Cool It, People


Lately, I’ve had a few adults (and I say adults like I’m not one because they’re my parents’ age and also because I refuse to grow up) make sassy and inappropriate comments about my appearance. “Oh my goodness, what have you done to your hair? And you’ve got things in your nose!” When I hear these comments, I never quite know how to react, so I default to laughing a little and sort of ignoring the fact that I was just insulted tremendously by someone who should know better.

Maybe I should put them in their place, say, “Listen, sister, you better cool it because that’s rude and you’re clearly an ignorant moron.” Maybe I should forget everything I’ve ever learned and believed about nonviolence and just throw a glass of wine in their face — glass included. But today I’ve decided to just have a mini-rant on the internet because that’s what feels necessary. A little bebe PSA on how to act, because you’re an adult, and you know what you say is hurtful.

Yes, I choose to look this way. I choose to dye my hair and pierce my nose and have tattoos. But other people have a choice, too. They can either accept me for the way that I am, or judge me for what they see on the surface. They can choose to actually explore the creativity and kindness I have to offer the world, or they can — through willful ignorance — decide that they don’t care to expend any effort by getting to know me.

I’m pretty tame looking, if we’re being honest. I know people with so many tattoos and piercings you barely know what color their skin was originally. It takes all kinds of people to make this world as gorgeous as it is, and for people to expect everyone to look and act just like them is pretty unrealistic and frankly a little ridiculous. People are going to have to get used to seeing colored hair and piercings and style choices that they don’t like, because welcome to real life — things change. People don’t wear corsets and wigs anymore, thank goodness. Styles and tastes progress.

I think the most important thing to take away is this: if you see someone and you decide you don’t like their hair or their clothes or their septum piercing or their massive leg tattoo, get over it. Choose to not get a tattoo for yourself, but don’t put others down for their personal choices. Those choices are some of the few that will literally never hurt you personally — my nose piercing impacts zero percent of your life. Don’t get one yourself, sure — it would be pretty weird to see everyone wandering around with septum piercings and mooing like cows — but shut the hell up about mine.

I’m proud of myself for being an individual. I’m glad I don’t look like every other 21 year old white girl on this planet. I’m happy that when I walk out my door I do it with integrity and don’t try to pretend to be someone I’m not. As long as we’re all expressing our true selves, I say rock on. And if you’ve got an issue with that, go complain about it to someone else.

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Mating Rituals


My roommate fed me a cheese curd from Dairy Queen earlier today and I told her I loved her because…cheese. She just stuck it right in my mouth cuz she loves me, and now the feeling is mutual. Then…then she uttered the funniest, truest thing I’ve heard all week:

“Before you mate with the wild Cappy, gently feed her cheese curds. Don’t be too aggressive or you might scare her off.”

She’s right. I like to be fed cheese gently. Take notes, fellas.

On Diwali: Glorious, Magical, Bittersweet


Only the best restaurant I've ever eaten at in Bangalore.

Only the best restaurant I’ve ever eaten at in Bangalore.

It’s Diwali, and with that comes so much light and love and happiness for me as a Hindu. I continually learn about elements of my faith with each passing holiday, so I always have a hard time explaining Diwali to other people, but the most beautiful thing for me about Hinduism is that I feel it deep in my soul. I understand it there first, and then in my head. That doesn’t always sit well with others, but its what makes Hinduism mine. It’s why I am Hindu and not Jain or Sikh or Muslim or Jewish or anything else. I am inherently Hindu, deep through my core, and it bursts out of me in the most glorious ways. I am a human representation of the physical aspect of Diwali.

I am drawn, like that cliche moth to its mother flame, toward the light and love that Diwali represents, both in the material and spiritual worlds. But as I celebrate, I miss my mother. I miss India. I miss my spirit’s home. Hinduism and India, in my heart, are one.

So many things have reminded me of Bangalore this past week, even before I began celebrating the festival of light. My roommate bought a new hand soap that I’d used while I was in Bangalore, and every time I wash my hands I feel like crying a little as the scent reminds me of my time there. I watched a few videos of people celebrating Diwali in New Delhi and Bombay and once again felt like crying as I saw the trees wrapped in the most fluorescent lights known to mankind. I miss seeing those everywhere at night, simultaneously blinding and entrancing me. When I was in Bangalore, those lights comforted me even as I felt like dying from E. coli or homesickness for America, and remembering that they exist makes me want to jump aboard the nearest plane and endure 20 hours of air travel just so I can see them again.

