Josey Rose Duncan

The Write Site


Part I. (Poem)


You are here and I am home. Wait to let out light, to swallow. Iris as parted lips. Grab, wild, at shoulders. Trace the lengths of our soft edges to our elbows, to our knees, and back. You kiss my toes and it’s not a cliché. I spider my fingers over the top of your head because I know. As far as I can tell your mouth appeared one evening in front of me at a brewery in Fruitvale. Between train tracks and wailing and beams and breath and breath. As far as you can tell, I grew at your feet. When you are waiting and don’t realize. You turn over wet stones in my palms, capture the writhe underneath. I turned myself into a whisper because I thought I was a ghost. 3am, 4pm, 7:30am. Pacific sunset, stroke of midnight. 11:11. You feel the moon. Tell me I am the tide. We tie our wrists with ribbons; cut them free.


This poem is published in Issue 15 of Unbroken Journal.

to chelsea on the 6-month anniversary of the ghost ship fire



here are three ways you being gone has changed the chemical makeup of me in 6 months:

  1. i used to be afraid to read at literary readings and now im not. it sounds like a lie but it isn’t. all relationships distill down to the mythology behind them, anyways: childhood best friends. quarter century of being nerds and dorks and artists and weirdos and rejects and not and lovers and fighters and melted into one person and barely speaking and bleeding and crying and laughing and drinking this new cocktail you just learned about at your current favorite bar on valencia and rolling our eyes at the world and searching the sky for shooting stars-friends. 25 years of ebb and flow-friends. josey is my oldest friend / not oldest as in old / the one ive known the longest-friends. your family is my family-friends. our fable our fairy tale our sad short-short starts in the 3rd grade: the tall musical prodigy, the anxious writer with red-rimmed glasses. and we grew and grew (I mean “they” did). and they stayed who they were (friends). i have not been shy since middle school but I could only stand to read my work out loud to walls and cats I was so scared and hated everything about it, the performance. “they” (everyone, well-meaning, those who know, us who grieve, who mourn, who’ve travelled, who’ve screamed at the empty space where you our loves left gaping voids in our bodies). “THEY” say no one is ever really gone and I believe it: when you left, when you left us (why) I think I swallowed some of your atoms. maybe you gave them to me. maybe I asked, don’t remember asking. we recite a dream from one of your journals. we are playing out now, a scene, we are showing them your future-past lives. CHELSEA FAITH: GUESS WHAT? I can read now! to people! and it’s not scary. thank you for lending me your voice for three and six and eight minutes at a mic so I can be who you knew I could (be).
  2. …but the embarrassing thing is i cry every morning in the shower. you hate personal essays, this isn’t one, maybe a whisper too confessional for your taste, but im sure you’ll stop me if you need to. my theory is that water makes water. maybe this is the practical, virgo part (of you, in me now). [maybe I should try swimming again, even though ive always flailed like a loser in pools and stayed on the blanket on the shore with the bottle of wine to watch eveyones’ shit while they frolic and talk about how awesome the lake is on the hot day.] maybe you gave me water. grace and faith under waves. when does it end, i wonder, the water-water-tears. and what will i do the day i don’t just start crying in the shower?
  3. i have always been and always will be one month and one day older than you. so this is weird but remember how you were (are) so brilliant at finding the strangest videos of like, a guy singing badly in a car or something that I can’t make not sound lame, but was really actually so funny and clever and touching cause you always cared the most and at some point he sang or maybe there were titles along the bottom in some cheesy-ass font like, “josey” or “birthday” or “happy” and you’d post it on my wall and—ok here’s the weird thing that’s not that weird—i used to treat facebook happy birthdays like a goddamn morning ritual, like, coffee + shower (now cry-shower) + facebook birthday greetings. to everyone whether i know you or not. and now i just can’t, like it almost hurts or something or my hands don’t move that way anymore, except once in a while they emerge from wet sand, shell-shed away lead from knuckles and then i can type and i do the minimum. but mostly i don’t do facebook birthdays anymore and im just wondering—what that’s all about?

so these are three things i wanted to share because i thought you might think they were funny or they might make you proud of me. and i don’t know how else to really show you cause i talk to you a lot when im alone (i mean, when WE are) but this feels more like, special. to post it somewhere and be vulnerable cause life is short, dude.

anyways, we all miss you a lot and it still hurts to breathe sometimes. especially today.



