You don’t remember learning the sea. Your memories of it start on the shore of Embassy Beach: a small stretch of sand and sea and people rolling in drunk after mass on Sunday, all squished in between cliffs and blaring merengue. It’s your childhood church: eating cooler-cold cheese-and-pickle sandwiches, digging your heels into the sand, running into the chop. You and a sandy-haired friend stand side by side, facing the waves and using your Power Ranger moves to blast those suckas out of your way. You’re annoyed when your friend’s dad tries to crouch down and ask you two questions about your methodology, smiling and intruding as the waves roll in: are you the pink Power Ranger or the yellow one? Listen, we know we’re just playing a game, Andy. Fuck off and stop ruining our magic.

You don’t remember being afraid of the washing machine of the waves, though you know you must have been. Slammed into the ocean bottom, back scraped open, lungs burning — but you learn: if you cannot get up after this wave, you’ll be up after the next. Or the next. A set always ends in a lull, and you’ll get your lungful of air.

After what feels like years and years of not being old enough, Dad finally takes you into the caves to the west: kick, kick, kick, and once you’re in, reach as high as you can to hold onto the craggy mouth of the cave. It cuts your fingertips and your noodle arms grow tired, but you watch the cave inhale and exhale waves and feel like you’ve stepped into something sacred.

Years later, Dad teaches you again: to hook up your octopus and check your pressure and hold your mask to your face as you exit the dinghy. Ungracefully, back first, fins flailing in air. The tanks drag you down and it’s all a fumble, but then you’re there and this is falling in love all over again. You take your first breaths underwater and you are home.

~

That comfort under the waves doesn’t always transfer to land, of course. As you grow and move further and then further away from your little coastline, you do not do as well at floating with uncertainty.

You excel at extending your arm and dropping your temper onto situations. You like the fresh morning air of beginnings, so you grow good at goodbyes, catching your emotions before they leave your mouth and swallowing them back down. It feels like a good way to wipe the slate clean: start again, pretend you did not fuck up the way you did. Shut a hurt you must have deserved into a closed chapter. If you do it properly, if you are the Kenza you need to be this time, then everything else will fall into place, won’t it? You’ll get it right this time.

You know there are no guarantees in this life, so you don’t even look for them — instead, you work on making yourself someone who doesn’t need them at all. Blast those suckas outta your way.

~

I wish I could say it came like a lightning bolt realization in the middle of the night, a shock of electricity mid-run, a switch that flipped. But it’s only time that brings the realizations. There is nothing we can control outside of our boundaries, just ourselves. You can only learn how to dance with those events, see them with different eyes, breathe into them.

When a wave scrapes you against fire coral underwater, you don’t blame the wave or the coral or yourself for the burning rash over the next week — you just do your best to avoid that wavy little fucker in the future. When the waves drag you down, panicking will only be your undoing, and life follows the same patterns. Fear is natural. If you give into it, if you always keep an arm’s distance so you won’t get hurt, you might actually succeed: congratulations, you have protected your heart. But you will also never enter the cave, you will never breathe underwater, you will never find the sacred that lies beneath the surface of the everyday.

None of us are born swimming, and no matter how well-prepared we grow, there is never a guarantee that this swim won’t be our last, that we won’t get hurt, that we won’t be afraid. Your actions will never be able to control the ocean around you and you’d have to be delusional to expect it. But if you can relax into uncertainty, if you can come back after you’ve been stung, again and again and again, you’ll realize failures aren’t endings — just chances to learn, to sink further into yourself, the only constant you carry with you through every situation you wade into.

~

Splitting ways with a friend in Vancouver, he handed me a note, and it’s one that’s lived well-folded in a notebook ever since. I wish you joy, curiosity, pain, struggles, accomplishment, and everything else a full and meaningful life should contain, he wrote, and I remember thinking that at least two things on that list didn’t sound like especially pleasant things to wish a good friend.

Years later, though, I think I finally do get it — and so I wish the same things for you. I hope you swim and sink and learn along the way. I hope you make loads of mistakes. I hope you’re able to sit with your discomfort and stay with uncertainty, that you can see precarious situations as opportunities rather than threats. I hope you know that every breath and success and misstep will bring you closer to home, deeper into yourself and every single ocean you’ll come to swim.

And who knows? Years down the line, you might forget you were ever afraid at all.

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

I knew, as the daughter of a Helen Reddy-roaring, 1970s hippie, not to go chasing love in the arms of another. 

