This longform post is a disorganized and athematic assemblage of miscellaneous emails I have sent over the past week or so, mostly to myself. I have also recently drafted some significant proposals to a couple of organizations via email, and sent my daughter some secret codes and a post-hardcore version of Let it Go, from that movie Frozen.
Ancient History at This Point
The woman smirked when I told her that I wasn’t coming inside, as if it were a predictable affront, an insult to her with something small and petty at its core. Really, I just wanted to get back to the house, to finish the long drive up 17 and then back again. I just wanted to end the day, and going into the house would have brought a whole ‘nother part of the day, so I said, “No, I need to get back. We’re going to look at my computer if we have time, get some viruses off of it.”
I didn’t expect to spend time actually working on cleaning up my harddrive and ousting the trojan that endlessly popped prompts to click or reply, with the font ever so slightly off.
There hasn’t been time to deal with even these very basic things.
I’m back home now, revisiting these two paragraphs that I wrote two days ago, sitting on a board bench with my back against a splintered rail in the early morning sun at the beach. I was trying to write about the night before, how I driven back to the house, how even though I didn’t like the snarkiness, I thought I understood. Sometimes people take things personally. Maybe I didn’t understand?
I didn’t feel angry, just tired. In spite of my weariness I drove, listening to the radio announcer talk about bike week and bar specials in between old 80s rock songs, I felt some warmth rising in me, a feeling that I have come to recognize as happiness, which I sometimes also call love. It was an unexpected feeling, driving alone in my car, but I am used to unexpected feelings and was glad for it.
Turning onto the island, crossing over the brief bridge – I saw the moon all orange and gibbous, much too large, hanging there between the houses, out over the ocean. The sky held a dim copper glow and there was a walkway of shine stretching and rippling out to past where I could see. The clouds were bright and sturdy drifts and fractures, whisps and bands.
On the radio, an Ozzy Osbourne song was playing on the radio as I ground and bumped the car down the pitted gravel drive, with palm branches clattering in the dark outside the open window. I was a set of taillights, a car driving, parking. Yet, there was something unmistakably badass in the air, though that may have just been the guitars pushing through the tinny speakers on the handheld radio that serves as my car stereo.
I knew that I burst into the house, that I would stop whatever was happening, that I would interrupt, saying, “Did you see the moon? You have to come see the moon!”
I knew, also, that they would hear the serious joy and excitement in my voice and that they would come with me to see the moon, and that they would appreciate it.
How could a person not appreciate a moon like a blood orange in the sky, the ocean like an album cover and everything so damn still and lit up?
Down the beach, the house lights were rectangles, regularly spaced eyes in dark dunes, gold teeth, broke-through doors, ghost crabs gone huge. The mast of the abandoned catamaran was a spear into the sky. The old boat, it’s yellow fiberglass gone pale in the sun, sails missing, had settled into the thin sea oats just to the right of the few steps that led down to the narrow strip of sand, damp with the night’s high tide.
In the dark, the awkward form of the beach bound boat was cinematic.
We watched people move down a boardwalk, a few houses down, their forms only silhouettes, silent in the wind, moving as people move, going out to the beach to look at the moon.
“Do you think, a long time ago, that a moon like this would have brought people out to the beach?”
“Well, yeah, it’s pretty spectacular…”
The voices carried over from the other boardwalk, delayed and slurred. The people stood still for a moment, then moved back toward the house.
A Slight Detour
I don’t know how I got the notion that I should stop in Columbia to buy a baritone ukulele. The thought occurred to me listening to the beginning of some song, the rising little synth waves, the man-made sounds of angels. I wanted to write a song, with the synthesized sound of angel’s wings. From that moment of want, I fell headlong into the certainty that there was a baritone ukulele in Columbia and that I wanted to purchase it.
I stopped at a gas station on the edge of town and googled music store Columbia, sc. Found one easily enough, and pulled up the directions, which would take me winding through Gervais and down Devine, other streets I’d never been on to be the woman who shows up wearing all black to buy a ukulele on a stormy Thursday afternoon, right before closing.
It seems like, in regard to telepathy, and it being a common component of some people’s experiences of what is clinically described as “psychosis,” that perhaps – because communication, language, and meaning are all code, pattern and association – that perhaps there are means by which people may “pick up” signals. We know that the human brainmind can communicate by thought alone, the patterns translated into electrical codes, to be deciphered by assistive devices for those who cannot move. Thus, patterns and signals can become meaningful if we ascribe meaning to them.