Posted on June 2, 2017
By admin

Filed under Blog
Comments Off on to chelsea on the 6-month anniversary of the ghost ship fire

Far away so close


For Chelsea

We looked for you in winter.
Grew ghosts from our lungs,
searched their eyes for your reflection,
watched them shake.
Released them from our
mouths, silent
into the cold night.

We looked for you in winter, in
hard earth,
held each sugar-glazed blade of grass,
red daisy red rose
touched the sharp end of each burr and
thorn. Searched water-webs stretched across
windshields, for your voice.

Meditated in moonlight pools on slick
asphalt parking lots
endless stretches of lonely
highways snaking
east west north south.
Bathed in

We looked for you in winter.
Opened every
booming back door to every party you ever
Under every key.
Saline and
champagne bubbles,
calling calling.

We looked for you.
Draped San Francisco around our
shoulders, held
across our
elbows. Fairfax falling to our
Fog like feathers.

All winter we
against the
open window at the
foot of your
bed. We saw you,
blinking back
hazel and strong. Your
caresses our quaking eyelids.

We looked for you all winter. Saw
platinum flash in the corners of our eyes
still. Never stayed
in one place
long enough for
to call and feel and catch

We looked for you in winter.
Thought we saw you swimming, splashing, in
awe of what you made.
Dove at the Pacific
realized as we crashed that it was
ice. We looked for you in winter
ran so wild at waves they splintered
scaled craggy pyramids,
soles slipping,
sand dollars loose (neon blinking)
like we hit three cherries.

We looked for you on New Year’s Eve.
Under glitter disco galaxies
astrally-projected from
Berlin and
at the same time.

We shifted feet on the empty dance floor
sipping champagne watching our watches waiting

We looked for you in winter. We looked for you all winter.

Rain washed fingerprints.
Washed away blue glitter you
tossed in your
blue glitter wave
follows you through
like a puppy
because you’re it’s

(Illuminate our faces with blue light.
We feel flushed but we still can’t find you
because you won’t stop spinning.)

When spring came you pinched the
foamy tide
one soft edge in each hand
pulled the great Pacific
toward you like a
thick, grey

In spring you
against earth.
into rain.

We raise our faces,
burrow deep.

We find you in spring find you
pouring from fertile dirt and

Green and nimble
fingers toes. Lines that snake across our palms
we feel you here.

We find you pulling stars and satellites
aching cirrus clouds
across our small vast
sky. Across the ceiling while we sleep.

A note/a key/your voice.
All the songs you’re writing now.

We looked for you in winter.
We found you



New year, new you.

The cynical, raised-by-New Yorkers part of me wants to throw all the shade on all this New Year’s rebirth; on resolutions, on proclamations to workout/eat healthier/create more/love more/be more open to new ideas; on optimistic decrees of total transformation tied to turning, once more, around the sun; turning our calendars (metaphoric and literal) to a new page—an arbitrary page of an arbitrary, Gregorian calendar.

The hippie, Northern California-bred me thinks that’s because we should be always evolving and growing, always loving and creating and moving our bodies and stretching our minds. That maybe we should all follow the moon more.

But maybe no matter how arbitrary the calendar, there’s something to this collective reflection, dream-wielding, goal-setting. Maybe there’s power in people and numbers. Maybe more accountability.

New year, new you, new me.

New outlook. New goals. New recurring sleep-time dreams to analyze because they mirror the new, recurring conscious-brain waking dreams that reflect new goals and a shiny, bright outlook on everything new that’s coming my way.

