Sights & Sounds / The climb

marise maasartwork by Marise Maas

 Climbing out of your skin, abandoning the tightly-wound layers that bind you, will take some practice.

If only skin came with a hidden zipper. The kind of zipper where no one could see within the folds of your protective outerwear, the delicate threads woven in and out, disguising your means of escape.

You would remove your skin with gentle fingers, of course. Gentle yet giddy fingers. You would lay it down with the care of a lover, and with the anticipation of a mischievous child.

Because inside your skin, beneath the delicate details of pores and lines, are art and music and love, lust and life. See the swirling colors, ribbons in the air. See the dancing—wild, unbridled dancing. Sweat slides and drips as you dip and turn, it flies as your arms fly, as you jump and reach and rock and shake.

Inside your skin is every syllable of every word you have swallowed, every letter of every sentence you were afraid to write. They rattle in your belly, and lie in wait for the shedding, for you to shout them from your proverbial hillside, out into existence.

Inside your skin are unapologetic flashes of light—little dreams, big dreams. Desires glow as they maneuver the thick, muddied rivers of your veins. They shoot out of you here, in this unrestricted, skinless place, like brilliant arrows piercing the earth’s spinning core.

Climbing out of your skin—it will take some practice, yes. You are so used to behaving, accepting, performing in your self-imposed way of being. You are so used to smothering the light.

But then one day you see this drawing, and in it a glimpse of your uncontained self.

Your mind swirls with colors, ribbons in the air.


pennyweight-tattoo_la-la-lovelyElise at Pennyweight

I have debated getting a tattoo for a while now. Over a decade, actually. Permanence is kind of a big deal to me. Obviously.

The tattoo in question is the letter ‘C’, in script, for my maiden name. I’ve wanted it ever since I signed my new name on the dotted line at the social security office circa 2004, nearly a year after getting married.

Preserving my family of origin in my name has become this enormous presence in mind lately. It isn’t simply a connection to my parents, but to where they began—to the Panamanian and Jamaican culture that rolls out with their accents every time they speak.

But I’m torn on where to ink my lovely ‘C’. I’m thinking of it aligned left on the left wrist or on the right shoulder blade. The tattoo will be no larger than a quarter.

And I’ve always known I would want another, but I like meaning. Trendy has never been my style.

I can’t remember where I first saw Elise’s tree tattoo, but as soon as I glimpsed the simplicity of those crooked branches I knew. For no reason in particular, this past year has been one of incredible growth for me. I am reaching and stretching in ways I have always been too self-conscious to.

Self awareness can be an instrumental yet crippling tool if you let it.

Some version of a similar tree will go on my left, inner, upper arm. (And because I like balance—apparently, that’s a Libra thing—that solves the location of the ‘C’ conundrum. She would be scribbled on the right shoulder blade.)

When am I getting these? I don’t know.

I’m still building my courage to endure the needle.

In the clouds



My plane awaits passengers at the gate.

We are huddled there, at the gate, in cramped seats with bags at our feet, snacks and $5 bottles of water in our laps. Most of us wear headphones. We’re listening to or watching downloads, or listening to the voices of either those who await us or those we’re leaving behind.

I am nervous but pretending not to be. The concept of thousands of pounds of metal and people and baggage speeding through the air is unsettling. I need to know how and why things work. I need to know how every click and catch of spinning, mechanical things transports us from point A to point B. I need to know that God and science and a smiling pilot will get us there.

But sometimes it isn’t the physical act of flying that disturbs me, sends my leg jumping in anxious fits, but the confinement of the plane itself. The feeling of being contained, trapped. The knowledge that there is nowhere to go but here.

I board the plane. My carry on is too big for the overhead compartment and I must check it.

I text my husband as I take my seat: Just boarded. I have the aisle, and two young girls climb in next to me. They are in their very early twenties, and though they are not together it seems they have coordinated outfits for the journey north, donning black leggings and big shirts that slink down their pale shoulders just so.

The girl at the window immediately lifts the shade and looks out. The girl in the middle crosses her spindly legs and cracks open her dog-eared paperback. My own book is nestled between a seafoam-colored clutch, and jeans in my carry on which is now deep in the plane’s belly. Her hair falls between us like a curtain as she presses the book into her thigh and leans forward. She cannot see me. I glance right to scan the lines of her pages. The word ‘redemption’ is used more than once in the ten seconds I’m reading before the girl tucks the curtain of hair behind her ear.

I am listening to music as the plane hurdles down the runway, its nose beginning to rise. James Blake bellows “…but it’s worth the climb…” into my ears. I’d like to think my gripping the arm rest is discreet.

Take off is always the hardest part.

On the flight home I have the window seat. We level off and I reach for my phone and snap the requisite up-in-the-clouds Instagram shot.

The sky. It is wide and open and everything up here. It is miles and miles of the chance to be anywhere I want.

I look at the stretched clouds in my phone and think how I spent the first 21 years of my life living around the country and the globe. How, since then, I’ve settled in to a new way, using the excuse of becoming an employee and a wife and a mother as a reason to also become static.

 At 34 I am making myself travel again because I remember summers in Italy, the mangos and colors of Panama, the grit and glitter of New York, the art and grind of DC, the Falls of Canada, the twinkling lights of Paris, the San Diego sand.

