The woman sat across from me, ankles crossed, hands in lap, classic clinical posture. The younger woman sat slightly to the side of me, a still yogic statue, big eyed. We made a triangle, sitting there in my office.
“I’ve got skin in the game.”
The women seemed to really like that statement. So real. So peer.
I felt tired of it all.
The crossed-ankle woman, the senior clinician, leaned forward, her face lit up with an idea. “What if…what if you came and told your story to _____?”
I kept my face neutral. “Yeah, maybe I could do that.” I shrugged to emphasize my ambivalence.
Thought to myself, “Well now, how would that go?”
Imagined the scene, the big table and torsos surrounding, the smiling faces, the kind expressions, the hands clasped on the table. The windows and the sharp-lined slats of heavy brown shade contraptions, blinds. The look of the day outside, the look of the light.
I could feel my chest get tight just thinking about it. What would that be like? I would have probably about 10 minutes, which may be stretched to 15 for people to ask me questions about my lived experience and how that impacts and adds value to the work I do.
Note: by adding value, I mean to say that I give significance to my workplace experiences that other people may not give to their workplace experiences. However, I also mean that my lived experience and the insights it brings to this work adds value, in that it means something to the people I work with that I have experienced some of the things they have experienced, and that I understand that my experiences of things like involuntary commitment are different than other people’s experiences, but that – hey – I have had something like that happen to me.
I find it so distasteful to sum up entire pivotal life experiences with phrases like, “I got sent to the hospital.”
There is something silencing in being expected to do that, preferred to do that, for the sake of being concise, brief, not going into to much detail, too much trauma, nothing unnecessary, and be linear, do not loop back to how the experiences connect to each other, just like my going into medical shock after I broke my elbow at age 8 never would have happened if I hadn’t broke my spleen on Christmas Day, age 6, and spent those months in the hospital, which I hardly remember at all, save for two distinct memories. What those experiences have to do with me losing my mind years later.
How would I tell my story to those people?
They don’t want to hear my story.
Not the way I’d tell it.
I was 12 in 1988, when the market for adolescent psychiatry opened up in a big way. I had grown up on family land, the land my father had grown up on, the land my great-grandmother still lived on, an old woman with her face slack on one side from a stroke.
I loved her. She played cards with me.
That year, I rode the bus to school from one of the bus stops in the subdivision that had been built, over the two previous years, on our family’s land, which was no longer our family’s land. We still had a pocket of woods, at the back edge of what my great-grandmother called “the neighborhood,” and we still had our house, and the pasture, and my great-grandmother’s house, the little house behind it.
Our road was still intact, up until the paved road crossed it.
From that point on, our dirt road was gone. There were houses on it. A girl I knew from school who was from Connecticut and had yellow goo on her braces all the time lived in the first house that had been built on top of our road. The first “phase” of the subdivision was complete, just three streets, with stubs of paved road edging up to pine trees and palmettos, waiting in the hot Georgia sun, for Phase 2, and Phase 3. More naked lawns, more sod, more stump removal services, more holes dug for pools, mailboxes, the cul de sacs like cocks and balls as I rode my bike on the new pavement, swooping around the streets like I still owned the place. Riding through yards, going around in circles, an adolescent vulture in a tee shirt and white Keds, because that’s what all the girls at school were wearing.
I had never been popular, because I didn’t know how to talk correctly when I went into elementary school, and had to go to speech therapy for four years, and I wore glasses and brought my bear to school, and karate chopped a kid over a marker set in Science class. I lived in the woods and my nails were bitten and my mom cut my hair.
I got a perm in the sixth grade, and started wearing contacts. I knew how to talk by then, how to say my own last name.
I started blow-drying my hair, pushing my bangs up and freezing them with hairspray like a wave. I could get very tan, and my family – suddenly – had money, a white Jeep Cherokee.
Besides, school was full of new kids, Navy kids. Kids who did not know anything about me or my speech impediment, my elementary-years oddness.
The Base had gone into full operation, quietly at first and then with a great influx of personnel and a regular launching schedule for the nuclear submarines that were sleeping out in the water by Crooked River, out by Cumberland Island. The population expanded by something like 20,000 in two years. They had to build a new school. It smelled like paint, and was shaped just like Phase 1 of the subdivision, a line with three lines extending from it, like an E.
There were kids who had lived in Guam and California and Connecticut and Virginia Beach, Alaska even. With the influx of Navy personnel and their families, there was an influx of new cultures and subcultures. Many of my friends had Filipina mothers, Chinese mothers. There was suddenly punk rock and rap and new accents that were almost non-accents, because none of the military kids lived anywhere for very long. One new girl came to school with a shaved head, a fringe of bangs, a skinhead haircut and a bomber jacket.
That was the year I was 12. I had started smoking cigarettes with some of my new friends, had started to like the feeling of rock and roll. I was sobbing in my room, I was laying there stunned in the morning. I refused to go to school. I was on-guard, not at ease with anyone. Only at ease by myself, and not even then. Never at ease.
We pulled into the parking lot in the mid – morning, a low light blue building, Southern office space.
“Faith, we’re concerned about you. It will be good to try to get some help.”
The rooms were bright along one side of the building, the white light of sun through plastic blinds, glaring rectangles in the walls. There was hardly any furniture in the room at all. Chairs, a wicker and glass table, some brochures. A desk.
With each test, they explained what I needed to do. “Tell a story about why what you see,” the psychologist held up a picture of a furtive looking woman, a young man in the distance.
I went on and on, creating an entire exposition of friendship and misunderstandings, family conflicts.
In a room with no windows, they had me lay back on a reclined exam chair, and affixed the electrodes around my hair line and along my scalp, told me to go to sleep. I woke up surprised that I had slept, and they told my mother and I that I do not have epilepsy.
At the end of the appointment, the psychologist lady sat down with my mother and me in one of the bright rooms. “Your daughter is very intelligent,” smiling a peculiar stretched smile in my direction. They spoke for a few minutes about how I was smart, right on the edge of genius.
My mother nodded along, “Yes. She is so smart.”
“However,” the psychologist shuffled papers on her lap, “your daughter also seems to be showing signs of depression, which is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain.”
They talked for a few minutes about counseling, about what to do if my depression got worse, and we said goodbye, walked out into the blare of sunlight and raw parking lot heat.
I felt a new sort of quiet, a new unease. I didn’t know what to say to my mother. She didn’t know what to say to me. We didn’t say anything.
I still had the electrode goo in my hair. I felt tired on the way home, crossing over the bridges.
Walking into the wood-smell of home was a sweet relief.
Nov 23 (1 day ago)
Today is the day that I am going home. I will keep driving on the road on I take to work, will go right past the airport, and on down over the mountains, drop into the flat lands and then further down still, trace along the coast in the dark, and I will be there. I woke up early, two and half hours before my alarm went off, and felt calm, a little disconnected from the reality of this trip.
My left turn signal went out last night, on the way to drop off my daughter and then go to the store. “I will go to the oil change place and get it fixed. I want to have a turn signal tomorrow.”
The young blue-clad tech shaking the car as he wrestled with the bulb. Exclaiming a few minutes later, calling over his coworker. Showing me, “See, this looks like the same bulb, but these connection points here, see how they are lined up.”
The two silvery nubs sat right across from one another, perfect orbit.
“Look at yours,” he held the two orange glass bulbs beside one another. The connector points on the bulb they had pulled out my car were positioned at an angle from one another, like 6:05, instead of 6:00, or 12:30. 3:45, 9:15, etc.
I made plans to go to an auto – parts store, probably in my hometown on Friday, because I didn’t want to try to find an auto parts store on Thanksgiving Day, when I have a Mexican Fiesta to attend and traveling to do.
At the grocery store, after paying, I had a brief moment of wondering if I should not go. If I should stay home. Get the light fixed. Write here, in the mountains.
