Jamie Harris: What’s In Your Bag?

Welcome back to my series where I get nosy with artists and find out what they take with them in their bag. My guest today is artist, writer, and graphic designer, Jamie Harris. I’ve known Jamie for about 20 years and I adore her. She is intelligent, kind, talented, and a disruptor of society’s expectations. You’ll hear all of that, and more, in her answers. Jamie included a beautiful photo of the contents of her bag, which you can refer to below. So, grab your favorite beverage, settle in, and let’s get nosy with Jamie!

Hey, Jamie, so what’s in your bag?

First of all, my criteria for any bag I carry is that it will hold a book. I always have a book. Right now I’ve got a romcom, which is a little easier on the shoulders than the 500-page fantasy hardcover I was previously hauling around.

Then there’s the usual necessities: lip balm, wallet, keys (with my myriad library card tags and a sentimental keychain), swiss army knife, headphones, etc. The random receipts are actually ones that misspell my name the same way a friend of mine intentionally misspells it as an inside joke, so maybe those count for keepsakes instead of useless rubbish?

I always have a pair of socks. People have teased me for this! But so many times I have pulled out that pair of socks and put them on, because I needed an extra pair of socks. 

Other current necessities include my feelings wheel, courtesy of my therapist, which I really do pull out and consult when I’m having A Feeling, to work on identifying it. There’s a color swatch where I recently painted my office/library, so if I run across something decorative I can see if it goes with the walls. I’ve also got a sensory ring, my favorite rock, and my other favorite rock. (If you’ve reached your 40s without multiple favorite rocks, I don’t even know what you’re doing with your life.)

I’d count the rocks under the creative column too, because rubbing a rock and walking and thinking is my creative process in a nutshell. 

Like it or not, my phone is the best creative tool I have on the go. A camera in my pocket! (The do-not-disturb mode is a must, though.) I use the Bear app to collect any stray thought, observation, spark of inspiration, quote from the book I’m reading, etc. I also dump all my to-dos there to free up space in my mind. It really is my second brain. The mynoise.net site and app are indispensable too. There are hundreds of seamless looping soundscapes, and that’s the first thing I put on my headphones when I’m overwhelmed or needing to zone out and be creative. I’ll match a sound generator to whatever I’m reading or writing, and it’s this deep immersive experience that’s really amazing and calming.

I’m sentimental though, and still keep my pre-smartphone Field Notes (graph pages—has to be graph pages), because sometimes a pen and paper is the only thing that will do. 

I think that’s it, so back to you!

Ok, I am simultaneously not surprised and completely delighted by the book situation. Because of COURSE you would carry around a 500-page fantasy hardcover at one point or another!

Hahaha, usually the difficulty is which book to have with me. I have tried to fit two or three at once, just in case!

So…the extra socks. 🙂 Are they for extra warmth, extra cushion? And is this a year-round necessity?

Year-round necessity, for temperature reasons. I don’t go out much, but when I do, it’s difficult to anticipate what the temp will be, and it’s a source of excruciating discomfort to have my feet either too hot or too cold. So in the summer, it’s usually a matter of wearing ankle socks or no socks, and then needing some crew socks if a place is blasting A/C. In the winter I’m wearing wool socks, which could then need to be swapped out for thinner socks if I’m too warm or wearing both pairs if I’m too cold. Spring or fall is just anarchy. It’s a complicated process! Very Goldilocks-esque—gotta get it just right, but with constantly changing variables. 

And the rocks! Where did you find these two favorite rocks, and when did you realize that rocks were an important part of your creative process?

Rocks have been a part of my process so long that I can’t even remember where my first favorite rock comes from! Probably the beach? It’s just the perfect weight, size, smoothness, everything. The second rock is a recent addition—they paved our road over the summer, and this one pink quartz got stuck in the asphalt right in the path where I walk every day. I would notice it and touch it every day, as just this acknowledgment of you’re not supposed to be here but you’re here, look at you, so beautiful, kind of thing. And then one day a big tractor dislodged it, and I picked it up, and the back side of it just fits the curve of my thumb, so it now it’s a second favorite walking-and-thinking rock. 

I do that a lot, just collect orphan rocks and sticks and shells and things. Anything I feel has a story. I have bowls of them all over the house. It’s not quite anthropomorphizing them, I don’t think of everything as human, but I’ve always had more of what you would probably call an animist view, where everything is alive and has this rich inner life that I can’t understand but am humbled to observe. 

