A thank you note.

I promised myself I would write. I owe it to myself to keep my promise.

Joshunda’s sentiment to write as exploration and truth-telling, and ultimately as an expression of self-love, resonated with me months ago.  That afternoon we talked love, pets, career, life, all in no particular order. Mostly we talked writing.

We talked writing as inquiry. As work. As joy. As required. As radical.  

I hear her voice whenever I talk myself out of writing.

When I procrastinate until “later today.”  Or when I say “tomorrow.”  I hear her voice when brilliance flashes at inconvenient moments, and I neglect to take note.  When I resist.  When I do anything other than sit and listen to the ideas clamoring to be revealed, or prodded, refuted, developed, acknowledged…I hear her voice.

Today, I am listening. And writing.

Thank you.

Home, revisited. A meditation.

I pressed the lap button at 2.5 miles, only to find out I was never keeping time. I did what I sometimes do in circumstances like this…I stopped running. I had gotten off to a much later start than usual, so the sun was bright overhead, and walking a few paces in the cheerful warmth was a welcome commune with nature. I spotted fish, not merely jumping, but seriously engaged in sport and one-upmanship. I spoke to a couple of ducks on the trail. The easy pace and beautiful scenery got me in a meditative mood. I mused about home.

What is home, exactly? A place or a moment that resonates. It’s gathering of old friends around a good game of Taboo. A visit to the tried and true corner barbershop one Saturday morning.  Sometimes home is less fleeting. It’s a city where sunshine runs rampant. A house you’ve built with your partner. Whenever, wherever your heart feels welcomed and your spirit feels at ease, is home.

Home has been on my mind as of late. I’m unsettled. That’s a bit of a revelation, because I was drawn to my current city. I quite literally ached to be here. And when I moved here (for the second time) it resonated so strongly with me, I was loath to be away for any period of time. I was home.

But life is for the living and circumstances have changed. As beautiful as my surroundings are, they no longer seem to fit where I am internally. How it can be – a place I still love no longer resonates? I think it’s because this home was for healing. I needed to be here, in the sunshine, near the salty water. I had old wounds to tend. Wholeness to restore.

And then I learned to love again.

This space, my healing place, no longer carries the same resonance. My heart feels more welcomed and my spirit feels more at ease in other spaces. This home no longer feels like my home.

Yet, I am happy about that.

Despite being unsettled, I do know where my heart is, and there’s no place like home.

Love at First Sight | #30in30 #WriteLikeCrazy

Brida’s mom and dad were soul mates. Yet one day, her mom relayed the story of a loving encounter with another man. She sought solace about life, and headed to church to pray. He was awaiting a mechanic and visited that church to pass the time. The two began talking life and civilizations past (he was an archaeologist). Before long, the sun had set:

There was I, like a 38-year-old adolescent, feeling that someone desired me. He didn’t want me to leave. Then all of a sudden, he stopped talking. He looked deep into my eyes and smiled. It was as if he’d understood with his heart what I was thinking, and wanted to tell me that it was true, that I was very important to him. For some time, we said nothing, and then we said good-bye. The mechanic had still not arrived.

For many days, I wondered if that man really had existed, or if he was an angel sent by God to teach me the secret lessons of life. In the end, I decided that he had been a real man, a man who had loved me, even if only for an afternoon, and during that afternoon, he’d given me everything he had kept to himself throughout his whole life: his struggles, his joys, his difficulties, and his dreams. That afternoon I gave myself wholly as well – I was his companion, his wife, his audience, his lover. In a matter of only a few hours, I experienced the love of a lifetime.

From Brida by Paulo Coelho

I’m becoming more aware of my capacity to love. Or perhaps my capacity to love is expanding. Or both. In any case, I’m actively dismantling the fortress erected after a profound hurt. Walls reinforced by years of covert distrust. It’s been freeing – this heart opening, sharing of self.

Radical moments of vulnerability.  And they remind me that love is timeless. I couldn’t or wouldn’t always admit past love. Yet my delayed realization does not diminish the love that went unnamed.  I think the naming of love opens space for more love.

