to be nineteen and embodied


apr 21: sharing this strange body

sharing can take the edge off strangeness. a friend bears witness to the strangeness, and can hold it, because out of context, it is not so wobbly and sharp. and you see, oh: this strangeness is holdable. and you think, oh — maybe i can hold it, too.

sometimes you just need that recognition.

he is familiar with my skin prickling up, and with the tightening in my shoulders. he is familiar with the ways i turn and tense when overwhelmed, and all the situations that overwhelm me. he is familiar with my shallow breaths, and with my deep ones. and while he does not understand in full the reactions of this body of mine — well, no one does. certainly i do not.

sometimes this incomprehension would disconcert me. i appreciate this dear body, but i am also confused by her and frustrated with her. she reacts in strange ways: she is often strange to me. and i would find myself upset, that the me who has gone on all these adventures, who has spent so much time present with herself, is so unpredictable and inexplicable to herself. and the thinking turns and it turns and it turns on itself; and there’s such fertile ground for uneasiness and insecurity.

but all that has faded. it’s not so wobbly, not so sharp, any more.

i tell him another piece of the strange. and he nods his head, not because he understands this particular, but because he understands there will be inexplicable particulars. and he holds it, respecting the strangeness, but not concerned by it. it is the posture i have been teaching myself to hold, but to see it practiced helps. the posture solidifies, just a little more; and a little more, i learn to hold, carefully but assuredly, myself.


may 28: glittering

a scanning within me. like waves sent through me, and i am absorbing and not absorbing; like radiation. there’s no fancy machine but you can tell that my insides are shimmering, that my nerves are electric and fried. i am wavering as if embodied in an unsteady transmission, stable enough that i seem solid, stable enough that i am solid, but being solid doesn’t mean i’m not also buzzing and unreal. there’s a strange shaking inside of me, tiny vibrations muted in this solid, tender body of mine, and i can sense the resistance inside of me, the strange resistance.

when there is an imperceptible glittering inside of you, all those little tasks that usually take no energy and no mind-space start to shine: mountain or molehill, it is an incline. walking over to the dresser. reaching for the bottle of sunscreen. shutting the bathroom door. putting your left foot into your left shoe. so you take deep breaths and say nice words and cajole yourself into moving forward, and you try not to think too hard about the resistance inside of you. and it works. somewhere within your thinking — the decisions that you pretend and the decisions that you mean; resolutions hollow or genuine; till finally you find yourself doing something, anything at all — come all these signals through neuromuscular junctions and all these muscle contractions and all this movement.

i’ve gotta say, i don’t think i’ve ever properly willed a sodium ion influx or a calcium ion diffusion. i’ve gotta say, i don’t know if i’ve ever properly willed anything at all.

there is a quivering inside of me, there is a somatic resistance inside of me, and sometimes i have to face the fact that even if i am radically free, i am also biological, i am also psychological. sometimes it scares me and sometimes i glitter.


jul 6: my body calls for change

spend the day crying intermittently. don’t pretend everything is okay. i’m here and i’m low but at least i’m still feeling. — better than last time. i’m still whole.

a day of deep breaths and slow movements. take a walk. try to feel normal again. activity helps. read a children’s book you loved when you were young. sew some hexagons and listen to your older sister’s music from 2015. try to release some of the tension your body is still gripping. relax.

it works. a day; a soft day. i have so much respect for this body of mine. i will listen when she has something important to tell me. i know her patterns, now; i am not incomprehensible to myself. i will take my body seriously. i will take myself seriously.

some experiences spark you to contemplation: they direct your thinking. but i’d already had the experience that directed my thinking in this way. i already knew what it is i would have learned. still— there was a shift inside me, today. a shift in feeling, rather than thinking; a shift in conviction, rather than opinion. a shift in priorities. i’m sweet on my way to behavioral change.

it is evening, and i am proud of myself, that i remained intact this whole day long. i am aware of the wholeness of myself more than ever; and i can feel hope radiating through me.


jul 13: getting my body back

“her unfinished right hand reaches back and touches her left wrist, as if to confirm the physical reality of her flesh.” - museum label for jean-auguste-dominique ingres’s study for “roger freeing angelica” (1818).

i feel like my nervous system has been rearranged. every sensation softer, richer; less electric. it is a striking difference.

