The Shape of the Wind

The woman sat across from me, ankles crossed, hands in lap, classic clinical posture. The younger woman sat slightly to the side of me, a still yogic statue, big eyed. We made a triangle, sitting there in my office.

“I’ve got skin in the game.”

The women seemed to really like that statement. So real. So peer.

I felt tired of it all.

The crossed-ankle woman, the senior clinician, leaned forward, her face lit up with an idea. “What if…what if you came and told your story to _____?”

I kept my face neutral. “Yeah, maybe I could do that.” I shrugged to emphasize my ambivalence.

Thought to myself, “Well now, how would that go?”

Imagined the scene, the big table and torsos surrounding, the smiling faces, the kind expressions, the hands clasped on the table. The windows and the sharp-lined slats of heavy brown shade contraptions, blinds. The look of the day outside, the look of the light. 

I could feel my chest get tight just thinking about it. What would that be like? I would have probably about 10 minutes, which may be stretched to 15 for people to ask me questions about my lived experience and how that impacts and adds value to the work I do.
Note: by adding value, I mean to say that I give significance to my workplace experiences that other people may not give to their workplace experiences. However, I also mean that my lived experience and the insights it brings to this work adds value, in that it means something to the people I work with that I have experienced some of the things they have experienced, and that I understand that my experiences of things like involuntary commitment are different than other people’s experiences, but that –  hey – I have had something like that happen to me.

I find it so distasteful to sum up entire pivotal life experiences with phrases like, “I got sent to the hospital.”

There is something silencing in being expected to do that, preferred to do that, for the sake of being concise, brief, not going into to much detail, too much trauma, nothing unnecessary, and be linear, do not loop back to how the experiences connect to each other, just like my going into medical shock after I broke my elbow at age 8 never would have happened if I hadn’t broke my spleen on Christmas Day, age 6, and spent those months in the hospital, which I hardly remember at all, save for two distinct memories. What those experiences have to do with me losing my mind years later.

How would I tell my story to those people?

They don’t want to hear my story.

Not the way I’d tell it.

I was 12 in 1988, when the market for adolescent psychiatry opened up in a big way. I had grown up on family land, the land my father had grown up on, the land my great-grandmother still lived on, an old woman with her face slack on one side from a stroke.

I loved her. She played cards with me.

That year, I rode the bus to school from one of the bus stops in the subdivision that had been built, over the two previous years, on our family’s land, which was no longer our family’s land. We still had a pocket of woods, at the back edge of what my great-grandmother called “the neighborhood,” and we still had our house, and the pasture, and my great-grandmother’s house, the little house behind it.

Our road was still intact, up until the paved road crossed it.

From that point on, our dirt road was gone. There were houses on it. A girl I knew from school who was from Connecticut and had yellow goo on her braces all the time lived in the first house that had been built on top of our road. The first “phase” of the subdivision was complete, just three streets, with stubs of paved road edging up to pine trees and palmettos, waiting in the hot Georgia sun, for Phase 2, and Phase 3. More naked lawns, more sod, more stump removal services, more holes dug for pools, mailboxes, the cul de sacs like cocks and balls as I rode my bike on the new pavement, swooping around the streets like I still owned the place. Riding through yards, going around in circles, an adolescent vulture in a tee shirt and white Keds, because that’s what all the girls at school were wearing.

I had never been popular, because I didn’t know how to talk correctly when I went into elementary school, and had to go to speech therapy for four years, and I wore glasses and brought my bear to school, and karate chopped a kid over a marker set in Science class. I lived in the woods and my nails were bitten and my mom cut my hair.

I got a perm in the sixth grade, and started wearing contacts. I knew how to talk by then, how to say my own last name.

I started blow-drying my hair, pushing my bangs up and freezing them with hairspray like a wave. I could get very tan, and my family – suddenly – had money, a white Jeep Cherokee.

Besides, school was full of new kids, Navy kids. Kids who did not know anything about me or my speech impediment, my elementary-years oddness.

The Base had gone into full operation, quietly at first and then with a great influx of personnel and a regular launching schedule for the nuclear submarines that were sleeping out in the water by Crooked River, out by Cumberland Island. The population expanded by something like 20,000 in two years. They had to build a new school. It smelled like paint, and was shaped just like Phase 1 of the subdivision, a line with three lines extending from it, like an E.

There were kids who had lived in Guam and California and Connecticut and Virginia Beach, Alaska even. With the influx of Navy personnel and their families, there was an influx of new cultures and subcultures. Many of my friends had Filipina mothers, Chinese mothers. There was suddenly punk rock and rap and new accents that were almost non-accents, because none of the military kids lived anywhere for very long. One new girl came to school with a shaved head, a fringe of bangs, a skinhead haircut and a bomber jacket.

That was the year I was 12. I had started smoking cigarettes with some of my new friends, had started to like the feeling of rock and roll. I was sobbing in my room, I was laying there stunned in the morning. I refused to go to school. I was on-guard, not at ease with anyone. Only at ease by myself, and not even then. Never at ease.

We pulled into the parking lot in the mid – morning, a low light blue building, Southern office space.

“Faith, we’re concerned about you. It will be good to try to get some help.”

The rooms were bright along one side of the building, the white light of sun through plastic blinds, glaring rectangles in the walls. There was hardly any furniture in the room at all. Chairs, a wicker and glass table, some brochures. A desk.

With each test, they explained what I needed to do. “Tell a story about why what you see,” the psychologist held up a picture of a furtive looking woman, a young man in the distance.

I went on and on, creating an entire exposition of friendship and misunderstandings, family conflicts.

In a room with no windows, they had me lay back on a reclined exam chair, and affixed the electrodes around my hair line and along my scalp, told me to go to sleep. I woke up surprised that I had slept, and they told my mother and I that I do not have epilepsy.

At the end of the appointment, the psychologist lady sat down with my mother and me in one of the bright rooms. “Your daughter is very intelligent,” smiling a peculiar stretched smile in my direction. They spoke for a few minutes about how I was smart, right on the edge of genius.

My mother nodded along, “Yes. She is so smart.”

“However,” the psychologist shuffled papers on her lap, “your daughter also seems to be showing signs of depression, which is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain.”

They talked for a few minutes about counseling, about what to do if my depression got worse, and we said goodbye, walked out into the blare of sunlight and raw parking lot heat.

I felt a new sort of quiet, a new unease. I didn’t know what to say to my mother. She didn’t know what to say to me. We didn’t say anything.

I still had the electrode goo in my hair. I felt tired on the way home, crossing over the bridges.

Walking into the wood-smell of home was a sweet relief.

Nov 23 (1 day ago)

to me

Today is the day that I am going home. I will keep driving on the road on I take to work, will go right past the airport, and on down over the mountains, drop into the flat lands and then further down still, trace along the coast in the dark, and I will be there. I woke up early, two and half hours before my alarm went off, and felt calm, a little disconnected from the reality of this trip.

My left turn signal went out last night, on the way to drop off my daughter and then go to the store. “I will go to the oil change place and get it fixed. I want to have a turn signal tomorrow.”

The young blue-clad tech shaking the car as he wrestled with the bulb. Exclaiming a few minutes later, calling over his coworker. Showing me, “See, this looks like the same bulb, but these connection points here, see how they are lined up.”

The two silvery nubs sat right across from one another, perfect orbit.

“Look at yours,” he held the two orange glass bulbs beside one another. The connector points on the bulb they had pulled out my car were positioned at an angle from one another, like 6:05, instead of 6:00, or 12:30. 3:45, 9:15, etc.

I made plans to go to an auto – parts store, probably in my hometown on Friday, because I didn’t want to try to find an auto parts store on Thanksgiving Day, when I have a Mexican Fiesta to attend and traveling to do.

At the grocery store, after paying, I had a brief moment of wondering if I should not go. If I should stay home. Get the light fixed. Write here, in the mountains.

I do not know if I should trust the part of myself that pushes up the idea that if I don’t go, I will have made a grievous error, that I will regret it, that some pact I made with myself will be broken and unfortunate (or simply null) consequences will result.

There is a little bit of pressure with that notion, that this is something I, ahem, must do.

How do things like this, strong leadings, fit into non-attachment, or being in the present?

I guess it is in the attachment to outcomes, the expectation that if one does a) then a desired b) will occur…there’s where problems could occur, attachment and disappointment, hurt over the way things are.

How does that fit in with hope, that motivation to create something, that longing for certain things to come to be?

Acceptance would mitigate disappointment, a focus on the learning and growth that comes from deeply hoping and not getting what you hoped for.

Those who believe in a higher power that works within their lives in “mysterious ways” might trust that something was in store for them, that their higher power had reasons for denying them their hopes.

I think Garth Brooks wrote a song about that once.

I have some discomfort in the thought that our ego’ed perceptions and interpretations of what God wants of us, what we ought to do, are apt to be sorely misled.

I need to go pack, ready the house for caretaking. Go.

There is so much in this life, sitting in front of a fire while the sun comes up and the day begins. With children across town, and family out in the valley, and a place down the road, and objects to move, things to do, so many people, all with their own vast lives.

There is just so much.

I am excited to go home. To see what happens.

I do not know what will happen.

I will be okay.

10:04 PM (17 hours ago)

to me

It was nothing at all, stepping back into this house. Pressing down the latch of the door, pushing it open to scrape across the floor in a way it didn’t before. Either the hinges are sagging or the house is sinking. I haven’t been here long enough to know.

This is the dome. I grew up here. This photo was taken, incidentally, from the same vantage point as where I lay 35 years ago and could not breathe, because my chest and abdomen were filling up with blood spilled from my broken spleen.

Walking back into the house, was nothing at all. I’d done it a million times. Easy. The latch on the front door is still bent from where I slammed it so hard when I was a teenager, walking out or walking in.

I crossed into GA right at the precise moment of sunset, but it was cloudy and drizzling and low-skied, so there was no sunset to speak of, just a quick fade from dim to blue to black.

For most of the drive, I felt glad to be traveling, but not totally engaged with or excited about going home, though a timid happiness was stirring around every once in a while.

I listened to the radio and danced in the car and smoked cigarettes and drove the speed limit. There were hardly any other cars on the road for most of the drive, because it is Thanksgiving.

I got here in under 7 hours, like time had slowed down.

Right after Savannah, it hit me. Just a low rumbling around my heart, a shaky full feeling. I put my hand on my chest, made myself breathe more deeply. Checked my speed. Felt my butt in the driver’s seat, my sore hip.

Used to be that I’d have expected myself to fall apart about going home. I figured I might feel some feelings, but have been fairly committed to staying out of anything oriented around despair. Love can feel a lot like despair sometimes.

A massive joy rolled up out of me, made my whole head tingle, the points across my cheeks and jaws prickly and electric feeling, the very top of my head, where my skull used to be soft, bristling and warm. I felt my whole belly fill with this bright blue excitement, and my face lit up smiling in the dark, driving alone.

I needed to eat something. I was hungry. My blood sugar was probably low. I opened the window, turned off the radio.

I was happy to be going home, happy to have grown up in a beautiful place.

The sensations of my head about to explode with eustress subsided a little, and I took a deep breath,  turned the radio back on, some random country song blaring, but I threw my fist in the air beside me anyway, out toward the empty passenger seat, “Hell, yeah!” I hollered, “I’m going home!”

I threw a couple of right hooks, just to shake off the jolt of thrill I’d been riding with the past few miles.

I thought that it’d be strange, turning onto highway 40. It wasn’t. It was the same as it was, basically. More cluttered, more lanes, but the same straight line it always has been, with pines and pavement.

Before I came home, I drove downtown, to go to the Oak Grove Cemetery, to see if I could find my great-grandmother’s grave, my great-grandfather ‘s grave. It is Thanksgiving.

It was well-past dark and though I remembered which row they were on, it was hard to remember where exactly in the long and haphazard row their graves were. I had to climb over two walls, twice. I tried not to walk over any graves, but it is an old cemetery, very crowded, some headstones only nubs, some graves not marked at all.

I am hardly afraid at all anymore.

It didn’t seem remotely creepy to be wandering around out there at Oak Grove. On my second pass along the row, I almost didn’t look at the two graves near the wall. I was sure that I had checked them before, but decided to check them again anyway, fairly certain they were a King or a Gross.

The name of my great-grandmother lept at me in the light. Bam. There it was.

I wiped off the soggy oak leaves that had piled in the center of the big marble slabs, noticed the simple inscription, At Rest. Patted the headstone. Said hello. Sat down on the wet stone, watched the wind blows through the moss.

A golf cart drove by. This is now the sort of town where golf carts just drive around downtown.

Entering the subdivision, I found the roads torn up and a bizarre mess of cones snaking through the rubble. A bulldozer was operating, at 8:00pm, on Thanksgiving. Huge worm-like hoses coiled up near the cones. Great mounds of sandy dirt were piled along the edges of the road.

There was another bulldozer back near the house, parked where the old Arnow house was, building another road.

I didn’t feel much about it, the bulldozer, the road. I just found it interesting.

I would think that maybe I’d be triggered into some outrage about the machines and the land, the gouged earth. While I found it ugly, brutal, the torn up woods and dug up soil, the machines grinding and roaring, I didn’t *feel* much of anything.

When I walked into this house, it was just like it always has been.

Warm and wood-smelling, seeming to smile in the eaves and in the roundness of the dome.

“Hello, house,” she said as she pushed the old door open. “I’m here.”

9:00 AM (6 hours ago)

to me

I woke up early again, at 4-something. By a little after 5:00 I was running down the dirt road in the dark, passing by the surveyor flags and bright reflective flashes on the hulking dump truck that sat in whatever was once the small pasture by the barn. My plan was to run all of the streets in the neighborhood, and then – if I felt like it, to do it again, and then again. That’d end up being a long run.

By the time I had looped back through two cul de sacs, passing by only a bored – looking small dog and a raccoon skittering up a lawn, I had started to decide that it’d be okay if I only ran the streets once. My hands were cold, my head was hot. I took off the headlamp. I didn’t need it anyway. There are streetlights here.

I felt alright running, an easy pace, but not sluggish, breathing well, thinking about the idea that I’d had, to run around the neighborhood, raising the dead.

Well, not the dead, exactly, but the spirit of this place, the spirit of this land and all the people who have been here before what is here now.

This felt like something I’d like to do, as a way of honoring this place, and affirming all the life in this land, these waters.

As I curved around the cul de sacs, I waved my hands toward me, thinking “C’mon, C’mon, wake up…”

I was talking to myself more than anything, trying to find some alertness or great feeling, some energy. I was awake-but-not-on-fire, running through a boring late-20th century Southern subdivision in the very early morning.

There is an aspect of my experience which involves nearly constantly wondering if I am crazy. This consideration is largely reflexive, and is more analytical than it is judgmental.

“Is it weird to think that just because I was a kid here, and feel connected to the land that I can somehow summon the spirits of this land? Is it weird to even think about these things?”

As I write this, I am grimacing a little, both because I  am cold and because I am realizing that, yeah, it’s weird.

Who is to say that there are even spirits in land?

I don’t mean spirits. I mean electricity, atoms. Molecules. Energy. Who is to say that the things that have existed within and have been a part of land areas, whose bodies and old-time forms have been buried or burned into the ground itself…who is to say that any elemental remnant of sentience or soul remains?

Crossing back by the road that leads to the dirt road that leads to home, a road with a street sign that has my great-grandmother’s name on it, I looked at the silhouettes of the remaining pines and oaks, situated at the edges of yards, at the back of the lots, and felt a fondness for them, a fondness for how familiar they are to me, the look of them. The tall trees are the same trees that were there twenty years ago.

“They are just trees.” The land didn’t feel especially alive to me. It was just a place. I ran a little faster, and imagined my footfalls, tiny vibrations, making their way down through the pavement, into the earth, the small spaces.

The wind felt good, gusty and full of river, cold. I stopped thinking about raising spirits and whether that was weird or not, and just focused on running, trying to feel good running.

The neighborhood is the most boring place ever to me. I don’t know if it is so much boring as it is deeply baffling and disgusting in ways that act so powerfully as to shut me down to any feeling or thinking at all, because what is there to feel, what is there to think.

Oh, so much, and nothing at all. It is just a place. A truck pulled to the end of a street named some made-up name. Two of the streets in the neighborhood are named for my great-grandmother, and one street, the one closest to the highway, is named for the family who owned the land before my family did, the family whose house my father took apart to build this house with.

All the other streets have made-up names. Oak Stump Circle. Longwood Drive.

The truck paused, and I was a woman running in the dark, wearing a hat, my glasses reflecting the streetlights.

“Nobody knows who I am here. I don’t live here.”

I liked that thought, but it was still odd to me, that nobody knew that I lived here before they did, that this land used to be my home. That our road runs right through their living rooms, even if you can’t hardly tell there was a road there at all, except for the gap in the trees running straight up through the neighborhood.

I had a couple friends on every street when I was in middle school. I slept in at least one house on every street in the first section of the subdivision. As I ran, I thought about the people I knew who lived there those first few years after the land was developed. I have no idea who lives in those houses now. I don’t know what their lives are like.

I wondered if it was crazy to be running through a subdivision at 5:00 am. I didn’t feel crazy, though I didn’t much want to be seen, which was part of the motivation for running in the dark. I didn’t want to be looked at. I could wear a hat and put my hair in a bun, and wear long leggings or big socks to cover the tattoos on my legs. I would have a sweater on, so my back and arms would be covered. I would have on my glasses. Nobody would recognize me, would stop their car and want to talk with me. Some of the people back on the land near our house, people who live in my great-grandmother’s house down the river two bends, people who build houses on the pasture, cut down all the pear trees, a couple of them might recognize me. Maybe not.

The chances of me running into somebody at 5 o’clock in the morning are pretty slim.

Besides, the part of me that thinks about what a good time to raise spirits might be figures that the pre-dawn hours would probably be alright. I wasn’t looking to raise anything malevolent (haha, famous last words). I had thought about what the inclination was about, what I was hoping to accomplish by this thinking about raising spirits.

Peculiar, I am picturing a male psychologist type fellow, sitting cross legged in a chair, a clipboard on his lap, khaki pants, a lot of sandy beige tones. “So, do you know what you were trying to accomplish with the, um, spirit raising? What did you hope would happen?”

Ugh.

There is such a taboo about things like raising the dead. Jesus Christ.

I ran down the long swoop of road that is the main artery of the second subdivision phase. Remembered once being out running when I was 14 or so, on that very same road, in blazing summer midday heat, being startled when a car pulled up beside me.

It was my smug and smart-alecky used-to-be-a-delinquent-in-New-York-City-look-at-where-I-had-my-ear-pierced psychiatrist in a Mercedes, smiling, saying he was just taking a drive around. It wasn’t that surprising that he’d be in the neighborhood. His office was right up by the highway. He said it was good that I was out running, that I looked healthy, and then drove on away.

I intensely despised that man.

It was getting colder as it moved toward sunrise, and my knee hurt just a little, my lower back pinching every so often. Another car was coming up from behind me, and I broke into a sprint to hit the corner before them, to not let them catch up to me, pass me.

My hair was down, in thin triple braids all the way down my back, like three ropes. I was wearing purple sweatpants, an old moss colored sweater. I was probably a strange thing to see in the early morning. Running as fast as I could, turning that corner tight.

