little sarah Big World

Kane (and Able)


little boats

This is a story about my nephew, Kane, who just turned 7 years old. About the things we have in common, and the ways that he helps me be good.

*      *       *

We rarely just say Kane, but rather Kane-o, and he is an odd bird, one of my favorites. Didn’t really talk until 3 or 4, won’t eat anything that’s not a cereal bar without extreme goading. Getting him to eat a single bite of apple required intense negotiations, and even then he chews it the exact way you or I would if forced to eat a spoonful of diarrhea, with his hand in front of his mouth to prevent himself from spitting it out. Still, he’s a sport about it, dutifully eating his fruit and veg. He wants to be a doctor someday.

Kane is incredibly affectionate and sweet, quickly befriending anyone who shows him kindness or attention. “I love you, Auntie Sarah. You’re my best friend,” because I sit and read with him on the couch. Or, “I’m sitting with my best friend Auntie Sarah,” announced to the room, after I offer him snuggles because Ollie punched him in the chest. This is not specific to me–anyone can quickly become his best friend, and yet that somehow doesn’t make it any less sweet or sincere.

Kane likes to have Harry Potter read to him, though–as Sam pointed out–he doesn’t really seem to follow the story at all. All he’s concerned about is that you’re moving forward in pages, which he keeps Rainman-like track of in his head. You literally never need a bookmark, since Kane always remembers what page you were on last, even after hours or days.

Sometimes while reading I’ll ask him what words mean, to try and keep his focus:

       Sarah – “ ‘Harry began to feel ill’–what does ill mean?”

       Kane – “Uhm…Sebastian? What does ill mean?”

       Sebastian – “Uh…it, like, means, like, sick, or whatever.” (Teenagers!)

       Kane (to me) – “It means like sick.”

He does this with every word, while Bastian and I smile. I think secretly Bastian is pleased to be considered an authority, especially in matters concerning Harry Potter.

Kane-o is 6 but relates most with Ollie, who’s 4 (as opposed to Rosie or Isaac, who are 8). They play together well, mostly, but tattle on each other nonstop, often over non-issues (“Kane-o’s reading a book!” / “Ollie’s not eating his carrots!”), and we are all so over it and have said “Use your words to talk it out” and “You just worry about your own self” more times than I can count. Sometimes they hit each other, though, and then we do Time Out.

*      *       *

This day what happens is that they climb all over the couch, smushing it up, which unnerves me. Getting ready to go to a museum, I ask that the boys help fix the pillows (of which there are SO MANY, Mom); Kane-o declines, without comment. Ollie helps, trying to motivate Kane (“Kane-o! It’s okay! We’re helping!”). But Kane throws a pillow–attitude–which accidentally grazes Ollie, and is obviously enough to end the world.

So we get a timeout, for resisting clean-up, and then throwing, and that’s when Kane-o REALLY blows: “God dammit mother fucker stupid shithead!”  with a hand gesture that’s like the “Rock On!” symbol, or like SpiderMan shooting webs. But from Kane, we know it means “Fuck you!” And so timeout is extended, and then extended again, after he lets loose another impressive string of swears, instead of apologizing to Ollie. And on and on, for maybe 5 minutes.

I stay patient, calm, clear with my explanations of what was happening and why. Though rarely and barely able to stem the flow of my own overwhelming emotions, I can be good in a crisis. I can be solid while somebody else crumbles, especially if it’s a child.

By the end, Ollie is standing next to the Time Out spot, where I’ve called him over, while Kane-o lays on the floor, on his back, stiff, eyes terrified, mouth taut, breath rapid, barely able to eke out an “I’m. Sorry. For. Throwing. A. Pillow.”

“That’s okay,” chirps Ollie, already off on his merry way. I pull Kane-o up to standing and he continues the motion, falling forward into my arms and already shaking with sobs. “Do you need to be held?” He nods yes, I pick him up, easily, as he’s bird-boned.

While he cries, I walk around, swaying gently, talking to him, trying to soothe. “It’s scary to feel so out of control isn’t it?” He nods, and I think of all the times I’ve come back from the brink: shaken, shamed, and uncertain. A few weeks ago I threw beet greens on the floor, so unable to contain my hurt and frustration, yelling at my Moms and then crying, inconsolable, for hours.   

“I know I don’t like when I feel like that.” And then, for both our sakes, “I think everyone feels like that, sometimes.” He tightens his arms around my shoulders.

*      *       *

On the road, in Colorado, I was hit by a wave of anxiety and depression so complete that I slept for days on end, waking to the disappointment of continued consciousness and praying for sleep to return, rolling me in its thick, merciful, obscuring blanket. Cried hours into the bedsheets, embryo-shaped, contracting around a center of pain and pity, meditations on all my own awfulness.

Outside, I could hear sounds of merriment, signs of life, people dancing and singing, teasing children, drinking whiskey, making and eating Pho, together. I felt no jealousy or resentment. Just the plain knowledge that they existed so far beyond my realm, and sadness at that thought.

I could hear that people were, but the best I could do was to seem, to appear, and I was too tired even for that.

How long could I lie hidden, without raising suspicion? My sickness showing through every crack, and I burned with the shame of people’s curiosity and concern, unable to even make eye contact. Unsure of my place in the conversation, my point of re-entry to the human race.

I think the hardest thing, sometimes, is to be forgiven, which is to say: to forgive yourself.

*      *       *

“Nobody’s mad at you, Kane-o.”

“They’re not?” more sniffles, optimistic disbelief. The best I have to offer him right now is love, and an open palm. An invitation.

“Of course not, sweetie,” I say, swaying. “We just don’t like it when you feel so out of control. We want you to be calm and happy. We want you to be here with us.”

“Nobody’s mad at me?” head heavy on my shoulder.

“Nobody’s mad, I promise.” Tighter arms, like a hug; I squeeze back. “You ready to be put back down now?” No, he shakes his head, not yet.

But then in a little bit he was.


I Love My Two Gay Moms


In Celebration of Legalized Same-Sex Marriage

Beth, Rosie and Mom: Wedding Day

Note: I originally wrote this almost 3 years ago, then re-tooled it on a whim last night, in preparation for an amateur open mic night at a tiny burrito restaurant. My moms were legally married on Sunday, May 24th at the Tracy Aviary in Salt Lake City, UT. This is a story about how I first came to have two mommies, written in 3 parts.

Beth & Mom

Part I – “Motherfucker”

My little brother coined the term, and it stuck right away. Crass, sarcastic, self-consciously funny–it was a perfect fit for our wise-ass family. “Motherfucker,” as in one who…well, our mom’s new girlfriend, Beth (her given name).

There were predecessors–Denise the secret alcoholic and Debbie the painfully bland–and we had welcomed them without much fanfare and done our best to support Mom in her later-life coming out.

But Beth was the first one real enough to warrant a nickname, cool enough to happily accept, standing there in Mom’s kitchen, peeling linoleum and dark, low-hanging cabinets, only slightly self-conscious–at the moment of our meeting–that she had just taken a hit from a honey bear bong, sitting slyly on the counter.

Kids, meet Beth. Beth, my children. We weren’t expecting you home so soon.


But mom was blushing, smitten, in love.

Moms in Love

Part II – “Motherfuck

“How can you have more kids when you don’t even care about the ones you already have?? You think you can just fuck us up and then try again with a new batch?!”

I said this. In public. At a fancy sushi restaurant, where they’d taken us to share the Big News: a baby. Mom, her four adult children, and Beth, our MF. They were nervous, anxious, eager for approval, and I didn’t make it any easier, letting them ahave a piece of my mind, thinking myself the only one brave enough.

Not that our opinions mattered. They were already decided, donor sperm and turkey baster at the ready.

Nevermind that Mom’s youngest was at this point already in his twenties. Nevermind that they’d been dating less than a year. Nevermind that the four of us “emerging adults” were struggling, failing to thrive, still reeling from divorce and a consistent lack of cohesive parenting.

They were going to have a baby. Well, Beth was. Mom was already well past ovulation. They were going to raise a child, together.