New rad clients. New chances to creatively collaborate. New exciting bylines and projects on the horizon. (More news about that later).

New beautiful and mobile-optimized website (thanks to Stephanie Gardner designs). Because we are always on our phones and some of the time when we’re on our phones I want us to be looking at—and reading blog posts published on—my new, beautiful website. Because we’re all always evolving and I am also evolving—as a sentient being, as a writer, as the founder and president and proprietor and sole employee of my freelancing enterprise that maybe next year I’ll term empire—and our online presence is just another piece of our evolving-sentient-being-ness and this website is the first thing that comes up when you search for me.

New morning routine (lemon water, meditation, memoir writing. And the gym—because I like to move and stretch while I listen to Savage Lovecast and This American Life—even though maybe that one doesn’t sound as enlightened as the others). Because whenever someone successful tells their secrets it’s always about meditation and lemon water and rising at dawn to do handstands on mountaintops. And not checking your email right away, or maybe just scanning for important messages but not replying right away. And writing three pages long-hand without reading any of it back for three weeks. And swimming in the coldest and deepest parts of the Pacific Ocean without a wetsuit, or wearing a wetsuit that resembles a seal’s skin, on the back of Great White sharks who’s gnashing teeth grin for you, alone, because of the lemon water you drink every morning on the tops of mountains posed in a one-handed handstand. Or something.

Renewed motivation to finish my memoir—and get it published for you to read. Which should happen now that I’m drinking lemon water every morning. Which should happen now that I have another year’s distance from the subject matter (so to speak), a year of mourning, of morning routines (however fledgling they’ve been before). A year of deepening so many friendships and letting a few fade; of my brother moving back to the U.S. from Russia after seven years; of brighter colors and bared souls as I strive to live, even more, in each settled moment. Of sadness: Watching a family friend I call uncle suffer a stroke and fall into a coma, of the wait-and-see of it all, as he lies, slowly recovering but still unconscious, in his hospital bed. Of trips to Austin, Texas, and to Symbiosis Gathering; to Portland, Oregon to officiate a college friend’s wedding in the city where we went to college. A year of many Megabus rides to Los Angeles and Sacramento spent staring out the second-deck window of the double-decked bus listening to whatever three songs on repeat sound the most like the sounds the synapses in the most wrinkled crevices of my brain make when they talk to each other. I really think you’ll like what I’m writing. I really think you’ll read it soon, too. New you, new me. New year.

Happy 2016. What do you resolve to do new?

—Josey Rose Duncan

Write the uncomfortable story

bathroom selfie

I’m a big fan of memoir and personal essay, which are shooting-the-shit-over-a-couple-drinks’ (an activity I’m also a fan of) slightly-more polished cousins.

When writing (what I’ll term) “personal stuff,” we tend to mine for topics our tough times; the unhappy milestones most of us—all of us?— experience. Death and illness and abuse and heartbreak. Loss of all kinds. Maybe it’s a childhood. Maybe one indelible moment. On and on and on.

No matter your topic, the point is: to make an impact on your audience, write the uncomfortable story. Don’t assume you know what others will find profound. Don’t assume you know yourself where the heart of your story lies until you start digging and dig past—way past—where you expected you’d stop.

Throughout the painful process of separating from my husband I told myself, I should write something about this. I wrote (literally) 10s of 1,000s of words and all of it was trash. I wrote poems. I wrote personal essays. I wrote something I thought might become a memoir. I wrote non-fiction disguised very poorly as fiction. All of it was garbage. But I came to realize it’s because my approach was all wrong: I didn’t humble myself enough to write honestly about my role in the split, the ways I hurt him, the ways I embarrassed myself. I had to dive into the mess and the myriad grey areas, write about the parts I never wanted to reveal.

