A Facebook Post About Boils and Combatting Depression

(warning – this post is grody to the max).

Depression: the more people I get to know (really know) the more I see how difficult life can be and how common depression is. Curling into bed tonight with a fresh ginger tea and fighting off the final touches of a lingering cold/flu, I started to ponder gratitude — and why people say that it, along with empathy, is a cure to depression. There was even a cartoon (which I loved) making the FB rounds that explained that telling people they shouldn’t feel down because others have it worse is like telling people not to celebrate because others have done better (paraphrase). I agree with this!

But, I have many things for which to be grateful and also many things for which to be hateful and bitter, so I wanted to give the gratitude cure a try. As I considered what of the many things in my life I should feel thankful for first (and then got more depressed and started watching Top Chef re-runs), a friend called to tell me about her day. A couple days ago she developed a boil on her arm, her dominant arm, upper right, near the triceps. Not just a small, eeeny-weeny boil, but a huge festering disgusting bulging sore thing that erupted out of nowhere and got so big that she had to rest her arm on a pillow as she talked to people at work. She called her doctor and they were like GET THEE TO AN EMERGENCY ROOM.

So, she went into the emergency room, and the growth on her arm was so disgusting that the doctors looked unhappy to have to help her. But if you don’t treat these cyst-like things then the infection they contain can get in your blood stream. So they decided they had to lance the thing, which they did. And then they took an actual pump, like a sump pump, and they sucked all the yellowy pus out of her boil, and then there was this giant gaping hole in her arm. They didn’t want that to get infected so they actually stuffed cotton balls into the hole in her arm. She was in pain, and her partner had to leave, but he took the bus and left her the keys to the car without telling her where the car was parked. She wandered around the parking lot for half an hour trying to beep beep her car. Eventually, she found it, but she was in so much pain that she drove home left-handed and woozy from the meds, endangering many pedestrians.

After I berated her for careless driving endangering hipsters, we laughed! She said that, ironically, she’d been going through hard times mentally and emotionally, and now she felt a lot better because the physical pain was somehow distracting and focusing her attention on other things. When she finished telling me this tale, I asked her if she would write a short story about a woman with a boil. She said that there was no way. So, I said, could I do it? Would she please send me a picture? She said that she gave me full right and permission to write a story about a woman with a boil. So I said YAYAYYYYYYYY! Then I felt a lot better and realized that I am lucky that I have friends who have crappy things happen to them and then call me to laugh about it and yeah I feel better, but not at her expense, but because my friend called to tell me about what was going on with her, and she shared even the grody, yucky, hard stuff. I am truly grateful and waaaaay less depressed!

© Serena W. Lin

p.s. I hope she posts the picture on my FB PAGE!


For Natalie Diaz


Today I heard Natalie Diaz read (author of When My Brother Was an Aztec) and was utterly spellbound, blown away, taken out of whatever place I was in (flu-ridden and foggy-headed) and transported into story and pain and sorrow and silent contemplation.  She talked about her process, and I kept thinking about the octopus.  In the ocean, the octopus delights me, jetting its arms out through a blue sky, surprising me when it emerges, a whole alien shape in a terrain I only thought I knew.  In the world, the octopus terrorizes me, its tentacles remind me of a white friend in my writing program who surprised me when they stopped calling me socially because I had called out white privilege in a classroom full of white people (of which he was one).  He said that it was expecting too much to ask him to say something as well because he was still learning.  He said that I was too intense.  So instead of learning how to talk about race, which was no good for octopi spotting (a paramount skill), I learned to be gentle so that the octopus would only bother me when I was alone.  I am scared of gangs of octopi – the ones that sit on the ocean floor.



