Shela from Tijuana and I have been WWOOFing here for several weeks.

Her name is Gail. She’s tall for a Mexican, average for an American, and she’s been here for sixteen years. For sixteen years—by choice!—living with the corruption of Sinaloa’s government, the slowness of everything, the heat, and the wet. I wondered how she makes any money off of it and she said, “Oh sweetheart I don’t. I have so much credit card debt back in the States.”

We went into town one Saturday to sell our wares and came away having spent almost all that we made on groceries, tools, buckets. She bought a jar of olives and called it a splurge. “We can share it,” she said to us.

The next week she had to pay her phone bill and taxes and we spent more than the remainder on wine, eggs, and discounted vegetable matter.

We sell our organic produce, dried and canned goods hecho en casa and buy the cheapest comestibles we safely can. We shopped at Sam’s Club, waiting in line behind old gringos with their bottles of Grey Goose. This must be what Marx meant by alienation to one’s own labor.

She wakes up before the sun every day and works with the dusty soil, coaxing it to produce beautiful zinnias and slow-growing carrots. The “greenhouses” she built with her illiterate gardener are really wood frames and cloth for the bugs, not glass for heat. There is too much heat here. She built casitas on the beach for gringos and narcos and politicians to rent, and they are beautiful. But if you look closely you see the humidity swelling and rusting and destroying constantly.

Her silver hair would hang down her back if ever it was untied. As it is, I’ve only seen her in holey t-shirts and men’s blue jeans. A baseball cap for the sun, bleached almost to white. Gail speaks with a wide-open mouth to display receding gums and long teeth. She is as brown as a white woman can get and her eyes, somewhere between blue and green, are wide always with panic.

It took some time to get used to her panic. Her refrain of “oh, SHIT” no longer startles me. I know it’s exaggerated, I know she chose to live this way. She makes mountains out of anthills. She calls herself a workaholic and she’s certainly mired herself in deep with work. I can’t tell if she’s happy. I suppose I’ve been happy sometimes when I, like her, feel tossed and turned and chewed up by life. There’s not a lot more satisfying than successfully tying up miles of loose ends. There are only loose ends to work with around here.

She has a good heart which I don’t understand. She loves the earth, loves it in her fingernails and smeared on her face. Gail talks about her past in terms of previous lives. “In one life when my son was a baby I had a daycare. It was so much fun, we all did potty training together, and the way the house was made it so they could go around through the kitchen, dining room, hallway, living room, past the front door in a circle on their little bikes. They loved racing around.”

In another past life she boarded horses, in one she raised dairy goats, in a life in Northern California she had fifteen employees and flowers paid all of their bills. In her most recent she worked at a battered women’s shelter. She said the worst cases were usually the police who abused their wives because they had power and access to information. Then she divorced and moved down here.

Our trips into town are always educational. It’s two hours driving in a van full of goods and signs and tables. We have to stop at the restaurant she built to fill our coolers with the organic salsas, jams, and fruit juices her kitchen workers process. The three of us sit in the front together with me in a small plastic chair wedged between the front seats. We leave at 4am, she’s always coming down from her wine binge so Shela and I never know whether to expect Mama Gail or the very rude stress gynoid who sometimes replaces her.

“My kids are always begging me to come back to Washington,” she tells us regularly, “but I couldn’t. There’s too much work to do here.”

Gail would love to have goats again. The dry brush and rocky terrain is perfect for goats, and she loves their personalities. But she told us that a neighbor once had a herd of one hundred, with watchdogs and everything. He left them to eat lunch one day with his daughters and when he came back he found his dogs, poisoned, and truck tracks headed towards the mountains. No goats. She told us about the crippled pony who lived in town the first few years she was here in Barras de Piaxtla. “That pony was a mascot. It could go wherever it wanted with its club foot. The dogs would bark but the town loved it.”

She has a sister in Nevada and one in Arizona. “My younger sister is even crazier than I am,” she told us, “she’s a ferrier and works in forges in the heat in Reno, her arms are covered in burn marks. I’m sure our parents thank god for Linda. I borrowed four thousand dollars from her this summer and now she tells me I’m an indentured servant until it’s paid off. She’s got a lot of home-improvement projects and things to do. Linda has the most boring life!”



I’m perhaps average crazy. Perhaps in remission.

Yesterday I closed my eyes & felt my teeth scraping the concrete until they were all ripped from my mouth. But when I peeled back my lids, I peeled back into reality.

When I was younger I starved myself for truly no reason.

He’s afraid of his brain–& reasonably so. He wakes sometimes & yet continues dreaming. I wouldn’t have liked to inherit my mother’s brain either.

It’s that borderline between sleep & waking life. For in our sleep we all have delusions of grandeur. In our sleep we hallucinate & awake we all engage in self-harm.

There are lies I’ve told myself often enough to make them true. To make the truth an untruth.

If perception is not reality, there is no reality.

Sometimes one has to go along with it. Sometimes one has to escape. I wonder if we are all faking it.

