Offer Your Gifts

Where you are is your garden. Plant the seeds that please you here. Draw your sense of purpose from the soil and trees, the rocks and clouds, the murmuring frogs and hopping squirrels.

Do not leave yourself. If there is any genius that lives within the brittle net of your flesh, it is the porous material of your mind, which flits between wave and particle. You are composed of stuff that is very much bound to the elements and to this earth that holds you, upon which your bare feet feel strange and temporary.

I know you have traveled many miles to get here, and still you are not content. For you, life is a hole in the darkened sky that bleeds forth its news of a better world. You believe your autonomy is at risk when you train your attention upon this unruly body and its impending death. You are invincible when you dream and unwell when you linger in the cube-shaped rooms that mold your day to their exacting measurements.

But your gift is not in some distant afterlife that glimmers behind the rumbling clouds. It is on this rich and damaged Earth, where history creates a mountain of skulls whose memories bore through their dark and empty sockets.

Your gift to share is your song of resilience, which lives at the undisturbed core of you and is stirred to life when your senses are agitated by your needs and your vital response to them.

There is a simple joy you will experience in your own bones, which hold the detritus of your ancestors’ flickering songs and visions, when you allow yourself to stumble. When you let yourself wallow in the fascinating mess and mystery of your existence. When you taste the base and acrid reality of your hunger. When, without judgment or the wish for elsewhere, you watch the leaves shrivel off their branches, only to burgeon once more in the spring. When you lose all hope because rebirth is an abstraction your desperate hands cannot comprehend. When you welcome the astonishment that extends like an open palm from your protected heart as you witness green spiraling from the frost. As you contemplate the presence of things in their infancy brushing up against the dry, cracked lips of the dead living and the living dead. As you join the throbbing pulse of your joy and sorrow to the Sun of the changing land and watch it glow brighter as it balloons above the horizon and fills your shoulders with renewed determination.

The Witness

In my journey yesterday, I asked what I need to do in order to be more courageous. I saw three black birds fly in an isosceles triangle overhead. I noticed the word CUNEO mounted in fading capital letters atop an old brick building. I saw a small biracial girl dance along the street in her pink shoes as her mother affixed a stony stare upon her phone. When I closed my eyes, the persistent afterimages of these living symbols popped like fireworks against my eyelids.

I saw a path between two lines of boulders, almost as if I were in a trench. In this parched place, the ocean unmistakably became my guide. The ocean came and sanded off the perpetually jagged edges of the war-ravaged terrain. The ocean came and came and came in orgiastic bliss, as I knew she always would. She said, “Wed your small rage to my large rage, and we will be tremendous. You will always feel brave when you are with me.”

I could feel my scream uncurling from me as the glassy tidal edge of her crested up to form a cobra’s head far above the land. There would always be ocean, the blood of this planet in which I was merely swimming.

And if I learned to locate myself in ocean, not through conquest and sheer will but via reciprocity and the permission to be almost fully subsumed by her, I would always be safe—or as close to safe as humanly possible.


In the dreamwork class, I hear the soft refrain of a song I used to love, especially in the summer of 2000, when all of me felt wide awake and like I was gliding through the most beautiful myth. It's strange to think that was 21 years ago: enough time to make an adult of legal drinking age, enough time for a new life to commence and old wounds to scarify.

The ocean is alive here too, in this place of shifting squares on a black screen, full of pixilated faces. In the journey, the ocean licked my wounds with her salt. In the journey, the ocean assured me that I could sync my heart to the heartbeat of the Earth, be cradled in her endless molten center and recall that I am in and of her. And if I ever were to find myself flailing and drowning in the midst of a storm-tossed sea, the ocean would force my eyes open and teach my feeble legs to kick. She would return me to my massive Earth heart—my desire to live, which is an anagram of my desire to die.  

The ocean would remind me that the ancestors are still with me, and she’d teach me to walk through the ruins of the past, through history’s snatches of song and spectacle, but never to make the mistake of fashioning for myself a home inside them. The Earth is a tomb from which beautiful flowers grow. Maybe I am one of those flowers. Maybe I am one of the consequences of death, melded synergistically to continuous becoming.

(This is why it is so important to acknowledge the Indigenous stewards of the land, how they are not just historical aberrations to pay lip service to. They are still here. They never left. Even though this place honors decidedly dead things and the many forces that contribute to the deadening.)

As I dreamed awake in that spare lot on a city street, clumps of overgrown grass brushing up against my sandaled feet, I thought of everything that had ever stood on this land: plants, trees, stones, humans, buildings. I thought about the rain-soaked soil beneath my feet and the many times I would say to myself, “Anywhere but here,” and visualize a fine filament of energy reaching from me into the depths—magnetizing the light and spirit of many other subterranean places, and many other filaments of light connecting back to disaffected teenagers in other parts of the world who were perhaps having similar musings.  

Can we be somewhere else simply by summoning the threads that connect us to the Chain of All Being? If consciousness is a superhighway of the soul, maybe it's possible not to go from here to there, but to bring there here—to dose this terrifying mundane violent moment with the cool waters of the Pacific and the sun-kissed stone of virtually untrodden lands.


I am writing to the person who never knew me as well as I wanted to be known. To the one who saw me as a symbol of something they hated or something they loved. To the one who saw me as a reminder that was meant for them only. To the one who looked into my eyes and asked, “What does it mean?” rather than, “What is she thinking?” To the one who welcomed me as a dark omen from the universe rather than an untenable encounter with an independent other. I am writing to my adversaries, who touched the live wires within me, not from the tender desire to get close, but from the intention of reckless hurt.  