So with a rock in my hand, part of it feels like a sensory grounding thing—it’s so pleasant to hold a rock, the texture, the weight, that it anchors my mind and helps me focus. Part of it is feeling this kind of kinship with it, befriending it almost. Part of it is that if I get stuck on a thought, either a loop I want to get out of or just a brainstorming dead-end, I can shift and think about the rock instead, the age of it, where it’s been, how it got here, which frees up my mind to sort out the rest in the background. It helps alleviate anxiety too, when the volume turns up on that. There are a lot of different layers to the process, and it’s tough to articulate. I don’t think anyone’s ever asked before! But that’s the best way I know to explain it. 

I love everything about this. And I like what you said, “Anything I feel has a story.” Incidentally, I had never heard of the Bear app or the mynoise site and I will be checking both of them out. I usually use my Notes app for cataloguing my thoughts and ideas, but I’ve wondered if there is something else out there that might be better at organizing them. 

I won’t go all tech-bro on you, lol! Basically Bear is similar to Notes, but it’s Markdown-based formatting, which I’ve used for so long it’s second-nature to me. That, with some other features like tagging and a powerful search, make it frictionless to use in a way that Notes isn’t for me. I don’t have to organize anything because I can find it with a keystroke. It’s very cute too! The bear. The whole experience is aesthetically pleasing. (Are we back to the animist thing? I suppose that’s only fair for an app I use a hundred times a day.) It’s also friendly with the app I use for long-form writing, Ulysses, which is also based on Markdown. So I can copy back and forth all day long without the headache of reformatting anything. 

But yes, it’s the same concept as Notes, a way to brain-dump all the thoughts and ideas. I like to think of it as composting, dumping everything in there to see what germinates. 

And for us non-designers…why graph paper? What does it do for you as an artist?

Oof, I think it’s just the way my brain works. I don’t know if I have a better answer than that! It’s true that as a designer, not an illustrator, I often work more with grids than just… sprawling artistic creativity. I like the way it helps me line things up, but also that I’m not restricted to thinking only horizontally, like with ruled paper. And blank paper is too intimidating. I just think best on graph paper. The perfect amount of restriction + freedom, guidance but not constraint. 

THIS IS SO FUN! I feel like a kid in a candy shop, for real.

Same! It’s so fun to think through some of these things I do without thinking! Especially with an inquisitive soul such as yourself. 🙂

Anything you’re working on at the moment – or future projects – you’d like to tell us about?

I’m actually all-in on the project of hibernating and resting. My creative pursuits at the moment are for pleasure and fun, not for public consumption (yet). I’m working on collages for the first time since college, and those may eventually show up on my portfolio or on instagram. I’ve also embraced the idea that reading is my vocation and the biggest part of my creative practice, so I’m fairly active on goodreads and have been tinkering with a hand-coded site where all my “field notes” and book thoughts can live. It’s in its infancy, but I’m excited to keep building it out—I miss the old days of non-social blogging, haha. A place to collect all my digital rocks and sticks, and to compost ideas. 🙂

That sounds amazing. Thanks for doing this interview, Jamie. It’s been neat to peek inside your bag (and your head)! You’re so creative and funny and whip-smart. I love the way you’re determined to be you.

Awww thank you! If I was publishing anything I’d get you to write the blurb, that’s an excellent compliment. And right back at you, Jess—I feel free to be me because you are free to be you.


Jamie Harris is a reader, writer, artist, and freelancer with over 20 years of experience in the field of graphic design. Born and raised in North Carolina, she currently lives on a farm in Archdale, NC, with a bunch of squirrels, cows, trees, and a collection of nearly 2,000 books. You can connect with her via GoodreadsInstagram, or her website at jamieharris.co.

Outside the Calendar

When January rolls around,
I’ve just lived through a month
crammed full of 
a whirlwind 
of messages,
and things 
to navigate.

When January rolls around
the last thing I need
is to hear 
to think about new goals 
           new to-do’s 
           new tactics 
           new strategies.

When January rolls around,
I don’t need more stuff to sign up for,
more ways to jumpstart my way to success,
more things to buy,
more calls to action
more pressure to 
                         do more
                          be more
                         create more 
                           get more 
                          live more 
                         attract more 
                             engage more 
                           achieve more.

