Such is Life.

The content below has accumulated over the past month or so, and – as I sometimes do – I am dumping it here. This post opens with free writing around the idea of making a zine about personal autoethnographic practice as a narrative recovery tool, or something like that. Then a poem-like thing I started writing on Christmas, when I realized that I had far too much that I had not noted and wondered if writing a poem might be a possible way to summarize a year of experience. I didn’t end up writing that poem, but another poem-like thing emerged. It’s not very good, but it felt good to write – at least parts of it did. Some parts plod along. Such is life.

Then there is a poorly articulated effort to be like, “Hey, all these people buying stuff, myself included, are as responsible for the climate emergency as Big Oil and Big Agra.” Big Oil and Big Agra and the massive consumer goods market place would not exist if we did not participate in continuing to support their businesses with our lifestyles and purchasing power. Of course, we are locked in a system of dependence as part of this neo-colonialist economy and people are blithely deluded in their realities and addicted in their motivations, so it’s not that simple.

Then there are various notes I’ve taken on my ongoing process of trying to figure out how to do my life differently.

It’s the last day of the year, and the last day of the decade. Although I don’t post often here, this record goes back over 10 years now. That’s cr-zy.

Brief Ideas About Autoethnography

In a world that most people can agree is often confusing, chaotic, and troubling, we exist within as individuals and community members through our conceptions and experiences of who we are – our ideas about identity and purpose, our motivations and relationships. 

Our experiences are shaped by relationships between economy, race, gender, social norms, cultural values, and broad ideas informed by religion, philosophy and law about what it means to be human in our modern worlds. 

We live in many different worlds. 

Millions of people struggle to make sense of their lives and worry about the state of the world as we know it. 

Autoethnography introduces a practice that supports the human process of wondering about our lives and gives us a framework for analyzing our personal understanding of how the world works. 

By offering a framework of inquiry and reflection that allows for constructive critical analysis of factors which impact and inform personal experience and circumstance, while inviting curiosity about the ways that we experience our unique humanity in relation to the larger worlds of our families, communities, and countries, autoethnography can be a powerful tool in practices of personal and political questioning. 

Reality Orientation

The process and practice of sussing out what is real and learning more about what we believe is real through observation of experience, objective assessment of events and the factors that drive them, and adjusting for assumptions and errors in meaning-making in our effort to understand what is happening in our worlds so that we don’t get spun out and distorted in our thinking and feeling about the situation, so that we can see things clearly and understand what we do and do not have immediately control over, and what we might need to do to create change in the situation, so that we can be strategic in our thinking and not undone by the enormity of some life challenges. 

Autoethnography can be used to consider any experience, joyful or horrible or mundane. The basic elements of doing autoethnography are questioning, observation, reflection, and holding in awareness social and psychological factors that influence perception of experience. 

All research starts with curiosity.

Some curiosity spins forth from a perceived problem, a need to know more about wha by t is causing the perceived problem. 

Curiosity blooms, also, from desire and delight – wanting to see more, wanting to have experiences that we think will be interesting, pleasurable, or beneficial. 

For some people, curiosity exists as a generalized state of wanting to learn, wanting to see what might happen, wanting to reconcile unknowns, wondering about how things work and always asking “Why?” 

This rough guide to doing autoethnography is for people who think about their lives, or who want to think more about their lives, who want to solve the problems they see in their lives, and to have good experiences of clarity in self and purpose, who want to understand how their lives and the world works so that they can create change. 

Some people lose their minds because they are thinking about their lives. At the very least, thinking about one’s life is usually a component of losing your mind – in that most crises are compounded by the meaning of the crisis as it exists in relation to one’s ideals and sense of identity. If a person is chronically depressed because of illness and deprivation caused by poverty and yet they hold the belief that they should be able to get up and go to work, and they have very few friends, because they are unhappy and unsatisfied in their life and are not motivated to do anything because there is so much to do and it’s hard to even get out of bed, the amount of misery caused by wishing that they could get out of the situation they are in, and out of the situation that is in them…well, it’s enough to make a person want to die, the seeming impossibility of finding a way out. 

It’s hard to think about your life when you’re crippled by fear and misery. 

As I write this, I am aware of a powerful voice inside of me saying, “What? What are you talking about? What are you trying to say?”

Somewhere behind that voice is this: “Tell them that it makes total sense that they are miserable and want to die. Tell them that it’s not their fault and there is nothing wrong with them. Tell them that the systems of economy created this world, and that there are ways out of misery, that they don’t have to be miserable, that inside of them is a gift that has never been lost, some thing they love to do, really love to do, not a habit or a preoccupation, a distraction or addiction, some thing that they can do that doesn’t have anything to do with what people want of them or what people expect of them, that they have dreams and desires that feel out of reach and impossible in the darkened rooms of their life, in the glare and tedium, the brutality of their work, the work they cannot do, the scarcity of it all, tell them they don’t have to be who they are, that they are more than their names and their faces and their histories, that what they have learned can be unlearned, that they don’t have to be miserable, they don’t have to be hateful, they don’t have to hate themselves and their lives. They can make changes. They can change what it all means to them, the impact that it has. They can get out of bad situations, but only if they survive. Tell them that. They can understand and change their lives, but only if they survive. They can be happy, even if it’s just in small moments in the midst of knowing that the world is dying and yet we try to live and to do what we can to live well as an act of justice and to address the things that have caused us harm, have hurt our families, have denied us basic human rights and dignities, have made us sick and sad, have harmed the lands we love, have lied to us and said it was our fault, charged us with crimes of survival, said our misery was ours, our bloodline, our brains, our disorders, when – really – the disorder is in our economies and in our modern brutalities, which stem from our historic brutalities. A lot of people who think about their lives want to change the world. I have met so many people who are anxious and depressed and heart-wrecked over the state of the world, people who come alive when they talk about what they see needs to be happening, what they need and what they would change, and yet the huge mess of their lives pulls them back under the overwhelm, and they retreat back into their desperation, their poverty and trauma and addiction. 

What if more people could begin to understand how ideas about value and worth are rooted in capitalist ethos of work and sacrifice, and that these ideas do little to benefit the individual in the modern economies, but that the systems of economy rely upon in order to keep people participating in the toil of trying to make a living, and if people could begin to consider the toll that racism takes on their humanity, the huge construction that makes the hate that keeps them up at night, the fear and threat of being ‘other,’ of being brown, of being white, of all that the color of skin has meant to us in our shared histories? What if people could begin to unlearn the things they believe?”

“This always happens in how I think. I start off in one place, a simple line of thought, and then I go all over, asking huge questions, making big statements.” 

Participant Observation

In social science methodology, the practice of being a participant observer involves the researcher becoming an active member of a group that they seek to study. 

You can learn more about participant observation in social science research by doing a quick Google search. There is a lot of information out there. 

If you are already a member of the culture or group you are researching, you intentionally begin thinking about the group as a social scientist, noticing how psychological, social and cultural factors influence group identity, norms, customs, and behavior. You consider your own identity and ego in the process of considering the group, and try to account for one’s own subjectivity in perception, how one’s view of things might be biased or distorted by our personal values and motivations, learned fears and preferences. 

In doing autoethnography, we are being participant observers in our everyday lives, and are actively asking: “Who am I in this? What informs my experience? How does this experience connect to bigger themes in my life and to the larger world I am a part of?” 

It might be because I am a little bit twice exceptional in that I have unique strengths and definite challenges in processing and learning, but my sense is that maybe this thing that I think is so fascinating – autoethnography! 🤩 – is not something other people would be into, or care about. 

As I work on this, I am aware of an internal voice that says, “C’mon, people aren’t going to do this being a social scientist in their own lives thing, this participant observation thing. Why should you write a rough guide for doing something that people don’t care about doing?” 

A counter voice tells me that while it is true that I might be geeked out about autoethnography because I am a nonneurotypical weirdo and a person who is inclined to try to figure things out, and am probably a little mind-blind to the experiences of others, like waaaaaaaaay out of the loop around what people are like in their lives and what’s important to them, and that maybe being an everyday social scientist isn’t most people’s jam, that even if this is a totally useless effort, this sharing of a practice that helped me to understand why I was losing my mind trying to figure out what the hell was going on with my life and with the world, even if I am just writing for me, this is still worth trying to do, this rough guide to doing autoethnography as a tool in reflection and consideration of one’s life and the world we live in. 

