showing us her most human parts.
Turns out, God is evolving at the same time we are. As soon we accept this, we realize it isn’t so scary. It feels so fucking good, actually, like when we brave the initial shock! of that icy cold shower and feel the surge of endorphins rushing through the tiny rivers of blood inside our body. That, is what humility really is – to surrender to something beyond but simultaneously contained within you. In a way, in every way, it is you.
Sending love to All.