There are a million divorce stories out there and what makes the moving ones moving are the details, the writer’s personal and unique perspective. My divorce story (and poems and essays) sucked so hard because I wasn’t digging deep enough. In some vain and semi-subconscious attempt to protect my ego I was writing a story both boring and cliche. I had to write the uncomfortable story.

(A group I’ll term) grown-ups tend to be critical of today’s youths’ over-sharing, TMI culture—the personal details in their status updates, the endless selfies. As an early 30-something on the eldest edge of the millennial generation, I’m torn between critiquing this behavior and kinda-sorta-sometimes joining in the fun.

But maybe the kids are alright. Maybe if we look deeper at the public personal reveals, curated as they are, we can see this over-sharing—well, some of it at least—as inspirational. While admittedly the voyeuristic part of me (don’t judge) wants to read your day’s daily details, maybe there is something valuable here for even the non-creeps among us, amidst the party snaps and emojied vaguebooking. We all have friends and family who see nothing wrong with broadcasting their every emotion, including their darkest days, on Facebook (and Twitter and Instagram)—and you know what? Go, them. From them maybe we can learn something.

Write the uncomfortable story. Delve into the greyest areas, the places where right and wrong blur, bleeding into one another, the stories where there’s no obvious winner and loser. Dig deep. Write the thing you don’t want to write, the story you thought you’d never, ever write. Over-share. Give ’em TMI. Because that stuff’s powerful. That’s the kind of personal writing that moves people to feel things. And you know what? It’s good for you, too.


—Josey Rose Duncan

Morning routine

green smoothie

I drink a green smoothie for breakfast almost every morning. My second-brain appreciates its first food of the day in this form, and I’m also like, really into healthy eating trends.

I always blend a banana and plenty of kale, but other ingredients depend on what I’ve got in my kitchen. Frozen mango is another go-to. Sometimes I use coconut water instead of almond milk (note: helps with a hangover), sometimes peanut or almond butter instead of sunflower. When I feel like an extra helping of probiotics I toss in a couple spoonfuls of Greek yogurt. If I’m feeling extra crazy, I add a chopped date or two.

This breakfast is my morning ritual, the (cold, delicious) activity that tells my brain it’s time to wake up, for real.

For the first time in my life, I (almost) always work from home. Sometimes my hours are strange. I’m a natural night-owl. But I crave sunshine, the peace of chilly streets at dawn.

I started my current freelance business 10 months ago. After an uncomfortable year, being in my apartment most of the time was, at first, exactly what I needed. But then I realized I hadn’t left my apartment in like, three days. Ok, four. There’s only so many errands I can concoct to force myself from self-imposed seclusion. That I’m trying to use freetime to do my own writing projects doesn’t help.

So I signed up for yoga—and I’m gonna go like, all the time. Like five days a week all the time.

Haters (you know who you are—jk jk, kinda) point out that while yoga will make me “feel great,” it isn’t a “real” workout. But I’m not sure I agree—and also, that’s not really my purpose.

For a half-Jewish white lady from a small hippie town who now lives in San Francisco, drinks a kale smoothie every morning, and washes my face with coconut oil (antibacterial, hellllloooo) I’ve taken surprisingly few yoga classes. (Although I have written before about yoga.)

I’m no natural athlete—far, far, from it—but I used to hit the gym every morning, waking in the dark to complain about being tired, (assistedly) dip, squat, lift, and ellipt. I also endured a brief running phase where I jogged along the water every evening after work.

My goal during my gym rat days was to look thin and toned; today, it’s to feel strong (Also I want to learn how to handstand so I can take handstand-selfies in front of epic nature scenes.)

I predict/hope my new yoga-centric morning routine will help me become a better writer, a better freelancer—maybe even a better person overall?—but I’ll let you all be the judge of that.

What’s your morning routine? Has it changed through the years?