Sometimes I think of these people; sometimes I think, How dare they. How dare they continue to throb inside my heart and invade my most intimate moments with their injuries. It occurs at the most random times. When it does, what sometimes startles me out of my self-righteous reverie is the consideration that someone else out there might be feeling exactly the same way about me. “How dare she!”

Whose nemesis, am I, unbeknownst to myself? Whose scars have I unsutured without recognizing my own trespass?  

I must keep remembering the music that enables me to sway on the balls and heels of my feet while remaining rooted to the earth. I must honor the dead things that grow me alive and are not immortalized by the gods of capitalism. I must remember that the root of the words humility and human refers to the earth. I must enlarge my own possibilities.

I am not separate from the sprawling Earth—from its many livings and dyings…its beautiful accidents and regrettable mistakes. I will have to keep dying to myself, assent to being made and unmade, in order to be reborn. I still taste the grass in my body. I still taste the tang of the Earth as its pops its green against my teeth and tongue.

Tiny Dancer

There was a fantasy that would enact itself, constantly and clandestinely, in the back of my head at the age of 11 or so. Instead of setting foot in the girls’ locker room, to the accompaniment of brash pubescent voices and taunts—or the vast green field, which lay between crowds of stone-eyed middle schoolers and homeroom, that I would bound across as quickly as possible, eyes downcast and books clutched to my chest to avoid sudden assaults—what might happen if my mother left my father? What might happen if the line was drawn in the sand and we got to live as we wished, eating whatever crap we wanted, watching the shows that gave us pleasure, staying up late and waking up to the scent of pancakes and bacon and the loud thud of music pumped into the walls like a transfusion of endless summer?

What might happen if we moved somewhere else, maybe into an apartment of our own or with my grandparents (temporarily, of course)? What would be possible if I could start over in a place where nobody knew my checkered past? Without Dad, what could happen?

I had memorized the entire hypothetical scenario. At my old school, upon breaking the news that this day would be my last: my best friends would cast misty-eyed glances upon me, the teachers would be somber, and even the bullies would scuffle their feet in reproachful silence. They would have lost something appreciated only too late. No matter. They’d be sorry, but I wouldn’t give their sympathies a second thought; I’d be bounding giddily into my new life.

For some reason, the details of my imagined home eluded me. I never quite worked them out in my head, even as I sat in the hot stuffy room upstairs and watched reruns of Punky Brewster while, downstairs, plates clattered and a volley of caustic insults was thrown back and forth between my parents. Maybe I received the occasional uninspired flash of a bedroom with painted walls and four-poster beds (or a wheelbarrow, like Punky’s), with a door I could actually close. A door I could lock. In a house rather than an apartment building with thin stucco walls, so that we were in such uncomfortably close proximity with neighbors whom we’d pass each day, ignoring as if we didn’t know they slept and dreamt and fucked just inches from our heads.

Home felt circumstantial. Home could be anywhere and I would be content, as long as there were long stretches of quiet punctuated by floral bursts of laughter. As long as people felt safe, and happy, and their bodies could fully relax into their beds at night, I would be OK.

No, the details of home hardly seemed significant compared to the details of my new persona—always attached to a specific uniform: a flowing long duster sweater, tight black jeans with frayed ankles, a cropped white blouse with bell sleeves over a pushup bra, and large gold hoop earrings. I imagined myself, shorn of glasses and reservations, wearing clothes you’d only see on the cast of Beverly Hills 90210. I didn’t consider that my parents shopped at Kmart and Goodwill because we couldn’t afford the latest fashions or designer labels. For me, money was immaterial. I connected the privilege of “standing out” with one’s attire to the privilege of individuality, which I would never be accorded as one of a small handful of brown immigrant children in my neighborhood. Nameless, faceless, invisible, melting into the inhospitable brick walls of middle school.

If I had the right clothes, I thought—no, I knew—I would finally be accepted. Not just that, but the superficial layer of my shy, awkward, bumbling schoolgirl self would simply peel away, like a snakeskin, to reveal glistening flesh and confidence. Raised as I was on a steady diet of MTV and Bollywood, I fantasized about leading a choreographed sequence of hip-hop dance moves among a sea of pretty girls and boys on the quad—occasionally adjusting out-of-sync arms and legs and receiving a warm apologetic smile in return. I would be the one correcting and molding and influencing, not the one constantly made to feel at fault for my rhythmless body and mouth bereft of witty comebacks.

I would do the thing I’d always wanted to do: dance. Even though I was born with two left feet and a tendency toward conjectural movements, not the bold and definite sort that are required of people who wish to use their bodies as vehicles for love, beauty, big ideas.

I was born, also, with a penchant for the language of the mind. I trafficked in Charles Dickens, Shakespeare, armfuls of books from the school library, earnest poetry on construction paper festooning the walls on Parent/Teacher night—and as much as I loved and took refuge in words, they didn’t feel sufficient. Others didn’t seem to want them, so I only admitted to my devotion to reading and writing under rare circumstances—often, accompanied by silent apologies. What I really wanted was the language of the body: gleaming muscles and manic, twitching arms and legs.

The distant edges of my being wanted something more than what I’d received. I’d only ever known this awkward body, this infuriating family, this spirit that was so proficient at turning itself inside out that it could disappear altogether. I wanted to move. I wanted to dance. I wanted to choose where I lived, how I expressed myself, how I presented myself, how I might be received. I wanted agency over the days of my life.

My wish never came true. My mother never left my father. School became more bearable, and as my mother began working more frequently outside of the home, I eventually graduated from shopping at Kmart and Goodwill to Express and sometimes the highly coveted Contempo Casuals. The kids became less obtrusive as I got older, or they just got more consumed by adolescent insecurities, which erode the attention and demand self-centeredness.

