The person came over to look at the old external hard drives, the ones that just whir and beep, won’t open.
“Is there anyway to get the files off of them?”
He explained something about a switch or a port, said the problem was mechanical, that he might be able to get a cable of some sort, take the drives out of their housing, get to the files that way.
He wrote down model numbers and I slid the quiet plastic slabs back into their case, put them on the mantle. “I guess they can just live there for a while.”
The person said he didn’t know when he’d be able to work on it. I offered to pay him for his time, for any cable he may need to purchase.
“Want to go sit on the porch with me?”
I gathered up my tea, my pouch of tobacco, left the phone inside.
The puppy jumped around our legs as we walked through the house, and yelped when she was left inside, pushed back into the house as the door closed.
He sat in one of the white rockers. “How’ve you been?”
“Alright,” I lit a cigarette, not wanting to talk about myself. “You know…”
The person was quiet and birds sang.
“What about you?”
“I’ve got to slow down,” he said. “I say that, and people are like, slow down what? But, I need to slow down, after the move and you know, still getting well…”
“I hear you,” I smoked.
We said nothing for a minute. He looked at the yard, where the light was all dappled and green, gold in the riot of leaf and branch, old things left lying around.
“Do you have any plants down there?” The person gestured down toward the fence and I laughed because the yard is full of plants.
“Yeah, there are plants down there.” I pointed out the two small allium, never so big as the pictures make them seem, at least not here, where the bulbs are shaken into cold, clay earth and left to fend for themselves, to muster whatever growth they can with little love.
“I think there is a lithidora somewhere down there,” pointing to the winks of bright blue bloom that quietly huddled at the edge of the bricks that mark the edge of the part of the garden that is a grave.
I didn’t mention the dead dog.
“Over there,” I stood up, and aimed my finger at the corylus avellana, “That’s called a…well, they call it a contorta, because the branches are twisted, contorted. It’s a hazelnut, but it doesn’t make nuts. It’s not allowed in some states, because of a fungus or a virus or something. Not just contorted ones, but all hazelnuts. The contorted ones have a mutation, someone found one in a hedge in England, they made it a cultivar.”
“When we moved here, all of this was grass. These trees,” I looked at the sprawl of branches that reached up toward the roof, “they used to be hedges, all cut and square.”
“It’s funny, the corylus only grows so big as the lower branches of the hedge trees allow it to. It will not grow into them. If I cut them, it will take up the space, but…”, I smiled, “it’s a sensitive plant.”
We had both sat back down. “If you look right through there, you can see the lilac in bloom. It’s not a standard lilac, but I forget what kind it is.”
He looked around, “Where? This?” He gestured at the claret leaves of a small maple.
I understood that he did not know plants.
“No, straight through there, back toward the fence. You can see the purple blooms.”
I continued, standing up and pointing. “This tree in front of it, diagonal, it’s a peach tree that was grew from the seed of a peach tree that died. It might die, too, if it has the same fungus. The tree that died was a tree the children’s father gave me and then, it was funny, the year we split up, it got a terrible, gooey, dark fungus around the roots and trunk. It died suddenly, but peach trees still come up from it’s seeds. We moved that one out of the corner. It has little peaches on it right now, but they probably won’t be much, it’s shady here.”
I didn’t tell him that I had painted the old peach tree blue after it had died, or that my father had cut it down without asking me last year, or that I had put all the small dead things I found around the house in its branches, the cat-killed moles, the small birds, sometimes a rotted fruit or undrunken wine, all the things I felt sorry for.
I didn’t tell him any of that.
“This tree,” we were standing at the edge of the porch, looking down into the part of the garden that lies beside the steps, appearing sunken alongside the wall, “look at it’s blooms, there is a yellow one and that red. Do you see the red? The petals are like spiders. They call it a sweet shrub, or strawberry shrub. I think it’s name is calycanthus, but I don’t really remember.”
We stood there.
“So what do those dark places in the clouds mean?”
I had been thinking about plants, looked up and considered the sky.
“Well, I don’t know that they ‘mean’ anything, but you can tell that the clouds are thick there, that the light doesn’t get through.” I held my arms out, as if I were holding a pillow. “You can imagine that, if viewed from the side, or a cross-section, that would be a thick area of cloud.”
“Yeah, but then look,” he pointed. “It breaks up, like…see that thin spot?”
I crane my neck to look up into space that is blocked by the eaves and the tall maple.