I do not know if I should trust the part of myself that pushes up the idea that if I don’t go, I will have made a grievous error, that I will regret it, that some pact I made with myself will be broken and unfortunate (or simply null) consequences will result.
There is a little bit of pressure with that notion, that this is something I, ahem, must do.
How do things like this, strong leadings, fit into non-attachment, or being in the present?
I guess it is in the attachment to outcomes, the expectation that if one does a) then a desired b) will occur…there’s where problems could occur, attachment and disappointment, hurt over the way things are.
How does that fit in with hope, that motivation to create something, that longing for certain things to come to be?
Acceptance would mitigate disappointment, a focus on the learning and growth that comes from deeply hoping and not getting what you hoped for.
Those who believe in a higher power that works within their lives in “mysterious ways” might trust that something was in store for them, that their higher power had reasons for denying them their hopes.
I think Garth Brooks wrote a song about that once.
I have some discomfort in the thought that our ego’ed perceptions and interpretations of what God wants of us, what we ought to do, are apt to be sorely misled.
I need to go pack, ready the house for caretaking. Go.
There is so much in this life, sitting in front of a fire while the sun comes up and the day begins. With children across town, and family out in the valley, and a place down the road, and objects to move, things to do, so many people, all with their own vast lives.
There is just so much.
I am excited to go home. To see what happens.
I do not know what will happen.
I will be okay.
10:04 PM (17 hours ago)
It was nothing at all, stepping back into this house. Pressing down the latch of the door, pushing it open to scrape across the floor in a way it didn’t before. Either the hinges are sagging or the house is sinking. I haven’t been here long enough to know.
This is the dome. I grew up here. This photo was taken, incidentally, from the same vantage point as where I lay 35 years ago and could not breathe, because my chest and abdomen were filling up with blood spilled from my broken spleen.
Walking back into the house, was nothing at all. I’d done it a million times. Easy. The latch on the front door is still bent from where I slammed it so hard when I was a teenager, walking out or walking in.
I crossed into GA right at the precise moment of sunset, but it was cloudy and drizzling and low-skied, so there was no sunset to speak of, just a quick fade from dim to blue to black.
For most of the drive, I felt glad to be traveling, but not totally engaged with or excited about going home, though a timid happiness was stirring around every once in a while.
I listened to the radio and danced in the car and smoked cigarettes and drove the speed limit. There were hardly any other cars on the road for most of the drive, because it is Thanksgiving.
I got here in under 7 hours, like time had slowed down.
Right after Savannah, it hit me. Just a low rumbling around my heart, a shaky full feeling. I put my hand on my chest, made myself breathe more deeply. Checked my speed. Felt my butt in the driver’s seat, my sore hip.
Used to be that I’d have expected myself to fall apart about going home. I figured I might feel some feelings, but have been fairly committed to staying out of anything oriented around despair. Love can feel a lot like despair sometimes.
A massive joy rolled up out of me, made my whole head tingle, the points across my cheeks and jaws prickly and electric feeling, the very top of my head, where my skull used to be soft, bristling and warm. I felt my whole belly fill with this bright blue excitement, and my face lit up smiling in the dark, driving alone.
I needed to eat something. I was hungry. My blood sugar was probably low. I opened the window, turned off the radio.
I was happy to be going home, happy to have grown up in a beautiful place.
The sensations of my head about to explode with eustress subsided a little, and I took a deep breath, turned the radio back on, some random country song blaring, but I threw my fist in the air beside me anyway, out toward the empty passenger seat, “Hell, yeah!” I hollered, “I’m going home!”
I threw a couple of right hooks, just to shake off the jolt of thrill I’d been riding with the past few miles.
I thought that it’d be strange, turning onto highway 40. It wasn’t. It was the same as it was, basically. More cluttered, more lanes, but the same straight line it always has been, with pines and pavement.
Before I came home, I drove downtown, to go to the Oak Grove Cemetery, to see if I could find my great-grandmother’s grave, my great-grandfather ‘s grave. It is Thanksgiving.
It was well-past dark and though I remembered which row they were on, it was hard to remember where exactly in the long and haphazard row their graves were. I had to climb over two walls, twice. I tried not to walk over any graves, but it is an old cemetery, very crowded, some headstones only nubs, some graves not marked at all.
I am hardly afraid at all anymore.
It didn’t seem remotely creepy to be wandering around out there at Oak Grove. On my second pass along the row, I almost didn’t look at the two graves near the wall. I was sure that I had checked them before, but decided to check them again anyway, fairly certain they were a King or a Gross.
The name of my great-grandmother lept at me in the light. Bam. There it was.
I wiped off the soggy oak leaves that had piled in the center of the big marble slabs, noticed the simple inscription, At Rest. Patted the headstone. Said hello. Sat down on the wet stone, watched the wind blows through the moss.
A golf cart drove by. This is now the sort of town where golf carts just drive around downtown.
Entering the subdivision, I found the roads torn up and a bizarre mess of cones snaking through the rubble. A bulldozer was operating, at 8:00pm, on Thanksgiving. Huge worm-like hoses coiled up near the cones. Great mounds of sandy dirt were piled along the edges of the road.
There was another bulldozer back near the house, parked where the old Arnow house was, building another road.
I didn’t feel much about it, the bulldozer, the road. I just found it interesting.
I would think that maybe I’d be triggered into some outrage about the machines and the land, the gouged earth. While I found it ugly, brutal, the torn up woods and dug up soil, the machines grinding and roaring, I didn’t *feel* much of anything.
When I walked into this house, it was just like it always has been.
Warm and wood-smelling, seeming to smile in the eaves and in the roundness of the dome.
“Hello, house,” she said as she pushed the old door open. “I’m here.”
9:00 AM (6 hours ago)
I woke up early again, at 4-something. By a little after 5:00 I was running down the dirt road in the dark, passing by the surveyor flags and bright reflective flashes on the hulking dump truck that sat in whatever was once the small pasture by the barn. My plan was to run all of the streets in the neighborhood, and then – if I felt like it, to do it again, and then again. That’d end up being a long run.
By the time I had looped back through two cul de sacs, passing by only a bored – looking small dog and a raccoon skittering up a lawn, I had started to decide that it’d be okay if I only ran the streets once. My hands were cold, my head was hot. I took off the headlamp. I didn’t need it anyway. There are streetlights here.
I felt alright running, an easy pace, but not sluggish, breathing well, thinking about the idea that I’d had, to run around the neighborhood, raising the dead.
Well, not the dead, exactly, but the spirit of this place, the spirit of this land and all the people who have been here before what is here now.
This felt like something I’d like to do, as a way of honoring this place, and affirming all the life in this land, these waters.
As I curved around the cul de sacs, I waved my hands toward me, thinking “C’mon, C’mon, wake up…”
I was talking to myself more than anything, trying to find some alertness or great feeling, some energy. I was awake-but-not-on-fire, running through a boring late-20th century Southern subdivision in the very early morning.
There is an aspect of my experience which involves nearly constantly wondering if I am crazy. This consideration is largely reflexive, and is more analytical than it is judgmental.
“Is it weird to think that just because I was a kid here, and feel connected to the land that I can somehow summon the spirits of this land? Is it weird to even think about these things?”
As I write this, I am grimacing a little, both because I am cold and because I am realizing that, yeah, it’s weird.
Who is to say that there are even spirits in land?
I don’t mean spirits. I mean electricity, atoms. Molecules. Energy. Who is to say that the things that have existed within and have been a part of land areas, whose bodies and old-time forms have been buried or burned into the ground itself…who is to say that any elemental remnant of sentience or soul remains?
Crossing back by the road that leads to the dirt road that leads to home, a road with a street sign that has my great-grandmother’s name on it, I looked at the silhouettes of the remaining pines and oaks, situated at the edges of yards, at the back of the lots, and felt a fondness for them, a fondness for how familiar they are to me, the look of them. The tall trees are the same trees that were there twenty years ago.