Even though I am twice exceptional, a lot of other people are, too. Some people may be cognitively inclined to figure things out and to question their lives and experiences and to try to make connections between what they see in their lives and what they see in the bigger world. There are lots of different processing and meaning-making styles out there, and I have talked with a lot of people struggling with serious anxiety, depression, and paranoia who spent a lot of time trying to analyze the problems in their lives and in the world, but had no idea how to think about their lives without getting freaked out and caught up in fear. 

There are distinct neurological processes involved in a tendency to problem-solve, and some people are wired to take things apart and put them back together again, to analyze and ask questions. 

A lot of people are problem solvers and question askers by nature, but might not have access to experiences that support them in learning how to think about solving problems without getting stressed out and overwhelmed and unable to stop thinking about the problems. 

When we understand how something works, we can exert influence over it and develop a strategy to change the factors that impact our lives and how those factors function (an example of this would be racial equity work and justice system reform efforts led by people with lived experience who have sought to learn about how systems of oppression work and are now seeking to change how those systems operate in order to reduce harm to the community), or by changing the power that those factors have to undermine wellbeing or to reinforce and contribute to additional harm so that we might be able to not be destroyed and can stay strong to make changes in our lives and to change the systems that affect our realities in real and brutal, indignified ways. 

(An example would be a person learning to respond to experiences that were previously harmful* in ways that reduced the effect of harm.)  

*harmful in that they created fear and emotional distress in such a way that a person’s wellbeing and ability to do what is important for them to do by their own self-determined designation of importance based on necessity and contribution to health, harmful in that they created suffering or inflicted wounds. 

It is the shadow side of the analyst to want to understand for the sake of being able to control? 

We want to exert control over things that we desire or fear, because we believe these things are crucial to our survival, our happiness, our comfort, our health and the health of our families. 

If we have a human tendency to try to understand, and a human drive to try to control the things that are happening in our lives, and want to understand how our lives work so that we can make our lives work and have lives that we are able to live within, then it is important to have tools that help us to think about all of this. 

People think about their lives, and sometimes lose their minds trying to figure out how to solve the worlds problems. A lot of terrible ideas have come about from people trying to figure things out and solve problems. How many people who’ve committed mass shootings were trying to figure things out and solve the problems of their life as they knew it at first, and then became overwhelmed and seized by a terrible and misinformed totally freaked out idea about what the problems is and how to solve it? 

If people are going to think about their lives, they need to do that with some skill, and some groundedness, and some actual information about what is going on with how they think and how they feel and why they believe what they believe. A lot of people are going around thinking about their lives in ways that are totally non-productive or that created harm-producing conclusions. People lose their minds thinking about their lives. 

Objective assessment 

We can think about and assess our lives and selves and situations subjectively or objectively. The subjective is based on how we feel and what we think is going on, what we understand to be happening based on our perspectives. Objective reality is trickier to pin down, because in anything that has to do with other humans, subjectivity is at play as a driver in our experience. 

In order to solve a problem, one must first try understand what the problem is. 

You are sick of your life and you want to die? Why? Because your family is a mess and you can’t earn enough to live on? Why? 

The world is insane? Why is the world insane. 

Autoethnography provides tools that teach people how to think about their lives and how to understand the ways that how we think about and understand our lives shapes how we see and experience the world. 

It can be extremely confusing and difficult to be a human being. We have complex operating systems. Most people have not been supported in having opportunities to meaningfully learn how to think about their lives and solve problems in their lives in effective and non-harmful ways. We do not, by and large, even know how our brains work, or even think about the fact that we have brains, and that within our brains complex mechanisms of thought and reaction and memory and learning are operating all the time, at speeds that we can barely comprehend, generating our experiences and what we know as reality. 

Our realities are informed by how we understand and define phenomena within our world, how we see events and people and the environment, the value we place on one thing over another, what we believe to be true about the world. 

It’s a complicated mess. 

Autoethnography supports the development of critical and reflective thinking, which in an increasingly complex world full of difficult decisions and complicated situations, are important and potentially life saving skills to have. 

First and foremost, I am an autoethnographer not because I went to school and got a degree in autoethnography or received certification in autoethnographic practice, or because I took a class about autoethnography. I am an autoehtnographer because I do autoethnography. 

Professionally, I am a Certified Peer Support Specialist in a southern American state. To be a Peer Support Specialist is to be a person with lived experience of mental health struggles, substance use issues, and/or justice involvement and homelessness that has committed their life to using their lived experience to empower others in recovery through mutual support, connection to and navigation of resources, recovery planning, and advocacy. Anybody can practice Peer Support and humans have been engaging in mutual aid since the beginning of time. However, to be a Certified Peer Support Specialist, an individual receives training and certification by a state’s licensing agency and contractors, which are often connected to the Department of Health and Human Services. Certified Peer Support Specialists are able to work in formal systems of care which offer Medicaid reimbursable behavioral health services as defined by state service definitions, which – in the United States – are informed the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 

I have worked as a Certified Peer Support Specialist since 2011, and my primary areas of lived experience of struggle and recovery are rooted in having a history of severe, persistent challenges in living and in coping with my experiences, which were rooted in personal history, trauma, and neurodiversity factors. I have worked in both state-funded and grant funded services, primarily as a recovery educator and providing ‘direct support’ to individuals who are struggling within their lives. 

As a recovery educator, I have spent literally thousands of hours in dialogue with people about how they experience their lives and ways they make sense of their struggles and what I absolutely know to be true is that most people deeply love their lives, even if they hate their lives, and people desperately want to understand and to resolve the forces that act upon their lives in ways that cause harm. 

Prior to working as a Peer Support Specialist, I worked for 20 years in programs that served people struggling with mental health, substance use, chronic health conditions and complex trauma. As a person who is inclined to try to solve problems, I have had to learn about and consider why some people struggle so much within their lives. The obvious factors are poverty and trauma, which are connected to race and gender, and which all tie into the cultural and economic realities that shape who we are and what our life experiences are more or less likely to involve. 

I am a person who has seriously lost her mind on a few occasions because I couldn’t make sense of the world or figure out why I felt so upset and scared all the time, why I couldn’t deal with school, why people do the things they do, why bad things happen, why there wasn’t anything I could do to stop them. 

For some people, it is important to understand how things work, and why one thing leads to another. I am one of those people. 

Some people are hyperanalytical. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s just how some brains work. 

Some people are problem solvers with a deep distaste for easy answers. 

The tendency to be analytical without tools to support analysis can lead to bias and error in analysis, or breakdown in the analytical process in the form of perseveration, thinking in circles, and becoming generally unable to think productively about problems because it is so stressful to have the urge to figure out a solution to a problem and to not even know what the problem really is, or how to get around the barriers in really solving it. 

Thinking about one’s life can be stressful and overwhelming, but a lot of people do it anyway. 

There is a multibillion dollar therapy and self-help industry because people are thinking about their lives. 

Autoethnography presents a set of practices, questions, and highly adaptable exercises to invite curiosity about what constitutes our human experience, and opens the possibility that we can begin to see ourselves and our participation in the world differently through grounded compassionate perspective taking, revising of narratives that create dissonance, and unlearning the lessons of culture and economy in developing our personal understanding of who we really are as highly diverse ever-evolving individuals and communities. 

What is doing autoethnography? 

Whether we are aware of it or not, many people make an effort to understand their lives and why they are the way they are – why we feel miserable and anxious and scared, why there is a sense of unease, something not right, an emptiness or dissonance, vague worry or abject, unspeakable outrage that emerges in the form of depression and crying in parking lots or punching walls for lack of knowing what to do, the mind a tangle of frustrations and conflicting messages and impossible situations, the body flooded with signals to fight, to run away, to hide and disappear while we smile and nod and sit politely at the table, in the office, in the courtroom. 

It’s enough to make a person lose their mind. 

The instinct to understand our lives and what is happening within them runs deep in humans, is likely woven into the synapses of survival. 

When there is a problem, we want to solve it. When we sense a problem, we want to figure out what it is. When we detect fear and unease in our lives, we are naturally inclined to address that and to pay attention to that. 

We can be scared without understanding why we are scared. We can live in fear and know exactly why we’re scared, and know that there is nothing we can do to remove the threat or escape the threat. 

Millions of people around the world are living in fear, whether they realize that or not. 

Fear has many names: 

Depression

Anxiety

Grief 

Anger

Paranoia

Autoethnography is about learning to look at one’s life and experience taking into account social and economic and cultural factors. 