When January rolls around
the last thing I need is 
to be told anything other than how
I’m actually already doing PRETTY GREAT with all the things being thrown at me thank you very much!

When January rolls around,
I need to recover
From December.
And maybe from the whole entire year itself.
I need to just be for a bit.

And I might need that for February as well. 
I might need to ebb and flow outside of the calendar year.

I place my own hand
On my own heart
As I inhale with my own breath
And say with my own voice
To my own self,
“My friend.”
And then 
as I exhale
With my own breath
I say to my own self
With my own hand on my own heart,
“My friend.”

When people are 
pushing and dictating and selling and shaming, 
I inhale 
and say with my own voice to my own self, “My friend.”
I exhale 
and say with my own voice to my own self, “My friend.”

When people are 
apparently only experiencing great fantastic things 
no setbacks struggles demotions wrinkles or outdated eyewear
they’re able to grow their own organic produce 
and still have time to achieve rock hard abs
while writing a poem a day
and running their own company
which is responsible for helping to solve some geopolitical crisis…
I inhale 
and say with my own voice to my own self, “My friend.”
I exhale 
and say with my own voice to my own self, “My friend.”

What I’m saying is,
I’m juggling a lot
And I bet you are too
and still 
almost everywhere we go
are messages 
that it’s not enough,
that we 
are not enough.

What I’m saying is
when January rolls around
and February
and every month after that
not many people
or organizations
or societal messages
go easy on us. 

Maybe when January rolls around
we go easy
on ourselves. 

*This practice of deep breathing combined with healthy self-talk is from episode 3, season 6 of The Happiness Lab podcast.

Wonder Truly: What’s In Your Bag?

Welcome to the What’s In Your Bag? series, where I get nosy with artists about what they take with them to capture those creative thoughts, live their art, and express themselves.

My first guest is Wonder Truly, who I met on Instagram. We connected over music and I love her voice — it’s beautiful, smooth, and clear; her songs like journal entries telling the ups and downs of life. I LOVED getting a peek into their world with this interview, so let’s get this party started!

Hey, Wonder! So what’s in your bag?

Oh boy, okay. So we’ve got the basics–phone, keys, and cards. I always carry a pair of heavy duty sunglasses with me, as I am actually a goblin living in a cave and the all-encompassing Arizona sunlight hurts my eyes. I currently have two packets of guitar picks that I bought a couple weeks ago and still have yet to transplant to my desk where they can be used. I carry at least two masks in my bag at all times: an Aura N95, and a brightly colored KN95 in case I go somewhere I’ll need to remove my mask for bites of food or sips of a drink. I caught Covid at the end of October 2021, which turned into Long Covid that had me fully bedridden for 13 months. I am extremely cautious of the risks of the ongoing pandemic; I wouldn’t wish what I went through, or what thousands of people with Long Covid are still going through, on anybody. 

In the front pocket of my bag, I have two different kinds of hand sanitizers, and a handful of clean tissues and paper napkins because I do be living that chronic sniffles life. I have a cute mint green pocket sketchbook for doodles and mini paintings that’s about 1/3rd full. Looks like I also have a folded USPS customs receipt in that pocket too, haha. 

Pull the zipper open and the middle section of the bag is revealed: the real trove. I have a journal for songwriting and stream of consciousness writing, four different ballpoint pens, a little roller bottle of Gucci Bloom that I save for special occasions and only when I know I’ll be in a well-ventilated area (as someone who is gagged on the regular by other people’s perfumes and body spray, I try to be conscientious of sensitivities around me). This is starting to sound like I am overly neurotic with a superiority complex, but I promise only one of those is true. 

I’ve got a modest arsenal of lip products: a couple lipsticks, Burt’s Bees Regular Peppermint chapstick, a classic C.O. Bigelow Menthe Lip Shine, and a Sephora tinted lip balm. I employ them maybe once every couple months, when the mood strikes. I’m genderqueer and have a complicated relationship with presenting as femme on a regular basis, but I’ll go through phases where I feel like wearing the She/Her costume. 

I have three flavors of gum (one cinnamon and two different kinds of mint), a little zipper pocket with yet another hand sanitizer, and a deck of emergency playing cards at the very bottom of my bag. Some days, I’ll throw in an emergency beanie for when my roots are atrocious and I’m a long time between hair washes. More frequently, I’ll shove a crochet hat project into the mix so I have something to do with my hands when I’m sitting otherwise unoccupied. 