India is magic. I miss the old men, laughing louder than I’d ever heard anyone laugh before, burping after they ate a good meal, looking at me like I was just a silly child when I got confused about directions. I miss rickshaws, those sassy little vehicles that simultaneously inspired terror and joy as they careened throughout the narrow side-streets. I miss women touching my blonde hair and telling me I was so tall. Mangoes. Everyone laughing at me. With me.

But in the same breath that I call India magical, I must also call it devastating. The duality of India is not lost on me: rich and poor living directly next to each other. Beggar children with no shoes standing atop piles of trash. Cattle wandering aimlessly, without owners or protection. Wild dogs, all of them with at least one injured limb, begging for food. Rabid. Begging. India begs, often without pride or ego, with the most desperate voice. It’s not something anyone can easily forget or ignore.

But it’s like a lover you can never leave behind. India. She appears in my dreams, calling out, begging me to return. And oh god, I would oblige if I only could. I don’t think I’d ever wept before, but I weep now for my companion. India is a physical representation of my god, my religion, the spirituality I feel deep within. And I need her now more than ever.

Diwali is glorious, shining, happy. I will celebrate and pray and love, of course, because this holiday is perfect. But this year, it is also tinged with sadness as I experience a longing for the home I never truly grew up in, wishing teleportation would hurry up and invent itself, because I’m homesick.

Henrietta


henrietta letters

Oh yeah, and I got some pretty sweet cat salt and pepper shakers, too. You’re welcome.

I’d never liked antiquing before — my mother half-dragging me around rooms full of musty nonsense that nobody wanted, my feet tired, my nose stinging a little from all that dust and “history.” History in quotes, of course, because much of it seems to be weird plastic crap from the 1970s that got tossed out of someone’s basement and somehow landed in a shop dubbed as an “antique.” But my family took a trip to a little town on the river and found an amazing shop with proper, beautiful antiques. Vases, gorgeous old pipes, well-preserved powder blue suitcases, lamps, a strangely huge collection of salt and pepper shakers and finally…a stack of old letters spanning from 1913 to 1935 chronicling the life of Henrietta, a woman from California whose husband died of influenza in 1918, whose children grew up and sent her postcards from their trips throughout the state, whose sister and disabled brother sent her darling letters, drawings, and times tables. My favorite envelope simply contains a newspaper clipping of a burned-down building, with the words “our old playgrounds are ruined” in thick pencil-scrawled cursive.

I hadn’t written or been inspired to write since I left India. Life has felt like a blur, and a not-so-pleasant one at that, since I returned. I miss my life in Bangalore, miss the way people treated me and loved me and randomly took photos with me, miss the bizarre hole-ridden sidewalks and too-strong milk in bags, miss the food (oh, the food), miss rickshaw rides through monsoons. I often find myself up at night wishing I were back there, even though I love being home in the states, where it’s actually quiet at night and I don’t have to wear long pants in 90 degrees with 80% humidity. I’m glad I don’t have E. coli anymore, which finally ended its long romp inside my intestines after 4 weeks of the most impressive diarrhea imaginable. But I want to go back. It’s particularly hard because I was supposed to be there for 10 weeks and left after 4 instead, so in my mind I’m supposed to be there, not here doing yard work at 7 a.m. or living in the country with only a few friends around. I got used to never being alone, always having something to look at or taste or laugh about (so many goats), and writing is such a solitary activity that I think I’ve been avoiding it.

But then…Henrietta. Henrietta has a story to tell, and I’ve been researching her family tree and census records, trying to get a timeline so I can imagine her life and recreate it on paper. She came to me on old, yellowed paper, wrapped in a pink ribbon, and it’s my job, my duty even, to do her justice. You’ll see the results. Not tomorrow, maybe not next year, but someday you’ll meet Henrietta.

Many thanks to my reader Hans, whose kind words and constant reassurance always add a little joy to my day! (Basically, he was like “Why don’t you write anymore” and I was like “Good question” and that was like…that.)