Our lives and experiences are governed by innate human processes of meaning making, desire, and fear. 

In order to do autoethnography, a person has to shift into their observational self, the mode of viewing one’s life as a participant observer, noticing what you think and what you feel, being curious about experience, and taking in information about what seems to be happening and why. 

Maybe people don’t walk around observing their lives, and noticing their thoughts and sensations, but everybody is participating in their life, and their participation in being who they are and doing what they do is informed by our social and economic realities, the values we hold, and the things we believe to be true.

In order to inhabit the observational self, a person has to be able to differentiate their thoughts from the slur of conscious existence where we are moving through interactions with the world and saying things and doing things and it’s all just regular life and we are thinking, having ideas and making assumptions, explaining things to ourselves the best we can, but a lot of the time, we’re not really paying attention to thinking as being this stream of chatter and directive from our subconscious and 1/2conscious minds telling us what is going on based on what we’ve learned and what information we have available. We’re just thinking and feeling and saying things and doing things. 

What we think is often what we assume to be real, and how we feel about what we think reinforces our perceptions. 

When I was 13 years old, I looked in the mirror in the bathroom across the hall from my room, and it struck me all the sudden that I had a name and I had a face, and people saw my face and knew my name, but that they could not see my internal world, and that who I might be to strangers was not who I was to family, and that who I was to family was not who I was to myself. I just stood there and looked at my self, my features and how little they told, how my face looked blank, and it seemed very strange to me to be a person, and to think about my life, my hometown, the house I grew up in, the way I styled my hair in the late 1980s, to wonder how people saw me and who they might think I was, what they might assume about me based on what they could see. 

It’s easy to watch your thoughts. When you find yourself thinking, notice what you’re thinking. Don’t assume that what you think is real or accurate. Notice the sensations of feeling that come up around certain thoughts, whispers about what we love and what we fear, what we hope for and feel nervous about, what makes us happy and what makes us angry. 

The human experience is an ongoing construction of thoughts and feelings, sensations and beliefs and perceptions. Two people can witness the same phenomenon and see it in entirely different ways based on who they are and how they’ve learned to see things. 

Autoethnography asks the individual to see themselves as existing within and as a result of a complex intermingling and evolution of factors and experiences, to consider ourselves in context with the larger world. 

Factors such as race, social economic class, gender, and country of origin inform our identities and become the basis for how we see ourselves and our place in the world. 

Autoethnographic Questioning 

Macro Questions

How do race, class, and gender affect my life and experience? 

Do these factors influence how other people see me and what they expect from me? 

Keep in mind that what comes up for a person in considering these questions is basically a summary of their initial, surface-level perceptions of the impact of cultural factors on their sense of identity and personhood. 

Initial thoughts and feelings are never the whole story. What we think in the forefront of our minds and what we may feel in association with those thoughts often overlay complex layers of learning and belief and contradicting information. 

These are big questions. 

However, no matter who you are or what you are experiencing in your life, these factors inform what happens to you, how you are seen and treated, and what is expected of you in different social settings. 

Notice the feelings that come up for you as you think about these things. 

Feelings, or emotions, are created by stress reactions – distress/fear or eustress/desire – coupled with the psychological meaning we make of the situations we find ourselves in and what we don’t want or do want to be happening. 

The stories we tell ourselves about what is going on in our lives create our reality, and our stories are not told only by us. Before we are even born, the lives of our families and ancestors begin our stories. As our mothers wait for us to be born, the experiences they have shape our anticipation of the world, and the arms that welcome us and cradle us or roughly pass us along mold our earliest knowings of who we are and whether we matter and why we matter and what about us is important. 

If a little girl is praised for being pretty, that becomes what matters.

If a child who is seen as a boy goes to school wearing clothing that is seen as a girl’s clothing, they may be socially or formally punished. 

If a young person of color is standing on the corner and a person locks their car door at the stop sign, what messages are sent in that fleeting interaction? 

We learn what is safe and normal and what is frightening. 

We develop both conscious and subconscious survival and success strategies based on the worlds we live in, and who we are and what we do often is more a matter of what’s happened to us and what the world makes of us than it is a matter of who we really are – what our strengths and gifts may be, what we dream of or dread.

With practice, we are able to engage our capacity to be reflective and analytical in our experience. 

******

It’s Christmas Day, and warm for here in the mountains. Mid sixties, no snow at all so far this year, save for a weak flurry seen in a streetlight at night that may have been more freezing rain than snow. I didn’t go outside to find out. 

I’ve gone to my family’s house, out at the edge of the county, backed up to a stretch of protected land that is pocked by gated communities tucked into the gaps and valleys, perched at the top of the ridges themselves, accessible only to those who care to drive for a bit, whose lives are convenient enough to make them desire a little inconvenience, a little effort to get to the house. 

When designed inconvenience indicates privilege? 

It’s been a while since I’ve been in writing or poetic practice. My energies have been elsewhere, diverted to work and relationship and the ongoing task of improving the feel and functionality of the house. It’s amazing how much I get the sense of having missed something, having missed telling about something, when so much time goes by without taking note.

******

Beginning with a western wind,

rising tide, blood in the water at dawn,

after yesterday’s waves,

tense sweetness of night,

the glow by the fire we lit

to keep the bugs away. 

You counted out our strokes 

like a military man on day one…

but, that was okay. 

 

Your voice

-two three four-

got us across the bay. 

 

*********

Coulda been anyone, from anywhere.

 

With my hat on, I could have been a man.

 

I think I said I was scared, 

moving into the mountains at night.

 

This disappointed you, because I was not supposed to be scared? 

 

I was supposed to be happy?

 

There is no reason not to be happy. 

 

We almost got through the day 

without a fight. 

 

Almost. 

 

It doesn’t matter any, that fight we had. 

Not now.

It doesn’t matter. 

 

I don’t even remember what it was about, that fight. 

 

*********

In town, we lit more fires.

 

I went back to work the week it got cold. 

 

Walk to the church 

just a mile or so, cut through the park, 

across the street,

raise my hand

to the people smoking by their bedrolls, waiting for the doors to open.

 

Fumble with keys,

unlock the door,

wonder who I am to them –

me with my keys, me with my purse,

me with a home that I walked from.

 

A ride was arranged for the afternoon,

a person who loves me

to pick me up from work. 

 

I was a person with a job

and shoes that fit. 

 

There is no reason not to be happy. 

 

*********

There was a brief spring,

a month of green before you left,

creeping up the sides of mountains. 

 

We drove the same road we’d driven

a hundred times,

going south and then north again,

out to the mountain and then back,

to walk to the place 

where we’d held hands in the dark

back when we were just friends.

 

Two ravens flew overhead like a miracle. 

 

They were a miracle because they flew, and a miracle because we saw them. 

 

*********

 

I had no idea then 

that we might find ourselves in a boat,

lost in the marsh 

near the place I called home, 

before I knew that I wouldn’t know 

what to say, 

when you got the message

and it started to rain. 

 

The boat was beached

and you spoke to your sister, 

signals bounding 

with the news of bodies breaking down.

 

…and all I could do was watch the way 

your feet sunk into the mud, 

and consider the possibility 

that nobody had ever stood 

where you were standing,

saying, “My father is dying.” 

 

*********

 

That was all a long time ago. 

 

Ancient history, almost. 

 

Those time are still with us. 

 

It’s funny how, to tell 

about now, 

I have to tell about then, 

about how 

I didn’t know what would happen. 

 

I had no idea. 

 

*********

 

We found the orgy at sundown,

followed their voices

to the water in the road, the bodies writhing and clustered,

all moving and bursting through

the surface with the sound

that was at least a hundred voices

crying out for life, life, life

in the still-cold days

of the very early season. 

 

We took it to be a good sign, 

all those creatures out in the forest. 

 

We held hands and agreed upon the feeling of Eisenhans at dusk. 

 

“Everything will be okay.”

 

This is what we said, on another walk, wondering about what it might be like

if you were to die in the cold, 

wondering what it might be like 

to be alone again. 

 

I made a solemn vow.

 

This is what I do before you leave.

 

I make vows. 

 

(We’ve been married at least a dozen times.)

 

Vows 

 

One: 

I will not be jealous 

of the places you get to go. 

 

Two: 

I will keep loving you. 

 

Three: 

I will be here 

when you get back. 

 

Four: 

I will be grateful for every moment

I spend with you, 

because one day 

you might not come back. 

 

Five: 

I will keep trying

 to uphold these vows.