It would be many years before I could relinquish the fantasies of who I might be if my circumstances were different, and simply accept my lopsided fortune—to be this broken, excruciatingly sensitive thing, flesh exposed to the elements, spirit open to the soothing whispers of watchful deities.

Any movement is adaptable, but the same is true for people. We all have access to dance.

The Haunted Closet and the Bathroom

Transcribing a dream days after the fact is never an easy task. I remember only that this dream seemed important enough for me to recollect, except now it stretches and permutates, as if it’s trying to fit the changing landscape of my thoughts, which will never fail to prioritize new distractions.

This dream is a wraith that used to be a human, or at least some kind of biped. Now it’s made of shapeshifting molecules that refuse to settle into anything discernible. It is an inorganic stamp of matter that persists beneath the surface of my biological limitations—memory being the most significant.

In the dream, there is a closet that reminds me of the private enclosure that meandered to the lands of Narnia through walls of coats and cloaks and moth balls. Aside from silk dresses that drip off their hangers and folded trousers that threaten to topple from the high shelves, it’s filled with bubble-wrapped boxes of unopened shoes (mostly winter boots) and dirty laundry strewn on the beige carpeted floors, almost as if the offender had tried and failed to shoot for the hamper. Clothes are askew, multiple items heaped onto weighted-down hangers that bulge at the center, threatening to break.

This is the closet of an obsessive compulsive shopper, a sentimentalist, a hoarder, someone who can’t pass up cheap Forever 21 frocks or pretentious Eurotrash designer wear. It is the closet of someone who cannot quite identify her fashion raison d’être, or her class proclivities, or who she wants the world to see. She changes friend groups like a pair of worn-down Lululemon leggings, purportedly built to last but falling apart after too many hot yoga classes. Every few months, seasonally appropriate items—scarves, thick socks, flimsy see-through summer dresses—rotate to the front of the line, reminding her of the things she’s yet to wear or experience. Reminding her to pay attention and put the rich contents of her inner life to use.

On days when the weather is just right—frigidly cold, blazing hot, or dark and fertile with monsoon clouds—she invites people over. Not to the house but to her closet. People slouch against the uneven rows of garments, nursing red plastic cups of unidentifiable liquor mixed with melted ice, nodding their heads in rhythm to the bass, their low voices hypnotically evaporating into the sound, their eyes glowing in the dark.

Secret parties are the best kind. They haven’t been sworn to secrecy, or to quiet, but they like it best this way. The world beyond the closet is strange and unpredictable. Unmoored ghosts and histories sail through the hallways of the closet owner’s house, buffeting the walls like reverse curtains, whipping into the pipes and foundation to seed their formidable knowings. The house is full of them, and as people make their way, teetering in spiky heels and inebriation toward the closet, a deadening hush sweeps over them. Only to break into relieved giggles when they collapse into one another and their feet scuff up against piles of dirty underwear that sends its sweet noxious scent upward. This sacred enclosure is the place they want to be.

“I have to go to the bathroom,” someone says at some point. The music seems to slow down to a whimper and everyone goes momentarily silent, because they know what this means. He’ll have to open one of the doors (in this closet, there are many) and stumble out into one of the cavernous rooms that holds nothing except a solitary toilet hunkered in a far corner. The closet owner shoves a roll of toilet paper into his hands and grabs his drink. “I’ll refill it for you,” she says with a wan smile. It’s the witching hour, and who knows what apparition or odor will curl out of the wall or toilet bowl and fill up the space with some ancient bane or poisoned curse?

It’s funny, in retrospect, that in many of my dreams, I am not the mistress of my own domain. I might have an enormous house but there is usually one single holed-out grotto or safe haven surrounded by a maze of nefarious rooms, full of staticky orbs and pairs of unwelcoming floating eyes, as well as invisible feet that won’t hesitate to trip you and do a victory shuffle as you go flying.

I don’t know what happens to the boy who waddles out into the giant empty bathroom, next to a single faucet that won’t stop running. Any attempt to hold on to the dream was lost, just as the giant mansion on the hill was conquered by itinerant ghosts. This dream, this act of writing, is a ghost. I haunt myself in a persistent attempt to understand what I have lived and experienced, although the memories and yearnings continue to pile up like so many articles of clothing with tags still on. I wonder now if the dream girl with the excessive closet was living in a house full of varied versions of herself. Transparent wraiths yawning into the darkness, having quite forgotten themselves. Colliding with each other and those who dare to remain human, hurling their silent invectives like projectile vomit against the peeling wallpaper, bumping against the limits of their own knowing.

My Akashic Record

To live in the New Age is to live in a devotion that hinges on self-deception. If you believe in the concept of a separate self, that is.


So many things get lost when they fall through the sieve of memory. So many occurrences that were once notable, that required recollection but are now salvaged on some dusty old shelf in the unconscious, or relegated to a very tight enclosure in an increasingly numbed-out part of the body.

It’s tempting to consider that there are places inside the body that expand onto a reverential black sky wimpled by stars. It’s tempting to consider that there is a larger body into which this small and feeble one effortlessly spills—full of mysterious corridors where anonymous memories gather and coalesce and branch out into multiple networks of milky filaments that web the galaxy like so many lines on the palm, portending not just a fate but a personal history.

I have learned through my many lives that we are each uniquely courted by the Sun and Moon and stars. I’ve had my palm lines and Tarot cards read. I’ve had my coins thrown for I Ching hexagrams. Coffee grounds tumbled onto white cloth napkins have unearthed personal blind spots and ancestral gifts. Because every human being is as irreducible as a Platonic form, every mode of divination (which is not merely a looking-forward but also a mirroring-back) is only a starting point.

