Author Kai Cheng Thom talks her new book 'Falling Back In Love With Being Human' : Code Switch Kai Cheng Thom is no stranger to misanthropy. There have been stretches of her life where she's felt burdened by anger, isolation, and resentment toward other people. And not without reason. Her identities, especially as a trans woman and a former sex worker, have frequently made her a locus for other people's fear and hatred. But at a certain point, Kai decided to embark on a radical experiment: to see if she could "fall back in love with being human." The result was a series of letters, poems, exercises and prayers that let Kai confront some of the most painful moments of her life, and then try to move past them.

The world can be painful. But love is possible, too

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LORI LIZARRAGA, HOST:

Just a heads-up - this episode contains some adult language.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LIZARRAGA: You're listening to CODE SWITCH. I'm Lori Lizarraga. I recently read a book of poetry that a producer colleague of mine has been recommending. Actually, it's a book of love letters. And once I read it, I bought several more copies to share with my mom and my sisters and with Parker, my CODE SWITCH co-host. But for the purposes of this episode, she's the friend I roped in on yet another adventure.

B A PARKER, BYLINE: All right, I'm recording.

LIZARRAGA: I'm recording, too.

PARKER: OK.

LIZARRAGA: Hi, Parker.

PARKER: Hi, Lori.

LIZARRAGA: (Laughter) Parker, I have brought you here under the pretense of potentially assigning you some homework.

PARKER: OK.

LIZARRAGA: It's called "Falling Back In Love With Being Human" by Kai Cheng Thom, a collection of love letters to lost souls - kind of poems, kind of prayers, each trying hard to explore love and harm. And after each letter, there's a prompt - an opportunity or challenge to go somewhere, do something, write to someone, think.

PARKER: Let's see...

(Reading) Go somewhere you have never been before.

LIZARRAGA: (Reading) Think of a lie you've told about yourself.

PARKER: (Reading) Design and perform a ritual to release something from your life that you love.

LIZARRAGA: (Reading) Write a letter of forgiveness to someone. That someone can be yourself.

PARKER: (Reading) Adorn your body with something beautiful.

LIZARRAGA: (Reading) Build an altar of offerings to your ancestors. What do they...

PARKER: (Reading) Write a letter to someone you loved who didn't love you back. Go somewhere beautiful and burn the letter. Treat yourself to something nice.

Oh, my God. This is when I can finally write that letter to Oscar Isaac I've been dreaming of.

LIZARRAGA: (Laughter) OK, wow. You had somebody, like, top of mind.

PARKER: What? We were destined to be. Never let someone's wife get in the way of the love of your life (laughter).

LIZARRAGA: Read this one, Parker - the gather some small pieces of paper.

PARKER: Wait, which one is that one? Oh, OK. (Reading) Gather some small pieces of paper. On each piece, write down one thing that you like about the world. Fill a jar with dried flower petals and your pieces of paper. When you are feeling down, pull one of the pieces of paper out of the jar to remind yourself of what you love about living.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

PARKER: Ooh, that's - I mean, in the current climate, it feels very difficult to amass enough pieces of paper to fill a jar.

LIZARRAGA: Does it?

PARKER: A little bit. I mean, you - we do news for a living, Lori.

LIZARRAGA: So of course, that had to be Parker's homework - to write down enough things she likes about the world to fill a jar with.

But, I mean, the book is called "Falling Back In Love With Being Human."

PARKER: Then it also makes me realize that maybe I'm not in love with being human at the moment.

LIZARRAGA: And that really got me thinking about the author of this book, Kai Cheng Thom. She, like Parker, needed to find her way back to love, to build a bridge back to hope. And isn't that where so many of us are at right now? With all that's going on in the world, it's easy to feel like humanity is beyond help - that everyone and everything is just bad. So I guess I just wanted to know - what does falling back in love with being human even look like? Did she do it? Can we?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LIZARRAGA: First of all, thank you so much for doing this with us.

KAI CHENG THOM: Oh, my God. Thank you for having me. NPR? I feel like such a star.

LIZARRAGA: I learned very quickly that Kai contains multitudes.

