We’d wave at the train, the 501 engine
closing the road on the way to school,
open beds, stacked pine bodies,
“that’s the smell of money,”
men would say,
long after it was clever.
Richly acrid, sulfurous,
a grey-white fart blooming
over the intracoastal
from the broke-pipe intestines
a building that eats trees,
turns them into toilet paper,
brown bags to hold the groceries,
white bags to hide prescriptions,
gifts for the sick and grieving
We’d wave at the train, the 501,
morning light, a lucky day,
to see the train on the way to school,
to not yet know
that there was anything perverse
about its passengers
laid like the dead
It’s been a few days since I wrote anything at all, other than a couple brief beginnings of things that I did not finish. My avoidance (of being awake in general and basically everything I ‘need’ to do, but like actually need to do, in order to both keep my daily life going, and also to move forward and not just continue this slump toward yet-another so-called failure, a failure that actually is a failure) has been noticeable, acute anxiety that doesn’t even surface to my knowing, but quickly and effectively, calmly and thoroughly shuts my mind down, like I can’t even form a sentence, subtle waves of utter humiliation lap at the edges of this silence, a confirmation of my inefficacy – a fact I don’t believe, but still feel.
I understand that the only real way to counter this state of immobility (like srsly, I find myself at least 10 times a day frozen in a semi-catatonia except who really knows what catatonia feels like from the inside, whether or not me forgetting I even have a body and just being stuck watching the leaves on the trees without seeing much, transfixed by the unspooling of disparate thoughts and images that burst and puddle and pool in mind, sensations of near breathlessness, breath shallow, hypoxic because I forget I have a body and so forget to breathe) is to move around, do the things, begin the doing, and yet it is like a massive weight – no, not a weight – almost an absence of a weight, an immateriality in my existence as a creature of will and agency, a lack of substance in the strength of my hands and in the damp firing of synapses, no snap, no crackle, no pop…maybe I should start eating breakfast? Maybe I should start running again. Probably.
Here’s the thing: everything changed. Not true, Faith – not everything, not you. You haven’t changed at all. How many times have you done this, let a perfectly good life go to rubbish out of awkward, exhausting avoidance?
If you are going to make this time different, go ahead and do it. Defy the odds set by yourself in all your failures, and get shit done.
That’s the funny thing about this sense of anxiety/avoidance – it’s like not even directed at any particular thing. It’s a globalized sense of dread and overwhelm that muddies what exactly I have to do.
It’s really foolish that I don’t make to-do lists.
Wouldn’t a person who knows they have a very difficult time, ahem, managing their time make a fucking list, keep moving, not just fritter away the days in doing the bare minimum to show up, interspersed with the sweet refuge of naps, a different consciousness entirely.
Maybe today I will do things differently, as an experiment. It’s really very difficult inside my headspace, like a big sprawling tangle. It’s entirely possible that my brain needs rehabilitation, rest, reset.
That wouldn’t surprise me, after the prolonged acrobatics and coping and forcing of this past year.
How many times can a person recover and reset before the basic function is impaired, irreparably bungled?
I don’t think anyone is irreparably bungled, as even profoundly brain damaged people can be rehabilitated to some extent, though I suppose there are accumulating limitations and intransigent damage.
It’s probably important to remind myself that I am a person who – many times over – was diagnosed and treated as having a severe persistent mental illness and whether or not I agree the etiology ascribed to my struggles with the human experience in America in the 20th/21st century, its true that I have had a hard time and that – logically enough – the fact of my hard times and the ways that I have had a hard time do probably make me more vulnerable to impairment, as well as to a death that may come 10-25 years earlier than it perhaps would have had I not had such a hard time, so many times.
So, I was saying something about a to-do list and then remembered, speaking of dying young, that my friend Hoffman died young on May 8th, tho I didn’t know about it until the end of May, an email from his mother, brief and apologetic tho it was her that had lost her second son to some variant of madness. “The medication didn’t work anymore.” This was all she said, and I don’t understand what she meant. I need to write her back. I might have done that already.
Example A of why I ‘can’t get anything done’:
(Factors that contribute to the narrative of inefficacy and its functional outcomes)
I was thinking I need to pull together the documentation of my friendship with Hoffman – which is vast (the documentation and possibly the friendship) – an add it to my autoethnographic projects on the website that I have only worked on minimally – uploaded photos, created galleries. It’s a lot of uploading, a lot of going through old content. So, I was thinking about the to-do list and about Hoffman and autoethnography, and went inside briefly to get an energy drink because I seem to need about 700mg of caffeine – okay, fine – 1,000 probably, with the 2 pills of 200, the coffees and energy drink…hahahaha, no wonder I’m anxious, but srsly, I have no trouble sleeping at all and can fall asleep right after I drink a Red Bull, go back to bed after I take a caffeine pill and feel just as relieved to ‘succumb to sleep.’ I went inside and immediately forgot I was getting a drink, and paused to tell my 18 year old that I was going to make a to-do list, to which he looked amused because how many times has he heard that? Then my mom called and I wandered upstairs to talk on the phone and take a roll of toilet paper to the bathroom, and Bandit the cat was at the foot of the bed, cleaning herself before she sleeps all day, and she let me play with the paws of her feet, some pink and some black, some a mottled blend. She licked my hand and looked drowsy while I told my mom about the dinner I have eaten most every night for two weeks, the only meal I want to eat, supplemented with popcorn, smoothies, and occasional granola, some nuts. Kale and peppers and onion and garlic, black and green olives in abundance, vegan sausage and wide pasta fried in olive oil, vegan cheese melted throughout.
For a month after I moved out of the house on NE 19th, and into the Mitchell Apartments on SE 7th, c. 1997, I ate no meal other than angelhair pasta with stewed tomatoes, mozzarella, bleached white bread that I got from the small grocery store up the street from the Sassy’s strip club, pink lights on rainy streets, early dark, crossing the parking lot on foot to get more bread, more pasta. The comforts of the same thing again and again.
Interestingly, I’m seeing that the brief account above connects to my friend Hoffman because he also lived at the Mitchell, tho several years after I had and in a different apartment. He had Lemeirre’s when he lived there, a sustained high fever, an unidentified illness, a near-death. Also, he left Asheville after living in my spare room for a few months, four or five, when a police officer stopped him as he crossed a parking lot and accused him of stealing a jacket, brought him back to the house, at which point I decided it was probably better for him to return to California, and he did almost immediately, without argument or debate. He had become the strange-thin of people who are not inherently thin and then lose weight suddenly. He slept most of the day and had become accusing and paranoid, obsessed with the potential of lead poisoning as a causative factor in why the world is insane and radiation as a predictive factor in why the world is doomed, both points that I understood and also yet I also understood that I had to pick up the kids from school and not be fucking around with any madness in my house, any ink thrown cross the bed like a curse to which I did not react, because what could I say when my friend who’d been a saving Grace in the spring following the worst winter of my life began to lose his mind even though we were determined to help keep one another well, to be artists or something, except I was working as a peer at the recovery education center and trying to be a normal mom and not get into trouble or create problems or stress or drama for my kids.
