I woke up this morning and my body was sore, stiff from running, a tightness in my right hamstring, tense around my shoulders.
I hit snooze four times, and was still on time to meet the person at the forest. It felt good to walk, to stretch out my legs. I still felt running in them, a quiet and quivering energy, a coiled twitch in the big muscles of my thighs. We walked fast, stopping only to take pictures of whatever we saw that caught our eye.
“I can anthropomorhize anything,” I laughed a little at myself, taking a picture of a dead fall tree leaning against the sturdy trunk beside it, a clinging friend.
The cut logs reminded me of my cats and dogs, lined up and staring. Waiting for food, about to crowd me. “What is it called if you see animals in things? Pomorphizing what? What is the suffix? The prefix of downed trees that look like pigs or dogs?
The splinters were a forest, a landscape.
I danced in the car on the way to the forest, made my hand drop down low, stripping it down with the radio up. I love the radio.
I didn’t feel sad this morning. I felt determined.
There are a lot of things that could bring me down going on this week. Major disruptions of old scars and fragile hopes. I am coming off of a significant reformulation of energy and perspective. A couple of weeks ago, fueled by the eustress created by accomplishing goals and disrupting my routine, doing more interesting and unlikely things in the company of positive people, I was feeling as though I could quite possibly launch or drift right back into that liminal way of life, that framework of awareness and interpretation that explodes the everyday into myriad wonders and possibilities, the sweetness of morning light pressing in with the weight of some gleaming unseen.
However, instead of delving into a mindful demi-psychosis for the sake of art and experience, I rearranged the upstairs of my house and painted two rooms. Got rid of a bunch of old stuff, made a new mantle display. Moved my desk to the same corner it sat in during the summer of 2010.
I have hardly sat at my desk at all.
I have been moving around.
This morning, I felt good. However, I tried to remember what it was to feel that searing grief, that punch-the-gut grief. Like my heart was being wrung out, blown open. Like it’d been kicked. I did not want to forget that feeling. It is one of my oldest feelings, and I hadn’t felt it in a long time.
Last night, on the phone with my mom, I talked about lessons in non-attachment, about how I’d had just about enough of them.
“So, you said something about the lock not working. Will I be able to get in if I get there at midnight?”
I was driving to work, passing through town, just coming out of the forest. I’d called my mom to let her know that it looked like maybe I’d just drive down alone, go home to an empty house 7 hours away on the coast of Georgia.
For a moment, there was the possibility that I would travel with a friend, that we’d stay up late in the dome room and eat wonderful snacks, take the kayaks out on the river. That I’d be able to show someone that place again.
I used to love to show people that place. To share it, the way the road turned and the pastures opened up, the house standing up on its stilts and the river right there. Right there. I loved to walk with them up the stairs my father built, to open the heavy wood door with the iron thumb latch, to see that they had nothing to say, that they were looking around, amazed that a place so beautiful was tucked away there, right back behind the subdivision, the new paved streets and it’s wood signs that will rot like every made of wood eventually does.
The last time I went home, the old wood signs were peeling and some had been replaced by city signs, sharp edged and reflective. Glowing green, brand new.
When I was young, men would call the house, offering us deals on vinyl siding. “We can do your whole house for under 3,000.00! It lasts about forever, and looks real nice.”
The siding salesmen sounded like the men at the gas station up by highway 40, Mom N Pops, with condoms in the bleach smelling bathroom. The people behind the counter did not know my name, just like the men who called about vinyl siding promotions did not know my name, had never seen my home.
“Our house is sided in cypress,” I’d tell them, matter-of-factly, but a little glib, as if they should’ve known. “It doesn’t rot. No thank you.”
Sometimes I would allow for niceties and other times I would just hang up. “This house is sided in cypress. It doesn’t rot.”
Everything eventually rots.
The plans to travel with a friend shifted, which was likely for the best as those plans had begun to expand in my mind to involve multiple days, the use of PTO, finnagling the use of my father’s aging truck, a daring canoe trip to Cumberland Island, walking past Plum Orchard, big ol ‘ white house with its columns in the front and it’s icy cold pool in its own big room.
That was the very first place I lived, in Plum Orchard, right after I was born.
“They were out of Ranger housing and the house needed a caretaker, people living in it.”