It is a channel for more of itself.

Or something like that.

And it’s not that I’ve found a soul mate. It’s simply that I’m learning to have more love for every day.  It’s energizing – being able to love, finally. And really, being able to love first. It’s dangerous, they may warn. Why spread love that hasn’t been earned? Is this or that person truly deserving of your love? Won’t it come back to haunt you? It’s the walls that haunt, not the love. They leave you trapped in echoes of distrust, regret, anger. Poison, all.

How much can you apportion (and receive) from your cage?

I say let us craft epilogues of love. And then weave love clear through to the end. Certainly would change a few stories, now wouldn’t it?

Good News | #30in30 #WriteLikeCrazy

I am so proud of my friend, Oliver. He’s the mayor-elect of Miami Gardens, Florida. It wasn’t a matter of luck; it’s been a dream of his for years. His dad, his name sake, passed away two years ago. “He really would’ve gotten a kick out of this,” he said.


I miss my parents. Sometimes the longing appears as a whisper, barely heard above the din of every day. Other times, it’s a bit more demanding. Louder. I hear daddy’s voice. Picture his shoulders shrugging as his body convulses with giggles. There was always a hint of sarcasm. Teasing.

Mama comes bearing warnings and stories in equal measure. Reminds me to tie up loose ends. Flashes me scenes of days past.

I miss them, especially her, most, when there is good news.

Starting a new job, completing a degree, earning an accolade, I want to call Mama. Her happiness would surely top mine. But then I remember, I administered her estate. The phone was long ago disconnected. She’s not there to laugh, to exclaim, “Really!?” There are no follow-up questions, getting all the details to share with all her friends.

“They’re with you in spirit.”


On Framing Death

Although born with breath in our bodies, at some point we exhaust our share. Our supply runs out. We draw the last one. When that fateful day happens, we die. Whether we merge into the cosmic consciousness and become one with the essence of all there is, take a mystical trip upward or downward, come to inhabit another body, or simply cease to exist, is another matter entirely. I stake no claim on knowing.

But we can say with conviction: no one continues in their current form forever.

Death is something no one can escape from. It follows life as surely as night follows day, winter follows autumn or old age follows youth. ~Ikeda

Since we arrive with the guarantee that we will also depart, I always wonder why some people frame death, especially when it is the result of an illness like cancer, as “losing.” As in, “she lost her battle with cancer.” Such wording, while meant to convey the way a loved one has died, implies they could’ve been immortal if only… They lost, as if, had events gone another way, they could have “won.” But what might winning mean? In a battle for life, death is the certain winner. So perhaps life and death are not best framed as competitors.

It is fair to acknowledge the cause of death. And of course we can acknowledge our loss; our sorrow that our loved one’s time with us was shorter than we, and perhaps they, would’ve liked. But I don’t think we give life or death their full measure when we say someone lost because they died. Our loved ones may leave us, ’tis true, and perhaps it is of little solace that they are immortalized in our memories of them. But I would like to think that if we love them in death, as we loved them in life, they won.

Restorative Justice and the Caring Community | #30in30 #WriteLikeCrazy.

I’m at a conference, so I’m on and off the grid this weekend. While traveling, I had a short, but productive bout of writing-as-thinking. I decided not to push myself to finish either of the two pieces I started, but they are definitely seeds, firmly planted.

One of the pieces was a follow-up to my post on a caring community. Even now, I’m still thinking about it. It all goes back to love, methinks. I sometimes wonder why love is such a revolutionary act. But why wouldn’t it be? We are submerged in a world of violence. We see violent images on our televisions. We use violent language with people we love. Sing songs with violent lyrics. Think violent thoughts. Send violent energy with looks and gestures.

And then we are surprised when violence appears in more tangible forms. We demonize the perpetrators for choosing violence. For succumbing to violence. For mirroring it.

My statement is not meant to absolve aggressors of their responsibility. I simply would like us, as a community, to acknowledge our complicity.

I believe much begins with a theory and practice of love. I wonder if we can ponder such a thing, rather than dismiss it out of hand. After all, where have hardened hearts and an appetite for revenge gotten us?