My green smoothie recipe:

One frozen banana (broken into small pieces)

Several handfuls chopped kale (also frozen)

Tablespoon chia seeds

Heaping spoonful sunflower butter

Organic almond milk (enough)


—Josey Rose Duncan

85,000 reasons


“That’s one of the great things about music. You can sing a song to 85,000 people and they’ll sing it back for 85,000 different reasons.”
—Dave Grohl


You can show a drawing to 85,000 and they’ll think about 85,000 different things. You can dance for 85,000 and they’ll feel 85,000 different emotions. You can cook pancakes for 85,000 people (ok this one doesn’t work as well since you can’t also do it literally. Not like, easily, anyways) and they’ll remember 85,000 different chilly mornings in 85,000 different kitchens where 85,000 people flipped pancakes for them driven by 85,000 of their own unique motivations, their own chilly-kitchen-memories.

You can recite a poem to 85,000 people and they’ll see 85,000 different scenes in their mind. You can share a story with 85,000 and they’ll have 85,000 reasons why they love it or they hate it; 85,000 different ways they connect (or don’t) with the protagonist.

Everyone’s process is different. But when I write for myself I often arrive at the page with no expectations, or only an abstract set of emotions, colors, and sounds I want to express. I decipher the (real) meaning only after—and learn this often, at least in part, from anyone I’m able to trick into reading my stuff.

When I write for work I have specific intentions; specific goals I want my writing to accomplish, driven by what my clients want to accomplish. Maybe I want my articles to teach people things; maybe I hope audiences will think deeply, laugh, or get misty-eyed at my copy. Maybe I want to make people feel a certain way about a brand, product, or idea. Or maybe there’s an action I hope they’ll make after reading a blog post or tweet.

That doesn’t mean people don’t experience this writing differently. That doesn’t mean it’s not conjuring a plethora of varied feelings and thoughts and emotions and impulses and ideas for a multitude of different people. Who come from different places and love different things. Who live totally different kinds of lives.

But so what? So we see creative stuff differently, so we experience and interpret art and ads and poems and pancakes differently based on our pasts; based on the grooves snaking through our different brains and the metaphorical blood beating through our symbolic hears—how can I, the creator of said-ads and poems and pancakes use this understanding to make something better and more resonant?

Being aware opens doors. When you think in terms of layers and symbols and double-meaning and depth—whether you’re writing your memoir or ad copy for cat food—you find ways to allow all of this into your work, find ways of cracking your skull open (figuratively!!) and letting the light shine down on that big, beautiful brain of yours in ways it never has before.

From 85,000 different angles.


—Josey Rose Duncan

Apple cider vinegar story

Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 2.34.52 PM

They call the stomach our second brain. Our guts are where nerves turn to butterflies and our brains where mac and cheese becomes mom. Brain tells belly how to feel and belly tells brain what to feel and how to think.

I had terrible heartburn for ten years and nothing helped—not the Tums I devoured by the handful; daily prescription; or eliminating tomatoes, red wine, coffee, or (my beloved) hot sauce.

This usually happens to much, much older people, countless medical professionals told me as they scribbled refills and handed them to an increasingly-dismayed 18-28-year-old me. I tested negative for ulcers; everything I ate felt like knives. I was running low on clever ways to self-deprecatingly describe my “old man stomach” when a friend referred me to her mother, a nutritionist, who told me Western medicine had it all wrong: Heartburn doesn’t happen who you’ve got too much stomach acid, it’s the result of too little. I started drinking raw apple cider vinegar—mother and all—cut out most processed food, developed a probiotics habit, and never looked back.

I tell the story of my stomach for a few reasons: For one thing, I may be 31 and childless but I’ve got the soul of a Jewish grandmother—I love to talk about digestion and want to help you with yours (I’ll also over-feed you if you come over for any reason and any amount of time and yes, I realize the irony in this).

I was also raised in a Bay Area hippie town by a mother who at one point in the early 70s ate only fruit that had fallen from trees (more on that later). This brain-body connection stuff? This real-foods, mindful-eating, raw-apple-cider-vinegar-drinking stuff? This interconnectedness-of-everything stuff? So cool.

