Remembering to Live

So I’ve had an eventful few months.

I have found the best day-job I have ever had, and already had it improve twice, after a stretch of freelancing that itself went better than I ever imagined it would. I’ve had more of my fiction published in print, and still more accepted and heading to the press soon. I’ve gotten a few articles out in web sites and watched my once-preferred paid outlet get abandoned by its backers, rendering many paid articles inaccessible in their former home. I’ve started a proper web site to function alongside this blog (so adult!), collecting my creative work in all of the channels in which I pursue it. Tragically, relatively little of that work has ended up here, so my improved circumstances haven’t resulted in more blogging.

A black-capped chickadee on a conifer branch. This bird has a light brown underside, a gray back, white cheeks, and a black head.
In truth, I’m in a difficult mental position. Writing for a living has meant that much of the energy I could once devote to blogging, and much of the distraction it once offered, are taken up by my day job. Against that exhaustion, atheist movement politics seems too dull, and the broader West’s descent into fascism too precipitous and too well-covered by better-situated others to merit the same attention from me. At the same time, improvement in my own relationships, as I curate them better and better, means that my exposure to the emotional and relationship toxicity I have written about for years is far reduced, its immediacy gone. I am recovering. Other people are saying what needs to be said.

I’ve been particularly scarce for the past three months because I’ve been writing a novella, inspired by the Netflix phenomenon Sense8 first and its spiritual ancestor The Chrysalids more accurately. It is the single most ambitious piece of writing I have undertaken since my doctoral thesis, close to triple the length of the previous contender, “A Better, Shinier World” and trivially exceeding any entry in Shifty Lines for sheer scope. “Never Alone” has consumed my evenings and weekends since mid-March, a labor of profound love that I look forward to submitting to editorial gazes. Being able to focus on such longer pieces has been a joy in itself, something that would have been hopelessly decadent in earlier months when churning out short pieces for higher rates was my only way forward. I am now well off enough that the endless hustle of short, paying assignments is optional, and I am still processing what this means for me.

Stability has meant that, at long last, I could focus on myself and my charges, and build the independence I have craved. I have been advancing on personal goals with far more focus and possibility than I could have entertained at any previous point in my life. I am not only able to explore characters, relationships, and topics that represent a creative challenge I have never previously attempted. I can take my pets to their yearly veterinary appointments without hesitation. I have no reservations about staying on top of my dental care. I have advanced on my tattoo agenda in earnest, adding two pieces to my collection with plans for many more. My emergency fund and retirement account both grow, waiting for when I’ll need them. I was even able to secure vaginoplasty, correcting my ontology’s single greatest mistake, and live off savings during the time in which I couldn’t work, because this job was waiting for me afterward. I have had regular counseling appointments, working through the damage that past years did to me, trying to become the least broken version of myself that I can be. I have added monthly axe-throwing excursions to my exercise routine, feeling a renewed enthusiasm about staying in shape now that my days are firmly my own and my body answers to no other masters. I am exploring new friendships, tending to old ones, and building a life that I can feel good to inhabit.

Maybe soon, I’ll be able to stop renting, and in a condominium or even a house take up anticipated joys like gardening, grilling, or growing my menagerie. My parents, in their baby-boom opulence, promised me I would have this by now, but the economic winds have shifted. That hope remains distant…for now.

I have long needed this time to focus on myself, and I have it now. Living through the world’s descent into half a dozen eschatons at once invites the demand that one pound against their iron hulls forever, any time spent doing otherwise seeming futile and irresponsible, but the true futility is in burnout. I am worth even less to the resistance as an exhausted shell than I am while I determinedly build the life I have earned, and take care of myself and my charges in ways long denied. I shall yet be a light in the dark once more, reminding my people that we deserve better than we have granted even ourselves.

Until then, I am no one’s martyr, and I will remember to live.