That brings us again to the caring community. How to we go about creating it? Or how do we enlarge the caring spaces that exist? Mikhail posed a question this afternoon:

Do abolitionists have an alternative vision for how to respond to harmful behavior? That’s what restorative justice does.

As a newbie, I cannot speak for the community of abolitionists. I’m still investigating at this point. But the idea of restorative justice holds promise:

I will continue to share as I continue to learn.

An Unlikely Pairing | #30in30 #WriteLikeCrazy.

Scalzi’s post on a feral kitten made me think of my kitty, Missy.  I am allergic to said cat. More than a few have inquired into the origins of such an unlikely pairing.

I’m not sure exactly when I got Missy. Perhaps around 2004, not long after my mother died.  I had inherited and moved into my childhood home.  An only child living alone before she died, I didn’t feel particularly lonely in this new arrangement. This was irrelevant to my well-meaning coworkers, who seemed to think I needed something to love on.  Plants, pets, a boyfriend. Something.  Plants were not an option.  I wasn’t really a pet girl. I dated off and on, but nothing serious.

But I shared an office with three women with husbands and pets. Three friendly, yet persistent women.  They were determined I’d have one or the other before long. Two of the three had cats, the other, a yip dog, and we all decided that if, for some strange reason, I should desire a pet, a cat would be the way to go.

Cats are self-sufficient, yet entertaining to watch.  They like to mind their own business but they enjoy gossiping and cuddling from time to time, too. On top of everything, they’re self-cleaning!  A cat could provide company without being too consuming.

Michelle, The Cat Broker, was the most determined. Emails about cats needing a new home always found their way to me. There were slide shows of available cats. I was mildly interested, but remained unconvinced.

One day The Cat Broker announced she had found the perfect kitty.  Missy was shy, and often hid in her house of three children and two large dogs.  The family was moving and decided it would be best if they and Missy parted ways. She arranged a trial period.

Test the waters. See how it goes. Turn her back over if catastrophe ensues.

I’ll spare you the long story of us getting to know each other. But I will say I never knew cats could throw punches.

Early swipes aside, we bonded.  Shortly thereafter, my breathing became noticeably labored. A trip to the allergist was in order once I became scared to fall asleep at night. A skin test revealed the news: I was allergic to dust, dogs, and of course, cats.

The thought of giving up my cat made me sad, so I didn’t. And although I did try to about a year later (that’s another story), it’s completely out of the question now.

So there you have it. And here you have us:

An Alpha, #3.

An Alpha,

That’s how he always signed his missives. Something I’d managed to forget until I stumbled across one. I was in the midst of searching for something completely unrelated in my box of “treasured stuff,” when there it was. His elaborate signature. I wept at the shock of feeling I honestly didn’t know was still present over a decade later. I wept for had been. For what could have been. Most of all, I wept for him.

An age ago, he was my boyfriend. Me, 21; a junior in college. He, a couple of years my senior; a graduate student in psychology. He was warm and loving and thoughtful. He’d fix me lunches: homemade sandwiches, heated and sliced down the middle. He was also organized. Everything had to be exactly where it had to be and no.where.else.

One might reasonably guess him to be an athlete. Slim and toned. Tall. Six feet to my five four. He was “high yella” with hazel-green eyes and a disarming smile. His skin betrayed a heritage he’d just as soon ignore. Who wants to look in the mirror only to be reminded his ancestors were raped? He volunteered with African-themed youth programs. Wanted to do more of that. Planned to develop and implement his own curriculum. Maybe create an organization.

We were together until we weren’t. A few months? Maybe up to a year. I loved him (I can admit it now), but there was always something. I didn’t have the language to articulate how I felt. Usually he was sunshine. But at times he’d be haloed by clouds. After weeks of joy, we were suddenly weighed down by a heaviness I couldn’t name. I felt it, but I couldn’t exactly see it.

This is difficult. I’m trying to share a tongue twister with my mouth full of peanut butter. Words, thoughts, memories mushed. Stuck together. Stalactites in the roof of my mouth. I’ll keep trying.

