reaches into where i cannot hide

There is this phantom of a Week I Had Once which haunts me. A year and a half later and it is still around every corner, it is lurking in every storm drain, it is in the eyes of the moth at my window, it winds its nails around my throat while I sleep, it tears at my stomach lining.

And I feel like I’m supposed to be Over It by now, you know? That’s the most satisfying linear narrative, right?

Trauma -> Deal -> Move on.

But it isn’t linear, is it? Trauma is a labyrinth and some moments I am drinking an iced coffee and earnestly thinking I might be worthy of any future and a second later I am crying in my bathrobe and I don’t remember what anything has ever meant ever.

I am lost in this maze and my backpack feels too heavy and I wish I hadn’t forgotten my water bottle.

Today was kind of okay, actually. I drove on the highway and I wasn’t even that scared. I leaned over the coffee shop counter and finally started reading the third Simon Snow book. I haven’t read much Since. Stories hurt sometimes.

I mopped behind the coffee counter and I came home and Morning Me had actually put some dinner in the slow cooker, because I am inching back towards the notion of taking care of myself. I joined a gym, I bought some multi vitamins, I am learning about credit scores.

I am… different now. And I think perhaps the biggest source of this year and a half of grief has been in mourning this one particular version of Dani and their particular dreams. I am harder than I was and I hate it. I have constructed walls that I never thought I would want. I am angry. My tongue feels sour.

I am crying in my bathrobe.

I am trapped in the maze but I read some of a book today, you know? And turning even a single page was just enough of an itch of hope, I guess.

Well, I started a book. I have to hang on so I can find out what happens.

I don’t always know how to say it to you, so I guess I’ll give it another shot (always, always finding any remnant of raw sugar left between my teeth):

I’m not okay. I haven’t been okay in a long time. And it wasn’t anyone’s fault, including mine. But sometimes I feel like I’m losing my mind and there’s nowhere to go to scream it out, so I wind myself up into a ball and I ignore everyone’s messages and I try to make myself drink water. This is one of my core truths: I am tall and I cry over all animals and also my brain doesn’t work the way some brains do.

And I don’t know. I really don’t. I still feel angry and sad and broken. But I read a book again today. And that felt worth documenting.

starting over

Because that’s what it feels like. That’s where it feels we’ve arrived, you know?

Just start over.

I don’t really do Shakespeare anymore. I don’t really do a lot of things anymore. And, at a certain point, I think I have to let those absences stop hurting and I have to, however VIOLENTLY, create space for anything new.

I don’t know who I am right now. I haven’t known for a while. It’s a sad and scary thing and it makes me want to be alone.

My name is Dani, Daniel, I don’t know what feels best right now, because, honestly, nothing feels very good. I think I still write. I think that might be the truest foundation of me. I am Dani and I write. I don’t know what right now, but I write.

I joined a gym, I am reading a book about personal finance, I go to Disney World a lot.

I have this cat.

I used to do Shakespeare.

I was in love once. Twice. Three times, I think.

We talk about past lives, but I don’t think you’re supposed to be able to remember them, right? I see each of mine clear as crystal parading across my mind every day, every morning, every blink, and it hurts my soft stomach.

The thing about closing a door behind you is that there’s just no good reason to expect anyone to be waiting for you still on the other side.

I do not know how to get to the next door. The handle feels slippery in my grasp, my key card doesn’t have the right access, nothing is fucking working.

Nothing is fucking working and I cannot go back.

Keep moving forward, says Uncle Walt, and okay, I guess.

Okay.

i used to run (have i already used that title? probably)

So, I had a panic attack in the parking lot of the Big Peach Running Co. today.

I felt it bubbling all day, grinding and scraping away at my bones, my stomach lining, my fucking scalp. I feel so fucking angry. I want to cry, punch someone, and drink a milkshake, order negotiable.

So, I cried. I cried and sucked in wobbly breaths and steadied myself so I could go the fuck inside and pick up my race packet for tomorrow morning’s Pride 5k.