This is all a jumble and I am writing on my phone after a full day of life in the real world, where I wrote some emails about tax forms, had a conversation about passports, scrubbed the porch, taught the dog to lay down, made a meal, took my kids swordfighting, and also gave a cursory glance to some work related items.
In the afternoon, I sat in the yellow spare room with the light off and the window open, enjoying the green look of the virginia creeper growing up the second story screen. I pulled a box open and began sifting through many hundred of photos of clouds, printed for an piece that I am making for a show in Vancouver, BC in July…if…if…if…
It was an unexpected opportunity. I know that I need to sit on the floor with the photos and begin to build something. I know that it will take all night. I will begin on Friday night and it will be beautiful.
I am also sending away some drawings, to be held to cheesecloth by hat pins, hooray.
I am feeling nonchalant about the whole thing, in spite of the paid travel, in spite of the potential honorarium, in spite of my intent to wear my soft golden party dress.
It will either happen or it won’t. Either way, I have an entire box of clouds and plenty more where those came from.
As I was saying, in regard to this matter of telepathy and madness, would those with certain sensitivities to aural stimulation and other extraperceptual sensory phenomenon be likely to be able to gather a sense of message from the very air itself, have some meaning or language stimulated deep in the associative mind, to rise in the language we know or to express itself in the pounding of our hearts, the cold sweat on our palms.
“Why am I feeling this way? What reason could I give?”
“At the moment, I am feeling this way because I am thinking about feeling this way.”
I am trying to learn to be fearless, because fear orients me to threat, which sullies the signals I receive, muddies what I might make of them.
Over the past couple of years I have realized that my conceptual understanding of what my mind is and how “it” relates to other people is really way the hell off base. I have to, for example, constantly remind myself that people only know of me what I tell them, or what they think. They do not know a lot about me. I forget that other people do not have access to what I am thinking, what I know. This a theory of mind issue?
I also forget that though I may get some sense of a person, I really don’t know who they are.
It’s just that, sometimes, I do get a feeling of knowing somebody, a sense of familiarity or shared understanding. I think that I determine these things based on utterance, communication style, and also just a feeling I get.
The other night, maybe it was this morning, maybe the other morning, I was thinking about this look that a friend of mine had, that other friends have had, this openness of eye, this quiet radiance and somber joy…the times I have seen this look, I have thought, “Oh, there you are…” and my heart was filled with a pure happiness, the feeling of something in me finding my best friend again, after years and years and years.
The look never lasted, eyes would become tired, something would shift, a person would stand up, the phone would ring. For moments though, it was as if a door had opened and this person who was my friend was suddenly expanded, revealing that they were…who?
Maybe not a who? Maybe more a what?
Usually the people in whom I saw that look have been wounded, survivors of severe bodily trauma, near death experiences. I myself almost died when I was a kid.
Maybe it was then that something in me reached out? Maybe it was then that the ghosts got in?
I’ve a breach in the hull.
I never did deconstruct the Hand of God, by the way. It’s still just sitting there, getting grown over with kudzu.
Free Write on Violence, c. Memorial Day, with typos
(I think The Atlantic published a better article on this topic…)
In the wake of the most recent violent tragedy, many people will find themselves confronted with media and discussion hinged on the topic of mental illness and violence. This is not a new topic. With every tragedy in which an individual commits a horrific act of violence against others, questions arise: “What was wrong with this person? What happened? How does a person get to a point where they would do such a thing?”
It’s frightening, to think that people – human beings – have the capacity to do terrible things to one another.
Acts of violence run through our collective human history. In fact, depending on how history is told, it could be said that our histories have been shaped by violence, our industries and cultures held together by events that wound us and terrify us.
In every triumph and salvation, there is violence at the axis, something to be saved from, to overcome, to heal. History is driven by violence and the ways we respond to violence. This stuff runs deep.
In our current world, we are constantly exposed to the reality of violence. After all, we live in a world in which wars have raged for thousands of years. The ways people are exposed to and impacted by violence are vast. Even for those whose individual, familial, and community lives are relatively peaceful, the awareness of harm occuring within the world is ever-present, in media, myth, nightmare, and a much more diasporic knowing that presents itself a small fears, phantom worries, a hundred different anxieties.
Yet, in responding to individual acts of violence, we do not often acknowledge the role of societal and cultural violence in creating violent acts. Instead, we see incidences in which an individual does something unthinkably terrible as phenomenological aberrations, almost as mysteries. In many cases, individuals who commit acts of violence are presumed to have a mental illness, something flawed within their brains, within their minds. Most people can agree that, yes, there must have been something very out of order in the individual’s thinking, something very dark and confused and that, yes, a person who would commit an act of mass violence is very, very “sick.“
In considering the etiology of violence, we do not often consider the ways that individual acts of violence may be intrinsically linked to societal violence. The ways that people express violence and inflict harm do not develop in a vacuum and in every act of violence there is history and culture, from obsessions with war and weaponry, hate culture, fascism, power, the self against others, all wrapped up in valor and protection, honor and daring, desperation and despair, with revenge framing and tendencies toward an eye-for-an-eye/you-hurt-me-I’ll-hurt-you.
We are a violent species. Our every effort toward ‘civilization’ has been spurred on by violence and shaped by the ways we perceive violence, how we understand it, how we make sense of it, the reasons we give it.
When we explain violence as stemming from mental illness, we are denying the reality of societal violence, collective trauma, and the ever perpetuating legacies of war culture and hate culture. We are also denying that, somehow, there is violence within all of us, to some degree or another. In almost every human culture, there is violence, framed, enacted, practiced and responded to in a multitude of ways.
Here in the United States, and in many other countries where culture and economy are shaped by colonialism, exploitation, and Western capitalist ideals of plenty and property, acts of aberrant, unexpected violence are becoming less and less aberrant, a consistent characteristic of our culture. Violence is a direct of effect of Western industrial culture and heteropatriarchy.
In some cases of violence, there is evidence that motivations are tied to beliefs involving large plans, a divine sense of duty, and – sometimes – telecommunication via signals or other messages, various codes of great importance, sometimes voices. These sorts of beliefs and experiences are clinically considered to be delusions and hallucinations, and are considered to be related to psychotic disorders, which are considered to be mental illnesses.
Ironically, it is becoming more clear that in many cases, complex trauma caused by violence may bring about experiences such as delusions and sensory disturbances, which can get out of hand for individuals who are not supported in responding to the difficulty and strangeness of their experiences in a way that helps them to manage their thoughts and feelings, as well for those who may be fearful of reaching out for support out of legitimate concern that they will be deemed crazy, and possibly locked up for thinking or feeling terrible things.
While the government is perfectly free to rain down munitions upon entire villages, and to hold people as hostages in prisons and on bases, individuals are not permitted to commit such acts, or any other act which inflicts harm upon another human being. Such things are not only illegal, but morally wrong, in conflict with the core of what we imagine it means to be a good person. It is shameful to be violent. We do not like to think that one “would do such a thing” from a place of reason, of one’s own volition, of their own free will.
Violence insults our notions of a good humanity, a safe humanity. We abhor violence…unless it is on the television or the big screen, unless it is ”for the security of this country,” unless it is for our own imagined gain, the thrill of viewing, our own revenge or profit. Then, we revel just a little, savor just a little. It excites us. It terrifies us, how much we like it.
We probably spend more time than we’d care to admit negotiating our relationship with violence and worrying about what terrible thing might happen next, whether or not it’s safe for one’s children to go to school or if seeing another violent movie is really such a good idea. Most of us can walk around with a deeply felt security that we would never, ever, not in a hundred million years, do anything terrible like ‘that person’ did. It must be awful to not be sure about that, whether or not you might have the propensity for horrific acts of violence. How could a person talk with someone about that?
There have been periods of time during which I have been violent. Though most of the ways I have been violent have manifested as violence towards myself, I have also inflicted harm on other people, as well as damaged a fair amount of property. The majority of the times I have been violent were 20 years ago, when I was teenage mental patient, on and off heavy doses of SSRIs and just incredibly pissed off and sad. Violence was never planned for. It was more a matter of explosive frustration and intense pain. It wrecked me.
SWORDPLAY FOR TRAUMA SURVIVORS: from an email
I think I like having two swords, because then I am more conscientious of what both arms might be doing at any given moment. I should probably get more comfortable with the shield, or just with dropping it…or getting my shield arm hit less often…maybe by, um, using the shield?