I got a wicked cramp as I moved from the pavement to the dirt road, and slowed to walk, pressing into my side, breathing slowly and deeply. I was in the section of woods that always terrified me when I was a little kid. The land that had been cattle fields that was then planted over in start straight rows of pine timber.

When I was young, I would get a forceful panicky feeling in those woods, like something was rushing at me. I felt the edge of that sort of fear walking in the dark through that corridor of pines, but I could see the lights from the houses that were built by where the road used to fork, and I asserted that nothing in those pines could hurt me, that I didn’t want any trouble out there in those pines, on that dark road, that no trouble ought to visit me, wasn’t welcome.

I straightened my posture and felt more at ease as I walked past where the old Arnow house used to be, the house my father took the wood from.  There was a tremendous grove of redbuds there for a long time, amongst the stray bricks and old rotting wood, rust – crumpled nails. The shape of a backhoe was sleeping there. I felt nothing.

The water in this house is sulfur water, from a freshwater well dug way down into the earth, down further even than the bottom of the river. Some water underground, a lake under the river. When I was a kid, I could not smell the sulfur in our water, because I was used to it. This morning, the smell was strong, but I didn’t mind it. I liked it. It smelled like home.

I wanted to be sure to be out on the dock at sunrise, though the sky was cloudy again. I wanted to see what they day would start out like. I walked out over the water and sat down on the cold wood, looked over to the new dock built out from near where that my brother and I had found those dead baby boars in the burlap sack.

The day would come on weak and grey, the sun just a dim silver behind the clouds. The light went to blue, and the marsh began to get some detail.  The sky was soft and grey. A November morning. Even with the clouds, I could still see shapes. A rolling wave shape along the upper ridge of one of the cloudlayers caught my eye. The shape of the wind.

1:11 PM (2 hours ago)

to me

It occurred to me that I ought to be reverent. Here I was, back home, watching the day come slow and grey. Here was the sky, the very first skyscape I ever studied. Above the rolling ridge of clouds, I saw a shape like a triangle, and thought about the drawing I had done the week before, last Friday morning, picturing what spirits rising and saying goodbye to this place looked like in my mind, a dispersing strand of triangles over a field that loomed vaguely like the sky, with a river drawn in under the layers of chalk pastel, covered up.

A dark shape like a heart formed up to the left of the triangle shape. It was the sort of heart I have thought about getting tattooed on my middle fingers, there between the first and second knuckle, one heart facing out on my right middle finger, one heart facing in on my left middle finger, little hearts that are clean edged and deep-clefted.

I took some pictures, because that is what I do when I see something I want to remember. I take pictures, and I think about how I might write about that moment.

It was cold on the dock, and right before I realized I ought to be reverent and look around, feel a little fucking amazed why-don’t-you, you are home, you came back to this place, here is the river, here is the sky,

I had been thinking about this interview with the musician St. Vincent that I think about every few days lately, how the artist was saying that it just doesn’t matter at all whether someone thinks you might not be okay, not in this day and age. It just doesn’t matter.

“I have a cowardice in me.”

These words rose up and I sat with them, knowing it was true and feeling all my reasons and all my justifications, all my explanations, rise up behind them.

“…but . . . but…”

“I have a great cowardice in me.”

Maybe that is how I will start the introduction, begin the query. It is not such a complicated scenario. I have been writing for over seven years. I have a book in me. At least one book, probably more.

Driving last night, there on I-95, I thought about the possibility that I might find my team of collaborators and that we might successfully create a book containing this story, which could ostensibly be marketed as a mental health memoir documenting the intersections of fucked up genius, psychiatry, and spiritualism, but which necessarily delves enough into my experience of psychosis and subsequent recovery to explore frameworks of understanding extreme states as a function of unique styles of cognition operating under the duress of sustained stress and trauma responses. In discussing the ways that psychosis manifested in my life, I will not be able to avoid talking about what was going on in my head and heart when I tried to prove God with pictures of clouds on the internet.

“What was I thinking?”

I will need to explain my reasoning, and share details of moments when reason faltered.

I have so much old humiliation around those times. I think that is where my cowardice comes from.

However, I was thinking last night, there on i-95, that I was bound to have to face some flack if I tell this story in a way that helps it to do what I want it to do, what I believe it needs to do. Probably quite a bit of flack. A lot of people will call me crazy, and will make fun of me. Some people will try to discredit me and make me out as a fool.

Some people might hate me.

I have read a couple mental health memoirs before. There are some books that almost every person with a certain diagnosis in a certain demographic has read, e.g. Jamison ‘s Touched by Fire, white middle class American women and their mothers. Why would someone who wrote a mental health memoir be scorned, ridiculed?

In most mental health memoirs, things like trying to prove God are written off as psychotic debris, delusions of grandeur, mania. These experiences are offered up as evidence of how truly sick one was, to be thinking and feeling and believing such outlandish things.

I would like to explore the conundrum of my experience as an atypically intelligent person with a remarkable set of life circumstances happening upon a series of expansive ideas rooted in empirical observation and a priori experience. I have no interest in considering my experience of believing I could prove something like God (or at the very least offer an elegant theory on the origins of human written language and iconic composition, or provide vernacular data to support an existing theory) as a dismissable by-product of mental illness.

 

The ideas I had about God and clouds and patterns in nature, about sense and language and sky-watching…those ideas are still solid in my mind, tenable. I do not know if my theory would hold up to further inquiry, but I’d like to find out.

Just a little bit ago, taking pictures of vague cut outs and reliefs of perfect equilateral triangles in the thin wisps of clouds out over the river, I thought, “Dang, it’d be nice to know how that happens, how a triangle shape can be cut out like that, how another can form from gathered clouds?”

There are so many things I’d like to learn about.

Sent: November 24, 2017 8:57 AM

2:43 PM (1 hour ago)

to me

The warmth of the dome has a soporific effect on me. The sun hits that room all day long, arcing it’s way across the sky, heating the space up like a incubator. After I came home from running, took a sulfur water shower and wrote for an hour and a half, took pictures of the sky from the dock, sang a warbling and quiet amazing grace, because that is something that has helped me to connect with my own spirit, thinking about the times I have sung that song, various circles I have sat in, singing with elders and wounded folks, lifting our voices. At some point, watching a heavy shred of dark cloud drift down in the mid-day, I shifted my humming, to Prayer in C, a another song that connects me to my spirit, taking segments of video a minute long, a minute and a few seconds.

I took a nap in the mid-morning, woke up feeling warm and logey, dull in my mind, sort of blank feeling laying there in a sunbeam. I remember that feeling, of being tired and sort of blank, from when I was young. Warm and wilted, content to just lay like a cat in a swathe of sun. It was okay. It made sense that I was tired. I work hard, had traveled the day before, got up hours before dawn, ran in the dark. I let myself lay there a bit longer, got up, ate some bread with peanut butter, drank a few tablespoons of honey, sat on the deck outside of my room for a few minutes, wrote some more.

“I have a great cowardice in me.”

Maybe that is how I will start off my introduction, begin my query.

I needed to go to the autoparts store, to get a new turn signal bulb, and I had the idea that I ought to go into town and find some WiFi, go sit at Seagle’s or the Riverview Hotel downtown, copy some of these recent messages to myself into a document that I can edit with no Internet. I also had the idea that I wanted to get the small tattoo project I had had in mind done, here in my hometown.

I thought I might stop in at the tattoo shop I’d seen by where the old papermill used to be, but driving downtown I saw another small shop tucked into a mid-80s shopping center, beside an Army-Navy surplus store. Turned onto the street that ran alongside the building and cut through the strip of grass to the parking lot. Young man with a big ol ‘ beard, like he was from the mountains, a riot of old ink on his arms, a small line-work bird on his left hand. I made arrangements to come back in an hour.

The bar at the Hotel was closed, but the woman sweeping the floor of the lobby said I could use the WiFi anyway. There is a row of typewriters here on the bench beside me. I like this place. It is nice to know that even when the land and the dome are sold, there is a place that I could come to. We stayed here once or twice, at the Hotel, when it was the only hotel here in town.

We were having the house fumigated.

Sent: November 24, 2017 1:08 PM

[Note: I have actively avoided opening my computer today, despite the fact that I came here with the intention of writing. I have been writing, plenty. 8000 words over a couple of days. On my phone. While participating in family and community activities, and then travelling. I haven’t begun the documents that I set out to create. This visit home strikes me as a significant starting point. There is a lot I want to take note of. For example, this evening, as the sun was setting, I decided to take a walk around the old place, the little hemmed in area of land around the house. See how things look.

As it turns out, things looked weird, old and broken, in abject disrepair, covered in moss and leaves.

The old screendoor lay flat on the side porch, the wooden walkway was broken through, a part of the enclosed pool collapsed under the weight of a fallen limb, some hurricane or another. There was a massive mound of fallen and cut branches and limbs near the barn. It took me a full two minutes to walk slowly around it, filming with my phone. I don’t know why I like to do things like that lately. Probably because I am a latent cinematographer or something.]

While I was walking around the big pile of limbs, I caught glimpse of part of an old cedar tree. I could smell it. Decided I’d cut myself off a chunk of it. Got the saw out of the car. I brought a saw, a phillips head screwdriver, a flat head screwdriver, a small trowel, and a pair of bypass pruners, a sharp pair of scissors.  I almost brought a stapler, but who the hell needs a stapler while traveling?

I brought tools in case I needed to cut any branches, scissors for paper. The trowel for any small digging projects I may encounter or be inspired to undertake.

As I sawed, I looked around and noticed more wood I wanted to take home, and also noticed that the sawdust from the cedar tree was a dark pink. When the split end of the torn log I was sawing came loose from the rest of the fallen trunk, a segment split off, exposed the perfectly smooth and dark rose heart of the tree, the first decade of growth.

I pulled the small jagged tears of wood off the main trunk, saved them for my dad for kindling, a holiday gift. Moved the cut log and the kindling over near the car, set them down like luggage waiting to be loaded. In the little tidal wash to the left of the house, where the water comes up high sometimes, there was an old river beaten cedar trunk, bleached white-gray, all the places it’d been cut were worn smooth by water.

I had seen it the day before, and though – hmmm – I should take that home. I like sticks. Branches. Especially if they come from a place that I love, from trees that I know. It was kind of a big stick. The trunk of a small tree. I picked up one end, sizing the length, the potential that it would fit in my car. I was feeling less attached to the idea of taking it home.

I don’t know how I didn’t see them before, but when I was standing there holding that tree trunk I looked down and saw that the tide-gathered marsh grass was littered with bones. Hip bones, shoulder bones, something of leg, an animal leg. Probably a deer. They had been cut in places, and were not old, still yellowy, not bleached, not dry. “What a weird fucking place this is.”

I took a picture of the bones. As I was edging around to check them out from another angle, I noticed an amazing twist of old root. Possibly even from the cedar tree that had stood there when I was a kid, the one I was hoping to take a dead or dying branch from, to sit with. It isn’t here anymore, that tree. However, there under a scraggly palmetto, was a root, damp and smooth and twisted into all sorts of forms and figures. I leaned down to pick it up, half-expecting it to be caught, still attached to something big under the ground, the rest of the root structure, but it lifted easily, was light.

When I was young, and growing up here, and when I was older and coming home here to visit or to live for brief periods of time. I would find things on the river bank, feathers and old bottles, once a broken figurine of two people dancing, both missing their heads and their feet. I consider those objects to be of the utmost importance, the things that I got from the tides, and they occupy protected areas in my home, mantles and high shelves.

The root will go home with me.

I set it with the cedar log and kindling, then moved it to sit atop the electric box, the dull green box that wires this property in with the town’s electrical grid. I could quite get the frame and light right for a photo, so I filmed it slowly, moving along its form. It was challenging, and my hands shook. My foot was in the first effort, and so I did it again, and it felt like tai chi, to hold my hands as steady as I could and to move my body to move the camera. It was fun.

Figuring I’d take a picture of the dumptruck in the pasture and the spot in the woods where in a dream I had when I was a kid I saw a mirror hanging in the branches of an oak and when I turned back to my family, who was walking on the dirt road with me, they were gone. There are more roads back here than there were. A backhoe sitting smack dab in the middle of the spot where the old Arnow house had been, a monstrously huge machine where there used to be a house, where now there is only a chimney standing solitary in the woods.

I looked down the pine road, and saw that it was beginning to take on that creepy feel in the fading light. “I should walk down it,” I thought, “and then walk back. I will walk down the road I was afraid to walk down.”

Because I had been videoing various segments of this trip, small portions of mediated experience, I decided to video my walk down the road I used to be scared to walk down. Such straight pines, so much burnished brown on the sandy ground, bone colored ground. The space around the trees was darker than the trees themselves, so they stood out, straight and in a line. I looked around as I walked, holding my phone in front of me. Noticed out of the corner of my eye that, so far, the video was going to just look like some Blair Witch Project shit. Kept walking. Noticed how, all the sudden, it was dark on the screen, except for the cutouts of the shapes of trees against the getting-dark sky.  Noticed, also, that I hadn’t hit record. I started videoing 1/2way down the road, only slightly disappointed that I had missed the first part of the walk down the road I used to be afraid of.

The tree shapes were compressed into inspecific contrast forms on the tiny screen of my phone. I felt a little nervous, walking down the road, just my footstep sounds and the sounds of a few late-day birds, some early night insects. I wasn’t scared though.

Watching the trees in front of me and on the screen, which was also in front of me, so that I had a split view of the world, in real-size and in miniature, I saw that there was one curve that traced through the branches that looked like a snake, and that there were globs and cuts and triangle shapes shifting up in the trees as a I walked, like a kaleidoscope animation, the overlay of different branches, clumps of leaves. It was beautiful, the shapes and how they transformed as I moved under them, one thing turning into another, turning into nothing at all.

I turned back, still recording. The video was getting long, but I didn’t want to miss my walk back through the woods, especially because the light from the still not-totally-set sun was twinkling at the end of the road, a flickering point that, as I moved forward, became bigger, a rectangle. The trees whirled their dark shapes against the sky, and the moon came into view, a bright white smudge on the screen.

I was having fun, looking at the world I was walking through, imagining different ways to see it.

It is morning now. I went to sleep early, the dome a dark circle, squirrels on the roof, something moving around under the house. There are so many noises here.

Twice, I have heard what sounded like footsteps, felt the house move a little, but nothing came of it, and I wasn’t scared. There are big machines working everywhere during the day, sawing noises, engine noises, heavy objects slammed on metal. The hollow ring of brick on brick. Today, I will saw some more cedar logs, and try to push the fallen leaves off of the porches with part of a broom I found under the house.

“What is going on with all these doors?”

“Doors? What doors?”

“In the barn, in the front part of it, there are 165 doors.”

“What? I don’t know anything about any doors.” Calls to my father, “Do you know anything about 165 doors in the barn?”

She speaks to me again, “He doesn’t know anything about it either. Hmmm, who knows?”

The doors probably belong to the person who is buying this land, who will own the barn. He is in, predictably enough, the construction business. Probably got a good deal on a lot of doors. 165 doors.

That’s a lot of fuckin’ doors.

This morning, I woke up later than I have been, at 5:22, and wondered why the alarm I’d set for 5:05 hadn’t gone off. Ah, it is not programmed to go off on Saturdays.

I checked the sky for daylight, but it was still very dark.

I had ½ planned to go running again, do the same loop around the neighborhood, the most boring run ever. A subdivision in the dark.

It is good for me to do these things, this running in the dark, going down unpleasant roads, because it forces me to try to find something of value in the experience, some way of tolerating it, of not quitting. Today, I got a stitch in my side at the beginning of the last mile before I was set to turn back, and I slowed way down, but I didn’t turn around early, though I almost did once, in the middle of the 2nd road that is named for my great-grandmother, tract houses and Fords, flags and bumper stickers. So many people live here.

Yesterday, when I ran, I pretended/imagined/considered raising the spirits of this land, and this morning I briefly revisited that notion, curving around a cul de sac.

It felt silly to me. Almost something to be embarrassed of. Creepy.

This morning, I wasn’t feeling much of my audacity. I felt a little old as I ran in my purple sweatpants. Didn’t really care.

This whole season has been a process of resolving my core sadnesses and ousting my longstanding insecurities.  Making peace.

Nevertheless, the doubt that undermines, again and again, has been leaching into me this morning. Sits in my belly like a goddam sinker, solid and heavy. This choking fucking doubt.

Doubt and my cowardice are bedfellows.

I have written 10,000 words in several days, and have felt good about what I have written, as I was writing it, but then that horrible doubt seeps into the good feeling, whispering, “You won’t actually do it, won’t actually finish. Even if you do, nothing will happen. You won’t do anything. You’ll embarrass yourself.”

Oh.my.fucking.god.

Enough.

See, the thing is, I know where that voice in me comes from. It comes from motherfuckers is where it comes from. People who have been dicks to me.

So, for that reason, if for no other reason, it is important to me that I go ahead and say fuck doubt, and go through the motions of doing this thing, in the best way that I know how, even if the doubt gets so strong that it crumples me inside. I can edit when I am doubting and have nothing to say.

I probably won’t be doubting so much as I have heretofore tended to, because, like I said: Fuck doubt.

It is an uncomfortable feeling, the doubt. It is in my body as much as it is in my head. Sensations. Feelings. A sense of weight across my chest, forgetting to breathe. My lower lip pushes up at the left corner, my heart hurts. Doubt makes my heart hurt.

She got up from where she was sitting with her back against the warm, south-facing wall. Slumped into an air mattress, the blankets making lumpy ridges underneath her. She was not uncomfortable in her posture, and the sun beaming through the plexiglass triangles of the dome room was warm on her legs. Her heart hurt a little, though. Felt soft with some tightness in its core.  Something bitter, like the taste of pennies. Her head got foggy when her heart felt like this, all the sharpness gone, just vague and distracted thoughts, a rummaging through times her heart has felt like this. Such a basic human tendency, to struggle to turn from discomfort, to remember pain.

She got up from where she was sitting, and moved a few objects around, put clothes back into her bag, put her vitamins away. She’d go back out to the dock. Sit in the sun. Be there for a minute, think about this doubt that had crept up in her. Try to get rid of it.

As she crossed the small strip of yard between the house and where the bank of the river began, she thought about how she had come across those bones the day before, how weird this place was now. Creepy. So much moss. She walked her heavy heart out to the dock, sat in a square of sunlight, looked around.

To the east/southeast, there was a broad swoop of clouds. Cold weather clouds. Wisps of ice hanging up in the sky, barely stirred by wind. She saw that one of them looked a little like a fist, another like a hand. She looked for the clean lines and angles that she found especially interesting in clouds, because she didn’t understand how such a perfect line could be made with something so soft as air and water moving in the wind.

Immediately, she forgot about her doubt. “It comes back to this,” she thought. “The shape of the wind.”

There was no wind up there, so the clouds just stayed in the forms they were in, only slowly shifting, another line, a triangle, a well-spaced grouping of density and light, a graceful curve carved cleanly. “This is all I want to do.” She felt that kickback, that backlash, doubt re-ignited.

She knew that it was possible to construct a life in which she got to spend more time in beautiful and tragic places that mean something to her, to spend more time gawking around at the sky and the trees, taking pictures.

My interior experience when I am watching clouds is one that I have come to think about as a state of attentive awareness, an open, but observational perspective. Noticing what is happening in front of me, what my reaction is, what thoughts and feelings are inspired. What comes into my mind.  I try to maintain focus, but let my mind drift. I am careful to split my attention between the image on the screen and the actual, real clouds.