Even a dream. There are many authoritative treatises on the interpretation of dreams, but symbols shift depending on where they show up. An ostensibly easy-to-decipher symbol, like a rose in full bloom or a sharp crescent moon, will mean something different, depending on the phase of life you’re in, or even your cultural inheritance.

At the same time, some people believe that while symbols may change, their essential meaning can be traced back to specific archetypes that get handed down through the generations like carvings knifed into the family tree, shaving through many layers of bark and weather. Some spiritual systems posit that we dream the way we dream because we inherited that method from at least seven generations of dreaming ancestors—all of them similarly prone to the same irrational dreads and ecstasies. Someone who has dreams in which they are constantly fleeing a sinister pursuer are likely to have had grandparents or great-grandparents with the same dream pattern. The symbols may shift but the meaning remains the same. My ancestor is chased by a monsoon cloud bulging with fury, while I’m chased by murderous cars speeding through a busy intersection. But the fear, for which there is a shared language, is the same. It’s simply the legacy of everything that hasn’t been processed in the bloodline.

As much as we seek answers in astrology, crystal pendulums, and energy healing—as much as we seek the pathways of our own earmarked destiny—many of our complexes and obstacles and learning edges are the result of decisions that were made by other people who failed to keep us in mind.

We are not exempt from this category.

Sometimes, the same “soul” reincarnates in the same bloodline in order to play out the same drama, in hopes of a different resolution. As for this life? Maybe you will actually take a different path this time. Maybe you will learn to be suspicious of your most instinctive desires and the colors that capture your attention after being glimpsed in your peripheral vision. Maybe you’ll start to look somewhere else for the answers, which have remained so elusive for all these years.


I’m at the Omega Institute, a retreat center with grassy knolls and pleasant-looking people who wear Birkenstocks and refrain from using products that irritate chemical sensitivities. Even the gift shop, overflowing with Batik dresses and shimmery windchimes, only contains natural bath and beauty products that err on the side of basic. It takes me a while but I enjoy this place. I don’t like the cavernous mess hall with its round tables that contain too many chairs, making me all too aware of the moments when I sit alone while others are engaged in conversations that ricochet off the walls and sound a lonely echo in my ears. But I do like the meditation hall where I can go at 6 in the morning to sit quietly with others or merely myself. I like the labyrinth in the middle of the campus, where I can spiral in and out, toward and away from a very still center. I like the offerings in the diminutive spa, where I can opt for everything from belly massage to an Ayurvedic assessment.

The Akashic Records reading catches my eye one Saturday afternoon, when I’m sitting and journaling about the Radical Dharma retreat I’ve been on for the past three days. I already know the Akashic Records are the cosmic library where the truth of all that was, is, and will be is stored. In this data bank, which rivals any of the treasures on the most clandestine of servers, you can discover everything that has ever transpired for a person, or soul. Even the faintest flickers or impressions, or the most subjective and transient moments, are recorded here, in this infinite field of information. In accessing the Akashic Records, we may experience pure insight or receive the kind of multidimensional knowledge that enables us to make a change to our record, a new entry in the ledger of time and space. Here, we can add up the numbers in a new, more balanced equation that enables us to rewrite our future and recalculate our very understanding of our path.

At first, I didn’t necessarily feel drawn to the idea of getting to my record via another person’s intuitive vision, especially as I’d already attended the requisite weekend workshop during which I’d learned to open my record and the records of other individuals firsthand. The workshop was taught by a nervous middle-aged blonde woman who wore a navy blue pantsuit and a strained expression of professional know-how. She gave each participant a spiral-bound notebook full of rudimentary illustrations (complete with stick figures and thought bubbles) and vaguely Judeo-Christian prayers meant to open up the Akashic Records upon request. As she taught us one of the prayers on Saturday afternoon, we had to sit through the unfortunate ordeal of hearing one of the participants, a heavyset, curt older man, empty the contents of his insides into the one toilet that lived behind a door in the corner of the already-cramped schoolroom. The teacher’s expression became even more pinched as she pretended to be oblivious to what was happening, which made me more uncomfortable than the gurgling acoustics that issued from the bathroom. For some reason, it made me respect her less—it’s difficult to be in the presence of an authority figure who is obviously cognizant of the embarrassing thing that’s happening on the other side of the room but doesn’t have a sense of humor about it or the self-awareness to acknowledge it. I didn’t sign up for her Level 2 course, which she shilled at the end of the weekend as a continued exploration of the mystical realms. I did, however, spend subsequent long afternoons in my studio apartment, breathlessly penning hasty epistles channeled from whom I could only imagine to be the enlightened scribes sitting in long and silent rows in a bright chamber of some arcane dimension—awaiting the desperate requests of mortals like me.

I changed my mind about the Akashic reading when I was at Omega, not because I thought someone would actually tell me something that actually counted as legitimate spiritual information, but because I was curious about the process. How would the reader open the portals to the Akashic Records? What kind of information, be it past or future, would emerge as we voyaged through the upper atmosphere of my former selves? Would it bear an uncanny resemblance to ugly or propitious patterns and events in this current life?

I signed up for a 50-minute reading. I showed up for my appointment, which took place not in the peaceful, eucalyptus-scented spa but in a tiny bungalow near the mess hall. I was ushered into a stuffy spare room by a white-haired man in a damp-looking tie-dye T-shirt and worn-down Birkenstocks. When he asked me if there was anything I’d like further insight into, I offered a generic response, like, “I just want a sense of whatever it is I need to know that will help me to navigate my life with greater ease and confidence.” I suppose in retrospect that I could have shared some of the realizations I was making, especially in light of my growing awareness of the blockages and hang-ups I still had about my sexuality, and the ways in which the fight for racial justice was leading to personal revelations about how I’d felt marginalized in my family of origin and the many “transformational” communities I had (unsuccessfully) been a part of. The man’s eyes darted around the room, evincing either his attempt to concentrate fully on what I was saying or his utter indifference. Whatever the case, I felt that there was only so much I should disclose.