“These are shaping up to be interesting clouds. Do you see the way that, there, above the dark area, that thick spot, it breaks and smooths out into that different texture?”
“Look through that hole,” he pointed above the treeline across the street. “There’s are clouds behind it.”
“Clouds behind clouds…”
I went inside to get my camera.
The person had talked to me about clouds before. He seemed sincerely interested, as if my theory were plausible, we’d never really studied them before. Our discussions were more conceptual, as if my documentation of clouds were a theoretical activity, rather than something I actually do, something that is real.
“So, what’s curious to me is that here, if you look right there,” I pointed, “above the leaves of the hedge-tree, to the northeast, you’ll see that larger area of cloud, with those smaller segments set diagonal to it, there is that place, on the edge of the larger area, where a point has been…like it’s been carved…” I trailed off, taking pictures.
“I don’t see it. Where?”
I held out the camera, the image of the sky caught on the little display screen. “Here, this part.”
He looked at the camera, then the sky.
“Oh! Yeah, I see it!”
“It’s kind of changed now,” I watched as the clouds shifted in small, slow ways. “A second ago, there was this little section that looked like a >,” I drew the shape in the air,”had been, I don’t know, like punched out, or like a finger in icing.” I made the shape in the air again, writing it with my hand.
“Yeah, so…what makes the shapes?”
This person always asks the best questions.
“So, my thinking is that there are patterns, that if you take the entire universal world, all the way out into space, there are all these forces at work, these forces that govern life, that determine how things are formed and interact in the world…what shows up and what happens when it does, how it then impacts and continues to interact, becoming or diminishing, but still a part of things in a way that could be called kinda infinite.”
this is a weird lookin’ cloud to me…
I felt myself getting excited, just thinking about it, about how much sense it makes, how it re-seats me in a wondrous and real world.
“Yeah, so…these forces…make patterns? Like you have used the word rudimentary, like basic patterns?”
“Mmmhmm, yeah, like waves or certain geometry and they all push and pull on one another all the time, in ways that give shape to things.”
I waved my arms around in the air. “I am doing something right now, I am impacting some force that I can’t see, disturbing something.”
“I mean you can see this everywhere, in the simplest experiments, the way water changes its vibrations in response to frequency, the ways that magnets draw things to them, simple stuff…it’s obvious.”
“So, what then, the forces or the patterns or whatever then…”
“I don’t know…so, what if there are some particular arrangements of patterns and forces in the world, a confluence of sorts, that makes certain shapes arise, and what if those shapes indicate something or if they are evidence manifest of some happening within the universal world?”
I decided to keep talking. “All of this works with a few assumptions, a few premises.” I held one hand at my shoulder, my palm cupped, to hold ideas. “So, working from the premise that there are forces at work in the universal, natural world that impact our physical environment – which we know is true. And working on the assumption that humans are intricately connected with the natural world…yeah, I mean, that’s true. It makes sense. We’re amazing animals and there are all kinds of other animals that have an attunement to the natural world, to magnetism and currents. I mean, it makes sense that we might have the capacity to be sensitive to the natural world, that we might…or that we used to…or that…”
The bulk of what I wanted to say was overwhelming.
“We should be recording this.”
“I don’t know. It’s important, a good story, that two such people such as us should be having this conversation, speaking seriously about such ideas. That’s significant. Interesting.”
“So, okay, so humans are connected to the natural environment…there are forces…so, what? The clouds use these forces, the forces use the clouds…to what? Communicate?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think it’s like that, I think the clouds are just a medium, they are just material, responding to forces…”
“But, then why do they make shapes that you find significant? What makes the shapes? Do they mean something?”
“So, here’s where I have a block in my thinking, which came first the symbol or the meaning? What the hell is meaning? What we are talking about here is a universal force communicating to humans through clouds and that suggests all sorts of…issues with, you know, the how of it…I don’t think it’s like that. I think maybe, that when there are certain patterns present, big metapatterns, that maybe they…there are all kinds of mechanisms that govern how things develop, how they evolve, and so, if humans are a part of the natural world there is some relationship with the natural world, and we are probably – if we are sensitive to the natural world – able to feel that, to feel our connectness and maybe that works in our consciousness in some way, inspires some clarity, some feeling, a warmth, a great love, creation.”
“Death is a force, too…a part of creation.”