Thanks again for hanging out this afternoon and for being my friend and not wanting to get into my space in ways that might be threatening. It really is super helpful for me to navigate how to stay in my body, so to speak, when I’m confronted with threat and to learn to have safe space with people. I’d really would like reinhabit my fight body. It’s important, somehow integrally linked to everything.
Maybe my battle name oughta be Possum?
I should probably say something to ____ about what happened. He said it was interesting to see, the way I “just stopped.” I don’t really know how to bring it up, but it is probably a conversation we’ll have, since it’s not quite ethical – in my opinion – to involve someone in your trauma healing process without telling them.
When I started this, I didn’t quite conceive of it as being a trauma healing practice. It was just fun and something that I felt like I wanted to do, so that I could swordfight with my kids and talk with them about swordfighting. Part of my wanting to be involved with the ___________ is because it is a community that ____ actually seems at ease in. He looks up to and respects _____, and that carries a lot of weight with me, because ____ mostly thinks adults are full of shit.
In any event, in the first couple trainings, it became clear pretty quickly that – oh, yeah – I am still totally disconnected from my body in a lot of ways and, holy shit, really, I have to consciously will myself to move my leg if something is swinging toward it?
Really, it takes that much thought to move my leg?!
After the first battle and training, I was so sore that I winced when I stood up or bent down. I didn’t mind it though, because I could actually feel my body and I could feel my muscles and I could feel my bones.
I had/have had varying degrees of anhedonia for years and years and years…probably stemming for sensory integration issues and also some really serious, almost-dying bodily injuries when I was a really young kid, layered over with the botching of my nervous system through adolescent psychiatric drugging and a lot of other additional complex traumas, including childbirth.
I have a definite knack for shifting out of my body. I just disconnect. While that was a self-survival and coping mechanism for a long time, enabling me to get through things that were happening without completely fucking losing my mind, I don’t want that disconnect to happen out of nowhere, at times that I don’t want it to, at times that I don’t need it to.
I want to be able to stay present, and to do things like recreational swordfighting if I want to do recreational swordfighting.
I also want to regain the sense – the knowing – that I can walk into a space with anyone, even some big guy with big dude energy, and look him in the eye in a way that communicates that I am not afraid or intimidated, and so that they – whomever they may be – know that I will – with skill, grace, and calm confidence – hold my own.
It’d also be pretty cool to be a badass swordfighter and to be healthier, stronger, and faster. I need good warrior energy, warrior practice. A part of that is learning where my Achilles heel(s) is(are) and then strengthening those areas, which is ultimately healing and generally awesome. So, it’s super helpful to me that I can come into spaces where I realize a trigger, because then I can get the fuck over it/work through it so that I can have more fun and be more free in my life.
More about the body disconnect, trigger warning for intensity:
I’m sure you have noticed my tattoos. I wonder sometimes if getting so much ink put into my skin wasn’t another way that I was trying to feel something deeply, trying to get back into my body, reclaim and mark the space as mine, feel it.
Once, when I was having a tattoo on my leg done, someone in the shop with me was watching as the needle hit the skin. They shook their head and whistled low, “You didn’t even flinch.”
When I was in my early twenties, for a little under a year, I was involved with an exhibition performance arts group in Portland called Trancesend. They did suspensions and performance involving people being pierced with stainless hooks, laced together at the arms and backs and pulling at one another in various choreographies. I was good at it, because I hardly felt a thing. I could just slip out of my body and people thought I was this amazingly strong person who was badass and brave. I wasn’t really. I just couldn’t feel anything. My first suspension was in the lotus position. Hardly anyone in the world had ever done that. It was easy. I still have small scars from the 16 (20?) hooks that it took. Gruesome to think back on it. It was no big deal at the time. The wounds healed in a single day, almost like a miracle.
It’s 8:30 and I need to get to work, writing up documents, sending out emails.
Reading over this, I can see how it shows “disordered thinking” – or thinking that may appear disordered to people who have no appreciation for the raw folly of the free write on a Wednesday evening or a particularly dull conception of the proper order of things.
All of this makes absolute sense to me. It’s my story.
[comment: this song is my fundraising coach – http://lyrics.wikia.com/Violins:Should_You_Find_Yourself