God Bless You All (Day 3)


Religion in India is a way of life, and the people here practice it with an intensity I’ve never experienced before in America. We went to a Catholic cathedral today and I was almost in tears because everyone there was so focused on their devotion. It was a truly beautiful thing to see. The churches are crowded at every moment of the day, and people sit in silence in front of the many statues, often touching Jesus’ feet or holding their hands toward Mary. These people seemed happy to see us in their place of worship — at first some of us worried we would be obtrusive or invading their sacred space, but when an old man came over and said kindly, “God bless you all” I felt like he truly meant it…it came from his heart. We took our shoes off at one area of the church where people were sitting on the floor praying in front of statues. I want to capture the beauty of these moments better but I realize I’m failing. Honestly, it was one of the most moving experiences of my life, and it had nothing to do with Jesus or Mary or the church’s beauty. It was all because these people feel their religion so deeply, so wholly, that I couldn’t help but feel it too.

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We went to a Sikh Gurdwara later in the day, where we removed our shoes, washed our feet, and covered our heads before entering. The women sit at one side and the men at the other, and we sat on the floor for most of the time. I wasn’t sure exactly what was happening at first, but I realized the man and woman at the front were wearing clothes of matching fabrics and…we’d stumbled into a wedding ceremony. We were welcomed warmly by everyone, and were given some sort of food at the end of the ceremony which I still can’t really identify, but it was a paste of some kind and tasted amazing. I seriously have no idea what was going on that whole time, but I felt a lovely calm in the room. Everything was so bright and beautiful — the gold, the chandeliers, the light, the people. I’ve learned more and connected more by silently observing for the past few days than I ever did back at home blabbering away with other people.

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What I’ve found most of all is that religion is most people’s support system in this country. When you’re born into a religion, you form bonds with the other people at your temple/church/mosque and are supported for life. If you need food, you receive food. If you need help paying for school, you receive help. If you need a place to stay in another city, often the temple/church/mosque will provide it for free or at little cost. And these people spend an amazing amount of time at their places of worship. We’re lucky in America if people make it to church once a week for an hour, but these people come for hours and hours, often multiple times a week. It truly is the backbone of their lives. And the amount of charity work done by most of these places is absolutely essential in this country, because the amount of poor and destitute Indians is so overwhelming that help from these large congregations is probably what keeps a lot of them alive.

The silent beauty radiating from these places is too much for words, but I think it really has changed my life forever. I’ve been practicing Hinduism for the past few years all by myself, because there isn’t a temple nearby at all, and I think I’ve missed out on the bonds and support I could’ve received. Hopefully someday I’ll find my place, but for now I’ll have to be my own temple. I look forward to going to Hindu temples here, because I know it will fill me in a way I’ve not yet experienced.

First Impressions


…aka a whole bunch of babbling about this beautiful, crazy city. I sent my family an email and figured instead of writing a new post, I’d just post parts of it here (lightly edited for clarification purposes) because I’m exhausted and it’s only 8 pm. The sun sets here around 6:30, so…it’s hard to stay up super late because we feel like it’s so late already.