“Yeah,” I looked up at the sky, took a couple of pictures,”when people talk about this sort of thing, this phenomenon of earthly manifestation of the greater workings of the universe, they make it out to be like some anthrocentric technicolor angel in the sky, with blue and golden light, but the forms that are reflected in the sky, there is some gnarly stuff up there…tentacles and guts, everything that is part of the world, all these basic shapes, mashed up and unfurling.” I paused, “it’s beautiful to me, to see that it is not all about us.”
”So, what does it mean that it’s always changing? That, while we’re looking at these clouds here, they are totally different somewhere else, they’re different everywhere. So, do people see the same thing? Even if people are looking at the same cloud, do they see the same thing?”
“Some people just see clouds, or they don’t see them at all.”
I was quiet for a minute. I sat down. Then stood up again, “So, here’s my question: why would early civilizations, tribes and cultures, why would they devote hours and hours and years and years to developing these complex cosmologies and stories and rituals and why, when they were struggling to survive, would they spend time making stories…if it didn’t do something important, something worth doing?”
Note: reflecting on the conversation and this question of why people in early human populations spent time developing beliefs about the ways that humans are connected to the bigger world and working out ways to convey those beliefs and to reinforce them, to document them and codify them, to make rituals, to experiment…while it is entirely possible that early humans had the capacity to deeply attune to the natural world and that such attunement was a vital aspect of culture and early civilization, it is also entirely possible that an integral aspect of our unique specied consciousness demands that we take joy from story and damns us to an interminable state of curiosity about our own existence, a need to feel like we have some control over our place in the world, some way of impacting our world…some connection.
The conversation on the porch went on for some time longer. Showing the person the sky above the house, standing on the front steps, we caught an inverted rainbow in that place where inverted rainbows happen. I don’t know how that happens, what feature of the sky right there causes the light to bend into color like that.
I mentioned, several times, that I ought record such times when I am able to speak clearly about such things as the sky and why I have spent the past 4 years considering what exactly all those shapes in the clouds might mean.
As we walked back up to the porch, I said, “It makes me tired. It energizes me, to pay attention to something so closely, to inhabit a world where all of this actively real, actually happening, where I am seeing the sky in ways that are important and where the world is very big and old and complex. It makes me feel alive, and happy…but, it makes me tired, to be so attentive, to watch something so closely. Afterward, I am tired.”
9:08 PM (22 minutes ago)
It’s 11:39pm and I am sitting out on the porch. A little while ago, someone was hollering down on the street, with car doors slamming, an unfortunate Tuesday in someone’s world. I asked my friend to stay on Skype while I went to look at the taillights and listen for further hollering, decided not to call the police, because it was just a moment, angry people moved on to wherever they’d moved on to. What could the police do?
It’s quiet now, just some footsteps down by the street, fading fast, a car at the intersection up the block, going the other way. I do always take it as a good sign when cars drive by with their stereos bumpin’ out some song that means something to somebody. That just happened. Always a good sign.
I’ve thought a lot about what this post might entail, because I started writing it the other day, put it aside for soccer games, going to the grocery, meetings for work, making copies…and I remember what I wanted it to be, a recall of the conversation I had on my porch last Friday, about clouds.
Since then I have done all sorts of things and whatever bitterness I had been walking around with…
did I mention that I had been walking around with a bitterness?
…is gone now.
I have a lot to do, but this evening I went to sword training at the park down by the river, me and 3 friends, with foam broadswords, pivoting and slicing the air, clumsy for beginners, and laughing as we toppled on wounded leg.
It was super dreamy, to feel my knees hit the ground, to breathe there in the grass, to feel my face go red and hot…but, mostly to laugh.
I love the way people come alive when they play. I love how I come alive, re-inhabiting my body, feeling the weight of my limbs, the beat of my heart.
A few days ago, I dropped out of another project, explaining that I need more laughter in my life, that too much of time is spent considering serious matters that must be communicated precisely and with great mindfulness.
The kids and I have been going to battles for about 6 weeks, but I hadn’t joined in…neither had Squirrel, my daughter. Last week we did…and for 3 days I thought about how good it felt to move and to duck and to lunge.
I used to be a dancer, for a little while. I used to be a boxer, for a minute or two. Long enough to get a few black eyes. I was not a very good boxer. I didn’t much like hitting people.
I am easily winded now, but I am moving again.
So, I wanted this post to be a lot of things, but it can only be so much. I wish I had thought to write down the way the cat had brought a skink up onto the porch, its tail missing. How I had I held it and it looked to me like a skink does, with that certain shape around the eyes. It rested it’s head on my finger, held onto me as I carried it down the stairs and set it into the place where I had set a different skink a few years back, with whom I had also shared a moment of quiet regard in the wake of a cat attack, a lost tail.
