In the few months since my poetic memoir has been published, I've heard a few questions that I would like to address here. If you have any other questions, feel free to email me and I will add to this post if I see fit.
Why did you really live in the woods in Spain?
"Anything I write about this senseless performance art piece feels like a desecration. The truth is that I am trying to dislodge a bullet from my body. Maybe there is a clue engraved on it. Or maybe it is blank. Only the pain is real. Only the need." —The Sea Once Swallowed Me (pg. 38)
Anything essential is irreducible to one reason or meaning. Anything important is unsayable at its root. I tried to respect this truth by not offering a single reason, but rather illustrating the ways one reason is entangled with many others. Isn't fear of love a kind of fear of death? Isn't fear of loneliness the same? How can I be true to my solitary self without succumbing to a false independence? Independence and entanglement root in the same soil. As do love and aloneness. Death and life.
I needed space from a life lived mainly for others. So, I traveled far. And I needed closeness to nature, since nature holds reality close. So, the woods. There's a simple answer to a question with no simple answers.
Do you define womanhood based on menstruation/ gender based on biology?
"A woman's body is the origin of the symbolic, I think, as I watch the bright red spots blacken the dirt. Our blood the origin of the thought: this must mean something." —The Sea Once Swallowed Me (pg. 77)
No. I believe personal freedom must be claimed by individuals who tell their own unique stories, not from attempting to speak for an abstract entity called "the female experience," "the gay experience," "the trans experience," "the Black American experience," etc. Though my experience as a woman is not limited to biology, it has certainly been influenced by it. Understanding my menstrual cycle has been a powerful part of reclaiming my identity and creativity as a woman. And because women worldwide are still ostracized or marginalized because of this natural (& beautiful!) cycle, I wanted to open a space for menstruation in the sacred imagination.
Nevertheless, my experience of womanhood is uniquely mine and does not attempt to speak for any other individual. Trans and non-binary humans have taught me essential lessons about authenticity, challenging societal constructs, and transcending dualistic thinking. If you identify as female, I honor your experience of womanhood, and I invite you to define (or deconstruct) your womanhood however you feel called to.
A few other notes on this section:
* "I will anoint your eyes in order to re-sight" alludes to this Biblical passage.
* "The return of the repressed" is a Freudian concept, which you can read more about here.
* Gloria Steinem's brilliant (and short) essay "If Men Could Menstruate" illustrates how those in power shape our cultural mythologies.
* If you are interested in the many meanings of menstruation, check out this fascinating book. If you would like a guide for understanding menstrual changes, I would recommend this app (the hormone horoscope is not an exact science, but you can keep a journal on the app that will allow you to track how your moods line up).
Do you support Catalonia’s independence?
"'We have the right,' he continues. 'We have our own language, our own culture and music. All we need is our own country.'" —The Sea Once Swallowed Me (pg. 80)
I mention Catalonia’s fight for independence a few times in the book. This was mostly because “the boy with the dog” is a proponent of independence, but also because political independence mirrored my desires for personal independence.
That being said, I am not Catalan and I can’t claim to speak for Catalonia. The independence movement is not universally supported, and only in 2021 did the vote for independence reach a majority of 51%. I support only self-determination. Whatever Catalans choose for themselves, I believe that Catalonia will continue to be a bastion of culture, beauty, and history.
Why are you so obsessed with death?
"Death laughs outside the boundaries of human understanding. While we huddle in libraries and houses, apartments and churches, parks and cafes, Struggling to Understand, death chomps sedately on our bones, lazy with victory." —The Sea Once Swallowed Me (pg. 122)
Death is the container of life. Whether or not you believe in life after death (I do, in part because I’m an analytic idealist), befriending death is essential to living a life fully alive. I keep my death close to me. This practice enriches my joy, humbles my ambitions, and focuses my mind. Check out this book if you are interested in the ways fear of death affects individuals and societies, whether or not we are aware of this fear.
Do you believe in God?
"God lies here too, long since buried beneath the weight of rationality. But Being still breathes beneath the mounds of debris, a silence that sometimes sounds like speech." —The Sea Once Swallowed Me (pg. 52)
I am fascinated by God because I believe we have gotten our definitions so wrong. My intuitions about the sacred/ the divine have been influenced by a number of brilliant philosophers/ theologians, including Paul Tillich, Richard Kearney, and Catherine Keller. I reject the God of theodicy, who is all powerful and all-good and yet allows some to suffer and some to prosper. This conception of God should have been abandoned at the feet of a helpless Jesus hanging on a cross (God made himself helpless to help us). Instead, I embrace a God like the one described by Jewish mystic and Holocaust victim, Etty Hillesum: “And that is all we can manage these days and also all that really matters: that we safeguard that little piece of You, God, in ourselves...You cannot help us, but we must help You and defend Your dwelling place inside us to the last.”
I also don’t believe in a conception of God that some atheists have criticized as “an imaginary friend in the sky,” a being among beings who may or may not exist. God is the sacred unsayable beneath and before language, logic, and all societal structures. Whether we experience this divine dance of being/ becoming is simply a matter of choice. Religions are important tools in helping us experience the divine, but should be seen as the proverbial “finger pointing to the moon” rather than “the moon itself" (I also think most religious truth claims are symbolic, as the literal and historic can effect no human transformation).
Didn't the original book have images and colors?
Yes. That is one reason I decided to self-publish, in order to include color, which publishers find cost-prohibitive in this genre. In the original book, some words were red (to draw symbolic comparisons), there were a few original abstract images, and there were water splatters on the corners of almost every page that changed from a lighter shade of blue to a darker shade of blue (a shade that had particular significance to the book). I eventually decided to remove all the colors and images, because I was unsatisfied with the printing options available to me. In the future, I may choose to re-publish with another company that will allow me to actualize my original vision.