The to-do list:
Ah, yes – the example…the dog, with wet paws and a wild morning smile climbs onto the bed and paws at the cat, who stops licking my hand and looks pissed, and my mom is still on the phone as my daughter walks in and there is some mediated hellos, me the proxy, and then I am getting off the phone because there is too much happening with the dog and the cat that I have lifted onto the top bunk of the bed fort I sleep in even though I am supposed to be a fucking adult, and it is time to feed the one-eyed small cat that lives in my daughter’s room because she (the cat, not my daughter) was feral at a house with over 10 cats and even though she is tiny and was born with only 1 eye and only 4 teeth, she had somehow survived to be an adult cat that weighs 4 pounds and so she is special and doesn’t need to deal with any bullshit from any other living thing. She deserves peace and security and knowing her food comes everyday and she gets picked up and held and melts into the hug, merges with me as I cradle her and scratch her chin and I can feel the oxytocin and the easing of my nervous system and she can, too – I’m convinced – because it feels like we are feeling the same thing, tho I can’t be sure.
My son says I need to ignore everything else to make my to-do list, to “treat it like it is work.” I think I should schedule my to-do list time to not be in the morning when things are happening.
Speaking of work, I am supposed to go to a staff meeting that is mandatory as a prn staff for the organization I was working for in a high-responsibility role and from which I have not spoken to anyone in a couple of weeks. Weird.
I woke up this morning not thinking about much, other than the usual assortment of ideas and intentions mumbling in the muted humidity of June dawn. It was easy to ignore, the morning thoughts, impressions just after waking from a too-warm night during which the dog barked and then wouldn’t pee outside and instead laid down like he was going to sleep in the mulch. I think it’s dumb to gender animals. I will just call the dog Nash, that’s the preferred pronoun – his name. Dog. Gendering runs so deep, such a habit in our language and the resultant frameworks of how we see the world. It’s easy to understand why some people geek out about linguistics the interplay of language and culture and meaning, how words begat reality and yet are also reflective of how we wish to understand things or how we simply do understand, whether we wish to or not. It’s a fascinating reflexive relationship. The words we use reinforce reality and Vice verse. ‘Dog’ is a container for the creatures we call dog and how we see them.
I think ‘my dog’ might be ‘an angel.’
There is so much meaning in that sentence.
It is full of assumptions of ownership that are defined by both law and relationship, and images of floaty beings, winged beings, a certain spirit.
Nash’s fur looks like angel wings, golden and pale and with a warm reddish that looks almost pink, and is the color of sun on dried grasses at the beginning or end of a day.
I woke up thinking about two things:
The work I need to do on the website/s.
The need to reach out for support from an author with whom I have a secondary acquaintanceship with, that has created a career in reflecting on their relationship with race and identity and family history in the South, and also about the use of psychiatry as a tool of racism at the Georgia State Hospital in Milledgeville.
Psychiatry and psychiatrists going on TikTok and the need to write a letter to Dr. Martelli to be forwarded to him in his retirement, requesting a summary of my treatment between the years of 1989 and, what, 1992, 1993?
I don’t know, it just went on and on.
The weekly appointments, paid for out of pocket by my family. The two inpatient stays at Charter By The Sea, a facility later closed due to allegations of Medicaid and Medicare fraud by the corporation that operated the private in-patient facilities.
I need to explain to him that it is possible that I may need to file for disability as I enter my mid-forties after a few decades of psychiatric struggles and the resultant impact on my capacities to cope with and tolerate and – more importantly, do – work that is commonly available in the existing job market. My cognition is all fucked up in regard to some things, a lot of things actually, and I have serious challenges with stress-vulnerability factors. I should have gotten on disability in 2000, 2001, and then maybe again in 2010. I could never do the paperwork though, and – besides – still very much wanted to work and tried to work, and yet could never work full-time with much success and the times I tried I ended up in the hospital. So, I have never had much economic success, tho’ have had relative security (pun possibly intended) at least as far as keeping a roof over my head and food, basic and additional resources for the two young people that I had a part in creating and raising.
I know I have said it before, and I will probably say it again. If not for my family’s resources, I would likely be dead or homeless. I might be happier homeless and with no expectations placed on me to be a productive member of a working world that was not built for the health and well-being of people such as myself, but the increased risk of trauma that comes with being a homeless female in a country with a strong rape culture would likely mean that I would not be happier, though I would technically be more free – or less impeded – to just be who I am without social punishment beyond the social punishment reserve for the homeless and the crazy…this line of thought is not panning out to make much sense. It would suck to be homeless. It also sucks to be in a long-standing financial codependency with ones family because you are differently-abled and have basically be left to figure all this crap out yourself because despite people (one’s family included) deciding that you have a mental illness, you are still expected to be able to do all the things that people of normative experience and ability are able to do.
There is some sneering dick in my head, that I’m sure I’ve identified before in response to me sharing my experiences of frustration re: social and economic expectations of normative participation in the working middle-class American lifestyles and activities – like, I’m, going to work everyday to a job I hate and doing it anyway at the expense of my ability to be present and happy in my life because I’m so tired and blitzed with dumb information and petty bs that doesn’t even matter because I have to earn wages to pay for a house and a car and all the fixin’s of a ‘normal American life’ – (which – increasingly – includes closeted alcoholism, conspiratorial delusions, quiet white supremacy, gluttonous destruction of the environment, and child suicide attempts).
Anyway, I was thinking about psychiatry and about even googled – not for the first time – my old psychiatrist’s image, and considered how important it is that I make a request to him for a summary of my diagnosis and treatment. Depression. Bipolar. Pamelor, Prozac, lithium. Lithium toxicity. Getting my blood drawn in the hall by the reception desk. Falling out with a wild metallic ringing in my ears at the reception desk of another doctor, my pediatrician who did not like me and who no longer wanted to treat me, which was fine because I was a teenager anyway, I could drive a car, was on birth control (because I had no sexual boundaries despite also having no real sex desire) – a terrible implant that made me bleed all the time and that I had removed.
I wondered if I should sue my old psychiatrist for malpractice, iatrogenic harm. He had access to the psych eval my parents had done when I was twelve, the year before I “got sent to Charter” (which was a phrase common in the dialect of my hometown and its many troubled teens, almost a rite of passage for bad kids and weird kids, kids whose Southern Baptist parents thought they were into devil worship because they listened to Slayer and smoked weed. I didn’t listen to Slayer, or smoke weed.
For the most part, I still listened to Poison and Bon Jovi and 95.1 WAPE, the top 40. Some Led Zeppelin, a Metallica tape, The Rolling Stones. I was upset a lot – ‘flying of the handle,’ and screaming about how I wished I’d never been born, slamming doors, biting my hands, punching myself occasionally when especially explosive in my adolescent rage and grief, the reasons for which were totally off my radar.
The transition from being ‘normal’ to being ‘a kid with problems’ happened all the sudden, one day they were at school, and then they’d be gone, ‘sent to Charter.’
There is probably a statute of limitations for pediatric psychiatry malpractice suits. Ah, yes, as I was saying – Dr. Martelli had access to the records from the psych eval that got me a diagnosis of depression, which was probably not inaccurate because I was in puberty and watching my hometown turn into a military town and my dad sold the land and I saw places I loved – even our very own dirt road home – get destroyed and paved over. Of course, nobody talked about any of that because my depression was ‘caused by a chemical imbalance. She may need to take medication, possibly for her whole life.’
The psych eval also said I was basically almost a genius, or something like that. An IQ of 151, learning and processing differences.
I guess the mental health professionals of the late 1980s just didn’t think that would matter much as far as mental health vulnerabilities. Idiots.
They just thought that because I was ‘smart,’ I should be able to figure out how not to be a fuck-up and that my being a fuck-up was somehow an insult to my smartness, a waste of it, a disappointment because I had ‘so much potential.’
