Alive. And, Well…

That, my friends, is what we call an hiatus. Nothing is the same.

Do you ever get these hilariously long, action-packed stretches of euphoric, indescribably magical moments? And they kind of last years? You get caught up in this seemingly indestructible nothing-can-go-wrong-ever-again bubble. And then, as it always goes… *POP*.

I met my boyfriend Rian last July, followed by a chain of glimmering vignettes:
A romantic gold-colored date in a dusty brick corner of candlelit belgian beer bar. Fervent canoe rides in a silvery pond. A giggling late night jog to a bioluminescent beach. Desert adventures. Packs of coyotes. Almost quadra-handedly throwing a romantic egyptian-themed wedding for dear friends. Writing an award-worthy poem about ocelots. Painting an entire house. Getting published in several magazines. Planting an olive orchard. Brewing a saison. Three separate skinny-dipping excursions. Ducklings and baby pigs. Picking wild avocados from a high ocean cliff. Swimming with sea turtles in the dusklight. Losing my bikini top in a 20 foot wave. Collecting hyacinth blossoms in my kayak. Making out in an empty lagoon on Oahu in the dark. Infinity hot tub overlooking the Pacific. Surprise whale-watching, sailing and helicopter rides. Shmancy hotels. The worst motels. Too much sashimi. Making out on a rooftop underneath a fantastic meteor shower. Living at the top of a 1940′s house on the beach. Planning the Great American Roadtrip. Dolphin sightings, sunsets, rollercoasters, bonfires…

Grow Together by May Xiong

And then in June – a trip to Yosemite to photograph the virginal wedding of two human-shaped baby seals, when the reception is interrupted by a phone call:

Because of failure after failure after failure of Kaiser’s doctors to properly diagnose him, my little brother Nik was in emergency surgery for a brain tumor the size of a baseball. This *POP* sounded more like an atom bomb in my brain. I was angry. I panicked. My recent chain of serendipity had turned into an avalanche of WTF. I did not stop panicking for a good 3 months. My boyfriend was like, “Who’s THIS?” We were asking a lot of the same questions.

I fancied it a bit of an existential crisis, which I highly recommend if you live by the ocean and have the luxury of nursing one. Perhaps we are calmed by the ocean because it can give you a very small taste of the infinite. You begin to grasp the rarity of life within the enormity of the universe and what a fantastical, mind-blowing fluke it is that we’re experiencing consciousness, beauty and yes, even sadness. We are alive.

“All sanity depends on this: that it should be a delight to feel heat strike the skin, a delight to stand upright, knowing the bones are moving easily under the flesh.”
-Doris Lessing

But in the face of reality, the magic does not stop – rather it takes on a more emphatic glow in the face of all that bubble annihilation – you just have to find it. The only way to cope with the imminence of death is to truly live. My brother faced surgery and chemo like Richard Simmons does a rainy day. My family rallied and found him a promising clinical trial. I started taking my health more seriously. My relationships got stronger. My 3 year old nephew Ennio was diagnosed with epilepsy, but got better with holistic supplements after modern medicine failed him. When our best canine friend Mapplethorpe passed away from cancer, we commissioned his portrait and rescued a puppy who would’ve made him proud. The Great American roadtrip was burgled from us by some incompetent redneck mechanics but we managed to lick every scrap of fun out of Pigeon Forge, TN. You keep calm, carry on, and carpe the fuck out of some diem.

Mapplethorpe by May Xiong

We ate raw oysters. Learned to poach eggs. Sang showtunes while floating in a Pleasure Dome pool in SC. Rainy morning coffee with Jamaica on a river pier in Asheville, NC. A soak in a hot tub overlooking fog-laden Smoky Mountains flickering with fireflies. Dollywood. Disneyland. Guffawed our way through the Troll 2 of overpriced dinosaur-themed carnival rides. Went camping in the rain. Watched out for bears. Beasts of the Southern Wild. Bill Nye the Science Guy’s hand on my left butt cheek (Bill, if you don’t want me to say that about you, consider it redacted, but it was one of the top 3 best moments of my life). Had a just-as-it-should-be conversation with Drew Carey on set of The Price is Right. Took a timely three weeks to tromp around the East Coast with Jamaica before it was destroyed by some hurricane. Under the Boardwalk in Atlantic City. Walked across Chicago. Drunk swimming in the ocean while the sun set in November. Richard Simmons’s hand on my right butt cheek after doing the robot with him and Sarah Von Bargen of Yes & Yes.

But the thing about reality is that it is real, and coming to get you whether or not you expect it. Bodies break, we love the wrong people, we lose ourselves, our children are exposed to extreme violence. Tragedy is all at once so unlikely and so damned imminent. But please don’t worry. It is the acceptance of the imminence of tragedy that centers us. As my dear friend Ryan Eastwick would say, “Receive it.” Tragedy reveals your vulnerability and your true self simultaneously. We must nurture our vulnerability like we would nurture a child’s innate courage. That’s where the fertile ground is. In September I spoke to an Argentine lady whose son had recently committed suicide. She said, “I had to take that pain and turn it into something creative and productive or I would die.”

“Do not despise your inner world… As we grow, we all develop a wide range of emotions responding to this predicament: fear that bad things will happen and that we will be powerless to ward them off; love for those who help and support us; grief when a loved one is lost; hope for good things in the future; anger when someone else damages something we care about. Our emotional life maps our incompleteness: A creature without any needs would never have reasons for fear, or grief, or hope, or anger. But for that very reason we are often ashamed of our emotions, and of the relations of need and dependency bound up with them… So people flee from their inner world of feeling, and from articulate mastery of their own emotional experiences… We are all going to encounter illness, loss, and aging, and we’re not well prepared for these inevitable events by a culture that directs us to think of externals only, and to measure ourselves in terms of our possessions of externals.
“What is the remedy of these ills? A kind of self-love that does not shrink from the needy and incomplete parts of the self, but accepts those with interest and curiosity, and tries to develop a language with which to talk about needs and feelings. Storytelling plays a big role in the process of development. As we tell stories about the lives of others, we learn how to imagine what another creature might feel in response to various events. At the same time, we identify with the other creature and learn something about ourselves. As we grow older, we encounter more and more complex stories — in literature, film, visual art, music — that give us a richer and more subtle grasp of human emotions and of our own inner world. So my second piece of advice, closely related to the first, is: Read a lot of stories, listen to a lot of music, and think about what the stories you encounter mean for your own life and lives of those you love. In that way, you will not be alone with an empty self; you will have a newly rich life with yourself, and enhanced possibilities of real communication with others.”
-Philosopher Martha Nussbaum

Painfully Hip turned me into a writer (by definition) and I remain forever grateful for my friends, family, and the internet’s acceptance and encouragement to turn that into actual creative writing. Because sometimes life gets too real to write about brands or trends or other people’s art and that’s when your passions get whittled out from The Things That Keep You Busy. So I am going to put on my ladies trousers and write what I know best and I’m not sure I care who reads it. I just know I need to write to truly live.

So bring on your End of the World. If you need me, I’ll be devouring the minutes.