I like to study them on the small screen, because the image – a big, big sky – is condensed, and it is easier to see some of the formations. When clouds are strewn across the sky, it is difficult to notice and to see the different parts of them, the eye is pulled in so many directions.

I look for lines, and angles. Also forms that look like something, a figure or a wing or a letter, eye-shapes. There are some compositions of cloud clumps that remind me of the points of light around the heads of saints in stained glass windows, such perfect spacing.  Other groupings of clouds look like stories, arrangements of cloud-ridge figures, standing and crawling, a tendrilous arm outstretched. I look, also, for letters, ways that the angles and lines arrange themselves in such a way as to resemble scraps of written languages, strange partial symbols, pulling together and then dissipating.

“Maybe I should call it a project. Just lay the whole thing out.” She balked inside at the thought of it. However, she knew it was a good idea, that these plans and notions she worked on tirelessly in her head were, by definition, a project. A big idea with several different components.

Her audacity is inspired by cloud watching, because her curiosity is inspired by watching clouds. “If nothing else, I really just want to find someone who can explain to me how that happens, why triangle shapes form in the clouds, and at the edges of trees.”

She knows that she could probably research this, and could likely find an explanation, some physics of patterns in nature. However, she thinks it will be more interesting to try to find someone who might help her to understand this atmospheric phenomenon by writing a book and starting conversations about rudimentary patterns in nature and the origins of written human language and religious iconography.

The crowd boos and hisses. “Get the fuck out of here, Audacity.”

The woman pulls Audacity from out behind the curtain, says: “Take a deep breath. It’s no big deal. We don’t have to listen to them. They’re just haters. Doubters. We can do this. I can do this.”

She holds tight to Audacity’s hand, feeling the bones of it. Begins to step forward, feels the resistance, the holding back.

“I can do this,” she thinks. Turns, studies Audacity, who is not feeling so audacious at the moment, who is actually cowering a little, meek around the eyes. “C’mon,” she urges, pulling audacity forward, “I can do this, but I need your help.”

She knows that all she needs to do is to go back downtown, to sit in the lobby of the Riverview Hotel and to upload her 1:00 videos to youtube. To put together a post of the 11,000 words she has written, spend some time in town, write some more. Saw more cedar logs. Write a letter.

She came down to the coast to construct a query, to devise a way of introducing herself and her work which encompassed the scope and vision of the project, but which was brief and charismatic, though not gimmicky, sincere. She thinks that being direct in what she is seeking is probably the best way to go, to simply offer some information about the situation, in the form of a longitudinal multimedia project proposal, and request consideration.

I might need help creating the proposal though.

That is what I was supposed to be doing while I was down here. Creating a project proposal, drafting a query letter. I have gotten off-track with those goals because I have been documenting my experience of coming back to this place, what I have been thinking about, what I have been noticing.

However, I think that I am closer to having a project proposal created than I was before this trip, because I have a better understanding of what it is that I am proposing. A book, yes. However, if a book is created to do something in the world other than to just be a book, a story on bound pages, then it becomes a project. I could – and may – simply write the book the best way I am able, but I feel like I’d be well-served by some guidance and feedback in the process, keeping in mind what the function of the book is, who it is being written for, what the aim is.

[Hours later…]

To make a golem for a book, you must first have the idea, driving alone on an interstate several days before you go out of town. Your friend from New York City told you about golems, explaining as he brought in a bundle of sticks gathered from the perimeter of the woods on the northern California coast that one could bring something into being by creating a representative structure or object of that thing, and imbuing that object with a will that what the object represents will come into being.

“I will make a little book, to symbolize my book, and it will be a golem.” You think this to yourself, though you don’t know anything about how to make a golem, or what materials ought to be used. You forget about the idea, forget to looks for a sharp needle and strong thread, for binding a miniature book. Wonder briefly, when the idea returns to you, feeding the dogs the morning before you leave, if you should you bound the small bookform in the scraps of peacock blue leather you have in a bag in the closet?

You did not bring leather. You did bring paper though, plain printer paper. You found a perfect small box in the backseat of the car, something that came with a cellphone, a tiny flat brown box. No stickers, no printing, sealed by two small flaps. The perfect box for a little book golem.

Driving into town night before last, when it struck you that you should go visit your great-grandmother’s grave, you had the thought that some of the dirt from around where she is buried might be a good thing to add to a golem, to give it the oomph of ancestors that love you, to connect your great-grandmother to you in this endeavor, to help you to remember that it was her, before it was anyone else, who told you that you were a wonderful writer, simply wonderful.  It was her, before it was anyone else, who taught you how stories could take you places, give you pictures in your head, feelings. She was a good storyteller, and you would beg to hear your favorites again and again, for years.

You almost forgot, that drizzly Thanksgiving night at the cemetery, to get the small spade out of the car, the old jam jar.  You didn’t though. You remembered, and said thanks to your great-grandmother as you scooped the dry, soft earth into the glass.

After you got your fingers tattooed yesterday, you saved the section of papertowel with two small blood-and-ink hearts on it.  You saved your fingernail clippings from last night, when you sat quiet against that wall in the room you couldn’t breathe in. The nails were from your hands, built from your cells. You fished a small coil of hair, pulled free in the shower, one single grey strand, out of the garbage, and used a hammer to split a piece of skull bone from an antler you found by the barn.  You took the feather from a downy woodpecker killed by a hawk out of your wallet. Your father had given you three of the feathers on Wednesday. “These are some special feathers.”

My father says lots of things are special.

Lots of things are.

I walked out to the dock, and stood where my friend had been sitting just a little bit ago. My friend and their lover had stopped by to say hello, travelling north. I stood there for a minute, glad that my friend had been there, then walked back to the point, stopping at the end of the dock to pick up a perfect sprig of cedar that I walked over with a friend who cares about me.

I hadn’t made a tiny book yet. I did have a piece of paper though, that had been folded and noted with page numbers on it, for a mini-zine project I did several years back. It had been sitting on my desk since I moved rooms back in the mountains, and before that it was on a shelf with books I value, and those felted wool figures from far-away Hastings Street, a red and white striped giraffe crocheted by someone who was a dear friend for a moment, and a hat I’d made for myself, a hat like a bird’s head, its beak like a pointed bill, stitched from felt, with scraps of red linen fanning back as feathers.

I decided that the sheet of paper with page numbers would be my golem book, and I gathered all the things I’d collected – the box, the cedar sprig, the piece of bone, the feather, the papertowel and fingernail crescents, the coil of hair – and went back out to the point.  Sat down on the ground and wrote a simple statement on the sheet, set a straight-forward intention.

Not asking, telling.

Stating what will happen: This book will be written by me. Stating my desired end: In service to the greatest possible good.

Folded the page and signed it with my full name, unfolded it, I put some of the dirt from my grandmother’s grave on the page, my hair and fingernails.  Poured a small amount of water from the well deep below this land onto the paper, watched the ink run, folded it again and set it down into the box, with the heart-stained piece of paper towel, the piece of bone, the sprig of cedar, the woodpecker feather. Found a spot on the point right between the oak tree and the cedar tree, where one can stand to see both the sunrise and the sunset. Cleared back the grass, dug a little hole. Such soft earth.

I got the thought, out of nowhere, that I needed to include a piece of copper, a small copper bird, in with my golem book and its hosts of offerings.  I ran back upstairs, got a bird that I had already made, that I had brought with me because I thought that I might work on holiday gift crafts while I am here, if I felt like it.

The sun was setting as I wrote out a small prayer on the bottom of the box, set it into the ground, covered it up, and then uncovered it, gathered a small scoop of marsh mud from beside the cedar tree and packed it over the box containing my book golem, covered it all back up.

My friend says that making a golem is a way of setting something into motion, and –yeah- it’s not magic, you still have to do the work of creating or becoming the thing which the golem is made for, but it creates an impetus, an intention, almost like a pact.

It really comes down to a couple of different theories.

The theory that I find the most interesting and worth considering is the one involving metapatterns in nature and how, if closely observed, the natural world may manifest the symbols and compositions that human civilizations associate with divine presence and/or workings, that these patterns in nature are mirrored in our written languages and iconic compositions.  There are sub-theories associated with this idea, involving how/why some people may be more prone to see shapes in the sky than others, and fuzzy concepts about the metaphysical mechanics of forces at work in shaping the world.  Some of the tertiary theories get a little weird, a little out there. They become problematic – untestable, speculative.

Another theory is that I am crazy, and nothing means anything.  That I am deluded.

That theory isn’t very interesting to me.

If I approached this idea of mine, that patterns in nature have a lot to do with how God and gods have been conceived of throughout the ages, and have mightily influenced our iconography and text-based languages, as a scientific inquiry, I would need to do rigorous research on the origins of written language, related theories, the aesthetics of icons across world religions throughout recorded history, incidences in sacred texts that may allude to the physical manifestations of divinity within the natural world, then I would need to document phenomena that I perceived to support my theory, and catalog those incidences, as well as consult with others, specialists in the field…whatever field such an inquiry may exist within…cultural anthropology?

I would need to be open to being wrong. I am open to being wrong. In fact, for a long time, my weblog was called Prove Me Wrong.

It was both a challenge and a plea.

While I was driving to the grocery store, to buy snacks to share with the visitors, my friend and their lover, I saw another triangle in the sky.

So, so many triangles in the sky here the past few days. I think I know how it happens.
If two large currents of air meet, intersecting at an angle, the way two currents might come together in a river…? If the temperature or air pressure or relative humidity within those currents, clouds may either dissipate or accumulate near the point of the two currents meeting (the apex of the triangle)?

Sometimes the appearance of triangles may be an illusion created by the layering of clouds and empty sky?

Yeah. That’s probably it. An illusion.

(Note: I sat in the Riverview for two hours, waiting for pictures to sync from my phone to my cloud-stored photos, tried to find the best ones to add between paragraph breaks. They were slow to sync, and I listened to a white-haired man sing Hallelujah, other old songs. At least three of the songs had mentions of books, of stories. The other people in the room and I talked while the musician took a break. Turns out that I was the only person in the room that is from this town, from this place.)

Nov 29

I planned to come home and work out a study+research of one particular form I’ve noted in the the clouds as being suggestive of some elements of written human language or iconic composition, explore the history and mythology of – for example, a trident or a triangle. That shape that looks like what I’d call a 3, but that someone else, from somewhere else, might see as something different, a shape with a different name, a different meaning. I have a small library of books on symbols and patterns in nature, and I have the internet. It was a helpful thing for me write out what I might need to do to approach this as a scientific inquiry, because while and not equipped to do exhaustive interdisciplinary analysis of weird clouds, I am excited about seeing what I can learn. I don’t know why I wanted someone else to help me to understand why I see what I see, and how these sort of structures in the clouds are formed, whether or not it is possible that other people, in other places, have – throughout history – also noticed these particular forms.  It’d be nice to be able to talk with someone about this, but I can do research, and write about that process, interesting bits of information I might find.

I am not opposed to being incorrect in my ideas. I just want more information.

The biggest barrier to me doing this sort of informal-but-purposeful survey of easily accessible information and related, but possibly less obvious, resources of knowledge is time. it is almost midnight now. I have slept an average of four hours a night recently. It’s not that I am not tired (I am tired), or that I cannot sleep (if I closed my eyes right now, I’d be asleep within two minutes). I have a lot I want to do, a lot I need to do. Also, I am experimenting with the possibility that I can train my body and faculties to function more adequately under adverse or stressed conditions, such as slight sleep deprivation.

There are things I want to do and be a part of that will require me being able to stay late and still be thinking clearly, functioning well. So far, my experiments have turned up some astounding insights…I do pretty well on scarce sleep. I don’t feel bad, I am not cranky. I feel a little more…but, I like feeling.

The other morning, when you walked out to add the slip of paper that you’d written the word for truth in Hebrew on 9 times to your little book golem box, you found that something had dug it up, left it laying on the ground, box pulled open, but contents undisturbed. You picture a raccoon, maybe a possum, smelling across the surface of the ground, pausing to smell the faint whiff of my hands, buried under the roots of the grass, pawing through, lifting out the box, pulling the flaps open, finding not much of interest, paper and dirt, human smells, tree smells, dry bone smell.

You set the folded paper into the box, brush off the little bit of mud that is on the cardboard, close it all back up, and take it inside, take it with you.  There is enough buried out there, left out there.  You feel good about the little book resting in the ground for a sunset and a sunrise. You wrap it up with paper, and tie it with a string. Put it your bag to go with you. Something out in the world, traveling close.

12:11 AM

Every Tuesday for the past 3 weeks, I have been leaving core sadnesses in the woods out at Pisgah. I have been running fast in the dark.

I don’t know if am actually running fast, because perception of speed changes in the dark, everything around you sliding by in shadows.

Even with my eyes closed, I know when I am running fast. I can tell by my breathing, and by my body mechanics, the posture of my arms, the way my feet hit the ground and lift. I don’t close my eyes when I am running in the dark. There is no need to.

I make sure to be off the root – rugged trail by the time full dark starts to settle in, back on the flat trail that I know fairly well. My night-vision isn’t wonderful, and the first thing to go after sunset is my depth – perception. I cannot run down rough hewn trails in the dark.

That would be stupid and dangerous. 

Tonight, I even brought a headlamp, but the bobbing light in front of me made me feel woozy, so I turned it off, and ran in the dark.

I have not run during full daylight hours at all over the past couple weeks. Early mornings and waxing sunrise in Georgia. Sunsets in the forest. Looping the dog around by the Hot Spot, down the big road, past the convenience store and public housing neighborhoods, past the store fronts and rowing machines and not-wonderful paintings. Past the people sitting and smoking outside of the old hotel, now apartments. Up the hill, racing up the steep slope at the corner, full sprinting up a hill, the dog exuberant, wide open.

I think I will need to do that run tomorrow night, take the dog out.

I don’t know if I will go back to that trail in the forest that I’ve been leaving my core sadnesses on. It’s a pleasant enough run. Not too challenging, but – overall – not too easy.  The second half, the way back, is easy. The first half is mostly easy…except for that hill. I had planned to run up that hill today, even if I had to go extremely slow, a quick upward March. It starts off with a slow incline, and then becomes steep, going up the hill.

I think it is mental, my resistance to this hill. However, I know – also – that my fitness and strength is still warming up to hill running, and that I probably need to quit smoking again. I can find other ways to modulate my norepinephrine levels, to produce dopamine and raise my serotonin levels. I will not go on a psychiatric medication, like wellbutrin.

“There is an urgent call for you,” my supervisor had come down the hall, down to the basement, to the laundry room, where I was folding sheets that burnt my arms, felt good to fold. I set the sheets aside, a big metal cart with rattling wheels that I loved to pull down the halls, stocking the laundry shelves, that hot dryer smell. The dust smell of the closets set into each long hall, rooms evenly spaced, like a hotel or a hospital, a school.

The place used to be a hospital. It was still a place where people came to die, came when there was no help at home.

My supervisor and I probably made small talk on the elevator ride back up to the main floor. The lobby desk. She liked me, liked my husband.

He worked in the kitchen, managed the day shift. Made me eggs, over hard, chatted with me as I got a bowl of cereal.

All the residents thought it was wonderful that we were married. I had just found out I was pregnant the month before, just a few days after our courthouse wedding. I found out that I was pregnant while we were down in Georgia, with our families gathered for our “real” wedding, there at the place where I grew up.

I had just had my first appointment at the ob-gyn. That’s who was calling, my doctor. There was no small talk. “Are you still taking wellbutrin?”

I felt relieved. I hadn’t taken it in months and months. I had stopped taking it, because it made me gain 30 pounds in one month and made me feel terrible, made me feel sick.

Two years before, I had swallowed about 30 wellbutrin, along with an entire prescription of opioid painkillers, that a different ob-gyn had given me, for a pain near my ovaries, an internal inflammation that I was given no explanation for, only a prescription. I hadn’t taken many of them. I had a lot left. 

“You know you could have really died,” the doctor told me, his face distorted because my pupils were so contracted and I was grimacing, so sick. Sick in every cell of my body. Poisoned. 

“I know.” 

I wasn’t yet glad that I hadn’t died. 

The following year, at the turn of this century, I ended up in the hospital again after “the bad morning,” the era of sitting at my grandmother’s card table shooting cocaine with the man who tattooed wings on my palms. I don’t think that I had experienced a rush of dopamine in a long, long time. I understood that I could easily addicted, because my brain got such a powerful signal that, “Hey, this feels good. We should do more.” Dopamine is how we are encouraged to participate in the activities of survival. Hunting and gathering. Wanting, pursuing, achieving. Grooming. Love. Drugs or activities that stimulate a dopamine release are interpreted by our brains and bodies that this cocaine or this new pair of shoes or this Facebook like or this new date must be incredibly important to our survival, that it really is something we have to do. 

“How are you?” He asked. 

“Immediately glad I did it.” I replied, without any hesitation whatsoever, but a wash of bitter in mouth and my heart pounding, stomach recoiling. I didn’t care that I felt sick. “This shit could kill me.” I knew that right off the bat, one second in. “This could kill me so, so quick.” 

I don’t think I ever really wanted to die. Not enough to do something that I knew would kill me. The thought of dying from a drug overdose or a rapid emaciation, arms addled with pocks and bruises, under the Burnside Bridge, some terrible thing or another happening to me and around me…this was not an appealing potential end for me to consider. 

Maybe I did want to die, enough to risk doing something that I knew my kill me, like taking all those pills the year before. Cutting so close to a major vein on that bad, bad morning. 

They sent me home from the hospital with a prescription for wellbutrin. I didn’t take it long. 

“No,” I turned my body in towards the wall, away from the women at the front desk. “I haven’t taken it in months.”

I had stopped taking the venlafaxine as soon as I found out I was pregnant. Drove cross country with a new husband and two dogs in the wintertime, coming off of effexor.

I didn’t know that what I was feeling, such sickness and volatility, was due to me being in a psychiatric drug withdrawal process. I thought I was just fucked up, that maybe I was sick and emotional, lying in the back seat of the car, woozy and tingling and jolting, at the very edge of vomiting for state after state after state. I tried to have fun, visiting relatives in California, eating pizza, listening to music. 

“That’s good,” the doctor said, sounding relieved. “Okay.”

“Why?”

The doctor passed, then told me that the drug I had been taking causes birth defects. I wasn’t taking it anymore, but I still felt sick.

8 years later, I would get an abortion, because I was pregnant and did not know it, and they did not give me a pregnancy test at the outpatient program I was court-ordered to go to. They prescribed me wellbutrin, which I was court-ordered to take. 

So, no, I will not go on a psychiatric medication. Those drugs only did me harm. I’m glad some people find them helpful, but they almost killed me, were a major factor in severe life disruptions and disasters. 

I would like to run up that hill. So, I will need to find a way to approximate the neurochemical effect of nicotine. Not right now though. Right now, I am enjoying smoking cigarettes.

There are hills I could train on near here. Work up to it. I run further up it each time I try. I could simply keep trying and then, one day, it will be done.

Tonight, there was no way I was going to run up that hill. I had planned to do it, half-wanted to do it. My head had hurt all day, and each footfall was like getting hit in the temple.