In the end, it’s all in how we manifest our necessarily self-centered worldviews. Each of us a microcosm, each of us constructing reality in our own eyes, ears, mouths. Depression, anxiety, we wonder if others see us how we see ourselves.

But a spark of trauma, a disassociation, an underlying profusion of dopamine, can create a cascade of impossibility. I suppose it’s whether or not we realize our truth is just that—our truth. For we all have our own. Nothing is real.


I want to commit this memory to my own external hard drive before it’s lost in my unreliable mind. Early March, 2014.

The day I left—which dragged on into night—was a study of bad timing.

I had my backpack packed with clothes and essentials, ready to go to my parents’ for a few weeks. It had been a long time coming. It had been coming since before we were married, and I even knew it then. But for some reason I was more afraid of being without him than with him.

“James. I’m leaving. I can’t live with you anymore and I want a divorce.” The red pack gave me a little more weight and confidence. I always feel safe with the hip and chest straps pulled tight.

He stood up, his broad-shouldered 6’6” frame casting my smaller one all in shadow. James had a nice face. I liked it anyways. It was broad with a snub nose and bright blue eyes. He had a beard and soft curly brown hair. He had a scar cutting through his left eyebrow and temple from a fight years ago. He was 32, a heavy smoker since god knows when, so wrinkles were starting to spread latitudes across his forehead. He wasn’t smiling now but he had a winning grin. He was awfully charismatic.

“No you’re not.”

I don’t remember what exactly transpired but the next thing I knew, we were in the bedroom. Maybe we had started there. If so, that was a mistake. I should have known not to corner myself in a room with only one exit. I had my backpack on still, thinking that I was ready, I was ready, I was leaving, I had decided it and no one could stop me. We were in there for hours and it’s all just a jumble.

I made a move for the door, he pulled me down, hard by the handle on my backpack. I landed on my tailbone on the floor. I felt like he was mocking me. I tried again, I tried the windows, I tried to push him out of the way but of course he’s twice my size and so I failed. He picked me up and sat me on the bed, like a toddler in a time-out. He pinned me down with his hands and knees. He smelled like James, which is to say like Marlboro menthols and booze.

I begged, I tried to bargain, “I’ll come back I just need some time!”

I told him that I really did love him, I was just confused or overwhelmed or who knows.

I screamed as loudly as I could for help, hoping someone else in our building would care. No one did. James clapped a fat-knuckled hand over my mouth and squeezed my face until a tear came out of my eye. He smiled. Tears were our currency and in that we were wealthy beyond compare.

He chaperoned me to the bathroom once or twice, returning me again to the bed and blocking the door.

He got a knife and cut his wrist, “Look how this is hurting me!”

He looked at the knife, twisting it to catch the light and said, “Maybe a murder-suicide…”

He was my first love. To this day I don’t know why. My parents love each other and were nice enough to me. I haven’t had another abusive relationship, it’s not a pattern with me. In actual fact, I’ve felt like the one with more power in all of my other relationships. I think I was mentally ill at that age. In fact I’m certain of it.

He didn’t hurt me in any way that left marks. He only cut himself. He only terrified me and made me feel utterly powerless. After hours of bargaining, I think he realized how unsustainable the hostage situation was. Maybe he just wanted beer. But he let me go, with the promise that I would keep open lines of communication and that I would see him again.

I drove, sweaty and shaking, the brief ten minutes to my childhood home. I told some of what had passed to my parents and the older ones of my siblings.

James called and texted me, my mother, and my older sister countless times. I told them not to answer.

He sent me a photo of his sliced-up arm. He said he was going to kill himself. This was not the first time he’d threatened suicide. In fact, he’d been talking about it on and off since we had met two summers before. I used to think it was deep and that he was a troubled romantic. I suppose I still think that. I talk about suicide like it’s something bright gold.

Radio silence happened right around 10pm. It was cold outside, spring comes late in the Midwest. I think it was a new moon.

“What if he did it?” I asked out loud.

No one had an answer.

We talked about our options and decided to call him an ambulance. If he hadn’t bled too much, maybe he had overdosed on a combination of god knows what drugs he kept hidden from me.

An ambulance came and they called me to let them into the apartment. I didn’t expect this, I don’t know what I expected but I had assumed for some reason they’d have a way to open the door. So I had to go back. My mother came and one of my brothers.

I unlocked the front door. It was dark and quiet.

“He’s probably in here.” I pointed to the room with his xbox and bong. And he was there, passed out in a drunken stupor. He moved a little bit and the EMT said they couldn’t really do anything to help him.

“He’s suicidal, look at his arm! Can’t you take him somewhere to be safe for a few days?”

The EMT shined a flashlight and saw the mangled red. He agreed that he could do that.

James saw the light and woke up, confused.

“Hey, we want to help you. You’re not well, will you come with us to the hospital?

James screamed a primal scream of rage, stood up, wobbled, and bolted out the door. He pushed an EMT down on his way out. He ran for a few blocks and they chased him. I didn’t see what happened but the EMT told me later that he’d tried to punch one of them and in return had been sprayed with mace. James fell and lay on the ground, bleeding and crying under the moonless night sky. My mother and I stood silent from a distance as they loaded him into the ambulance. I couldn’t cry anymore.