Maybe they wanted a fresh start. Maybe Mom thought she wouldn’t make the same mistakes twice. Maybe they had NO FUCKING CLUE WHAT THEY WERE DOING AND THIS HAD “BAD IDEA” WRITTEN ALL OVER IT, and I told them as much, without shame, ever righteous.

They did it anyways, those motherfuckers.


Part III – “Mother” 

But then there was this baby, a little sister, Rosie, and she had curly hair and blue eyes and a wary gaze. She distrusted strangers. She smiled when I sang to her.

Of course, in the nine month intermin we’d doubted, gossiped, judged Beth’s ability to parent, judged Mom’s ability to parent. Beth would probably try to make Rosie just like her, down to the miniature black converse (didn’t work, Rosie preferred pink and purple from the get-go). Mom would probably pick at Rosie for the littlest things, continuing our same battle for emotional superiority (she didn’t, too old to care).

And we would be left to fend for ourselves, the failed first batch, forgotten.

We weren’t. You see, what else happened in the interim is that Beth got me to go back to school, and helped me to believe (or remember) that I was a great student, intelligent, capable. What happened is that Beth made sure my nephew had adequate daycare, they type of education he deserved, much to my sister’s alternating relief and chagrin. What happened is that Beth supported my oldest sister’s family, always pushing for them to pull through and work things out, even when the rest of us thought they should throw in the towel. What happened is that Beth helped my younger brother adjust to life after the Navy, and trusted him to figure it out for himself when he rejected her help.

What happened is that she bought us kick-ass presents and encouraged us to throw parties at the house while they were out of town.

What happened, really, is something so simple and so intuitive, yet so rare in the world of step-parenting, and that is: having met us as adults, Beth did not try to parent us. She didn’t ground us or send us to our rooms, or call us spoiled brats. She did: care for us, encourage us to further our education, help us out financially, lend us the car, let us move back home again (and again, and again). She fought for us, she believed in us. She saw the best in us and helped us to see it in ourselves.

She helped us grow, and we grew up.

There’s a word for someone like that. It starts with the letter M.

The Promise of a New Season

Election Season 2015, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo

Election season. Female voices drift in through my morning windows, from loudspeakers attached to vans, crawling the city night and day, gently imploring its citizens to lend their votes. Sometimes not so subtly: in Kanda, they’ve been frantic, competing voices trying to match or raise each other’s intensity.

I can’t understand what they’re saying, but it sounds desperate: “Please! Please choose me! I’ll do a good job! I swear! I’ll keep all my promises! I’ll do my best! Listen to me! Pick me!”

And the neighborhood scorecards fill up with faces, though I don’t know if they’re winners or just candidates.

*       *       *

Much of Japan remains a mystery to me. At times I feel possessive, territorial, hissing and arching my back at the gaijin tourists in Shibuya. “What are you doing here?” I wonder, eyes narrowed. “Go home. This is my place.”

But I feel equally ever the outsider, socially isolated, searching in vain for my tribe, longing for a place called “home” that I know I’ll never return to. I’ve spent too much time sitting in bed, eyes fixed on the screen in my lap.

*       *       *

Friends and visitors come from the States, and they marvel at this city, ask unanswerable questions for a malcontent navel-gazer like me. I try to understand my adoptive home, but it often feels impenetrable, and I’m still wary of diving in completely, not yet certain I want drink the Kool-Aid.

Tokyo, as Seen from the Park Hyatt in Shinjuku, April 2015

The best explanation I can offer is that for everything that’s true of Tokyo, its opposite is also true. People are charmingly polite and will go out of their way to help, and you might be refused service flat-out for being a foreigner. Someone on the train will move over seats without hesitation, wordlessly, so you and your friend can sit together, and someone else will push past you, damned if they’re going to miss their train to work.

The food is healthy and light and fresh, and it is more fried meat and greasy noodles than you could ever imagine. School girls titter like little birds, hands cupped to their mouths, and they lug lacrosse bags slung over tanned, toned arms. People are very friendly and welcoming, and you will feel that you can never belong. People are shy and reserved, and strangers will introduce themselves to you, ask you where you’re from, tell you their stories.