THOM: I'm Kai Cheng Thom. I use she and her pronouns. I am a transsexual. I have a savior complex, which is why I do all the things I do.

LIZARRAGA: Kai is, of course, an author. She's Chinese Canadian, a former social worker, clinical hypnotherapist, intimacy educator, conflict resolution practitioner - essentially a conflict coach - like I said, multitudes.

THOM: I do a lot of work around trying to heal ruptures or wounds inside of particular groups or communities. And then I'm also a writer. I write a lot about conflicts. I write a lot about human beings and, like, the intersection between those two things. How do you support your soul to survive, even while, like, coming into contact with some of the least savory aspects of oneself and other people, you know?

LIZARRAGA: I feel like that's a question I have for you in all of that work.

THOM: Right. Well...

(LAUGHTER)

THOM: I wrote the book to try and answer that question, and I'm not sure there's, like, a concrete answer. You know, I think soul survival is very much about refusing to see oneself or others as political objects. Something I think about all the time as a former sex worker is that human beings have a right to beauty and a right to pleasure. I think those are the first things to go when we start to, like, do austerity or prisons or occupations or whatever. But if we really think that every single human being on the planet, no matter who they are, what their identity is, their privilege or lack thereof - like, that we are entitled to beauty in our lives - that makes it impossible to treat human beings like objects. And so I think this is sort of the way.

LIZARRAGA: And a lot of your work, as you've already mentioned, both as a writer and as a facilitator, seems to center that - right? - love and dealing with conflict. What do you think draws you to that? You mentioned this savior complex...

THOM: (Laughter).

LIZARRAGA: ...So I'm curious if those things are one and the same.

THOM: Oh, totally. Yeah. It's my deep-seated psychological trauma and, like, the persona that I have formed in order to deal with that. You know, I grew up in Vancouver as, like, a little gay kid. And, yeah, it was very challenging in a lot of ways. Coming out as a trans girl in my teens, there was just, like, a lot of turmoil. It was, like, the mid-'00s. It wasn't really heard of, you know, at that time. And so much of the work I do is about trying to create the world that I want to live in. And I used to think that was bad and narcissistic. And I still think it's kind of narcissistic, but I also think that, you know, if everybody was doing that more honestly - like, trying to create the world that they want to live in - then, at the very least, we'd have clearer communication about what is going on.

LIZARRAGA: How do you approach conflict now? Has that - I guess, has that changed a lot over the course of your work and your writing?

THOM: Yeah, I would say so. You know, I started out as a psychotherapist, and I was doing sex work on and off to try and - like, to pay for school and stuff.

LIZARRAGA: Sure.

THOM: And I got into conflict - yeah - largely by accident. You know, I'm a dramatic person, and so I'm in a lot of conflict. And I - yeah - was losing a lot of friends and relationships. And I have to say, it wasn't just me. All the queers seemed to be very dramatic, you know, around me. And at some point, I was like, I think this is because of trauma. We were all really struggling to survive...

LIZARRAGA: Absolutely.

THOM: ...You know? And if I drop into the seriousness of that for a moment, I think it - you know, there's something here about, when people are struggling to survive, it's hard to be kind to oneself, which makes it hard to be kind to others. But the paradox of that is, if we are not kind to ourself and others, that makes it even harder to survive. And I think that is what the actual, you know, serious core of my work is. It's about trying to undo that loop of, like - we treat each other badly, so we'll treat each other even more badly. And it's sort of like, what would happen if we responded to bad treatment with compassion instead?

LIZARRAGA: So tell us about "Falling Back In Love With Being Human," then, because it sounds like that is sort of a really good description of that book.

THOM: So "Falling Back In Love With Being Human" is very much like an exploration of this question. What if we responded to people's hatred with love? - which, for me, is, like, a very fraught question. I think it's a very fraught question for most people...

LIZARRAGA: Yeah.

THOM: ...because I think, in today's day and age, you know, we're not in the '70s. The flower child movement is over firmly. And people are like, well, if you respond to people's hatred with love, then they'll just keep hating you and kill you, right? And sometimes that's true. And so, you know, the inquiry in the book is like, is there a way to do compassion and love that is still preserving ourselves and our lives and holding onto whatever kind of magic and power there might be in love and compassion?

