week 52: exhale

nun52This is not the thing. This is not the story of the thing. This is the story of the story of the thing.

This is one whole year of new adventures large and small, written out and posted here. Now begins the pause in this particular path. For the rest of the year I’ll be focused on finishing the book I said I had finished in the first of these 52 posts.

It’s good to know when you’ve done enough. It’s good to know when there’s more.


I have a manuscript made of words made of letters made of breath. The breath is mine, exhaled. Huh-Huh-Huh. And in the breath, water. And in the water, the everything of me, body and urge. For years, I exhaled this everything onto the page. Then mapped it together. Then got lost despite the map.

I showed it to a few people and they said yes. And they said maybe, but… And they said no, thank you.

A few weeks ago, I became part of a new workshop. I showed the first third of the manuscript to a group of eight women lined up on either side of a dark wood table beneath a high, high ceiling. They praised it, yes, and my ego fluttered. But more than that, they understood it. Maybe not every phrase and turn, but they understood the breath that made it. They saw beauty and pattern and skill I didn’t know was there.

To be reflected back to yourself, undistorted, in a clear, still mirror. The everything of that is everything.

If these eight women are the last people to read my words, that will be enough. But their understanding encourages me to breath even more deeply onto the page and to send the pages wider. In turn, I get the opportunity to do the same for them. I get the opportunity to try and be a better reader, a better listener, a truer reflective surface. It’s not my strong suit. I often distrust or misinterpret my reactions. But there’s a way to be generous and expansive, not narrow and tired. I will find it in myself through the examples around me. I will listen to their stories and to the breath that made them.


This is not the thing. This is not the story of the thing. This is the story of the story of the thing.

Toward the end of the manuscript is a chapter that dances around and then through the moment I fell into and then further into a new love. In a few weeks, this table of eight women will read that chapter and offer their thoughts.

As I first breathed those pages out, I wondered how I would feel if, by the time I finished the manuscript, the love described there was easier, smaller, or gone. In my body. Or in his. Or maybe the love would be deeper and sharper. It was impossible to say.

I love you.

I love you.

These never mean the same thing. Not with me and him. Not with anyone. We are each a different map of jagged and smooth. There is no perfect fit, no perfect path. I knew this. I forgot this. I remember this now.

My love doesn’t need to be reflected in a clear, still mirror. It’s there, regardless. The threads between myself and others are not made stronger with a stronger grip. I can let go and not go anywhere, still finding beauty in the shift and sway. I knew. I forgot. I remember.

Outside, it’s raining after a long, late summer of heat and fire and smoke. The ashy air that scratched my throat has turned sweet and damp. My lungs spread wide and then I exhale. Everything.

Tracy Burkholder is a writer living in Portland, OR. Her debut book, I Want More is a lyric hybrid of memoir, poetry and image published by Summerbear Press. Available here.

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