I’ve said that before – made that point about the dark side of being seen as ‘smart’ by people who don’t know anything about intelligence or learning.
One thing that has occurred to me is that I could do a thematic analysis of all this writing and pull out the things I say over and over again, the stories I tell and retell or make reiterative allusion toward. This is a drawn out recursive process of figuring out what is important for me to tell.
So far, it’s taken 12 years and I’ve told about a lot of things that aren’t important, and maybe the things that I think are important really aren’t – except I know, I know in my bones and in my heart that they are, that there are kids out there right now who are literally dying because people don’t understand them and want them to just be normal.
I mean, seriously. There is all this dialogue about youth mental health and these seas of information about learning styles and trauma and mental health and yet the story that is told continues to be this reductionist tale of mental illness and it hurts people.
I wonder if it’s possible to sue the American Psychiatric Association?
By the time they met, she already believed in divine interventions – the way that the follies of circumstance sometimes align to create opportunities and barriers, sometimes just simple lessons that may seem like bad luck at the time.
She doesn’t realize that every topic she has selected represents a ton of work. Even for topics that she has a fair amount of content for, there is the process of editing and uploading, formatting and transcribing, re-naming and compiling. It is an enormous amount of work. She has spent hours fiddling with photo layouts that might not even load correctly and that may need to made into a different portfolio altogether, or even a video.
Fortunately, at least today and yesterday, she feels actually interested and excited in the process of putting together a semi-coherent and easily navigable website to showcase the accumulation of variably skilled artwork across several different media, and to create a space where she can continue to work on projects in process and have all the existing content in development in one place. I think a lot of artists keep their works in progress secret, and don’t show the mess that leads to the final presentation. As a person who has spent much of her life trying to figure out how to do things in a way that is efficient and yet authentic, focused and simultaneously open to things not going quite as planned, disciplined, but not perfunctory.
I just went on a little tangent of dialects relating to what I envision an optimal set of characteristics or attributes for self-directed work. Efficiency alone is a challenge – because some processes are not efficient by nature, nor should they be. Life and living is a complex and adaptive meandering across myriad factors, domains, pasts and potentials. It’s not efficient. Nonetheless, papers have to be written and household chores done, emails answered, a hundred little tasks that move us through our days. In art, I sacrifice a lot of efficiency, because I don’t like the feeling of having to finish something in a certain way, in a certain time frame. I am not a production artist beyond objects like paper cranes made out of cloud photos, wire birds twisted during meetings. Objects with mindless mechanics in their making, soothing to the hand, repetitive motions. Sometimes – okay, often – I don’t finish art projects, paintings or textiles, assemblage left on mantles, stored in boxes.
I really need to revisit my how to be an artist that changes the world series, which I recorded only one video for, that is kind of hokey and my hair looks bad and there is hideous lighting at the end. I seem to be procrastinating a follow up episode. It is probably important that I go ahead and make that happen, follow up. I have good ideas for episodes and ways to fold my otherwise-isolated and not-held-accountable completely inefficient process of accounting for my art and taking inventory of my art supplies, etc. discussing what it means to change the world and a couple of my potential projects which I believe have the capacity to change the world, both of which are exceptionally lofty and also possibly dangerous, but only because there are -ironically – a lot of crazy people out there. I say ironically because people will say I am crazy and have said I am crazy before. However, given some of the utterly atrocious madness that is unfolding across the world and the general anything-goes landscape of culture and economy that I find myself existing in, i am just really not that crazy and even if I am, it doesn’t matter and the nuances of my particular crazy may actually be important and relevant to lives beyond my own in that I am a person who was not identified as having profound learning and processing differences (we’re talking multiple standard deviations from the normative modes of interpretation and meaning making, a very different way of inhabiting the experiences of thought and idea and feeling, and yet I am not alone – there are other folks who are more like me than the vast majority of the population and who I am – perhaps – more like, with the clause of everyone being different and nobody being the same, etc.) and who instead was identified as having a manipulative personality and a severe persistent mental illness and whose ways of being differently abled were totally unseen and unrecognized. I also grew up in an interesting place, and my family history is full of mysteries and what may well be curses.
Anyway, I have to go pick my daughter up from work in 4 minutes.
It’s like over an hour later. Jeez.
I don’t understand how two nearly grown humans, a couple of cats, and one puppy can be so utterly time consuming. Who am I kidding?
No wonder I was so stressed out and exhausted when I was trying to show up to a bunch of zoom meetings and respond to a ton of emails about wildly different subjects and functions, anchored to waaaaay too many relationships and professional expectations.
From this point forward, I will cease in reiterating self-defeating barrier narratives and will no longer see myself as unseen. I will be seen. I am seen. I will be discovered. I am discovering myself and recognizing the value of my work. I have worked hard and deserve to be recognized for both my efforts and for my achievements. I recognize myself.
The tricky thing about naming what it is you are recovering from is that it is very easy to inadvertently reinforce the perception of oneself as a…victim, or as one who is powerless.
I do not want to be in any relationship – intimate, familial, or economic – that takes my power from me, or asks (as a condition of the relationship) that I compromise my power (to make choices in what I participate in and to define my own values and to not be complicit in things that are harmful to me or to others) in ways I am not comfortable with in warped and confusing tests of loyalty, obedience, kindness, humility, intelligence, or love.
It was a severance,
not-quite-clean splitting in the middle of April,
movement from one season
dripping and pooling and tearing
to be shaped by the absences
of so much that had seemed
like it might last forever
the heat came in saffron at dawn
already a haze
rain the sky will not let loose
no matter how hard we pray
I recall a haiku right before taking a nap yesterday, which was the day that I got the email that Hoffman had died. Passed away was what his mother said, poor woman with two dead sons, both victims of LA in their own way. Heroin and madness, respectively.
My ex-lover left for Maine in the morning.
My son came into the room grumbling about a 28mm socket. It was hot af and I was not asleep, but still thinking about the haiku, was certain that I’d remember it, but I don’t. Not at all.
Yesterday was difficult, a low energy and my head glutted with memory, dull grief in my chest, the pressure to travel to my parent’s house in the afternoon, to visit with my mom and her sister after they got back from the cancer doctor. A feeling of pure not-wanting-to-go.
How much of what is called anxiety is a not wanting to do a thing? Not wanting to perform, to show up and be engaging and pleasant, conversational in the right ways?
I went through the motions of getting ready to go, and then called my mom and told her that I wasn’t going to, that I just couldn’t. I told her Hoffman died, and —— went to Maine. I hadn’t slept the night before because it was hot and sweaty and full of dreams about flooding highways under construction and buses filling with water and that neighborhood on a hillside that sometimes I dream about, the twisting streets and potted plants in driveways, people in the houses, always a borrowed house, and my daughter was not my daughter, but had been born to someone else.
I didn’t feel well yesterday, but told my doctor I was fine in a chipper enough tone when they called to ask how the new prescription was going.