I like lizards. I always have.
It felt good to talk with a person about my theory re: clouds, metaversal patterns and interconnectivity, language and symbol and meaning, how they might act upon the consciousness of our stories.
To inhabit a space in which a reality that one holds mostly secret, mostly quiet…can be talked about, as if it is real, because it is real…why should such things seem so much like privilege?
The person I talked with is an amazing listener, genuinely curious. So, I was able to speak from the perspective that maybe I had actually figured something out in a way that is beautiful and that maybe the implications really, truly are staggering and wondrous…and what that would mean.
“It pulls a thread,” I said, sitting on the porch.
“Which subject, like which science, would this fall under?”
I laughed, “All of them…”
Sometimes I think about the fact that I continue, albeit in this decidedly quiet – surreptitious, even – way, to build my understanding of what I am suggesting and why it might be that I am suggesting it…and the feeling of being onto something inevitable, something that is bound to come to light, something that is coming to light…
…and it is only when I realize that I am a person who is able, in “sound mind” (e.g. “rationally” conscious, which ought not to convey any sort of value over the state of being irrationally conscious, which is a fine state to be in at times, depending on the details of what one is or is not being rational about), to whole-heartedly believe that I am bearing witness to a universal phenomenon of epic importance, based on my observations, calculations, and extrapolations…and that I can calmly take pictures of the most awe-inspiring constructions, then go pick up my kids from school and talk about homework and dinner, baths and playing with the dog…that I feel my mind slip a little under the weight of the sheer enormity of it all.
I want to sometimes scream, to demand that someone talk with me about this matter, ask me why I have spent four years and intend to spend more years documenting the geometry and composition of cloudforms…why I risked my child custody (lost my legal custody, they thought I was so crazy, who wouldn’t be crazy, given the circumstances…?) and have given up any sort of indulgent entertainments that waste time, precious time…ask me why this is important to me.
I sometimes imagine that I can slow it down, make it bend in a way in which a great deal can be done in a short little segment of minutes and hours.
This week there was a story in the paper about how someone else had written a story about Carol Ruckdeschel, the woman I spend some days with on Cumberland when I was fifteen, for whom I momentarily collected mainland roadkill, for a comparison of specied traits between island populations and critters who lived, unfortunately, along Highway 40. The old trailer where the trunk freezer was lost power that summer, and my brother opened it up for band practice to find the thick stench of rotting raccoons in a dead, warm box, baking slow under the Georgia sun for days. I wanted to be a biologist like Carol Ruckdeschel, which is why I was invited to stay with her, to walk through a swamp with her. I begged off returning a few months later, saying that I had decided to “spend time with my friends” – though I didn’t have many friends, and was mostly just sad.
She is almost old now. Most times, I think it takes almost an entire life to establish the worth of one’s chosen vocation.
9:17 PM (12 minutes ago)
In other worlds that I am a part of, I was asked to put together a 3 hour training on trauma informed practice in peer support roles and also to develop a 15 training activity on expanding understanding of diagnoses involving psychotic disorders. I sent out a newsletter to 3,500 people, a different one to 85 other people.
I cut up a watermelon and put an old rug out in the sun.
I thought a lot about how I really need to spend some time on putting together my work site, a digital space devoted to what I do across a few different areas, with things like a copy of a CV, and galleries of art that is a part of my lived experience, brief essays on organizing and activism as part of a transformative recovery process. Workshop and dialogue materials people can download for free.
It’d be great to have something like that, a space like that for my work.
This…this is all just notes, emails to myself written as part of the practices by which I keep my realities straight and find my way back and forward, through and over, where I write my own story…
SUPER SPECIAL MINI-GALLERY
These photos were taken by my 9 year old, while her brother (my 11 year old) skateboarded behind some warehouse studios on a Sunday morning.
“I’m bored,” she said, as I drew in a sunny spot on the concrete.
“Here, use my camera. Go take some pictures. You can take however many you want, of whatever you want. I’m really interested in what you’ll document. “I like taking pictures of couches and garbage cans,” she returned to tell me. Here is a sample of the images/perspectives she captured.
I took the picture of the penny she found, but she was careful to make sure that my shadow wasn’t getting in the way of her hand in the frame.
My kids are awesome.