That’s how I tell the story, how it was told to me.
We weren’t there long. To hear my mother tell it, being stuck on an island an easy hour to town – with going to the dock and getting a ride on some boat or another, the Cumberland Queen, the Ranger boat – wasn’t easy, especially with a newborn.
I think that was when they moved me to my great-grandmother’s house, to the land that was named Shadowlawn.
That place I used to love to show people, to share with people. I could go anywhere on the land, the miles to the border at the backside of theunicipal golf course out by the interstate, the boundary of highway 40, river along the other two sides of the land that we called home. I knew all the best places, all the trees that bowed down to the ground, the small bluff under the osprey nest, the caves of sand and roots that were worn up under the earth along a straightaway that helped the tide move fast and high. I knew all about erosion.
My father built the house too close to the river.
Thinking about going to Cumberland, I hoped there would be egrets molting, and made a mental note to research when exactly that might happen, when the trees and ground will be covered in perfect plumes down by the water.
It was fun to think about, fun to imagine.
Sometimes, I can imagine things in just-such-a-way that I almost have no need to do them, have – in fact – already seemed to experience whatever it is that I imagine. It’s not real, of course, in that much of what I picture never comes to any sort of actuality, never happens. Isn’t real. Still, this sort of imagining might be one of my heart’s survival skills.
Besides, just a couple of weeks ago, I was thinking about the feeling of Thanksgiving in S. Georgia and wanting to maybe go down there.
Now, I am going.
It’s easy to see how experiential imagining could be potentially problematic, in terms of muddling reality and what is for real the situation or possibility, and also because – meh – why do a thing of you’ve already gotten a kick from it, a satisfaction in imagining, a generated emotion or two, a few imagined details to flesh it out, moments and summaries, crossing the intracoastal waterway in a canoe?
It was a dumb idea, but exceedingly fun to think about, so I was okay plans changing.
Is believing that one ought to do something the same as ‘shoulding yourself,’ in terms of unhelpful seedling delusions of directive and unbearable pressure on oneself?
Wouldn’t it be impossible to discern what one ought to do without believing that one ought to do something? Making choices is all about what we believe we ought to do.
In this particular instance, I increasingly believed that I ought to go to my home in St Mary’s and write for two straight days. Yes. That is what I ought to do. I will do the thing. I will write the introduction and query. I will construct a reasonably representative sample of the work, and will devise an outline for myself.
I have done this before. With the outlining and the construction. Then, I stopped doing it. Forgot about the outline, changed the idea, read too much of my own very-least-appealing writing and shuddered to remember the origins of the posts. Felt disgusted and activated to remember in vivid detail the specific days and nights, the hours, that composed especially embarrassing posts, series of posts.
If one looks at my archives, it is easy to see when I lost my mind, trying to prove God with pictures of clouds on the Internet. A lot of the posts from that time, and earlier, are quite awful. Rants, really. With messages to myself or some unseen audience (some imagined audience) woven into the strident and preposterous assertions that I was fine, really. Other people were being idiots. They were being fascists.
I had something important to say, and no one would listen.
I said this over and over again.
It is a dominant theme through the 2010-2011.
I had/still-have (as do most people) some challenges around my cognition, meaning-making. My perspectives were (and sometimes still are) pocked and slanted by mis – learning and misunderstanding both myself and other people. Poor estimates of what exactly is going on.
It is difficult to look at the people we were.
I had a lot of dumb ideas. Reasoning with bodily feelings, hooked in by the fear and rapture encapsulated in certain notions.
Nothing fuels dumb ideas like fear and rapture.
There are so many songs on the radio about running out of time. It’s true that this happens. People (and ideas) run out time. Opportunities expire, someone else does it. You just can’t quite pull it off. Maybe in the next life, etc. etc.
I have settled in myself that it is okay if I do not succeed so long as I continue to try. For years, continuing to try has meant simply continuing to write.
I am at the point where I need to redefine the activities of trying to include editing and inquiry, submissions and proposals.
That sort of thing is a major growth area for me. Major. It probably is for lots of people who write prolifically but who have never had any formal mentorship or opportunities to learn the meta-organizational skills that are helpful in completing any large project, like a book.
I am beginning to try in new and exciting (and probably more productive, certainly a little more intimidating) ways.