 

*********

We saw an owl that night we said 

everything

will

be

okay.  

 

Flew right across our path,

low and then up into the trees,

to watch us stop

to peer into the branches. 

 

The owl sat where we could not see it,

but it could see us. 

 

*********

In the days before you left,

I said I was not sad. 

 

(Most of the time, I was telling the truth.)

 

I did not want to be sad.

 

I made a list in my head, 

of all the reasons to be happy instead. 

 

  1. You are my best friend. 
  2. I want you to see beautiful places 

and to have experiences 

that mean something to you.

  1. I am not afraid to be alone. 

 

I think I was lying, 

on some of those days 

when I said that I was happy. 

 

*********

On the day you left, 

you stepped in dog shit 

by the neighbors yard, 

and almost missed your flight to Vegas. 

 

When I saw that you could laugh, 

I understood a little more

that there is no reason not to be happy. 

 

*********

I waited for your messages,

sent a hundred hearts. 

 

*********

You woke up in the desert

and I walked to work, cut through the park, avoided everybody,

sat in the sun by the garden, 

facing the direction

you might be in. 

 

There was that one time, 

smoking before a meeting

while the day moved toward sundown,

that I met a man named Christian, 

with track marks and a tattooed lady

a face almost like yours,

Perfect American Jesus. 

 

When he hugged me, 

and told me he loved me,

I would have sworn that it was you, 

that you’d found your way to me. 

 

I didn’t want to tell you, but I did. 

 

*********

I ran alone in the woods by the river, 

walked the railroad tracks

to where we’d sat 

across from the old prison,

the broken walls, the flimsy fence,

empty-headed for a moment

during that brief spring.

 

I ate wine berries, 

thought about bears, 

about how I used to want to be a bear. 

 

I am not a bear. 

 

*********

We’re silly creatures,

take ourselves so seriously. 

 

We are hungry and tired, foolishly driven.

 

Driving to work.

 

Driving to the grocery store. 

 

Do you remember how

we couldn’t even think straight,

wandering up and down the aisles,

blitzed by the bright light

the pop songs, the gleam of meat and plastic? 

 

*********

I don’t remember what I was doing

when you woke up in the desert,

all those mornings in the desert,

before I knew for sure that I would come, that I would be there,

that I would see that place

where you woke up. 

 

I did not take a picture, 

and I got lost in the dark, 

walking alone near that place 

where you woke up. 

 

*********

Sometime in the summer,

I started going to the jail,

leave the phone in the car,

walk past the cypress by the courthouse, enter my name, pass through the doors.

 

I never could quite tell you

about what that was like,

or the way that I understand freedom differently now.

 

I told you that I still wanted to be free. 

 

I want everybody to be free. 

 

Only then I will be free? 

 

This is what I think sometimes, 

but I know it isn’t true. 

 

We are all already free. 

 

This is what I think sometimes, 

but I know it isn’t true. 

 

*********

I drove two thousand miles 

to find you in a parking lot,

to walk over slickrock with you,

to eat eggs

in the places where people used to live,

but don’t live now, 

those canyons filled with ghosts. 

 

I didn’t know 

that I was supposed to meet another man

in another parking lot

while you fumbled for directions

with weak data. 

 

Maybe I was?

 

Maybe I wasn’t. 

 

In any event, 

there were 9 ravens in the sky, 

and a white bird like a hawk,

maybe a golden eagle, 

like we saw a couple of days later, 

in that Cortez parking lot,

drinking melted ice cream,

that warm day when the dog died,

back home, 

right before my father’s birthday. 

 

I held the drunk old man’s hand

listened to him talk about:

how long her hair was, how he wakes in the night and cries, his daughter that is off to war in Afghanistan, how he used to jump out of planes in the dark, was just a body falling, before he came home to be a Navajo again, before he ever knew that he would wake up at night thinking about the war, would drink himself to sleep for years…

I think we said a prayer together?

I gave him my phone number, 

and he gave me a rock. 

 

He never called. 

 

At least I don’t think he did? 

 

I don’t know. 

 

I hardly answer the phone anymore. 

 

I still have that rock. 

It’s in the box

in the back of the car 

with my cobra pin, 

the one I carry for good luck 

and for protection. 

 

There was that other man, in Cortez,

begging money for a friend, 

also with a face 

that spoke of ancestry and alcoholism, 

saying, “It’s cold out here tonight, 

he’ll freeze to death.” 

 

You were in the store buying ice cream. 

 

I gave him three dollars. 

 

I should have given him my blanket. 

 

It’s two days past when I started this,  on the day you came back from _________and I painted the walls white before packing fruitcake and frying bacon, making plans to sit by the river at sundown like we used to, on the way home from work, when we had the conversation when I said that it was dumb for humans to go where humans can’t survive with just our bodies and simple tools, that maybe the earth doesn’t want us there, in those places where we never belonged and would die quick of thirst or cold or wet or the simple gravity that defies our soft hands and long shaped bodies. 

It’s a couple hours later, and I am thinking about how I started this as an effort to write down everything I hoped to remember from the year, all the things I may have failed to note, and about how it became about much more than those moments sitting in meetings under fluorescent lights. 

(None of that matters now, writing this.)

It became about the way of words to tell a story that only you will know, that you can never know the way I know it, but how I try to try to tell it anyway.

This turned into a poem about all the poems I’ve written to you during this friendship, about the ways that this love is about the world and our relationship to it, about the people we came from and the people we meet, the things we do and do not do, the quiet times we are in communion 

with the trees and with the water, together and apart. 

It’s not a very good poem, but has some solid lines, a few strong statements. 

It’s about history. 

We have history, you and me. 

End: Today I laid the golden cloths, color of egg yolk, over the white-gone-dirty, and I wondered if that were some small triumph, a renegotiation of what surrender means. 

I wrote that End two days ago, the day you came home and I painted the walls white, when I understood without knowing that I would finish this project, which I conceived of not through thought or plan or effort, but in the doing of the thing, the sitting down to write without knowing what I would say. 

I’ve written this over the days of Yule, and all the days that came before, this whole past decade, all the years that I remember in the person that I am as I sit here writing without knowing what to say. 

******

https://www.madinamerica.com/2019/10/environmental-crisis-collective-action-mental-health-interview-jennifer-freeman/

Climate Change, Mental Health and Collective Action: An Interview with Jennifer Freeman, By Akansha Vaswani – October 4, 2019

This interview with narrative therapist Jennifer Freeman is so hopeful and compassionate, and yet I wonder how the vast many people who are contributing to the continued degradation of the earth, including workers and those who profit from the industries that drive the economy, might be brought into awareness of the reality of climate emergency and our human responsibility to change our lives and ways so that the earth and its inhabitants might better be able to live? 

This research indicates a denial of the social and economic structures in psychologically based explanations for climate inaction, and suggests that it’s not enough to say – basically – that “people can’t think about it, they don’t know what to do.” To rely on psychologically based explanations of climate inaction is to ignore the role of larger systems (many of which we are invested in and dependent on) in perpetuating climate inaction. 

The article indicates that the wealthy and the fossil fuel industry have a stake in suppressing climate action and that it is imperative to acknowledge the role of powerful economic drivers in shaping our relationship to, understanding of, and response to the ongoing climate emergency. 

It may be important to extend the scope of responsibility and accounting of invested stakeholders to include the millions and millions of people who are not wealthy, who are not fossil fuel executives or big Agra leadership, the millions and millions of people who might identify as middle class, or even working class. 

Psychologically based explanations are impossible to separate out from ecosystemic and economic forces in our understanding of a situation. We know we can’t think about climate emergency. We have to go to work, and go to the store, get the kids to school, pay the mortgage. Our lives, in our minds, depend on these things. We cannot walk out of our jobs in a climate strike. We can’t tell the boss, “Hey, man, this work we are doing? This is murder. I don’t want to kill these cows or work in this disgusting factory anymore. I don’t want to cut down that forest. I don’t want to stand in this one small space for hours on end under fluorescent lights selling people things that they don’t even want or need and having miserable little small talk about the weather outside that I cannot see or feel because I am stuck in this building until long after sundown.” 

In order to address the climate emergency, people will have to change their lives. 

Change their commute, buy less, dis-invest from industries that profit from our participation and consumption. 

Although the struggling middle class and masses of oppressed labor don’t exactly benefit from the economy – and most people know that they are unhappy and unsatisfied in their lives and even hate their jobs or can’t even get a job, but have to try to work anyway in order to have a roof over their head and food for their kids – we all keep these systems and industries going in our participation, in our consumption and lifestyle choices. 

