Hi Mom.

Posted March 19th, 2023 1 Comment »

Do you read here? I used to look at the analytics and wonder. For the most part I could pinpoint who/where people were, but there’d occasionally be a random city and I’d wonder who managed to stumble across this hideyhole.

And if you did, if one of those Philadelphia readers was you, then you know some things about me. That I’m alive, doing stuff. Does what you’ve read here jive with your memories of me, do you recognize that young Marissa as just older now but still fundamentally the same? I don’t know if I am. Do I seem like your daughter? Do you ever talk about me, and if you do what do you say?

Can you really know anything from a handful of sporadic posts?

And would I recognize you, I wonder. It aches to know for certain, now, that there are people who do, that so many people know the mother I haven’t had, so many people have memories and conversations and information about what you’re like and the things you love. All things I wonder, often. I think of you, all the time.

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bettered by the drifting of the years

Posted August 1st, 2022 No Comments »

Facebook reminded me that ten years ago today I posted that my plans to move to Seoul had fallen through and that I was looking for temporary housing while I tried to figure out my next steps.

Step one: two random dudes on Craigslist who were both younger and seemed nice, kindly not asking why I was willing to take the smallest shoebox of a room while I tried not to seem too desperate. They remained kind throughout the year we all lived together, if a bit mystified by what it was I actually did, where and with who I spent my time. 

Step two: three jobs, all concurrent and poorly-paying, but all feeding something I needed at the time. The coffee shop for hip coworkers and socialization with regulars. The fabric store/fiber studio for being surrounded by beautiful things, flexing creative and teaching muscles, and making my first good friends who only ever knew the single me. The estate sale company for a completely different cast of coworkers, other people’s homes, other people’s lives, other people’s stuff. 

I worked steadily, afraid to stop, taking all available shifts and no days off between August and Thanksgiving that year, only going home to that tiny room where I would practice hangul and watch kdramas and wonder about leaving the country. And knowing, deep down, that I wouldn’t, that I wasn’t brave enough wasn’t reckless enough wasn’t able to do anything beyond my hands tamping espresso casting on stitches cradling antiques.

Ten years. I have so few markers of time and adulthood passing. Gone to so many weddings but never had my own. Made a rainbow’s worth of baby hats and remain resolutely child-free. I’m dogsitting this weekend because borrowing Charlie is the closest I come to having a pet of my own. 

I’ve lived and worked in four states. Visited and worked in other countries, some I never thought I’d see. Do a job 20-year-old me could have only imagined with starry eyes. I’m surrounded by things I’ve made with my own hands, my own work, my own time and no one else’s.

I’m not sure what to make of the path that’s led me here, of what I might have done more of or differently or not at all. I don’t really have a purpose in writing this, or some kind of meaning I feel I need to write toward. But ten years feels like it requires at least a pause. 

It feels like yesterday and an eternity ago and all the places I’ve lived and people I’ve worked with and things I’ve done since zoom by in a wild supercut in the meantime. It’s been a lot and nothing at all. I have more tattoos and longer hair. I wear the same clothes in a somehow different style. Have fewer fucks to give about just about anything. I’m still overwhelmed by the things and places and people I’ll never know or see or do or have. I care, both less and more, about everything.

[…]and felt his warm 
          blood curl
throughout his body, heard once more the tumble and the 
of his close heart and faced once more the breathing and
          the fears. 
Then as he waked he felt that the space and wind and cold and 
(the order of the elements himself had known before)
had altered life. And crept to see but found, blown idly to 
          his feet,
remnants of hope like tattered cloths used to wipe up a 

.susanna valentine mitchell.

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a pandemic year

Posted April 18th, 2021 No Comments »

62 weeks ago I saw Parasite in a movie theater. It was glorious. Superb film, packed house, rapt audience. If we never go back to the movies again, I’m glad that to have that as my last theater memory.

59 weeks ago was the last time I touched another human being when I hugged my friends after our annual birthday bowling party. The lunch we had together was the last time I ate in a restaurant.