And the impetus for starting to write the book was this moment in 2021 when, you know, a little-known author called J.K. Rowling made a public statement about her feelings on trans people and trans rights. And I wrote an open letter in response, which she never answered - she may never have seen it, also. And then I was like, I like this letter thing. I think I'm going to keep on writing letters. And that is how the book came to be.

LIZARRAGA: Will you tell us a little about the letter, for those who haven't read it?

THOM: Yes, for sure. So, you know, I am a spoken - well, was - still am sort of a spoken-word poet. And so the letter to J.K. Rowling is, like, in poetic format. It's like, dear J.K. Rowling, and then it's a series of sentences that are reflecting on, like, all of the sentiments and morals that she writes about in Harry Potter, but, like, focusing them on this trans thing, right? Like, what's interesting about Harry Potter is that J.K. Rowling writes a lot about, like, how fear can turn us into the monster that we don't want to be and how we should do the thing that is hard instead of the thing that is easy. And I'm like, J.K. Rowling, like, what? What is going on with you? Like, you know, the letter is very much about, like, you know, if you fear death, you might become, you know, a noseless (ph) Voldemort person. And, you know, also, if you fear trans women, you might become the most famous trans-exclusionary feminist in all of Britain.

LIZARRAGA: Wow, so you feel like it was a mirror?

THOM: It was. Absolutely. I just - it's very ironic, you know? So that's the ask. And I think the compassion part comes in where, in the early days of J.K. Rowling being, you know, vocal about her feelings, she spoke a lot about her experience as a survivor of domestic violence. And so, you know, the compassion, you know, that I want to tap into is that her fear comes from a real place. Absolutely. She is a survivor. And then, you know, the challenge is, how can we not allow our fear to make us cruel?

LIZARRAGA: Why turn to love in that context?

THOM: Because it's about mirrors (laughter). Like, you know, J.K. Rowling is a survivor. And, you know, based on what she said in the public, my own conclusion is that her fear has turned her into someone who is doing transphobic things. And then because I fear that - you know, she's a very powerful person - because I'm afraid of that, it would be easy for me to be like, oh, well, you stupid b****. Like, it would be really easy for me to dehumanize her in response, and I think that's very understandable. But for me, I just want the hatred to stop in my body. Like, I actually don't want to be the mirror. I want to be something else.

LIZARRAGA: When you talk about this book or that approach, do you feel like it's ever perceived or is it often perceived as a naive approach?

THOM: All the freaking time (laughter). Yeah - naive, offensive sometimes, even - you know? - traitorous.

LIZARRAGA: Wow.

THOM: Yeah. And I understand. I get why that is. I think the really tricky piece for people is that choosing love or compassion doesn't mean - doesn't have to mean choosing self-destruction. It is more about refusing to allow people who are dehumanizing us to take away the part of us that holds compassion. It's so interesting to think, like, of some of the main transphobic criticisms that come out of the TERF movement are like, well, keep trans men out of prisons so that women can be safe, and no trans women in women's shelters. And I'm like, yes. The problem is that we live in a world where women are impacted by poverty and domestic violence and have to live in shelters. The problem is that women are trapped in prisons. And, like, if we could just get - you know, get some solidarity on that, maybe we actually could make a world where we didn't have to have this argument because not so many women would be living in shelters, and there would not be prisons with women in them.

LIZARRAGA: Kai, you write a lot about love and forgiveness to people who maybe - probably - haven't asked for it from you.

THOM: Yeah. It's true. It's true.

LIZARRAGA: Why?

THOM: Oh. If I really dig deep for that answer, I think it's because that's what I would want people to do for me. Like, it's always possible to lose our way. It's always possible to, like, fall into ignorance, hatred, becoming not the person that we hoped to be. And I think in my heart of hearts I'm always hoping that other people can see me for who I could be instead of the failures that I am. And that might help me to become better. That's what I long for for myself. And I don't think that - yeah, I don't think that I could hope to receive that unless I offer it to other people.

LIZARRAGA: Does it matter if they accept your forgiveness or not?