The psychologically based explanations for climate inaction tend to hover around dissonance, anxiety, and avoidance, a pressured apathy. Perhaps the unacknowledged roles of economy and systems of power in creating our psychological responses to climate reality is that most people are literally dependent on the commerce economy, which was built on the larger industries of fossil fuels and agriculture, economic systems in which one sells their labor doing work which does not benefit them or interest them, sells their labor to create profit for an entity external in exchange for wages that are designed to impair the accrual of wealth, that are barely just enough to get by on, that aren’t even enough. 

People are locked into their lifestyles. 

******

It’s early morning and I have driven to Greenville to take a friend to a train. I have wonderings about the sort of friendship that privileges one to my time and resources in such a way. I can’t think about that now. I am going to stay awake, and try to get some work done for the day, and then go to the homeless memorial service, where they honor all the people that have died living without shelter in this town. 

It’s crazy to think about the brutal disparity that exists here, everywhere. 

Right now, my friend is texting me about population growth and food scarcity, how many people will likely starve, are starving now, while in the US we throw away tons – literal tons – of food. 

I have a lot on my mind, a lot to do. I don’t like the feeling of it – all the things to do. 

I can feel that it causes stress. My stress tolerance is probably lower today than it might usually be, because I am tired. 

There is a grant that is due. This will require me to turn on my computer. I cannot think about it, because I can feel a bloom of cortisol when I do. I will need to do some strength training before I can look at the computer, and before I can go to the homeless memorial. 

Today is the solstice. I’ve been through some hard times recently, stress issues, cognitive blitzing from too many meetings, intrusive thoughts about grants and deadlines cropping up no matter where I am and making me forget where I am, and making me nervous and distracted. 

I have got to find a better way to work. This cannot go on. 

Hahahahaha – how long have I been saying that…? 

 

******

The look of the room 

was full of New South 

Palmettos in pines, sweet blessed shade

beyond the plastic lines of blinds 

and brutal swathe of buffalo lawn 

stucco on the outside 

carpet and rush of cold,

compressed air 

on the inside 

all pale blue and grey 

pastel accents 

under khaki, sitting prim 

and civilized, fur sprayed and face made 

to be modern, educated, 

informed behind the convex spectacles

that hide the earnest child

the one who wants to help, 

the one who thinks they know the answers.

 

The answers were all wrong, 

but she gave them anyway

because she thought they were right,

the answers. 

 

A common mistake,

very human thing to do. To have the wrong answers, and to think they are the right answers.

 

“Your daughter,” she said,

“has a condition.” 

 

(Everyplace had a name, 

East Marsh, the Cut, Catfish Hole.)

 

Way back when, people didn’t talk ‘bout such things. The nervous condition. Spells.

Maybe they spoke a little, in the hush of family. Whispers and simple explanations of a person’s absence, their disappearance. Where they went and why. Gone away for a bit. Had a spell. 

It’s first thing in the morning and I slept poorly for the 2nd night in a row. I did not go to the Y this morning, but will go walk later this afternoon, after the jail and the computer and the talking with people. After it stops raining. I can feel that I am jangly, and a little heavy. Cortisol in the early morning. It’s okay though. I will get through it. 

I am going to the jail to do a listening session with some of the people who are housed there. I am facilitating. My co-facilitator used to be in jail, used to be in prison.

 

******

This morning I had the experience of being afraid that there would be a school shooting as I got ready to take my daughter to school.

She was going to stay home today, because it’s finals week and she doesn’t have a test today and so would “just have to sit there,“ and has been feeling a little sick the past couple of days. 

When she found out that it was cool w me and her dad if she stayed home, she decided she wanted to go after all, and so I was getting ready to take her, brushing my hair and letting her dad know about the change of plans and got to vaguely thinking about how everyday outside of and inside of our homes is basically a crapshoot as far as what might go down and how our lives might change based on simple seeming decisions – to go to school, to leave early, to get out of the house a few minutes late because you were scrolling through Facebook, got to work late after sitting in traffic waiting for crews to clear the accident you might have been in had you left on time. 

I try not to think about that too much, about how anything can happen, but the reality of it creeps in, and this morning I had the random fear that there would be a school shooting. 

Back in September, I was out in Big Ivy doing a listening session with the Safety and Justice Challenge grant community engagement folks, taking detailed notes until I saw the message on my silenced phone that my kids’ school was on lockdown and shots had been fired and my entire world dropped into my belly and I disappeared from the room at the community center and the people who were there and I still heard them talking, but my body was flooded with fear, and I just tried to keep typing what people were saying. 

That was scary. A false alarm, as it turned out. 

This morning, I felt real and deep fear, a horror, at the thought of something happening to my kids because of our fucked up society, and felt a huge sadness even 1/2 thinking about it, because I couldn’t let myself think about it too much, something bad happening, what that scene might be like, the sheer grief of losing your kid to a random act of preventable violence, and my heart kind of tore open quietly, sitting in the car line, for all the people who’ve lost their kids to violence.

Passing by the Edington Center, I saw a young black man wearing red hoodie, hood up, and I looked to see if I recognized him, because he looked familiar to me, and I didn’t, but I smiled anyway as I drove by, and he smiled back. 

Growing up in S. Georgia, I mighta locked the car door or stared straight ahead, even though I “wasn’t racist” (🤦🏻‍♀️) and I thought about all the hundreds of thousands  – millions of mothers and fathers – who have to be scared *every single day* that their kid is going to harmed, shot and killed because of everyday racism, and what that must be like to have live with that ever present threat, to have to send your son or daughter out the door into god only knows what kind of violence. 

It’s really enough to make a person lose their mind, thinking about how fucked up it is that we live in such a scary and chaotic world, where young people full of potential die because of this mess created by capitalism, where people are stressed and confused and have fucked up ideas about what the problem is and how to solve it. 

I took my daughter to school, told her I’d see her in the afternoon, then I had to come home and do some resilience practices, drinking cold water, noticing the fear in the body and the power that it has to shift my thoughts, breathing through the experience, and writing this down, because it feels like I am reaching out to not be alone in feeling scared of school shootings and being overwhelmed by how messed up our society is, and sad because so many young people die for stupid and brutal reasons. 

Reaching out is a way people respond to fear. 

I am trying to focus my energy toward protection and benevolence and healing, and picturing everything being okay.

It’s tough, because I know that even if everything is okay in my small life, if my children are safe and healthy and there is no harm, that other people are not okay, that really close to here, on this same street, and all over everywhere, other people are not okay. Their kids are being harmed, and they are being harmed. 

It’s all really big in my head and my heart sometimes. 

I guess I just have to pray in the way that I pray…and also to keep trying to do my small actionable parts in trying to help the situation, which means I can’t be too scared and I can’t be too overwhelmed, and I have to keep feeling and thinking about these things, even though it’s hard to. 

Thanks for ‘listening’ or reading. 

******

I will begin taking notes on this process, because taking notes on process helps me to remember that I am in a process, and gives me a way to stay accountable. 

As anyone who has read any of this – which may only be a few blogbots from Russia and China and a handful of Europeans and Canadians searching phrases for poetry or tags related to mental health – may have been able to glean, I have been trying to a) makes sense of my life and b) change my life for a very long time. It’s sufferable, really, this persistent going on about how difficult it has proved to become a writer and also to maintain employment in the healing justice nonprofit hustle and tend to an aging house that is more than I can tend to and be a conscientious and engaged steward to two young Americans, and to be – also – a person who is twice exceptional in some ways that present personal variability in stress tolerance and social capacities…well, it really is a quandary sometimes, this question of how to become a writer and to find better ways to do my work. 

It’s a complex situation, this question of life and life ways. I understand that I don’t have to write anything, or be productive in some way, in order to have a worthwhile life, and that millions of people have figured out how to forego their dreams and deepest callings in order to be happy with a life in which they work their jobs and tend to their homes and raise their families and that’s enough…they don’t have to make art or express ideas…they are fine with not doing that…

I also get that many, many people have lives that are brutal in comparison to mine and that I ought to be gloriously happy with every challenge I have, because they are cake walk compared to what some people go through. 

Nevertheless, I really do believe that it is important for me to try to be a writer, or at least to continue to write. I might do my best work as a writer. I might be happiest and most well as a writer. I might be able to help the most people as a writer. 