i keep noticing how newly solid and organic my body feels. i wipe the sleep out of my eyes, and the way my index finger feels against the bridge of my nose is different. i scratch my ankle or my jaw, and the way my nails feel against my skin is different. there’s novelty in the repose. when i am alone, i sometimes have found myself running my fingertips along my forearms or chin or the back of my neck, or gripping my wrists or knees or upper arms; just in wonder at the calm of the sensation. i feel like some siren-circuit in me has been quieted. i had forgotten what it feels like to be embodied in this way.

there’s a memory i have, from summers and summers ago, of a kiss on the back of my hand. it was a saturday afternoon, and we were young, and his lips were soft. — something slow and light and genuine. i remember how the gesture felt: so tender; and myself steady.

at times in the last year, i have struggled to understand that memory. i have struggled to understand how i was embodied, then, to have felt that steadiness and tenderness and sweetness. but, with this change — i understand, now; i understand, again.


aug 21: bodies at the why? concert

a shirt, brushing against the back of my arm; and the fabric is light, lightweight; i haven’t felt the solidity of his body; yet the fabric is warm; warm because he is a body radiating heat. we don’t make eye contact. but i know where his body is and i know it is warm; know these things in my arms.

there’s a scent i have loved for years and i’m smelling it now. i can’t figure out where it is coming from; there are so many bodies here; but it doesn’t matter, i just feel happy; happy just to smell it.

i forget how much bodies matter to me. my body; many bodies; in the crowd.

this summer, i have reckoned with this body of mine. have tried to inhabit her. cared so fiercely about feeling the muscles inside of me. learned to hold her as more precious. i don’t want to hold stress in my body, the way i have; and i am learning to attend to that space between the emotional and the physical. it has been good work; important work. but here now a reminder; that we all are embodied; that embodiment is not just a way of being inside myself; and how rich experience can be, that we all are embodied. — i am aware of the bodies of the people around me.

i walk home and the summer night is quiet and warm and i think of holding his hand; think of his body, close to mine.

to be nineteen and not in love


feb 17: ontological support of sinewy care

i miss feeling the care that pressed up under my ribcage. bones and muscle and skin —gentle and insistent. the kind of care that asked something of me — a kind of care that grounded me.

its requests were real, and they were heavy, but they were not obtrusive: how could they obtrude, when the whole complex of feelings and reasons was already inside of me, gathered up in the soft tissue of my interior? it was like he wasn’t entirely outside of me, anymore. however he would react, whatever he would choose to do — his feeling was already resting in my abdomen. (—pressing, soft.) i have never known tenderness so genuinely as i did with him.

to be well-matched, to share. if i did not understand him, i embraced him; if he did not understand me, he embraced me. i was supporting; i was being ontologically supported. it always surprised me to find our built commons under that shallow-seeming symmetry.

after all this, it still feels like there’s a small, him-shaped lump in my liver. that the connection between us, made tenuous now by the long miles and silence between us, has not broken. and i wonder if time will wear it away; and i wonder what it would mean if time did not.

but this i know: there’s more reality to be built working in concert than working alone.


may 27: a sticky something in my heart

there’s a sticky something in my heart, and i wonder how he is.

some connections come to a rest. times of positive intensity; times of negative intensity; and finally a settling-out. a settling-out into nothingness. closure received; and the connection fades, everything fades. there’s spacial distance, and there’s temporal distance, and there you are, far away. having grown apart, now we grow, apart. it was a phase ended: and i promise that it is ended, i promise myself that it is ended.

but here these thoughts are, surfacing. i wonder how he is, and i wonder how his life is going. if he’s still just treading water, or if he finally caught up to these systems. systems of work and society and play that plug on and on, twisting and turning, inexorable; systems that can leave one baffled and hurt and hurting if one is out of sync with them. he was out of sync with them, before. — i wonder what life he has built for himself, and i wonder how he spends his time.

there’s a sticky something in my heart. all this wondering like gum stuck on the underside of a high school desk. — shameful and nasty but old enough at least that it no longer has a discernible scent; foreign to you yet crusted on, like it is part of you, now, although it is not. i never understood why people stick gum under desks. i guess, i don’t really understand myself, either.

months and months and months have passed, and it isn’t so much that i miss him, as that i miss knowing some piece of what was going on with him, so that i could care for him, and keep him in my heart. but that time has passed.