Can I be honest about something? Yes. Yes, you can. You are writing an email to yourself, Faith. Nobody is reading this. It doesn’t matter what you say here. Your headspace is a mess? Is that what you want to say. Well, duh. All morning you’ve been walking around with your brain in some sort of muddled, flooded overdrive, with gestalt knowings and entire narratives tumbling around over one another, a distinct sense of social anxiety that you recognize as having been with you almost forever, and you’re scrambling to figure out how to move forward and what to do, and all the possible things you might do are unfolding and retracting in your mind space as you stand in the yard with the dog and you through the ball with the sun coming up through the trees and you realize you seem totally ‘alright’ – you are dressed and you are not crying. You’re not doing some crazy shit. You’re throwing the ball for the dog and trying to focus on your deep breaths in and your deep breaths in through your nose as you consider an essay about how running taught you how to breath again, how to be in your body and – with that consideration, tossed up into the swirling mix of thoughts about how truly problematic it is to have everything all in a jumble in your head, and how you are supposed to have done a hundred things and none of them got done, which is not to say that you did nothing, but that you didn’t build a website or cut the dead wood out of the hedge trees or complete a content analysis of your great-great grandfather’s totally over-the-too Lost Cause glorification of Robert E. Lee and how you really need to say something about that today, and then there is the matter of being a mealy-mouthed apologist in your effort to not offend the Sons of Confederate Veterans or something like that – some vague and vehement irrational audience that you are speaking to, and holding the balloon of knowledge that your voice doesn’t really matter much in the sea of all the voices and that you really have no way of being effective in this dialogue of existing that requires a constant and engaging social media feed and the ability to talk to people consistently and it is with no small measure of silent internal alarm that you recognize how seriously and severely and persistently you are impaired in your capacities to say shit and do things and what the fuck are you going to do about that.
The thought of drawing and painting feels like an oasis, a thoughtless oasis, where you don’t have to do anything but focus on the pull of water and pigment across paper.
Your mother is going to the cancer doctor again today. It is the anniversary of George Floyd’s murder, and the person you love and who you lived with is getting onto a plane to Bangor, Maine. You’re supposed to have a meeting with the NAMI guy and the Operations Director and two other people at 9:00 and you almost shudder to think about actually showing up because you feel frozen in your voice and your executive function is fucked and you can’t stand to hear the talk of SPMI and the two-syllable softness of the NAMI word. As much as you can’t stand the thought, the NAMI guy is probably the only one at the meeting who would actually get any mention of impaired cognitive and executive function, social difficulties. These are SPMI issues.
She doesn’t think she has an SPMI, other than almost unrelenting depression and profoundly normative social anxiety and an inconsistent capacity to do effective work for other people because she is continually nagged by a sense of higher vocation that she is beholden to through ancestral debt and reconciliation responsibilities that are indicated to her through a sensation of knowing and idea and through small circumstances which are interpreted by her to mean that she is either in moving in the right direction or the wrong direction.
I have learning and sensory processing differences, and am perhaps on the autistic spectrum, just as two of my immediate family members are on the autistic spectrum, and also have learning and sensory processing differences. If I reflect on the experiences and circumstances that surround my episodes of ‘mental health crisis’ – those periods of time when I found myself increasingly unable to regulate stress responses, perform socially, and participate in work that requires complicated executive function tasks and social intricacies, and I began to find myself in a panic because I couldn’t make my brain work and I didn’t want to talk to anyone, but I had to keep showing up, and my mind went more and more blank as the things I needed to do piled up inside all jagged and echoing these whispers of what a lazy fuck up I am and how I really need to get my shit together and just figure it out and do the things. This is the messaging I have received my whole life and the messaging that I continue to receive from my family and from the world at large. I can feel in my chest a sense of frustrated sadness around the fact that nobody has ever said – “You know what, Faith? You are a differently-abled person. You have remarkable strengths and gifts and you have worked so hard to try to use your strengths to create something useful, or helpful, or beautiful in the world. You experience thinking and feeling and sensing in ways that less than 3% of the population does. YOU ARE DIFFERENT. This doesn’t mean you are better or worse than anyone else in the world. You are just different. Different is not special. Everyone is different. It is obvious that you have tried really hard to fit in and find a place for yourself in the world, and we know it has been difficult to do things like go to school and show up to a job when you are struggling in your experience and can’t think right and can’t calm down. It is amazing that you have learned so many skills to try to help yourself to do the things that are expected of you, and we’re sorry that sometimes it was so hard that you just couldn’t do it, and you hurt yourself because you didn’t know what else to do and felt so terrible about yourself. You are a really good person, with an amazing mind. Given who you are and your life experiences, it makes total sense that you would have a hard time earning money and being social in the ways that people expect you to. Why don’t you try to just be you, and we’ll trust that – with time – you will forge a way to live so that your life isn’t so hard for you to show up for?”
Today I went to a couple of meetings hosted online by the organization that I was employed by and where I thought I was still ‘PRN staff’. When I tried to clock in for the meeting, I was informed that nobody by my name was ‘Active Staff’ and that I should talk to my administrator. That means I was taken off the payroll. Aside from a brief conversation in a parking lot last month, where it was decided that I would remain PRN and yet also file for unemployment, I haven’t really talked with anyone from the organization. It’s the same sort of thing that happened with my longtime roommates in 1997, where I was just cut out of their lives with no real explanation after I moved out. I had expected to still be friends, but we weren’t and nobody told me why. Similarly, in my departure from the Icarus Project after they decided to hire someone else for my role without really telling me why, nobody ever explained to me what I’d done wrong, but I remember feeling like people had talked about me, and the question about what I had thought about my recent participation in meetings. I thought I had been doing fine, well even, especially given that other people were not always on their a-game and it seemed okay for them.
There is something about me that some people don’t like, something challenging or disconnecting, that minimizes me and files my efforts to contribute under ‘ignorable.’
I think that sometimes I can be too direct, and that other times I am passive aggressive and use long-winded rhetorical flair to make my points especially cutting in a way that is not technically impolite, but that probably makes people uncomfortable.
I only do this when I feel strongly about something and when I believe I am not being heard or being asked to compromise my values or when I see something happening that needs to be acknowledged and that nobody is acknowledging.
In any event, there was a feeling of relief as I sat in the work meeting and heard about the new rules they will have to be enforcing at the city’s hotel shelter project, and how something that was intended to create the dignity and safety of shelter has now become a little carceral in the restrictions being put forth because of some of the problems that have arisen from rapidly transitioning people who are in active addiction and who struggle with profound trauma and mental health difficulties and who were living outside into an EconoLodge and a Ramada Inn.
I have other things I need to be working on, my www.imfinethankyou.net site primary among them. I am redesigning that space to better serve my purposes as a not-yet-emerging-but-possibly-emergent artist and writer, as an experimental autoethnographer, and as a person who has zero interest in being complicit in systems and economies that I recognize as being harmful to living things and to the potential futures of the planet and its myriad inhabitants. That’s a fairly sweeping statement, I know. I should make a visual diagram of what that statement holds. Speaking of visual diagrams – I made a draft of an explanatory graphic re: why people kill themselves, in broad terms, and have thought some about how to use digital collage and text to refine the basic idea and design.
That would be something on the to-do list that I never made this morning.
The house beside the one she lives in is a sober living house with the exact same floor plan as her home, except mirrored so that the two bathrooms face one another, and sometimes when she is walking up the stairs she can see through the landing window that one of the “guys” is walking up the stairs indoors. Last night the dog was barking and barking and barking, looking out the landing window and watching as a former resident of the house next door entered the yard, leaving the gate open, and then went and knocked on the door. It was almost 4:00am. The dog barked and barked until she came downstairs and took him outside, and blurry-eyed saw the gate open, stopped the dog from running into the night after scent and curiosity with a sharp discouraging noise, the “EHHT!” that has been used to correct dogs in her family for decades, a reflex-friendly noise that means “No!”
