The Minimalist Lifestyle, Self-Care, and Learning to Invest in Myself: A Personal Essay

Over the summer, I got rid of about 85% of my belongings. I did this with the intention of living a more minimalist lifestyle, freeing myself of all the things I do not use, want, need, or could stand to live without. This was not for the sake of bending toward the trend of being a ‘minimalist,’ rather it was more about a letting go and a honing in on many different levels. Now, everything I own is what is in my small, Brooklyn apartment bedroom. That is all. And it feels so good. Especially as someone who has moved more times than I can count, whose sense of home has been so transitory and temporary for so long, all my stuff gave me so much anxiety; I would go to bed stressed and mentally planning how I would move it all months in advance of every upcoming move — which was basically all the time. So doing this felt so freeing and clarifying. But the journey did not end there. In fact, it was just the beginning.

What I love about minimalism, or whatever you want to call it, is the focus on self-care, authenticity, passion, purpose, and fulfillment as a lifestyle. On decluttering your life, rather than just decluttering your house. Because to be real, life does not get in the way of things. Things get in the way of life. And I don’t just mean physical objects or possessions when I say ‘things,’ I also mean relationships, self-talk, baggage, socialization, you name it. All restrict our ability to live full, authentic lives. Figuring out how to do this is really hard. It takes an endless amount of checking yourself, of unlearning, questioning and challenging your own mind. But it is so deeply necessary.

Getting rid of most of my shit was the first step and now I’m focusing on living better and more intentionally. So, how did I get here? Well, to be blunt, I’ve been really unhappy. I’ve been tense and anxious and stressed. I have been and am utterly alone in so many ways. I feel deeply lonely; I’ve been sad and angry and I’ve been sad and angry about the fact that I’ve been sad and angry. I’ve been tired. I’ve been feeling frustrated and empty in a lot of my remaining relationships with people. I’ve been at my wits-end about what to do about all this because I usually think I’m really hard working and very giving in all these aspects of my life. A few weeks ago, I was so restless and at a bottom with these feelings that I decided I really needed to be proactive, strategic, and honest about where to go from there.

So I went to my favorite cafe in Bushwick, down the street from my apartment and wrote “things that make me happy” at the top of a page in my composition notebook. I almost gagged at myself for this because it seemed so flowery, and for someone who has struggled, I’d like to think of myself as a bit more hardcore than this. Anyway, I tried not to wince at how hokey this activity was and to just take a breath and think about what brings me joy. I wanted to call attention to these things, to feel grounded, and to take action on it by seeking out opportunities for those things or making the time to do them more. To prescribe self-care for my own self, rather than reserving it as this thing I tell other people to do. I literally wrote sessions of self care into my Google calendar to hold myself accountable, like every Wednesday I take a bubble bath and moisturize because, God, have you ever taken a bubble bath? HOLY SHIT. The act of being submerged in water, enveloped in soothing smells and heat, forcing stillness deep into your core — damn. Heaven is a fucking bathtub. Other daily calendar events include a ten minute guided meditation and reading poetry for at least ten minutes a day. At first these sounded silly, but being real with myself that I truly do have 20 minutes a day for self-care really helped me hold myself accountable to actually doing them. I even bought an adult coloring book that is currently coming to life with various hues.

And what ended up on that list of what makes me happy? Poetry, art, music, food, being outside and in nature, traveling, social justice events, political talks, podcasts, deep conversations, learning, cultural immersion, dancing, leading, mentoring. All of these things are not things. They’re activities. They’re experiences.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not entirely un-materialistic. I love finding clothes or accessories in a way that may come off as vain, but it’s more about how they make me feel. So, even then, it’s not just about owning whatever that article of clothing may be for status or show, but rather how it makes me feel, the joy it brings me, the way it reminds me to carry myself. And I think that’s great.

And so, what if I refocus my time, energy, and finances on experiences, on what showed up on that list?

And so, what if I refocus my time, energy, and finances on experiences, on what showed up on that list? I thought I was previously really good at this and super aware, that I’d had my priorities in the right places. I mean, hadn’t I just spent a year abroad, basically living out of a suitcase, pretty much alone just ‘doing me,’ not doing any of the things I’d just worked four years to get a degree in? I suppose. But, there is more work to be done, and I wasn’t even happy then, either. I need to work more on pushing past doing things for measurable success and goals and getting ahead in school or at work. I need to stop confusing things that simply excite me with things that are my true passions. I used to focus so much energy on throwing myself into every opportunity I could, setting my breaking point to further and further end points, amazed at how much I could get done, no matter the cost to my physical and emotional health. A lot of this came out of trauma and struggle — needing to be the best, to control whatever I could, to secure my future, to sacrifice so that I did everything I could to be successful and take care of myself on my own. I understand why I did that and why, still, I instinctually lean towards it. But now I am trying to live from a different center and to resist the anxiety that pulls me back to that place. I need to find a balance that honors the intellectual with the physical with the emotional. I need to see me as a whole and living being.

