The interview has not been altered. All responses given are unedited.
All photos taken by Alexandra Roman
I believe in myself, and I believe that time moves forward. My faith has failed me in the past, other people have failed me, my own ideas about the world have failed me. Even science has been refuted, disproved, turned on its head, etc. I’ve failed myself, too, countless times, but while I can throw out my beliefs in religion, science, and people in general, I can never throw out my belief in myself simply because I would have nothing left. And that’s comforting to me.
Yes, in many different senses of the word. Romantically, I have been in love once, where I gave the entirety of myself to another person, and received the entirety of that person in return. While it was incredibly important to me and to my health at the time, in hindsight I’m not sure if I would want that again. It was very intense, and I felt (and still sometimes feel) uncomfortable in an identity that was essentially crafted by my relationship with someone I have since fallen out of contact with. Other types of love, however, I enjoy often. I have love for many people, intense love which sometimes come from appreciation, sometimes admiration. The love I feel can be romantic or sexual, but is often neither. I see love as being expansive, fluid, and often mis-identified. It is neither positive nor negative, it’s just a thing that people feel, or that they think they feel. It’s just a thing that drives action, which means we don’t need to manipulate it, force it, deny it, or resist it. We just have to let it be.
Oh, hell yeah. But the thing about heartbreak is that it doesn’t last, and whether it’s days or years, the feeling is eventually overcome. I’ve broken my own heart countless times by forcing something that wasn’t natural and by demanding more of myself than was possible. And others break my heart, too, all the time. But really the important thing to know about heartbreak is that it ends. I like to think that there are endless ways to kill your heartbreak prematurely, cut down the healing time. When I find one that works, you’ll be the first to know.
I think the presence of the internet and social media is an incredible human achievement. I mean, I really think it’s a miracle that we, as a species, were able to find a solution to one of humankind’s biggest problems (isolation), and turn it into this worldwide social network that really doesn’t exist outside of our screens. But I think that that’s also the biggest problem with relationships today, being that they are often highly fueled by technology, and while that in itself isn’t a problem, I think people do forget that the idea of an “online social network” is paradoxical in itself. I mean, none of that stuff exists. None of it is real. Because how could it be? How could you possibly show the complexity of a human–a real, living human–within a series of Instagram posts? Or Facebook shares?
So in that way, it’s all fake. It’s all people showing versions or parts of themselves they think others will resonate with, and others displaying those same concentrated versions of themselves, and then resonating with others’ false images...
It’s a nauseating cycle, which could maybe be compared to shining a light only in one corner of a room, and trying to sell the whole house based on that single corner. Sure, it’s a nice corner, but how meaningless and stupid does it sound for someone to buy that house based solely on that? And yet, relationships have been built and maintained on less.
We see others on social media who remind us of ourselves, or what we like about ourselves, at least. And I think it’s kind of darkly funny that something we created to connect with others often does the opposite. If we (on social media) are displaying idealized renderings of ourselves, which we are, then when we “connect” with someone via the internet, all we’re proving is that we both have similar ideas of what’s acceptable, of what others will want to see. And that’s not a connection, that’s a train of people fooling each other into believing that those relationships are real, that they could be real, that it’s anything more than a gigantic waste of time.
It’s funny that you ask that, because I actually pride myself on my self-awareness. And I’m miserable. I don’t think anyone who truly knows themselves can be happy, simply because humans are flawed. We are self-serving, a trait which has been rewarded through evolution as a survival tactic, but which in modern times often leads to pain and hardship on all sides. And while I love being self-serving because it serves me, I’ve hurt countless people by doing so. So yes, I know myself. I know my mistakes and why I made them, my faults and how they’ve influenced me, my regrets. But with all that, I am still thankful for my self-awareness, because while it shows me all my flaws, it also shows me strength. Knowing myself has taught me to be forgiving with myself, because I mean, damn, I make a mistake every day! I mean: every. Single. Day. And that’s more than okay, it’s natural. It allows me to see myself not as my pieced-together virtues, but as a whole. And by viewing myself as a whole person, I know that my viewings of myself are genuine. And that does bring me happiness.