I thought I had talked to people for four hours, but as I started the run, orienting to where I was at, what I was doing, reflecting on the albatross of experience that is a day working in a state – funded behavioral health services program, I realized that, no, it’d been five hours. Actually more like 7, because even when I wasn’t doing a class or having an appointment tent with someone, I was still outwardly attending, talking and listening, sending emails while I ate a sandwich.

“What the fuck…”

I felt heavy, tried to enjoy moving through the forest in falling light, head pounding. I had decided that morning that I would dismantle a specific fear as I ran up the hill, a longstanding and especially pernicious fear, a prickly fear, that under its pervasively nuanced operations within my life has the power to completely shift me into a state of experience that, quite frankly, fucks me up.

I had been feeling the fear since it had mostly recently risen up during a conversation had in a parking lot. 

It was probably good that I was talking with people all day long, because if I am talking  with people, that fear eases back.

I think that part of how this works, this process of writing and reflecting on experience, is that I will set forth a statement, such as all my recent assertions that I am not scared of much anymore, and – then – a couple days later, something will arise that challenges whatever I might have momentarily believed was true. I probably, in this process, seek out challenging or incongruent evidence in some subconscious fumbling around trying to confirm whether what I said is true…or not true.

I don’t think I am scared like I have been before. I have fear though. In my body.

Someone told me recently about how to train elephants to stay in one place. How to put a collar on them that causes pain if they move out of a certain perimeter. Eventually, they stop trying to move beyond the boundaries of the collar, even if it is removed.

They just stay where they know they won’t get hurt.

Of course, there is a critical deprivation that occurs when an animal is not able to move about much for fear of being hurt. A slow, deep hurt, a gradually death of motivation.

Learned helplessness, yo.

Psychology researchers shocked dogs to learn how much it to took to make an animal scared to even try to get out of a situation, to give up.

While I had been feeling the fear – which reflexively comes up when I make small progress in my aim to be slightly more free within my life and who I am, what I involve myself with and how I spend my time – most of the day, went to sleep with it last night, waking up with it this morning, I didn’t fully feel it until halfway up the hill, and it closed my throat up, my eyes got wet. “What the hell? I don’t cry when I run.”

I think it frightened me, to find myself about to sob out in the woods with the sun going down, cold and damp with sweat. I kept running, and as the run got easier, the fear got bigger in me, edged into anger, into grief, made my throat tight, my heart beat even harder, my arms numb, my body a strange vehicle for so much feeling, so many thoughts and images, rapid fire reactions, the effort not to fall, to watch the ground, to remember that I am running.

Usually, running makes me forget most everything other than running. The fear, the body response, the felt sensations, the psychological phenomenon of a cluster bomb of flashback moments…it made it hard for me to remember I was running.

I kept going, because the only way back was forward.

While rationally I am so done with that fear, I still have that fear in body, telling me not go outside the boundaries set for me by other people under specific and longstanding threat relating to my family structure, inclusion/alienation within my family. To not even challenge those boundaries, or ask questions about them. Or even acknowledge them. To smile and be cooperative with the agreement, the arrangement. To me, family conflict and the probably – not-great outcomes that may come from self advocacy efforts within the current circumstances of power and reality that define my family, the impossible nature of the situation, in which if someone has a problem with me, it is likely to create problems for my kids…its not worth my sense of self-interested freedom to compromise the peace and relative stability within their family. While no one can take my kids away anymore, because they are too old and there is no justifiable reason, other than . . . oh, snap…other than idiots are likely to read this not as a dynamic work of creative nonfiction by a persistently inquisitive self-documentarian, but as some crazy shit that means I’m not a good mom, because I dont talk much about being a mom here, just talk about weird stuff and banal but sparkling everyday phenomenon that nobody cares to hear about, but that I would like to remember. Talk about big questions, meta-curiosities. Things I don’t talk with people much about, in my walking-talking life. 

I don’t think I can publish this writing, because it is just too personal. It is my most private and real fear. It is the soft core of me, my quicksand.

Who needs it?

I don’t want this to exist anymore, this situation where I have fear that keeps me from doing things that are important to me, like being myself, not a role-parsed and segmented self, all the most real aspects of who I am a secret. 

It is the time of year when I am on my commute during the moment of sunrise, when everyone slows down, because the sun is so bright, and the accumulated deceleration backs up way down the road.

It’s fascinating to me, the sunrise traffic jam.

Nov 29

Epic detours, such a lightness, some fun in crossing back and forth over this river. I am stopped in a parking lot, about to go walk in the forest. I think I killed some fear last night. The songs on the radio are encouraging this morning. Feeling stronger everyday.

 https://youtu.be/Mh3Kk5tZSmo looking  for the Logical Song, by Supertramp, because – yeah, story of my life, I found this song: https://youtu.be/-1rzsT2t2YY 

I am looking forward to today.  I love my life. 

…and reflects…

 

I’m sitting on the landing strip outside of Boulder, Utah in the middle of the night. It’s 3 am. We’re camped out in the sage beside the trailhead of the Boulder Mail Trail and I had a bad dream in cinematic style, the scenes of faces aghast as the news report was broadcast over the loud speakers during a track event.

The moon is waning gibbous and a wind is blowing from the east. I feel far away from home and a little disconnected from myself and my life as I knew it to be.

I spent the last three days in canyons, with little time to reflect on what I was doing – sloshing through Death Hollow creek with wet sandy feet.

I think that it is important to me to take time to reflect when I am traveling.

******

Last night, we couldn’t find a cheap enough room on Highway 60 and so camped on BLM land outside of Socorro, NM after driving through the flats of the SW desert. We set up our camp, an easy process of laying out the tyvek groundsheet and inflating the sleeping pads, pulling our bags out of the packs and eating a dinner of tortillas and turkey, cheese and avocado we talked as friends do under a sky filled with stars, the Milky Way a thin gauze of light above us, waiting for the shooting stars of the Orionid meteor shower to begin to fall.

I found you on the roadside

right where you said you’d be

restaurant closed and desert sun blaring

the radio silent as I went into the turn

you told me to expect

You’re always hungry when I find you, and so I knew to bring food, a fried salty offering that I set onto the ground between us

at the end of your long walk

I brought a bag of oranges, too, and at the end of our first reunion meal, there was a pile of skins and a pile of bones.

 

I questioned your assumption that I wouldn’t know to bring enough to eat when we went out walking.

You were right. I didn’t know.

 

the clinkers made new music under our feet

breaking and sliding as we left our mark

made the landscape something different than it was

in the small ways of footsteps

and broken rocks

 

The hooves of cattle pressed arcs into the sand, forgetting the bloodlines of Buffalo

Thirst as a way of life, a fact unrecognized having never known anything other than the scarcity of water

Mouths tough for chewing spines and thorns breaking down the woody sage hour after hour

damnable heat another simple fact

This place burned for hundred years.

That’s how it became beautiful.

The simultaneous existence of the places I have been and all the places I have not been and all the places I am and the places I am not is a curious phenomenon.

While I was walking in Slickhorn Canyon out in Cedar Mesa, there were women on corners in the darkest pockets of the city and highways everywhere pulsed with their constant flow of metal and bodies moving toward the lights of cities while people sat in their small homes on the sides of the road in the middle of nowhere watching the news, the entertainments.

People slept under bridges, and lights went out in jails while the third shift workers began to get ready to go in for the night and the second shift workers felt ready to go home.

The world exists as it does, no matter where I am, whether or not I can see what is happening.

The sheer fact of all these places and all these lives blows my mind.

Sleeping in canyons, I was almost invisible.

I am sitting on my porch and it is morning, raining lightly and cloud grey. The air is warm and moist here, humid.

It feels like Thanksgiving.

*****

“I think I would stop more often, if I did this again, make it a point to give myself time to reflect and take notes, write down the questions I had as I walked about the names of trees or the history of places, the thoughts I had about who I am or about my life, the small segments of phrase I wanted to remember.”

It is difficult to maintain practice while traveling. I think I figured that I would be able to grab a few minutes here and there to write down my experience, to take notes.

Even though we were out of signal range, No Service, a lot of the time, walking through open, public lands, I could create drafts to email to myself, I could add to and edit Google docs.

I knew that traveling with my friend and not having spaces of aloneness would impact my practice. In many ways, this writing of notes is a solitary practice. When I am writing, I am spending time with myself. We are social creatures, and if there are people around, our attention orients to them.

One of the things that I most appreciate about my friend is that I can inhabit open contemplation with them, laying quiet under the stars, sharing our thoughts about the world and our experience, the things we are most motivated to do and the people we are, the small beauties we might notice in the color of leaves or the shapes of clouds, the way the Milky Way has dark spots and light spots stretching in an arc across the sky.

It is a beautiful thing, to inhabit that space of looking around in contemplation with another person.

It is not a time for taking notes.

I have tried to learn how to remember conversations and the experience of being in a place with a person.

There is so much that is difficult to capture.

We saw the prints of what looked to be a mountain lion in the sand near the canyon wall, looking for a place to camp. There were two sets, big and set deep in the sand and much, much smaller, pressed in a scamper alongside the bigger prints. An arc out to the center of the sand and then a loop back into the cottonwoods and spiny weeds. “A mother and a baby.” We looked around, wondering about mountain lions, knowing they lived there, and decided to walk on. “The babies will stay with the mother for a long time, learning how to be a mountain lion.” “This would be a good place to be a mountain lion.” We walked along the Escalante River, pondering the local range of mountain lions, how big their territory might be. “I think it’s pretty big.”

I had to pee, but decided to hold it for the purpose of urinating around our camp, wherever it might be. We’d begun looking for a flat spot along the river, but out of whatever wind might move through the canyon in the night.

My eyes had become trained to assess the levelness of the ground, the size of a spot in the sand, whether there was a wind break or a potential danger, a patch of cacti or a big stone not yet turned into sand.

The amount of sand and rock in the canyons is truly amazing. They are made of sand and rock, rock worn by water and wind into sand.

When we found a spot I duckwalked and hopped around the far outer edge of the space we had declared ours for the night, peeing in small spots, making a rough circle. It was a silly thing to do, like something from a Boy Scout manual in the 1950s. I know that hunters try to disguise their human smells, so that the animals won’t know they are there. I wanted the mountain lion to smell us, to know we were there, in her territory.

I was trying to communicate, leaving a message. We are animals in your space. Please be aware of that. Do not be surprised by our sleeping forms in the dark. Do not be curious. We are humans and we are here. I left this message with the smell of my animal urine and hoped that any mountain lion that might be moving along our path in the night might understand the message and go around.

We took the 1-40 from Amarillo east after sleeping poorly in an overcrowded state park through howling cold winds and the yelping of coyotes. I didn’t hear them, because I slept in the car while my friend slept in his poncho tarp-tent, using the car as a windshield.

The wind was blowing in cold rain and snow from the north, and as I drove I watched the grass at the side of the road lay flat and the murmurations of starlings lift and twist from the fields of cotton, rising like waves to fly off in a lurching and dipping bundle of black feathers. The sky was heavy and low, a grey blanket holding gold light in strange places. It was beautiful and the closed car window was sharply cold against the back of my hand as I felt the barrier between the inside of the vehicle and the whole world rushing past outside.

The rains came as we entered Oklahoma and did not stop until well into Arkansas. We crossed the Mississippi after dark, but still knew the river was down there by the thick of the darkness below us.

The next morning, we woke up to a weak drizzle that sputtered at us as we drove over to a coffeeshop on the campus of a random Christian university set into the middle of the Arkansas town. The roads to school were named things like Pleasant Plains Ext and Oil Well Drive. I turned around in a parking lot off of Dement. On Oil Well, there were new sharp edged and shiny shopping centers, small chain restaurants, a Tulum, a Panera, a big beauty shop and a small local dry cleaners. The buildings were commercial developments, built to suit for the companies who wanted to come into the town. They were new and fabricated seeming. Modern commerce architecture.

Two days before, we drove through Holbrook, Arizona and were fascinated by the ruins of the Route 66 attractions, the concrete tepees and rusted out old cars. Faded letters proclaiming America’s Highway. It’s amazing how quickly things fall apart. In some town closer to the border, we used the bathroom in a grocery store and sat on the warm pavement behind the car, discussing our plans to get further along, how we might not get so far as we’d hoped.

It was worth it, I felt, to have spent time sitting out back behind the coffeeshop, taking notes.

All under the built-in awning roof of the shopping center, stretching along in front of the vacant plate glass windows, the empty space, pigeon spikes caked with shit and feathers brutal looking up by the ceiling, dried grasses the color of buttermilk had gathered where the wind blew them, a big soft shape on the concrete walkway that nobody walked down.

It’s amazing how quickly things we build fall apart. If left alone, the natural world soon asserts itself through stripping winds and blaring sun, the setting of seeds and the flow of water. Trees will grow right up through pavement, if we let them.

How much human industry arises in the effort to keep the natural world at bay, or to wrangle its powers, seize its resources, control it, try to make it be what we want it to be, do what we want it to do?

I like the broken old towns, the places that are decaying and the boundaries against nature have grown fuzzy at the edges. I like to see buildings that are falling apart, metal that is rusted. These places, to me, seem more true to the way of things than polished and clean spaces, high-maintenance fabrications for comfort and convenience, a certain type of appeal for a certain type of person.

It was interesting for me to think, for a few minutes, about how new commerce developments, corporate commercial designers of shopping communities, supplant what may naturally arise and evolve from the town and the land and its people and cultures – what shops and architecture, what spaces are utilized and how – with an imposed array of restaurants and commercial office spaces, the architecture of the mid-to-upscale mall. People then patronize these businesses not only because of their design and marketing, but because – simply – they are there. Because these externally designed and fabricated businesses exist, small would-be local businesses do not exist in the way they otherwise might.

Interesting music phenomena:

I thought about that song that I liked when I was a kid, about the horse with no name and the desert, and the next day, my friend played it and told me he’d been thinking about the very same wash over the Bisti that I had been thinking about, where we saw the darkling beetle eating it’s own secretion and I found myself walking in the desert for the first time in a long time.

We heard Phoenix’s Lisztomania in a small local franchise bar bq place in Tennessee, by the Clinch River, played between two pop songs. I remembered when that song had come on heading to Boulder from Escalante in the car of a young man who’d given us a hitch on his way to hear live music. He told us about his life and who he is, what he wants to do, his processes and intent. The landscape and the setting sun were tremendous, absolutely breathtaking and I imagined what it might be like to get to drive that road often. “I’ve never been on this road, so this is the first time I’ve seen this.”

When Lisztomania came on, we all agreed that it was a fantastic song and always produced the feeling that great things are unfolding.

We took small highways out of Utah, driving with the sun on our right side, cutting south/southeast talking about our fathers and their lives. My friend’s father is dead, but mine is still living. We listened to the Eagles song that played after the funeral and  I found myself crying for a minute, further down the road, about my dad and the boat he bought when he sold off some more land. He named the boat for my mother, and had it outfitted with all the best fish finding technology of the early 1990s, orange and green pixelated display, a circle-making line suggestive of radar, shapes that looked like sluggish cigars slowly recreating themselves in lurching squares at their edges that formed and then disappeared against the black background while the wind slapped at the bow and the wake pushed at the marsh no matter how slow we went. The boat smelled like fiberglass and marine diesel, hot vinyl fumes in the small cabin. 

I cried on the road in the desert because my father entered a sport fishing competition and only won the prize for the best equipment, didn’t catch a thing. I understood that the road had made me weary and stopped crying almost immediately, despite the fact that it felt good. 

I came out to the porch to sit and take notes, reflect on the experience of coming home. It’s late and the past two days have been filled with almost absurdly challenging driving conditions, the state of Texas being one of them. 

“Wait, a sec, why is Amarillo still an hour and forty two minutes away?” 

It only took me a minute in the town of Sudan to realize the mistake. “I knew there was something about Highway 60 back there, that’s why I asked, I knew there was something!” I felt a little defensive, knowing that – as the driver – I ought to drive in the correct direction, take the right turns. 

I remembered the sign for 60 on the side of the road, black number shapes peeling and curled at the edges by sun and wind, imprecise and worn-out, but the number 60 nonetheless. We considered continuing east, toward Lubbock and a possible alternate route on Highway 82 through the broad section of Texas, then Louisiana, Mississippi and cutting up through Alabama, but turned the car back toward Muleshoe and the northbound 214. 

The setting sun looked like an angel to me, an angel with a dark, dense center. I didn’t say anything about it, about the clouds in front of the setting sun looking like an angel to me. 

 

As we drove through the gold and green flats, cruising along at the 75 mph speed limit past out-in-county houses, brick and white, low and flat, I wondered if I’d made a mistake, saying, “Here, we can just go this way, but north right up to 60.” We would still lose an hour, but we wouldn’t lose an hour and fifteen minutes, and this way we’d end up approximately where we had intended to be, on Highway 60, heading northeast in a diagonal toward Amarillo. 

 

We were going to Amarillo arbitrarily, considering the option of taking the I-40, and the possibility of very cheap motel rooms. We didn’t want to go to Amarillo.  We could have just as easily continued east, gone through the deep of the South, the state my friend was born and raised in, right near where my brother lives, passing by the city of a cousin. We turned around though, because it seemed like the right thing to do, to get back on track, stick with the plan we had made, keep to the road we’d intended to be on. 

 

The sunset was long, like they are on flat land, places with no ridges, no shadows, no close horizons. The backside of Southwestern Cheese over on Highway 70 was a silhouetted monolith in the distance, all block shapes and cylinders, towers and something like steam. It looked like a Russian factory to her, something post-Communist, rusted and complicated and leaking even in silhouette. The map told us that Cargill Meat Solutions was headquartered in Freonia and she remembered standing in the meat section of a big store, holding a heavy tube of meat encased in plastic printed with red graphic depictions of ground beef. “What is this?” She had asked, her bicep flexed with the weight of the thing. “Cargill Meat Solutions.” She read the print on the slick wrapper. “Meat Solutions?!” They laughed about it and she set the heavy tube of meat back with the others, dozens of them, because it felt too heavy to toss, despite the fact that it didn’t seem especially fragile. 

 

In the parking lot that night at the big store, they sat in the car and read a Wikipedia article about the multinational meat corporation that had produced the tubes of meat, learned the net worth of the company’s owners and the extent of their operations. Now here they were, heading into the small town of their headquarters, the cheeseburger capital of Texas. The windows were rolled up, and the cows with their heads through the grates of the feed fence at the milk company slid by them like scenery. “There are so many of them.” Her voice held something like awe, despite the fact that the milk company was small, almost quaint compared to a stockyard or a factory. The fields were full of cotton and some low shrubby plant that might have been soy. A massive machine slow-rolled down a road we could not see, sending up dust that hung in the air for a moment and then blew away. 

It wasn’t until I turned the wrong way at the stop sign in Freonia, following the road instead of the direction we needed to be heading, and rolled the window down to clear my sense of being rattled by yet another mistake that the reality of the place hit us in the form of a thick ammonia tang overlaying the rich and unmistakeable smell of shit. 

The northwestern corner of Texas is home to more feedlots than anywhere in the country, as it turns out. As we turned onto the road that would take us into Amarillo, windows rolled up, the smell outside became a haze that hung over everything, glowing a little in the last light of the day. The small houses beside the road slumped under it. Cars pulled in and out of the convenience store parking lot like nothing unusual was happening. Nothing unusual was happening. “I guess they get used to it, the people who live here.” Behind a chainlink fence, the water cistern had a giant cheeseburger painted on it. A small billboard declared simply that Beef is Nutritious in classic black script on a plain white background. 