That’s it! The story of the inside of my bag. More illuminating and personal than I was expecting, ha! 

Ok, first of all, LOVE the minty theme. Huge fan of mint right here.

Mint is SUCH a good theme, I’m a big fan. When I first started dyeing my hair, I went with mint first. 

And I love how you’re prepared with different options of everything in your bag. Because one never knows if, for example, it will be a cinnamon kind of day or not, right? 

100%, I gotta have options. 

Do the contents of your bag change if you’re doing a gig, or going to record in the studio? 

So I actually haven’t done any gigs since the start of the pandemic! I might be tentatively dipping my toes back into the scene next year depending on covid numbers, but for right now & the last few years, I feel it’s  irresponsible to create an opportunity for people to gather in large numbers, especially indoors. Back when I used to gig, though, I packed some extra guitar picks, a handful of snacks, and my iPad with my charts on it. I forgot to mention that if I’m leaving the house for more than an hour, I’ll pack a snack like a protein bar or a bag of dried mangoes, which is what I’m hooked on lately!

So, with the sketchbook and the journal…is there a time or circumstance when you break them out of your bag the most? Like, in traffic, or at the coffee shop, in meetings, backstage before or after gigs?

I tend to break my sketchbook out most in doctor’s office waiting rooms where I practice drawing plants and gesture drawings. Last year while I was sick, I had several doctor’s appointments per month and I really appreciated having something to doodle in to pass the monotony of waiting. I mostly use the journal that’s in my bag for when I’m somewhere by myself outside the house. Coffee shops are my go-to for journal writing, but I actually got this journal specifically for a Covid-conscious songwriter’s retreat I hosted in Sedona at the beginning of November. We had designated freewriting time every morning, followed by either a solo songwriting session or a co-write that afternoon. I hoped to continue the morning freewrites after the retreat, but I ended up being super busy with projects (a great problem to have!). I plan to get serious again about my journaling habits next year. My friend Rae, who was on the retreat with us, has an amazing selection of fountain pens, a very fancy and expensive Japanese journal/planner, and a small Canon sticker printer for adding visual recall to their entries. I’ll try to emulate her ensemble (hello, Christmas wishlist), and then see what comes of it! 

Cool! And tell me about those sunglasses!

I actually have a pair of sunglasses meant for shooting ranges, ha! I’ve been shooting once, in Texas, while on tour. It’s not for me. But the sunglasses are great! They’re tinted and amazing for all purpose outdoor life. They’re so scratched up though because I’ve had them for years, that lately I’m using some cute paparazzi-proof sunglasses, the kind that take up almost half your face. I got them from H&M. Not that I have to worry about paparazzi, but the anonymity that comes from wearing a mask in public with the sunglasses on is quite nice! 

Awesome. Thank you so much, Wonder, for your time and for giving me a little peek into your life! I’ve so enjoyed getting to know a bit more about you in this way.

You’re so welcome! It was a pleasure. Great questions!

Do you have any current or upcoming projects you’re working on that you want to tell us about? 

Ooh, what a great question. I’m currently releasing a song every month! The song coming out December 1st is an introvert’s Christmas song. Every year I try to write a nice, heartfelt Christmas song, and every year I fail, haha. So this song is a bit grinch. but folks can stay in the loop on my Bandcamp, or on my Patreon for first looks at all new releases.

I can’t wait to hear this Christmas song!

photo of Wonder TrulyWonder Truly is a singer-songwriter, music producer, and Twitch streamer. Wonder is best known for her songs about living with mental illness and chronic illness, self-forgiveness, and defying the narrative of being “too much.” Like most working Creatives, Wonder was forced into a hard pivot with the arrival of the pandemic, which opened up the unexpected opportunity to fall back into music production after years of being a full-time touring solo artist. Wonder currently resides in Phoenix, Arizona, where they live with three cats and a most wonderful partner. As is her signoff at the end of every Twitch stream, Wonder implores readers to “drink some water, eat some food, take your meds, and take care of each other.” Connect with Wonder on Bandcamp, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Patreon, or their website.

Thanks, Cornfields

Cornfields ripple in the wind,
Stalks swaying, without a care in the world
Slender leaves shimmering in the sunlight
Sky of summer blue
Grasses tickled by the current,
Empty railroad track stretching across.

This is the place where I buried you
Though your gravestone is hundreds of miles away.
This is the place 
I let you go.

I watch, mesmerized
As I sit in my car
Music blasting, bass pumping
And you, hand in your pocket, smiling at me.
I’m not surprised you’re surrounded by stacks of books and newspapers,
Loving life.
You see me fully now,
And love me all the more for it.

I hold onto you here
As the cornfields dance.
This is our place,
Our connection unbroken.
Time slows,
Containing a moment 
More profound
Than a poem
Could convey.

Thanks for being here when I need it.

Also, thanks to the cornfields
For carrying the memories,
And holding them close
For me.

It occurred to me later
That some things,
And some people,
(And sometimes even our own mind)
Will try to rob us of experiences like this,
Try to rob us of our connection to love.

We mustn’t let them.

Love is too important.

Edge of the Wilderness is Live!

It’s here!

My new EP, Edge of the Wilderness, is available now on all music platforms. Choose your preferred music app here: https://linktr.ee/jessicathecotten

I’m excited to finally share my songs with you. Edge of the Wilderness features immersive electronic textures and visceral rock dynamics + deeply personal stories of pain, loss, & love. It’s a protest, a ballad, a journal, & a ride through uncharted realms. I wrote the songs over the course of about 4 years, starting in 2016, and then took my time recording them in the studio starting in January 2021.

The ability to make music and release it into the world is a gift I don’t take for granted. I hope you enjoy my newest sounds and words. Tell all your friends! Edge of the Wilderness is streaming everywhere: https://linktr.ee/jessicathecotten

My Heroes

My newest single, “My Heroes”, released June 3. I could not be more ecstatic to have this song finally out and about in the world!

I hesitate to try to explain what my songs are about because a) they’re often about lots of things, and b) I want them to speak to people however they end up speaking, without me interfering with any sort of cumbersome explanation that might water them down.

But this one is different. It has me wanting to drop a little bit of explanation.

“My Heroes” is about my experience as a female with gender discrimination and the systems that perpetuate it. It’s about the ridiculousness of it, the pain it causes everyone, and the path it has taken for me to rise above it. It’s about how so many of the ways we measure success and heroism are harmful.

I’ve been in so many environments that champion maleness and diminish femaleness. Environments that make plenty of room for males and not plenty of room for females (who are often just as – or more – qualified for the same roles).

Sometimes you can stick around at a place and try to change the system from the inside. Sometimes you have to leave the place. Sometimes leaving is best.

Some of my biggest heroes are people the world doesn’t pay attention to. Those who defy the toxic definitions of success, leadership, and power.

I hope I can always work towards moving the needle in the direction of equality and belonging. The way I feel most compelled to do that right now is by telling stories. And this is one of them.

“My Heroes” is available for your listening pleasure everywhere.

Watch the official lyric video here →

“My Heroes”

Save me
I don’t want to stay here
I have had to bury more than you know               
All because you refuse to listen
Save me
From the domination
You want me invisible even though
I’m the one making all the difference

Nothing I can do to change your minds
Leaving is the only way sometimes
To live but I still die a little bit inside

Save me
I don’t want to hate you
Every time the words come out of your mouth 
Play the part
I know you won’t lose

Nothing I can do to change your minds
Leaving is the only way sometimes
To live but I still die a little bit inside

I’m tired of fighting
For my place, for a place
What else is there to do
When you tell me

Keep your head down
Don’t look up
Say the right thing
Not too much
Nothing is ever enough
Nothing is ever enough
I came in peace
But it cost so much

My heroes go another way
Through shadows
In obscurity
Our present is their history 
My heroes
Travel lightly here
As strangers
Walking through my dreams
Conforming is a trivial thing

Composer and Lyricist: Jessica Cotten
Vocals, Keys: Jessica Cotten
Producer, Mixer, Engineer: Josh Bahl
Drums: Adam Bahl
Mastering Engineer: Joe Causey
Recorded at Attic Recording Studio
Lyric Video Creator: Joseph Cotten

Remember the Good Times

Two weeks ago, my grandfather passed away. He was 96, lived an incredible life, was kind, optimistic, and gave the best hugs. I don’t have a single bad memory of him. He was a constant source of goodness in my life, and though I still feel a deep sense of connection with him even now, I will miss his presence terribly. 