Jet lag hasn’t really been a problem, which I’m surprised about. My sister always takes like a week to adjust, and her husband does too. Even one of the girls in the program who has travelled extensively said she’s surprised none of us are too jet lagged because usually she just sleeps for like a day or two when she arrives in Europe. So I guess we’re lucky! Or maybe we’ll feel it tomorrow? Haha…who knows.
It’s gorgeous here — I love the trees, they’re super tropical looking. There’s one kind that looks kiiiiinda like a jacaranda but with less blossoms that’s so gorgeous. They have bright orange/red blossoms and every time I see one I feel so happy. :)
I think mostly the weirdest/most different part is all the trash on the streets and sides of the roads. It’s everywhere, and people sit in trash heaps sometimes and pick through it. There’s also a lot of cow dung on the sidewalks that you have to avoid (it smells so bad!) and cows just chill on the side of the road really peacefully. There are donkeys too. The cars barely even slow down when people cross the street, but when cows cross the streets every single car comes to a complete stop and waits for the cow to cross, because they’re sacred here and slaughtering them is illegal, etc. They’re really beautiful animals — I don’t think I’d ever realized how massive they are.
You have to look down almost all the time when you walk because there are often huge holes in the sidewalk and if you fell in you’d seriously hurt yourself because they’re several feet deep and usually filled with icky water. We also live across the road from the open sewer-river thingy and it smells pretty bad but…honestly I’ve already gotten pretty used to the fact that everything here just smells a little bit decomposed. Sometimes I walk by shops that smell like incense and stop for a minute to cleanse my nose :)
Most of the people here are very dark skinned and pretty short, with rounder features than Europeans. They definitely seem tiny compared to me and a couple of the other people in the group, and when we bought a few clothes yesterday I didn’t fit in many tops because everyone here has narrow shoulders and really small chests, whereas I don’t. But the pants are all long enough, and I found a nice tunic. We have to wear a chulidar  (tunic and pants with a headscarf) to the temples, and our heads have to be covered in those. Whenever you buy pants or a chulidar outfit they give you a matching headscarf, so I have two now. The clothes here are so diverse for the women, it’s hard not to stare at the women because they’re all so beautifully dressed and I always want their outfits! Hahaha. Even the poor women typically look really nice in their clothes — appearance/nice clothes are really important to them here. If they have nice clothes but they’re badly wrinkled, etc they’d almost rather not even go outside.
We went down one street today that had more beggars than usual, but there were only like 4 or 5. Usually they have children, too, and they follow you for a bit because they assume all americans are very rich, but unfortunately we just have to walk by. I want to help, but I can’t really do much for them and hopefully they’ll find luck elsewhere. It’s hard seeing the really poor children, though, because you know they’re likely to be poor all their lives. It’s more common up north to see people begging in commercial areas. Here there are some slums nearby and I’m sure those are more devastating than anything I’ve seen yet, but there’s much less poverty here in Bangalore, whereas up north there are more people, less space, less education etc…
There have been a few womens shelters though that we’ve walked by, and a YWCA with free counseling and I think cheap housing for working women, which is really nice. This city is pretty progressive for India, and they have a school for “spastics” as they call them here that I think we’re gonna tour because it’s a pretty big deal here to educate them instead of forcing them to be destitute. We met one man yesterday who is getting his PhD who has a developmental disability and was so lovely, and he goes to that school so we will see him again. He was so happy to see us :) We’re required to do several hours of community service/volunteering here at a non-governmental institution, so I might look into helping at the womens shelter. I’m not sure yet.
Everyone here is so friendly at the university, and they smile a lot when they talk and are typically very pleasant. They also bobble their heads a lot which is so lovely. It’s a side to side motion that is SO adorable and endearing, and they say it when they agree with you or as “ok” or just when they’re talking and want to make a point.
Almost everyone here speaks English, unless they’re very poor, because there are over 20 languages in the whole of India (here it’s kannada) and not everyone speaks Hindi (it’s more common in the north) but people are from so many places that their only common language is English. I’m pretty sure almost all classes here are taught exclusively in English, because we’re allowed to sit in on psychology classes etc, which I think I will do.
Everyone in the program is so happy to be here and has a real passion for India. We all wanted to come here to be outside of our comfort zone, and we all have different things we loved about India that we came for. Our apartment is nice sized, and we have a nice living room (with a fridge in it haha) and a water purifier so we don’t have to boil all our water. We have a bathroom in our room and the shower is just a shower head like a foot away from the toilet…the entire bathroom is essentially the shower, and then you get the whole room wet when you bathe haha. It’s actually really nice. I’ve taken basically cold showers every time so far because it gets so muggy. I think typically people here fill up a big bucket and then scoop water onto themselves, so I did that today because our drain was a little clogged and I wanted to try it. I actually think I might bathe that way a lot here — it was really easy and nicer than using a ton of water to shower.
We live in a “suburb” of Bangalore, Koramangala, and even though it’s outside of the main city of Bangalore it seems so huge. We walk about 45 minutes to the university, but there are lots of places to eat and shop nearby which is nice. I haven’t taken an auto-rickshaw yet but I will soon. That will be a whole new adventure!
I still have to get used to how many people stare at us when we walk around. They just love to look at us…we’re “exotic” which is something I’d never experienced before. I was surprised, though, because people set up stands on the side of the road to sell fruit or shoes, but they never shout out at you to buy their goods. They just sit patiently and wait for you to come to them, which is really nice and less overwhelming.
The cars honk ALL the time, mostly just to let you/other cars know they’re there. People ride lots of motorcycles here and weave in and out of traffic, so sometimes they zoom up on you out of nowhere while you’re walking. But strangely I never feel afraid here. They truly live without fear, and I think I’ve accidentally adopted that. Caution, yes. Fear, no. You just walk out in front of traffic when you need to cross the street, and the cars/busses etc slow down but normally don’t stop. You just have to keep walking at a steady pace — don’t run — and you’re fine. It’s always a minor triumph every time we successfully cross the street, and we’ve gotten really good at it, even on big 4-6 lane streets.
Don’t worry Mom, we’re all ok :) It’s very normal here.
I haven’t gotten sick yet — I’m expecting to, as are we all, but so far it’s been ok. They eat heavy meals in the morning, lighter lunch, light dinner. It’s strange to eat spicy food in the morning, but also really delicious. I had a butter masala dosa (kinda like a rice pancake with mushed potato, onions and spices that you dip in a sauce) this morning. I ate it all with my right hand and was so proud of myself :) I also had fresh mango juice (more like a puree) that was so amazing I thought I might cry. Mangoes are in season for one more week — once the monsoon season starts they all rot and don’t make it to market. I plan to stock up soon because MANGOES ARE MY EVERYTHING.
All my love from India! xo