 

So, I sat down to take notes on the experience of returning home, and realizing that it is – like anywhere – just a place and that I won’t be here forever and that I feel peaceful about it, this place that is home, and that I am grateful for what it is and what it has been. 

Rites of Reconciliation

7:43 AM (18 minutes ago)

It is hard to see it for what it is, at first. This massive thing that just goes on and on.

You can look at a part of it, maybe get a glimpse, but it’s hard to really see it for what it is, the scope and construction.

I am laughing at myself right now, because isn’t this what I do? Come up with all kinds of ideas.

🙄

On Jun 22, 2019, at 8:03 AM:

It began with the morning that I thought,

“Pink beds,” quiet,

“I will go there.”

***

The woman was waiting in the sanctuary where she always waited on Thursday morning, green light from the walls and windows suffusing the air that is the air of all old churches, wooden pew and warmth, surprising quiet that still holds the echo of songs sung loud, muttered prayers, greetings and goodbyes.  

There is a sloped walkway down from the back entry to the sanctuary, and the younger woman always felt the pull of her feet as she walked down to the meet the older woman. If she were a child, she’d run down that ramp, shoot down the side of the room, run back up again. Her feet can feel the ghosts of all the children who have done this as she moves to sit beside the older woman in the first pew on the East side of the sanctuary, where they always sit to talk on Thursday mornings. The older woman has pulled a chair to sit in front of her. Her feet are outstretched, calves tanned and muscled from walking around town all day. This is what the houseless people do, they walk around town all day..*

“How are you?” The younger woman asked, a sensation of self-conscious gladness – a quiet, awkward gladness – rising in her upon sitting down.

“Abiding in the Lord’s Love and Grace,” the older woman declared without pause. The younger woman turned, set her bag aside, put away her phone.

“I got you a chair, put your feet up.” The older woman spoke in a matter of fact directive, the aging hostess.

There is a sigh that arises, to put up feet in a church, and the younger woman relaxed into the hard wood behind her. “How have you been?”

This is the way the conversations always start, with the press of bigger questions, questions of whether or not we had been abiding in the Lords Love and Grace, or whether we had been caught up in traps, snags and snares, whether we had been bound.

The younger woman always comes to answer this question with a trail of chains and shadows behind her. She is resigned. She does not strive toward grace, but knows that it sometimes finds her. She finds it difficult, to reconcile the darkness in her with the gleam of a certain light she feels when her heart is open.

She has been thinking about this a long time, her darkness and her light. She is no longer seeking God. She is trying to learn to trust, and to make beauty through thanks for what she is living in any particular moment in time. Most days, despite her intent, she has a heaviness in her, a heavy quietness. Her soul is not uplifted. She is not abiding in the Lord’s love.

The older woman is always abiding in the Lord’s love. She is Devout Christian by way of New Jersey Catholicism with brief dabblings in Buddhism and Chakras. The Bible and all that. She sends the younger woman text messages with scripture.

Sometimes she reads them, sometimes she doesn’t. She tries to be thankful, to soak up goodwill, to not feel suspicious, guarded. She does not like it when people judge or evaluate her fidelity to ways of living and believing that are not hers. She tries to be trusting.

She keeps it a secret that sometimes when she reads the scripture, she gets chills and believes, almost entirely but never entirely, that this must surely be a message from God. She doesn’t tell anyone this, especially not the older woman, because she does not want to go to church and she does not want to admit to believing, because she doesn’t believe it all, and will not believe it all. Sometimes, when she is walking in the woods on the west side of the river, she thinks about how she will ask the older woman to just cut it out, the sending of scripture, the ever-loving sanctity of her obedience and supplication, her praising be, the pious Amen.

She would not ever really tell the woman to cut it out. She knows this in her wiser self, that the woman is doing what she is doing now because it’s working for her, helping her to be healthier, to make good choices, keeping her clean, teaching her acceptance, non-attachment. She knows the woman is her teacher. Still, there is a part of her that dreads the Thursday morning meetings. It is hard, to be distracted and sit in a sanctuary, to be unpeaceful and to sit beside someone at peace. She is trying to just go with it, to trust, to see what she is supposed to learn.

It is interesting, to watch what comes up in her as a feeling of knowing as she listens to the older woman talk about traps, snags, and snares. She wonders if it’s true, that the things she loves most can be traps, snags, and snares.

She doesn’t trust her mind. Fear can mask as intuition.

Sitting down, with her feet up in the church, the younger woman is pleased to notice that she is, today, at peace. The stage behind the altar is covered with plywood and plastic sheeting, with orange platforms of scaffolding set at the fresco, which was still just a massive white space, a blank white space where a figure of Jesus on the cross might have hung, if it were that kind of church.

(On the street, walking on the sidewalk, a slow moving group of aging men are talking about crack cocaine. “You don’t buy crack,” they say like conversation gospel, with a lilt on the end. “Nah, fuck the crack.” One man is wearing a bright orange sweatshirt. It is the same color, the exact same orange, as the jumpsuits at the jail.)

*The younger woman pauses as she writes this, what does she look like, this woman you have just suggested is houseless, which means homeless? What does she look like in this word? Is she dirty? Is she old? Are her teeth broken, nails bent and bloodied? Do her clothes hang off of her in soiled tatters?

How do you see her, in this word?

The older woman is healthy, tanned, calves muscled from walking around all day. She wears clean, sporty casual clothes that come into the clothing closet at the church. They call the clothing closet God’s Outfitters. It is a bright room at the end of a small, dark hall. It smells like a thrift store, the intermingling of the smell of people’s lives and closets, a dull bleach and dust. Cotton twill pants hang like flags on the racks.

The woman’s hair is brushed back and held in a ponytail like a girl playing softball. She wears no makeup, and has the look of New Jersey in her cheeks and the curve of her nose. Her eyes used to be brown, when she had a different life, but now they are turning green in the most beautiful slow striation, like light coming up through the water.

******

On Jun 22, 2019, at 7:01 PM

The artists are going to paint Beatitudes.

All the wet cold winter long the artists had been doing portraits of the people at the church, the people without houses and the people in recovery, the people who will never recover. The walls of the campus care minister’s office were covered with renditions of the church’s most familiar faces, old and aging and old before their time, toothless and eyes beaming, proud as fuck, humble. The people would say, on some days, “He’s going to draw me today,” and the younger woman would notice then that they were shining, face scrubbed, shirt tucked. Ready to be seen, waiting to be seen.

Art is just another human creation. This is what the younger woman thinks when she notices that she is excited, glad to be working at the church during the summer the first pigments are laid into the plaster.

Sometimes, everything feels like an invocation. She has to be careful what she believes, and reminds herself that there is no evidence that the painting of a fresco in the forms of real lives, with a spirit of real blessing, can somehow muster forth the vigor of the meek and return blessing to those who are favored by the Lord.

The painting of the fresco will not be an action of spirit.

“That’s not true.” She has a voice in her, a solemn voice, that tells her when she is lying to herself about what she really believes. She does believe that the fresco can work like magic to restore the wounded heart, that the spirit – the goodwill! – of the artists will guide their hands to craft a work of great beauty and love immemorial in honor of the lives that pass through the sanctuary and all the lives connected to those lives. To everyone.

“It is going to be an interesting thing, to see the fresco being made.”

Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in fresco.

This is her rational mind, calming down her righteous excitement.

It will be interesting. That is all.

The two women don’t mention the fresco, the sheeting or the scaffolding, but begin, as they do, with the question of “How are you?”

Sometimes this is phrased “How have you been?” or “What’s been happening?”

These are big open ended questions, a formality, a prompt to talk about anything, or nothing at all. “How are things with the program?”

The older woman spends one week at a time at different churches around town, rotating with a group of women that do not have homes, that are in the program. “I have slept so well. Yesterday, the Lord told me to just lay down, I’m tired, just lay down. So, that’s what I did, and the other girls, the other women, they were like “what are you doing? It’s 6:15?!” and there was noise and people were walking around and then, boom, they all leave, that’s how the Lord works. Praise God.”

What really makes things ‘right’?

What are we hoping to achieve in reconciliatory accountability processes around transgressions of action and ethos?

Are we hoping to achieve a deep and meaningful change in the relationship and how that relationship is conducted, the participation and roles of the entities involved?

A change in the culture that arises within relationship, a redefining of value and worth?

A change in old habits that reinforce the underlying power of an ‘ism’ – racism, sexism, classism, speciesism – which is to assume authority to see and/or treat another entity as what you define the entity to be, in your interests, be they economic or egoic, without regard for the facts of that entity’s existence unto itself, as a person or as an ecosystem?

Or do we want to reconfigure the underlying belief that drives old habits like placing your hand on the shoulder of a woman as though you have every right in the world to touch her and she must smile?

Do we want reconciliatory accountability processes to address not just the manifestation of underlying assumptions and beliefs, but to support processes of unlearning and relearning how one sees some facet of the world in relation to other people and the environment?

Yesterday I was thinking about rites of reconciliation as I woke up in the morning, before going to work, after writing about sitting in the church with the older woman, and reflecting on how there is a ramp, a sloping near-seamless connection down from the door to the floor of the sanctuary, which brought to mind a friend’s account of seeing, in a church, that the balcony was kneeling down to the floor, that in the design was an apology to the people who were sequestered away in that loft, separated out by dark stairs and narrow passage.

Which led me to think about rites of reconciliation and what practices create and embody reconciliation, what we are talking about when we talk about reparations, reconciliation. 

What is the substance of reconciliation, the effect, the feeling of it?

How do we enact deep reconciliation, which is not simply the arrangement of new ways of speaking or the erecting of monuments symbolic of an apology, but the true restoration of trust and goodness in relationships that were once toxic, exploitative, unfair, angry, hurt, resentful, harming?

It’s not a simple thing, this business of reconciliation. The ways I have experienced reconciliation in my life have been through the mending of relationships both personal and professional, the making peace with concepts and institutions that embody practices that I experience as harmful, that harm me, the making peace with concepts and institutions that harm others, that harm the environment, that harm…

Okay. I have not made peace with all the concepts, with all the institutions that cause harm.

I do not want to reconcile with them. I want them to be destroyed. That’s what reconciliation looks like sometimes, that is how it is enacted, through the destruction of concepts, institutions, symbols, designs, arrangements, treaties, laws that cause unjust harm to people and to environments.

As I write this, I am having sensations of strident indignation, which relates to what I understand to be dignity, in that the word indignant refers to the human experience of feeling aware and angry (fear and defense) that something or someone has compromised what we feel as our dignity, our being respected as persons, or as a field of ancient trees, or as the water of the ocean. The dignity of being seen and related to and with as something that has value unto itself, value in the mere fact of its existence, the dignity of not being fucked with, abused, consumed without reverence or regard by an entity other than oneself, raped, exploited.

I am feeling the sensations of indignation, and noticing the response to the sensations of indignation, which is a “Oh, hell no. That must be made right!” in the wake of a scrambling assessment of how to make it right, how to correct – to deeply correct – for the wrongs that have been done, how to really truly reconcile the deaths of despair…and the conclusion that sometimes reconciliation requires destruction, or at least de-construction, the taking apart of one thing and replacing it with another, restoring, repairing.

My head feels like it’s about to explode, because these things matter to me, these questions of reconciliation, both at the micro and macro levels.

Why does it matter to me so much?

There is a flabbergasted and stammering self that is shaking her head and waving her hands, like, “Duh, over here! Hel-lo.You love the world! You do not want the world to die! You do not want people to be hurt! You do not want the animals to die!”

It really does come down to that.

I want to be able to be at peace in my life, and while I can be peaceful in moments, recognizing that the world is spinning and people are dying and forests are on fire and there are shopping carts being pushed through the endless aisles, while the hospital cries with birth and death and here I am, with the bird singing in the tree and the voices walking up the street and I am relatively safe, relatively well, my life is golden…

Except for all the mass atrocities unfolding all around me.

Which, I can accept, with the zen of blithe compliance with all that is without knowing, the perfectness of the inevitable death, the trust that, hey, maybe we do have to destroy the planet and keep raping people, maybe that is the brutal path to perfect peace and eventual renewal, perhaps by way of smoldering nuclear war field and cosmic mutation…maybe that really is how all this has to go down, just do what you can and ride it out, try to enjoy the moment, because in your lifetime, things are going to get very, very strange.

Sigh.

It’s best to take a deep breath, dispel the feeling that your head might float off for all the sheer enormity of everything that is packed into the need for deep reconciliation.

Why can’t I let it go?

There is a stubborn part of me that desperately wants the world to be okay. This is my child-fear, my most fervent loving of the world. It is connected to my ability to rejoice in the sheer beauty of trees and sunlight. If I want to love the world, I have to connect with the part of myself that very much wants the world to live and to thrive and to laugh and flow like clean rivers. I do not want the world to die. I know this in every moment that I love the world, and it is a difficult knowing to know, because all around me there is evidence of needless death, needless harm, animals dying, species disappearing.

Astounding creations and destructions.

My heart might explode.

Let it explode.

Take a deep breath.

No justice, no peace.

I really do think that every person has within them a part of themselves that might deeply love the world and want it to be okay, a part of themselves that is scared of war, that sees with a child’s simplicity that war is horrific, that does not want to see people get hurt, to see beautiful places destroyed, that instinctively knows that fire is frightening.

I think that, as I alluded above, that to even look at the world and to see it with love and wonder, we must face the fact that, God, we have made a tremendous mess of things.

Like, seriously, what.the.fuck.

(This links to Joanna Macy’s ideas around apathea? Conversation in beech trees.)

So, looping back, practices around reconciliation, rites of reconciliation. What are we trying to achieve in deep reconciliation? How is this measured and accounted for? Do our efforts toward reconciliation result in reconciliation?

I will have to think about this more.

—-

Omg.

I just realized that all wars result from the effort to reconcile a perceived wrong.

So, the potential usefulness of this as a project that is achievable… Well, any resource of information that might inspire a small ease of suffering is a good thing… But, as far as working on this, I know the material fairly thoroughly, and the parts that I need to expand on, to research around, well… I know where to find the information, And what information is necessary to include…

There are all these resources on how to put together a successful e-book, and well… It might be an achievable project…

I really like the accessibility of digital formats… And, digital formats are much less made out of trees than paper books are… and a person can, especially with help, self publish an e-book… This isn’t a new idea but the rehabilitation that my focusing ability has led to this feeling like a much more achievable project than it has in the past.

There are parts of the outline that are sparse, because I was just trying to write down an overview of the bigger body of ideas

Begin forwarded message:

Date: June 17, 2019 at 5:55:54 PM EDT

To: Me 

Trauma Healing Crashcourse

  1. Defining trauma.
  2. Popular definitions and common understandings
  3. It is only something that people who’ve been through life-death situations like war and severe harm or insult to their physical bodies go through. Ex. The trauma unit, where severe bodily injuries are cared for
  4. Defining life-death
  5. Fear of death or predicted risk of death can be traumatic
  6. Thinking about fear as death, the body responds to fear about what is happening to or what might happen to the person we are, our bodies, our minds, our relationships, our possible futures, the things we love and what makes us who we are, our freedom and safety in existence. Fear, both acutely profound and cumulatively chronic, triggers the body to respond with the same mechanisms that dictate that, as animals, we  tend to avoid death, (at least at the beginning, when we are driven by our biological instinct and processes to keep living, rather than our psychologies and the learned responses of our pain/pleasure associations and experiential reactions. Our psychologies and how we feel in response to something impact what we lean toward and what we are afraid of, what thrills us and horrifies us. Sometimes we want what we are most afraid of, but that is another conversation.[insert conversation]

*Trauma as the physiological reaction to fear and concurrent psychological orientation around fear, what it means to us, what might happen because of what is happening, how events shape our lives and perspectives of ourselves and the world.

How we experience and recover from fear-producing events, whether these be tragic assaults on one’s physical self and personhood or the threat of social exclusion, witnessing something terrible happening, sexual abuse and emotional abuse and psychological abuse. Not having enough food, a safe place to sleep.

Notice the body. Is your heart beating a little faster? Do you notice an amplification of your thoughts? How they jostle and have an urgency? Is there a slight tightness or heaviness in your chest?

There might not be. You may be feeling nothing. Lots of people feel nothing. This is, for some people, a survival strategy after experiencing the sensations we call feelings, or emotions, as harmful and painful and maybe also a little useless, to feel hurt, to be scared. Or dangerous, because the sensations are bigger than our ability to lower the voice, unclench the fists.

I notice in myself some sensations of sympathetic nervous system response

fight, flight, freeze, tend and befriend, submit, collapse

…in me when I write about the feelings of how my body responds to stressors. I appreciate this, because it lets me know that I am stress vulnerable, or more likely to experience reactions that are out of proportion with what might be happening. There is no reason for my heart to begin beating hard while sitting on my porch on a beautiful afternoon. I didn’t get quite enough sleep last night, and that alone can make me more stress vulnerable. Some people can go for days without adequate sleep and be relatively fine. Some people don’t have any reason to have to think about these issues of what their nervous system is doing, whether they are in flight, or fight, what might be happening in the internal workings that determine how they might experience any given moment. I do believe, however, that the vast majority of human beings – at some point in their life – experience a fear that is bigger than them, or suffer a slow erosion of their peace of mind, become restless and anxious, depressed and/or numb. The paths our lives take depend in large parts on what resources we have to cope with adversity. These can be internal resources, such as a naturally robust parasympathetic nervous system due to genetic luck and family lineage, the safety and security received as a child, the positive reinforcements of healthy environments and joyful activities, exposure to healthy relationships and mentorship in developing into a healthy adult.

Or internal resources of learned perspective, learned from books, from songs, from teachers and natural mentors in our life, people we trust and who we allow to teach us, people we listen to, people we believe. We can learn through watching an elder move through their days, or listening closely to the difference in a person’s voice when they talk about what makes them happy. We develop resilience in connection to the environments and communities we are a part of, the people who are our people, the people who know us for our strengths and capabilities and for who we really are. Human beings have some element of an innate desire, at first, to seek out healing, to find the songs or voices that lift us up, the ideas and beliefs that give solace.

This is the space where the internal and external meet, because what is happening outside of us affects what is happening inside of us.

External resources are experienced internally, meaning that if you love a song, you can sing the song in your head even if you cannot hear it, if you have learned from a book, you can call up those lessons even if you are swimming in the open ocean with nary a page in sight. If you love a place, you can go there by thinking about what it feels like to be there, by calling up a memory and savoring the way the wind sounded in the tops of spring trees.

Our immediate environments and the resources they hold are heedlessly connected to the larger landscapes we are a part of – our cultures and histories, the cities and open spaces that make the map of the world we find ourselves in.

Thus, some people live in environments that are full of harm, scarce of resources in both the literal and figurative sense. Literally in the form of food scarcity and an absence of safe shelter; figuratively in the form of the experiences we may inherently have access to in communities which meet criteria as being ‘Healthy Communities’

  1. The body
  2. Stress reaction basics
  3. The brain and body, working parts
  4. Basic mechanisms of response
  5. How these mechanisms of response create sensations
  6. Factors that affect stress reaction systems
  7. Basics – food, etc.
  8. Chronic stress and adversity

III.

The conceptualization of stress reaction and subjective experience as a complex adaptive system primarily impacted by variables such as physiological baselines, previous experience, and the presence of exacerbating or mitigating thoughts/meaning-making around events.

  1. The mind
  2. Common definitions of the mind
  3. The rational mind
  4. Memory
  5. How fear-spurred and reward-spurred memory functions differently than, say, remembering the grocery list*

*I struggled to find a meaningless affectively-null example to use here. At first, I thought, “your childhood phone number.” Quickly, I realized that for some people there can be, in association with one’s childhood phone number, all sorts of fear-spurred memories, or difficult memories, powerful memories, beautiful memories, terrible memories. Home is never null-affective.**

**In using the phrase null-affective, I mean that some stimuli has no significant affect on our nervous system activity, meaning that it doesn’t make us feel anything too strongly bring up associations and memory. Even the grocery store list is not null. I have had plenty of times when going to the store stressed me out, so I notice a minor tension in my chest and irritation at the edge of my mind in considering the grocery store list.

  1. Personality and perspective
  2. Natural and learned tendencies in how we interface with the world and solve problems
  3. Self-concept and trauma
  4. Cite research on ‘self esteem’ and PTSD
  5. Frameworks and schemas and complexes
  6. Victim perspectives
  7. Revisit how it all works together, synopsis and review, integrating narrative re: using skills to support my body and mind in shifting out of a stress reactive state.

“Without turning another page, what is one thing that you know that you can do to help yourself feel calm, present, safe, and otherwise grounded? What can you do to help you ease out of a stress reactive state? Are there things you have noticed always help you to feel better?

What are those things?

Go spend some time with them.

Note: If there is nothing that helps you to feel better, ever, what is something that helps you to survive, to get through it? This might be a song or a place where you go by yourself, either in your mind or in real life.

Go there.

  1. Spirit
  2. Existential crisis
  3. Demoralization
  4. Loss of faith in the world’s ability to not be brutal and stupid

VII. What does it mean to you?

  1. How do you operate?
  2. General stress reactivity tendencies
  3. Prompts to consider experience of this.

[Note: need to have some sort of grounding getting present process early on, and repeated, so that people can engage with the material and reflect from a place of grounded perspective.]

Consideration: Start from identifying positive or neutral sensations.

  1. Sensations. What does it feel like when you know something has pushed your buttons, triggered you, or upset you?
  2. Thoughts
  3. Thought watching, curiosity, non-judgement
  4. Acknowledge that trauma-rooted thoughtlines are intrusive and stimulating of affective responses meaning that they make a person feel something. Usually, for me, trauma-rooted thoughts produce sensations of fear, disgust, self-loathing, deep sadness, etc. it is not easy to just watch these thoughts and not be judgmental. The very nature of these thoughts, and the sensations that are linked to them is judgmental. We are judged, our lives are judged. Everything is terrible and threatening. These thoughts come from the ancient and very confused part of our brain that is terrified of all the bad things that might happen and sees the worst possible outcomes. These thoughts get our attention because we are wired to pay attention to thoughts that create or reflect fear.
  5. Negativity bias

 

  1. Connection between trauma, mental health, and substance use
  2. Research – brief overview, key statistics, ACEs, etc.
  3. Anecdotal evidence re: behavioral manifestations of trauma states and their similarity with diagnostic criteria for miscellaneous mental disorders.

 

  1. If a person has a severe and persistent mental illness and/or an active addiction, they have almost certainly experienced trauma, if not as the cause of their struggles, then as a result of their struggles. This is not to say that all mental health challenges and substance use challenges are tied to trauma and can be potentially alleviated through trauma-centered recovery skills and practices. However, in the event that any aspects of suffering in one’s human experience may be alleviated by exploring personal resilience strategies, it is worth considering the ways that dysregulation of the mind/body/spirit integrated stress response mechanism may impact one’s mood, behavior, communication, ability to be present, ability to make plans, ability to just have a decent fucking day where you feel somewhat alive and at ease in who you and in the potential your life holds.

 

VIII. Skills Exploration

  1. Different solutions for different problems
  2. Up regulation, down regulation, overview of all skills in CRM and RfR
  3. WRAP and T-MAPs
  4. Wellness tools
  5. Support
  6. Systems thinking and strategic thinking as skills
  7. Establishing a practice
  8. Habit formation
  9. Motivation
  10. Transformative change model of recovery

Begin forwarded message:

Good morning…

This is all free-write from this morning, but instead of going on and on, I wrote out a draft with imagery of an illustrated book I have wanted to create. This is an achievable project.

I have identified several achievable projects. Now, I must choose the achievable project I want to work on. This may require me to make an inventory of required steps to completion, what the work toward completion would require, anticipated barriers and drawbacks, complications, and likelihood of potential efficacy beyond the immediate satisfaction of doing the work, as well as likelihood of satisfaction in doing the work. Which project will be most likely to be enjoyable – joyful – to work on?

In the morning, there is all stratagem and list, the gray of the road and the block of the building, these everyday matters of where we must go and what we must do, and it fills the mind like the city fills the window of the plane, tilting and closer, severing the view of the sky and all that stretches out into nothing.

Note: that was just free-write for the sake of getting started, writing down what was most immediately on my mind, which was a vague awareness that I am thinking about things I have to do today, and that these things are giving my mind a cluttered feel.

Then, I remembered the story of the wildebeest, and turned it into a wild boar in a re-telling of a story I told to myself to gain compassion for difficult feelings.

I think it would make a good illustrated book, and be useful for readers of all ages. I am writing it to be fun to read, and utilizing devices from children’s literature (repetition of phrase and image, for example) to engage attention in reading.)

******

The Wild Boar

 

She sat on the steps

in the quiet neighborhood

right by the town

right by the street

no wild woods anywhere near her

 

On her arms there was sun,

skin clean and unbruised

 

There was nothing she had to do,

Nothing she had to run away from

 

And yet she felt like running,

in her body

There was a great feeling of running,

as she sat there, perfectly still

she felt the stampede

tear through her chest

like horses, thundering charge

wild dogs, a whole herd

tussling and snarling

yipping and growling

running like a freight train

Yes a freight train

a freight train in the night moving fast

through a cut in the forest

and a tidal wave, yes, a tidal wave, too

bigger than running, a great cresting build

a towering wall

that trembled under its own weight

and crashed into the world,

into the horses and into the dogs

into the freight train

and it’s cut through the forest

 

She sits on the steps,

With the sun on her arms

And knows her face looks like crying

“What is tearing me apart inside?”

 

Her chest was hot and crumbling, her belly tight and queasy.

 

Breathing came quick and ragged,

like she really had been running, like she needed to cry.

 

She would not cry.

                                                                                                                                  “Go away!”

She scowled at herself. “What’s giving me this feeling?”

The boar crept up, to the edge of the fence, right where the gate was swung open. Snuffling and grunting, nosing the ground, scraping it with its face. [more here, developing the character of the boar, why it is so antagonistic, what it has to do with the feelings alluded to in the earlier text]

The woman felt angry. Her arms wanted to push or punch something. She wanted to spin and throw things. “Go away!” She commanded. “Go. Away.”

The wild boar looked up at her…

…and snorted.

The woman kicked out her legs, clenched her fists. Closed her eyes.

She could still see the boar standing there, and she willed it away. “Go away, away she said, “go…away.”

The boar smirked a boar-ish smirk, all tusk and black wired fur. Pawed at the ground with its hoof.

[more here. Transition to the willing of the boar away]

She pictured it wandering, back out from the gate. No, running! Scurrying away, tumbling down the steps. Disappearing into a poof of air. Never existing. Walking alone out into the desert, vultures flying overhead. She wants it to die, to never have been. She wants this boar, this digging, snorting clawing creature standing at the edge of the yard to go away, to go away and die, to leave her alone, to let her be.

She feels her shoulders slump, relieved to see the boar staggering into the horizon, vultures flying overhead while the sun bears down and there is no soft soil to dig in, no grubs to find, no water to catch on the sharp black hairs of the snout.

“The boar!” She thinks, a rush of great urgency blooms in her chest. “The boar!” She stands where she stands, where she sits on the steps and, without thinking, her arm reaches out, the boar seems to feel this, this nudge of reaching, the small stirring of the air between the tip of finger and the turned back.

The boar paused. She saw the shape turn back, stand still, the shadows of the carrion hunters casting over the sun-blasted land.

There is a knowing, when something needs love.

[describe sensations of compassion]

She began to walk toward the boar. The boar walked back toward her.

[these are just image notes, not draft of actual text, which will need to be more prose-driven and Demi-dramatic]

[what happens then? What is the resolution?]

One thing that occurs to me, in relation to our conversation the other day about how we get these big, gleaming ideas and then they sputter out, is that part of the problem is not being realistic or informed in accounting for how long something may take, or how long the completion of a project’s constituent parts and processes may take.

I think that because we can see fantastic potential outcomes and have the imagination capacity to visualize what we want a project to be, the space between visualization and actualization can become vast.

For example, tonight, I spent about an hour drawing boars. I learned that I do not really know how to draw a boar. Nor do I know how to draw a train. Fortunately, I know how to draw well enough that I could learn how to draw a boar, a train.

However, if a project involves a growth edge or learning curve, that has to be taken into account in deciding whether the project is a reasonable investment of one’s time, something you can commit to, if not seeing through to completion, then at least worth exploring, ideally in a way that will build skills that may be employable in other projects if the project you are working on dead ends or becomes exceedingly joyless.

Another thing that occurs to me is that we can not compare our work to other people’s work.

Our work is our work. Our style is our style.

Especially in beginning.

In the media-and-talent saturated landscapes we live in, it is easy to, for example, see impeccable illustrations on instagram and think that i should not even waste my time.

I think that if we strive to do our authentic- work-that-is-joyful-and-engaging in the best possible way we know how to do it at the time, we will inevitably grow and improve, not necessarily towards being comparable to others’ works, but towards being exceptionally skilled in the work we do and how we do it, and we will learn how to share that work, and even if it goes nowhere, if it does nothing, well…I guess that just has to be okay.

I really do think that when people step into their own unique ways of being brilliant, that they figure out what they need to do with that.

Plan update – now with more encouraging self-talk!

⭐️ Devote as much time as needed to developing drawing skill, focusing on fine tuning the lady and boar-skills

⭐️ Use need for storyboard of images to practice drawing, focus on the skills needed to develop, don’t try too many hard

⭐️ Determine an end-point in skill refinement and plan to begin illustrations. You know what it feels like when you are drawing freely, when you have a confident hand. You know the aesthetics you enjoy creating, the media you like to work with. Stay within those territories in approaching this project.

⭐️ For coherence of line form and flow, experiment with sketching the basic forms of the illustrations in one or two sittings, or identify sketches that may be done in the same sitting, e.g. water sketches, animal sketches, lady sketches, to ensure consistency in line and flow throughout the project.

⭐️ Apply layers and colors strategically, meaning use the same palette and be working in the same process across multiple illustrations, to – again – ensure consistency across pages. *this will require a table and blocks of at least two hours to engage in focused work in a relatively uninterrupted fashion.* [things I know I can do when I paint: have someone else in the room with me, talking deeply and casually, talk on the phone sometimes, listen to music]

⭐️ Document the creation of the project. This is documentation.

The container

Add page to existing moldering website devoted to this project. Update regularly – remember, this is *fun* – you love this shit. This will impel attention to existing moldering website, and will engage you in thinking about ways to spruce it up and re-organize.

Create Instagram account (done, haha. How many bold projects went no further than their 1 post Instagram accounts?)

Link to website – just do it. Update a couple of things and do it. Do not allow the need to update website be a deterrent or stalling factor, just do it. Remember: this is *fun.* Be stoked!

Notes for Profile

This is an illustrated book in progress. Documenting the process.

The book is about making peace with snarling, tusky feels…healing the relationship we have with the wild and howling aspects of ourselves.

[Note internal reaction re: hokeyness of wild and howling aspects of ourselves. Observe doubt re: project’s quality. Remind self that you can make this beautiful and effective. You have the skills. You have the motivation. You have the reason/s…so many reasons…]

Regularly post excerpts of documentation of the process. These can include select phrases from draft text presented in a visually pleasing meme-like manner, or – better – as hand-written notes, as this would improve my use of the hand as an instrument of making lines look a certain way. Include notes re: things like handwriting and the brain. Or facts on wild boars.

Each post is a small art project.

You know you can do this. You know how to do this. Remember, you finished the project to draw every day for a year. You finished NaNoWriMo. You posted to your blog compulsively for waaaay too long.

You. Can. Do. This.

But, first, the drawing of the wild boar…

As a person who has been justice-aware for most of her life, I have worked in healing and education services for the entirety of my adulthood. I have worked with and been in community with a myriad array of folks who are struggling, ranging from adolescent girls in group homes to people dying of AIDS. For the past decade, I have worked primarily in areas relating to mental health and substance use recovery, including serving as local groups coordinator for a grassroots radical mental health movement that seeks to create spaces for connection and dialogue about mental health in our communities and to encourage people to explore their own unique understanding of why they struggle and what helps. I have facilitated hundreds of groups, classes, and workshops on various topics relating to wellness and the human condition in the modern Western world. Additionally, I coordinated and/or contributed to multiple community organizing efforts. Although I am a high school dropout, I earned a Masters Degree in psychology, with a specialization in Transformative Social Change. I currently work for a small peer-led nonprofit, where I facilitate groups, provide support to people who are struggling with various complex life issues, and assist in organizational operations.

Although I understand that your program is not intended for artists, poets, or memoirists, I do recognize the value of the artist’s vision, the poet’s heart, and the memoirist’s recognition of how deeply powerful our stories are. I am largely self-taught in arts and letters, and though I rarely call myself an artist, I have spent the past ten years experimenting with drawing, writing, and design. I have talent, meaning that I have something in me that shines, that I naturally delight in engaging with. My project, although primarily a resource to provide practical and useful, factual information about trauma healing processes and modalities, includes elements of story and prose, as well as intentional aesthetic design, to engage the reader in the process of reflecting on how the book’s content is meaningful and interesting to them.

Through my work as a facilitator, I have learned a lot about what connects people (and disconnects them) from learning and from healing. Skillful inclusion of artful and poetic elements in what could otherwise be a heavy read increases the accessibility and appeal of the project.

My dream is to be able to find a more efficient way to offer my experience and skill to people who may very much need support in navigating their unique human experience. Many popular paradigms of understanding mental health, substance use, and human struggle fail to account for the dynamic and deeply personal histories that shape our experience, and offer few tools for understanding the individual tendencies in cognition and feeling through the lens of learning, association, and trauma. I have worked with everyone from ex-CEOs to people who grew up on the side of a mountain and have an eighth grade education. I grew up in the American South and have traveled a fair amount, but not nearly as much as I would have liked. Nonetheless, I have had the opportunity to learn to connect with and have meaningful dialogue with all manner of diverse folks.

My dream, as I mentioned, is to find ways to do my work more efficiently, so that I can reach the people who might find the ideas and practices I am passionate about sharing to be helpful…even life saving. It is my anecdotal experience that many of the people who struggle most in their lives are – at their core – powerfully brilliant and sensitive creatures who see and experience the world in deep-felt ways. There is ample evidence that the connection between creativity and all manner of madness is strong. Every human being is a creative genius in their own right. We all have talents that are especially ours. When we are wounded in lives that do not account for what we need, lives that harm us and threaten us, we cannot shine. Life inherently holds a tremendous potential for beauty and goodness. Even terrible lives have the potential to improve, to heal.

I want to help in the most impactful way that I can.

So, I’d like to put together an accessible and amazing book, and begin consulting with people selectively.

Haha, there are a few steps missing in that summary.

It’s probably pretty clear to you that I have ideas, inspiration. I need help channeling that into a process that will result in completion of the project and progression to next steps. I have a busy life. I work in a nonprofit that serves mostly houseless people, and have two teenage youth in my stewardship.

I have a lot of potential. I need help.

 

Quick Like That

The wind pushes her back a little, drives her head down and hunches her shoulders toward her chest. It stings, the wind, and she can feel the thin metal hoops in her ears begin to burn. It is good for her, she decides as she steadies herself in moving forward with her new rounded shape, her body made small and curve-edged, like a cypress knee or a torpedo.

It happens just as quick as that, the place where she is from rises up into her words as metaphor or image, cadence like the people used to talk down at the gas station, like they still talk. She used to think they sounded stupid, words slurred and garbled together like mud and brackish. Now she knows that they don’t sound stupid, and that there isn’t anything simple about the sound of their voices, or even about what they say, even if they just talk about the weather all day long, how hot, how cold, how wet, how dry. How long will it last. Lord only knows.

The reasons that this is all they say aren’t simple at all. Just like the reasons she feels a little sad and angry aren’t simple at all. They might be stupid though, stupid reasons. Not good reasons at all.

She doesn’t have a goddam thing to be sad or angry about. Nothing. She lets the wind remind her of this, feels it cut through her sweater, her other sweater. Hit her warm skin hard, make her face numb, burn her up in just a mile when some folks will be out in the wind all night. Some folks have already froze to death. She wonders about the man at the coffee shop, the one who sits there all day, used to live in his van in Detroit, sleeps somewhere over away from the river. “It’s cold down there, by the river. People don’t realize that’s a terrible place to have a camp. They think it’ll be good, but it’s no good. Cold in the winter, ten or fifteen degrees colder down there by the river. They don’t care none, drunks. They’ll just start a fire, burn up their clothes, whatever they can find. They’ll go around to these places and get all these clothes. More clothes than they can carry around, and then just leave ‘em laying in the mud or try to burn ‘em. Trash, they’ll burn that. It’s too damn cold down by the river. You see people camping down there, you know they don’t know what they’re doing.”

The man at the coffee shop will go on and on, talk and talk, grinning vitriol about case managers and the systems, how people have so much important work they are doing, but don’t get anything done at all. He says he has been homeless for months. Can’t get housing. Has a case manager. Forms filled out, name on lists. “Last year, I survived 10 degrees. I’ll be fine.”

He wears a black technical jacket like you’d get at the outdoors store. He gets disability payments, can afford a warm sleeping bag. His legs are thin like spindles.

The coffee shop people don’t care how long he sits there. He reads the New York Times. They refill his cup.

Tourists come and go all day, getting artisan lattes down by the river, down by the gallery district that used to be the depot district and then for a long time was nothing at all, just the train tracks with the trains that don’t carry passengers, trains that don’t stop, an old steel company. A plastics company further up the river. Waste treatment.

Her fingers hurt if she has her gloves off, so she leaves her gloves on. They are beige cashmere with a hole in the palm of the right hand. She got them from a free box and they fit her fingers well, are long up the wrist, up the arm.

It doesn’t take her long to get to where she is going, just a walk up the street, cut across the park, a vacant lot, sidewalk uphill, a crosswalk, a parking lot where pigeons surge and scatter around a hard piece of bread, grainy snow swirling on the grey frozen ground. She wonders if she could be out in the cold all day, all night.
She knows that if she had to, she could, because that is what people do. They do what they have to do.

When she got there the other day, she found a camp by the front door, a person huddled with their dog under mounds and mounds of grubby pulled blankets and free box sweaters. There was garbage mixed into the bedding like the little shreds of paper and plastic that mice make their nests out of. A machete was tucked in beside them, close to the wall.