So, i am going to put together a chapbook submission for a contest, as a practice in trying differently than I have tried in the past, and as an exercise in completing a project that I know I can finish. 

I have a lot going on, as usual – work stuff and house projects, being outside. 

On Friday, I got paid and my paycheck was this almost laughable thing – less than 700.00 for two weeks of schedule addling and mind-consuming intensive community engagement and organizational development work. I’m seriously writing grants for 19.00/hr and I primarily get paid for the hours I spend working on the actual document – not for the hours spent thinking about the document, the proposal, the strategy for completion of the application, the things to follow up on. It’s not like my brain works in such a way that someone hands me a challenge like a grant application and I can just sit down and work on it and then get up and not think about it. Because of the way my brain works and because of the nature of grant writing, there is a lot of time spent thinking about the proposals…I can feel myself thinking about them right now, a bloom into my headspace, with a little flurry of cortisol and adrenaline at all I need to put together by the end of the week. 

I got my paycheck, and it was almost laughable – how utterly crappy I’d felt after entire days spent in intense meetings under fluorescent lights, looking at computer screens and not getting enough sleep…exhausted and depressed and overwhelmed after having to try to be present in friendship and community and family and with myself when I had no capacity to be a part of anything other than just being a somewhat stunned and inert animal recuperating quietly – and how I am supposedly this smart, good person and there has absolutely got to be a better way and – of course – there is, there are multiple better ways, and I have outlined many of them here ad nauseam. 

Instead of going into woe about the paycheck and the things to do and all that, I had a different experience. I was like, “No, actually I am going to do it and I am going to make changes and I am going to get this stuff done.” 

…and I wasn’t overwhelmed and I wasn’t scared. It was all very matter of fact. 

This time really might be different. It’s been 10 years since I started this. The last full moon of the decade just began its wane toward a new year.

Note: No chapbook submission has been produced. 

******

I’m slow sometimes, to get around to what I’m trying to say. Mess of branches and eddies, eyes cut in spaces between the trees and thought lost in the scrape along the side while the whole scope of road and pines in shadow pushes in with the roar of military plane flying over the swamp and surely making the leaves shudder a little at the crown. 

I like this space, this writing space, because here I can take my time. I don’t have to make a point, or try to communicate clearly to anyone other than myself. I can sit with all that is and let it move as it does, be present with what I see, what I feel, the curious thoughts that come unbidden, saying here, here is what you really wanted to say, all those times you have quieted down, drifted, faltered in your telling.

Talking to other people, the sharing of experience becomes this stripped down and truncated thing, unless you can communicate really well, unless you can drop your intonation and choose the words just right to maybe whisper at the edge of what it was to be there, to be a person in a room, looking at the faces that still look like their mamas, considering the world, and watching how I always think about the river I grew up on, how the sheer distance between that place and this place leaps at me in the sudden remembering of who I am, this person now sitting in a room talking and listening to people talking and listening under fluorescent lights. 

There is always too much to do. No person knows the landscape of lists and measures and messages and images and paper and post and things to follow up on that exists in my head and in my body, the tremors of sheer overwhelm that come up when I remember who I am and what I am supposed to be doing in the midst of everything I want to be doing and many things I need to be doing but am not doing because of the other things that need doing. 

It’s crazy to think that I am a person who needs to spend time alone in order to write out her thoughts about her day and have the freedom to rant away or ramble off if she chooses to, that I am a person who forgets who I am and what it feels like to really be me, to be at ease and whole in myself when I spend too much time in a half-frozen and performative state that moving about in the world of work and spaces full of cars and tasks that my body doesn’t want to be doing. 

So much of modern living requires the overcoming of one’s instincts and bodily needs, the needs truest to the uncivilized self. 

Which means to exist in non-offensive ways in relation to other people and their concerns.

As I write this, I am aware of a sense of deeply feeling the irony of ‘civilization’ being wrought in most impolite and incourteous genocidal and culturicidal ways upon masses of people in colonized lands and in colonized economies and societies, societies in which the economic system is based upon dependence and compulsory participation in the commerce and industries which benefit the colonizing body (corporations and governmental powers) to the detriment of the exploited and colonized population, and the enormity of the possibility that we who are living in the United States are living in a colonized society, a society in which the practices and purposes that built it cannot be separated out from the operations that we consider to normal and acceptable as ways of living, despite the similarities between conscripted undesirable labor as a requirement of having access to resources which meet the most basic needs of living for individuals and their families – such as housing and food and medical care – and economic arrangements like sharecropping, “here, you pay us to work this little piece of land, you give us a portion of what you earn, and we will let you stay on the land, work the land. It’s not your land.” There’s a leap there, because – really – the economic arrangements of wage earning in whatever job you can find and maybe if you’re lucky or privileged you can do work that suits you, work that you enjoy and that is meaningful, and that maybe you earn enough to live on and can have a life that suits your needs and preferences, but you still have to work, you still have to earn wages to buy all of the things that you have learned mean having a good life in America, despite the fact that people are depressed as fuck and the world is going insane, or maybe you work some shit job that is disgusting and offensive to ones dignity or conflicting with ones values or requiring of one to simply shut down who they are, their instincts and boundaries and personal will, how they feel and how they think about the reality of what they have to do just to try to earn never-enough money to keep a leaking mold infested roof over the heads of their children, their children who they never see and can’t connect with because they are always trying to work and are so tired from work that they are not able to inhabit their humanity or to feel their heart because if they did, they might completely break down or explode…I mean, that’s really nothing like sharecropping, in terms of the details of the arrangement, but something of the same cruel requirement to participate in something far less than ideal, something that makes no space for your need to rest and to connect with who you love and what is most important to you in living, that pays a meager wage in exchange for ones freedom to even inhabit their own deep humanity and to explore their unique human potential, an arrangement that makes machines out of men, instruments to perform a task that the instrument has no interest in performing and which may, over time, be damaging to the instrument. 

I guess I better get ready to go to work. 

******

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve written.

That’s not true – I write pages and pages everyday. Grant proposals, project narratives, emails about memorandums of agreement and grant consultation. I’ve made flyers and phone calls and launched campaigns. I have written out lists of pros and cons in helping other people make decisions. 

On the day before thanksgiving, I drove down to the Congaree with my friend, having made plans to have a meal with family on Sunday. Some of the biggest trees on the east coast live in that park, which exists because of human advocacy to protect the forests and waters there from human industry. 

That night, on Wednesday, we slept without a tarp at a campsite near the park entrance. The early night of late November makes it difficult to get on the water after a day of driving. The fire was slow to stay lit, and my friend made walking sounds over in the dark pine and brush near the campsite, looking for wood. I breathed like a bellow and watched the air from my lungs turn to flame in the week embers. There was little wood to be found, my friend reported, breaking sticks to tuck into the nest of charred branch and red glow. I wanted to walk into the pines at night, to see the flash of spiders’ eyes underneath the leaves, to move around in the woods, to look for fire fuel in the night.

I didn’t expect to find much, because my friend is good at finding wood, but there were branches dead, down, and dry – or at least dry enough – tucked all through the woods, and I felt lucky to see them, to be able to bring them back to our fire. To emerge from the woods with a hefty armful of pine and brittle oak was a good feeling. 

Later, I went back into the woods for more branches, tired and growing ambivalent about staying up to have slow conversation in the fire that we had patiently tended and fed until the bed was hot and the fire more steady. My headlamp casts only a weak glow, like an old, dim flashlight, a pale circle of light right at my feet, making the dark even thicker around me. I might have been leery of spiders at some point in my life, but I loved to see their tiny bright eyes reflecting back at me from the ground, and felt happy to think of their lives on the ground, in the trees. 

There wasn’t much wood on the ground where I walked, bending to pull at soft still-rain-damp limbs that had fallen much too long ago to burn, wood that would never be entirely dry again, that crumbled and split under the light pressure of my fingers, that held to the ground when I pulled a little, already becoming part of the forest ground at the base of the tree they fell from. 

I wanted to find wood, and moved further from the campsite, toward the break in the trees at the edge of a marsh I couldn’t see, stepping high over the smilax and tangled of low brush, trying not to make too much of a racket with my movements.

It was almost like a voice in me, the idea that I should walk off to my right, turn and cut back semi-clockwise. “Go over there,” the idea said to me, in a way that didn’t quite feel like thinking, and I moved in that direction with a curiosity, stooping smoothly to pick up the branches and limbs that I began to find as I moved into a place where a great wind must have blown, where the branches from the pines were all over the ground, with a fine limb of some hardwood laying at the edge. It felt like a present, to find all that wood. Like the forest had said, “Here, I’ll show you. Go over there.” While I broke the hardwood into sections small enough to carry, I felt thankful, and said in my head – in a way that didn’t quite feel like thinking – thank you. 