I need to recognize all the ways I have neglected myself physically and emotionally. To apologize to my body, my mind, my heart, for all of it. For at times both the glutton and the starvation, the idleness when my legs beg to move, the doubts and insecurities, the myriad ways shame and fear control me. My silences and the disservices I do myself simply to save face or keep other people happy and comfortable.I want to be more tender towards and liable for, me. How many parts of myself have I let die simply by not listening to what I needed? By failing to honor the importance of every part of me?

When I truly listen to myself and stop ignoring or pushing down what I want and need, I recognize the places where I’ve faltered and where I can do better. For me, so much of this is focused on the body and allowing myself certain experiences.

I want to be more tender towards and liable for, me. How many parts of myself have I let die simply by not listening to what I needed? By failing to honor the importance of every part of me?

For example, the other day I “splurged” and got a Groupon for a 60-minute deep tissue massage. The amount of time I debated about buying this for myself was ridiculous. And after I did, I literally was like, “oh, you know what, I should give this to someone else, that would be so nice.” BISH, WHAT? You know what would be nice? Giving it to ME like I intended. So, anyway, I went and got this massage and Dear. Lord. Almighty. If my face wasn’t pressed up in the face pillow thingy, I would’ve been making some serious facial expressions. The masseuse went IN on my body. She ground up like a decade of stress and knots in my shoulders and back. It sounded like someone was stomping around on some crunchy ass snow. There was oil, warm towels, and hot stones; chiropractic cracks, twists, and strong kneading and pulling and stretching of my muscles, from my arms to my legs to my head to my back. And her hands were all up on my BUTT! I mean, she really went for it. And I was naked, and at first tensing because I was embarrassed and self-conscious and had never been touched or cared for like this, but then I just leaned into the discomfort and let it happen. And it was fucking amazing. Earth-shattering.

It made sense, though. I have for so long ignored my body and my body’s experience of this earth. For so long, I have ignored myself. Thinking back on a lot of the things I’ve been missing and needing, like nature and physical movement and care, they are also all reflective of some of my best memories. In my past year(s) of traveling, it was never the cities that filled me with something indescribable or marked my memory, it was the Earth and the cultures that grew from it, and the way my body existed and felt in it. It was lying on the beaches of Croatian islands, traversing the valleys and mountains of Morocco, the strangers I dined with in Rome, paragliding off the cliffs of Gran Canaria, the generosity of people in Greece. These were so much of the body and of the heart. These simple things, like relaxing on the beach, felt glamorous and self-indulgent, just like the massage did, at first, yet they are so clearly what I desire and yearn for.

I am still alone, and I am still sad. But I’m trying to make myself the best me I can be regardless of who is or who is not around, and I am doing what I can to self-cultivate joy, but more importantly, fulfillment.

And the thing is, I would buy or do these things for other people in a heartbeat, but before I never would for myself. Why? Well, honestly, partly because I feel undeserving. That I need to keep my head down and will deeply guilt myself for any way I treat myself or invest in me, to see this as irresponsible, selfish, and frivolous. And is this not just so typical for a woman? I’m pushing back against these notions. I’m gonna buy myself a god damn massage every now and then. I recently enrolled in a five-week poetry workshop and it will not be the last time I do so. I want to buy a new trumpet and play in a jazz band again after all these years. I will continue to juice and take the time and care to make healthy and wholesome food. Catch me in the bath every Wednesday. Or deep in the woods somewhere, on the sands of another country’s ocean’s edge, writing in a cafe, asking panelists questions in some lecture hall, eyeing the art on gallery walls, hiking whatever literal or metaphorical mountain that presents itself. I will bear witness to the world, and I will bear witness to myself. I am still alone, and I am still sad. But I’m trying to make myself the best me I can be regardless of who is or who is not around, and I am doing what I can to self-cultivate joy, but more importantly, fulfillment.

I will allow myself to come alive in every way I crave to. After all, it is so lucky that I am here, now, alive; alive to see, hear, know; alive to ache, want, struggle; alive to enjoy, inspire, and love. In every possible way.