“They are just trees.” The land didn’t feel especially alive to me. It was just a place. I ran a little faster, and imagined my footfalls, tiny vibrations, making their way down through the pavement, into the earth, the small spaces.
The wind felt good, gusty and full of river, cold. I stopped thinking about raising spirits and whether that was weird or not, and just focused on running, trying to feel good running.
The neighborhood is the most boring place ever to me. I don’t know if it is so much boring as it is deeply baffling and disgusting in ways that act so powerfully as to shut me down to any feeling or thinking at all, because what is there to feel, what is there to think.
Oh, so much, and nothing at all. It is just a place. A truck pulled to the end of a street named some made-up name. Two of the streets in the neighborhood are named for my great-grandmother, and one street, the one closest to the highway, is named for the family who owned the land before my family did, the family whose house my father took apart to build this house with.
All the other streets have made-up names. Oak Stump Circle. Longwood Drive.
The truck paused, and I was a woman running in the dark, wearing a hat, my glasses reflecting the streetlights.
“Nobody knows who I am here. I don’t live here.”
I liked that thought, but it was still odd to me, that nobody knew that I lived here before they did, that this land used to be my home. That our road runs right through their living rooms, even if you can’t hardly tell there was a road there at all, except for the gap in the trees running straight up through the neighborhood.
I had a couple friends on every street when I was in middle school. I slept in at least one house on every street in the first section of the subdivision. As I ran, I thought about the people I knew who lived there those first few years after the land was developed. I have no idea who lives in those houses now. I don’t know what their lives are like.
I wondered if it was crazy to be running through a subdivision at 5:00 am. I didn’t feel crazy, though I didn’t much want to be seen, which was part of the motivation for running in the dark. I didn’t want to be looked at. I could wear a hat and put my hair in a bun, and wear long leggings or big socks to cover the tattoos on my legs. I would have a sweater on, so my back and arms would be covered. I would have on my glasses. Nobody would recognize me, would stop their car and want to talk with me. Some of the people back on the land near our house, people who live in my great-grandmother’s house down the river two bends, people who build houses on the pasture, cut down all the pear trees, a couple of them might recognize me. Maybe not.
The chances of me running into somebody at 5 o’clock in the morning are pretty slim.
Besides, the part of me that thinks about what a good time to raise spirits might be figures that the pre-dawn hours would probably be alright. I wasn’t looking to raise anything malevolent (haha, famous last words). I had thought about what the inclination was about, what I was hoping to accomplish by this thinking about raising spirits.
Peculiar, I am picturing a male psychologist type fellow, sitting cross legged in a chair, a clipboard on his lap, khaki pants, a lot of sandy beige tones. “So, do you know what you were trying to accomplish with the, um, spirit raising? What did you hope would happen?”
There is such a taboo about things like raising the dead. Jesus Christ.
I ran down the long swoop of road that is the main artery of the second subdivision phase. Remembered once being out running when I was 14 or so, on that very same road, in blazing summer midday heat, being startled when a car pulled up beside me.
It was my smug and smart-alecky used-to-be-a-delinquent-in-New-York-City-look-at-where-I-had-my-ear-pierced psychiatrist in a Mercedes, smiling, saying he was just taking a drive around. It wasn’t that surprising that he’d be in the neighborhood. His office was right up by the highway. He said it was good that I was out running, that I looked healthy, and then drove on away.
I intensely despised that man.
It was getting colder as it moved toward sunrise, and my knee hurt just a little, my lower back pinching every so often. Another car was coming up from behind me, and I broke into a sprint to hit the corner before them, to not let them catch up to me, pass me.
My hair was down, in thin triple braids all the way down my back, like three ropes. I was wearing purple sweatpants, an old moss colored sweater. I was probably a strange thing to see in the early morning. Running as fast as I could, turning that corner tight.
I got a wicked cramp as I moved from the pavement to the dirt road, and slowed to walk, pressing into my side, breathing slowly and deeply. I was in the section of woods that always terrified me when I was a little kid. The land that had been cattle fields that was then planted over in start straight rows of pine timber.
When I was young, I would get a forceful panicky feeling in those woods, like something was rushing at me. I felt the edge of that sort of fear walking in the dark through that corridor of pines, but I could see the lights from the houses that were built by where the road used to fork, and I asserted that nothing in those pines could hurt me, that I didn’t want any trouble out there in those pines, on that dark road, that no trouble ought to visit me, wasn’t welcome.
I straightened my posture and felt more at ease as I walked past where the old Arnow house used to be, the house my father took the wood from. There was a tremendous grove of redbuds there for a long time, amongst the stray bricks and old rotting wood, rust – crumpled nails. The shape of a backhoe was sleeping there. I felt nothing.
The water in this house is sulfur water, from a freshwater well dug way down into the earth, down further even than the bottom of the river. Some water underground, a lake under the river. When I was a kid, I could not smell the sulfur in our water, because I was used to it. This morning, the smell was strong, but I didn’t mind it. I liked it. It smelled like home.
I wanted to be sure to be out on the dock at sunrise, though the sky was cloudy again. I wanted to see what they day would start out like. I walked out over the water and sat down on the cold wood, looked over to the new dock built out from near where that my brother and I had found those dead baby boars in the burlap sack.
The day would come on weak and grey, the sun just a dim silver behind the clouds. The light went to blue, and the marsh began to get some detail. The sky was soft and grey. A November morning. Even with the clouds, I could still see shapes. A rolling wave shape along the upper ridge of one of the cloudlayers caught my eye. The shape of the wind.
1:11 PM (2 hours ago)
It occurred to me that I ought to be reverent. Here I was, back home, watching the day come slow and grey. Here was the sky, the very first skyscape I ever studied. Above the rolling ridge of clouds, I saw a shape like a triangle, and thought about the drawing I had done the week before, last Friday morning, picturing what spirits rising and saying goodbye to this place looked like in my mind, a dispersing strand of triangles over a field that loomed vaguely like the sky, with a river drawn in under the layers of chalk pastel, covered up.
A dark shape like a heart formed up to the left of the triangle shape. It was the sort of heart I have thought about getting tattooed on my middle fingers, there between the first and second knuckle, one heart facing out on my right middle finger, one heart facing in on my left middle finger, little hearts that are clean edged and deep-clefted.
I took some pictures, because that is what I do when I see something I want to remember. I take pictures, and I think about how I might write about that moment.
It was cold on the dock, and right before I realized I ought to be reverent and look around, feel a little fucking amazed why-don’t-you, you are home, you came back to this place, here is the river, here is the sky,
I had been thinking about this interview with the musician St. Vincent that I think about every few days lately, how the artist was saying that it just doesn’t matter at all whether someone thinks you might not be okay, not in this day and age. It just doesn’t matter.
“I have a cowardice in me.”
These words rose up and I sat with them, knowing it was true and feeling all my reasons and all my justifications, all my explanations, rise up behind them.
“…but . . . but…”
“I have a great cowardice in me.”
Maybe that is how I will start the introduction, begin the query. It is not such a complicated scenario. I have been writing for over seven years. I have a book in me. At least one book, probably more.
Driving last night, there on I-95, I thought about the possibility that I might find my team of collaborators and that we might successfully create a book containing this story, which could ostensibly be marketed as a mental health memoir documenting the intersections of fucked up genius, psychiatry, and spiritualism, but which necessarily delves enough into my experience of psychosis and subsequent recovery to explore frameworks of understanding extreme states as a function of unique styles of cognition operating under the duress of sustained stress and trauma responses. In discussing the ways that psychosis manifested in my life, I will not be able to avoid talking about what was going on in my head and heart when I tried to prove God with pictures of clouds on the internet.
“What was I thinking?”
I will need to explain my reasoning, and share details of moments when reason faltered.
I have so much old humiliation around those times. I think that is where my cowardice comes from.