When my brother and I were kids, we’d ride our bikes to his and Grandmother’s house. Sometimes we’d spend the night, and when I was small their simple, three-bedroom, two-bath house somehow felt like a mansion. They always had ice cream on hand. And in the summer, they had air conditioning! One of my fondest memories was actually a somewhat regular occurrence. Granddad was always the first to wake up, a trait he held onto from his days as a journalist and newspaper editor. I was the second to wake up, and I’d come out of my room still in my PJ’s, following the smell of coffee into the kitchen where Granddad would be sitting at the table, looking dapper even in his bathrobe, absorbed in the newspapers spread out before him. It was always a quiet scene and sometimes I’d be shy about interrupting his peaceful morning, but then he’d look up, see me, and stop what he was doing to say, “Well good morning Jessica! Want some cereal?” He was so cheerful and before I could even answer he had risen from the table to go towards the cabinet that held the cereal. There was never a chance for me to wonder for a second if I had bothered him. He made a place for me at the table, where I’d sit across from him and read my own section of the newspaper as he returned to his. Depending on my age, my reading of choice ranged from the comics, to the lifestyle section, to international news (never national news – that was sooooo conventional). I’m sure he was reading every section of the paper, spotting details I’d never see, and enjoying the business section, financial section, and letters to the editor the most.

One summer day I sat with Granddad at a Five Guys along with my family. After our burgers & fries had been devoured, he recounted stories of when he was Public Relations & Personnel Director of the newspaper. He had tears in his eyes at one point as he recalled the responsibility of caring for employees during a particularly challenging time. I remember thinking I wished everyone could have people like him in HR. 

When my poetry book came out, he bought copies for his friends in the retirement community where he lived. I told him I’d gladly give him some, but he insisted on buying them himself. Shortly after, I was showing him a new poem I’d just written, and at one point he exclaimed, “What a line!” I can’t remember which line it was, I just know that having Granddaddy as my fan meant more to me than any amount of good reviews from anyone.

We held a gathering last week to honor Granddad’s life. We booked an art gallery (he loved good art), brought in a caterer, served food & wine (he loved good food & good wine), set out photographs of him throughout the decades, & invited friends and family to drop in for an informal social event to celebrate him. For two hours I had the privilege of hearing people talk to me about what Granddad meant to them. A common theme in what everyone said was that he was “the kindest man”, “always a gentleman”. I got to hear about how he brought his neighbor’s mail to her, how he wasn’t shy to raise a ruckus about things that were, in fact, ridiculous (like when a certain hiring committee didn’t have a single female candidate on their list – he was aghast at this), & how just two months ago he held captive an audience of journalism students at the local university as he regaled stories from his own days as a journalist. However privileged they all felt to have known him doesn’t compare to the privilege I had to be his granddaughter.

When each of my Grandmothers died, he hugged me and said “Remember the good times”. I’m thankful he taught me how to do this. It’s helping me so much right now.

I think Granddaddy genuinely inspired people to do the right thing, be generous, be realistically optimistic, and make good decisions. But I just want to be back at that kitchen table with him again, me in my PJ’s slurping cereal, him in his crisp robe drinking coffee and poring over the morning papers. 

Me and Granddaddy.

City on Fire

My song “City on Fire” was released July 9, 2021. I wrote it off and on from 2016–2020, when it felt like so many things were falling apart…but it also felt like they needed to fall apart. So, if at any point during those years you felt disillusioned, angry, afraid, utterly confused, or disappointed — or if you currently feel any of these things — I think you might like this song. 

You can listen to it here →

Full lyrics and song credits below.

“City on Fire”

All the songs I love are written by people who fade away
How can I trust anyone when they just want their own way?
Silence isn’t golden when it’s time to have something to say
We are just kids, wide open and vulnerable
In a city on fire burning out of control

One by one we fall until there’s no one left to lead the way
We thought they would save us but our dreams were all naïveté
Every single lie became an ember that went up in flames
We are just kids, wide open and vulnerable
In a city on fire burning out of control

This is the breakdown
Of all we thought was safe for us
A place for us
Home to us
Do we even know how to let go?