Pride 5k.

I’m not proud of fucking anything today.

I don’t know what to wear tomorrow. I haven’t run since the pandemic started, since my 2021 Disney marathon was cancelled. I have barely shimmied across the Earth on my belly. I feel frozen, I feel like I am dying.

None of my running clothes fit anymore. I completed half-marathons once upon a time and today I own no running shorts that I can successfully tug up over my ass. And I was too intimidated by the nice things at Big Peach, despite my 15% off as a race participant.

So, I went to fucking Target and I parked like trash and I bought two new sports bras because I don’t know which one (if either) will fit over these breasts that I resent more and more with each passing day.

I hate them; these lumps of fat and tissue on my chest. I HATE THEM. Just like I hated every human who called me “ma’am” at the coffee shop this morning, just like I hate anyone who has fucking looked at me today. I am not who I want to be, so don’t fucking look at me.

I’m sitting at my second job, clacking away and trying not to cry again and I just want everyone to leave me the fuck alone, but also I desperately want someone to stumble across me, see what’s wrong, and figure out what to say to fix it.

I’m donating blood in 13 minutes and good. Take it away from me. Lessen me, prick me, bleed me, make me dizzy enough that I pass out and I am allowed to go the fuck home, until I am allowed to be a coward and cancel on walking in the rain tomorrow morning, hating myself for not running. Carve me up and bake me into bread and feed me to the fucking ducks and leave me the fuck alone.

(Please don’t. Ducks shouldn’t eat bread.)

My knees hurt and my shorts don’t fit and I just want to sleep.

But I am trying to have something like hope, even if I can only approach it from a place of spite, so I guess I’ll get the fuck up and be really bad at this 5k tomorrow morning.

And then, maybe, I’ll cut my grieving, heartsick body a fucking break and take it out for brunch.

i only like star pose

I went back to yoga this week.

It’s been YEARS since I really maintained a serious and steady yoga practice. But I started one up last time because I was gearing up for a long brain-depression-winter and, fuck, it actually really helped, so here we are again.

Last time… it was the morning after my last time playing Rosalind in As You Like It and I knew I wasn’t going to feel okay. So, I walked nearly two miles to this yoga studio (back when I walked nearly two miles everywhere) and I got my ass thoroughly kicked and then I kept walking and saw The Force Awakens for the fifth time.

This was in the before times, I guess.

I didn’t know yet that things could hurt worse than knowing I’d never get to play Rosalind again.

I don’t always know who I am anymore. I was on a path (I think?) and I careened off a cliff at the last fucking second and I think I’ve maybe just been lying on a pile of jagged rocks for the past year and a half, too afraid to look too closely at my injuries.

I’m quitting jobs, starting new ones, I’m either not sleeping well at all or I’m sleeping way too much. I don’t really want to be awake, is the thing. I haven’t really been able to write lately, it makes me too sad. The voice in my head is a constant monologue of all the things I fucked up, all the sins I’ll never be forgiven for.

So, I went back to yoga.

I am heavier now and I try not to let that bother me. I try not to be too keenly and painfully aware of where my stomach sits atop my thighs when I grind my knees down into Chair Pose. I do my best not to scream and hurl my water bottle out a window when I can’t manage a Chaturanga anymore.

I have lost those skills, I have lost that strength.

But I like when the instructor says nice things to us and puts a cool lavender towel on our heads at the end of class, so I went back to fucking yoga.

And I don’t know. I feel mostly angry as I type this? It is really awful to feel like a failure for so long, to wake up every day and consider the new ways in which I won’t live up to my potential. And, sorry, these feelings don’t lit a fucking fire under me. I’m tired and I want to hide under my bed and I want to claw my own eyes out.

I’m so angry.

But, for an hour today, I suppose, I’ll breathe and think about anything other than vibrating out of my own stupid skin.

(Plus, I spent a lot of money on a nicer mat, so I guess this is happening.)

Sometimes I think I just don’t want to be in my room anymore. Yoga’s somewhere to go.

So, I’m going back today.

I’m sorry. I love you.

reservation confirmed

Yesterday… got away from me.

Or, I guess, yesterday I got away from myself.

I was fine, which is always how it starts, right? I was fine, I was fine, hello, how are you, what are you drinking today, would you like a blueberry muffin, okay have a great day.

I was fine.

And then, walking home in the sunshine, a cold brew in one hand, a lemonade in the other, and a sea salt chocolate chip cookie in my pocket… I wasn’t fine.

It’s a flare up, I guess, we should call it, like with any disease. All the old, classic symptoms, all the familiar cruel voices:

You’re a failure, you’re a loser, you should just give up now, what are you doing working at a coffee shop, you’re a disappointment to everyone, you’re not trans enough, you’re a coward, i hate you, i hate you, i hate you.

And I am grateful to have had enough therapy now that I can recognize these lies even though they still hurt. Even though I still get angry and sad and twisted up in my guts.

I got home and I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want to be anywhere anymore, which is always a scary thought-path to follow. So, I forced myself to think of anywhere I wanted to go. Anywhere.

My mom mentioned last week how lovely Unicoi State Park in North Georgia is, so, sipping my lemonade and scarfing down my cookie, I made myself a little baby reservation for next Tuesday through Thursday.

I’m going to look at a lake soon.

So, it’s worth hanging on.

I guess my point is this: You’re doing great. Find a lake.

trying

I am trying.

I am trying to do better. I am trying to wake up, perky and alert, am trying to serve cold brew with a smile, am trying to be satisfied with doing dishes and toasting bagels, am trying not to let the Voice in my head tell me it’s not enough.

I am trying to do my other jobs. Am trying to stay awake into the afternoon long enough to consider spreadsheets and newsletters and lapsed donor e-mails. (I do not always succeed.) I am trying to drink enough cold brew and berry tea lemonade to stay awake, to not slip under.

I am trying to love my soft body. Am trying not to punish it for hungry days, for sleepy afternoons. I am trying to sleep when I am tired and eat when I am hungry and read that same story over and over again when I need to slam my heart up against a wall. I am trying to forgive myself for ordering breakfast from DoorDash while still in my pajamas.

I am trying to keep your name out of my head.

(I saw your eyes in another face a few days ago and I was frozen and helpless and shaking while I tried to scrawl “oat milk latte” onto a paper cup.)

I am trying not be bitter. I am trying not to feel so guilty that I just want to let the world swallow me. I am trying to remind myself that relationships are not an item on some Official Life Checklist and that I will get back there when I am ready to get back there and not a moment before.

I am trying to write. Trying to make something beautiful and grand out of the screaming mess inside my heart. I am trying to be funny and thoughtful about Star Wars, I am trying to give new voices to old monsters, I am trying to be honest and useful about my own nonsense.

I am trying not to be swallowed by a heartache that I fear sometimes will never leave me. That I fear always will come to define me:

Oh, that’s Daniel. He’s just sad.

I am trying this morning to be comforted by candles and music and coffee in a good mug and the sight of my cat curled up on the bed. I am trying to not be in a rush.

Words, love, everything I want… they’ll be there when I’m ready, I hope.

I am trying.

dress rehearsal, i guess

(what i want to say:)

hello.

(great start, daniel.)

hello. it’s me. thank you for my name. i hope you won’t be offended, but i have taken the bones of the name i once had and i have twisted it up a little bit. see, there’s an elton john song called “daniel” and i like it very much, so i’ve started asking my friends to call me daniel. and, when they do, i feel like myself in a way i didn’t know i was capable of feeling.

see, and i know you know this, but: i’ve been really sad for a really long time. and what if this is part of it? what if part of it has been this constant battle inside my own body and my own heart? i just didn’t know even though i really think i knew. i’ve known, i’ve known, i’ve known. well, i knew it meant something whenever i was so thrilled to be mistaken for a boy in the 8th grade.

(what i wish i was brave enough to say:)

i’m a kind of boy. it’s funny; i want to be a boy, not a man. i think because i don’t want to skip out on boyhood yet since i didn’t get to really do it the first time?

(not that it fucking matters, gender may roundly go to hell.)

i’m thinking about dead poet’s society tonight, because i usually always am. and i’m thinking about neil. i’m always thinking about neil. i’m thinking of how hard it hurts to hide being who you are. i don’t want to hide anymore. i don’t want to pretend that i want to look like neil perry. that i want to feel boyish and handsome and free.

i’m getting a tattoo soon and i know you won’t like that either. but i am ready to be in love with my own body and i think this might be the first step. to have part of me etched with my favorite words, with the words from walt whitman’s pen which i first heard in robin williams’ voice, which will always make me think of my sweet neil:

i sound my barbaric yawp

because i will. i am. i will.

i am elton john songs and walt whitman quotes and berry tea-lemonade-concoction and a soft forest of a heart.

my name is daniel elton. one day i will believe it too.

something like a break

Just a little one. Just for right now. Just to feel like a person again.

Just to listen to “Stairway to Heaven” and drink my iced coffee. To remember that what I do is WORDS and that everything else: the job and the job and the other job… these are to afford the iced coffee and the Spotify Premium account.

I’m really, really tired lately. I’m working a lot. I get home from the coffee shop most days and immediately dive into admin work for one of my other two jobs and then I usually fall asleep. I devote one of my mornings off to volunteering at the aquarium again, because SHARKS. I haven’t written much fic lately, haven’t been blogging the way I used to, haven’t looked at a first draft of a new script in ages…

And I have to believe this is just an adjustment period. This, like fucking everything else, is another transition and I will make it to the other side intact. My body will adjust to the early mornings and the constant perky coffee enthusiasm. I will keep learning how to negotiate my hours, to get everything done. I will find time again for words and creating and being the person I want to be.

I will. I must.

I will find the time to take you to the aquarium and tell you neat things about neat creatures. I think I am ready to do that now. Forgive me for taking so long.

I am learning and I am growing and sometimes that’s exhausting. I am becoming Daniel and learning what he values and enjoys. And it’s going to be okay. Sometimes it feels like enough that there is a bit of honeysuckle I pass on my way to the coffeeshop. And at 5:45 in the morning, I am the only one around the smell it and it’s like the honeysuckle and I have this little secret.

And that’s pretty cool.

And you’re pretty cool.

striking back

“Come with me. It is the only way.”

We don’t always know, do we? Sometimes it takes someone else– even a near stranger– to implore us to search our own feelings.

My personal queer origin story began, because of course it did, at Dragon Con in 2019. If you attended that year, you might recall a little speaker fire in a ballroom at the Sheraton? I was totally there! Just hanging out waiting to run sound for the burlesque show when we were all escorted out of the building. And there, standing on a nerdy Atlanta sidewalk, someone just started talking to me! We’d never met and, in fact, she had just moved to Georgia. She expressed having a hard time connecting with people down here and how encouraging therefore Dragon Con had been.

And then she paused and looked right at me and said, “Well, you know, you’re queer, right?”

“There is no escape.”

“Well, you know, you’re queer, right?”

And I said…

Yeah.

A little bit because I didn’t want her to feel bad for asking, but also, as I searched my feelings… I knew it to be true.

Re-watching Empire this morning, especially as I get older… my love for Luke Skywalker grows by the day. When he is told by Darth Vader, by his own father, that there is no escape, that he is beaten, that there is no other way… you know what, Luke Skywalker fucking finds one. 

There is always an escape. And it may feel at the time like you are falling down a bottomless chasm, but you’re not.

You are never truly beaten.

May the Force Be With You.

love letter to my 10-year-old self

Dear Daniel of May 1999,

Hello, soft boy who does not know to call himself a boy.

(you will come back here.)

You are about to be 10 years old and there is going to be Star Wars in the world again and there are toys for it at Taco Bell and hey, real quick, but Mountain Dew Code Red is the best drink in the whole world. And the scariest thing in your soft heart is graduating from the fifth grade.

There’s a way they do it at Harbins Elementary. You’ve been there. You’ve seen it. You’ve cried every year, but none harder than today.

Soft boy who does not know he is a boy.

They will have you little 5th grade muffins line up like the big kids you finally are. (You know how to make lines now. You make lines and you can multiply by 8 and you have practiced walking like Jar Jar Binks who you think is pretty hilarious.)

They line you up and parade you through Harbins Elementary as the little kids watch on. It is two years after Titanic, but they still play “My Heart Will Go On” and hey, thank you so much for that collective musical trauma, Celine. Jesus fucking Christ.

(Daniel, you would never say that. You are a good boy who does not know he is a boy.)

Every saga has a beginning, says the poster for The Phantom Menace. And like George Lucas, we can go back and decide when that beginning is. We can retcon our CGI, galactic pasts, if we need.

Daniel Elton did not walk the halls of Harbins Elementary except I say he did. 

Every saga has a beginning. 

Love you, soft boy.

the blues ARE still blue

(thanks, belle & sebastian.)

It feels like my words have dried up lately. On vacation last week, I was so excited by the prospect of HOTEL WRITING. Of jaunting off to the next door fancier resort, procuring an iced coffee, and scribbling out 1000 words before Hollywood Studios even OPENED.

That was the dream.

It seems, however, the reality is this:

I’m tired.

I am tired and all of my words are gone (for now, I hope). I do not have the spoons for plays, for fanfiction, barely for this blog post.

And- though it scrapes my bones and makes me want to scream- maybe that’s okay. Maybe it’s okay to consider this a period of rest. Of refilling my gay little creator satchel and deciding where to go next.

I have three part-time jobs right now and, as someone close to me suggested, no career. I disagree. I am a writer. I am a theatre artist. I will get there again.

Here’s the new plan (have you noticed how much I love plans?):

I’ve just gotta make it to Dragon Con, whether we have it or not.

Just gotta make it to Labor Day weekend with my guts and heart intact and then, maybe, it’ll be time to check back in and re-evaluate.

Maybe I won’t write another word of fiction until then, which, truthfully, makes me want to fucking WAIL. Maybe I will have to work against the ugly voices in my own brain and consider what it would be like to… I don’t fucking know, enjoy things again?

Maybe I’ll read a book. Maybe I’ll finally watch The Witcher. Maybe I’ll draw you a picture.

Maybe maybe maybe.

What I have to most forcefully remind myself is that I am not letting anyone down by needing rest. It is a hard thing to absorb, to believe. But I have been treading these shame-fighting waters for so long and I need to lay my head down on the beach and sleep and make friends with hermit crabs.

I hope you will forgive me.

the screen door slams

The last time I fell in love, I couldn’t stop listening to “Thunder Road.”

(Is that a thing that happens when you realize you’re into girls? You get really into Bruce Springsteen? Experiences may vary.)

I listened to a lot of songs the last time I fell in love. For the first time since adolescence, I spent time just lying on my bed alone, listening to songs that made me think of the object of my affection.

And I am un-angry about that love today, even though it did not go where I wanted it to go. I am working on remembering that love is non-transactional and that mine mattered even if it was not requited.

It’s okay.

It’s okay.

(“thunder road, i guess” is the title of the Google doc letter I wrote you that morning and never shared.)

As I drink my coffee today and hear the birds outside my window, I am trying to be proud of myself for being brave enough to be in love at all, ever, even once. I am trying to dream of a love one day that will not hurt or sting. Of a weird geek love that will compliment my weird geek heart.

I start a new job today and so I am forced to remember it is never to late to “start.”

It is not too late for me.