However, I was thinking last night, there on i-95, that I was bound to have to face some flack if I tell this story in a way that helps it to do what I want it to do, what I believe it needs to do. Probably quite a bit of flack. A lot of people will call me crazy, and will make fun of me. Some people will try to discredit me and make me out as a fool.
Some people might hate me.
I have read a couple mental health memoirs before. There are some books that almost every person with a certain diagnosis in a certain demographic has read, e.g. Jamison ‘s Touched by Fire, white middle class American women and their mothers. Why would someone who wrote a mental health memoir be scorned, ridiculed?
In most mental health memoirs, things like trying to prove God are written off as psychotic debris, delusions of grandeur, mania. These experiences are offered up as evidence of how truly sick one was, to be thinking and feeling and believing such outlandish things.
I would like to explore the conundrum of my experience as an atypically intelligent person with a remarkable set of life circumstances happening upon a series of expansive ideas rooted in empirical observation and a priori experience. I have no interest in considering my experience of believing I could prove something like God (or at the very least offer an elegant theory on the origins of human written language and iconic composition, or provide vernacular data to support an existing theory) as a dismissable by-product of mental illness.
The ideas I had about God and clouds and patterns in nature, about sense and language and sky-watching…those ideas are still solid in my mind, tenable. I do not know if my theory would hold up to further inquiry, but I’d like to find out.
Just a little bit ago, taking pictures of vague cut outs and reliefs of perfect equilateral triangles in the thin wisps of clouds out over the river, I thought, “Dang, it’d be nice to know how that happens, how a triangle shape can be cut out like that, how another can form from gathered clouds?”
There are so many things I’d like to learn about.
Sent: November 24, 2017 8:57 AM
2:43 PM (1 hour ago)
The warmth of the dome has a soporific effect on me. The sun hits that room all day long, arcing it’s way across the sky, heating the space up like a incubator. After I came home from running, took a sulfur water shower and wrote for an hour and a half, took pictures of the sky from the dock, sang a warbling and quiet amazing grace, because that is something that has helped me to connect with my own spirit, thinking about the times I have sung that song, various circles I have sat in, singing with elders and wounded folks, lifting our voices. At some point, watching a heavy shred of dark cloud drift down in the mid-day, I shifted my humming, to Prayer in C, a another song that connects me to my spirit, taking segments of video a minute long, a minute and a few seconds.
I took a nap in the mid-morning, woke up feeling warm and logey, dull in my mind, sort of blank feeling laying there in a sunbeam. I remember that feeling, of being tired and sort of blank, from when I was young. Warm and wilted, content to just lay like a cat in a swathe of sun. It was okay. It made sense that I was tired. I work hard, had traveled the day before, got up hours before dawn, ran in the dark. I let myself lay there a bit longer, got up, ate some bread with peanut butter, drank a few tablespoons of honey, sat on the deck outside of my room for a few minutes, wrote some more.
“I have a great cowardice in me.”
Maybe that is how I will start off my introduction, begin my query.
I needed to go to the autoparts store, to get a new turn signal bulb, and I had the idea that I ought to go into town and find some WiFi, go sit at Seagle’s or the Riverview Hotel downtown, copy some of these recent messages to myself into a document that I can edit with no Internet. I also had the idea that I wanted to get the small tattoo project I had had in mind done, here in my hometown.
I thought I might stop in at the tattoo shop I’d seen by where the old papermill used to be, but driving downtown I saw another small shop tucked into a mid-80s shopping center, beside an Army-Navy surplus store. Turned onto the street that ran alongside the building and cut through the strip of grass to the parking lot. Young man with a big ol ‘ beard, like he was from the mountains, a riot of old ink on his arms, a small line-work bird on his left hand. I made arrangements to come back in an hour.
The bar at the Hotel was closed, but the woman sweeping the floor of the lobby said I could use the WiFi anyway. There is a row of typewriters here on the bench beside me. I like this place. It is nice to know that even when the land and the dome are sold, there is a place that I could come to. We stayed here once or twice, at the Hotel, when it was the only hotel here in town.
We were having the house fumigated.
Sent: November 24, 2017 1:08 PM
[Note: I have actively avoided opening my computer today, despite the fact that I came here with the intention of writing. I have been writing, plenty. 8000 words over a couple of days. On my phone. While participating in family and community activities, and then travelling. I haven’t begun the documents that I set out to create. This visit home strikes me as a significant starting point. There is a lot I want to take note of. For example, this evening, as the sun was setting, I decided to take a walk around the old place, the little hemmed in area of land around the house. See how things look.
As it turns out, things looked weird, old and broken, in abject disrepair, covered in moss and leaves.
The old screendoor lay flat on the side porch, the wooden walkway was broken through, a part of the enclosed pool collapsed under the weight of a fallen limb, some hurricane or another. There was a massive mound of fallen and cut branches and limbs near the barn. It took me a full two minutes to walk slowly around it, filming with my phone. I don’t know why I like to do things like that lately. Probably because I am a latent cinematographer or something.]
While I was walking around the big pile of limbs, I caught glimpse of part of an old cedar tree. I could smell it. Decided I’d cut myself off a chunk of it. Got the saw out of the car. I brought a saw, a phillips head screwdriver, a flat head screwdriver, a small trowel, and a pair of bypass pruners, a sharp pair of scissors. I almost brought a stapler, but who the hell needs a stapler while traveling?
I brought tools in case I needed to cut any branches, scissors for paper. The trowel for any small digging projects I may encounter or be inspired to undertake.
As I sawed, I looked around and noticed more wood I wanted to take home, and also noticed that the sawdust from the cedar tree was a dark pink. When the split end of the torn log I was sawing came loose from the rest of the fallen trunk, a segment split off, exposed the perfectly smooth and dark rose heart of the tree, the first decade of growth.
I pulled the small jagged tears of wood off the main trunk, saved them for my dad for kindling, a holiday gift. Moved the cut log and the kindling over near the car, set them down like luggage waiting to be loaded. In the little tidal wash to the left of the house, where the water comes up high sometimes, there was an old river beaten cedar trunk, bleached white-gray, all the places it’d been cut were worn smooth by water.
I had seen it the day before, and though – hmmm – I should take that home. I like sticks. Branches. Especially if they come from a place that I love, from trees that I know. It was kind of a big stick. The trunk of a small tree. I picked up one end, sizing the length, the potential that it would fit in my car. I was feeling less attached to the idea of taking it home.
I don’t know how I didn’t see them before, but when I was standing there holding that tree trunk I looked down and saw that the tide-gathered marsh grass was littered with bones. Hip bones, shoulder bones, something of leg, an animal leg. Probably a deer. They had been cut in places, and were not old, still yellowy, not bleached, not dry. “What a weird fucking place this is.”
I took a picture of the bones. As I was edging around to check them out from another angle, I noticed an amazing twist of old root. Possibly even from the cedar tree that had stood there when I was a kid, the one I was hoping to take a dead or dying branch from, to sit with. It isn’t here anymore, that tree. However, there under a scraggly palmetto, was a root, damp and smooth and twisted into all sorts of forms and figures. I leaned down to pick it up, half-expecting it to be caught, still attached to something big under the ground, the rest of the root structure, but it lifted easily, was light.
When I was young, and growing up here, and when I was older and coming home here to visit or to live for brief periods of time. I would find things on the river bank, feathers and old bottles, once a broken figurine of two people dancing, both missing their heads and their feet. I consider those objects to be of the utmost importance, the things that I got from the tides, and they occupy protected areas in my home, mantles and high shelves.
The root will go home with me.
I set it with the cedar log and kindling, then moved it to sit atop the electric box, the dull green box that wires this property in with the town’s electrical grid. I could quite get the frame and light right for a photo, so I filmed it slowly, moving along its form. It was challenging, and my hands shook. My foot was in the first effort, and so I did it again, and it felt like tai chi, to hold my hands as steady as I could and to move my body to move the camera. It was fun.
Figuring I’d take a picture of the dumptruck in the pasture and the spot in the woods where in a dream I had when I was a kid I saw a mirror hanging in the branches of an oak and when I turned back to my family, who was walking on the dirt road with me, they were gone. There are more roads back here than there were. A backhoe sitting smack dab in the middle of the spot where the old Arnow house had been, a monstrously huge machine where there used to be a house, where now there is only a chimney standing solitary in the woods.
I looked down the pine road, and saw that it was beginning to take on that creepy feel in the fading light. “I should walk down it,” I thought, “and then walk back. I will walk down the road I was afraid to walk down.”
Because I had been videoing various segments of this trip, small portions of mediated experience, I decided to video my walk down the road I used to be scared to walk down. Such straight pines, so much burnished brown on the sandy ground, bone colored ground. The space around the trees was darker than the trees themselves, so they stood out, straight and in a line. I looked around as I walked, holding my phone in front of me. Noticed out of the corner of my eye that, so far, the video was going to just look like some Blair Witch Project shit. Kept walking. Noticed how, all the sudden, it was dark on the screen, except for the cutouts of the shapes of trees against the getting-dark sky. Noticed, also, that I hadn’t hit record. I started videoing 1/2way down the road, only slightly disappointed that I had missed the first part of the walk down the road I used to be afraid of.
The tree shapes were compressed into inspecific contrast forms on the tiny screen of my phone. I felt a little nervous, walking down the road, just my footstep sounds and the sounds of a few late-day birds, some early night insects. I wasn’t scared though.
Watching the trees in front of me and on the screen, which was also in front of me, so that I had a split view of the world, in real-size and in miniature, I saw that there was one curve that traced through the branches that looked like a snake, and that there were globs and cuts and triangle shapes shifting up in the trees as a I walked, like a kaleidoscope animation, the overlay of different branches, clumps of leaves. It was beautiful, the shapes and how they transformed as I moved under them, one thing turning into another, turning into nothing at all.
I turned back, still recording. The video was getting long, but I didn’t want to miss my walk back through the woods, especially because the light from the still not-totally-set sun was twinkling at the end of the road, a flickering point that, as I moved forward, became bigger, a rectangle. The trees whirled their dark shapes against the sky, and the moon came into view, a bright white smudge on the screen.
I was having fun, looking at the world I was walking through, imagining different ways to see it.
It is morning now. I went to sleep early, the dome a dark circle, squirrels on the roof, something moving around under the house. There are so many noises here.
Twice, I have heard what sounded like footsteps, felt the house move a little, but nothing came of it, and I wasn’t scared. There are big machines working everywhere during the day, sawing noises, engine noises, heavy objects slammed on metal. The hollow ring of brick on brick. Today, I will saw some more cedar logs, and try to push the fallen leaves off of the porches with part of a broom I found under the house.
“What is going on with all these doors?”
“Doors? What doors?”
“In the barn, in the front part of it, there are 165 doors.”
“What? I don’t know anything about any doors.” Calls to my father, “Do you know anything about 165 doors in the barn?”
She speaks to me again, “He doesn’t know anything about it either. Hmmm, who knows?”
The doors probably belong to the person who is buying this land, who will own the barn. He is in, predictably enough, the construction business. Probably got a good deal on a lot of doors. 165 doors.
That’s a lot of fuckin’ doors.
This morning, I woke up later than I have been, at 5:22, and wondered why the alarm I’d set for 5:05 hadn’t gone off. Ah, it is not programmed to go off on Saturdays.
I checked the sky for daylight, but it was still very dark.
I had ½ planned to go running again, do the same loop around the neighborhood, the most boring run ever. A subdivision in the dark.
It is good for me to do these things, this running in the dark, going down unpleasant roads, because it forces me to try to find something of value in the experience, some way of tolerating it, of not quitting. Today, I got a stitch in my side at the beginning of the last mile before I was set to turn back, and I slowed way down, but I didn’t turn around early, though I almost did once, in the middle of the 2nd road that is named for my great-grandmother, tract houses and Fords, flags and bumper stickers. So many people live here.
Yesterday, when I ran, I pretended/imagined/considered raising the spirits of this land, and this morning I briefly revisited that notion, curving around a cul de sac.
It felt silly to me. Almost something to be embarrassed of. Creepy.
This morning, I wasn’t feeling much of my audacity. I felt a little old as I ran in my purple sweatpants. Didn’t really care.
This whole season has been a process of resolving my core sadnesses and ousting my longstanding insecurities. Making peace.
Nevertheless, the doubt that undermines, again and again, has been leaching into me this morning. Sits in my belly like a goddam sinker, solid and heavy. This choking fucking doubt.
Doubt and my cowardice are bedfellows.
I have written 10,000 words in several days, and have felt good about what I have written, as I was writing it, but then that horrible doubt seeps into the good feeling, whispering, “You won’t actually do it, won’t actually finish. Even if you do, nothing will happen. You won’t do anything. You’ll embarrass yourself.”
See, the thing is, I know where that voice in me comes from. It comes from motherfuckers is where it comes from. People who have been dicks to me.
So, for that reason, if for no other reason, it is important to me that I go ahead and say fuck doubt, and go through the motions of doing this thing, in the best way that I know how, even if the doubt gets so strong that it crumples me inside. I can edit when I am doubting and have nothing to say.
I probably won’t be doubting so much as I have heretofore tended to, because, like I said: Fuck doubt.
It is an uncomfortable feeling, the doubt. It is in my body as much as it is in my head. Sensations. Feelings. A sense of weight across my chest, forgetting to breathe. My lower lip pushes up at the left corner, my heart hurts. Doubt makes my heart hurt.
She got up from where she was sitting with her back against the warm, south-facing wall. Slumped into an air mattress, the blankets making lumpy ridges underneath her. She was not uncomfortable in her posture, and the sun beaming through the plexiglass triangles of the dome room was warm on her legs. Her heart hurt a little, though. Felt soft with some tightness in its core. Something bitter, like the taste of pennies. Her head got foggy when her heart felt like this, all the sharpness gone, just vague and distracted thoughts, a rummaging through times her heart has felt like this. Such a basic human tendency, to struggle to turn from discomfort, to remember pain.
She got up from where she was sitting, and moved a few objects around, put clothes back into her bag, put her vitamins away. She’d go back out to the dock. Sit in the sun. Be there for a minute, think about this doubt that had crept up in her. Try to get rid of it.
As she crossed the small strip of yard between the house and where the bank of the river began, she thought about how she had come across those bones the day before, how weird this place was now. Creepy. So much moss. She walked her heavy heart out to the dock, sat in a square of sunlight, looked around.
To the east/southeast, there was a broad swoop of clouds. Cold weather clouds. Wisps of ice hanging up in the sky, barely stirred by wind. She saw that one of them looked a little like a fist, another like a hand. She looked for the clean lines and angles that she found especially interesting in clouds, because she didn’t understand how such a perfect line could be made with something so soft as air and water moving in the wind.
Immediately, she forgot about her doubt. “It comes back to this,” she thought. “The shape of the wind.”
There was no wind up there, so the clouds just stayed in the forms they were in, only slowly shifting, another line, a triangle, a well-spaced grouping of density and light, a graceful curve carved cleanly. “This is all I want to do.” She felt that kickback, that backlash, doubt re-ignited.
She knew that it was possible to construct a life in which she got to spend more time in beautiful and tragic places that mean something to her, to spend more time gawking around at the sky and the trees, taking pictures.
My interior experience when I am watching clouds is one that I have come to think about as a state of attentive awareness, an open, but observational perspective. Noticing what is happening in front of me, what my reaction is, what thoughts and feelings are inspired. What comes into my mind. I try to maintain focus, but let my mind drift. I am careful to split my attention between the image on the screen and the actual, real clouds.
I like to study them on the small screen, because the image – a big, big sky – is condensed, and it is easier to see some of the formations. When clouds are strewn across the sky, it is difficult to notice and to see the different parts of them, the eye is pulled in so many directions.