Sitting in the dark with a light rain falling, not caring and wondering what the barking had been about, if the person who was keeping some of their clothing in a bin on the porch had come by in the middle of the night, and feeling a little perturbed at the thought of it, but too tired to really care or to deal with it at all, the coming by, the banging on the door. Even in the daylight, she didn’t like the feeling of being intruded on, and yet simultaneously was disgusted by her privilege in being a person that had the luxury of feeling intruded upon, the luxury of a door that locks, a porch to sit on, a choice in who she inhabits space with.
She watched as one of the neighbors parked across the street in the middle of the night, coming home. Petting the dog on the chest and whispering hush, trying to be quiet because she didn’t know what to say to her neighbor at 4am and felt awkward.
“Is that you, Faith?”
“Yeah, it’s me. Is everything okay?”
The neighbor explained that someone who had lived at the house, but not for a long time, had come by knocking, “tweaked out of his mind.”
“He paid me 60 bucks to take him to a hotel. Made me promise I wouldn’t call 911. Thought a bunch of people were after him or something. He kept saying he wasn’t high, but he obviously was.”
Haha – still in Gmail, I was talking to my son on the phone about mountain bike repair, proprietary tools, designed obsolescence, and financial security philosophy and practice. I face-dialed my name ( plus v_–_) and the above emoji sequence.
“I like things to be planned. I have to see the numbers before I am going to trust that resources I am not in control of are there before I make a purchase. We’re very different in that way. You think about it differently, probably because there always were resources.”
One afternoon about five years ago, after the sword fighting in the park, the day summer-hot, she sat in the car with her children before ordering pizza to pick up on the way home. Dialed the number and entered the last four digits, pressed 2, and learned that she only had 13.84 in her checking account, which was her only account, she had cut her hours back at work, needing to regroup and have a break from the hour commute in the morning after dropping her kids off, the anxious rush home on Mondays to pick them up. Blazing hot traffic jams. The lack of a single-day during which she did not have something important to show up for, so that she could show for other important things, like trying to be an artist and write a book.
These were mostly secret goals, down-low goals and she allowed people to think that she was like any of the millions of people who want to write books and be an artist and who probably never will, and who might not even be that good at writing or art by any measure, subjective and technical and ethical.
(Interesting these measures she identified, the subjective, technical, and ethical. She would like to expand on those terms, define them and explore her thoughts about how they are measures of quality in art and writing.)
Something shifted in her a little after the 12 year anniversary of her note-taking and paying attention to clouds and inhabiting the third person, a participant-observer of herself. Twelve years is a long time to do something in near-secret. Odds are that the longer a person does a thing, the more likely they are to be discovered to have been doing it. As I wrote out the above sentence, I wondered if it was true. I think in matters of Vice and art, it might be true, but not necessarily. What do I even mean, “discovered.” There – for me – is a sensation of being caught in the word, rather than a sensation of being recognized favorably for doing a thing. That makes sense to me, that I would feel a “getting caught” feeling around this ongoing project.
For years, she has periodically imagined the person who might be taken by a phrase or by the mere existence of this behemoth depository of email-saved drafts and unrefined poems* and who might be the sister of an editor or an agent, a person who sees books in big piles of story, a person who can see the diamond in the rough.
At this point, she is no longer looking for anyone to tell her whether or not her writing is any good. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. She can feel the difference, and notices when she is being dumb in her thinking or insufferable in tone. Even after sussing out the validity of the perceptions of ‘dumb’ and ‘insufferable’ by seeing what voices, experiences, and perspectives these assessments might be rooted in, she has to admit that some of her writing is simply bad.
Then she has to remind herself that not everybody likes “good writing.” The Average American only reads at a 5th grade level. Still, some ways of telling a story are better than others, and she has learned those ways only by instinct gleaned from the stories she has read, certain shine in certain phrases, a satisfying cadence and syllable sound.
She doesn’t know many literary terms beyond what might be taught in Comp 101, which she took in a meeting/presentation theater room at the Trident Training Facility at Kings Bay Nuclear Submarine Base, St. Mary’s, Georgia as a post-GED student at the satellite campus of the Georgia Military Academy, which was based in Milledgeville at the time. Milledgeville is also where the State Hospital used to be, and where her great-great grandfather (The Judge) may have died, but she isn’t sure.
There is so much to research.
The atmospheric qualities that shape clouds the look of ancient letters, the science behind what she sees as defying the typical currents of wind and air and water. Her great-great grandfather’s death. Her great-grandfather’s death. Her mother’s family. Lebanese names. Literary terms.
My phone is at 10%. Today I woke up feeling like maybe it would be a quiet day, a day during which I did not get much accomplished and possibly felt like crap because of hormones and the dog barking at the tweaky ex-neighbor in the middle of the night. However, that has not been the case. I got up and got dressed. Fed animals and loved on them to establish a fresh oxytocin bond for the day for the benefit of their health and mine. I let ________ use the phone because they got frustrated and smashed theirs, just like they got frustrated and smashed a car’s window with a rock, and told off a bus driver to the extent they were banned, and almost lost access to the FQHC, and got charges from telling off a landlord and…the list goes on. Somehow, it has not occurred to the system of care that this person (who has been homeless for over two years, almost three years, and who is over age 55 and who has a disability) might not be able to effectively self regulate their emotions and communication styles because they are sick and tired and have had a huge amount of trauma and poverty in their life and every freaking day. Someone just needs to get this person a damn apartment. Just give them the keys. Housing First is more like jump through flaming hoops of bullshit in uncoordinated systems of care and act grateful as fuck that someone is helping you fill out the forms even if they are a dick to you and even if they disrespect you don’t say anything or you won’t get your housing because you aren’t working hard enough or cooperating with the process or being patient even though you have to wait months or years to even get the housing that by law you are entitled to. First. All those things – the bullshit and the waiting and the forms and the rude, ineffective people who are burnt out because the systems they work in are broken – all of that comes first in Housing First.
Gave them a ride to the arts district, went to get a different nose ring installed. A small pink gold band, tight fitting. Got some energy drinks for the afternoon at the house alone and the intent to get something done with her time as far as building the website/s logging her job searches so she can keep getting unemployment, use this time well, not fuck it up, etc.
*echoing iterations of the same handful of stories and topics that she has been trying to learn how to tell about and to figure out what she actually believes and doesn’t believe, and why.
I’ve been focusing (I initially wrote ‘trying to’ – but, caught myself in the habitual linguistics of falling short) on developing content for my arts-focused website and – to a lesser extent, as far as actual productive creation goes, my ‘professional’ site, for which I’ve not yet gotten an LLC, but will soon because I need to be able to write things like ring lights off of any future taxes.
It is so fucking hard for me to stay focused. Like, ridiculous.
Recognizing that I am a) coming out of a period of profound burnout that seriously strained some of my capacities to the point of loss of skill and ability and that b) I have not had the opportunity to develop a set of focus skills specific to the independent creation of media projects and media products that are oriented toward art and service, and c) the whole world is still reeling and scattered from the (ongoing) pandemic and total reality upheaval (thank god) that has thus far characterized this century, and d) my mom has cancer and I am a person who struggles with depression and anxiety, all of which can impact focus and task-orientation, I am not considering this difficulty in focus to be a fixed attribute of my cognition or executive function.
I get that I am able to focus sometimes and that there are internal and external factors that affect my focus. Right now, being at home with the youth and the young dog and my future (I almost wrote looming, but it’s not looming. It’s not uncertain. I am going to be an artist and a writer and a change-maker. I am going to share ideas and perspective and experience for the purpose of perhaps helping that anonymous kid in a basement that I always think about possibly stay alive.