“So, whatever I say…some of it might be familiar to you, almost like you’ve seen it in a dream or something, and some of it might feel totally unrelated to anything you’ve ever experienced,” the reader explained. “Whatever it is I’m sharing, just know I’m being intuitively guided to share it by the Akashic masters because it’s what you need to know right now.”

He gave me a look askance as if to register my comprehension, so I nodded.

“Can you say your name three times for me, please?”

I was accustomed to the magical mantra of a person’s name stated out loud three times, which seemed to be a favored shibboleth in the realm of psychic readings. I assented: “Nirmala Nataraj. Nirmala Nataraj. Nirmala Nataraj.”

He closed his eyes and took three deep breaths before offering a prayer to the Akashic masters. “I acknowledge the Forces of Light as I ask for the guidance and direction to know the truth as it is revealed for Nirmala’s highest good and the highest good of all connected to her. Oh Holy Spirit of God, help us to know Nirmala in the light of the Akashic Records…to see Nirmala through the eyes of the Lords of the Records, so that we may share the wisdom and compassion that you have for her.”

At this stage, he gave a dramatic pause and the lines in his forehead fluttered. A scene was coming into view. “I see mountains…snow-capped mountains. A monastery. Tibetan prayer flags. You are…a young boy. A child, really. You’ve been studying to be a monk ever since you were very small. I see scrolls…prayer mats…bowls of food with modest portions. It’s very quiet. You are here for enlightenment…to escape the wheel of samsara once and for all. You’ve been taught that it’s an honor to be here. Not just for you but for your entire family.” He opened his eyes to look at me. “Do you have anything specific you want to know about this life?”

The first question that came to me was, “Am I happy?”

He sat back in his chair and regarded the ceiling with his gaze. His eyes and mouth were slightly brighter, more alert. He was clearly surprised, almost as if he hadn’t contemplated the question before. He closed his eyes once more and shook his head vehemently, with total certainty, after a couple long moments. “No. No, you’re not happy. This place feels oppressive, stifling. It’s a mausoleum full of dead things that have nothing to do with you. You just want to be with your goats in the mountains. You’ve always wanted to be a goatherd, but when your parents brought you here many years ago, that dream ended.”

I nodded, even though his eyes were closed and he couldn’t see me. I don’t recall my other questions or the details that dripped out of his slow and leisured sojourn through my Akashic Record. Nor do I remember the rest of that miserable life, only that it was very brief and that I died in a fire in the monastery. The reader informed me matter-of-factly, “You’re alone. You’re terrified. They’ve closed the massive gates to the monastery and you have no way out. Your death is slow and very painful.”

“Great,” I muttered under my breath, more for my own amusement than anything else.

I could hear the birds chirping outside and the silvery lilt of laughter from people enjoying their time away from their lives. I considered what a privilege it was to be here, in this beautiful bubble that encompassed acres of pristine forest, that came replete with gourmet meals and a built-in schedule of films, dance classes, and other social activities to supplement the personal-development workshops that people had come here to throw themselves into. I wondered how many others had managed to fit an Akashic Records reading into their busy schedule.

I didn’t feel a close affinity to the life that the man had extracted from my Akashic Record, but it didn’t seem entirely off the mark, either. Perhaps he’d read volumes in my eyes and had come up with a few obvious themes: obligation, oppressive family mores, the desire for a different life. One didn’t need to enter a trance state to recognize these floating specters.

Somewhere inside me, I could see the boy I might have been: dreaming of his goats in a distant mountain meadow; eating rice on a prayer mat, consigned to a tomb-like silence; deciphering methods for reaching enlightenment in dusty mile-long scrolls; screaming for someone, anyone, to save him as his skin starts to char and blacken, and thick gray smoke fills his vision. I felt a twinge of mourning for this person who was or wasn’t. It made sense to me—don’t we all contain some aspect of this person within us? Some part of us that perishes before it has come of age? Some brackish well filled with the dregs of our searching and unfulfillment?

Still, I would hardly say that I felt transformed by the experience or that I’d peeked into some previously concealed window to watch a pivotal part of the cosmic drama quietly unfolding. I felt nothing as I shuffled out of the room with the reader’s card in hand. I noted that he hadn’t offered up much in the way of helping me to understand where to focus my energy next with this information I’d been newly armed with. Still, I wondered: What had I been hoping for? At the end of the day, it wasn’t really specificity. Perhaps, more likely, I’d wanted some shared communion, or that a silent epiphany I hadn’t disclosed to anyone would be corroborated by this distinct and separate other—as if to endorse the existence of my ultimately unprovable hunches and show me that we are all virtually connected, strangers or ancestors, whether we know it or not.

I am aware that the web of connection is not a deception wielded by a world that wants to make sense of everything. It’s real. Whether or not that boy was me, I tucked him away into a distant vestibule inside my heart. Whether he was fabricated or not, it didn’t matter. The world of stories is the only one that has ever been meaningful to me; even though I’ve always grasped at distant glimmering stars to descry truth, the only thing that has managed to glow brightly in my imagination is composed of many threads unspooling into a massive pool of undifferentiated colors, from which I can create all kinds of pictures that will appear to me as fateful or fortuitous.

Because it isn’t self-deception when you know you’re making it all up…and that it still has the capacity to transform you.


Do I have to talk about fear?

  I mean, really…that’s such a rude question. Naked in its directness. Maybe that’s why I felt the need to get up and search for my missing earring. I mean, I definitely had to charge up my computer, but the truth is, in the past hour or so, I’ve been obsessing over where I could have possibly misplaced this earring and, yes, as petty as it sounds, fearing that I will never find it again.