I don’t know another person who has been completely alone this year. I am sure they’re out there. Most of my friends are spread through other parts of the country, all with some combination of kids, partners, roommates, pets, pods. 

I have plants. They seem to be mostly alive though not due to any particular skill on my part.

I go into my office every third workday, which feels like an event. I like the change of scenery, that it takes more than ten steps to get from one spot to another, and that there is a porch where I eat my lunch next to an orange tree. I am still alone on these days, but am endlessly thankful and relieved to have the work I do.

I eat 99% of my meals from a big stoneware ramen bowl and alternate through my plates for the other 1% so none of them feel forgotten. I’ve anthropomorphized everything in my small studio.

Construction on a new apartment building across the street started two days after the first shelter-in-place order, so the sounds of cement mixers and jackhammers have been constant companions. If my apartment had any outdoor access I would probably be more irritated by it, instead I am now well-acquainted with every tree and bench that are any approximation of ‘park’ within a 5-mile radius to which I escape when I want to touch grass.

When I am feeling positive, I tell myself that while nearly everyone I know is occupied with other people, other obligations, I have free rein to dive deeply into things I love, to gather varied interests closer to my heart–and I have so many interests. I feel lucky to have never been bored, ever at all, surrounded by my books and projects and the tools of several trades.

I have made five dresses, three jackets, four shirts, one pair of awful pants, one quilt minus binding, three hats, one spiderman scarf, two potholders, one enormous wall hanging, one pillow, eighty three disastrous paper cutting experiments, many vinyl stickers, two pairs of mittens, 19871329147 masks, three box bags, three pencil cases, two cowls, 4.75 sweaters, two of which were fingering weight and finished and then unraveled because I am not currently subscribing to the ‘done is better than perfect’ theory and they’re going to be perfect, one giant 75lb floor pouf stuffed with scraps, practiced paper piecing, learned pojagi piecing, remembered why I’m not that into macramé, done some vegetable dyeing, and probably some other stuff I can’t remember that is forever lost to the sands of time.

I’ve blown out my wrist a few times in our ongoing war of attrition, but can’t bring myself to knit English instead of continental.

I’ve read a lot, of course, but haven’t kept any track of what. While skipping all over the place, across genres and forms, I am retaining so little, which makes me feel less like myself than anything else.

So, since language acquisition strengthens neural pathways and long-term memory it has made perfect sense to keep practicing hangul and conjugating latin verbs, neither of which is immediately useful in any capacity at all.

Relatedly, since sustained focus is increasingly challenging when the contours of each day don’t change much, I almost exclusively watch subtitled things that require fixed attention and my algorithms are flexing gloriously in response.

I remind myself I have this site and could always write more. I don’t, but I could.

I put on my big headphones and have a dance party in my kitchenette while I make dinner every night.

I was doing a ballet barre every day, but recent consistency there has been somewhat cyclical. I try not to think about the petit allegro I miss, or having actual floor space to cover in a turning sequence. 

For a while I kept a daily log as both a writing exercise and because it was actually a bit frightening to not be able recall full chunks of time. August, February, where did they go? Like the daily barre, my efforts here have become sporadic of late.

Though for years I have often stayed up until wee hours for bangtan broadcasts, the communal solidarity of virtual cheering has been especially comforting this year. Converting time to different time zones is weirdly helpful in feeling connected to the wider world amid the why am I still here what am I doing should I have moved to seoul after all somewhere else anywhere else I still could go why did I make such a hard professional pivot how would I move leave again etc etc etc of this apartment at 3am. Sleep, like everything else, been sometimes fine and sometimes impossible.

And that’s the list, the shape of last year, paragraphs of II…I… because it’s just been me here, all the time, in this small world where once-distinct solitude and isolation and loneliness blur endlessly into each other.

Perhaps most significantly, the last year has accelerated and deepened the slow fading or erasure that perhaps all single people experience at this age when so many cultural norms and modes of recognition center on partnership and kids and families. A perception that has been expressed to me more than once by well-meaning people is that I must have so much time and energy to do so many things. This is usually said with some wistfulness as if single adulthood must surely be like living in a gloriously suspended eternal youth.