Loyalty is a strong bond between a person and some other thing, or many things. I think anyone who claims to be loyal has to be selfless to an extent, because loyalty, to me, means you’re willing to set aside what you want for the sake of that you are loyal to. It sounds a little bit like love, but I think love is more of a give and take. Loyalty doesn’t require that degree of reciprocity.
I’ve certainly betrayed people, but betrayal is harder to classify in hindsight. Many of my own actions that I saw as betraying my friends, for example, felt less like betrayals as over time I realized that those people were not my friends, and that I didn’t owe them a single ounce of my loyalty. But then the few betrayals that have stayed with me are so much worse for that reason, because I keep expecting time to lessen that pain, but it only grows stronger.
One of the insecurities that’s been hardest to combat for me is probably my anxiety about how people view me. I think this comes, generally, from assigning way too much meaning to my own existence. I mean, everyone is so wrapped up in their own worlds, I think we (or I) don’t realize that no one really cares if you trip going up the stairs, or wear the same shirt three times in one week, or eat breakfast alone. Although we are made up of small details like that, at the end of the day it’s the whole that will surface. If you’re a nice person, if you’re respectful, if you care about others, then that will show through.
And if you aren’t and don’t, well, that will show through too. So while I’m sort of hyperaware that people view me falsely, and judge me based on that view, I try not to let it bother me. It’s actually been a positive force in my life, because it makes me keep my own judgements of people in check. And I’ve really benefited from that, whether it’s my attitude, or all the lovely people I’ve been open to meet and grow familiar with. So while it bothers me, it also works to make me feel good in myself and my relationships, which I’m grateful for.
Well, at this point in time I’m trying to do as many diverse projects as I can, and while it’s tempting to confine myself to my comfort zone, branching out into different forms has really made me feel like I’ve grown as a writer over the years. So in that vein, I honestly don’t think I’ll ever be able to state an all encompassing direction of my art, as I’m usually trying to convey diverse themes with various tools at once. Sometimes my writing can even feel completely without purpose, but because I’m writing from my own emotion, my art is never impersonal. In that way, perhaps you could say the purpose of my art is to convey my feelings, but even that seems so vague a label it calls us to question why we even need to label our actions with a purpose. I write and make art because I need to, because I would be no one if I didn’t. If anything, I would say my art is the purpose of me.
Like I said above, there’s a lot of diverse themes going on for me right now, because what I’m writing comes directly from the emotion I happen to be feeling. For those reasons, I would say I’ve geared my writing in the direction of social-justice in recent years, as I’ve seen and felt the rights of myself and my peers threatened or called into question. But that’s certainly not all I try to express, and I would say my themes vary highly, running from sexism and toxic hook-up culture all the way to the changing weather patterns. As long as a theme is meaningful enough for me to take the time to communicate it, hopefully I would write it in such a way as to make it meaningful to all who read my work. I guess that’s the core of why I’m writing what I am, at least in this moment. I want to take things that people aren’t paying enough attention to, and then sort of use the beauty of my lyric or the strength of my narrative to make them pay attention. It sounds manipulative I’m sure, but that’s the idea. If I’m a skilled enough manipulator, my writing might even earn me a paycheck.
My art is for myself. But poetry, like most art, is inherently political. It comes from a place of emotion, you know? And passion. So I don’t really write for anyone, but I think my experiences can resonate with a lot of people. And I do think that the things I’m writing are things that the world needs to hear, because if there’s no reason for people to read it, why write it?
My muse would have to be the world surrounding me, and my reactions to it. Writing is inherently personal, so while I write not necessarily from my own experiences, I always write from my own emotions. Anything that I find provocative sort of becomes my muse for that moment. It’s not the emotion itself that matters, but the presence of that emotion is what really drives me to make something out of it. I would even go so far as to say I’m my own muse for those reasons; I’m what it all comes from, and I’m the reason it keeps on going. I couldn’t resist myself if I tried.