  My jewelry box is full of orphaned pairs of earrings, fondly set aside in the event that their counterpart will magically show up, beneath a folded sheet or in the crevices of a bathroom drawer.

  My fear, I think, is composed of such missing objects, which leave the ghosts of their former presence behind. Palpable, like lipstick stains on shirts whose final traces you can never manage to completely wash away. They echo that particular hue of orchid you were wearing that particular night you can’t seem to put behind you, even though it happened years ago and you should really fucking be over it by now.

  Is that fear…or just  the sentimental tug of nostalgia? Sometimes, remembering makes me miserable but it also renders my life meaningful somehow. Once, early on, my ex-husband wrote me a drunken email in which he said something like, “I am afraid that I will forget everything, and that the mountains of memories we carefully built together will disintegrate and be replaced by new memories. And I don’t want that to happen.”

  I didn’t tell him, but I had felt the terror of that prospect as well, especially when I was thinking of leaving him and a single question came to mind: What about the songs?

What about the songs that had made up the soundtrack of our little life together? Old jazz, Nina Simone, Bob Dylan, acid rock, fuzzy shoegaze, outdated Brit pop, and bands I’d first discovered rifling through stacks of vinyl in vintage record stores in my most impressionable years? What about the playlists he had made me? Who had ownership over those now? What about that very first mixtape (well, mix CD) that he gave me five days after we’d met, the one that made me tell a friend of mine, “These weren’t just songs. He was showing me his soul.”

  What about the songs? Would I have to give them up if were no longer together? Would the sweetness of Nigerian high-life music from our trip to Barbados, or the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows,” which we’d decided would be the penultimate song on our wedding playlist, all have to go? And if so, where would they go? Who did they belong to now? To the ghost of our relationship, or to this strange and sullen woman I seemed to be growing quite uncomfortably into?

  I could understand his fear of forgetting, because I shared it. Even months after leaving. It is a strange thing to leave someone you once loved, because you realize that the “once” is a lie. And you never stopped loving them. That love just somehow found its own fork in the road and diverged onto another path, leaving you in its wake, bereft and bemused and left to find new anthems. New earrings.

  All of this will be relegated to the dustbin of time. It will be buried beneath the avalanche of our regrets, our resentments. The impossible dreams of youth supplanted by the bitter reality of adulthood.

After I received his email, I somehow managed to record its essence. But like everything else at the time, it was too painful to keep, so I deleted it. I’m sure that dozens of pairs of earrings were orphaned, as well. But I was too busy speeding into what was to be my future to understand that the ghosts never stop haunting you.

My Friend Slobodan

My most recent creative project is a slender book called The Three Jewels. I didn’t write it in order to heavily market it, but to offer it to my dear friend, Slobodan Dan Paich—a brilliant visual artist who also helmed a cross-cultural arts initiative known as the Artship Ensemble, whose mission is to offer broad access to the transformative powers of the creative process. I met Slobodan in 2008, during a time when my own creativity and personal transformation were rapidly shifting my personal concepts of who I was and what I wished to share with the world, as a writer and theater artist—but also as a soul navigating the many paradoxes of this stage production called life. 

I recently discovered that Slobodan passed away in late 2022. He leaves behind a rich legacy of work, and my book is a testament to the multifarious nature of his own creative work and approaches to mentorship. My book is the result of a spontaneous, improvisational discovery process in which the characters and story of The Three Jewels gradually emerged, through the shadows and uncertainty. That story is the personal myth of my life, which I credit Slobodan with helping me to write, word by word, over the course of several months in 2012. I hope that it will find a home in the world, for it belongs to my friend Slobodan just as much as it does to me. 

The following piece is my eulogy, my evolving love poem, to my dear friend and mentor. To learn more about Slobodan, please feel free to listen to this 2011 StoryCorps conversation, recorded at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, between Slobodan and me. StoryCorps is an American nonprofit organization whose mission is to record, preserve, and share the stories of Americans from all backgrounds and beliefs. 

He was my friend. His name was Slobodan. He made me feel seen. He made me feel like seeing. He saw the real me. He made me want to be real. 

Slobodan installation
Slobodan displaying his unique and perplexing sense of humor.

When I was with him, life was art. He made words with his pictures. Pictures with his words. He loved tea. And its many variations of color. Its specific heralding of specific places and states of being. He found texture in everything. Maybe because he bothered to. 

He was a lonely soul. A beautiful one. He left his country at a tender age. He never returned. He traveled this world, and this world was his family. He said no matter what happened, we would always be connected on the inner planes. I still believe him. 

I wonder why he didn’t tell me. That he was sick, I mean. I understand few people knew. When I learned this, it made me feel better. It made me realize his words, “This is my last email,” were final but not in the way I’d understood. It isn’t always about me. 

Life. Death. Other processes. What begins a process? What ends it? You talk to someone you just met and you feel something. Together. It’s like you’re on a train heading into the ocean and you’re nosediving toward a watery distant light. It seems all the brighter in this darkness you’re navigating. Because the mystery is finding the other. Finding, even though perhaps you were not searching. But maybe you always were. 

And we are pieces of an atom split apart. But we, Slobodan and I, found each other. Electrons zipping about. Possibility landing. 

He had a white beard. Playful blue eyes, always quietly sparkling. A tailored suit. He looked like a magical character from an Old World fairy tale. Set to slightly modern times. He made me smile. Breathe a little deeper. Succumb to wonder. 

But that question: where do things, people, end and begin? 

