Remembering the Dead to Remember How To Live

10 years ago, on April 30th, I learned that Gabe Feld passed away. He was a member of my community in Boston. He was 24.

I didn’t know him tremendously well – I saw him at gatherings, had shared words and nods and smiles. But our community loved him, and what happened next really impacted my life.

Soon after he passed, a number of people within our community gathered around a bonfire to share stories of Gabe, and did so with his family present. His family didn’t always know this side of Gabe, but we shared our memories with them.

It was heartbreaking and it was powerful. Gathered in a circle around a bonfire in the backyard of a house on Wyman St in Jamaica Plain, I watched his family’s expressions. I watched people cry, and laugh, and all of us cry and laugh with them.

And while I was sitting there and listening to stories of Gabe, I selfishly thought of myself, and what would happen if and when I died.

I imagined who would mourn, and what stories they would tell of me.

I listened to all these stories of Gabe, of his yoga teaching and his fire spinning and his adventures, and I suddenly wondered if I was living the way I wanted to live – if I was living a life that upon my death, my friends would be able to gather and tell wild and fun stories of me, to share words that reminded them of me – to speak of my kindness, my intelligence, my heart, my passions, my fearlessness. The way they spoke of Gabe’s.

Would they say what I want them to say?

And then I thought about the fact that I can’t tell them what to say – I can’t control what someone might say about me once I’m gone.

But I can control myself, and the choices I make, and the life I live, and I can do things deliberately and with intention — I can live my life in a way that inspires people to say certain things about me.

I can’t control what they remember – but I can do my best to be memorable, and to be what I want to be remembered as.

Something shifted for me in the spring of 2009.

It took a break up that summer to push me through the next steps – but I remember Gabe’s memorial as the first moment where I choose this life.

I choose to write down words I always want to be remembered by. Adjectives and nouns I want people to use to describe me. I held those words close, and I started this chapter of my life.

I often credit my ex, Chris Baum, with helping me take the next bold move into the future – for inspiring me to move to Los Angeles, for ending things when he did, for pushing me out of my comfort zone and showing me I’d be perfectly okay.

But I don’t credit Gabe nearly enough. It’s weird because I didn’t know him closely – but his death, his memorial, it switched something in me, and started a path that others have helped me along – exes, lovers, friends, coworkers, mentors, strangers —

A year later, I set out to live 3,000 miles away from everyone I knew, and in my bag was a book with words I’d written down, of the legacy I wish to leave, and that all my choices, all my decisions, should remember those words.

Does what I do honor who I wish to be remembered as?

I live in many times:

I retell my past as vividly as I can, to remind myself of where I’ve been and what I’ve done.

I live as much as I can in my present, to truly give myself to the now and be what I want to be, and so I can tell these vivid stories as well when they are my past.

And I live in the future – by using who I wish to be as a compass for who I am now.

I even live in my death, by planning for it in this way.

2009 was a formative year for me in so many ways. And Gabe was part of that. And so were so many of my friends. And so are many of you.

It’s guided my activism, my online behavior, my offline behavior, my relationships, my work, and my decisions.

I remember sitting around a bonfire. I remember Gabe.

I am so very grateful. For all of this.

A Valentine (Again)

Four years ago today, I posted a short entry to express affection for a man who’d been making himself a little home within my heart.

At the time we’d been dating for about six months. I teased him regularly that the shelf life on most of my relationships was less than eight months, and as he approached that mark and then surpassed it, he often joked that he was running out of time on my attention span and he’d lose me soon.

Early in our relationship, he shared his lack of fondness for Valentine’s Day. He’d avoided it every year, even when seeing someone, he told me. Women knew he wasn’t going to make plans with them that day, and that was that.

So when our first Valentine’s Day approached, in 2013, I assumed his personal tradition would hold true. I was living in Las Vegas, he was in Los Angeles. I wasn’t disappointed about it — I knew what to expect because he told me what he was like.

The day before Valentine’s Day was a Wednesday, and he sent me this adorable picture of the two of us, and told me he wished he could spend the day with me. I asked if he was serious.

He said yes, but he was leaving to shoot 2013’s International Students for Liberty Conference on Friday, so he’d be flying out at 8am the morning of the 15th.

He said if I could get to him for Valentine’s Day, he’d buy my return ticket home. So, at 5:30pm on the 13th, he purchased a ticket for me from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, same time as his flight to DC.

Last minute flights were a bit out of my price range, so I befriended a random German tourist who had decided to rent a Ford Mustang and drive from Las Vegas to Los Angeles on Thursday morning.

I’m not kidding. I met the German dude on Craigslist. He was 25ish, having his “American road trip” experience and was happy to drive me to LA for free just for the company for the 4.5 hour drive.

Thursday morning I hopped into the car of my new German friend, with just a backpack and my heart on my sleeve.

I arrived at his house mid-afternoon, bid good-bye to my chauffeur, and we spent the day and evening together – we made dinner and watched the movie Ted. We stayed up all night talking (and not talking), and in the morning we headed to LAX for our respective flights.

It was a perfect Valentine’s Day that neither of us expected.

I drew this for him on 2/14/2013.

Right before Valentine’s Day two years ago, we decided, very amicably and mutually, to break up. We wrote loving testimonials to each other and meant every word. The response from friends and followers was enormous and loving, and we were so grateful that our communities that we were both so involved in did not have to “choose sides”. We stayed close afterwards, and over time the lines we’d drawn eventually blurred between us.

Now he’s my Valentine again this year. Whether this lasts another 6 months or 6 years or a lifetime… I love our story and these adventures we have.

I’ll admit, I see us both as people who see the world and what we get from it as something within our control and ability. Like: I’m this way, and so this is how I react, this is how I want this interaction to go, this is what I do, and this is what I expect to happen.

I think when it comes to love, we’ve both let go of a number of our assumptions, because engaging in this story together as it unfolds is new, challenging, exciting, and unlike anything either of us has really done before.

Maybe it’s just a kiss, frozen in time, echoing back over four and a half years of very influential memories that keep us coming back to one another. But it’s special and it’s real.

I can’t say if it’ll last. I’ve never been out this deep before.

But I love that he’s my Valentine.

To Grammy…

My last living grandparent died a year ago, on August 28, 2015. My father’s mother.

Constance Jacqueline Bouchard Erickson. We called her “Grammy”. She was 83. I don’t have a happy memory to share, really.

I last saw my Grammy when I was about eight or nine years old. I don’t remember much except the smell of cigarettes and particular sensations, like the feeling of the upholstery of her couch and the way her voice touched my ears.

She and my mother disliked each other tremendously. From everything I’ve been told, they had two major things in common: they had the same birthday (November 27th) and they couldn’t stand each other.

Continue reading To Grammy…

The Winter Solstice

Though I’m a fairly agnostic atheist now, I was raised neo-pagan. My mother is a Druid High Priestess, my father a Wiccan priest. Several people have asked me to write about my experiences being raised this way — sometimes I consider it. In the meantime, here’s a snippet. Continue reading The Winter Solstice

The Avens-Approved Burning Man Supply List

So, you’ve decided to go to Burning Man. You found a ticket & have read the 10 Principles of Burning Man. You even read the Survival Guide.

You may or may not have friends you are going with, but you’ve requested that vacation time & you are determined to make it to Black Rock City & see what everybody keeps talking about.

Make sure you’re well acquainted with the guides that BM provides. Make sure you have a car pass for the vehicle you are traveling in (they want to encourage carpooling, you will not get in without your car having a car pass). The next thing you do is you end up asking one of your friends who has been going if they have a recommended supply list.

There are so many out there on the web & all of them are pretty awesome. Mine is a decent, every-growing production that has served numerous friends of mine in the past, particularly as I add colorful contextual commentary. However, there are definitely more comprehensive lists out there, I promise you that if you follow my list you won’t forget anything essential. You just might miss some of the treasures Mama’s dug up.

For the following list, I have included Amazon.com links that go through my affiliate program, so if you feel like buying “through” me, I appreciate the support. Thanks! Continue reading The Avens-Approved Burning Man Supply List

The Formula for Wanting

My friend once asked me, why do we want what we can’t have?

It’s something I’ve thought about a lot. Living in Las Vegas, I saw many people let loose from their normal self-restraint, and watched as they deviated from the character they were, or pursued things far different than what they claimed to value back home. Continue reading The Formula for Wanting

See Me

I have a lot of passions, some of which I advocate very strongly for. I think we all have things we care tremendously about, whether it is a way of life, or religion, politics or a particular hobby.

I hate to call myself an activist, I feel like it’s not the appropriate term for me, despite my level of political involvement. I would call myself a political writer, but I think I already explained in another post how I feel more like an “interpreter”. Mostly, I just live the life I wish to have – trying to be a positive example of the things I invest my time in. Continue reading See Me

The State of the Avens

Judd & I at the Tesla event. I was so excited I could barely handle it.
Judd & I at the Tesla event. I was so excited I could barely handle it.

I turned 27 this past Friday. The night before, I had the good fortune to attend the unveiling of the new Tesla Model D. Friday night, a small group of incredible people I am so grateful to call friends gathered for dinner to celebrate my birthday. On Saturday, I went to the premiere of a new documentary called The Culture High (which I recommend highly). On Sunday, I spent the better part of a day playing with my adorable little niece-of-the-heart. It was an amazing weekend. I am tremendously lucky for all the incredible events and people in my life.

I haven’t done a formal update about my life in quite a while. I guess now is as good a time as any. I’m calling it The State of the Avens, because we all know I’m a little too obsessed with politics and nerdy references. Continue reading The State of the Avens

The Interpreter

Wednesday night during an interview, I was asked to describe my writing style. I gave a little explanation about how I tend to speak from personal experience, I try to make the jumble of thoughts in my head accessible to other people, and to be conversational about it. I don’t ever want what I write to be difficult to read.

I started stewing over how this became my writing style, and hours later, I decided that blogging about the way I blog was not too meta for my own blog. So here’s my attempt at explaining it. Continue reading The Interpreter

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” – Anais Nin