jul 22: however strange that love was

she kept asking what he meant to me. as though i would have an answer: as though the relationship were symbolic to its root. she was right to ask. i understood so at the time; i understood the question, and i asked it to myself, carefully, thoughtfully. it wasn’t clear how could i have ended up where i was at, if something in me wasn’t tending toward the uncomfortably literary. but i never had an answer for her.

within the manifold what-has-happened of course arose conceptual implications. about who he was; about what the space was, we built; about who i was, within that space; about who i was, in caring about him. i find that bundle of experience weaving its way into my thoughts now, often; as example, as touchpoint for sorting through this world. but whatever meaning i have scraped from the experience, that could be tagged with his name — it isn’t literary, and it isn’t what was motivating me then. it came after. it isn’t the core.

you don’t act because you have a reason: you act because of the reason itself.

this all is still strange to me. so much happened in those years that i can frame as me alone, engaged in a solitary project, trying to work through how i felt and how i was going to deal with it. it’s a palatable framing. — goes down easy. (even in the midst of it: the little i spoke of him, i spoke of him as though i were already distant, already done, already having accepted that i had been making a mistake.) little has too hard an edge, once you conceive of yourself as a psychological being.

i am psychological: but i am also alive and full of feeling. it would lack integrity to attend only to the distance, and not also to the intimacy.

so, fine — even if it was juvenile, doesn’t mean it wasn’t real. — it might not be the same care as what comes next: but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t important in itself. something was searing, something was vital.

felt like flesh on a frozen volleyball pole — so close it hurt.


aug 25: i wish it didn't have to be real

it was real with you, a year ago. it had become real. — somewhere along the line, you had become real to me.

i saw you. a sunday night — my heart was full; of emotions, bright and conflicting, all tangled together inside me. there was so much to bear. i did love you.

i lost patience with you, a year ago. i pushed back. spoke with an emphasis that must have been sharp. and you were surprised; and it was real. the bitterness surfacing in you was real, and my frustration was real. we were being real with each other. we all have our flaws.

a transformation out of the strange and pristine. it was really me, there with you. and as far as i can tell, it was you there with me, too. you told me you loved me, and i didn’t know what to do with your impression. we all have our flaws.

it was real when it was tense; and it was real when it was nighttime and we lay together in the darkness; and it was real when i wanted to tell you i would miss you but was struggling to get the words out. i don’t care that you didn’t know me, and i don’t care that i’m not sure i know you. — all of it was real, a year ago.

sometimes when i think of you, i wish it didn’t have to be real. the sweet, strange affection i felt for you; everything i thought about and learned. — i wish i could return to thinking about it as all being contained within me. a learning experience, rather than a relationship with a human being. and i hope so dearly that you have moved on from me, that you are in a better place, now; that you have settled. and i wish i could slink back into the shadows, invisible, with a young and tender fondness still in my heart.


sep 15: daydream on the grass

when i think of you, i think of us together, in comfortable silence.

it is the equilibrium point of my memory and imagination of you, i guess — that comfortable quiet. to be sitting or walking or reading with you, speaking little; but here and there catching your eye; or feeling your hand in my hand.

i think sometimes i say more than i mean, when i speak. i think sometimes i feel tired of myself and behind myself, when i try to articulate anything at all. it is a relief to think of not saying too much around you. i felt well-matched to you. — silly as it was, i felt well-matched to you.

it may be true that there were problems. it may be true that despite how little we spoke, still we said too much. and it may be true that keeping silence is just a way of hiding from oneself. yet here it is. there is a kind of relaxed embodiment of self i feel when i am alone; that i otherwise have only felt so purely, in moments with you.

it’s not so much that i miss you, as that i hold such moments with you, with fondness in my memory; like little forget-me-not flowers, blooming quiet-blue, stem between my fingertips.

to be nineteen and familiar with a place


may 7: night with alexander calder

after feeling empty, i feel full. take a walk outside in the darkness, and it’s sprinkling; and it feels like every raindrop splashes a freckle onto my face. on this drizzly night, i feel sun-kissed.