I’m not the kind of girl who would go put a stick in the octopus’s lair.  The octopus is everywhere.  I first saw its shade when I wondered why people could never pronounce my father’s name correctly, or why before he died, he complained that everything tasted so bitter, so foreign.  Perhaps his tongue was caught by an octopus’s mouth, which may or may not be pink and have sharp teeth inside.  His business partner was an octopus that appeared out of nowhere, although they shared two countries — flailing out at him when he had cancer, and dissolving their partnership.  This attack happened before my father could understand what was ripping into him.  I think he fell without knowing that he was falling because the octopus tripped him with a lazy suction.  He hit the ground and shattered into a million pieces. 


The stuffed octopus with a smile that stretches to every side of its oval can be won at the circus, and I always wanted to go on a ride with her at the boardwalk, but she was terrified of the octopus and its million babies that would surely spit at her and then float away into the night sky, like umbrellas whose broken frames rise disjointedly, and dance like synchronized swimmers, one arm, one leg, many arms, many legs. 


Tonight I sit alone, in the deep, swallowing sand and waiting for my time to come.

conversations i’ve never had

 The tabletop is full of returns.  I haven’t seen her for two years.  I stretch my hand across the tabletop.  How are you?  I am filled with genuine concern.  How did you fare without me? 

Well, I just drove across the Continental U.S. to be close to you.  I had a run-in with a very mean meathead in Wyoming.  I slept in Moab and roasted marshmellows with a young adventurer with yellowed hair and bits of yarn in his socks.  I saw the sun rise over the Grand Canyon.

Was it a cop?  In Wyoming?


How was South Dakota?

I’m not that patriotic, and I hate Theodore Roosevelt.

Did you see Crazy Hose?


How was it?

Awkwardly built and full of homage, but not to crazy horse, but to the guy who built the thing.  Some architect – I don’t remember his name.  It was fine.  I’m taking the Southern route next time.

Through Texas? I squeaked.  She still hadn’t taken my hand.

I’m driving straight through the Klan parts.

Good for you!   I laughed heartily, holding my stomach with both hands.

Put your hand back on the table.


What’s this?  She traced a line down fifteen short vertical slashes somebody had carved against the wall.

It’s the scoring of days that imagined sailors spent on a ship far away from their loved ones.

I told you to put your hand back on the table because I still have feelings, but you and I need to have a conversation before I’m willing

to take your hand.

About what?  I’m here.  We can talk about anything, but don’t you think you’re being a little dramatic?

            You mean that you think I’m being a little dramatic.

The silence filled the space between us.  I automatically assumed marriage.  I didn’t want to fight.

I’m not here to fight.  I’m here to ask you to marry me.  It’s legal in California you know.

            Do I have time to think about it?

                        Is that a yes?

            No.  Maybe.

                        When are you leaving?


I checked the oil and the tank is full.  You can use the same car.

            You don’t suppose that this is a bit on the silly side.

                        What’s silly about two people going back to the place they came from?

            No matter how far away?

                        No matter how far away.

No matter how soon?

            No matter how soon.


Pablo Neruda reads her a love poem on the steps of the library.  She falls in love with his enunciation.  It is a word without hesitation, or with.  It is truth, says she, that he will love her.  Will he leave her?  Is it possible that near the mildewed locker banks, returning that first week of high school, he will ditch her for a taller, sturdier girl with Lee Press-on nails and a Soul-Glo?  Is it, in fact, the responsibilities of aging that will charge through him and catch fire and flatten him into the ashes of a solid job:  lawyer, banker, doctor, import-export entrepreneur.  Even IT.  No drummers.  No amateur botanists.  Definitely, no poets.  Is it the pressure of an aging middle-class, a mortgage, crappy healthcare, her inability to conceive, the dissenting speech of her relatives for so sour in their peanut is a mixed-class, mixed-race relationship, or the possibility that he is also staring at a fine man who is walking down the steps, translations in hand, his ass so tight, the fabric frisking it, the poise of a stranger’s hands by sunlight, book-slinger, the ancient sheath of hair, the risen shoulder, the diminishment of her self, and the lack of interest in what he is saying, that will revise her summer romance?

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