“I should go home and write for two days, see what happens. Wasn’t I just saying that I wonder what will happen if I have hours and hours to write. This is – at almost precisely this point – an hour of writing. I am writing on my phone, because that’s how I like to write. I could write a lot with two days to write.”
“I won’t have WiFi. I can just bring my computer and my harddrives and write for two days. Compile and construct for two days, see what happens.”
I pictured myself alone in the dome, maybe sitting against the wall where the couch was, the couch where I could not breathe, the first time I got hurt, when I broke my spleen.
What if I got writer’s block, wasn’t able to write?
I know that that won’t happen, because even if start off writing poorly and with no inspiration, if I write long enough, what I want to say, what I want to tell about, presents itself to me.
I decided that I wanted to go, and felt good about that plan. I have a paid day off the day after Thanksgiving. If I go alone and only write, two days will be enough time. I will be ready to come home by Sunday.
“So, the lock? Will I be able to get in if I get there at midnight?”
My mother sounded casual, but also a little conspiratorial (auto-correct just changed that word to Co spirit orioles). She spoke low, as though she was walking into another room, or didn’t want anyone to hear.
“I’ll have dad call —— and…you know, they worked out a deal that —— is going to buy the house and the land, that last parcel.”
I was at a red light, across from a grocery store, several counties away from my mother, who had just told me that the last remaining portion of the place my family had know as home for generations, the house my father built, would be sold to the man who had bought the pasture and the fork in the road, the man who had bought the bluff. I pictured his face, red and jowly, a bulldog face, a big man. White hair. Large boat. Small wife, lovely home. He is a real estate developer. He bought our land. Lives there now. It is his land, by deed, now.
I was surprised by the force of the familiar but almost forgotten grief, that choked and silent weeping, there at the traffic light.
Tears sliding, heart deeply aching, a physical pain the chest, a tightening, throbbing, pulling in from the inside and violently expanding, a black hole vomiting an entire cache of memory and image, the annals of home-grief.
My throat hurt. Voice was ragged but controlled when I finally spoke, driving past the Burger King. “Is he going to tear down the house? Is that the plan?”
My mom mumbled something non-committal, a non-answer. “We don’t know what’s going to happen with it.”
I got loud, indignant, began making demands. “Î want wood from that house. When they tear down that house, I want wood from it.”
I spoke with the righteousness of a preacher.
“Dad and I will go down and we will get things that we need to bring up here.”
“No!” I felt the edge of a keening and confused outrage. My throat felt like I couldn’t breathe.
“I want a whole fucking truckload of that wood and I want to put it on the walls of this house and if I have to sell this house, I will take it with me, or take it somewhere and burn it.”
There was nothing else to say. “I have to get off the phone. I have to go into work now.”
I stayed in the car, took out the handheld recorder, told the story of the conversation, some thoughts I was having about what it is to love a place as a living thing, to grieve when it is destroyed like you’ve lost a person, more than a person, an entire family history, a home. A whole world, full of things you love. I spoke for exactly 4 minutes.
My face was surely contorted, my mouth all screwed up, brow furrowed, a hard look in my eye. Trying not to cry, walking with my head down.
I absolutely did not want to go to work. Did not know if I could go to work. I wasn’t crying outright. I was holding it in. Taking deep breaths, trying to compose myself.
I was lucky to grow up in a place that I believed was my home and always would be. I was lucky to love a place like that. I knew, growing up, that it was other people’s home before it was ours. That it was never ours. That it couldn’t really belong to anyone, but if it did, its true owners were long gone. Ghosts.
There are very few things that make cry like I wanted to cry in the car this morning. I wanted to cry like I couldn’t stop crying, to cry like I used to cry when I was a kid. I felt like I had a lot of crying to do, like my heart was just flat out stunned and broken by the turn of events, the innocent desire to go home.
“This might be the last time I ever go home. It will not be a place I can ever again. It will not be there.”
The land will be there, changed surely.
The house will be gone.
There is a part of me that is totally okay about that, can move on from feelings of deep grief and remorse, stay in the present.
However, there is also a part of me that feels very much like I am 12 years old, watching bulldozers gouge at the trunks of pine trees, demolish the thicket of blackberries out by the East Marsh. Pour hot, stinking tar all over the place, men cutting down trees, the air alive with saws.