i miss the girl who was me two years ago with the same affection one might have for a childhood friend. i stand outside at the bench and the arching statue she loved, and i remember. i remember her standing out here one warm may day, and i remember her reckoning with herself. later, i would think that mit felt most like my campus when i walked through it late at night hand in hand with him. but before that, this place was mine on that spring night when i stood outside and leaned my back against the alexander calder stabile, listening to owen ashworth songs and growing up.

tonight, i nestle into the stabile again. it is tall and solid and grounding, and i understand why that girl who was me was so drawn it. even though time has passed and a story has ended and i have changed, i feel at home. i run my hand over the dark painted steel, and i am a little boy in a picture book who has a dragon for a friend.

i beam and cry at the same time. there’s something heartening in nostalgia.


may 15: wandering through mit

in a certain kind of melancholy, i diverge from my usual routes as i walk through campus. the mit buildings are a strange sprawl — corridors, niches, turns, all connected together. as a freshman, some winter evenings i would just wander. watch the paint change and the light fixtures change; see how the pipes connect together and take stock of the different stairwells; delight in the surprises — a skull in the floor, thoughtful words scrawled on a chalkboard or a wall; displays that look more like art than science. how much there is to see, here. you can get lost in the tangle of it all: you can lose yourself in the tangle it all.

when i feel a little down, or a little reflective, or that pineapple-tinged sadness, and i am walking through mit: i see doors i have never walked through before, and i enter them. walk through hallways and stairwells different from any i have been in before. learn a little more about the guts of this school.

it makes this place seem big. you see machinery for high-level research and delivery notices and the offices of administrative departments that have no bearing on undergraduate life. mostly, the hallways are empty: it is the shell (or is it the exoskeleton?) of this place, and you are anonymous, when you wander within it.


may 30: passing

they’re waxing the floors. navigate, re-navigate. it is nighttime and it is raining. chairs line the hallway, and you know there is a classroom, empty; a shell of a classroom; and you pass it by. it isn’t a classroom, with no desks and no chairs and no projector. it isn’t a classroom, gutted. (this school isn’t itself, gutted. you aren’t yourself, gutted.)

it is nighttime and it is raining and there is a quiet in your heart and a tired in your eyes. i’ve gotten to know the basements better, in these last days. course-correct on these twists and turns, in among the cement. grey, grey, all grey.

this morning i woke up motivated. — ready to go, a to-do list in my head, and i was filled with the will to accomplish these tasks. and you go and you go and there are errands and you are busy. but then it’s eight or nine pm and you look up at the stranger you’ve been talking to and you wonder what the hell you’ve been doing all day. and the colors are wrong and the logistics are wrong and the conversation is wrong and it is time to reach out to the people who matter. and evening subsides into night; and it begins to rain.

a summertime rain, in the night. it cleans you off. re-sets the tone. there’s space for sanctity in a summertime rain. space to feel. sometimes it’s okay to get a little wet.


jul 15: locational intimacy

it’s funny, how space is. the ways we claim it and reclaim it; the ways we feel at home within it, or not.

smooth and round and somehow impassive — in my memory, iu bloomington is full of trees and empty of people. and i came to know the trees, those cool summer evenings, in hours spent wandering alone through the campus. it was a campus that was never mine, yet even now there is an intimacy to my knowledge of that place. — path and parking lot and tall red clock. if it was hallow, it was a hollowness in which i found myself reflected; a space i took up within myself. i know the place to sit on a sunday morning when it’s pouring rain but you still want to be outside, and i know the place to sit when you’re exhausted and can’t stop thinking about god but probably want to. i walked and i walked that summer, and i learned that campus the way i learned loneliness.

i’m in cambridge, this summer; still at mit, still living in the same room. i have friends here, and things to do here, and three years of memories accumulated here. it is not empty. and yet at times these summer evenings, this place has felt more like bloomington than itself. — smooth and round and impassive. the nights are quiet.

i am grateful to be here this summer. to see this place as campus and city, rather than school. i knew my way around before; i knew the layout of the pipes and the places i had cried; but this feeling is more intimate. — somehow akin to moments from my freshman december, before i had a footing here, on nights when it was dark and cold and i was alone and concerned with the sacred; yet now soft.

i wonder sometimes, if this will be the loneliness of my twenties. — quiet, thoughtful nights outside alone, perhaps melancholy, perhaps content.