THOM: No. (Laughter) I think that if we make success contingent on people accepting forgiveness, we're going to have a lot of feelings of, you know, failure.

LIZARRAGA: Yeah.

THOM: It's much more about our own process...

LIZARRAGA: Sure.

THOM: ...Of doing that. Yeah.

LIZARRAGA: That still feels healing.

THOM: Exactly.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LIZARRAGA: After the break, more from Kai Cheng Thom. Plus, how Parker's jar of joy turns out.

PARKER: How many of these I'm supposed to do? How many have I done? Why is this hard?

LIZARRAGA: That's coming up. Stay with us.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LIZARRAGA: Lori. - mostly Lori with a Parker cameo - CODE SWITCH.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LIZARRAGA: We've been talking to Kai Cheng Thom, author of "Falling Back In Love With Being Human," a beautiful book that is a collection of love letters, particularly to the people who have felt harm and to the people who have done the harming - often one in the same. But before we get back to that conversation, I have to do a quick check-in on Parker. She graciously, albeit skeptically, accepted the assignment to follow one of the prompts from Kai's book - to fill a jar with notes about all the different things she likes about the world, things she loves about living. And like every great student, she turned it in late at night, slightly tipsy.

PARKER: What do I like about the world? I like the occasional, delightful unpredictability of a day. Like, you start out with the day thinking you know what's going to happen, and then you pivot and all of a sudden, you're having, like, some grand adventure for an afternoon, you know? All right, I'll write that down.

(SOUNDBITE OF PEN WRITING)

PARKER: And now it goes in the jar. What else do I like about the world? I like donuts. I think that was a great invention by man - donuts.

(SOUNDBITE OF PEN WRITING)

PARKER: Donuts.

(SOUNDBITE OF PEN WRITING)

PARKER: I just underlined it three times. I like - things I like about the world. When babies discover new things. I like that, you know? Saw a video of a baby realizing he had opposable thumbs. Like, he realized he could do a thumbs up. And it took him a second, and he figured it out. Pedro Pascal and Gong Yoo are very important investments in our society. They go in the jar. How many of these am I supposed to do? How many have I done? Why is this hard? Crows - I like crows. The Atlantic Ocean. I like beehives. The pronunciation of Kansas, Arkansas and the Arkansas River. That we pretend Groundhog Day means something.

LIZARRAGA: So, clearly, Parker was getting into the swing of things. Meanwhile, in my conversation with Kai, I wanted to have her read one of the letters that felt really special to me because this one wasn't just a letter to others, it was a letter that was, in large part, to herself.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LIZARRAGA: Do you mind opening to "The Ones Whose Bodies Shall Shake The Heavens"?

THOM: (Reading) To the ones whose bodies shall shake the heavens. Dear trans women, the only way to live as a being cast as irrevocably monstrous is to embrace a monster's power, the power to inspire awe, horror, unbidden desire. A monster is a creature made of the truth no one else dares to speak. A monster is a being beyond fear. Dear trans women, when they come bearing torches, remember that you are a being born a flame, and every moment you love yourself is a moment they can never take from you. Dear trans women, we are the original witches, the reincarnations of the ones they burned. Lesser outcasts will turn against you to save themselves. Forgive them for they know not what they do. Never forget a lineage of monstresses stands behind you and stands proud. Dear trans women, blessed are the hideous, blessed are the horrifying, blessed are the cursed, blessed are the unforgiven, the forgotten, the ones who must not be loved. Blessed are the mad, for our bodies shall shake the heavens.

LIZARRAGA: Ooh. Ooh. Took us to church. I don't know which church, but some church.

THOM: Some church (laughter).

LIZARRAGA: So beautiful. Oh, my goodness.

Many of the first poems give love to aspects of yourself or your own experiences, Kai, particularly trans womanhood.

THOM: Yes.

LIZARRAGA: Why was that important to you?

THOM: Oh, yeah. Well, I come from a lineage of trans women of color - activists, writers and artists - who, you know, really believe or believed - in some cases, they're no longer on the planet with us - that the transfeminine experience has something to offer all of humanity - all of humanity. And I think that's so true. And then there's something specific for transfeminine people and trans women, which is like, that we're always being kind of put into the predator role or the monster role. And so many of the contemporary queer rights movements are about, like, no, we're not monsters. We're actually good, and I like that. But there's also so much power in embracing the monstrous.

LIZARRAGA: I really like that.

THOM: Thank you. I like it too (laughter).

LIZARRAGA: You write about some of your experiences as a sex worker, and you invoke things about the contradictions and complications of that experience in this book. And early on, you ask readers in one of your prompts to imagine a world in which all sex workers are considered sacred and wholly deserving of workers' rights, health benefits and compensation of their choosing. For an industry that's still criminalized in so many ways and infrequently framed in the context of how you're describing it...

THOM: Yep.

LIZARRAGA: ...Do - did you expect this prompt to be challenging for readers?

THOM: I did. Maybe not some of, like, the die-hard audience of mine...

LIZARRAGA: Sure.

THOM: ...Who are, like, kind of used to me now or who are sex workers, you know? But this is my first book with a major publisher. And I was like, oh, probably a lot of people are going to read the work who have not encountered this before. So I did think it would be challenging for two reasons. First, whorephobia, or the hatred of sex workers, which is just like - the, like, instinctive disgust that people feel towards sex work and, like, the stigma around that.

LIZARRAGA: Yeah.

THOM: I thought that would be hard. And then I also think that there can be this thing of, like, saviorism - actually, like, the wanting to rescue sex workers and being like...

LIZARRAGA: Sure.

THOM: ...Oh, like, what a horrible thing. But, you know, what I really hope people get out of that exercise, if they really do it in a depthful (ph) way, is that a world that is safe and that honors the contributions of sex workers would not only be better for sex workers, but for everybody. Because a world that acknowledged that people who do that kind of labor still have workers' rights...

LIZARRAGA: Yeah.

THOM: ...Is one that would have to acknowledge that everybody has workers' rights.

LIZARRAGA: Will you turn to page 113 and read us "To The Ones Who Watched"? This one hurt.

THOM: (Reading) You were the only ones I couldn't forgive. It's strange. It took me almost no time at all to let go of my rage toward the men who sexually assaulted me. It happened so many times, and I rarely thought of revenge. Once, I was physically attacked in public, strangled from behind by a stranger, and it never once occurred to me to be angry. The way I grew up, violence was like the weather - a lightning strike, a monsoon - ferocious and tragic, yes, but also something to be expected. You prepared for it. You endured it. You picked up the pieces and moved on. So that's what I did.

(Reading) And the fury that stayed with me wasn't about the assailants, the abusers, the perpetrators. It was about everyone around me who watched and did nothing. Well, not quite nothing. You gossiped about it, whispered about it, told lurid tales about it, picked sides and made innuendos and cooked up pious opinions, waving your banners of judgment - innocent, guilty, wicked, righteous - over and over, an endless cacophony. You made what happened to me worse because you turned it into melodrama, a soap opera for your entertainment and education. I want you to know my body is not your education. My life is not your entertainment. Do you want to know the truth? You were the ones I wished vengeance upon. I wanted to look into the eyes of the people who hurt me and see into their souls. I wanted to braid flowers into their hair and bathe them in healing herbs.

(Reading) But the bystanders? I wanted to ride on a dragon and set fire to your homes. I wanted to plant my teeth in the Earth so that hydras would spring up to come after you. I wanted you to feel how I felt - consumed by an insatiable burning demon to whom my personhood never mattered. You, the clamoring, hungering mob, multiheaded and faceless, you were the beast that stalked my nightmares. And every time another celebrity is convicted in the court of #MeToo and the crowd goes wild, I want to scream, where were you and your righteousness when those girls were being raped and killed? Where were your demands for social change and justice before the attack while the violence was still happening? Where were all my activist friends when I was being groomed and used and lied to and tortured? Where were you then?

(Reading) Only to remember all the times I also did nothing. The time when I was 19 and one of my best friends told me he'd thrown his boyfriend down the stairs, and I did nothing. The time when another friend punched his partner in the ribs at a party, and we did nothing. The time a trans woman was sexually assaulted and murdered in public, and the whole city of queer activists did nothing. And then I remember why I still reach for you. The ones who watched as I was hurt. Why I'm still trying to believe, to hope against hope, why, despite all the rage in my heart, I'm still trying to make peace with communities that still allow violence to happen. Because despite all my denials, in the end, I'm still nothing more and nothing less than one of you.