The man who used to be bow-legged but now isn’t anymore for reasons she doesn’t understand and will never ask about comes into the office yelling about how someone he works for called him asking about where is the goddam gas, and how if he is gonna come at him like that then he better watch the fuck out because I’ll take a machete and cut his head clean off, clean off I tell you, motherfucker calling me cussing me when I’m on the phone with my caseworker.

***

If one ceases in a habit that is important to them, to their health or sense of well-being, to the functionality of their life, then suffering – be it relatively mild or catastrophic – will ensue, and the individual will necessarily reckon with the abruption of habit as having a negative impact upon their life. Sometimes people falter in their habits without even realizing it. A busy week without stretching in the morning, becomes a busy month. Slowly stretching is forgotten, and mornings become something different than what they were. Depending on the activity that is ceased – or begun! – a person’s life will change, their health will change, their state of well-being will change. Sometimes, entire lives will fall apart.

I didn’t intend to stop writing almost entirely. I just shifted my attention and focused my time on other things. Slowly, I quit writing. Put it off one day, chose to hang out with a friend, decided to go running.

It is hard to even begin to explain the impact that not writing has had on my life. Observably, it’s no big deal, nothing really. I am fine. Good even. I changed jobs. I quit smoking. My relationships are relatively healthy. I continued to run and am in good shape. My house is fairly clean. Things are in acceptable working order.

However, I am unhappy inside myself. I feel like I will never catch up, like I lost time, lost opportunity. Fucked up.

I know these things aren’t true in the slightest. That it doesn’t matter if I barely wrote for a year. It’s not even like I didn’t write. I wrote a fair amount, tried to put together a book, compiled pages and pages, wrote new content.

Despised it.

Had to question whether or not I am even a good writer. Had to face the fact that I might not be, that I might not even love writing the way I told myself that I do. If I loved writing, wouldn’t I be writing?

Most days, I dreaded writing. Did I really just like smoking cigarettes, the nicotine on the front porch, the pouch of tobacco, the sparkling water, the rush of drug across synapse. Feels like genius some days.

This morning she walked in the cold back down to the car, cut across the big grassy triangle of median, waited for the light at the corner. Stood up straight and was aware that she was being seen by all the cars at the intersection of Haywood and Patton. Tall woman, tight red pants. Very long braids. Pale orange scarf like sherbet, a little bold to be called peach. She should have just written the fucking book. She’d be working with an editor now if she had. One by one, benchmark days came and went, goals falling to the wayside, flat on their sides.

It wasn’t even that it was a difficult book to write, or that she didn’t know how to write the book. She wondered if she had a psychic block. She knew she had a psychic block, that maybe even dark forces or a family curse had silenced her. Rubbish, she said to herself and knew that this, too, was true. Really, she was of two minds, maybe more. On the one hand she was a calm, confident lady, clear-headed and methodical, realistic in her approach to writing out the story of how she once tried to prove God with clouds. She was, however, also a superstitious and mildly deluded neurotic who knew that she would never actually write the book, that she would go round and round with it and that it would go nowhere. She would fail.

No. She decided while walking across the grassy triangle of the median, wind swirling dirt at the corners of the street, just down from the mission, just over from the park, highway just a little ways away, could hear the cars moving, dim hum, the growl of a truck shifting gears. She would write the book. She could do it.

The steam from the shower smelled like chlorine and something about the soap smell and the plastic-smell from the shower curtain liner and dusty warmth from the heater reminded her of being in the hospital, being in treatment. It caught her off guard, the smell of the hospital there in her home and the cache of memory that was linked to that sensory reminder. The small plastic lattice squares of the basket that held her shower supplies, the weight of it as it was hands to her by the nurse at the big desk that separated the boys hall from the girls hall. Right across from the dayroom, where she had slept on the floor the first night on unit. Line of sight. Suicide watch. She’d never much thought of suicide, but had to lay there anyway, right across from the nurse’s desk, sleep there. She’d never be able to sleep. Surprised by waking up. She could sleep anywhere. She knew that now.

Aug 6

It’s fitting, perfect perhaps, that the ninth anniversary of her beginning the project that led to Rachel trying to prove God with pictures of clouds found the woman curled on her bed in a stultifying depression, tears sliding from her eyes as she stared blankly out the window.

On Friday, I went to my first ever figure drawing event. It wasn’t a class. It was a room full of artists gathered in a space, drawing a model that they pooled funds to pay.

So, we all were just there to draw – no instruction, only brief introduction.

“This is my first time ever drawing from life,” I mention to the older man sitting beside me.

“Oh?,” he looks surprised, forehead wrinkling up toward his greying hair.

“It can be kind of intimidating,” his face was kind.

I laughed, “Oh, I’ve been at work all day, so fortunately I didn’t have time to even think about it much.”

I wasn’t thinking about work at all as I set the borrowed drawing board on my lap, fidgeted with my pencil, my eraser.

The whole day disappeared when the woman’s robe dropped.

I studied her left foot, and tried to find the lines that would transpose the 3D form onto the piece of blank paper in front of me.

Would I be able to do this? I let myself look at her entire body, at her face, her expression. Tried to find the anchor lines, noticed how oddly the human form lays against itself at certain angles. Felt a rush of minor anxiety over how transpose the fingers of the right hand, marveled at the strangeness of the  right breast overlaying the upward tilted chin.

I didn’t know if I could do it, draw from life, find the right lines, the right scaling of figure to page, the accurate proportions to foreshorten.

“We’ll start with 10 second poses,” the host of the event said, with no great fanfare, almost absentmindedly.

The model moved into her first position, and suddenly I was drawing, not thinking or trying, just looking at the woman and drawing the curve of her back, noticing the valleys of her scapula, her collarbones. The indentations of her knees and the stark line that separated her calf from her thigh.

The model moved again, and I drew her arm, connected it to the slope down the backside of her ribs.

It felt like a game, a challenge. It didn’t matter if what I drew was good or not good. It didn’t matter if I messed up. I could just erase, or start over.

 

There I was, in a room full of artists, drawing a real, live human being.

 

I’m here in the brightening day on the porch.

Today is a day of lifting, and I am again inhabiting my grounded deep-felt optimism.

The birds have come back to the yard this morning, bringing the reassurance of their company, the reminder of what is real and what is beautiful and what cannot be taken or lost or failed within.

It’s worth me taking a few minutes to write down what has occurred.

I began. Yes. I know. I have begun many times. This time is different. I have said that many times before. Seriously though, this beginning feels different. I found a conceptual niche, a way to begin, a voice to write from.

I will do this. My life depends on it. I have a plan.

Oh, I have said all this before.

This time feels different. Is different.

Okay.

Prove it.

Aug 11

She is sitting on the porch as the sun goes down, rain clattering on the metal sawhorse in the corner of the yard by the steps up to the house. It is her favorite color light again, diffuse rose, with gold.

The light is made by the glow of a thin-clouded, gentle rainy sunset getting caught in the near infinite droplets of water in the air.

“The air is full of water,” she thinks, writes this into her phone. Her hair is a long, damp rope behind her, and the bones of her back press into the slats of the hard white rocker.
She is at the house alone.

She likes it, being at home alone.

She feels lucky that she doesn’t mind being alone, prefers it even. She knows that this makes her different from some people, that some people cannot imagine being peaceful in being alone.

Sometimes, it is very hard for me to feel peaceful when I am with people.

She has begun writing in first person. She notices this, wonders about it, why she shifts back and forth like that, what it means.

She thinks that it means she is stylistically sloppy, and forgets sometimes that she is she in the writing, and that I am her.

It’s possible that I just get confused.

This is not, its worth noting, some dissociative situation, where I have an alter-ego that I call She.

The use of third-person simply creates a different point of perspective, a participant observer of her own existence, her physical sensations, her thoughts, her internal dialogue. The space she is in.

As she is writing, she makes a mental note to say more about where she is at, what she looks like, how her body holds itself, the aspects of her existence that are usually sorely underrepresented in her accounts of a day, huge missing pieces of landscape and song and the tightness of her long braid held in a coil at the back of her head with a bamboo apple skewer, the press and pull of it, her crooked glasses.

Her children.

She hardly ever writes about being a mother. She has thoughts about being a mother, and certainly has a great many experiences relating to the fact that she is a mother, an entire wing of her conscious awareness devoted to her existence in her children’s lives as their mother.

She doesn’t talk much about any of that.

She loves her children, and wants them to be the best possible people that they might be, as measured in terms of embodied happiness and self-determined quality of life.

For the past ten minutes she has been writing about being a mother. There was a swarm of thoughts and feels, remembered and imagined potential realities associated with motherhood, with her children.

She doesn’t say much about that, but will probably need to at some point, because motherhood (and her marriage, which she also does not say much about) is a keystone factor in her experience and how the summer and fall of 2010 played out, how the past decade and a half have been shaped.

It’s amazing to her to think that some things that happened twenty years ago, twenty five years ago are still shaping her days. She understands that this is how life works and what we choose to do, or simply drift into doing, shapes what our lives might look like in a year, or twenty years. Still she wastes a lot of time. Puts things off, even things she wants to do, things she is excited to do.

Sometimes this is a matter of simple time and attention, of her brain being blitzed after talking with people about their difficult and beautiful lives all day, solving big problems.

Sometimes, she wonders if it has to do with fear, or with not really believing in herself.

Many days just don’t hold enough hours for her to engage in immersive work on projects, so she just thinks about the ways she might create a particular painting, how she might depict the glow of underwater, how she might tell a part of the story, what ideas feel resonant in her.

She takes notes and keeps trying.


The greatest challenge to her as a writer is to concisely capture the essence of an albatross of experience concisely, beautifully, and effectively.

She thinks that poetry might be the only way she can tell about the parts of her life that she doesn’t talk about.

These neglected-in-the-telling major life components may, she realizes now, be primary barrier in her telling the story that she has been trying to tell for years, as factors relating to her family were integral drivers in the confluence of events that led to her being asked to step away from the knives in the kitchen by armed officers because that is what police do when they arrive at somebody’s home to take them to the hospital under involuntary commitment orders.

“Oh, yeah,” she’d said, an amused smirk in her voice, a half-hearted half-laugh, “the knives.”

She felt clever when she rolled her eyes, that she’d emphasized that what the officers had requested was utterly dismissable.

She wasn’t dangerous.

If anything, she was in danger. Two armed male officers had entered her kitchen. She had let them in, after the knocking on the door woke her up, brought her downstairs. She felt fear when she saw them, because people feel fear when they see police at their door.

“What’s wrong? Why are you here? Did something happen?”

She knew within moments of the officers entering her home why they were there.

Inside the cavity of her chest her heart felt like it was made of steel, and yet was being struck with lightning again and again. She felt slack, almost numb. It was hard to breathe, and there was shaking at the edge of her.

She understood what was happening, and she understood why it was happening, had ideas about how it might have happened, what might’ve gone down to bring the officers to her home to take her to the hospital, who went to the magistrate.

She knew that she had be cooperative, and that she could not do anything that was perceived as crazy or volatile.

Despite beginning to shiver, she felt completely calm.

“Hmmph,” she thinks, noticing the words she had written, letting the small incident report she had issued sink in. “Where did that come from?”

She scrolls up the small bright screen to try to figure out what the hell she had been talking about that landed her in the kitchen with those cops come to take her over to the ER at the hospital where her then-ex-spouse worked, to be involuntarily admitted to the psychiatric unit on the 4th floor in a process that involved people I had met and who knew my name and my children’s names telling me that, no, I could not have my bra.

“Daaaaaamn,” she thinks. “There’s that I again.”

That first person voice.

She shifts back and forth, depending on what she is writing about.

She was talking about family, about how she doesn’t talk about family much.

Before that, she was talking about what she does write about, which is mostly her thoughts and her perceived experiences, ideas she has while driving to work. Things she wants to remember.

Sometimes, she writes about memory, and about how she thinks it works. How other things might work, how experience is made.
Why she thinks the way she does, feels the feels she feels, and sees things things that other people don’t see, while missing other things entirely.

She takes inventories of what is on her mind.

Occasionally, a tedious account of too much to do and not enough time will take up her attention in a fit of perceived scarcity and anxiety, frustration. She tries to write her way to reconciliation in her thinking about the simple mechanics of time and energy, what is important.

Once, she intended to create a collection of beauties, small accounts of moments when she felt the feeling that she understands to be beauty. She lost track of the documentation of beauties, but still continues to collect them, and saves them in poems.

She just goes on and on, talking with herself about whatever is on her mind, trying out different approaches to telling, to showing.


I get depressed when I’m not writing, depressed in a quiet and relatively non-obtrusive way, at least at first, until the gnawing death of a part of me, a part of my voice, the voice that comes out in writing, begins to slowly deflate my spirit and blanch the day of its sense of story, fill it with a dozen small mournings of beautiful moments that will go unrecorded, or ideas that flood me with a giddy adrenaline, scraps of phrase that make me feel something that I like or find informative.

I don’t think that it’s just writing that seems to keep alive this thread in me that feels tethered to some hint about who I really am…not that I am trying to find out, at least with any specificity. Writing does, nonetheless, help me to keep track of what keeps seems to keep my heart alive.

The person that I am, at least my conditioned self, has everything to do with how I grew up and where I grew up and what experiences I had access to, and what experiences were put upon me by my environment, by rules, by circumstance, by accident, all of which was impacted by the culture and economy that I grew up within.

Is there a part of me, some centrally resonant constellation of qualities characterizing my existence that is more important and more lasting that any of the manifestations over time of personality or interests, endeavors of some era or another within my life? Some part of me that is singularly mine, that would exist independent of the people who raised me, the place where I am from, the things that happened to me?

“Do I have a soul?”

Earnest, beseeching, hands clasped, an upward gaze. She likes that she can laugh at herself, at all her big vague questions, her hapless wishing that answers would fall from the sky, right down on into her head.

Sometimes, I consider the themes that show up in my writing, the topics and activities that are most prevalent across the thousands of words. I think about what doesn’t change about me, my relatively static traits – lasting interests, core personality attributes.

She was on the porch earlier, before it got to be full dark, and what she had been meaning to write about was the fact that she had to wear earplugs to work in the morning, because everything was so loud.

She was smoking a cigarette after substance use supervision group, where she and her supervisor and all the clinicians and peers sat around and ate lunch, talked about the pre-contemplation stage of change and the protocols for the new suboxone clinic that the psychiatric nurse practitioner was beginning, a clients impossible situation, their IV methamphetamine use, their abusive relationship, their homelessness, their pending charges, some combination of adverse experiences and circumstances attached to a name, a life.

She always went out there to smoke after being jammed into the small classroom for supervision at the Recovery Education Center, the program that hired her as a peer two months after she finally got out of court-ordered intensive outpatient services.

All that was years ago. 

She hardly remembers the person she was, probably because she was scared, in shock, and heavily medicated for most of the longest winter.

The pavement was hot, and she talked with a co-worker about the non-profit industrial complex, and how fucked up the organization they work for is, how fucked up the whole non-profit sector is. She liked her co-worker, because they could have big conversations and he didn’t seem to care if she smoked. He seemed to listen to what she had to say.

She doesn’t know where the idea came from, in that moment, but she wanted to sit with her back leaning against his back. To backsit with him. She didn’t think much about it, just asked if he would do something with her.

The breadth of his back was surprising, and she tried to find the center of it with the small line of her spine, sat up straight, more a meditation pose than a lean-against-a-friend.

She knew how to drop into a semi-thoughtless variably altered state of relaxed consciousness, because she had to facilitate the noon meditation class at the center. She used to meditate with a man who once ran marathons and go to Buddhist retreats, who wanted to be a writer, but had been diagnosed with schizophrenia instead, put on neuroleptics for almost three decades. He lived in a trailer out in the county, on the red clay side of a piney hill, surrounded by other trailers, singlewide and streaked with rust, black with damp at the seams. He used to live in New York, but somehow ended up in the mountains of western North Carolina.

When he was a young man, in the winter of 1977, he went to the Farm in Tennessee, where as a baby in the winter of 1977, she went with her parents to live. They left before Spring and it unlikely that her path had crossed with his when she was a baby and he was a ex-military runner, a former deli worker who wanted to be free, to be a hippie philosopher, some kind of Kerouac.

He left the Farm after just a few months, too.

Her life would have been very, very different if her parents had stayed there instead of going back home to the land that her father grew up on.

As it was, she grew up in South Georgia and never much hung out with people who meditate until she had to facilitate the class, and learned how to forget where she was, to forget that she is anything at all.

She shifted the weight of her hips and let the small flat of her back press into his lumbar region. Her eyes were closed, the sunlight blaring orange-red through her eyelids. She felt sweat beading at her brow line, heard cars going by, and was surprised by the stark animal fact of her coworker’s back, the knob of his skull against the back of her head, her coiled hair pressed against his neck. Then, she stopped hearing the sounds as sounds, and the hot asphalt beneath her dropped away and it felt like the whole world of her began to seep out from the space between her ribs.

She doesn’t remember how it was that they shifted weight and agreed to stand up, to go back to work.

He looked different to her, almost radically. She felt her face wide open, and understood that she probably looked different, too.

The results of the test were printed as a folded two page booklet, a booklet like the test had been. The paper was stiff and her name was printed right there, inked indelible on a line with the name of my school. It was not the first time I had seen my name printed on a piece of paper. I had blearily regarded the bracelet on my wrist in the hospital after I fell, my name in little fuzzy-edged block letters, held in plastic that scratched at me.

Here she was again, a person with a name, letters and sounds that mean who she is,  that she is a person, a person with a name.

Standing in the kitchen at the house in Georgia, circa 1984, just a little kid standing by the counter, the yellow-thick lacquered cabinets rising up to the ceiling, looking quietly at the results of her basic skills testing, the test she took at school, the longest day, the most quiet and warm, sunlight cutting through the oaks outside, eraser fibers all over her fingers, her left hand smeared with graphite because she drags her hand over the paper when she writes with her hand. Tiny, hard little circles.

The numbers in the rows of lines and words, different tests, different measures, didn’t mean much to her, except she knew that bigger numbers were better, meant you’d done better. The results offered the average score along with the person’s individual score, provided a percentile ranking.

She did not know what it meant to have such a high number, what that meant, to be way up in the biggest number before the biggest number, how that could be possible. She pictured all the kids in Mr. Harrison’s science classroom, the smart ones and the ones who were just regular, or not smart, and wondered about their numbers. Would it feel sad to not have a good number, a high number?

She didn’t care that much about being smart. For the most part, she hated school. She learned to go, and even to have fun there, find things to be interested in, people she liked to be around, spaces that she felt a fondness for, quiet bathrooms, shady sections of sidewalks, the feeling of waiting for a bus at the end of the day, so many arms and legs and smells and voices, all going home.

Even when she was having fun, she always wanted to be somewhere else, doing other things. Staring out at the sun-blasted grass and thin, out-in-the-county pines, she’d feel an almost animal pull for the shade and river smells of the woods at home, the cool on her eyes as the car left the bright highway and entered the tunnel of oaks and pines that led to the house.

Her grades were good, except in math. She didn’t care that much about math, beyond the basics of knowing how to figure out what she needed to figure out. She thought she already knew how to figure out all that she might have to figure out, and that fractions weren’t that important.