Will remembering his slow gait and the sweeping gestures of his fingers across his face, like he was fanning out cards and divining prophecies, be enough? What is my responsibility to my friend? He is gone, yet he never left. He remains here. In my words. My art. My determination to follow his example. To follow the golden thread he held out, unspooling before me. Creating a golden path upon which I’d walk. Unafraid. Not free of grief or loss, but equipped with a warrior’s heart. 

Maybe as he was with me, I’ll be patient with myself. Maybe I’ll forget myself in order to remember. Maybe I’ll be astonished at what this life could become. If it were a tribute to every friend who helped me. Who helped me to remember.

Laughter Unlocks a Door That Invites Us Into Living

It’s the Fool card I select, over and over, every time I get tired of the residue of tea leaves at the bottom of my cup. Tired of swirling the detritus to sculpt it into a shape that approximates meaning and familiarity. Into a clear answer that inhales and exhales within the murk. I don’t like it.

It is exhausting to be me, sometimes. To embody the heart of the Hermit, who drags her lantern along the snow to create a drama of shadows that no one else will ever see. Whose eyes glower defiantly above her white beard, as if to say, “Fuck the patriarchy!” The Hermit has no qualms about opting out and living life on her own terms. The mystic swims, while the psychopath drowns. In the Hermit’s world, equanimity is constantly dogged by the pretense of safety. Even alone, she remembers she’s always a step away from the cliff drop of a mind left to its own devices.

The Fool doesn’t really care about cliff drops and certain death. The Fool plunges into the world, empty-headed, mind clear as dawn and scrubbed clean of knowledge. The Fool smiles upon the 24-hour news cycle, scrolls Instagram and Facebook with benign indifference, and feels at home in the sound and fury of it all. The Fool takes a fervent stand on the issues, only to abandon it the next day in favor of the latest newsworthy trend. The Fool can’t be blamed for her lack of critical thinking. She is the obvious consequence of a crisis of imagination. An affable protagonist simply weighing her options, living her best life. An innocent who longs to feast on all that life has to offer. She builds her castle of dreams amid bomb-dropping drones. Children in cages. Heads of state fomenting division. Yes, there’s chaos, there’s tragedy, but who is she to waste her energy on matters that have nothing to do with her? From her experience, life is essentially good and kind. Life rewards the faithful and carefree. The Fool has never been to Switzerland, but she hears it’s quite beautiful. 

I am troubled and intrigued by this card. Flummoxed by the bucolic backdrop of alpine flowers and rocks veiled with snow, as a small dog bites at the heels of our reckless heroine and bids her not to trust so easily in what she sees. Citations are always needed. This moment, glorious as it may seem, is haunted by the ghosts of the dispossessed. 

At least, that’s what the other parts of me—pinned into place by cards like The Hermit, the High Priestess, and Justice—attempt to remind me of. I heed their lessons, and I continue to be uneasy with the hold the Fool has over me. And still, I recognize: Everybody plays the fool. Wishes to unsee and unknow all that makes one complicit in the crime of humanity. Longs for a singular adventure that will deliver us from banality and transform the mundane into a sacred puzzle. 

I may resent the Fool for her easy romanticism, but I grudgingly accord her pride of place in this unfolding panorama of my life. After all, the tarot is the Fool’s journey. And the zero card marks both beginning and end.

After Alcohol

I understand that some part of my reluctance to see my good friends yesterday had more to do with my fear of how others, even those who say they love me, will perceive me than the reality of what I will actually experience. It often goes this way: I end up having a wonderful time, although I usually expect not to. 

Yesterday, I laughed until my sides ached. I ate food so delicious that I burned my tongue in my eagerness to swallow. I didn’t check the time on my phone, or skim headlines, or send feverish texts to my sister about the last questionable thing our mother had done. Eight hours after my arrival, my insides were bubbling better than champagne and I exclaimed with genuine astonishment, “Holy shit, it’s already midnight!” 

It made me think back to my college years, to the periods when I would will myself to stay in my room, almost immovable, while others were outside partying—because I wasn’t convinced I knew how to have fun. A tower of greasy Domino’s pizza boxes became the buffer that absorbed and blocked out the ones who threatened to intrude upon my solitude. I took on the guise of a purely self-contained person who was more interested in cultivating her inner radiance than she was in being part of the outer spectacle.

Admittedly, alcohol became the smooth unguent that changed my relationship to all that. Suddenly, I could be wholly outrageous, entirely lacking in self-consciousness and capable of turning my chronically inward-looking observations into witty meta-analyses of the situation at hand, which seemed to intrigue and entice others around me.

Suddenly, I had a discernible function. With alcohol, I was no longer a loser. I was myself, myself amplified in a way that was new to me. Suddenly I had access to the pent-up boldness and creativity that had always haunted me with fantasies of the person I could be if only I weren't so scared or sad or traumatized or plain.

At the age of 22 or so, I realized I could be that person—that in some ways, she had been within me all along. The ailment of shyness seemed to be gone. I didn't give myself the time or space to test this theory. Throughout the majority of my adult life, I would not go without alcohol for more than a week or two, which would feel like a huge accomplishment, summarily dashed by a celebratory drink. I celebrated my brief stints of sobriety with alcohol, my stolen moments of clarity with a hammering hangover.

Yesterday, I didn't know how anything would pan out. Five hundred days of sobriety was easy enough without the burden of social engagement to make me doubt myself. But then, I recognized that alcohol had not been the only thing that allowed me to forge a path via courage and curiosity instead of fear and inhibition. I had made other choices. Choices that had pulled on the ripcord of all my early stories about myself—“I’m shy, I’m unlovable, I am uncool, I don't have anything interesting to offer, others will see right through me”—and sent me plummeting into free fall. In losing my sense of ground, I came into new realities.

The words in my bones aligned, suddenly, with the ones that would come flying off my tongue. It isn't that I had the right words at the right time—not always, and maybe even not often. It's that some part of me had already become accustomed to recognizing that rightness wasn't the point.