I’m Still Alive


In case y’all were worried, I’m still alive! But I have had an exciting two weeks, so here it goes!

1. I hate faxing. I have spent at least 15 dollars in the past week faxing paperwork to my doctor, my study abroad program office, and the other university I had to be “accepted” to in order to receive credit for studying abroad. I hate faxes. I thought faxes had ended in 1985, and even though my mom faxes stuff all the time for work, I hate it. I hate it because I have to go to the student union, get ripped off by a grumpy asshole who doesn’t even look at my face while we exchange money for services, and…basically, faxing is stupid and I will never change my mind on that.

2. I also hate paperwork. Do y’all know how much paperwork is involved in going to India? From disclosing where my tattoos are located because the university in India won’t allow any of my tattoos to show while on campus to reading about the chances of me getting malaria and rabies while I’m there, I’ve gone through so many documents I’m surprised my head hasn’t exploded.

3. There is a mouse in my house. First it was ants crawling all over my food, and now apparently it’s a mouse. At first, I felt badly about potentially killing it because I have this idea that it’s wrong to punish a wild animal for existing in this space that I have designated as “mine” even though the little mouse isn’t aware of these rules I’ve made up…anyway, it started pooping on top of my fridge and I quickly changed my mind. I am not about to get some sort of disease from this rodent (I named him Ralph and he has a white tummy) no way no how. I am living the real-life version of Mouse Hunt and I will vanquish him. 

4. Guys, there’s still a mouse in my apartment. I think what bothers me most is that I was dusting my living room table and once it was clean I turned away for about 5 minutes before turning around and…is that mouse poo on my table? The sneaky bastard is an acrobat, I swear, and I started screaming at an invisible ghost-mouse for about 3 minutes while alone and waving my arms around like a madwoman. 
What really gets me, though, is the fact that he pooped about 3 inches away from one of my mouse traps, like he was taunting me…

Anyway, I have 4 weeks left in this terrible basement hut and then I’m off to India, where the bugs are no doubt gigantic and where I’m supposed to look out for wild dogs with rabies and not drink the tap water or eat “suspicious” meat, where there are guards outside my apartment complex and where I must remove all piercings except one in each ear lobe before going on campus. Where I will be riding around in 3 wheeled auto-rickshaws and getting the chance to feed an elephant, where I will be working with underprivileged children and taking classes on Hinduism and holy places in India. Where I will meet beautiful people and explore my soul and wear colorful clothes and where I will be so absolutely happy that any memory of this demon mouse will feel far in the past. 

I’m so pleased.

Stars


It looked something like this, only a little less sparkly. It was better. Because I was looking at it with my eyeballs.

It looked something like this, only a little less sparkly. It was better. Because I was looking at it with my eyeballs. Also, there was a moon involved.

I’m not entirely sure who decided to call movie stars “movie stars.” They are people who act in movies. They are in no way comparable to actual stars, and I decided this tonight while I was on a quick walk around my block (the walk was quick because it was very cold and I had not anticipated quite how chilly it would be).

I looked up at the sky tonight, y’all. This shouldn’t be that big of a deal, only I realized while I was looking up that…I never do that. I don’t even remember when the last time I stopped and looked at the night sky, honestly. But it was so brilliant. I don’t think looking at stars will ever get old for anyone. Ever.