The wind carries us to the edge of the wilderness
‘Exiled Outliers’ tattooed upon our flesh 
But the desert is a refuge when the city is burning down
We are just kids, wide open and vulnerable
In a city on fire burning out of control

This is the breakdown
Of all we thought was safe for us
A place for us
Home to us
Do we even know how to let go?
‘Cause we can’t go back

Torn apart
Can’t go back
We need a
Can’t go back

The flames are the way forward
The flames are the way

We need a breakdown
Before we start to build again
So can we just let go


Composer: Jessica Cotten
Lyricist: Jessica Cotten
Producer: Josh Bahl and Jessica Cotten
Mixer: Josh Bahl
Engineer: Josh Bahl
Drums: Adam Bahl
Mastering Engineer: Neil Hampton
Artwork: Joseph Cotten
Recorded at Attic Recording Studio, Harrisburg, PA.

Me, Her, and Words Like Swords

We stood on the precipice, the wind bellowing in my ears and whipping her long dress and hair all about. She was taller than me. I had somehow forgotten about that. Maybe because she never feels intimidating.  

It was easy to be with her. Even today. Even when things had gotten so messed up, and the land below us was being marred by a battle I hadn’t started and didn’t want to join.

My eyes scanned the land below us that stretched out as a blanket of the softest green. In previous times, it had been a peaceful place. The kind of place you go to practice flying a kite, or to look for caterpillars, or to race your little brother from the oak tree to the stream. 

Today was different, though. 

The landscape was filled with people who, from this high up, looked like tiny figures jolting back and forth at one another. I couldn’t see details of their dress or their faces, but I didn’t need to. Because I heard them.

Their voices rose in volume as if they had each been handed a megaphone and were shouting through it, as if the person in front of them would not be able to hear what they were saying without it. Insults struck the air like slaps across the face. Belligerent cries of vengeance ricocheted around the field. Words that taunted, words that maimed, words that held them in annihilation’s grip. 

They were at war, these people. And their weapons were words.

“I don’t know how it started, or how to end it,” I admitted, the echoes of their weapons piercing my ears in the worst way. 

Her arms were loose at her sides, her gaze fixed upon the land and its people. The profile of her face held no tension as the wind blew strands of her hair across it. She seemed poised and strong. But then a single tear rolled down her right cheek.

“This is what humans do,” she said. “When they don’t remember who they are.”

Humans. She had said it so softly I almost couldn’t hear it over the shouts of people below. She had said it tenderly. Mournfully. As if she was one of us and a connection had been severed. As if we were the same.

But I knew.

I knew that she carried herself in ways we could not. I knew that she had spent years carrying others in ways we refused to. And I knew that even though she and I were alive and breathing and standing there together on the precipice, that we were not the same.

She had her own ways of doing things; I have only ever witnessed a few of them. But in that moment, when she said the humans had forgotten who they were, I knew what she would do next. She would go down into the battle and try to stop the fighting. She would stand next to each person, saying something to try to help them find a way out. Some would listen to her. Others would break out their weapons and cut her. She would bleed. And once she knew they didn’t want out of the battle, she would let them go. They would continue doing whatever they did, and she would return, either to a resting place or to another land that needed her.

I knew it would happen like this because I had met her once after she had visited another battle. Traces of blood had marked her sleeves, but there were no wounds on her skin. She had some magical way of healing. I was still trying to understand it. I was still trying to understand her.

So today—even today—I did as I always do when she speaks. I inhaled her words as if they were air. They sank into me like water sinks into dirt. And I prayed, for the thousandth time, that I might one day be like her: able to stand in each present moment truthfully, but never without hope.

Remember who you are, she keeps telling me. 

Remember who you are.

The Circus Is On

I would like to gather somewhere,
Move with
Belong to
Partake in something


Without the bologna of
A group of well-dressed men
Sitting on the front row
Reveling in their hierarchy.

Stages are set
For the well-dressed.
Megaphones handed
To those with stories
Of their own greatness.
Speeches detailing great exploits,
Exhales of ego,
Leaders puffed up
Strutting like peacocks,
Though less beautiful
And more ridiculous.

The thirst for power
Cannot be quenched

Some in the crowd are awed.
Some know better.


The underground
Holds promise.
Listen to the humble,
Cherish the lowly,
Sit with the oppressed.
Look for the ordinary
Abiding elsewhere
Far from
Empty promises,
Reputation-enhancing machines,
Appetites for fame.

The circus.