There is rarely any follow up question about what it actually is like. Reader, I will only say here that it is not the same as being 22 and going to house parties on weeknights and never sleeping and living on coffee and day-old pastries or however your halcyon days replay in your memory.

A few weeks ago, a married parent friend looked at me and said this has been hard for you, too, in very specific ways we can’t fully understand and it was so unexpected but oh how sustaining that one moment of being clearly perceived has been.

I have read and heard so many stories of parents, of families, of groups navigating this time, and virtually nothing about people like myself, mostly entirely by ourselves, at a strange intersection of the privilege of living alone at the cost of a social community built on time and proximity, just hanging in there as best we can. So, here is me shouting into the void saying I’m here too. Just me.

But see, I’m also not sure I want to be loud. I’m getting rustier at articulating things to the outside world and words are sliding around in my brain. I’ll read this word barf tomorrow and cringe because this year has been about so much more than these details of my little life. While this has been a global situation, we have all been living through our own individual pandemics, all different and singular in their own ways.

My neighbors are strangely quiet tonight for once and the silence is sort of delicious and pulsing around me. I’ll linger in it.

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I would like you to dance

Posted March 7th, 2021 1 Comment »

I turned 39 last week.

It was a very quiet birthday that, to be honest, not many people remembered. It encapsulated so much of what the last year has been like.

Rather, what the last year has been like for me specifically. If I were more of an extrovert, if I were more invested in having an online presence, if the telephone weren’t so fraughtly-connected with expectations from earlier parts of my life, perhaps I would be better at being visible.

Instead, I took the day off work and went to the beach where I read and knit and drank Lapsang and wrote letters. I got takeout from a little place in my neighborhood, bought a slice of cheesecake from a local bakery. I watched the Shea Stadium, Apple rooftop, HYYH Epilogue, and Wings Final shows. In short: I did little bits of all my most favorite things, alone.

I have serious decision fatigue, especially now. Yes it’s nice to know what makes me tick and how to do those things, but what is it like to be surprised? To have someone else make plans, to have something unexpected dropped in one’s lap? To have the mental and emotional space to make the larger and long-term decisions that are just a bit beyond my current capability, taken up as it is with the simple day-to-day?

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my memory long

Posted November 22nd, 2020 No Comments »

There’s a strange disconnect as the outside world is changing rapidly day by day in ways that are unpredictable and long-term while the interior of my small studio is the same and the days are a blur and I find myself searching for ways to mark time so it doesn’t just slip away.

I’m relying on my memory now, to walk me through places, days, memories I love, that echo inside me still. To remember how the air circulates during the unspoken dance of bodies occupying a space together. 

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on guernsey

Posted October 29th, 2020 No Comments »

I dreamed about Herm last night.

It’s not a place I think about often, much less visit in my subconscious, so today I’ve wandered back to prod at the edges of my memory of that single perfect day.

There are bits I can’t remember. There was a ferry, and something about the tides that meant we were dropped off in a different spot than where we boarded later, but the boat itself is gone. I can see the lighthouse in the harbor and the other channel islands in the distance as we passed, but not the railing I was leaning against.

The blackberry bushes, those are vivid. The covered the island on the flattish northern end called Oyster point, and because it was late September they were full of ripe fruit.

Shell Beach, which is exactly that, and a breakfast of cheddar coins, apple cake, and weak tea in paper cups where we sat and talked and planned with nothing but a full day stretched out ahead and only the last ferry to catch.

The way the teal ocean, greengold hillocks and piercingly blue sky met was like Orkney but warmer and more saturated. Paths crossed the archaeological digs along the island’s spine, and wound the cliffs at each end, with no guardrails or fences, just an open expanse of sea and sunlight.

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you say it’s your birthday

Posted August 13th, 2020 No Comments »

The opening lines of the song spring day are something that translates loosely to I miss you / and in saying it I miss you more which is so simple… and yet.