I had a few conversations about it at work, and people heard me, they got it. Even if the place they loved didn’t have a beautiful name, like Shadowlawn, most people know what it is to love a place and to not ever be able to go back to that place again, because it is owned by someone else, or has become a different place, or was simply destroyed, paved over, built upon. People still get the idea of home, what that means.
They really have no idea though, what it means to me, personally, to find myself in this moment of reckoning with the reality that the land will be sold and I will probably not go back there anymore.
I left work early. I did not come straight home and go to bed, which is what I wanted to do. I did not stop at a drive thru and get a milkshake because I am sad. The thought of that depressed me. I didn’t call a friend, though I wanted to. I did not know who to call.
I considered all the people throughout history who’d lost the place they know as home, all the brutality of colonialism. All the people, all the lands…all the harm done in the taking. Places and people raped, destroyed.
I planned to run about 7 miles today.
I ended up running 10. It took me a long time, but not as long as I would have guessed it’d take.
I ran fast on the flats and downhills, and even on the moderate inclines, 30 or 40 degrees. On the steeper slopes leading up to the spine of the mountain I was running up, I had to hike – fast climbing, leaning forward, hard pushing. I almost got lost, or may have gotten lost if I had not realized that I ought to turn back and return the way I’d come, the way I was certain would lead me back to the easy trail to my car, which seemed very far away as I watched the sun go down over the mountains through the winter bare trees. I made it back to the flat and gravely trail by the time it was full dark, and ran even in the dark, because I knew I’d get cold if I stopped running. I was cold even as I ran.
My legs felt light, almost numb. I couldn’t believe I was still running, and still running well.
I wonder how far I could run, if I both pushed myself and paced myself? Something remarkable happens after the miles it takes me to warm up, one to shift into relaxed running and speed up, three to shift into forgetting that I am running, six to feel like I might be able to keep going forever.
On Saturday, I ran 8 miles. Today, I ran 10.
I felt the feelings of wanting to cry, of being sad, a dull heartbreak flying through the rhododendrons dimly aware that it was dumb to be running in near dark, in full dark, in the woods.
I didn’t feel scared. I knew where I was going. By the time it was, I was on a familiar trail. Smooth, hardly any roots at all.
Suddenly tired, I am going to sleep.
Note to self: There is a time and a place for audacity? This is the season for audacity?
I ran 10 miles in the woods today. I ran the last two miles in the dark.
That’s how I cry now.
This question of core sadnesses, of home and alienation and not being loved, not having love in one’s life.
It occurs to me that it is difficult to be loved if one cannot be seen.
Sure, people may “love” some idea they have of another person, but if they do not or are not able to perceive or adequately assess the key attributes and aspects of another person’s being (who they are, to the extent that such things can be seen by another person), they cannot possibly genuinely love that person?
My thinking about this might be way off. That love is not a thing extended to someone because of a conscious or cognitive process rooted in understanding of a person, but is an elemental human reverence for the existence of the light within another person, which generates positive feelings of connection (oxytocin) . . . thus, making it possible for strangers to love one another?
That seems about right to me?
Still I was thinking about how alienation and the core sadness of not being loved, not having love in one’s life, in some whole and encompassing way, are connected.
Some people are hard to see clearly. Some people cannot be seen at all through the obfuscation factors of physicality, language, communication, all the isms and the ways that value is placed upon what is observable.
I am a person that has observed that I may be hard to see.
(I just now genuinely understood that it does not mattter if I am understood, that people can still see me. They can still love me.)
I have love in my life. I am able to love. Because of the ways I define love – as a deep appreciation for the existence of a person – and because I am able to connect with people easily, to see what is best in them, or interesting, or important, able to take the stories they tell and imagine a childhood…it is easy for me to love. Because I think about things phenomenologically, everyday people and occurrences strike me as rare and wonderful, simply because anything exists at all. I feel a lot of love.
However, while I understand that I am loved and that people imagine that they love me…they really love an idea of me. They love that they feel seen and loved.
I do know that people love me. I can feel it. I can see it. In those moments, I am connecting with them on some very rudimentary human level.
However, there are so many different sorts of love…and there are some ways that I know (or have known) that I am not truly loved because I am not seen.
I can be a difficult person to see. (That isn’t true.)