It comes from you first, Mum would say. You can stand in the mirror and say it, if you want. (more…)

I was on the phone. It was a winter afternoon, already too dark too early, with wind whistling at the sliding glass doors and the heater refusing to warm the corners of my apartment. I was standing in the kitchen in pyjamas, leaning against the counter as I relayed my latest fuck-ups and annoyances to a friend. Somehow I’d spent the morning reading and dicking around online and drinking coffee in bed, dirty laundry shoved off to the side. The laundry wasn’t just on the bed, either. It had spread like a parasitic growth, creeping across the floor and onto the dining room chair, taking over the bathroom rug. Dishes were stacked up. I needed a shower. (more…)

C’mon skinny love, just last the year

There’s a night in the back seat of a long, bloated car, your feet tangled in the skinny end of a sleeping bag, when you can’t move him from your mind. Cicadas chirp outside your cocoon, muted by the cold-pearled windows. Your logic sits in your throat, whispers up to your brain, Stop. He cared more about his reflection in other people’s eyes than your trust in his hands. But your mind is too cloudy with the late-night fog of memories, and all you can think of is him seated at the end of a torn couch, caring, caring. The two of you on the dewy front lawn, cigarette smoke floating above the taste of burnt coffee, a father chasing his renegade children down the sidewalk in front of you, and him turning to tell you, “I was one of those leash kids. I’d just take off running.” And you laugh until you are doubled over, because of course he was. He might be running his whole life. (more…)

Before, when you took off and walked down new, foreign streets, it was in defiance. Not that you knew it then, of course, but it was how you were going to prove your worth to yourself. Not anybody else, just you, which is somehow worse. Nerves crackling as you walked jagged sidewalks — I can learn this city, you would challenge yourself, I can crack its codes. This would signify a permanence you could take with you, despite the changing tides of your life, despite the uncertainties. It would carry you through. (more…)

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Why do you want to run on your own? Let’s run together.

We first meet in early fall, hands in baggy hoodie pockets, sun glinting off free sunglasses advertising some real estate company. I like your laugh, your kindness humming in the background, your battery bunny energy. Your honesty as we sit at the top of a half-hill, half-mountain. My day has taken a turn, and the sunshine warms my bones. (more…)

The first time I ran a 10k, I was 16 and had recently completed the Couch-to-5K program. My mum and I had managed to run about 8k without stopping, so we made a last-minute decision to sign up for a 10k that weekend. I was excited — to wear a racing bib, to reach a new goal, to cross the finish line. Mum gave me a little side-eye and said, “Kenza, remember to pace yourself.”

We’d been running together for a while at that point, but the problem was, we never actually ran together. I had this horse-like instinct to remain in front of our two-person pack as we looped around Santo Domingo’s botanical gardens, so I ran slightly ahead of Mum, which kept my competitiveness in check for the most part. If someone came up from behind and passed me, it was fine — as long as they were fast enough that they quickly zipped out of eyesight. But if they were within reach, I couldn’t help it — breath ragged, I’d speed up with a singular goal of needing to pass them. It usually fucked up my run, scared strangers, and I’d end up walking the last kilometer or two. (more…)

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When I first considered writing this blog post, I hesitated. The second and third time I considered it, I still hesitated. It’s not a funny post and it doesn’t really give you warm fuzzies. Actually, it’s a topic that tends to piss people off or make them feel like you’re including them in blanket statements. That’s not my intention. I’m talking about what I’ve experienced and what I’ve seen in the world. That’s it.

Here’s the thing: when talking to guys, I’ve realized a lot of them have no idea what it means, in practical terms, to be a girl in a still-somewhat-sexist world in 2015. Since they don’t experience the other end of it, they don’t know how a lot of seemingly harmless actions come across. So I thought I’d share my own experience in a couple of areas. (more…)

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Put a well-worn record on and throw a handful of worlds in the air. A solar system of softly gleaming marbles, they hang suspended, memories rippling across their surfaces. With each lazy spin, the taste of the past — a strum, an ocean, a tug at the heartstrings, a second — glints like Saturn’s rings.

I gorge on songs. They enter my consciousness accidentally, through a friend’s recommendation or the well-timed switch of a radio in a car, and then I consume them greedily, seeds and skin and all. They stain my fingers, leave stripes of purple and raspberry red on my tongue. I play them on repeat, learn their dips and valleys, hear the clicks and spikes. And then as accidentally as a song spins into my world, it leaves it — shaken off out of annoyance when its first few stanzas start to grate, or discarded when a new chorus catches my attention. (more…)