I don’t remember ever saying “I miss you” out loud to the memory of you, Mom, until today when sat at my desk and cried while a vague and unformed feeling tried to sharpen those words around me into something that still isn’t clear after 22 years. I don’t think it ever will be.

I can’t say it’s you I miss as much as the idea of you. As much as what I’ve been told or imagine a mother is or can be. To miss the mother I haven’t had for so long is to miss an absence, to try to imagine something other than a void to miss in the first place. 

And in the imagining I become the 14 I was when I last saw you, which makes for a weird suspended animation of tweenage memory loop. I find so many of those last memories untrustworthy, tainted by an emotional and spiritual pathology I wasn’t able to challenge then and has caused me to doubt ever since.

Now, the only thing I can say and trust is true is that I had a mother once.

I’ve been told I look just like you and I wonder what else of you is in me. I wonder what shape my memory void would take if I could fill it with the experience of having really known you.

Still, I miss you, and in saying it I miss you more. Happy birthday.

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if I defer the grief I will diminish the gift

Posted April 27th, 2020 No Comments »

Eavan Boland died today.

There are so many poems, of course. But I am picking up Object Lessons, her memoir and rumination on being a poet, on being a woman, that feels especially suited to this moment when everything has shrunken and sharpened into the immediate and daily:

At the age of seventeen I left school. I went to university, and I wrote my first attempts at poetry in a room in a flat at the edge of the city. That room appears often in this book. I can see it now, and I have wanted the reader to see it. It was not large. It looked north rather than south. The window beside the table was small and inclined to stick on rainy afternoons. And yet for me, as for so many other writers in so many other rooms, this particular one remains a place of origin.

But one thing was lacking. There were times when I sat down at that table, or came up the stairs, my key in my hand, to open the door well after midnight, when I missed something. I wanted a story. I wanted to read or hear the narrative of someone else–a woman and a poet–who had gone here, and been there. Who had lifted a kettle to a gas stove. Who had set her skirt out over a chair, near to the clothes dryer, to have it without creases for the morning. Who had made the life meet the work and had set it down: the difficulties and rewards; the senses of lack. I remember thinking that it need not be perfect or important. Just there; just available. And I have remembered that. 

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monet’s waterlilies

Posted April 3rd, 2019 No Comments »

Today as the news from Selma and Saigon
poisons the air like fallout,
I come again to see
the serene, great picture that I love.

Here space and time exist in light
the eye like the eye of faith believes.
The seen, the known
dissolve in iridescence, become
illusive flesh of light
that was not, was, forever is.

O light beheld as through refracting tears.
Here is the aura of that world
each of us has lost.
Here is the shadow of its joy.

.robert hayden, 1970.


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let the river roll along

Posted September 9th, 2018 No Comments »

Daddy was a mover and a gold creek miner,
never had a dollar or a hard luck song.
Mama ran off and he’s never gonna find her,
went down the river, she’s a long time gone.

Daddy taught me everything he thought
we needed in the world just to get along.
Brew a little feelgood, cut a little cordwood,
sing a little tenor on a gospel song.

Can you see me? Daddy, where the river went wrong?
It ain’t easy, high and dry and the memory’s gone,
I’ll settle down and let the river roll along.

Misty midnight huntin’ by moonlight,
one-shot rifle and a one-eyed dog.
That was Sunday, looks like Monday,
Daddy kept a bible in a sycamore log.

Lonesome yearning, kids keep turning on
never saw a woman I could call my own.
What’s to give running on a river,
sleeping in the gravel like a rolling stone.

Can you see me? Daddy, where the river went wrong?
It ain’t easy, high and dry and the memory’s gone.
I’ll settle down and let the river roll along.


Daddy Was a Mover is track no. 9 on The Dillards’ 1973 album Tribute to the American Duck. It’s also track no. 9 immediately following Pinball Wizard on dad’s favorite (only?) mixtape, Otis’ Anthology of Greatest Hits of the 70s. This cassette consists mainly of CSNY, Poco, and Tommy,  I have heard it approximately 8 million times over the last 36 years, and I found myself playing it very loudly all last week. 

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