 

 

my mouth

when I was a child

my parents marveled at my obedience

looked at other people’s kids and

gave thanks for how good I knew how to be

my mother told me

I was good without coercion, easy

like it was innate

but 

it was my mouth, she said

my mouth would get me into trouble

that I never knew when to shut it

always had to get in the last word

push

and push

that I made the mistake of thinking

being right

meant 

being righteous

made the mistake of thinking

that justice

meant they couldn’t come for me

always did

salt truth in the wounds of the wrong people

I wound

I wound and call it being real

I wound and call it honey drizzle

taste nothing but ash and blood

we’re all black and blue

we’re all black and blue, anyway

I harness smiles on my face with tired hands

until my jaw is a ready casket disguised as sugar

I like the way life feels in my mouth

pulsing

needing

wanting

I am afraid that soon

they will sanction my wanting, too

my lips, part wide

more divine than legs, cavern

darker secrets at their center, bleed

regularly just the same

I am wounded

I am wounded and it is called collateral

I am wounded and it is called deserved

there are so many names for hurting

for hurt

I see pain and it turns to water in my mouth like

sustenance for the struggle, my teeth 

bite back all the dark in me 

I am still good

but I got dark in me

my teeth

28 comets blazing

we’re all burning

we’re all burning, anyway

I wound

I am wounded

the biggest wound of us all is the world

so I hold it in my mouth

settling in

Processed with VSCO with s3 preset

22 cities later and sometimes I feel like it didn’t even happen. Like it’s a dream I can no longer remember the details of but know I once had it. My feet stand in one place now. Sometimes I don’t recognize myself. Sometimes I don’t recognize anyone around me. Sometimes I still feel like I’m just taking it all in, watching, listening, and becoming a stranger time and time again like I did in all these places. It can be a beautiful thing to be nameless. To slip in and out of focus. To be seen and unseen. To see pain. To see love. To see it all glorious but without glory. I don’t know how to hang that all up like photographs but I will adorn it the same.

The Days After the Women’s March

My birth was a revolutionary act, and I try to spend every day of my life living up to that. I believe I was given two shoulders to carry both of my mothers forward with me, one on each side of my head, bearing down on the future, looking straight on, forever hoping, forever wanting, needing, fighting, always fighting. I see pain and it turns to water in my mouth like sustenance for the struggle. When my heart gets too heavy, ocean-swollen with grief, I swing it over my shoulder, carry it on my back like my spine was made for this. My spine was made for this. My march started in the womb, was learned in every step my mother took, this is to say that this marching has always been a practice of existence and our right of it. Our worthiness of it. It is a stance. An offering. A hand reaching forward. A hand reaching back, for others. A firmness. And a quiet. And a roaring. Sometimes it feels prophecy-made. Sometimes it feels like nothing. But it is all heart. It is always all heart.

Dealing with past trauma in the era of Trump

This is gonna be a 100% rant, but I need to get this confusion and my swirling thoughts out somewhere.

Today the US Embassy in Madrid contacted me because apparently the Spanish Police have been trying to get in touch with me. They want me to do a photo line-up of suspects they believe may have been the one who assaulted me last February. It’s almost a year to the date, and I am so surprised. I really thought that was long gone and done, that they didn’t give a single shit about it. I haven’t heard anything from them since last year, the first time they asked me to come in and do a photo line-up where it was clear they hadn’t listened to one thing I said in my description. I had no hope for this case whatsoever because of many reasons.

From the beginning, I was appalled by the way I was treated by the police and agencies there. It was very clear to me, instantly, that I was on my own in this. It could be seen in the way I was surrounded by ten male officers in the backroom of the metro, trying to give my statement in Spanish without being given a translator. Meanwhile they all laughed and talked, having their own private conversations while I stumbled to find the words, being handed a cell phone to talk to the metro agent’s girlfriend because she spoke some English, just to make sure I really meant sexual assault, that that one phrase wasn’t lost in translation because it was just so damn unbelievable to them. How they told me over and over “no pasa nada,” no worries, it doesn’t matter, you’re not in danger, there’s no need to be upset. That I had to compose myself into unfeeling apathy in order to be taken seriously or heard at all just moments after this happened, when I was completely alone in this room in a foreign country at 22 years old trying to keep my shit together. And I kept it the hell together, but that didn’t matter much.