sep 7: not quite autumn (ahead of the curve)

i have been biding here for autumn. the turn of the season allows a turn in my head. i’ve been looking forward to the quiet.

the semester started. it’s serious in a way summer is not, and i’m glad. i’ve been yearning for the serious. waiting for restraint and cold days. already darkness creeps up earlier and earlier. — the melancholy is public but not communal, i wrote, late september of my freshman year.

but it’s not autumn yet. there’s no melancholy, as it were. it is midnight and i am walking along mass ave and i am awake. some kids are climbing up the brick wall of the chapel; but nothing could be irreverent, now; nor nothing reverent. it’s a saturday night in the gap of asynchrony, school has started and it’s summer, and the kids are wearing sweatshirts, and i’m wearing corduroys, and everyone is still glad to be back, parties on dorm row.

there’s an edge to me in the autumn, and it’s coming. an edge i know well; but never without the melancholy. yet here i am. i am taking up space and i feel bold in the night.

to be nineteen and forging beliefs


feb 8: this world is implausible

there’s this phenomenon that happens surprisingly often, in which you realize how implausibly strong some theory is…and then you realize how implausibly strong its negation is. sometimes there can be a question of, are you presupposing something false? — but very often you just have to stop for a moment and recognize how implausible reality itself is.

i talk to people sometimes who say, the burden of proof is on the theist; the default position should be one of non-belief, and here, non-belief in god. and perhaps that’s right. but the notion of god does seem, sometimes, to have explanatory power: and i wonder how truly those convinced atheists have held the weight of what there is to be explained. — if they recognize that theism is a strong position, but have not genuinely asked themselves whether atheism is a strong position as well.

is there evidence for god? — i don’t have any idea what evidence for god would even look like, and so this question seems almost absurd to me. as such, it’s not that my credence in the existence of some supernatural power has ever gone up — partially because i don’t know what to make of the supernatural, but mostly because it doesn’t make much sense to me to have a credence in such a thing. what does happen, though, is that this world starts to seem miraculous.

i find it incredibly hard sometimes to really believe in the objects of my own experience. bottled water, libraries, the san andreas fault, trees, media access control protocols, genocide, architecture, mushrooms, thermometers, high school principals, the free press, after-dinner mints: what the fuck? i know these things are out there, but golly gee are they weird. evolution and social theory might be able to account for the causality of it all — but that doesn’t really answer the feeling of, why is anything here at all, and how the heck did it get so out of hand?

and so i try to turn outward — to be open to this world and to be grateful for what there is.


may 14: free to move (in god or nihilism)

there’s a question that dances uncomfortably in me: are we human to the core, or is there a nothingness below even that? — a question that worries me, but does not concern me.

it is relieving, to think there is a core of meaning, something to hold onto. god loves you whether you want him to or not. sin i might; sin i will; but with sin granted, i still have to push through. regardless of the mistakes i make or the fallout of my actions, i have to keep striving to be kind and graceful and loving. or, alternatively, as in korsgaard: there’s no giving up the human identity. that’s why we can have practical reasons at all, how we get normativity at all. however you have betrayed yourself in the past, this is an identity you still have, and an identity you still need to serve. — and so you find yourself with something unconditioned, with something you cannot break, no matter what goes wrong.

these are substantive views. but what if you don’t have faith in them? — what if you can’t find a ground in anything?

there’s a disappointment. and there can be a depression. maybe even a recklessness.

but nihilism sometimes seems relieving, too. — like the lack of meaning is something to hold onto itself. and indeed: if nothing matters, then certainly my performance on an upcoming exam doesn’t matter. and so i am freed to study hard, to learn, and to try my best, without the stress or fear or anxiety underneath. the worst that can happen isn’t worse than the best that can happen. it all just is. some days, it seems easier to work with nihilistic despair than everyday worries.

i don’t know how stable or warped all of this is. is this posture perverse, to appeal to god or nihilism in order to be empowered to face the mundane? i say sometimes that we have to find human-level meanings, so latching onto nihilism below or theism above is a move i am wary of. is this posture rooted in anxiety?

but whether it is or not, it does seem to work. i pray and i despair and i get through the day empowered. that doesn’t mean i endorse the posture — even if it is healthy enough, it isn’t necessarily good, and i have reflection to do on that front, too. but here it is, for now.


jun 19: god differentiated

the opposite of chaos isn’t order: it’s differentiation.