LIZARRAGA: Oof.

THOM: Yeah. Oof.

LIZARRAGA: You said they were the only ones you couldn't forgive. But you also, in that particular love letter, when you think that you're not going to land on a place of forgiveness, not only do you turn to a place of empathy, but you also turn to a place of common ground, of putting some of the accountability on yourself.

THOM: Totally.

LIZARRAGA: Was that hard to do?

THOM: Yeah. Well, you know, like I said, I spent a lot of years very enraged by this feeling of, like, oh, my community betrayed me and let me down, and they're all such hypocrites because they say all these things but then they do a different thing. And I was asking myself, why, why, why, why, why? And, you know, in that inquiry, I started to remember stuff. Like, the examples in that love letter are real. They happened, and have haunted me - right? - for a long time. And I think about what happened in my body. When that friend told me I threw my boyfriend down the stairs, I remember being like, (gasp) and not saying anything. And I think, you know, a big growing edge for me is, like, if I can understand how someone can come to be in a place where they throw someone down the stairs, I also really have to be able to understand how can it be that someone could hear that and not know what to say? 'Cause I also want to be like and we have to intervene. We have to be better. And I'm like, right, we're human no matter what role we're in, which is to say, flawed.

LIZARRAGA: There is a lot of rhetoric, though, in the work of organizers in the trans community and other marginalized communities about embracing that anger or embracing the rage and writing it to energize a movement. So this feels very counter to that.

THOM: Yeah.

LIZARRAGA: Why not stay angry?

THOM: Well, you know, I don't want to stigmatize anger. I do think there's such power - healing power in rage, and we need it to change society, but it's the staying there that I get worried about. And yeah, I think I've become harder line about this as I've gotten a bit more experienced and stuff. But I think what I will say is if you have been hurt, it makes all the sense in the world to be angry and probably we should be angry. Rage is the impulse toward justice. But if we stay in rage, if we don't let it to move through us and out of us, then what happens is we become unable to recognize when we are the ones who are doing harm.

And that's how all those weird hypocrisies and mirrors start happening is that we stay in this, like, I'm the victim, I'm the victim, I'm the victim, and so anything I do is justified. And really, that is not true. Actually, that is. If you talk to people who commit domestic violence or intimate partner violence and they, you know, have not come around to realizing that they're wrong, that is what they will say. They will say, I am the victim, and that is why I did what I did. And that is a mirror that we need to pay attention to.

LIZARRAGA: I love thinking about it in the context of moving in and out of it and moving away from it so that you're not always the perpetrated but, you know, in many ways, the overcomer and that, you know, your whole story isn't victimhood, that it's...

THOM: Absolutely.

LIZARRAGA: ...The thing you do after.

THOM: Yeah. It's the thing you do after. Yeah. And I think, you know, we want to make a lot of space and time for this, right? Like, I think we can get weird and victim blamey (ph) or victim shamey (ph) for, like, well, why haven't you healed yet?

LIZARRAGA: Absolutely.

THOM: And, like, you know, you sort of - healing takes a long time. And we don't have to forgive, necessarily, someone who has harmed us, but I think we do have to - really, the big part of forgiveness is, like, forgiving ourselves, being a person who has experienced harm...

LIZARRAGA: Yeah.

THOM: ...You know? Yeah.

LIZARRAGA: I love that.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LIZARRAGA: This is my last request of your love letters that I'd love to hear you read.

THOM: (Reading) To the ones this world was never made for. I've never worried about dying. It's the world we live in that I fear and all the things I might have to see before it ends. The things that people do to one another and the things I might do to others. I read in a book that when lightning strikes a person it leaves Lichtenberg figures on their skin - scars in the shape of electric currents. The lightning still lives inside them, and sometimes it changes their personality. Sometimes it causes phantom pains and memory loss, the uncontrollable spasming of limbs. Sometimes it grants mysterious gifts, like a genius talent for playing piano or the ability to foretell the weather. I think this is what violence does to the soul.