I don’t know why it’s always a basement, like a rec room in a ranch house in the suburbs or something, some kid hating their life and their parents grieving and freaking out because their kid wants to commit suicide and has a mental illness, etc. It could be anyone, I guess – that maybe me sharing some of the key things I learned doing recovery education classes for eight years and staying alive myself through all kinds of grueling times might help. There might be someone who does not find anything that I have to say useful or relevant to their experience. That’s fine.
I am convinced that there is someone out there who might really need to hear me talk about mental health.
So, I need to help that person find my voice, and that means getting my voice out there, and that means videos and possibly podcasts, and indirect potential voice-amplification opportunity projects involving art and story.
I don’t need to write that my future is looming and uncertain. It isn’t.
I know what I want to do, and I know how to do it, and I am ready to do it. All of it. Bit by bit.
So, that is pretty awesome, huh?
I have chosen my path, or – rather – I have surrendered to the path that I’ve known is mine for a very long time.
I woke up wondering about the lunch meeting I had agreed to – ‘a brainstorming’ – with a person who I respect and appreciate and who therefore triggers both my social anxiety and my social/professional efforts to please and impress, which leads to masking and also to me doing things like suggesting a lunch restaurant that they might enjoy despite the fact that I don’t enjoy going out to lunch and I know the meeting will exhaust me – the movement and noise of cars and people, forks on plates, water glasses being refilled.
I already know I probably can’t work on their project unless by some miracle my brain becomes some other brain, some productive and focused brain that does not balk at the thought of a database.
Name me a steward.
I’ll agree to nothing,
but to witness, tend.
Ah. Yes. The cancer doctor appointment. That thing I did today without really thinking about it at all, without feeling it. May as well have been a trip to the grocery store with my mother, a routine check up.
I could tell the news wasn’t the greatest, because of how Raeleen was talking, chipper and seeming to draw out the small talk that has gotten more personal, more personable over the months and months my mother has had appointments at Hope. I focused on a mole that might be a sty in the corner of Raeleen’s left eye, and tried to imagine her riding a bike, having a life, as she and my mom talked about some weekend plans she’d had a month ago, when the cancer marker was at 86. An almost infinitesimal number compared to 3900, which is what the cancer marker was when she began treatment last summer, a year ago. The doctor took out most of the cancer marker making cancer cells in the fall, during the do-or-die surgery that removed my mother’s belly button, along with most of what had been contained within her abdominal cavity. My father recounts the conversation with the doctor after surgery, the doctor’s exclamation that “everything was fused together. I’d never seen anything like it.”
Raeleen asked my mom if her fatigue had gotten worse. “Well,” my mom explained, “it’s not terrible. I wake up and have a couple of good hours of energy in the morning and then I have to go to bed in the mid-afternoon, and maybe I can rally again in the late afternoon, but…”
“It’s a familial trait,” I broke into the narrative of my mother’s fatigue. “I’m the same way.”
Raeleen looked at me like I was not making sense. Was I really as fatigued as my mother who is slow-dying of cancer?
I shrugged. “We have the siesta gene,” making a joke of the our familial fatigue while explanations of melatonin levels and learned behavior flit through my mind and I wish I was taking a nap.
Raeleen cocked her head, made a noise that was not quite a laugh.
“It’d be nice to live somewhere where that was part of the day, wouldn’t it?”
I knew she’d be at work all day. All of the people in the building would be at work all day. I would not be at work all day, and had hardly ever been at work all day, in the same building all day long, indoors under fluorescent lights, sitting in the same chair, moving along the same halls, back and forth all day long.
She discovered that, on days when she really could not stand being at school, when 9:30am felt like staring down the barrel of a gun and she could feel herself walking away from the building, running inside as the plain-face of the clock bore a mocking witness to her sitting there in the desk in a room full of people – her peers – that she did not talk with, that she felt like she couldn’t connect with, didn’t want to connect with, had no interest in spending the day with. She wanted to be at home, alone in her room. She discovered, on days that the wanting to run was a blaring under her skin and her head felt like a lump of clay set atop her body, arms cold and prickled in the air that was not cool at all, an inner chill, she figured out that she could ask to be excused, say there was something wrong with her contact lens, go to the bathroom put water into her eye, let her contact fall into the sink. It didn’t matter. The brown paper towels pleated into the dull metal dispenser bolted into the cinder block wall – like a prison or a health department – were perfectly textured to irritate the eye, and when she scraped them – dry, but dampening, the sick-smell of wet paper all around her face – across the surface of her eye, she felt that it hurt, that her eye wanted to close, and she pressed harder, set-jaw and determined to inflict injury sufficient to silence any questions of whether or not she should be allowed to call home, to have her mom come pick her up. Only when her eye would not open after the scratching, when the right side of her face would scrunch with the look of the light blurred and fractured through the sticky feeling seep of tears that her eye would not stop crying, only then would she be satisfied, because she would get to leave school, go home again.
It is the day of the Strawberry Moon, a moment I missed in the driving around, the heat of the parking lot, air pump busted – again – tin foil somehow stretched and held over the hidden coin mouth, and so I drive away wondering what it is like to try to break through metal in the middle of the night for a handful of quarters, the desperately simple chaos of never having enough, only needing more…full moon rising in a blue-hued sky unnoticed, save for a brief span of feeling like I was home again, and happy.
I’ve been making draft videos about mental health. I say ‘you know’ and ‘like’ way too much and am sometimes circuitous in getting to the point. My levels of confidence are vacillating pretty significantly these days. Rapid cycling, haha. However, the sting of low confidence is not so bad as it was, and I have – I think – reached a point of healthy disregard for ideals of perfection and people pleasing. I will never say or do anything if I continue to be wary of what people will think. I know that – somewhere in here – I have written about how it makes a lot of sense that I would be nervous about offending people’s sensibilities about what is and is not okay for a person to say or do. Continuing to mediate who I am with precautionary edits of what is made visible to others keeps me the victim of snarky kids from my hometown, and mean, small-worlded people who don’t know anything about art.
My kids are almost 17 and 19 now. Nobody can take them away from me again, other than themselves of their own volition, their choice to be (or not to be) in relationship with me as a person who is their mother or as a person in general whose company and connection is valued.
I have little to lose at this point, and that is a very good position to be in. I do run the risk of not trying hard enough, of being sloppy or irreverent in the small window of opportunity that I have. I could waste time, or tumble right back into another job that usurps my headspace and energies, another set of social relationships that silence me and exhaust me, another muck of narrative around not having time.
I don’t want to do that.
This morning I researched the so-called Atlanta race riots of 1906, the year after my great-grandfather became a judge. I have been using most of my writing energy toward building and editing content for my art website, which – in ways – is a more organized extension of this space. A distilled version of what I have been doing here for all these years.
Everyday I am thankful that I did not stop making notes and paying attention and reflecting, that even during the times my voice was quiet, I wondered where it had gone and what I needed to do to bring it back.
Since leaving my job and ending my relationship, finally having some blessed time alone to be present with the existence of the world and to feel out what I need to pay attention to, what is important beyond an individual’s emotional and social needs, an organization’s ever-consuming to-do list, to prioritize my time to reflect what really matters to me, which right now is being present with and emotionally/socially available to my two almost-grown kids as they fledge out into the world, and being present with the slow-but-imminent death of my mother, and telling whatever story I might need to tell in my life to put my soul at peace and reconcile some long-standing dissonance in my spirit, appease some old ghosts, because I could die at any time – any of us could.