The whole time, I was so angry. Angry at the perp, angry at the police, angry at Spain as a whole. And I kept thinking to myself, “this would never go down like this in the U.S., I know we have an even bigger issue of sexual assault but I would have resources, they would care, they would have a sense of empathy and compassion, there are basic things that they would just know to do differently!!”

I felt so deeply wronged.

To be completely honest, my first reaction in hearing from the Embassy was excitement. I was excited, thinking this messy, unfinished, open box I’ve tried to store away in my head somewhere could be neatly closed for good. Immediately after that, I thought, “wait, but would that mean he goes to jail?” Because that’s not what I imagined in this moment of fleeting happiness where I got my hopes up. And almost as instinct, I thought, “no, that’s not right and that’s not what I want.” I began to question myself — why do I feel this way? I tried to think back to when this was fresh last February, when I toiled with it in my head walking the streets and enduring long subway rides in the heart of Madrid. I was angry and afraid and hurt, but I don’t think I ever once wanted this person to sit in a jail cell. I’m not sure what I wanted.

This brought up a lot that I’ve been grappling with lately. How do I navigate being a survivor as someone who believes strongly in prison abolition? And does that or should that look the same in Spain, a different country, history, and system?

So, now I’m asking the most complicated questions I think we all need to think deeply about — What even is justice?

Compassion is easy when we think about people we like, people we can see ourselves in, who are aligned in some way, even remotely, with our values, preferences, aesthetics, etc. but what does compassion look like for people we despise? Who we can’t find these things in?

Can we collectively imagine a justice that is removed from punishment? In which justice is not a term applied when we really just mean vengeance?

So, what did I want back then? I wanted him to know what he did was wrong and that he was being held accountable, that this community saw him for what he was, that he was somehow outed for his actions. I wanted him to learn to be better and do better, I wanted him to get treatment. And I wanted to feel safe and supported.

But most of all, in the days and weeks following what happened, I wasn’t even angry anymore at him. I was so angry with the way I was treated by the police and all the other systems and institutions that were supposed to help me, who were supposed to know better. How I was treated after was worse than the actual assault. And I know that I’m not alone in that experience.

And now, well, here we are in America, and all those resources I thought about in those weeks of furiousness are being cut, and the person in the highest office in the land brags about sexually assaulting women. So honestly, I don’t know how to feel. I have felt more in danger and under threat and afraid (for very real reasons) in the time since coming home, right here, than I ever did abroad, even taking all this bullshit case stuff into account. I just realized that and, wow, just wow.

I’ve been angry, still, in all the same ways. I’ve been so maddened by how women and their bodies have been talked about, surveilled, ranked, judged, pushed down, thrown out. How survivors and the way they feel about this election has barely been talked about, taken seriously, or supported beyond some signs at a march or a side note on a newscast. How over and over, they have not been centered and central. I know that they have been some, but I don’t think it’s enough.

In all honesty, closing this case means nothing to me. And shouldn’t it? Shouldn’t it?!?

But I feel nothing. Because there is no way I will feel safer, happier, empowered, or supported when we are here, in this place, in this real, immediately threatening country I call home. Here, I feel everything.

Yesterday, I signed up for a self defense and mixed martial arts class so I can feel safer protecting myself and standing up for other people. Today, I received this news about my case from thousands of miles away while I read about all the ways Trump is cutting funding and resources to organizations and initiatives working to end violence against women and help survivors. And I keep seeing that damn transcription of his comments about grabbing women by the pussy, bragging about sexually assaulting women everywhere I turn. Tomorrow, who the hell knows. Through it all, I am so, so angry. Maybe that sounds too simple. But I am just so angry.   

Holy

When I fell in love with you,

I finally knew why people believed in God

but it wasn’t Him who made the world sound like gospel

or the sun glow through tree lines or glitter off icy sidewalks

or made the rain smell like coffee in the morning

or every song and poem speak to me

or sex feel like becoming

it was all you.

It has always been you.


And maybe I am not your woman but I am always your woman.

No matter the one you sleep beside now.

I am still your woman.

And I stand in front of you,

ready to kneel to us,

the way one does before an altar,

the way one does when they are offering themselves

to whatever is holy to them.


Somebody asked me what I will take with me

when I die.