(Reading) The other day, I watched a stand-up comedy special in which the comedian told joke after joke about how trans people are apparently harming our allies and our own by fighting for our human rights. It wasn't very funny, but it did make me cry. As I listened to the comedian, I could feel the violence still burning in the place where it entered my soul, and I could hear where the violence had entered his. He says he doesn't hate people like me, and I believe him, but hate has almost never been the reason that humans hurt humans - fear is. I spend a lot of time these days thinking about the kind of person I want to be and all the courage it will take to get there.

(Reading) Today, I looked inside the ocean of my sadness and found a volcano of anger there. The lava said, I am the courageous part of love. Where in the body does courage call home? The same place where lightning lives. Coeurs is Old French, meaning heart. Rage is Old French, meaning fury. What does that tell us about what it means to be brave? Choosing love is a practice. Every day, it takes all my strength. Still, I believe in this body, this soul, this fallible flesh that still burns with wanting. Somewhere, after the lightning strikes, there will be a world for us.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LIZARRAGA: Are you the same person, you think, that wrote those letters?

THOM: Yeah. I do, in many ways. I think parts of me have evolved and, like, kept on moving. But in - you know, the book was in so many ways - yeah, like, an actual spell casting, right? Like...

LIZARRAGA: Yeah.

THOM: ...A declaration of who I wanted to be. And I think I'm becoming that person, you know (laughter)?

LIZARRAGA: You know, Kai, you wrote that at the very beginning of your book - from the depths of my rage and despair, I needed to find my way back to love. Did you fall back in love with being human?

THOM: One hundred percent, yes (laughter).

LIZARRAGA: I didn't know, honestly, what you would say.

THOM: Yeah. I think - I'm not sure if I've been asked that before, but it's so interesting to, like, feel into that and be, like, oh, I did. Yeah.

LIZARRAGA: Because writing it and manifesting it and praying it and casting spells is one thing.

THOM: Yeah.

LIZARRAGA: But feeling it...

THOM: Is another.

LIZARRAGA: Yeah, so I'm really happy to hear you say 100%.

THOM: Me too. Yeah, I'm so delighted. It's kind of a surprise, but yeah (laughter). I love being human.

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LIZARRAGA: Kai, thank you so much for talking with us. Truly, this has been such a pleasure.

THOM: Thanks for making some magic with me.

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PARKER: All right, so if I shake this up, and when the world's got me down and it's bummed me out just enough, I can close my eyes, pick up a piece of paper and open it, and the thing that brings me joy in the world is babies discovering new things. Maybe this does work. That instantly made me smile. OK.

LIZARRAGA: And that's our show.

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LIZARRAGA: You can follow us on Instagram @nprcodeswitch. If email's more your thing, ours is codeswitch@npr.org. And subscribe to the podcast on the NPR app or wherever you get your podcasts.

We want to take a minute to say thank you so much to our CODE SWITCH+ supporters and anyone listening who donates to public media. After all, public media means that you, the public, support it. Everything you hear from the NPR network really does depend on your contributions. And for anyone listening who isn't a supporter yet, right now is a great time to get actively involved in creating a more informed public. That's our whole mission at NPR. That's why we're here. If you like perks, CODE SWITCH+ offers sponsor-free listening. If you just want to make a tax-deductible donation to your favorite station or stations in the NPR network, that's great, too. We've even had NPR+ subscribers make additional contributions. What really matters is that you are a part of the community that makes this work possible. Listener support is a powerful resource. It takes all of us doing what we can, when we can, to keep this free public service going. Please give today at donate.npr.org/codeswitch or explore NPR+ at plus.npr.org. Thanks.

This episode was produced by Jess Kung. It was edited by Dalia Mortada and Leah Donnella. Our engineer was Josephine Nyounai. And a big shoutout to the rest of the CODE SWITCH massive - Courtney Stein, Xavier Lopez, Christina Cala, Veralyn Williams, Steve Drummond, Julia Carney, Gene Demby and the one and only B.A. Parker. I'm Lori Lizarraga. Call your bestie.

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