East Coast Vs. West Coast: The Debate In Terms Of Time-Keeping
In this small Ohio town, with the one long street and all the brick, all the OPEN signs like blinking eyelids, the streetlights stretching on and on, it’s springtime. Everything is blooming. There are corners that seem to freeze with winter even as the spring sun melts them down, blows the blossoms off the trees and into frosty blankets of white and pink, pollen, lots of allergies. Here, every season is defined by a hard shift in temperature, a visible change of scenery. The trees transform from holding snowflakes heavy on their branches to bursting flowers out from their green green tips, warm-weather buds of pink and gold.
It makes me nervous here, how the seasons are so deliberate. I walk backwards through the night, I feel the same heat I felt a year ago, I hear the same night sounds. I’m uncharacteristically nostalgic. This is a feeling that doesn’t plague me in Northern California, where every season breeds the same gray fog, and I only know the time of year by solid events: the first day of school, the glow of Hannukah candles, all the different birthdays.
California Time is ambiguous, and passes very slowly, or not at all. This is the time when they are selling roadside strawberries warm with ripeness, and this is when I have to wear two sweaters in the morning, and this is when the Monarch butterflies are found in garden after garden, the squirts of sun like tulip kissing tulip.
In California, the winds meander just the same in winter as in spring, in fact it often seems like neither spring nor winter exist. Instead, there’s just the gentle winds, the fog that drifts in from across the bay, combing the marshes out of this coastal town and that one, stretching long fingers of sun-pierced vapor towards the cliffs. Fog, which holds the night air in close until morning, which keeps it cool, and quiet. Turns the world beneath it to black, and white. The months of Season X, where the temperature doesn’t drop below 60––Seaside Season, where the sun is almost strong enough to melt the ocean cloud cover, but never is. I wear a tank top and shorts underneath sweats.
The undefinability of time in California is oh so comforting, and there, among the sunlit shores––the glowing hills, the dryness that begs for ember––I forget that time is a thing that passes. How could I be aged by coastal breezes? How could any amount of sand, wetted fresh with salt, push me through the hourglass, push me towards that other shore, “The Future”, the distant beach, as far away as it is right up against my skin. The future, which pushes me away even as it pulls me closer.
But not so here, Ohio, where every budding tree and scalding wind seem to grab me by my cheeks, my nose, and scream future! future! loud enough to make my eyes tear up a little bit. Ohio, where I must oppress the ticking clock before it reveals my life as something that is rushing by, faster every year that passes.
It was never like this in California, where I seemed to age seven years without even noticing. In comparison, every second in Ohio is loud and inescapable. I can feel the sun writing wrinkles in my skin, my age ballooning with every gust of wind; I hate the sound of too-loud laughs, of drunkenness. I even hate the wind itself, although in California the salty whisperings which blow and blush throughout my hair are welcome, my hair which grows longer with the breezes, not the years. In California, keeping time is more an accidental thing. I guess I need to get new clothes again, oh look this scar has finally disappeared within my skin, and: Wow, Thanksgiving already?
The casual progression of time within my hometown means my nostalgias and recollections there come naturally. A year ago, in summer, I needed to get out of the house. I walked to the cliffs. It was a mile before I had to blink the salt from my eyes. I went to see the Monarch butterflies among the Eucalyptus trees, and as I watched they appeared to me as if in a television program, or a dream that has no sound, the murmurs of their wings were so quiet.
The place where I had walked sits still beside the beach, protected special for these butterflies, and they hang off every tree like leaves, outnumber even the decomposing fruit on the ground. I was thinking back to these same butterflies, all the elementary school field trips, the birthday parties held next to the waves, in the hot sand only a short hike away, all the hours spent with my back flat on the ground, looking up. The silence of this place is a mandate, because noises disturb the Monarch’s gentleness, and as they float from tallest trunk to taller one the quiet seems to grow with every swell that crashes on the distant beach. I close my eyes, can smell the Eucalyptus still. This is what I call “Positive and Natural Recollection”, this is what I have not felt since I left my home, 2000 miles back.
It’s hard to not despise nostalgia when I confront it at every step, at every turn of time, every switch from empty Ohio branch, to branch loaded high with flower petals, to orange branch like one hundred Monarchs sit upon it with still still wings, and back to frosted, empty branch again. The wind pours hot off Lake Erie, and I cannot taste a thing about it, where it came from, why it’s here. I can only taste my age like metal in my mouth. The wind knots my hair around my neck like a fine, fine chain, but one I can’t take off. that melts into my skin like candle wax, or springtime frost
A Fraction Of The Story
There is a shore within the human heart, and where the waters lap the sand is smooth, and holds no footprints.
The cliffs have called to me since I was very young. I like their rocky edges, and the ocean breeze. Something about coastal sound is different. Inland, I can hear every single word. I can hear the sound of fabric ripping, I can hear my fingers scratching at my pulse.
Cliffside sound is different. Everything is in the background to the rush of water, and the seabirds, the sediment that slides down rock. I sit here, often. Replay conversations until they sound like they were recorded in the salted wind, until they’re more ksh kshhhhh than anything, until they are forgotten.
V. The Middle of Everything
I framed pictures of broken plates, hung them on my wall.
I often dreamt of floating in the deeper sea. I had no fear of the dark, or of the creatures in it. When my eyes were closed I didn’t see a thing. When they were open, only blackness. Ahead, a flash of light. And then behind me. I ignored the fishing lures, the flashlight beams on the wall. I deny the ghost story even as I’m running from the tapping on my window. I tell myself that I am floating in the middle of the world; I deny that I am sinking.
The narcissus––my favorite flower,
because what is a mirror
except a pool to drown in?
It was an old door, and thick. I could tell it was old by the way it pushed back against my hand, and clung to the threshold like roots. By the way it did not want me to open it, and by the old-growth groan as it shut. Sometime after the door, there was a yellow room. I chose the window seat with sunny curtains. I crossed and uncrossed my legs. Everyone in the room was wringing their thin fingers; I was, too. Most of us were women, but not all were. Most of us had too big smiles, or no smiles at all. I looked at the woman across from me. She spoke, and I heard her. Her hair was in a long braid down her back, and so was mine. She blinked rapidly, and I passed her a tissue. The sunlight ran down her cheeks like oil slicks, and down mine as well, from my lashes to the edge of my chin. She reached out her hand, and I held it. I looked in the mirror, and she was what I saw. She sparked like a fork in a socket, so did I.
I have always admired women, who can change their form in the blink of an eye, iron to velvet. Who can knock the beehive out of the tree, and convince the drone his honey weighed it down. These women, who have truly found the secret to being alive.
What is it?
She says my problem is I only wanna go skin deep. I say, “how much deeper could Iget?”
I’m so white it hurts to look at me. Hurts even me, even though I look at myself every couple of minutes. I show even the smallest stain, and I drop myself, often.
My skin is so white, if I press my thumb into my wrist, and hold still my pulse, and sink deep into the silver vein, it will leave a mark for many weeks.
I wish I could take it off the way I take off my dirty underwear. I wish I could give it back, and get something fresh.
Are you the things that are inside you? Are you the things that are leaking out?
Have you ever seen a river jump its banks? It’s slow slow slow, tickling the riparian zone, wicking up through the sediments like a cloth thrown on spilt wine. Before you realize, it’s up to your ankles and then, in a blink, it’s up to your neck.
Have you ever stood in a river up to your neck? It’s very cold, at first. It’s very cold. And then, it doesn’t feel like anything at all.
If You Burn A Forest, Does The Sap Melt Down To Maple Syrup?
When I come here to work, I like to sit against a wall. In this way, the buzz of the place is lessened to a hum, and then lessened even further into wide mouths opening and closing like beached fish, emitting no sound. I am here to do. Work. (Am I telling you? Am I reminding myself?)
From where I’m sitting, I cannot feel the April wind, which surges off the lake with heaviness, and when I’m struck with it it might as well be a wave of water, or a wall. I am pushed up against the window. The metal casings around the glass keep my back straight up, up close beside the wall that isn’t a wall, and I can see a hornet has gotten in. This cafe has propped their doors open, and I’m grateful for the air (I breathe it in), but as I watch the insect struggle its way up the glass window, I begin to feel uneasy; I anxiously grasp at stray strands of hair that tickle around my face, loose threads hanging off my hem. No one else has seen the wriggling body, the yellow stripes, the way it crawls at an agonizing pace, one grossly thin foot after another. No one else has seen it but me.
I am walking now, to clear my head, to move along the strange crampings of my breathing, to hold my body closer to me, button up, scratch everywhere that I couldn’t in such a dense and buzzing place, the faces always peering in. Everyone seems to be looking into me, even as I walk my anxious laps around the walls of glass, even when they’re looking out.
I am stuck like sweet honey. Stuck straight in my seat at this tiny, uncomfortable cafe table, back straight, stuck right up like a cornstalk, or a scarecrow. And it’s true, I feel filled with nothing. Am I bursting little pieces from my elbows? Stick them right back into my head, my button eye-holes; what’s the difference, any more? I lost track of the hornet as soon as this boy, my friend who is not my friend, sat down, but in the corner of my eye I’m not using to stare at him, I see it, rubbing its long yellow legs together, running a pin-thin arm along the length of the thorax. Why does it do that? Can it taste itself? Its color? Can it see? And what does it taste like?
We sit across from each other, cramped and squeezed together, him and I, against a wall. My head clangs against the side of it every time I turn to look outside. We stare at each other on accident, when the two axes of our sights intersect, while running their ovals around the room. We are like two planets with orbits of different lengths, passing by only once every couple hundred years.
I have been thinking of walls. Their stopping power, the way they seem to crop up around me like daffodils. So pretty, my favorite flower, did you ask? Yellow in whole new types of ways, especially when March freezes them into amber crystals. Especially when halted with ice.
A fruit fly brushes past me and I jump. The hairs on my hands stand up and I jump again. (Where is that hornet??) This place has fruit flies everywhere; they gather at the bottom of my cup. I hear a buzzing, and jump one more time. It is only the humming of his headphones. Are you okay? he asks. I want to cry, but instead I say Yes, absolutely doing really good, actually, in fact I’m doing just great, so GODdamn great!!!!!
I’m thinking about walls made of glass.
Now, I’m thinking about looking, and now, looking in.
I lied up above. We do look at each other, purposely, and often. I will glance up to make sure he’s not looking at me, because if he ever is oh boy am I gonna catch him. Mostly, we both like to wander in the same ways, our eyes circle the same types of things, reflect each other every now and then. I haven’t seen eyes that don’t bore me on a boy in a really long time. Or, I have seen, but I have not cared to look, or looked to remember.
I am looking quite a lot.
Listen: glass walls are much easier to break, and this is what makes them so painful. The loud sound, the feeling of throwing a rock, and all the shards on the ground.
Walking again, but he’s with me this time, and it is loud sounds all over. The wind is whipping at me, and all of the cars here roar with need for new exhaust pipes. There is a general rushing presence of sound, and although I am used to the hour being tolled, I do not like the death rattle of the leaves on the trees. I know that much, at least. I know what I don’t like.
As we walk, the conversation feels somewhat forced in parts, at least to me. (I do not know what he thinks of it, you’ll have to ask him). And I hate my fake laugh, wish it was better. Or, at least more convincing. Not that it sounds fake, not at all, it just doesn’t make me happier to laugh it. In fact, I feel it bite me every time. Ha! Ha! Ha! The needle-sting, the self being removed like a blood draw.
We force ourselves onto each other. Or, we have been. Nothing natural about it. All social-media-derived, all grown out of a glow coming from a small magic screen I keep beside my bed with the sound on, just in case.
We have been walking in silence for a little while now, and it only feels awkward because I think it should, and it reassures me that I can feel the wrongness of it all. I ask him all kinds of questions, and I keep all kinds of questions to myself.
“Where is your girlfriend today? What are you doing later? Not later, tonight. What are you singing under your breath?”
I tell him how I never walk West on this campus, only North and South. I don’t really know what I mean by this, but he seems to think about it for a while. Maybe we are both pretending.
Everything here is long and straight. The roads, the telephone wires, Ohio seems to permeate with grids of amber dusts. Amber, the hair color of California Girls, amber like the fossil-maker, which kills the bug, but preserves its DNA, rescues it from time. That clear and killing amber. I feel like I’m the insect here, stuck forever where I am, never really dying.
(How long until I fossilize?)
As we walk, there is no space between us. Or, there are no walls. Instead, there seems to be a pane of frosted glass, a shower curtain, a slice of fog. Do you hear what I’m saying? I want to see his colors, I only see his silhouette.
“Where is your girlfriend today? What are you doing later? Not later, tonight. What are you singing under your breath? Do you hear that? No, be quiet. Listen. Hold my hand. Do you hear it? If you’re quiet you can hear your own breath. If you’re silent, you can hear mine. Closer. Do you hear it? Do you hear anything?”
We are sitting in the same place again. While I watch him not look at me, I think about setting fire to the whole building. (I have not burned anything in many months.) My mind wanders, and my face grows hot, my hands. I think my muscles burn with fire-starting. I am laughing as everything grows hotter, truly laughing, cackling, crying. I am setting fire to the corners, and running away. I want to see it burn, don’t want to get caught with the torch in my hands. I am wearing all black, the hood all the way up, the drawstrings pulled tight enough to choke.
In my dreams, a voice always wakes me right before I hit the ground, but no one’s there, only my phone blinking softly with emails. “Last minute Graduation gifts!!” “YOUR free ticket to an irresistible summer body!” “IMPORTANT notice regarding your registration status, please reply”.
This morning, I hit the ground running. We are beside each other once again, against the wall, reflecting looks off each other in the glass. I can see me beside myself, beside him beside himself, beside him. I watch him move his mouth. I hate his lips. I want to kiss––.
Have you ever run into a sliding glass door? It’s a little bit like that, the THUNGGG!, the reverberations from the door and in your skull, ung-ung-unnngggggg, which makes it sound much cruder than it is
it is a clean sound. Looking at him is like looking through double paned glass. I can see, but I cannot hear. I can look, but I cannot come in. And what does he see when he is looking, looking out (always out) at me? My mouth opening and closing soundlessly? My quiet tapping at the glass? The way my clothes pull tight when I breathe deeply? Or does he only see his own reflection?
In my dreams, I reach out to grab his hand. Even in my dreams, he pulls away.
There is a mirror at the very end of my hallway. As I walk towards it, I see my shape twist and bend. The light plays tricks on itself, on my body, my mind. This light that swells my hips to summer cantaloupe, which burst in sunshine from their sweetness, also shrinks my hips back down. The light blows me up and thins me out, stretches. I often feel like I am stretched too thin, the moonlight resting on my scalp a clinging force, the earth below my feet magnetic too, holding to me close, letting me be stretched to pieces. This is how it feels, not how it happens.
It’s sometimes like my arms are bound with ropes of hair and thorny vines, my legs as well, and those ropes are held by men (they’re always men) and these men pull me slowly. Slowly. Yes, it is over time that I am twisted, pulled at from all directions until my middle bursts its sweetness. This is how it feels, not how it happens, because the strength of men has nothing to do with it, and if I followed with my eyes the painful ropes which stretch me stretch me, I know that their ends would not rest in the hands of men, but rather would sit quietly within my own grasp, pretending not to be there even as they slice me open. And me, pretending too. Only holding tighter.
The mirror balloons me. It turns me pale. It makes me run and run away from it. But the thing with mirrors is everything is flipped, and as I retreat I also go right for it, head first into a reflection I do not believe to be real, and as I stare into the mirror and see the hallway stretch behind me, I also see it extending out in front, an endless path that I cannot turn away from, a twisting path that never straightens, a loop of path that does not end.
And as much as I wish that I could shatter the mirror and finish it, break off a chunk of the path, and then another, I know that I will only fall among the pieces. Is it enough to rest my face against the glass? The surface is cool and smooth. The surface that cannot re-invent my form if my body is hidden from sight, if all I can see are my irises, which sit up close in my face like moons in orbit: predictable, and always returning back to me. My eyes are green, I breathe their nature in.