the mess before the separation was undifferentiated. light and darkness, or the waters and the waters: all blended together, unorientable. — chaos.

genesis tells: god created, and god separated. but that does not mean that god organized. the point of separating light from darkness need not be to put light in a little box labeled “light” and to put darkness in a separate little box labeled “darkness.” — does not mean that this universe is clean and straightforward, or that wholeness and symmetry are the ultimate in beauty. genesis is not a classification story; it does not need to be read for sharp edges.

god created; god differentiated; and god called it good.

i look out at the world around me, sometimes, and i see messiness. senseless suffering and vestigial organs. — and you’re telling me this is all god’s plan, and expecting that to be comfort? you’re embracing the rigid hierarchy in the church, and you’re talking about truth and goodness as through you knows what those things are, and you’re quoting aquinas like all your questions are answered. but my questions aren’t answered. i would be ignoring a whole lot of richness in this world, if i insisted in fitting it into this catalog scheme.

(if you can’t tell me god’s aesthetic sense isn’t baroque, you can’t tell me god’s aesthetic sense isn’t avant garde, either.)

but look at this world, in its differentiation! look at the variety of it! night and day and dusk; sea and land and shore; there is so much to move through. perhaps god spun threads in the separation; but this tapestry is tightly-woven.


jul 3: narrative // particularity // data

the sheer amount of particularity: i cannot comprehend every blade of grass. it is too much to process.

i move through this world and i generate an ocean of facts. where did i step and what did i think and how much feeling was in me. a myriad myriad particulars, every moment of the day. it is too much all to hold at once.

we draw narratives about the world and about ourselves. sift through these particulars; find as salient. draw lines to connect these pieces of experience. (a plot arc? a prediction curve? a constellation?) bind-together these various particularities and ignore the rest. narratives are reductive and abstract. so you can hold them in your head and move forward.

avoid discrepancies; let your narrative correspond to the particularities it lays claim to. but what does it mean, to tell the right story? — to tell a correct story? — narratives are human; abstraction is human; but truth is particular; god is in the particularities. remember that even a narrative itself is a particularity.

we will try our best to process and we need not fear. storytelling is human construction, for human ends. so if the story falls apart in your hands: then the story falls apart in your hands. be responsible: tread lightly: but do not fear. narratives are how we get a hold.

.— but i am not the only one making-sense of me.

i move through this world and i generate an ocean of data. where did i step and what did i google and how many clicks did i make. a myriad myriad particulars, moment after moment. you’re generating an ocean of data, too. we all are. this flood is too much for me to hold, too much for me to process.

there’s an itch in me, as the data heaps up. as the ways of sorting through that data get more and more refined. (decontextualized words float vaguely through me. algorithms and machine learning and lacking-a-soul.) because suddenly story need not be the medium: the scale is so big, you can just brute-force the way to prediction. to understanding.

i fear lack of narrative. unbeknownst to me, a gaping whole in my chest: a failure of self-knowledge // or maybe there’s nothing to know. the method may be obscured, but its results might still be haunting.


aug 1: wholehearted impulse

sometimes you reach for something sweet, thinking it will be an indulgence; and then there’s a surge through your teeth, something in your body preemptively saying, what you are reaching for is not a treat; it is too sweet, too sweet. — a moment there where you realize, maybe i don’t actually want this at all. not just on an intellectual level, in light of what is healthy or what you think you ought to eat; but at a visceral level. — the impulse to eat the sweet before you, is not quite a desire.

and yet — even in this situation — sometimes it is difficult to stop yourself. you’ve got momentum: you’re reaching for it: you’re still conceiving of it as a treat. especially when you’re tired or not quite feeling like yourself, it is hard to care for yourself. to not force the candy down your own throat. habits help: habits help avoid the reaching-over altogether, and habits can help you stop yourself mid-reach, in face of this evaluation. still. sometimes you find yourself there, on the precipice.

but when you can pull back? when you can pull back, and instead engage with something you actually want? — i’ve gotta say, there’s something deep and restorative in the relief that floods you. you feel real, you feel like yourself. you feel whole.

the more you care for yourself: the easier it gets, to care for yourself. you have the energy to be in alignment with yourself: and being in alignment with yourself gives you energy. kindness is a virtuous cycle.