But finally, I’m a writer so this anecdotal musing wouldn’t be complete without a metaphor (and gratuitous em-dash use). Ideally one where I butcher whatever semblance of a scientific basis my claims once had and twist it to fit the narrative for which I’m trying. Sometimes the cure for heartburn is vinegar. Sometimes the most natural solution is the one that seems at first counter-intuitive. Sometimes you’ve got to try doing the exact opposite of what you’ve been doing.

Or, in the words of the immortal Jack Donaghy from 30 Rock, sometimes you have to: “Climb down, Lemon. Climb down.” (It wouldn’t be a Josey blog if I didn’t find some way to shove a 30 Rock quote in somewhere. Also, I wouldn’t be Josey if I didn’t point out TWSS.)

But there’s also this: Our guts and brains were once made of the same tissue. Brain and belly trading stories back and forth, secrets and lies. A digestive reminder of the interconnectedness of everything. And what could be a more profound metaphor than that?


—Josey Rose Duncan

New freelance offerings


1. Personal text message. Specialty areas: Backing out of commitments made while overly-tired and/or intoxicated, believable excuses for 2+ hour tardiness to time-sensitive social events (ie: surprise parties), shifting tone of conversation back to “friend zone” after it’s veered dangerously close to “flirting” due to innocent misunderstanding, using only emoji to explain nuanced views on complex geopolitical topics.

2. Passive-aggressive notes. Specialty areas: Dishes (co-workers, roommates, offspring); Parking (in driveway, too far from curb, taking up 2+ spots, love-tapped your bumper, wash me); Honey-do (dirty socks go in hamper, take out trash, fix loose bathroom doorknob before someone who has repeatedly told you they are extremely claustrophobic gets locked in again for 4 hours because apparently no one could hear increasingly-hoarse cries for help). Can be typed or handwritten.

3. Vaguebooking. Specialty areas: Humblebrags, sympathy, requests for prayers/well-wishes/good vibes/hugs, foreshadowing (positive and negative events), inspiring FOMO.


—Josey Rose Duncan


Dayshift: we hear spy planes circle low over the bay and see their shadows climb across the tops of the three metal bridges. Dayshift is where limbs turn to pins and needles and eyes nod no. A wet scream from a mouth with no tongue. The spy planes fly through the napes of our necks and emerge through our open teeth.

Dayshift: in the back room, the bass breaks behind the velvet curtain. Nails break and the ice rattles in its glass toward open lips. They warm in cold chairs, in terry robes, and in draped-blankets fuzzy with bright-eyed cartoons. The bass breaks at his voice before she fills with white smoke and purses red lips to grease the mirror. A happy birthday banner, half-fallen, skips further down the wall with each clicked step. Each letter its own page. The bass paints brown eyes black, and winks, and glides back out into the darkness.

In the back room the bass ate a burger with bacon and cheese and a slice of orange tomato. A sheet of lettuce tucked the meat tight into the bun. She discards limp strings of white onion on the side of her plate. She throws up in the black plastic bin by the door and cries that the bacon was raw when she knows it’s the vodka’s fault. In the flickered back room bass spits Listerine. And in the dark boom she confesses her morning bottle to a stranger over Chardonnay, and the bass breaks.

The tapping is enough to drive the spy planes away. We shout at the phone on her desk like it’s a lion. Our ankles twist and crack in unison and the spy planes forget what waves and salt and seals are and dive at their shadows mistaking them for enemies.

Dayshift: She sucks her sixth White Russian through a straw. She curls her feet beneath her body so everyone can fit together on the gray and neon couch. In the dark room the spy cameras train their glassy eyes on hers and she waves, and she breaks, and she breathes the white smoke, and she rises and glides across the soft floor. The bass breaks in the back room and is born in the darkness.

—Josey Rose Duncan

Read for Quiet Lighting at Cafe du Nord (San Francisco), May 2011 and published in sparkle + blink. Watch a recording of the reading here.