Note: I sent this email to myself at 2:57 am. Sometimes people stay up late trying to not feel sad when they are sad. I don’t like to sleep when I am sad, to go to sleep sad. So, I stayed up and busiedyself with conversation, laughter, and comforts until late.
I wanted to write down these thoughts about the core sadness of being unloved, to make some clarifications with myself.
I ended sitting with a great assembly of all the small moments I am loved in a way that feels real, like it is really me – the closest approximation of the ‘real’ me, my spirit – that people see, that they love.
Today, a person at work – one of the people I’d been feeling grateful to know and to have shared moments of deep appreciation with as I was thinking about being loved – told me they hadn’t slept well, that they’d woken up at 3:00 am and felt powerfully called to pray for me, and that they’d stayed up ’til sunrise, praying.
They didn’t need to do that. I was already okay, but I will remember that.
I know I am loved.
As a note, I do not need as much sleep as I thought I did. I can function fine, well even, on just several hours – so long as I rest (or get slightly more sleep) the next day, or the day after. I stopped eating so much bread and starch, so many processed carbohydrates. I am not tired in the way that I was. Good to know. Game changer.
11/“…but wouldn’t it also be a matter of a person, or group of people projecting their own spin onto what they are seeing?” Looking at her sideways, head on arm, face only a half, only an eye.
“Well, yeah, that absolutely is a huge part of it. So, you have some meta-universal force that is doing whatever it does, moving in waves and currents, making things look a certain way, or feel a certain way.” *
She moved her hands up into the air above her, held her arms careful and straight, shifted her hands to be holding a box, then dropping one hand, pulling out a shape like a river in the movement of her wrist. Held her palm open and flat, “Then you have whatever people see, whatever sense they make of it, based on their natural environments, their habitats, beliefs, what is important to them.”
“Even if it is just a fit of human imagination, some big projection, it’s still…”
She dropped her hands to her belly, to the soft space between her ribs. She knew what she wanted to say, the point of it all, but the knowing had too many words she had not spoken in it, words she wasn’t sure of. She felt her pause in the conversation lengthen. She was being listened to.
“I mean, even if it is just some thing that I projected, because I was crazy…it’s still…I mean, I have no idea how people thousands of years ago saw the sky. What they thought of it.”
She leaned her head back a little, pressed her hands into her belly, felt that wing-shaped weight, studied the edge of the shelf, the dry sand color of the paint.
“I felt like I could imagine it though, that I could see the clouds like they meant something, something important, like gods were up there.”
She could not give voice to the knowing that she thought this was an important experience to have had, for all those months, in moments still. Everyday, to see and to be with the world in this animist way.
The word liberation came to mind, but she could not quite explain why she thought that people learning to see the sky as more than a dead, flat plane, a circumstantial and senseless thing, a void of significance strewn with pretty colors, tinged by smog, blurred by rain…just a backdrop, really…something to take pictures in front of…why would that be important, seeing the sky differently, thinking about the shapes of clouds differently?
People love the sky.
I think that people who love the sky, who are inspired by it and moved by the beauty of it, that impermanence and so much light, so many layers…I think we are happier people, because the sky is always there. Doing something.
This morning I realized that it is easy to make a straight line in the sky, with a sharp change in pressure or temperature, the frozen edges of clouds against cold air.
It is easy to make a triangle shape. All you have to do is cross two contrails, let ’em sit for a second.
If nothing else, even if I didn’t prove the existence of God, some active and electrically connecting series of metaversal forces that work in conjunction with our hearts and bodies and natural world, which spawned religion through the human effort to document and create meaning around what they saw and what they felt about what they saw in the natural world around them, spawned language in the recording of forms, the making of symbols, gave birth to divine composition, the grand archetypes of relational aesthetics, those arrangements that make us feel a particular way, that we intuitively notice and drawn to, like the flash of red on a mother gull’s beak, a mark its offspring know from birth…even if I have nothing good or worthwhile to say about any of that, despite my feeling that the theory is a plausibly good one, knowing what little I know about physics and psychology and patterns in nature…at the very least, I learned how to see the sky again, to see what can’t be seen without clouds. The rivers in the air above me, all around me. The shape of the wind and of the heat. How it moves. How the earth breathes.
That, to me, is something worth writing about.