Remembering to Live
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I Want To Miss The Moorhens

I used to think I didn’t get attached to places. The past was a haze, an awful mystery I yearned to escape. My heart was not heavy when my family moved us from New Jersey to Florida when I was 10, and it was lighter still when I finally left Miami to seek my fortunes in Ottawa, Canada. I had much to flee. It was only later that I found something to mourn.

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I Want To Miss The Moorhens

Frijoles Negros, Alyssa Style

This recipe is as much a requiem as a celebration.

Frijoles negros, black beans, are at the center of the Antillean Hispanic culinary constellation. Any group meal will have them, any celebration platter will center them, and any rotation of different dishes will find them eventually. One does not experience the food of Puerto Rico, Cuba, or the Dominican Republic without dining on black beans and rice. I made this meal the center of numerous efforts to impress non-Hispanic paramours, and I kept it in my repertoire because of how constant, and powerful, its memories are.

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Frijoles Negros, Alyssa Style

Coquito, Alyssa Style

Where there are Puerto Ricans celebrating something in the latter half of the year, there is coquito. My people’s answer to eggnog, coquito is much stronger and creamier than its American cousin, almost a dessert in beverage form. The family coquito recipe is a closely-held treasure, differing from those of other families and passed down by grandmothers. She will make the batch in semi-secrecy, usually without assistance, to maintain this mystique. To receive it in her practiced script is an honor, accorded to trusted daughters and daughters-in-law to keep the knowledge alive.

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Coquito, Alyssa Style

Single-Malt Workohol

Despair is a heavy burden, and I bear its weight by working out.

I am not diagnosed with depression or anxiety, but there are days when I wonder whether I should be. Hints of how I deal with anxiety are scattered throughout my writing, but depression is a rarer visitor. I’ve avoided any real accounting of my depressive symptoms of episodes because of one peculiar fact: they’ve been incredibly useful to me.

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Single-Malt Workohol

Frost on the Sand

This is the only thing I can write today.

My Canadian residency is in doubt. My denial may soon be final, based on something so perverse and so trivial as my being a member of an ODSP-receiving household. My appeals may yet save me, as Ania and I exhaust every remaining option to secure my life here in Canada.

Because there is no life for me elsewhere.

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Frost on the Sand

A Very Alyssa Playlist

I often think that the earliest sign of how my gender would eventually unfold was my taste in music. From the earliest I gravitated to pop music performed by women, and even as I grew older and this fondness became tinged with new feelings about the singers’ exposed skin and shapely bodies, there was something there that my male peers didn’t share. My autism aimed me at euphonious, smooth sounds and clear vocals that ruled out the harsher forms many of my peers preferred, but that wasn’t it, either. Before I knew what that meant or why, I could tell, they spoke my language. It was more than titillation, sensory needs, or aesthetics that drew me. The songs were about love and relationships and feelings, and all of them were expressed in magnificently feminine terms, and that made them real in ways that the male-led songs I gravitated toward in adolescence never managed to be.

I learned to be ashamed of this fondness, keeping it hidden. I’d gotten enough odd looks and dismissive noises to know that this was, at best, a child’s fancy best discarded, and more likely, something that contributed to the tumultuous awfulness of my adolescence. I forced myself to appreciate music led by men. I succeeded, but I never gave up on my old favorite sounds.

The future vindicated me.

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A Very Alyssa Playlist

Flamboyán Al Fin

He hoarded his Christmas gifts. We would get him cologne, ties, shirts, tchotchkes from our travels, treatments to soften his overworked hands, and they would all find their ways into drawers and cabinets, untouched for years. His clothing had to wear to nothing before he would discard it and start the next one’s slow disintegration. New, untouched things are a treasure to save for when they are needed, not an indulgence for in between. Scarcity is behind every shadow and over every hill, and a good hoard is insurance against doing without. It’s a habit my father, my grandfather, and I all share, to each other’s bemused frustration. They tangled with Communists, I grew up autistic, and we all hoard.

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Flamboyán Al Fin