It seemed like the right way to go, to go right instead of left when the creek split like a tuning fork. The path of the blue line on the map tended south/southeast, and I knew there were marshes and a lake and a smaller blue to the north, could see the map in my mind, in simple park service graphics and satellite image. “We should go this way,” gesturing with my paddle and a nod. ”Eh, I think we should go this way,” my friend checked the map on his phone, and I liked when he said, “No, you’re right, we should go this way,” beginning to turn the canoe. 

The creek narrowed and trees lay across the water. Cypress knees poked up through the black water like stubborn spectators as we angled the boat and pushed off of banks, pulled ourselves under the trees when there was clearance, hauling the gear and dragging the canoe through the woods when there was not. I found a turkey feather on our 5th portage, and we stood very near some exceptionally large trees, trees that have been standing in their place in the swamp since the days of the Congaree and the days of the runaway slaves, perhaps feeling the trembling of the forests falling near it during the clear cuts, sensing the fire across the creek in the heat upon leaves, the currents of heat in the air. 

I bet a forest on fire makes a tremendous and terrifying roar. So many crackings and howlings, great stirrings of the burning ground as trees fall. 

We did 7 portages within a mile on that section of creek where we took a wrong turn. The longest was 3/4 of a mile when we realized that we had not, in fact, gone the right way, and were no longer on the paddle trail. “The river may have changed shape,” my friend said. “The GPS track might be wrong.” We walked to where there was a lake on the map, and found a broad spot on a creek, a flock of grackles flapping and cawing in the trees across the water, their wings making a great whoosh when they moved en masse from tree to tree. 

The sound of grackles lifting by the hundreds is almost the sound of a fire taking air. 

There is no fire allowed in the backcountry, for good reason. “Should we make a fire?” We both asked like we knew we wanted to, the cold light from headlamps seeming a little flat, a little grim as we set up camp. It was early still, and yet dark. We would make dinner in the dark. We would sit in the dark. The air was cool, but not cold. My feet were soaking wet, from walking through a creek to the south of the lake because there was no other way to cross it. 

“What is the moon doing?” I felt briefly hopeful for a full moon, and wondered why I had no idea what phase the moon was in. It seems like something I should know. Like I should know whether the moon is full or waning. 

”It is almost new, a tiny crescent.”

“Hmmm…” We both looked around at all the branches laying over the hog-softened ground, and shined our lights up into the trees to see whether branches were low or lofted. There is a lot of open space in some places in the swamp, places between big trees, where the air is open all the way up to the sky. 

She can’t expect people to understand, her boss, her co-workers. “See, I am going through a thing, a thing where the cars and the buildings, and the lights and the screens…it all seems strange to me, not like real life, and yet I know it’s real, that this is the day and this exists, this building exists, this meeting exists, this meeting in which I am trying to explain to you why I am requesting another week off, just a few weeks since I got back from being off for three weeks, why I feel like I need to do that.” 

“I can’t expect you to understand why I want to go be outside, why I want to stay home, why I want to not have to work for a few days, again, to not have to be in town.”

Since she has gotten back to town, the haiku in her has slowly dried, withered, become fragmented. There is haiku everywhere, surely. The cold of the rail, the close of the door, the glare of the lights. It’s easy to make five syllables with one syllable words. Simple.

Her mind has felt tired. Glutted up with simple communications, jangled with the noises of town. 

She can’t expect people to understand these things. 

She knows that showing up is an act of solidarity. 

Is it the fact of almost-winter, the cold bite of outside and the early dark days, that have stunned her thinking, made her feel so weary lately. Yesterday, climbing to nowhere at the YWCA at 6:05am, she watched a lecture by a professor on the topic of depression. 

‘Am I depressed?’ 

‘Have I been depressed so long that I have gotten used to it, that the feeling of not really wanting to do what I am supposed to want to do, of not really feeling excited about what the day offers, numb and a little flat at the edges, moving but not in flow, a reluctant energy, a lack of delight, has that become normal for me?’ 

She knows that she would likely meet clinical criteria for depression. This makes sense to her. She does not think it is a goal of hers to feel well within a life that doesn’t suit her, and yet she has to wonder if she were less situated at the depression/hypoarousal point on the continuum of experience she might be able actually get her life moving more solidly in the direction of transition. 

It is possible that she is having a really hard time, and does not even know where to begin in getting right. 

The other day, she talked with her friend on the phone about a dream he’d had of a cabin with a name of no-quit, and about writing and the prospect of being able to go somewhere only to write and to live in the daily necessities of living – food and warmth and movement and rest – outside of the spaces of towns and people, traffic and buildings, away from the anthropocentric world. As they talked, she felt a big quivering inside of her chest and in her belly. She wanted that, a place far from town with nothing to do but write and live. Something in her lurched sobbing toward that, but she didn’t cry. She noticed that she wanted to cry, but she did not cry. 

She wanted that so bad. Standing in the bathroom, after spitting out her toothpaste getting ready to go to work, talking with her friend, the house chilly except for in front of the stove, the red glow of fire, she realized that the idea of that – to go and just write – would not be such a bizarre thing for her to do, given the person she is. 

Yet, she understands that in her life, the idea of her transitioning out of her life as a wage earner in service and being in service by writing and by allowing what is in her to say to work itself out and find its voice, to confront itself and tell itself…it seems far fetched. 

She spent time last night working on project descriptions for her project overview website. The idea is to have her work portfolio’ed as broad project areas, with ways she is in service outlined and offered. The projects are learning projects and projects in development, and so the portfolio spaces will be evolving. Thus far, the projects are Community Recovery Inquiry, Crisis and Recovery Consultation, Creative Development and Resource Strategies, Autoethnography and Poetry 

These Project Areas should adequately frame the different ways I work and the work I am interested in doing. I may get some training and add transcription services to the mix, with live transcription and Participatory Documentation services available. It is exciting to me to think about how to describe this service. 

As a trained listener and individual with the ability to type quickly and to recall what was just said in near verbatim text, while noting also the process of dialogue, Faith Rhyne is able to capture meetings, focus groups, and other events of interaction as they unfold and can create a strongly representative reflection of what was said by whom. While it is difficult to record spirited dialogue and expression verbatim, Faith makes an effort to especially note people’s personal stories as they are told. 

Traditional transcription of audio or visual recording is also available. 

Participatory Documentation is the facilitated process of participants reviewing Live Transcription documents and offering reflections on what was captured, as well as offering feedback on the experience of participating in the event that was documented and on the experience of reviewing documentation, if they so choose. 

Note: Nothing further done

******

Hahaha ^ yes, the comforts and desires are relative. 

😌 I really am a sucker for beauty. Like, to be able to see the ice on the frozen canes and grasses, last summer’s blackberries and phlox, to hear quiet except for the sounds the living things make, scrape of branch, my own breath…such a tremendous beauty…like, I just can’t get *that* in town…I can get it in moments, lulls in the traffic noises, a few steps away from the conversation, near the thin patches of small wild that are tucked between streets, at the edge of town…

The other day, on tunnel road, I had the understanding that I really just don’t want to be around any of this, and I asked out loud “what if I get to a point where I just can’t deal with the traffic and don’t want to go around all these shops?” And——, who I transporting to the mall, said, “well, it would make sense. You grew up in the woods.” 

And maybe the part of me that is so resistant, that is so reluctant to go and do what she ‘has to do’ just doesn’t want to be around all the cars and buildings, doesn’t want to be in those environments?

There is always a voice in me that says “tough shit. People have to live how they have to live, have to live where they have to live. Your life is golden, stop complaining.” 

…and then the part of me that wants to be outside and hates cars and fluorescent lights, the part of me that *will never adapt*…it sulks because it cannot pitch a fit, sulks because i have to go work. 

I understand that…by barring I meant taking into account and holding-for-possibility of…and that the coyote/forces may not want me to have that sort of life and may create other paths…so, barring the action of the coyote, maybe things will work out as I want them to…and by appeasing, I meant respecting and not provoking by hubris and assumption of my power or wisdom. 