I don’t think life has ever been about the taking

death is not a matter of us leaving

it’s a celebration of all that we leave

what we have given and given and given


and if I have given you joy,

if I have grown smiles across your brilliant face

like white daisies splashed easy on river banks


if I have given you love

naked and holy and whole

all learned together and self-taught

and stubborn for survival


if I have given you grace

if you have found gratitude in your falling

and power in your rising

if you have been willing to let the world

bear witness to all of you


if I have given you courage

to face yourself, to face the ones who want to condemn everything and everyone you love

calling yourself queen

calling yourself worthy


if I have given you comfort

if you have made bed of my chest

and not run from fear but embraced it

the way my arms did you


if I have given you belonging

if I have given you everything

you have given me

that will be enough.


All this is to say that

loving you has been my own religion

your eyes, northern lights

your touch, the sanctuary of grand cathedrals


and I miss you, like a child

who has seen death in far too many

unjust ways

to believe in anything beyond his pain

and the knowledge that it is coming


but I believe.

I believe.

Sometimes this life feels like a succession of funerals

like the more we live, the more we are losing and have lost

the more that has been taken

but loving you

loving you

is like leaving everything I possibly could behind


to be nothing but soul.

standing alone in irving plaza

I have not spoken of you in months. The other day I was trying harder than usual not to think about you, and failing. I was supposed to go to a concert that night, a band I discovered two years ago when they opened for the woman who played the song you said was ours. We were both in the concert hall that night, but not together. Still freshly broken. Their music played on repeat for months as I watched you fall for another girl in the city we shared, then. I always skip their songs when they come up from the pain of it, how their beats and melodies could instantly bring me back to those first weeks of losing you more and more. But I bought the ticket. And I have not spoken of you in months. Until that morning when an old friend asked and I couldn’t help but admit to our latest end in contact two months ago. That same day, in the middle of the concert, you messaged me and I felt half my torso sink right there beneath the club lights and familiar inflections of the singer’s voice. My friend replied to my frantic text, said “you’re speaking shit into existence.” Somehow, we are still hardwired for our connection. Call it telepathy, call it coincidence, call it nothing at all.

I stood motionless and entranced as he sang:

“I’m gonna tell you, tell

I’m gonna tell you how I feel

I’m gonna love you, love

I’m gonna love you till you’re here

Try to leave my heart alone

You’re the one for me

(Did you know?)

You’re the one for me

(Can you show it?)

Show me where the love is gone”

I don’t know what to say but everything he’s been belting out our last two times around the sun.

Do you speak of me? Are you still running the way I was from those lyrics? Did your heart race when you pressed send? Did you close your eyes in loss at my reply or did they roll in frustration? Did you tell yourself you hate me either way? Do you still hate me either way? 

when you write a poem and it’s still true 2 years later

I still look for you on every subway ride,

hoping I’ll find you somewhere between the red and green lines

of Boston’s arteries, each passing moment has become about

searching for you. I’ve been waiting. Every bus is late.

Every train is stalling. I swear the stops are getting longer.

Still hoping I’ll get there, still hoping I’ll get somewhere.

Still hoping we can ride this out.

By now, everything reminds me of you. Like the way home,

I could never forget you. I’ll always leave the door unlocked.

texts from my mom

Rissa

honey

still haven’t heard from you

CALL ME

I wish you would call me

it’s been a VERY hard year for me

so much sadness

Hello my little girl

yeah, what about me?

You don’t understand how hard it is to be the middle man between my kid and my girlfriend

but you are my child and I love you

You’re stupid

You’re selfish

ya know, I shoulda smacked you myself

I would’ve enjoyed it

shut up

you have no right talking to your mother that way

you need to learn how to let go of the past and

MOVE ON

My therapist thinks the same thing

she agrees that you have been a terrible daughter

Love u

You chose your mama over me so she can deal with you now

Love u

I am your mother

You better send me your tax info so I can claim my tax credit on you

I need the money

I am your mother

Fuck you

I know who you are

we aren’t so different, you know

hi baby girl

So so proud of you

told the whole office how proud I am of all the things you’re doing

Oh you’re some big shot living in NYC now?

Well I’ll be damned.

Don’t forget I know where you came from,

How you were just a sick little girl and I took care of you.

Glad your mama is stepping up now, I’m done being a parent.

It’s MY time to have FUN

She was the one who wanted kids,

I was never good at commitment.

I gave you everything

I am your mother

Don’t forget that!

I support you in all your endeavors

that’s my beautiful girl, so much love in your soul.

I don’t like you at all

Gotta tell ya

I hate you.

I’m an adult, you don’t get to tell me what I spend my money on,

I can get high all I want

sure helps dealing with you

CALL ME

You’re my little girl.

You’re a bitch.

I am still your mother.

Love you

LOVE U

Mom