I knew I couldn’t help him with it. Hell, I didn’t even know what “it” was. He acknowledged it was something. Wished he could explain. Wished I could help. It was an abstract painting in a poorly lit room. We both wondered, what was that? What did it mean? Just a blur of confusing colors splattered on a canvas.

And it was over. And I graduated. Moved back home to Atlanta. He wrote letters from time to time. Signed in his distinctive way…

I returned one weekend and reached out to him. A laughing voice invited me to dinner. The conversation was all smiles, except for his comparison to his brother. Light-hearted jokes, until the admission of overspending to impress his mother. He said he was happy. Or trying to be. He’d suffered a recent heartache. The new girlfriend had complained about the clouds, the heaviness. It remained nameless. I’m working on it. I see it’s really a problem. Still no words for what “it” was. I assumed “it” was feeling as though he were not enough. Always competing. Always wishing he were richer. Darker. Something.

He was weeks away from finishing his degree. Over dinner, we discussed his next steps. Maybe he’d come to Atlanta. Maybe we’d reconcile.


He seemed somehow different that night. Needy? Open? Please don’t leave. If only you understood. I wish I could explain. Just stay. Yet somehow the same. Still warm. I’ll run your bath water for you. Still distractingly meticulous. I don’t want this to hang here. I’ll fold it and move it there.

He cooked breakfast before I departed in the morning. He had insisted. I thought I’d see him again soon. He was weeks away from finishing his degree. Maybe he’d come to Atlanta. Maybe we’d reconcile.

His frat brother called. Do you know K? I frowned at the complete ridiculousness of the question. Of course. I was just with him two days ago. Irritated with this beginning, I neglected to register concern about the call.

He’s dead. They said it was suicide. Gunshot wound to the head.

I stammered a response before I hung up. Spent the next several days in shock. Couldn’t sleep alone. Confused. Muddled. Peanut butter for brains. Tears.

I wish I knew what transpired in the intervening hours. He died the day I saw him last. He was weeks away from finishing his degree. Maybe he’d come to Atlanta. Maybe we’d reconcile.

I write this because I didn’t know. I didn’t have patience for what I didn’t understand. I couldn’t explain. I didn’t have the language. I just knew it was something. I don’t know what, if anything, I could have done differently. Not the last day of his life, nor the year before. But maybe, by contributing my remembrances, it may trigger someone to wonder. To dig deeper. To recognize. To seek help.

I am Nicole D. Collier, and I have #NoShame.

Writing Publicly

One of my goals/determinations for 2012 is to write and publish meaningful, well-received pieces. My first one (yay!) is linked below. I had the pleasure of working with a brilliant editor, Kelly Virella, and I’m deeply appreciative of her guidance and wisdom. I hope to write many more personal essays, advocacy pieces, and other works throughout 2012. Here’s to the first one!

Mama’s voicemail sounded an alarm. “I’m not feeling well. Call me back.” I returned her call right away. No answer. Heart pounding, eyebrows raised, I left a message in return, chiding her for scaring me by leaving mysterious messages and then refusing to answer the phone. In my nearly 30 years of life, I’d never heard her say anything so ominous.

Minutes later, I headed to our rendezvous point – the emergency room. She’d enlisted a neighbor to drive her and she’d arrive shortly. “I don’t have a good feeling about this,” I told my best friend’s voicemail. “I don’t think this is going to turn out well.”

(Note: Dominion of NY is now offline).

On Living, or Dying, with Anger

It is dangerous to hold fast to anger toward another.

Perhaps even poisonous.

One may look around one day, only to find herself rotting, dying a slow death from the inside. And yet, aware as I am of this simple point, I catch myself, arms wrapped ‘round my body, one crossed over another, refusing to release it. It’s almost comforting, this anger. Terrifying to think of letting it go, and Goddess forbid, opening my heart again. Where would I be without this cloak ‘round me? Without this veil enclosing my heart? One shudders to think of it. And yet one shudders a great deal more to ponder the alternative.

Praying to expel this poison. Move past the betrayal. Get on with life and the living. Anger, held too long and too deeply, is for the dead.