This morning I considered drawing a card to gauge my fortune, but I had no real need to. I know that if I continue to work toward showing who I am and what I have tried to express over the past 13 years, if I am brave in sharing of my experience and of my heart and of my hard-earned still-learning wisdom, then everything will work out fine. That I am and will be blessed, so long as I follow my heart.
I think I finally found faith.
A condo collapsed in Miami and an acquaintance reached out to me, saying they hadn’t seen me on social media. As I was walking the dog a bit later, I wondered if something had happened, if yet another person I knew had died, or was dying or something. If there was an event or occurrence that I ought to know about and do not know about.
Tomorrow my mother has a CT scan to see what is happening with her cancer, to inform possible treatment options that may stem the proliferation of damaged cells that just won’t die. Is there an exponentiality in the growth and replication of cancer cells, the more you have, the more you’ll get because they multiply fast and don’t die like they should? I notice, standing at the counter in the kitchen, cutting up garlic and onion and thinking about her mother making spaghetti, as she reported that she had today, after I mentioned her making lentils and rice in ratio with spaghetti dinners, that I am sad that my mother has to get the CT scan, that I do not want her to have to withhold food and water for 2 hours, to have to have her port accessed, to be thirsty and prodded at.
Yesterday, no – day before yesterday, I went to my mom’s cancer appointment with her and it is hard for me to acknowledge the reality of the situation. I find myself not thinking about it, and when I notice myself thinking about it, I feel a tired and dull, a sick weight in me. Somaticized grief? The fatigue of being awake to know all the things that one knows when awake?
I have been writing about cloud watching, and that whole period of time thinking about perceptions and experiences of God and gods as they may and may not relate to cloudforms.
That period of time has never really entirely stopped, since although there were spans of weeks and maybe even months when my thinking about God and clouds became very distant, something I almost forgot and then remembered, but didn’t hold tight to, didn’t give time to, except to sometimes notice a cloud that looked like a triangle, that looked like a letter, a bird in flight, a fox’s keen eyes, and to notice – sometimes – the feeling of a greater set of workings in my life, a peculiar sort of resonance in the crossing paths with strangers or the songs playing on the radio.
I have been writing about it some, as a summary, an introduction, a distillation of that ongoing endeavor which still holds so much wonder and so many questions for me. Because I have been writing about clouds and perceptions of God, interpretations of God, and because I am currently unemployed – again, just like 11 years ago, unemployed in the early summer, looking at the sky following a rough time of transition and loss – and have time to take walks and look at the sky, I am watching the clouds again, taking a few photographs here and there. Being that person standing on the side walk taking pictures of the sky. In many ways, the circumstances of eleven years ago are similar to some of the things happening in my life currently – tho, there are definite differences. No family conflict, and whole lot more skills around staying grounded and keeping my spirit oriented toward blessing and gratitude and graciousness, a far more certain sense of who I am.
Yesterday, I was walking up toward the intersection where the Varick Chapel sits quiet on the corner across from the bus stop. A woman was waiting for the bus, or was sitting on the bench, looking like she was waiting for the bus, like she had somewhere to go. She had a cough that I could hear all the way down the block. A smoker. COPD. I didn’t worry about coronavirus, but wondered if the woman would get the Delta variant, if she was vaccinated. As I approached, I could see that she was trying to make her hair look nice. A bad bleach job, a bad perm, waves like 1987 to her shoulder blades. She looked old in the way that people who have had very hard lives look, a slump in her posture.
I looked up at the sky. I have been doing that again, because – like I said – I’ve been writing some about the clouds, about what I saw and how I read it. There were some angular forms, and what looked like a figure, an lumpish angel or a manatee, a shape in the clouds with tendrils being pulled by the wind, making a new shape even as I walked toward the corner. Through a break between the street trees, I saw that there were numberish snakes of thin cloud that had settled out front of the mass that was breaking up, expanding and shifting above me and my dog, the woman on the bench. If I crossed the street to the steps of the Varick, I’d have a clear shot. I got my phone out of my pocket, and kept walking up toward the corner, staring hard at the trees above me, but also trying to seem like just a person walking a dog. A 12 lay on its side in the sky. I said hello to the woman at the bus stop and she was sweet like most broken women are to strangers, trying to be nice, to be pleasant. The dog smelled around the bench, and I tugged him a little, saying, “C’mon, leave it.” The 12 was gone when I got to the corner, and I took a picture anyway, took a few. Standing in the sun and staring hard as cars turned the corner. I was struck with a sense of knowing that I had failed, that there had been a brief thing shown to me and that I had not crossed the street to where I could get a clear view, a clear picture. I had chosen to not confuse or offend the woman at the bus stop by a sudden crossing, had chosen not to be a person taking pictures of the sky across the street on the sunlit steps of the Varick Chapel, had not wanted to seem weird or out of the ordinary. I felt a flicker of knowing that I had been tested, and that I had failed, choosing my vanity and social appearance over bearing witness to a 12 written in the sky with clouds. All the sudden, I remembered the reality of it, that whole period of time when I thought I was seeing something written by God, shown to me by God, in the sky, and the remembering of the reality of how desperate and pressured and consumingly strange those long days and months were, the determination to watch and document relentlessly, to the exclusion of everything I could put off or neglect, agonizingly distracted in my attentions to all that I could not put off or neglect, my children impatient in the car as I stopped in a parking lot to try to capture the living sky that nobody else seemed to notice. My mother going blank and awkward as she drove us to the home improvement store, a family outing to buy flowers, me leaning across her as she slowed to stop to turn, my voice flat and transfixed as I muttered something about, “…it’s everywhere, see, right there…there is this blue light around that cloud. I have to take a picture.”
The real world felt watery to me, just beyond a surface I could break, but that still separated me, muted the voices and movement of everything between me and the rest of the world.
I have a tendency to remember the awe, the roll of singular and encompassing beauty that unfurled every day beginning at dawn. I remember the delicious urgency of bearing witness to something that only lasts a moment and then is gone forever. The comfort of believing that even if I was seen as a crazy loser who needed to get their shit together by almost everyone in my walking and talking life, I was doing something beautiful and important, something that a force much bigger than me was asking me – (me, of all people?!) – to do, and…would know if I did not, and would be disappointed in me and would perhaps even punish me if I dismissed what was being shown to me in the sky, conveyed through clouds. I felt a distinct adrenaline in feeling like I was doing important work, work that made the rest of my life make sense, work that was mine to do, that I was chosen for. I wanted to believe, and I believed and so with every strange cloud, I was rewarded, flooded with the satisfaction of knowing that I was doing a good job, a job only I could do. Who else can watch the sky for hours and hours and hours each day, pay such close attention, for months and months, and think about what they saw, try to read what they saw, question their own readings, try to figure an explanation for all the triangles in the sky.
The dopamine was tremendous. The more I watched, the more I saw, and the stronger my conviction grew.
The dark side of awe is that it erases everything other than the feat and wonder beheld.
…to be beholden.
I notice as I write this that I have a sickish nervous feel at both the center and the edges of me.
Yesterday, I felt shivering as I walked down the sunny hill, contemplating my failure and the difficulty of not paying attention to – or, worse, willfully ignoring because you don’t want the random person at the bus stop to think you’re weird – the thoughts, perceptions, and experiences that attributed as being bestowed upon us by a power greater than we are.
I just went into the kitchen, did the dishes, swept the floor. Small daily rituals of sanity and presence in one’s life.