I look for lines, and angles. Also forms that look like something, a figure or a wing or a letter, eye-shapes. There are some compositions of cloud clumps that remind me of the points of light around the heads of saints in stained glass windows, such perfect spacing. Other groupings of clouds look like stories, arrangements of cloud-ridge figures, standing and crawling, a tendrilous arm outstretched. I look, also, for letters, ways that the angles and lines arrange themselves in such a way as to resemble scraps of written languages, strange partial symbols, pulling together and then dissipating.
“Maybe I should call it a project. Just lay the whole thing out.” She balked inside at the thought of it. However, she knew it was a good idea, that these plans and notions she worked on tirelessly in her head were, by definition, a project. A big idea with several different components.
Her audacity is inspired by cloud watching, because her curiosity is inspired by watching clouds. “If nothing else, I really just want to find someone who can explain to me how that happens, why triangle shapes form in the clouds, and at the edges of trees.”
She knows that she could probably research this, and could likely find an explanation, some physics of patterns in nature. However, she thinks it will be more interesting to try to find someone who might help her to understand this atmospheric phenomenon by writing a book and starting conversations about rudimentary patterns in nature and the origins of written human language and religious iconography.
The crowd boos and hisses. “Get the fuck out of here, Audacity.”
The woman pulls Audacity from out behind the curtain, says: “Take a deep breath. It’s no big deal. We don’t have to listen to them. They’re just haters. Doubters. We can do this. I can do this.”
She holds tight to Audacity’s hand, feeling the bones of it. Begins to step forward, feels the resistance, the holding back.
“I can do this,” she thinks. Turns, studies Audacity, who is not feeling so audacious at the moment, who is actually cowering a little, meek around the eyes. “C’mon,” she urges, pulling audacity forward, “I can do this, but I need your help.”
She knows that all she needs to do is to go back downtown, to sit in the lobby of the Riverview Hotel and to upload her 1:00 videos to youtube. To put together a post of the 11,000 words she has written, spend some time in town, write some more. Saw more cedar logs. Write a letter.
She came down to the coast to construct a query, to devise a way of introducing herself and her work which encompassed the scope and vision of the project, but which was brief and charismatic, though not gimmicky, sincere. She thinks that being direct in what she is seeking is probably the best way to go, to simply offer some information about the situation, in the form of a longitudinal multimedia project proposal, and request consideration.
I might need help creating the proposal though.
That is what I was supposed to be doing while I was down here. Creating a project proposal, drafting a query letter. I have gotten off-track with those goals because I have been documenting my experience of coming back to this place, what I have been thinking about, what I have been noticing.
However, I think that I am closer to having a project proposal created than I was before this trip, because I have a better understanding of what it is that I am proposing. A book, yes. However, if a book is created to do something in the world other than to just be a book, a story on bound pages, then it becomes a project. I could – and may – simply write the book the best way I am able, but I feel like I’d be well-served by some guidance and feedback in the process, keeping in mind what the function of the book is, who it is being written for, what the aim is.
To make a golem for a book, you must first have the idea, driving alone on an interstate several days before you go out of town. Your friend from New York City told you about golems, explaining as he brought in a bundle of sticks gathered from the perimeter of the woods on the northern California coast that one could bring something into being by creating a representative structure or object of that thing, and imbuing that object with a will that what the object represents will come into being.
“I will make a little book, to symbolize my book, and it will be a golem.” You think this to yourself, though you don’t know anything about how to make a golem, or what materials ought to be used. You forget about the idea, forget to looks for a sharp needle and strong thread, for binding a miniature book. Wonder briefly, when the idea returns to you, feeding the dogs the morning before you leave, if you should you bound the small bookform in the scraps of peacock blue leather you have in a bag in the closet?
You did not bring leather. You did bring paper though, plain printer paper. You found a perfect small box in the backseat of the car, something that came with a cellphone, a tiny flat brown box. No stickers, no printing, sealed by two small flaps. The perfect box for a little book golem.
Driving into town night before last, when it struck you that you should go visit your great-grandmother’s grave, you had the thought that some of the dirt from around where she is buried might be a good thing to add to a golem, to give it the oomph of ancestors that love you, to connect your great-grandmother to you in this endeavor, to help you to remember that it was her, before it was anyone else, who told you that you were a wonderful writer, simply wonderful. It was her, before it was anyone else, who taught you how stories could take you places, give you pictures in your head, feelings. She was a good storyteller, and you would beg to hear your favorites again and again, for years.
You almost forgot, that drizzly Thanksgiving night at the cemetery, to get the small spade out of the car, the old jam jar. You didn’t though. You remembered, and said thanks to your great-grandmother as you scooped the dry, soft earth into the glass.
After you got your fingers tattooed yesterday, you saved the section of papertowel with two small blood-and-ink hearts on it. You saved your fingernail clippings from last night, when you sat quiet against that wall in the room you couldn’t breathe in. The nails were from your hands, built from your cells. You fished a small coil of hair, pulled free in the shower, one single grey strand, out of the garbage, and used a hammer to split a piece of skull bone from an antler you found by the barn. You took the feather from a downy woodpecker killed by a hawk out of your wallet. Your father had given you three of the feathers on Wednesday. “These are some special feathers.”
My father says lots of things are special.
Lots of things are.
I walked out to the dock, and stood where my friend had been sitting just a little bit ago. My friend and their lover had stopped by to say hello, travelling north. I stood there for a minute, glad that my friend had been there, then walked back to the point, stopping at the end of the dock to pick up a perfect sprig of cedar that I walked over with a friend who cares about me.
I hadn’t made a tiny book yet. I did have a piece of paper though, that had been folded and noted with page numbers on it, for a mini-zine project I did several years back. It had been sitting on my desk since I moved rooms back in the mountains, and before that it was on a shelf with books I value, and those felted wool figures from far-away Hastings Street, a red and white striped giraffe crocheted by someone who was a dear friend for a moment, and a hat I’d made for myself, a hat like a bird’s head, its beak like a pointed bill, stitched from felt, with scraps of red linen fanning back as feathers.
I decided that the sheet of paper with page numbers would be my golem book, and I gathered all the things I’d collected – the box, the cedar sprig, the piece of bone, the feather, the papertowel and fingernail crescents, the coil of hair – and went back out to the point. Sat down on the ground and wrote a simple statement on the sheet, set a straight-forward intention.
Not asking, telling.
Stating what will happen: This book will be written by me. Stating my desired end: In service to the greatest possible good.
Folded the page and signed it with my full name, unfolded it, I put some of the dirt from my grandmother’s grave on the page, my hair and fingernails. Poured a small amount of water from the well deep below this land onto the paper, watched the ink run, folded it again and set it down into the box, with the heart-stained piece of paper towel, the piece of bone, the sprig of cedar, the woodpecker feather. Found a spot on the point right between the oak tree and the cedar tree, where one can stand to see both the sunrise and the sunset. Cleared back the grass, dug a little hole. Such soft earth.
I got the thought, out of nowhere, that I needed to include a piece of copper, a small copper bird, in with my golem book and its hosts of offerings. I ran back upstairs, got a bird that I had already made, that I had brought with me because I thought that I might work on holiday gift crafts while I am here, if I felt like it.
The sun was setting as I wrote out a small prayer on the bottom of the box, set it into the ground, covered it up, and then uncovered it, gathered a small scoop of marsh mud from beside the cedar tree and packed it over the box containing my book golem, covered it all back up.
My friend says that making a golem is a way of setting something into motion, and –yeah- it’s not magic, you still have to do the work of creating or becoming the thing which the golem is made for, but it creates an impetus, an intention, almost like a pact.
It really comes down to a couple of different theories.