Same old story, you ought to know by now.

Low low low get me high high bliss that eyes above the clouds, hiss of wind, crisp blue & white a cold sweat but fresh but timeless, young, free.

Low low low I close off. Low, frozen I unfocus my gaze to see naught. I know in the end she fucks me. I know I’ll end up medicated & placated, dessicated or swollen. I know I’ll end up some kind of bum.

Low low low get me away. Swing low & swing me away, crescent moon, swing low.

I don’t even dream now. I don’t even see how to stop the process started for fun—for disctraction now nothing distracts me.

Pure white, wet sweat, draw blood, crack my shell, make me love, fuck me, leave me for dead.

I think I get the songs, now.

I think I’ll sing along, now.

Paralells of flesh and ice, it’s all the same end game.


Tenemos que cambiarnos.

I’m leaving. It’s been two years. I’ve grown, this city has grown. Seattle was a great place to spend my early twenties but now I must live with more purpose or wilt. As modern, flat-faced townhouses and Amazon campuses suck the life from this sweet pocket of cedars and Sound, I must remove myself.

I look back gratefully on my time here. I’ve come a little too close to forming a drug habit—just to stay awake in the rain-drenched winter. I’ve fallen into a love I couldn’t conceptualize from the outside, blessed by the pines and the Little Blue Guys. I’ve fallen into several slightly less abstract loves, making up for time squandered in fear and boxes. I have fucked a man in a hotel room in Belltown for $400, a bottle of wine, and some pretty good crab cakes. I wanted the experience more than the money, collector that I am. I’ve hiked a few hundred miles, I’ve cried a few hundred tears. I’ve gotten much better with a guitar and much worse with objective reality.

I came from the Midwest, running away at 22 from an abusive marriage and from my own brokenness. Or maybe malformation. I will desert to Mexico with no fear at all.

Our plan is scant, to say the least. Andrew and I have two months left here. I’ve given my bosses, told my landlord. October 20th. I’ll sell my car for funds, I’ll change my hair back from purple to brown. Andrew and I have both taught English abroad—me in Madrid, him in Volgograd, Russia—and so we feel up to the challenge. We’re certified TOFEL educators. We’ll have several thousand USD, an upper-intermediate ability to communicate in Spanish, and our wiles and charm.

We’re a good team, he and I. He’s a fast learner, he’s quick to like people, gregarious and outgoing. He gets a little in his head about what people expect of him. I’m shy, always wanting to be less so. I think too much in a different way and tend towards melancholy. I couldn’t give fewer fucks what the world thinks. I feel like the inside of my head is all corners and his is an open meadow. His eyes are transparently blue. We talk about our hypothetical future child a lot, and we’ll name her Cedar Stripe Blinkinsop.

We don’t know what to expect, which is great because expectations only breed frustration.




To be great, to leave a mark, to pee on this tree so the other dogs will know you were there first, that in fact, the tree is yours. This is the clarion call. No matter that most kids hate history class, so many of us want to be in that book. So many of us want that our names are stripped of all humanity, that their inked, spiny forms exist separate from our selves in the list of “Men Who Achieved.”

It seems to me a top-down drive. In a few recent conversations, I’ve noticed this characteristic in some close friends and friends of theirs. First comes the aggrandizement, the desire, then the scramble to produce something, anything worthy of that vanity. And it seems to me a frustrating, frustrated process. Inorganic, rooted in a most miserable, most human quality.

“You have plenty of time to be great.”

“Yes, but I’m almost out of time to be young and great.”

Hopefully our next decade will be, as I’ve heard it is, happier. Perhaps we will end the self-torture of comparison. Or we will dissolve into the bottle to kill the pain of failure, like so many non-greats, and like almost as many greats.

In the meantime, we beat ourselves over the head with this vague desire. We lose the trees, the birdsong, the present moment. We thieve ourselves of any joy by holding it to the close light of our neighbor’s. Or even to our interpretation of that light, not the light-in-itself. Our youth yellow and mealy, slipping farther away, spent and exhausted from what we put her through.

I could cry, and I sometimes do, for the waste of it. And I don’t even want to be great, I cry for the peripheral experience of frustration. I want to scream, to grab shoulders and shake as hard as I can. I want to affix blinders on them so they see just their own paths, undistracted by the ghosts of “more, better, sooner.”

Here’s to the future.


Death has been creeping into all of my thoughts lately. I’m afraid life is too short, the part of life I want to live even shorter.

Drip-drip-drip gravity drops

Dull days, dark nights, spin spin

Into weeks, months, decades.

Where does the time go?

One can’t know.

Each year flies faster,

Through the open window.


She pulls down new skin,

Draws out our inner demons

Terrified, wild-eyed, in the face of

The flow of time.

Drip-drip-drip, it slows

To a trickle-trickle-trick



Then what but blankness,

Like before our birth.

The world is never still,

Still burning, still


Only we are gone.

Only we were never there.