I’m making myself travel again because the world is dynamic. It is redemption, liberation from my static self.

I am making myself travel again because there is everywhere to go, if only I would to take the chance to get there.

I am having so much fun here without you


This month I’m reading I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You, by Courtney Maum. After reading about twelve too many books with teenage protagonists, I’m excited to have a work of fiction with adults who are working their way into and out of real life adult messes.

The book is described as ‘a love story in reverse’ which, quite frankly, I find more intriguing than happily ever after.  Find out more about I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You here.

Into the Dark: Ashley Oubre



(The Into the Dark series is about writers and artists who aren’t afraid of the dark. They display vulnerability, honesty, and/or the uncomfortable side of reality others may be unwilling to show–or see.)

This is not a photo.

It is a drawing by self-taught artist and DC native,  Ashley Oubré. An emotional aching abounds in each stroke of graphite powder or carbon pencil. It’s something in the eyes, the slumped posture of these women that invites you to come sit next to them, walk beside them, hold their hand.

I feel like each of these women have something to say, but while they long to say it, it isn’t a guarantee that they will. For fear of judgment, for fear of rejection, for fear of fear itself, they remain silent. A quiet desperation lurks within Oubré’s drawings, a hopelessness that connects us. We recognize a piece of ourselves in these women. We’ve been in that hopeless place before.

Oubré told the Washington Blade that she draws subjects that are damaged in some way. “I’ve never been a horses, candy and flowers kind of girl,” she says. “I like broken, discarded things. There’s a darkness and melancholy to what I do. It’s not extreme. It’s not goth, but it’s a little sad, a little tender. It looks the way I feel and I’m kind of a sad girl.”

And what beautiful things this sad girl creates.









Images by Ashley Oubré.


From the treetops


I’m currently reading Tell the Wolves I’m Home, in which the main character, 14-year-old June Elbus, often retreats to the woods and gets lost in her imagination.

Being more of a city/suburban girl, the woods aren’t high on my list of places to escape to, but this tree house sunk deep into trees in Atlanta feels like the perfect place to get lost.

And the lights—oh, the lights.


Treetop listening:

Un-thinkable (I’m Ready)—Alicia Keys
Unfold—The xx
Our Love Comes Back—James Blake
Postpartum—Taylor McFerrin


Treetop reading:

“The moon, so bright it had no face, was framed by the skylight and for an hour of insomnia burned in the center of her forehead like a jewel.”—Couples, John Updike

Into the Dark: Lani Trock



(The Into the Dark series is about writers and artists who aren’t afraid of the dark. They display vulnerability, honesty, and/or the uncomfortable side of reality others may be unwilling to show–or see.)

Artist Lani Trock’s photography has a way of reaching down into the forgotten parts of me and pulling them to the surface. I want to curl up inside her photos, cup the satin petals of her flowers in the palm of my hands for safe keeping. Her photos are moody, meditative, and simultaneously stir the soul’s need for sensuality and silence.

Her Instagram series ‘flora’ literally made me gasp, hand to chest, the first time I saw it. The images feel voyeuristic, like succumbing to an obsession. Though visually bright, it’s the vulnerability and intimacy of these photos that creates a haunting feeling that stays with you long after the image is gone.






All images by Lani Trock


into the dark


Last week a Facebook friend offered a piece of writing for me (and many other Facebook friends) to read. She cautioned that it was dark, and that she was nervous for her friends and family to read it.

As I explore a dysfunctional relationship in my book further, turning what was once a paragraph or two of ‘eluding to the fact’ to six or seven paragraphs of the fact itself, I’m reminded of who might someday be reading these words. I write the sentence “She tucked her cut hand into the warmth of my boxer shorts, curled her blood-stained fingers around the curious and hard, bobbing shaft of my penis.” and think of my parents reading those and other not-so lighthearted words.

Will this section of the book embarrass or disappoint them, or will they be able to see the motivation behind my characters’ actions? Will they see a sex act, or empathize with this man and woman who are grappling with the reality of how deep their self-loathing and shame runs?

If I’ve done my job right, my parents (and everyone else) will see the latter.

An editor once said about censoring one’s writing “that thing you’re afraid to say is exactly what you should be saying.”

We create to tell a story, and the whole story will sometimes lead us into the dark. Not everyone one will like it or understand, but not everyone needs to.

Over the next few weeks I’ll take a look at some other writers and creatives who create with vulnerability, and may be considered toeing the line of indecency for the sake of honesty or reality.

How comfortable are you with either reading, seeing, or hearing the dark corners of literature, art or music? When you create, how vulnerable are you willing to be?


Sights & Sounds / The Kitchen Table Series

The Kitchen Series






Artist Carrie Mae Weems’ Kitchen Table Series reminds me to take my seat at the table. To take it loud or soft, in good company or alone. To take it even when I question if I do or don’t belong. Because the seat is mine, it belongs to me. I will plant my words, my art, my joy and sadness it it. I will bring my whole self, settle in next to you and you. Because the seat is mine, it belongs to me, and I am here to take it.

(Read a great article on Carrie Mae Weems on getting the recognition she deserves here.)