The theory that I find the most interesting and worth considering is the one involving metapatterns in nature and how, if closely observed, the natural world may manifest the symbols and compositions that human civilizations associate with divine presence and/or workings, that these patterns in nature are mirrored in our written languages and iconic compositions. There are sub-theories associated with this idea, involving how/why some people may be more prone to see shapes in the sky than others, and fuzzy concepts about the metaphysical mechanics of forces at work in shaping the world. Some of the tertiary theories get a little weird, a little out there. They become problematic – untestable, speculative.
Another theory is that I am crazy, and nothing means anything. That I am deluded.
That theory isn’t very interesting to me.
If I approached this idea of mine, that patterns in nature have a lot to do with how God and gods have been conceived of throughout the ages, and have mightily influenced our iconography and text-based languages, as a scientific inquiry, I would need to do rigorous research on the origins of written language, related theories, the aesthetics of icons across world religions throughout recorded history, incidences in sacred texts that may allude to the physical manifestations of divinity within the natural world, then I would need to document phenomena that I perceived to support my theory, and catalog those incidences, as well as consult with others, specialists in the field…whatever field such an inquiry may exist within…cultural anthropology?
I would need to be open to being wrong. I am open to being wrong. In fact, for a long time, my weblog was called Prove Me Wrong.
It was both a challenge and a plea.
While I was driving to the grocery store, to buy snacks to share with the visitors, my friend and their lover, I saw another triangle in the sky.
So, so many triangles in the sky here the past few days. I think I know how it happens.
If two large currents of air meet, intersecting at an angle, the way two currents might come together in a river…? If the temperature or air pressure or relative humidity within those currents, clouds may either dissipate or accumulate near the point of the two currents meeting (the apex of the triangle)?
Sometimes the appearance of triangles may be an illusion created by the layering of clouds and empty sky?
Yeah. That’s probably it. An illusion.
(Note: I sat in the Riverview for two hours, waiting for pictures to sync from my phone to my cloud-stored photos, tried to find the best ones to add between paragraph breaks. They were slow to sync, and I listened to a white-haired man sing Hallelujah, other old songs. At least three of the songs had mentions of books, of stories. The other people in the room and I talked while the musician took a break. Turns out that I was the only person in the room that is from this town, from this place.)
I planned to come home and work out a study+research of one particular form I’ve noted in the the clouds as being suggestive of some elements of written human language or iconic composition, explore the history and mythology of – for example, a trident or a triangle. That shape that looks like what I’d call a 3, but that someone else, from somewhere else, might see as something different, a shape with a different name, a different meaning. I have a small library of books on symbols and patterns in nature, and I have the internet. It was a helpful thing for me write out what I might need to do to approach this as a scientific inquiry, because while and not equipped to do exhaustive interdisciplinary analysis of weird clouds, I am excited about seeing what I can learn. I don’t know why I wanted someone else to help me to understand why I see what I see, and how these sort of structures in the clouds are formed, whether or not it is possible that other people, in other places, have – throughout history – also noticed these particular forms. It’d be nice to be able to talk with someone about this, but I can do research, and write about that process, interesting bits of information I might find.
I am not opposed to being incorrect in my ideas. I just want more information.
The biggest barrier to me doing this sort of informal-but-purposeful survey of easily accessible information and related, but possibly less obvious, resources of knowledge is time. it is almost midnight now. I have slept an average of four hours a night recently. It’s not that I am not tired (I am tired), or that I cannot sleep (if I closed my eyes right now, I’d be asleep within two minutes). I have a lot I want to do, a lot I need to do. Also, I am experimenting with the possibility that I can train my body and faculties to function more adequately under adverse or stressed conditions, such as slight sleep deprivation.
There are things I want to do and be a part of that will require me being able to stay late and still be thinking clearly, functioning well. So far, my experiments have turned up some astounding insights…I do pretty well on scarce sleep. I don’t feel bad, I am not cranky. I feel a little more…but, I like feeling.
The other morning, when you walked out to add the slip of paper that you’d written the word for truth in Hebrew on 9 times to your little book golem box, you found that something had dug it up, left it laying on the ground, box pulled open, but contents undisturbed. You picture a raccoon, maybe a possum, smelling across the surface of the ground, pausing to smell the faint whiff of my hands, buried under the roots of the grass, pawing through, lifting out the box, pulling the flaps open, finding not much of interest, paper and dirt, human smells, tree smells, dry bone smell.
You set the folded paper into the box, brush off the little bit of mud that is on the cardboard, close it all back up, and take it inside, take it with you. There is enough buried out there, left out there. You feel good about the little book resting in the ground for a sunset and a sunrise. You wrap it up with paper, and tie it with a string. Put it your bag to go with you. Something out in the world, traveling close.
Every Tuesday for the past 3 weeks, I have been leaving core sadnesses in the woods out at Pisgah. I have been running fast in the dark.
I don’t know if am actually running fast, because perception of speed changes in the dark, everything around you sliding by in shadows.
Even with my eyes closed, I know when I am running fast. I can tell by my breathing, and by my body mechanics, the posture of my arms, the way my feet hit the ground and lift. I don’t close my eyes when I am running in the dark. There is no need to.
I make sure to be off the root – rugged trail by the time full dark starts to settle in, back on the flat trail that I know fairly well. My night-vision isn’t wonderful, and the first thing to go after sunset is my depth – perception. I cannot run down rough hewn trails in the dark.
That would be stupid and dangerous.
Tonight, I even brought a headlamp, but the bobbing light in front of me made me feel woozy, so I turned it off, and ran in the dark.
I have not run during full daylight hours at all over the past couple weeks. Early mornings and waxing sunrise in Georgia. Sunsets in the forest. Looping the dog around by the Hot Spot, down the big road, past the convenience store and public housing neighborhoods, past the store fronts and rowing machines and not-wonderful paintings. Past the people sitting and smoking outside of the old hotel, now apartments. Up the hill, racing up the steep slope at the corner, full sprinting up a hill, the dog exuberant, wide open.
I think I will need to do that run tomorrow night, take the dog out.
I don’t know if I will go back to that trail in the forest that I’ve been leaving my core sadnesses on. It’s a pleasant enough run. Not too challenging, but – overall – not too easy. The second half, the way back, is easy. The first half is mostly easy…except for that hill. I had planned to run up that hill today, even if I had to go extremely slow, a quick upward March. It starts off with a slow incline, and then becomes steep, going up the hill.
I think it is mental, my resistance to this hill. However, I know – also – that my fitness and strength is still warming up to hill running, and that I probably need to quit smoking again. I can find other ways to modulate my norepinephrine levels, to produce dopamine and raise my serotonin levels. I will not go on a psychiatric medication, like wellbutrin.
“There is an urgent call for you,” my supervisor had come down the hall, down to the basement, to the laundry room, where I was folding sheets that burnt my arms, felt good to fold. I set the sheets aside, a big metal cart with rattling wheels that I loved to pull down the halls, stocking the laundry shelves, that hot dryer smell. The dust smell of the closets set into each long hall, rooms evenly spaced, like a hotel or a hospital, a school.
The place used to be a hospital. It was still a place where people came to die, came when there was no help at home.
My supervisor and I probably made small talk on the elevator ride back up to the main floor. The lobby desk. She liked me, liked my husband.
He worked in the kitchen, managed the day shift. Made me eggs, over hard, chatted with me as I got a bowl of cereal.
All the residents thought it was wonderful that we were married. I had just found out I was pregnant the month before, just a few days after our courthouse wedding. I found out that I was pregnant while we were down in Georgia, with our families gathered for our “real” wedding, there at the place where I grew up.
I had just had my first appointment at the ob-gyn. That’s who was calling, my doctor. There was no small talk. “Are you still taking wellbutrin?”
I felt relieved. I hadn’t taken it in months and months. I had stopped taking it, because it made me gain 30 pounds in one month and made me feel terrible, made me feel sick.
Two years before, I had swallowed about 30 wellbutrin, along with an entire prescription of opioid painkillers, that a different ob-gyn had given me, for a pain near my ovaries, an internal inflammation that I was given no explanation for, only a prescription. I hadn’t taken many of them. I had a lot left.