Nobody speaks English, but also everybody speaks English. People visit temples and shrines daily, and they frequent girls bars and love hotels. Highways weave in and out of skyscrapers, every inch of your vision filled with signs and shops and throngs of people, more than a million passing through Shinjuku station each day, and on weekend nights the streets are slick with vomit, teeming with boisterous drunkards, over-served salary men teetering precariously on the subway platforms.

Tokyo Dome City, April 2015

And yet, I have never lived anywhere so clean and quiet and safe, with parks in every single neighborhood where old men gather to talk and women bring their children to laugh and play in the sunshine. Business people take mid-day strolls, stretching and doing calisthenics in their uniform suits. Kind citizens feed stray cats. Strangers exchange smiles and nods.

*       *       *

And now the elections. Candidates cruising for constituents, barking promises through megaphones, up and down residential streets for weeks. Equal parts foreign and familiar, for me. This morning the amplified voice is serene, a woman’s voice, in a language I still don’t understand. She calls to me, in bed my bed, I wake, clear morning sunlight kissing my legs. An invitation, welcoming me back to the world, enticing me to join.

“Come outside,” she seems to say. “Come out and be a part of this.”

Trees in Bloom, Nagano, April 2015

Today, I believe all the promises.

The Year That Was

Funabashi, Chiba, 2014


What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You a Far More Easy-Going Person

*       *       *

2014 was the year I stopped feeling homesick. The year I ran my first marathon and fell in love with Japan.

Nagano, Japan, April 2014

The year my best friend rushed home from work to spoon me on her couch while I fell apart, crying in her exhausted arms.

The year I was held together by so many, from so far, in so may ways that it is unbe-fucking-lievable.

The year I learned you can’t always reciprocate, you just have to pay it forward, and be better than you were. Sometimes you have to live the “thank you” or “I’m sorry,” because saying it isn’t enough.

The year I was brave enough to say no, not ready, not yet (even if later I wailed and wished I’d said yes).

The year I got dumped, for the first time in my life.

Broken Glass, Japan, 2014

The year I realized that I had a choice, about whether to fall apart or not.

The year I flushed a fistful of pills down the toilet, breaking plans for a very dark date with myself.

The year I tried head meds, saved my own life, and then stopped them, quit counseling, and followed my own advice.

The year I realized that I know better than anyone else, when it comes to my own life.

The year I started making my own damn decisions, without endless debate or consultation.

The year I held my own hand, small in my bed, and knew that it was enough.

Daffodils, 2014

I almost didn’t make it through 2014. I had to learn to live for others first, then for my own self second. If I could say one thing to the whole wide world, I would say: it’s okay. Everyone is doing their best.

Shibuya Crossing on a Rainy Day, Tokyo, 2014

I want to dedicate 2014 to all of my many many loves, but especially to these people, for these reasons:

To Erin, for bringing me a cookie and sitting with me while I hid in a stairwell at work and cried.

To my mom, for patiently having the same conversation with me, over and over.

To my dad, for being my soulmate, and my friend.

To Scott, who talked me down off of a couple ledges, even if he didn’t know it at the time.

To the folks at Tokyo English Life Line, for obvious reasons.

Meguro, Tokyo, 2014

To Daniel, who told me his story, bought me pizza, and helped me plan a trip that I didn’t take.

To Nicole, who gave me a book like a friend, when I needed exactly that.

To Eric and Izzy, who shared their bed with me and rubbed my shoulders until I fell asleep.

To Granny, for telling me it wasn’t so bad, that we all have to kiss a few frogs.

To Gramps, for the necklace I wore like an amulet, a charm to protect against evils.

To Paul, and Felix, and Cha and Kobe, for reminding me that I could make friends.

To Nami, for putting it simply; to Nozomi, for Halloween.

Flowers, Kyoto, 2014

To Espy, for the letters; to Griggs, for the laughs; to Sperry, for the pep-talk; to Sydney, for the sunshine; to Havilah for the flowers; to Melissa for listening; to Nikki, for trying to understand; and to Natalie, for fighting with me and still loving me, even after I threw a temper tantrum.

To Sammy, for making time to see me and create the world’s saltiest nachos.

To Kendra, for that time by the pool.

To Kristin, who stopped me in my tracks, made me repeat myself, when I said: “I stopped writing in my diary, because I couldn’t write without hearing that voice, judging what I said.”

To Darcie, who gave me a new diary.

Letter from Havilah, 2014

To Kasey and Rosie and Sydney and Carol, for being brave enough to tell the truth.

To Manu, who sat with me at my hollowest moment, and knew that I would get better.

To Marcos, for a well-timed hug.

To Nanako, for being just like me, and for all of the smiles and food.

To Adrienne and Luca, my divoster parents. You bore the brunt of this.

Nagano, Japan, April 2014

To Cammi, for being proud of me, because I followed my heart, and “aint nothing wrong with that”

To Adam, for giving me back to myself.

To Melanie, for giving me permission to move on.

To Betsy, for the SkyMiles (!), but also for listening and sharing and wishing me the best.

And to Whitney, for everything, for giving me everything you had, and then giving some more.

Showa Kinen Koen, November 2014

To everyone who sat with me, when I was a husk of myself, thin and brittle and shaking and dull—for listening, for waiting, for explaining, for understanding, for that quiet small space where there was nothing to say, where you held me tight as the waves crashed overhead. Thank you for letting your hearts break open a bit, just for me.

2014 was a hell of a year; you made it unforgettable.

Yokohama, 2014

And 2015?

Oh, my friends.

My friends!

Palmer, AK, August 2014

2015 is The Year of Fuck Yes

I Am Here With You

~December 27th, 2014~

Amed, Bali, Indonesia

View from Warung Ari, Amed, Bali (December 2014)

Wake to this view, alone in a big bed, save for the companionship of my prized possessions, a habit I’ve formed while traveling, one which reminds me of Espy and Julia Wertz. Toothpaste on my chest, for zits, and that reminds me of Melissa, and Whitney.

Cohabitation, with Accessories (Bali 2014)

In the bathroom there’s a cockroach, legs up, rocking gently side to side. A little yogi. I put a glass over him, for lack of a better plan.

*       *       *

A rocky run on the beach, feet slipping on fist-sized stones, as the locals light incense, make their offerings to the gods. Today, in their finest: bright lace-trimmed blouses for the women, crisp white coats and head-wraps for the men. Saris for all. Today is a holiday in Bali.

Amed Beach, Bali, December 2014

Stones give way to rocks and boulders, and I find myself scrambling among them, scaring the natural inhabitants. Brown crabs scurry, suspicious, crawling sideways into dark cracks. Cockroaches I can’t even see make a noise like static electricity as they skitter before my footfalls. Slick, dark salamanders, smaller than my palms, rush like liquid, in droves, out of my way, leaping with delicate plinks into the water.

Then there are the snails, shining tawny half-spheres–part beetle, part barnacle–which literally tumble in my wake, detaching themselves and clattering like marbles to the rocks below.

Everything moves away from me.

Amed Coastline, Bali, Indonesia (December 2014)

I move away, too. Today is Eric’s birthday, turning 30 on the other side of the globe, and all I could offer were words of praise and love from afar. Crawling on the rocks I think of him: the time we went to Lake Powell, became friends, ran on the redrock and talked with ease. He’d like this, here and now.

*       *       *

A photo on Facebook of Sister Natalie and Perry, taken by Espy, out to eat, laughing. Silly. I miss them all, and for a moment I feel the tug, the want, pulling me back home.

But then it releases, a sigh, a breath of air. I do not wish I was there.

I’m happy to be just exactly where I am, happy to be traveling alone. Happy for the friends and family I can return to any time, and in the meantime I carry them with me, remembering, their names and faces cycling like a mantra through my mind, chanted in my heart (Espy, Melissa, Whitney, Eric, Natalie, Perry…)

So I am never really alone

On the Beach, Amed, Bali (December 2014)

Because also there’s that stranded roach, trapped in glass, waiting for me back at my room.

A Poem


What I Did Instead of Falling Asleep

The View from Mt. Agung, Bali (December 2014)

“For You”

The whole night’s sky
All the stars
a message
“You are loved; you are safe”

The tide
pushed towards you
Blue ocean
come to call
a reminder:
“You are wanted; you are missed”

The flower-bright sunrise
Mountain tops
the cloud line
A new world
a promise:
Mornings to come

Your place
My heartbeat
a hammock
swaying, sweetly

“My love, my love”

Lucky to Be Free


“I’m back…I think”

Temple Gate, KL, Malaysia, 2014

Today is our anniversary.

“WAS,” says Adrienne. Would have been. Today would have been our 2nd anniversary.

I’m spending it alone, in Malaysia, on my way to Bali, a plan I made, reveled in, regretted, and then reconciled myself to (as though a tropical Asian vacation were something to be endured–I am such silly twerp at times).

*       *       *

I never thought any of this would happen. Never thought I’d get married, and then, having committed myself fully, never thought I’d be divorced. I’d never considered living in Japan and could not have guessed, even one year ago, that I’d be the one to stay, happy in my new home, out in the world, again, on my own.

I’d never have predicted the twists or turns or characters that would lead me back to a sense of contentment, and there were times, places, dark lonely spaces, when I sincerely believed that I would not, could not, survive this heartbreak.

Life delivers us many surprises.

Temple Gates, KL, Malaysia, 2014

I can’t stop thinking how fortunate I am, like a metronome in my mind: “Lucky, lucky, lucky.” Born free, raised well, healthy, never wanting for food, running water, shelter, or love. I work a job that makes me excited to get up in the morning; I’ve seen more of the world than most people ever will; I live a charmed life, one that others can only dream of. I must never forget that, never stop feeling fortunate, or grateful.

China Town, KL, Malaysia, 2014

Happy anniversary, Chad. Thank you for the good times, the hard lessons, the opportunities, and for letting me go.

*       *       *

So here I go.

Things Fitting Perfectly Into Things


“Lost in the Language”

Bahamas – Lost in the Light (Official Video) from Scott Cudmore on Vimeo.

*       *       *

My freshman roommate in the dorms was a girl named Sung-Ah, from Seoul, South Korea. She was silly, strange, serene and sweet. English was not her first language, but the way she used it fascinated and delighted me, offering hints (I thought) at another language, culture, and mentality–another way of seeing the world. She often expressed things in a way that never would have occurred to me, and to wondrous effect.

On my 19th birthday, she told me “Today you are the main character.”

(Can you imagine any better birthday sentiment?)

*       *       *

So often we see foreign language learning in terms of limitations, impediments. We forget that native speakers are limited, too, boxed in by our preconceptions of how “our” language works, how it’s supposed to go. Verbs right here and nouns over there, adjectives in this order…until it sounds “right.”

As an English teacher, it’s especially hard–my job is to make corrections, to gently guide students towards “proper usage” (whatever that is).

*       *       *

I have a student who emails me every week, multiple times a week, just to practice his English, unassigned. He often clarifies what he’s saying by letting me know what he’s NOT saying. Example:

“My sister said “I’m going to go out side”, so I spent a day alone. It’s sounds sad, but it’s not. I need my free time…by the way it doesn’t mean I don’t like my sister or people.”

To show him that I understood, I sent him a link to the Andrew Bird video for Lull, highlighting these lyrics:

“Being alone, it can be quite romantic / Like Jacques Cousteau underneath the Atlantic / A fantastic voyage to parts unknown / Going to depths where the sun’s never shone / And I fascinate myself, when I’m alone”

He wrote back: “I love slowly song, so it fit into me.”

How could I correct that statement?

*       *       *

When I first heard “Lost in the Light,” I had the strangest sensation: I could feel the place in me that had been wanting just such a song, an absence shaped just so, the type of need you don’t know you have until it’s unexpectedly met.

This song fit into me. I could feel it click into place.

This, Friends, is how we learn.

Good Morning, Hikarigaoka!

Crane-y Cronies

These guys watch over me at work. I made them for one of our students, for his birthday–left them on his desk in the Learning Support room with a note and a book. Then came in a couple weeks later to find them rearranged above my own desk.

A happy surprise.

But Also…

…also going home was a trip (in the other sense), wherein I never fully acclimated to the time change and stayed up til three am eating whatever I wanted and writing insomnia’s best ideas. Yet somehow, I felt healthy and whole.

Mac & Cheese Burrito