There was a moon, and some stars, and it’s not exciting to describe but…the moon was so glowy and the stars, though sparse, were absolutely luminous. That’s one of the perks of living in the country: there’s not so much light pollution to cover up the stars. I wonder what it would’ve looked like in the days of the cavemen when the stars shone through, unfiltered.

I wanted to take a picture, but there is no technology (at least that I can afford) that can capture what my eyeballs and my soul can. Because I think when you look at stars in person, there’s something that happens inside you…that little spot between your belly and your chest just glows, and it feels like it tries to reach up and touch the sky. I can’t take a picture of that. I can try to write about it, but even this barely does it justice since I keep saying things like “I looked at the sky and there were stars” which isn’t exactly poetic.

Anyway, it made me think that, even though I try to appreciate my surroundings whenever I think of it, I don’t think of it enough. It’s my March Resolution now: notice things more. It feels nice to see beauty.

Also, I’m listening to this right now and it’s making me feel so happy, and I think you should listen to it, too. A little folk-rock for a Friday evening. I had so many tests this week my brain is sliming out my ears, and I like to think this music is healing me.

The Rebirth


It’s been two years, either today or yesterday, since life meant very little to me. Two years since I broke and my mother had to take a plane at 6 a.m. to be with me, to keep me safe and protected. Two years since I started rebuilding.

I never expected any of that to happen, and I would honestly prefer that I hadn’t felt that much pain and suffering and absolute nothingness, because it’s the absolute worst, so don’t start thinking it was a positive experience at the time. But I also know I would not be who I am today without those horrible experiences.

“Everything happens for a reason” is an obnoxiously common saying, and usually I think it’s a bit of a cop out, a way to distance ourselves from pain and confusion. But in a different way, perhaps a more subtle one, I believe it. Life is one long chain of events, each tiny action creating reactions and waves. It’s not just that I wouldn’t attend this particular university on this career path with these friends; it’s that I, as I exist in this moment, would not exist. I wouldn’t understand my inner self in the same way (in fact, that inner self would be very different indeed) and I would not have the same outlook on life that I do right now.

That other person, that child who existed pre-December 2011, would have been lovely too, and I know that wherever she exists — perhaps in an alternate universe — she is absolutely striking. But she is not who I was meant to become.

I’m so happy with who I am and the path I have chosen. Something inside me — some slumbering beast of peace — awoke two years ago and has been struggling to the forefront of my consciousness ever since. I surprise myself lately, in the most exciting and breathtaking way, by how at peace I feel. Every discovery I have made — in Hinduism, in my daily life, in understanding myself — existed in that beast and absolutely exploded into being these past few months.

I am so perfectly flawed and so determined to work through the knots I hold inside, and I honestly gasp sometimes when I realize…I am fulfilling this destiny of sorts. I am becoming me. I never realized I didn’t know who I was until I met myself — I wasn’t lost until I was found.

I will question “why me” in the future, I’m sure, when something terrible happens and I feel broken again. But never again will I look to the past and see tragedy; it was only opportunity of the most brutal nature that allowed me to feel so utterly free.

This earth is so much, so gorgeous, so overwhelming. Sometimes I drink it in and realize I can’t stop and I drown a little, blinking into the sun and choking on the cold. I remember a time when even the heaviest downpours felt like nothing, just another burden to bear. Now, I welcome the sleet as another excuse to feel every nerve in my body vibrate.

“Namaste:” the light in me greets the light in you. Now I have found my inner light.

An Ode to a Pencil


Silver-grey lines
become wisps, spirits
like seagull wings in flight
capturing impermanent
imperfect
rushes of ideas, which
to me are more stunning than final drafts.

You are worth more
than bubbles on answer sheets,
short essays in high school.
You deserve to become
a novel
a love note
a sonnet
poetic devices stretched out along blue horizons.

You should be bowed to,
your wooden soul propped on a pedestal
and worshipped by the meek
for they shall inherit the earth
one silver-grey line at a time.

I’m gonna read this aloud tonight, y’all. It’s the perfect embodiment of everything I feel when I write, and it needs to be spoken. So tonight, at a burrito joint downtown, the world will hear my ode to a pencil. xoxo