There's a photograph of me at 10 years old: hair tied severely back from my face, coke bottle glasses imperceptibly sliding off my delicate nose, starched blouse buttoned all the way to the top. To this day, I never button a blouse all the way to the top. I remember all too well the choking sensation at my throat, which made my voice sound brittle. It's a visceral memory that I choose not to revisit upon myself. That old photograph is a misguided omen pushed out from the banks of a long and winding river by a belief or an ancestor who no longer needs to be driving my future from a distant shore I left many years ago.

Yesterday's nerves were quickly assuaged by my awareness that there's more to this journey than the sensation of being penetrated by unwanted or judgmental gazes. There's also the way my own gaze penetrates, softly but decisively. The way my eyes create beauty and draw it to the surface in places where it has been bashful or unrecognized. Places where kind eyes open up to me and become portals through which I can glide, at ease, unhurried. 

I don't need to drink myself into a stupor anymore in order to experience myself or be experienced as worthy of space and attention, or to know myself as one fluid comet of energy. Tail streaming in the atmosphere. A spectacular sight to behold.

I don't have to be spectacular. I don't have to be nice. I don't have to be funny. I don't have to be in a good mood. I don't have to be smart. I don't have to be certain. I don't have to be finished, in the way I used to believe confident people always were. Complete life forms unto themselves, crafted painstakingly by a zealous artist who always ensured that her creations would be compelling and unambiguous. Archetypal characters wrought by the finest hand.

I am not a character. I'm not complete. I speak in unfinished sentences. I carry my unshed tears and jagged edges into every bright and noisy room. My conflicts are probably compelling only to a handful of people. I loom like a shadow at the edges. I am rounded corners, as well. Subtle dips into hushed conversations at candle-lit tables. The kind of unexpected reverie that makes you ask aloud, “What was I just saying?”I am all that. I do not seek to impress. Sometimes I do not seek to express. I show up, I shine, I dim. I am inconsistent. I'm a series of 41 dashed lines representing years that approximate a human life…one I am still learning to grow into.

Midnight Stroll

The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep. 
And miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep. –Robert Frost

I remember the poet’s words as the moonlight falls on the path, lighting up the plumes of mist that seem to swallow the trees like pale, ghostly shadows.

Although it’s dark, I feel as if the moon is a giant stage light, set upon this scene, where there are many players, both visible and invisible. I am in good company.

It’s a warm evening, with just a light breeze that makes me pull my shawl more tightly around my shoulders. The grass is slightly wet from the dew of the wee hours of morning, and as my bare feet touch the earth, a thrill goes up my spine: both at the slight electric crackle of the grass and the tense anticipation that builds in my heart as I wind down the path, slowly and deliberately.

I can hear the tinkle of tiny fairy voices, like bells ringing in the near distance, joining forces with the soft whoosh of the wind through the trees. In my peripheral vision I can almost see their lights: wild dancing orbs of pale blue, purple, green…twinkling like miniature stars in the foliage.

“Am I going to recognize her when I see her?” I wonder aloud. What if she is dark and subtle, and she escapes my notice? What if she comes upon me all of a sudden, and I’m so freaked out that I forget my mission and flee in the opposite direction—toward artificial lights, central heating, and my lover’s solid embrace?

I shake my head, resolved then and there. No…I am here for mystery, for uncertainty, for the puzzle I’ve been told that only I can solve. I gave up security eons ago, even though some primal part of me longs for it. But there is a force greater than all of that, and it lulled me out of bed and bade me to walk an unfamiliar path in near darkness…it bade me to relinquish my long-harbored fear of the unknown and to simply give myself over to it.

 “This had better be good,” I mutter to myself.

The sound of the bells gets even louder, and then…there she is. Almost an apparition. Almost hardly here. I see her first as more of an archetype than a solid reality: the shape of a woman not yet brought into full form. Her long, lithe body is wrapped in a cloak of deep violet fire, which also contains blazing ropes of cobalt, vermilion, and emerald.

She is beautiful, and she is terrible.

She holds a truth I have never beheld with my naked eye, and yet I’ve always known she was there. I knew ten years ago, right before the collapse of my marriage and the moment I would come to recognize as the death of my life as I knew it. I was on a beach in Hawaii, and I felt her ancient power across the screaming tides. Pele, who called for ritual sacrifice to sate the thirst of the angry Earth. Pele, whose thirst for transformation asks for nothing and demands everything.

And here she is, in this moonlit forest in upstate New York. A force of oceanic fire that has come to me, after all these years.

I don’t need to say anything. I hear her words, except they can’t be conveyed in actual words or a voice. They are a rumble, a quake, the sound of reality being cleaved from its solid foundations.

“You are not here for yourself, I know. You are here for something that is extraordinary and yet to be written. It is larger than you, or the past, or the present, or the future. it is connected to cosmic upheaval and new beginnings. For even with endings, there are beginnings. You must remember this. Don’t dwell on the fear, or the pain, or the idea that you are at the mercy of forces larger than you. You are in me. I am holding you. Come closer, into the belly of the so-called beast. Be warmed by the fire that never dies. Ask for something much larger than you think you have the courage to bear or to deserve. The old laws were meant to be broken. Enter the spirit of chaos, and within it you will form a new order. There will be much uncertainty, and much guidance. The hallmark of the soul of the old world is that it believes itself to be singular. A tiny flame that once it is snuffed out, is no more. Join your fire to the fire of the world soul. Be willing to express yourself as a dance of many flames. For that is all that the divine is. A oneness that is a many-ness. See yourself as all the flames and your sight will multiply. When you know yourself in all directions, there is nothing left to fear.”