“You know you could have really died,” the doctor told me, his face distorted because my pupils were so contracted and I was grimacing, so sick. Sick in every cell of my body. Poisoned.
I wasn’t yet glad that I hadn’t died.
The following year, at the turn of this century, I ended up in the hospital again after “the bad morning,” the era of sitting at my grandmother’s card table shooting cocaine with the man who tattooed wings on my palms. I don’t think that I had experienced a rush of dopamine in a long, long time. I understood that I could easily addicted, because my brain got such a powerful signal that, “Hey, this feels good. We should do more.” Dopamine is how we are encouraged to participate in the activities of survival. Hunting and gathering. Wanting, pursuing, achieving. Grooming. Love. Drugs or activities that stimulate a dopamine release are interpreted by our brains and bodies that this cocaine or this new pair of shoes or this Facebook like or this new date must be incredibly important to our survival, that it really is something we have to do.
“How are you?” He asked.
“Immediately glad I did it.” I replied, without any hesitation whatsoever, but a wash of bitter in mouth and my heart pounding, stomach recoiling. I didn’t care that I felt sick. “This shit could kill me.” I knew that right off the bat, one second in. “This could kill me so, so quick.”
I don’t think I ever really wanted to die. Not enough to do something that I knew would kill me. The thought of dying from a drug overdose or a rapid emaciation, arms addled with pocks and bruises, under the Burnside Bridge, some terrible thing or another happening to me and around me…this was not an appealing potential end for me to consider.
Maybe I did want to die, enough to risk doing something that I knew my kill me, like taking all those pills the year before. Cutting so close to a major vein on that bad, bad morning.
They sent me home from the hospital with a prescription for wellbutrin. I didn’t take it long.
“No,” I turned my body in towards the wall, away from the women at the front desk. “I haven’t taken it in months.”
I had stopped taking the venlafaxine as soon as I found out I was pregnant. Drove cross country with a new husband and two dogs in the wintertime, coming off of effexor.
I didn’t know that what I was feeling, such sickness and volatility, was due to me being in a psychiatric drug withdrawal process. I thought I was just fucked up, that maybe I was sick and emotional, lying in the back seat of the car, woozy and tingling and jolting, at the very edge of vomiting for state after state after state. I tried to have fun, visiting relatives in California, eating pizza, listening to music.
“That’s good,” the doctor said, sounding relieved. “Okay.”
The doctor passed, then told me that the drug I had been taking causes birth defects. I wasn’t taking it anymore, but I still felt sick.
8 years later, I would get an abortion, because I was pregnant and did not know it, and they did not give me a pregnancy test at the outpatient program I was court-ordered to go to. They prescribed me wellbutrin, which I was court-ordered to take.
So, no, I will not go on a psychiatric medication. Those drugs only did me harm. I’m glad some people find them helpful, but they almost killed me, were a major factor in severe life disruptions and disasters.
I would like to run up that hill. So, I will need to find a way to approximate the neurochemical effect of nicotine. Not right now though. Right now, I am enjoying smoking cigarettes.
There are hills I could train on near here. Work up to it. I run further up it each time I try. I could simply keep trying and then, one day, it will be done.
Tonight, there was no way I was going to run up that hill. I had planned to do it, half-wanted to do it. My head had hurt all day, and each footfall was like getting hit in the temple.
I thought I had talked to people for four hours, but as I started the run, orienting to where I was at, what I was doing, reflecting on the albatross of experience that is a day working in a state – funded behavioral health services program, I realized that, no, it’d been five hours. Actually more like 7, because even when I wasn’t doing a class or having an appointment tent with someone, I was still outwardly attending, talking and listening, sending emails while I ate a sandwich.
“What the fuck…”
I felt heavy, tried to enjoy moving through the forest in falling light, head pounding. I had decided that morning that I would dismantle a specific fear as I ran up the hill, a longstanding and especially pernicious fear, a prickly fear, that under its pervasively nuanced operations within my life has the power to completely shift me into a state of experience that, quite frankly, fucks me up.
I had been feeling the fear since it had mostly recently risen up during a conversation had in a parking lot.
It was probably good that I was talking with people all day long, because if I am talking with people, that fear eases back.
I think that part of how this works, this process of writing and reflecting on experience, is that I will set forth a statement, such as all my recent assertions that I am not scared of much anymore, and – then – a couple days later, something will arise that challenges whatever I might have momentarily believed was true. I probably, in this process, seek out challenging or incongruent evidence in some subconscious fumbling around trying to confirm whether what I said is true…or not true.
I don’t think I am scared like I have been before. I have fear though. In my body.
Someone told me recently about how to train elephants to stay in one place. How to put a collar on them that causes pain if they move out of a certain perimeter. Eventually, they stop trying to move beyond the boundaries of the collar, even if it is removed.
They just stay where they know they won’t get hurt.
Of course, there is a critical deprivation that occurs when an animal is not able to move about much for fear of being hurt. A slow, deep hurt, a gradually death of motivation.
Learned helplessness, yo.
Psychology researchers shocked dogs to learn how much it to took to make an animal scared to even try to get out of a situation, to give up.
While I had been feeling the fear – which reflexively comes up when I make small progress in my aim to be slightly more free within my life and who I am, what I involve myself with and how I spend my time – most of the day, went to sleep with it last night, waking up with it this morning, I didn’t fully feel it until halfway up the hill, and it closed my throat up, my eyes got wet. “What the hell? I don’t cry when I run.”
I think it frightened me, to find myself about to sob out in the woods with the sun going down, cold and damp with sweat. I kept running, and as the run got easier, the fear got bigger in me, edged into anger, into grief, made my throat tight, my heart beat even harder, my arms numb, my body a strange vehicle for so much feeling, so many thoughts and images, rapid fire reactions, the effort not to fall, to watch the ground, to remember that I am running.
Usually, running makes me forget most everything other than running. The fear, the body response, the felt sensations, the psychological phenomenon of a cluster bomb of flashback moments…it made it hard for me to remember I was running.
I kept going, because the only way back was forward.
While rationally I am so done with that fear, I still have that fear in body, telling me not go outside the boundaries set for me by other people under specific and longstanding threat relating to my family structure, inclusion/alienation within my family. To not even challenge those boundaries, or ask questions about them. Or even acknowledge them. To smile and be cooperative with the agreement, the arrangement. To me, family conflict and the probably – not-great outcomes that may come from self advocacy efforts within the current circumstances of power and reality that define my family, the impossible nature of the situation, in which if someone has a problem with me, it is likely to create problems for my kids…its not worth my sense of self-interested freedom to compromise the peace and relative stability within their family. While no one can take my kids away anymore, because they are too old and there is no justifiable reason, other than . . . oh, snap…other than idiots are likely to read this not as a dynamic work of creative nonfiction by a persistently inquisitive self-documentarian, but as some crazy shit that means I’m not a good mom, because I dont talk much about being a mom here, just talk about weird stuff and banal but sparkling everyday phenomenon that nobody cares to hear about, but that I would like to remember. Talk about big questions, meta-curiosities. Things I don’t talk with people much about, in my walking-talking life.
I don’t think I can publish this writing, because it is just too personal. It is my most private and real fear. It is the soft core of me, my quicksand.
Who needs it?
I don’t want this to exist anymore, this situation where I have fear that keeps me from doing things that are important to me, like being myself, not a role-parsed and segmented self, all the most real aspects of who I am a secret.
It is the time of year when I am on my commute during the moment of sunrise, when everyone slows down, because the sun is so bright, and the accumulated deceleration backs up way down the road.
It’s fascinating to me, the sunrise traffic jam.
Epic detours, such a lightness, some fun in crossing back and forth over this river. I am stopped in a parking lot, about to go walk in the forest. I think I killed some fear last night. The songs on the radio are encouraging this morning. Feeling stronger everyday.
I am looking forward to today. I love my life.