I really did lose my mind, but that’s not going to happen again.
I was silly to think that I could say anything about clouds that look like God after only studying them for a few weeks. I am a naive and excitable person in many ways. Foolish. I am okay with that because it is wonderful to believe in the impossible and it’s fun to try to figure out how to make the impossible possible, real.
I watched the clouds real hard on the rest of my walk, dog trundling along beside me, enjoying the pauses as extended opportunities to smell things at length, to sit, look around.
I am blessed to be the steward of a dog that likes to look around.
“There’s just too much. It is all happening all the time.”
I took a deep breath and asked forgiveness for missing so much.
For 13 years, I have felt watched, like everything I do and do not do, all of my thoughts and secrets and imaginings, all of who I am in my indulgences and short-comings and fears and devotions and gratitudes and ingratitudes. Truths of my heart that even I do not know. Everything is seen, all the time.
I am trying, always, to do the right thing to the best of my ability. I fail often.
There are slumps, of course – days when I am aware of a distinct paucity of thought and a melancholy orientation to…um, basically most things, but especially my own uselessness as a human being. I recognize this sense of being a supreme loser fuck-up as the dumb voice of a low-grade depression that settles in when I have been running around and doing errands and not having a sense of connection or purpose.
I had a work meeting today, with the employer that took me off the payroll and then didn’t say why, except today they said it was so I could get the unemployment, but the unemployment was for reduced hours due to coronavirus, which was true because coronavirus made the organization I worked for basically impossible to function within to the extent that my ability to literally even think straight was all fucked up.
This morning, before the work meeting, I got the notification that the SAMHSA grant was not awarded, largely due to the shenanigans of a grant writing wonk that was hired to write the grant, but that really didn’t do anything other than challenge and disregard the work that I did toward putting together a strong application and who then ended up submitting some piece of crap at the actual 11th hour, blowing up my phone while I was on a zoom with the third-party evaluator talking them through the completion of the two page evaluation protocol that they were contracted to complete, while my email was jammed up with stuff for the Emergency Solutions Grant.
It’s possible that my mood and cognition is all fucked up because of the work meeting this morning, as I notice that even briefly thinking about that whole scene makes me incredibly anxious.
When I am anxious, I am joyless and tense and can’t think because all my brain’s energy goes to my sympathetic nervous system and my pitiful little parasympathetic functions that are wheezing confused old person trying to lift their cane to shake it at a 225 lb thick muscled assailant that is trained in Jujitsu.
It took me 45 minutes at the gym to feel 1/2 way decent, and then I got anxious again as soon as I got home and then needed to go back out to get my daughter watermelon which she then said was disgusting. I felt optimistic about the walk with the dog being pleasant, but I had to call my mom to make sure my aunt got into town okay, because that is what I am supposed to do – want to talk to people and make chit-chat and be relational, regardless of whether or not I want to talk with anyone at all. This is what one has to do. The pressure is enormous. My social anxiety exists in correlation to social pressure. The more the perceived pressure, the higher the anxiety. Note the use of the word perceived. People say there is no pressure, but I have a hard time believing that if I neglected to call my mom and ask about my aunt’s arrival, it would be noticed with at least a twinge of disappointed wondering about why I hadn’t called.
I feel really ill about how utterly bad this writing is, and about how much I want to say that doesn’t need to be said, the voice of some wounded adolescent self that seriously just needs to get over herself and stop harping about blah blah blah, this whole thing.
I mean, I get that waaaaaaaay more people have waaaaaaaay more hideous situations than being a kid with learning differences and processing differences and social differences and a history of severe medical trauma, a kid in the midst of a grief that was not named, a grief that only people who watch places they love and are connected to get utterly destroyed, a grief that she did not even recognize as grief, because nobody suggested that she may be grieving, that perhaps it was difficult for her to watch a place that she knew intimately, a place that she had worlds within, a place that she was safe and at ease in, get completely raped, burnt, cut, re-named and paved over, a kid that was forced to go to a violent White supremacist high school and a bunch of other gross schools that only taught subordination and the social sexual meat market of secondary education.
There has been something that nags me about LinkedIn lately.
A lot of my social media connections are in the “recovery community” – people who have had their lives fall apart because of substance use, mental health challenges, incarceration, homelessness or some combination thereof, and then have been able to make positive changes and create a life of wellness, or something like that.
It is not uncommon to see posts about people who’ve turned their situations around to be able to get a job, work full-time, buy a home, get a degree.
The messaging is this commentary on people’s lives and the outcomes of their struggles and efforts to recover is that in order to be resilient you have to be able to rise to the goals of middle-class America, to get a job, buy a house, to – in short – “be a productive member of society.”
This is not to say that folks who find joy, meaning and vitality in recovery by achieving these economic milestones are not resilient or amazing or truly strong individuals. They are, I’m sure. Major props to each and every person who has transformed their lives in ways that are important to them.
What bothers me about measuring resilience as normative participation in the economy is that the coupling of recovery and resilience with economic success in the market place is the assumption that in order to be resilient, in order to recover, a person should be able to work a full-time job, earn a good wage, and make investments in the form of major purchases, etc.
That, to me, is an ableist definition of resilience and recovery.
There are many remarkable people who’ve been able to leverage their personal determination to gain economic success, professional esteem, and social standing in the recovery community. They absolutely deserve recognition and celebration for their accomplishments in turning their lives around.
However, limiting the label of “resilient” to people who’ve been successful in meeting the criteria of economic success and meaningful participation in society set forth by a capitalist economy which relies on workers in order to gain profit for corporations sends the message that people who are not able to participate in the economy in ways that generate success through earning wages from an external (often corporate) entity are somehow not resilient.
There are many reasons why people may not disability/difference-in-ability that prohibits or limits participation in the normative wage-earning economy, discrimination based on race, socioeconomic status, gender expression, or ability, or personal/political/ethical values which dictate a reluctance to earn money through being complicit in the work of corporations or institutions that one understands to be harmful to people and the environment –
If I was going to tell someone how they might see what I see in the sky, I would say that it is important to forget about the sky that means nothing, forget the flat plane sky, forget the clouds as puffy shapes, cotton balls or marshmallows or pillows stuffing. Do not think ‘cloud’ when you behold the forms etched and strewn and piled and cut of wind and water and heat and light, the dust from cities and the worlds of small drifting things that are alive in the sky.
See the sky in detail, the shapes in detail…study the edges and the depth of what might look like a simple cloud. Think about what sort of winds might be blowing to make the shapes you see. Consider the reality of vast currents flowing-always-flowing in the air above us, carrying the ocean and the sands of everywhere. Imagine the pull of the earth itself, the pressure of the atmosphere, the full extent of space beyond what we see as solid blue.
Watch the movement – expansion and dissolution, dissipation. The building of great towers out of what appears to be nothing, and yet there it is, the forms drawn forth from the air itself.
Remember, the sky has been doing this – has been being what it is – for as long as the earth has existed. Consider all the beings that have lived beneath the stars, all the people who have studied the sky through the ages. Imagine how an ancient person might see the sky you are studying, what they might see if they believed that the wisdom of the earth and heavens spoke to them through clouds and light and the wind in the trees, the movement of birds and the strangeness of circumstance. How would you look at the sky if you had never seen a television, if you had only the science of your experience and the stories of your ancestors?
What might you see?
How would you feel if you read the sky as the word of God, gods, the wisdom of the earth and heavens, hints at the eternal workings of all things arranged in certain figures, certain patterns, symbols and markers that tell you: