Out of Cervix

Upon Breaking

Photo by: Bel Poblador

After a recent pap smear, I found out that I tested positive for HPV. Again. This is the third time in the past two years that I’ve tested positive for HPV.

The first time I tested positive for HPV as an adult—a positive test that required me to come in for a colposcopy—I felt shocked, terrified, and helpless. This was two years ago.

My healthcare provider sent me information via their online messaging system, assuring me that a colposcopy was very similar to a pap smear. That it wasn’t a big deal. That the doctor would use a vinegar solution to see potential abnormalities and then take a small biopsy—the size of a grain of rice—and that was it.

So simple: nothing too painful aside from some cramping for the next few days, and of course don’t have any sex for the next week or so to allow your cervix to heal.

And oh yeah, we’re testing to see if these cells are pre-cancerous or cancerous. But you know, NBD.

When I found out the other week that I had tested positive for HPV yet again, that my body hadn’t cleared it up on its own, I was at work and had waited for a phone appointment with my doctor. She ended up calling me 45 minutes past our scheduled appointment and left the message on my voicemail.

I went into a bathroom stall at work and cried. I’ve been crying a lot.

I felt trapped, caught in a fucked up cycle of pap smears and colposcopies that doctor’s and advice nurses kept assuring me weren’t a big deal, and yet every time I came in for one, and then another, my anxiety and panic were growing.

What is it about Western medicine that makes doctors so distant and cold? Even women doctors. A large part of why I only have gynecologists who are women is because I want someone who understands what these exams are like, who understands what it feels like to have tools and swabs poked inside of her body, who knows what it means to be a woman receiving healthcare in this society.

While I was on the phone with a nurse making my colposcopy appointment, I asked her a question: So if I don’t get better, and if I don’t get worse, am I just going to have to continue this cycle of pap smears and colposcopies every 3-6 months until something changes in either direction?

Her answer, in short, was yes.

I think that was the thing that did me in. The lack of options.

Whenever I would ask my doctors if there was anything I could do to help my body heal from the HPV, their answers were vague and general and completely unhelpful: You know, overall wellness, exercise. The first two times, their answers and the exams and the doctor’s visits left me feeling helpless, hopeless, and depressed. I just had to wait and try to be healthy and hope for the best.

I allowed myself to get sucked under with my depression and anxiety, and I coasted on their wave of continuous testing.

After this most recent positive HPV testing, though, I snapped. Or maybe I snapped out of it.

Hearing the nurse basically say that I was stuck in a never-ending cycle of being poked and prodded with seemingly no end in sight, something inside of me, I now understand it was my intuition, said: NO. Fuck no. No more.

And hearing this same nurse say that she understood that all these tests were an “inconvenience,” I knew that I would not find my support here, with them. Because these tests are not an inconvenience—that’s an insult. These tests are emotionally and physically exhausting, they are invasive and cause me intense anxiety, and there is a lot on the line.

I feel like there must be another way. Or at least something I can tangibly do to help my body get right, get through, get better.

I have reached out to dear friends, to women’s forums, asking women with similar experiences for advice and support and how they dealt with it. I’ve been researching alternative methods (from Western medicine) to help my body heal on its own and to boost my immune system. I’ve been looking into Eastern medicine, alternative healing, into the ways our physical and emotional selves are connected and affect each other.

I’m feeling a great deal of distrust and wariness when it comes to Western medicine and the way it deals with women’s healthcare. Now I’m in the process of trying to postpone my colposcopy for a bit to give my body a chance to heal on its own—so that I can be part of its healing, to actively be engaged in nourishing my body and observing her and understanding what she needs.

I also have a long history with depression and self-injury, and so my relationship with my body hasn’t always been positive. My body has not always been the safest place to exist in. The last time I hurt myself was in the fall of 2014—not that long ago. And I’m trying to understand how that ties in, what I need to heal and let go of, how I can show my body love and forgiveness and ask for that love and forgiveness in return.

I have no idea if this will work, but I want to at least try. And I want to write through this whole process, to hopefully write my body into a healthy being, into healing.


Paint Swatch Project #6


Honey blue–
Your elbow is a miracle.
Your wrist, my home.
I bring the back of your hand to my lips and hold it there, memorizing your skin.
Your collarbone hums endless stories and I dip my ear to listen close.
Your arm encircles me, pulls me towards your warmth.
Lying next to you, I think haven.
I think homecoming
I think pilgrimage
I think yes.
I think yes.

Poem 2/5: On being sick

I was tagged by the beautiful writer, poet, and professor, Janice Sapigao, to a five-poem challenge. I won’t lie–it has been slow goin’. But I’m making my way through, slowly but surely. And since I’ve been sick as a muhfuckin’ dog this week, I wrote this poem as an ode to my sore throat.

On being sick

My throat is a creature
separate from me.

It scratches and howls,
is restless before the moon.

I try to appease it,
calm its raised hackles–

It growls, whimpers
refuses comfort.

On Writing After Grad School: The Paint Swatch Project

One of the things I have a difficult time with is understanding how to meld together what sometimes feels like different worlds: my creative, sacred space of writing and my more logical, tangible “real” world of work and the everyday.

I am still in the process of learning how to create that time for myself to, well, create. No one will give me that time, so I must search for and give it to myself.

Thus, when I find something that compels me to write, I hold onto it. I try my best not to try and understand the project, but to just let it be a space for generating without editing.

Thus, the importance of the Paint Swatch Project.

I have a bunch of paint swatches with whimsical, narrative-evoking names. From these paint swatches, I want to see what stories or poems come from them. Right now I’m working on poems, but I wonder if perhaps flash fiction can emerge from these, too. My main draw to the Paint Swatch Project, though, is that it’s been helping me to generate work. I have no idea what will, or even if anything will come of this project, but it’s getting me to write more often. To descend into a world where my mind and emotions and intuition–my past, present, and future–all swirl together.


After Midnight

The dark, marled–

sneaks under door

ways. The path to dreams

opened, yawns. After

midnight the moon is

a harmony. In sleep

find a calm





What does the witch brew?

Soft hands crush

lavender. Mustard seeds split

open. Rose quartz

swims in

oil. She swirls future

with past.

She hands the ember

to you.

March 28, 2014: Under the Influence at Emerald Tablet

I never wanted to leave San Francisco. I had first moved up to the city from Los Angeles in 2007. After finishing undergrad, there were two options I believed I had available to me: go back to live at home, or go somewhere else that wasn’t home.

At that time, I did not view the home I grew up in in Los Angeles as a comforting place. There was a lot of heavy memories and moments that it represented. I made the choice to move to San Francisco 1) as a way to be closer to my boyfriend at the time and 2) to get away from my family, from my past, from the depressed girl I was trying so hard not to be.

I always tell people, “I moved to San Francisco for a boy; I stayed for myself.” I originally thought I’d be in the city for 1-2 years–I ended up staying for four years and would have stayed longer had I not listened to the quiet voice inside of me that was saying “You need to go back to Los Angeles for grad school.”

And after about two and a half years of some of the most intense, enlightening, challenging, and fulfilling work (emotional and creative and mental and psychological), I did come back to San Francisco. Upon my return, I was lucky enough to do a reading with Under the Influence at the Emerald Tablet, hosted by Evan Karp.

This is the premise of the Under the Influence reading series, per their website: “Each month, five artists read or perform a favorite influence and respond with original work that in some way channels or reflects that influence. Each artist gets 15 minutes of total performance time, and chooses a person who will perform in the next month’s show.”

It was a perfect first reading to do in San Francisco–to pay homage to my favorite authors and how they’ve inspired and continue to inspire me to do more, to reach for more, to expect more from myself as a writer, as a woman, as a human.

So on March 28, 2014, I performed a piece I had been working on after I had finished grad school. In fact, it was the only piece I had made good progress on since leaving CalArts in May 2013. I felt like I was re-introducing myself to the city and like I was introducing myself for the first time to the literary community in the Bay.

The author I had channeled for the piece was Lidia Yuknavitch, whose memoir The Chronology of Water presents a fluidity of poetry and prose that I utilize in my work as well. That fiction and fact are not on opposite ends of the spectrum, that we can get lost in and devoured by memory but saved by ourselves, that time is not linear but flows, like water.

“Out of the sad sack of sad shit that was my life, I made a workhouse.” –Lidia Yuknavitch, The Chronology of Water

Sometimes home isn’t a welcome place. You have to return to it, face the monstrosity that you believe it to be, that you believe yourself to be, rework your understanding of home and self, redefine. You have to dig deep into your dark parts and dive further into the muck so that you can remember that you got through it all, that you continue to get through.

I am so grateful to my beautiful friend and editor-in-chief of TAYO, Melissa Sipin,  for inviting me to read at Under the Influence, and to Evan Karp for hosting and maintaining such an amazing reading series. As writers we need to understand and be aware of who inspires us, who influences us, without being held captive.

The piece I read is called “The Journey Of”–a prose poem in which I touch upon my struggles with depression and self-injury. I’ve been trying to write about these topics for many years–through high school and undergrad, when it was at its worst, when I thought that if I could just make it to the next day, and then the day after that, without destroying myself, maybe there could be hope. A way out from myself. “The Journey Of” is the first piece (of the many, many, many stories and poems I’ve written on these subjects) that got even kind of close to what I want to communicate.

On Community: SF Zine Fest 2014

On August 30th – August 31st, SF Zine Fest (SFZF) 2014 took place in the San Francisco County Fair Building in Golden Gate Park. After finishing grad school, I’ve been hungry for community/art/creative spaces, wanting to find a community of like-minded/hearted individuals, similar to the beautiful crew I ran with at CalArts. I’ve been poking my nose into a few spaces that have filled me with hope: Modern Times Bookstore Collective in the Mission, Hazel Reading Series, Under the Influence Reading Series, and now SF Zine Fest.

photo 7

photo 6

My interest in book-making, DIY, and alternative publishing spaces began with the mind-blowing class Tiny Press Practices with the amazing and ever-radiant Jen Hofer at CalArts. I initially took the class with very little interest in tiny presses and with very little faith in my skills as a visual artist/creator. But I had heard such amazing things about Jen Hofer as a professor that I decided to give it a go. From day 1 my literary worldview was exploded and expanded: we were constantly challenged to rethink and redefine what we understood about books, chapbooks, magazines, zines, poetry, prose.

And you see, it wasn’t just the content, it was also the people who took the class. Jen Hofer fostered a beautiful, safe, transformative, and progressive space of humans who were open, where asking questions and supporting each other weren’t mutually exclusive. The class was about poetry and prose, but it was also about the book as a physical object–the container being just as important in communicating your story as the text itself. The interconnected-ness of it all.

I’ve never considered myself a visual artist. I’m god-awful at drawing/painting/anything in which my hands try to make something pretty. And yet I learned that I can make things that are beautiful–but most importantly, I learned that I can make things at all! I made two chapbooks while in grad school, and my aesthetic was pretty clear. Color and texture and paper weight and book binding and folding started to enter the way I thought about my writing and how it could be presented.

My second chapbook made in Spring of 2013. Excerpts from my thesis/novella: love & rocks.

Thus, upon my return to SF, I’ve been keeping my ear to the ground for similar spaces that look at writing and publications from a different perspective than the mainstream publication/literary industry. I’ve never been to SF’s Zine Fest before (or to any other zine fest for that matter!), and so experiencing it for the first time was pretty magical. I volunteered for four hours and during that time I was at the info desk and assisting at panels and wandering around with stars in my eyes.

I attended/”assisted” (in quotes because they didn’t require much assistance and so I basically just experienced them) with the Hellen Jo Spotlight and the Race, Gender, and the Future of Zines panel (featuring Anna Anthropy, Pendarvis Harshaw, and Nia King). It was thrilling to attend an event that would even have such panels–to focus on a woman of color who transitioned from making zines out of her apartment to working for Cartoon Network, and to discuss issues like race and gender that oftentimes are seen by the mainstream as non-issues or too complicated. And people attended these panels and were engaged! People were talking about race and gender openly and honestly and I wasn’t in grad school! No one was telling the panelists that they were “too serious” or “always bringing up race”–there was open discussion between the facilitator and the panelists, and it was so fucking beautiful and refreshing that I never wanted to leave ever ever.

Hellen Jo work

Some chapbooks I picked up: Tomas Moniz (top R), John Jr. Badd Habits Crew (Bottom R), and the one on the left I can’t read the author’s name so if anyone knows her, please tell me!

But here’s the thing: SFZF is organized and put together by a group of hard-working, heart-working volunteers. These volunteers aren’t paid. SFZF 2013 canvas bags were for sale, but none for 2014 because they didn’t have enough money for swag this year. This event only goes on every year because the volunteers see this space as necessary, and so they make shit happen.

SF has changed so much since the first time I lived here from 2007 – 2011. Then again, so have I. Coming back to the city this past March opened my eyes to where we, as San Franciscans/Bay Area residents, need to work harder. Because of the influx of tech companies/jobs/workers, so many people are being displaced–artists, teachers, city workers, POC, and other underserved communities–the list goes on and on. The storefronts are becoming sleeker in the way that artisanal, shabby-chic shops can be; places and people have taken up the title of “local” while not being local at all and while not having any kind of respect or consideration for the things and humans who are local; new apartment structures are popping up on corners every day, and most of us know we could never afford to live in one of those fucking things.

In some areas we are losing ground, but there are ways in which we can fight for our small plot of land, grow roots, and then expand once more. I see SFZF as one of many opportunities for a little pushback. For supporting something that we believe in: yes, there are artists/writers who have hella streamlined posters and chapbooks and who may have access to a bit more funding, but their tables are alongside artists/writers who have xeroxed zines, chapbooks that were bound together quickly with staples, a music mix that’s on cassette tape. That there is merit and importance to this wide variety, to the lack of definition/broad definition of what a “zine” is. A friend of mine said she left SFZF still not knowing what a “zine” even was–and to me that meant that SFZF was a success! Why do we feel the need to place things in boxes, have such a clear definition of what belongs where? Wouldn’t it be great to accept the gray area, to settle into the discomfort of uncertainty and just look around a bit? To question what we see, to question ourselves, but without judgment?

There can and should be spaces for a wide spectrum of humans to live and coexist alongside each other. That this dynamic is pertinent–that it expands our ability to empathize, our humanity, and our imagination for what is possible. For a minute I was getting kind of hopeless, lost; wondering if maybe the people who really care about SF had all left. But it’s communities like SFZF that shook me: many of us are still here. Perhaps a bit worse for the wear, but we’re here, making it work, because it has to work. We are writing blogs and editing literary magazines and organizing events and reading series in between our 40+ hour/week jobs. Because we believe in something outside of us and yet deeply part of us. That the word community doesn’t just mean people you chill with: that community is a word that is active, like the word love. A community consists of people who question and support each other, who challenge each other and stand up for each other, who share the same struggles and fears and hopes and who understand there is space for all of us to work and create. People who get that big success doesn’t happen overnight and maybe may not happen at all, but failure and quitting aren’t options because sharing our stories will happen whether we’re making hella bank or whether we’re writing during our lunch breaks. Community is something we have to create and build and work hard for because it’s about making a space for things we hella believe in.