Time passes quickly.
When I was barely 20, I almost took my own life.
That moment right before I flushed the bottle of pills down the toilet permanently rearranged my relationship to my identity.
It became something flexible. Impermanent. Delicate.
Living stopped being a given and started being a choice.
Because I had almost chosen the alternative.
Sometimes this moment comes rushing back into focus and I gasp. My body tenses and shivers. My stomach bottoms out and my heart feels a sharp flash of pain.
Other times, I consciously reach out and touch that memory.
It’s a reminder.
Life is limited. As Michael Stone used to whisper, “Time passes quickly and opportunity is lost. Do not squander your life.”
Still, sometimes I forget.
I fall back to sleep.
Or I start to live in the future instead of in the moment that I’m in.
What I’ve noticed is that the thing that consistently brings me back to the present and back to myself is art.
A spontaneous urge to dance.
An idea demanding it be brought to life.
Before I knew I was queer, I was in love with a street artist. He would put his work up wherever he could and I was transfixed by his need to inject himself into the world so unapologetically.
Despite being an artist as well, I felt like no one could hear me when I spoke.
So I spent the second half of my 20s trying on as many different identities as possible. I did everything from sewing to sailing to sex work.
I never apologized for any choice that I made.
And I told anyone who would listen about what I had learned.
What it was like to turn fabric into a costume that both revealed everything and kept many secrets. The longing and loneliness that could only show its face under the glow of red lights. How small the world felt when the ocean and unbroken horizon wraps around in every direction.
Slowly, over many years and through many experiences, I found my voice.
I found a way to make art that touches people.
The way back to myself has become part of me.
Now, I am feeling a much deeper longing to create more art. To write more. To dance more. To return to working with puppets.
Should I be fortunate enough to cross your path, I might ask you, “What are you checking for to know that something matters?”
I realized today that I’m checking for the involuntary prayer that crosses my lips when I’ve come into contact with something important.
“Please don’t let me die before I get to experience that. Please.”
I don’t know who or what I’m asking and I’m asking all the same.
Because it matters.
Making art matters.
Doing the work you feel called to do matters.
Staying awake to the limited time that you’ve been gifted in your body matters.
The story you tell yourself about what’s possible matters.
It all matters.
So, what are you checking for to know that something matters to you?
And what are you going to do about it?
P.S. The full quote by Zen master Dōgen goes something like this: “Life and death are of supreme importance. Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost. Each of us should strive to awaken. Awaken! Do not squander your life.”