So, as this relates to divine vocation – I have had so many thoughts about discerning the ego-interpretation of vocation, or what we think we ought to be doing based on what we believe we want to be doing…and how slick our thinking can be, to the extent of being willful to the point of delusion…when circumstances and leanings are clearly setting a person up for a different path…And the ways that we are such complex creatures and have so many competing or conflicting inclinations, w many illusions. 

Well, I have a lot of them. It’s not like drive-thru drop everything thoughts on demands here. 

…but, I was thinking this morning about how there is this pretty consistent theme re: ‘working for justice’ that has been present in my life and consciousness for a long time in different ways…and I think about how I *want* to be ‘away from the mess of society and I want to be outside and pursuing my own peacefulness’, haha, 🙄etc….and yet have this gnawing *knowing* that there is something very *right* about me doing transformative justice type work, or speaking about/writing about human and environmental justice issues…and I feel that rightness and congruence when I am doing work toward things like contributing to the ways jails are thought of and used or talking about healing justice and economic justice…like it makes something in me comes alive…and I wonder if maybe there are forces in the world that want me to be doing justice work in some way, and if me wanting to be able to ‘walk away from it all’ and just write poetry or something is me being willful and unreceptive to what the world is asking of me by putting me in the positions that circumstance and serendipity have landed me in…there are lots of different ways to ‘work for justice’ though and maybe my way involves poetry and contemplation, participating in processes of transformation, and then stepping away from that world entirely…haha, who knows? 

It’s hard to discern what the world wants of you, and it’s questionable as to whether the world wants anything of us. 

If it does want anything of us, it probably has something to do with what creates that feeling of congruence and purpose and rightness..

But trying to figure out what is generated by my own idealistic narratives about what I believe i want and/or deserve and being humble in acknowledging the value and potential purpose of where circumstances land me…it’s a process…

******

What she meant, when she wrote that there is solidarity in staying alive no matter how difficult and painful and thoroughly less than ideal your circumstances may be, even if they are gruesome, and you want to die every day, is that in staying alive we honor the people whose lives might be far worse off than ours, who might be living through something similarly terrible or even worse than we can imagine, and that by staying alive, we might be able to find a way to help the situations that create suffering, or to at least be beside people in the struggle.

The ones who decide to stay alive, even when they want to die, assume a personality  responsibility to try to Live and to find things worth living for, and a larger responsibility to find the things worth fighting for. 

There is no shortage of things worth fighting for. 

It’s like our individuals lives are so bound up with the world we live in. If one person stays alive and finds the things that bring them light and strength and learns about the things that cause harm, that alone could save more lives than we will ever know, reduce more suffering, just by showing up and being in the life that one has made after they decided that they no longer wanted to live a life that made them want to die, just by showing up and being a person who is in their light or in their strength or even in their struggle still, but trying…and with a little light. 

When people decide to live because one day their being alive might really fucking matter to someone, they are in solidarity with all of the people who struggle to live and with all of the people whose lives are far more brutal.

That is what she meant, when she said that living is an act of solidarity. 

She woke up early, as usual, though not so early as most days. Her body felt like a tired, heavy thing, with no movement in it, no vigor, no desire to be in action. Her mind was the same, sluggish and without pull, no traction in her thoughts, a dull and thwarted resonance in any idea that she tried to muster energy around, trying out the possibilities of the day, going through the list of things she ‘needed to get done,’ to see if she felt like doing any of them, if any of the things on the list of things to get done felt like the right thing to do. 

They didn’t. She had no energy for any of it, didn’t want to do a thing on her list of things to do. 

There was a slight tremoring of interest around painting a sky on the ceiling of the room upstairs, but it was not deep, this tremoring. It did not come from her gut, but from her head in the thought that maybe if she tried to make something beautiful, she would find herself in that small state of Grace, the seamless drawing of steady hand to surface. Sometimes, when she makes art, she has the sense that the spirits of the world are pleased with her pleasure, that her own spirit is bright and clear, happy as a child at home drawing horses at the kitchen table. 

She thinks that whatever she might do that creates beauty in the world is tied, somehow, to this sense. It frightens her to consider the possibility that she – like some artists do – might lose her ability to inhabit that sense, that she will atrophy, forget – eventually – that she was an artist, forget – even – the sense. 

Waking up, she had none of this sense in her, was only a weighty configuration of sinew and bone, dull pulses, a tired animal that wanted none of the animal wants, wanted only – it seemed – to lay, to rest, to sleep. It did not want to run, or to eat, or to mate, or to be around any other animals at all. It just wanted to rest, alone, and not be asked to do anything, or to have to do anything. 

Surely, if the animal were hungry, it would get up. Surely, if the animal had to move, it would move. 

(I did not feel tired like I felt tired day before yesterday, and yesterday, when I was in the desert, not often, because I knew I had to move, to walk, because I was hungry. Food is amazing when a person walks all day. Here, the food is right in the kitchen, less than fifty steps away. There is no real hunger. I am fed, and tired.) 

She is tired from work, she recognizes, sitting in the old chair that was red and then green and is now blue, that once belonged to her great-grandmother, because she is from a family that holds onto to things like chairs, from a family that has things to hold onto, and places to hold them. Sitting in the chair, in front of a fire made by the combustion of pelletized pine, she considers all the things she is ‘supposed’ to do to keep her loose-held wage-earning position with the nonprofit. She is tired from the week, from the meetings, from having to force her mind to work when she said work, when she had work to do, emails to write, grants to finish, meetings to attend. Listening and considering things she does not see as deeply and immediately requiring of her participation or need-for-knowledge, communicating carefully her perspective, the perspectives of others. 

The house was empty when she woke up tired and there was nothing immediately demanding anything from her, save the old orange cat that eats and quiets, meows in the well-practiced way that he had taught her to respond to, the way that gets him fed.

The place is quiet except for fire noises, the whoosh of hot air. She doesn’t have to do anything, and feels a little sheepish about that, about her sulking, her tiredness. She knows that people all over the world are tired. They wake up tired and they go to work. She does that most days. 

At least she doesn’t have to work in a meat processing facility, or the Department of Motor Vehicles office, or one of the giant box stores at the edge of town, some squalid greasy kitchen where the voices are always barking orders while pop music plays in the lobby, or some job where she has to put together endless, pointless parts for products she neither uses, nor cares about, or even believes in. She couldn’t do it. She knows she wouldn’t be able to. Despite all her tricks and all her efforts, all the ways she tries so hard to find beauty and meaning and peacefulness in simply being, she could not do it. Maybe she’d get used to the loudness, the brightness, the tedium, the smell, the feel of the body sitting or standing all day, the scent of the uniform, the fluorescent lights. Surely, she’d get used to it – adapt, become accustomed to what the day asked her to experience and to cope with, have to cope less and less, become numb to it as a way of surviving. She would adapt. She knows she would adapt, by some process or another, and she knows – also – that peacefulness and lightness of human spirit can be found in many terrible situations that go on and on in their harms and stressors, that stressors can be mitigated, can become non-stressors, can become opportunities for perspectives of peace and equanimity, appeals to the self that cannot be harmed by any everyday brutality. 

She knows that people all over the world have a strength of spirit that allows them to cope with what they have to do in order to survive within their societies, and that people have such grace as to be deeply grateful for a simple job, the most meager of paychecks, the most gruesome of ways to have to earn a living, that people make sacrifices, grace sacrifices, life/death sacrifices, just to try to earn their way, to get a little food for their family. 

She thinks, though, that she couldn’t do it. That she would rather die than live in brutality. 

She knows that isn’t true, that in living there is some solidarity, and in trying to live and to not forget all the other people who are living there is some allyship. 

She thinks, she knows. It goes on and on. 

It is two days past the morning when she woke up tired, two full days of not getting much done, and contemplating the feeling and reality of that, with an edge of overwhelm and urge to retreat, pressing dull tiredness in every move. She ran 7 miles the morning she woke up tired, hoping that it would wake her up, and it did for a little while, and then she became tired again, very tired. 

She went to bed at 6:30 last night, not even caring to talk with her friend in the mountains via text, only wanting to lay in the dark and be quiet. 

She has got to take better care of herself. It’s two days past the tired morning and the day after she went to sleep so early. She still doesn’t feel quite correct. Something is amiss. She is writing because she is trying to find it, sat down to recount the days, figure out where she is with it all, what she needs to do, where her energy is. She doesn’t need to write – she needs to move. 

She doesn’t know what direction to go in. Start anywhere, she tells herself. Go paint the fucking ceiling, if nothing else. 

Just move. 

 

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