She had trouble at school though, was a little troubled. For a long time, her trouble with school didn’t show up enough to be recognized as troubled.

Even when her trouble with school, which had generalized into a trouble with life, did begin to really show up, in the form of long absences, sickness both feigned and manifested through both will and self-harm, minor intentional injuries, bad sunburns, induced nausea. She became good at sensitizing herself to headaches, focusing in on the pulse in her temple, finding the grain of pain there, imagining the blood flow, pushing pain, her head filling with it. She did not know that she was doing this, exacerbating her headaches by how she paid attention to them. She knew that she would not have to go to school if her head hurt so badly she literally could not move, if every movement exploded in a breathtaking pain in her head, if tears were sliding out of her eyes and every sound, any light was a brutality to her senses. The knife slipping in under the door, the footsteps on the other side of the house, the grind of the air conditioner.

The headaches started when she was little. She had them all the time, her face slack, head throbbing. She got them after sunburn, maybe just dehydration, a day with too much noise, to much movement in crowds, so much blending sound, the 4th of July parade, the sharp mild smell of the church basement, Girl Scouts, a day spent laying on the couch watching cable in the strangely dark and impermanent seeming living rooms of her few friends, being in places that weren’t home, going to the mall, the cloy of perfumes and fabrics, clattering hangers, a wash of music and voices, echoes, the detergent aisle at the grocery store, the hold of her breath.

She hated the headaches. They became the only thing that was happening when they were happening, a pain that was immobilizing because it was so uniquely distracting, because it pulled at all her attention, became the defining experience.


On the drive home from work, she thought about whether or not it was crazy to think that maybe there was some contract, that what is being asked of me (oh, hapless first person, stumbling in with a dazed vulnerability, a quivering hope tinged with doubt) is that I do everything in my power to create a life for myself that is more free, to put my time and energy toward better use, to make things happen for myself. To get my shit together.

In her mind, she has hitched the idea of writing a book to her longing for freedom, supplied as a potential means to an end, or as a possible vehicle to make a life for herself that is more fun and more useful, to make more win-wins for everybody involved, to be able to do more of what she wants to do, more of what seems most important to her.

She wonders if it is crazy to want to write a book, to be trying to write a book, some big scheme to do something useful, to make a good way for herself. She has to be honest with herself about how that involuntary voice in her catches her attention with certain ideas, shapes the way she thinks about her tactics and strategies, her assumptions, and the details of possible outcomes. She has to admit that there is a part of her that really does think she is capable of writing a book that is lovely and effective, a book that does something, that might help a person out, some person that maybe is struggling with some of the things she has struggled with.

When she is driving, she sometimes thinks about how there might be some person out there, some kid in a basement that nobody can help, and I wonder if maybe I could help them, because maybe I can understand some things in some way that others cannot because of the limitations of their understandings as imposed by some algorithm of raw cognition capability, capacity for awareness of alternative modalities in seeing the world, ego attachments, emotional reactivity and reaction styles, investment in perceived power, and all the other hangups that combine to distort perception and block understanding, to enter into a disjointed reality, where two people may be in a room having a conversation, but their experiences of what is happening and what is being talked about and what is best and what is needed and what, the fuck, is actually going on anyway, what the hell am I supposed to do, just let you not go to school, get up, move, go outside, be alive, be okay, be happy, I only want you to be okay, I only want you to be happy.

It must be agonizing to be the parent of a troubled kid.

My family spent thousands, and I am talking thousands, of dollars on trying to help me to not be unhappy, to not want to die. To not be crying and having despairing fits so often as I did.

She is sitting on her back porch, about to go inside and clean the kitchen, then meet up with her oldest child to drive to the bright road of stores and enter the slick purveyor of cellular technology, resolve an issue with a phone.

She is an adult, sort of. She feels sheepish when she admits that, really, she’s still just a kid, still just that same kid, trying to figure out how to feel good in her life, trying to be free, trying to make a life she can be good at.

She is a person with unique strengths and capabilities, valuable experience. She is also a person with limitations, both in her abilities and in her values, the things she wants to or is willing to participate in, whether or not she finds an action or endeavor ethical, worthwhile. Does this help or harm? Who does it help, who might it harm?

She is always figuring. Sometimes she figures right, and sometimes she figures wrong. Often there is no right and there is no wrong. There is just the tumbling phenomena of our lives unfolding.

In many ways, she is not an effective adult. She is beginning to embrace this as a wealth of information about who she is and what she is capable of. There are many things she cannot do. There are many things she can do. She can run up hills and she can spend days not talking to anyone else. She can feel awe. She can spend hours emailing herself on the phone, holding multiple realities in her head at once. She can help people make sense of their fear, solve problems in their lives, find ways to survive the gauntlet that is living.

She can draw, and paint. A little.

Her eyes close and her head rolls when she plays piano alone in the house.

She noticed that the white hydrangea behind the hexagon shed that she and her father built had, for the first time ever, small tendrils of blue edging into its petals.

She can figure out how to make a building.

She is not good at tying knots, but she is very good at untying them.


It is a couple hours later, and she is back on the porch, one of her regular ports, places to pause. She has written in a lot of different spaces during the past nine years of emailing herself, and she is almost invariably most comfortable on her porch, though can achieve that ease in writing in other settings, parks and strange rooms, airports.

She hasn’t yet figured out where the best place for her to write fiction might be. She has written characters and brief dialogue, brief fictive actions, made-up settings while here on the porch, but her life sleeps in too much, and she gets distracted by the wonder of her sitting there writing about one thing, and thinking about other things, being in one place in her mind, her body in another place.

She went to the phone store, and they were playing Weezer and The Doors. The Solutions Manager wore a top knot man-bun and had sparkly eyes. The scene was chill and she stretched by the phone cases. On the way out, her oldest child held the door for a grandfather and the toddler he was carrying, and it was a small, important act in the world.

There is a softness in the sunlight of today. Some days are like that, like this. Benevolent.

She knows that this is only her experience, and that all around her, the day is toothy as hell and difficult for all sorts of people, all sorts of creatures.

Her day is nice though, and she feels curious about what might happen next.

Her best friend is going to be in the wilderness for 7 to 10 days. She wonders if she can write a book, out together a book, in the time that he is gone. She wants to have the experience of telling him, “Well, I finished Phase 1.”

Phase 1 is a document that can be refined into a book.

Depending on how she thinks about her vast digitally-stored slushpile of narration and efforts, it’s possible she finished Phase 1 a long time ago.

Perhaps this is Phase 2, the construction of a secondary document which is partially made of parts of other documents, other writings. Excerpts of formerly immediate experience presented as glimpses of how she was thinking, what she was thinking, what she was doing during the months she was losing her mind.

She has very little interest in writing a straightforward recovery story, or mental health memoir. That is not what this is.

She thinks of it more as a study of experience, an inquiry into the ways that her own experience unfurls and how some sets of factors can collide to catalyze transformative processes, which sometimes look a lot like going crazy, like a nervous breakdown.

If one’s capacity to cope is exceeded by what they must cope with, they must either find new ways of coping or change the things they cannot cope with.

If they cannot do these things, functionality collapses, the system collapses.

It is now the next night, and the day is a collage of sunlight and traffic, the smell of stores, the smell of the house her parents live in now, out at the edge of the county, tucked back into a little seam at the base of the hills that roll on out toward the flat land to the east. Conversations with her children, small transactions. Intermittent laughter and her usual thinking.

Yesterday, she was certain that she could do this thing, put it all together in a week for the pleasure of completing Phase 2, and of being able to tell her best friend that she had done a remarkable thing. He had been doing remarkable things, walking over mountains at a clip of 25 miles a day.

She had been getting by, muddling through days that felt heavy at the edges, sad at the center.

The plan was for him to go and be out in the world, to walk over mountains, to be free in that way. She would stay, because she has to, because of how her life is. However, she would work on changing her life, moving toward the goals she had set for herself, her plan to create a life that is more useful, more fun, a life that she is better at living, a life better suited for the person she is.

She wants everyone to have good lives. Lives that allow for and nurture the best that a person might be. Lives with ample freedom and beauty, freedom from fear, a feeling of peacefulness.

She is a naive idealist, and doesn’t understand why a part of her feels sad when she admits this to herself.

It is a simple hope she has, a child-hope. “I just want everything to be okay for everyone.”


Last night, it seemed entirely possible for her to spend the next five days writing every chance she gets, to just stretch out the thread and trust that what needs to be told would be told, that she will find the pieces of writing that correspond, that supplement, that she could manage to put something together that she might be able to work further on, perhaps even seek help with.

She imagines writing the email, explaining her project, seeking assistance or consideration, and she wonders how that would feel, to finish something enough that she could show it to other people.

She thinks about everything she might need to do to prepare to ask for feedback, the editing, the tidying and updating of her digital self, her archival self.

Then she thinks about all the other things she needs to do and feels a tightening in her head, a pressing on her chest.

She pushes these things out of her mind. “You can do all of the things. All of the things will get done.”

Last night she ran up a huge hill, 650 feet of elevation gain in a mile, and then kept running for another hour, down through the arboretum.

She is trying to think about this like running up hills, how you just keep going.

The difference, however, is that when running, there is often a trail, and here – laying out these words in their accumulating lines – there is not trail, just a rough path, a fuzzy list of things that must be accounted for and a vague idea of how I might put it all together.

She can feel a familiar doubt, a slide in her footing. “This will be utter shit,” a voice rises in her, and she counters with a brief recollection of a couple of moments that she knew she had said something worth saying.

For months, she has held the idea that maybe the only thing she can do is her best, to not try to make it anything it isn’t, to let it be what it is.

This is a layered account of one atypical American woman’s experience of being different and losing her mind, about how she almost lost her kids trying to prove God with clouds even though she didn’t really even think she believed in God.

This is a story about how she got better, about how she learned to understand her experiences in a way she could work with and improve, about what helps her to feel better and what does not, about what she needs to feel well in her life, who she is and what she can and cannot change about that.

The primary reason she is writing this is that sometimes, as she mentioned, she has a strong sense that there might a kid in a basement somewhere that is losing their mind.

That is something that is happening right now.

Part of her knows that, hey, if this important, if you want to be able to actually reach people, you have to make sense and make it worth people’s time.  You can’t just throw a bunch of writing together and expect anyone to take the time to read it, even if you think it is important.

Why is this important to other people? What’s in it for them?

What impact might this have on their lives, if any?

She is in her room, eating dry corn cereal and wondering where she is going with all this.


Aug 12

Oh, man, it is so clear to me, this ongoing pattern, where I am on fire with confidence and vision for two and half days, and then the bottom drops out somehow, and I look at what I have done and think, “What shit.”

I stumble. I falter. My vision is gone. I feel silly for having felt confident.

In the kitchen, right now, there are pots clanging against one and other and I cannot figure out why. There is no breeze. Nothing was touched. It may be the vibrations of what sounds to be a large truck out by the street. The cumulative build of small motions, enough to unsettle the largest pan, tip it into the next-to-largest, make a small pinging noise.

I decided I would try to video it, but was only able to capture this one slight turn. Sometimes watching makes things not happen. Trying to see sometimes makes it impossible to see.

It is afternoon, a couple days after I was all, “Yeah! I can totally put this together in a week. I can be diligent! I can be determined! I AM Determined.”

It’s worth noting that I had had insufficient sleep over the previous few nights, because I had pushed myself to stay awake to be in touch with a friend who is far away, because they are not always able to be in touch.

Usually, when I don’t get enough sleep, I kick past the fatigue into a peculiar adrenalized vigor. After work, I ran 7 miles at the arboretum, and then came home and began writing what I was certain at the time would become the foundation for the construction of this project that won’t leave me alone until I complete it.

That is the truth.

I don’t know why I cannot just let it be. Forget about it. Move on to something else.

That might be the healthiest thing that I could do, and yet when I think about doing that, forgetting about this project, doing some other project, going in a different direction, setting it aside, putting it out of my mind as thing that I ought to do, I feel a rush of heavy sadness, and imagine myself flip-flopping into a future where, surely, there will be a small note of regret until the day that I die that I never did tell that story.

My heart feels heavy as I write this, because I know better than to care too much about doing any particular thing, and I know that the contracts we make with ourselves about what means what and why can create some mighty fucked up feelings, distorted perceptions of reality.

It is totally feasible that I could mightily enjoy my life and never care about the telling of this story, that it never trouble me, this thing that I did not do.

The pans are making noise again.

It must be vibrations, a perfectly angled breeze.

While my rational mind must agree with the possibility that this project is an unnecessary waste of time and that maybe I could be happier without it, there is still that heaviness in me when I think about discontinuing my efforts, aborting this beginning along with all of the other beginnings.

I have known plenty of people who’ve thrown entire years of journals into the sea, who’ve burnt letters up in campfires, who’ve thrown the records of themselves into the garbage with the cat litter.

She feels the familiar resolution.

She is not going to give up, she is going to keep going.

Aug 13

at the rising end of their short lives.

Looking back through old writings, trying to figure my way forward, I have noticed a tendency to romanticize in reflection. In many of my writings about those seasons of disjuncture, that time I spent immersed in a reality that, alas, may not have been entirely real, I seem to focus in on the ways it was amazing, the ways the world became new and richly beautiful in the way I was seeing it, the wash of awe and wonder.

I avoid, it seems, any telling of the fear, the disorientation, the frustration and wild, desperate hope.

She is sitting on the front porch in the middle of the night. This is not unusual for her, at least not over the past few weeks. Her body is fully awake, almost jangling. She spent hours in front of the computer, loading the day’s photos, studying them, trying to find the ones that most clearly show what she had seen.

As she writes this, years later, she can feel her heart beating faster, remembering. It amazes her, the way her body responds to thinking about certain times, the ways that her mind is pulled along with the trembling that comes up at the edge of her, the whirling collage of images and thoughts that suddenly crop up in the background of her headspace.

She notices the use of the word ‘whirling’ again, that movement word, and she thinks she ought to make a picture of this, how so much clutters (also a word she has used before, to describe her mental environment) and then all the sudden a dozen examples, pictures she has already drawn, come to mind.

This is part of how her mind works, she understands, part of what makes her a poet, how the pictures in her head make her feel, how she tries to name that feeling.

She observes a reflexive self doubt, a sheepishness in calling herself anything at all. A poet. A writer. An artist. She is a mother, a screw-up, a community mental health worker. She barely has her shit together.

Oh. The feels.

All of this is true. Every word.

However, it is only true in some frameworks of understanding, and – in many ways – it makes perfect sense, that she would be living such a bumbling, constricted life in the things she is doing. The limitations in the ways she exists outside of her own mind, who she is on the basis of her observable endeavors and her efficacy in those affairs.

She is not really a screw up, not in the broad span of all the ways people can totally fuck up their lives and create harm to themselves and others.

She is actually a pretty good mom, and occasionally, and in some ways, is a great mom to the young people who are her children. She does well at work, has maintained employment at the same organization for almost 8 years. She wants to do different work, and has put in her resignation three times over the past two years. She has stayed though, because it is the reasonable thing to do. She cannot leave until she has some other way to earn enough  to buy food, to pay bills, to provide shoes for her children.

She has no savings account, no health insurance. No 401k.

It is costing her to stay at her job, because as much as she tries, she has not yet been effective in simultaneously creating new work for herself and maintaining her current employment. So, she treads water, shows up, keeps thinking and trying.

She does not want to go get another job in the mental health system, go through all of the training and orientation, sit in those environments, under those fluorescent lights, to have to learn a whole new set of coworkers, a whole new set of workplace norms, to have to learn a whole new group of people she would work with, new practices.

She feels a crumbling dread at the thought of it, and knows she cannot do this. She doesn’t want to do it.

“Oh, boohoo, you don’t want to do it. Well, people do things they don’t want to do every day. All over the world. Think about it, all the things that people do that they don’t want to do.”

She isn’t strong like that. She might be able to be, if she killed a part of herself, her raw instinct of what is good for her and what she enjoys doing. The way it feels to powerfully want to walk out of a room, to go be outside, to be writing or making art, to be at ease, to not be at work.

God, she is spoiled.

She wants the world to be a place where nobody has to do things they deeply don’t want to do, where nobody has to degrade their vigor in living to earn a wage, where nobody has to harm themselves or to be harmed to feed themselves, to have shelter over their heads.

I want to live in a world where people are supported in doing more of what they love, being more of who they really are.

She is so naive.

So idealistic.

She forgets where she was going with this, and recognizes another tendency in her…that where she ends up going is the bigger picture. Even the smallest little thing involuntarily and irrepressibly blooms out macro.

She scrolls back up the page, trying to figure out what she was talking about. Oh, yes, she is sitting on the porch in the middle of the night, and her body is wide awake. She had been looking at cloud pictures for hours, adjusting the contrast, marveling at the way they looked like they had bones, a perfect composition in density.

Now, she sat on the porch in the middle of the night, fervently thinking about how she might manage to tell someone, to tell someone what she saw, what she noticed, what she thinks it might mean, such a simple and amazing idea! It could change everything, could make everything stop. She looked over to the east, to the ridge line where the cellular towers are, and sees that the moon is there, low over the mountain, where the sun rises. It is glowing bright gold and is a crescent on its side, lit from below, a slow smile over the dark hulk of land, due east.

Her mind reeled, and her face lit up. She began to tremble with the strangeness of it. It was the middle of the night. The moon was in the wrong place. It had the wrong look. It was not right.

It was beautiful, but hung at the wrong place in the sky. 

She wanted to tell someone about it.

It is not unusual for she and her mother to exchange commentary on matters such as the moon, or the weather, birds in the yard, the general natural world. She knew she could call her mother in the middle of the night if she really needed to. A part of her briefly wondered if it would be strange to call her mother in the middle of the night to tell her to look at the moon.

It’s behaviors like this that caused her family concern, because while it is not inherently strange nor inherently problematic to want to spend the day doing art work and considering big ideas, these interests must not compromise the endeavors that one’s life is structured around. Working and raising children. They must not cause one to act bizarre, talk about postmodernism, or stop in public to take pictures of the sky.

Being as naive as I was, and still am, I really didn’t think there would be a problem. I mean, art is good, right? Spirituality is good? Right? Taking time to reconnect with yourself in the wake of a difficult year is good?

None of these things are inherently problematic, not in the slightest.

However, it was the way I responded to the pull I felt in me to be still, to look around, to spend time in the familiar feeling of myself, alone and doing artwork. It was the way I responded to my inspiration, and it was the convergence of multiple factors in my life circumstances and relationships that drove me to quick slide my way into what, reluctantly, is best described as psychosis.

It would be easy to cob together a causality structure that blames the whole thing on my mismedication, or on my decidedly rough divorce. I have done that, at certain times, explained it all away as the fault of factors external to me, as something created in me as a reaction to or as the result of the actions of others. Like, I was totally fine, and then this doctor increased this dosage and that guy was being a real fucking jerk when we have to talk about the kids…and then I went crazy.

That’s not exactly the whole story.

In reviewing my reflections and assertions from that period of time and the months prior I notice that there are definite themes that tie into what, over time, in a barnacle-ing of thoughts and beliefs and patterns in perception, became a psychotic episode.

In the first week of writing about my drawing everyday for a year, I am writing about perspective, and about reconnecting with seeing the world in different ways, the strangeness of my life.

I am already grandiose, imagining my coworkers learning about my website, the drawings. I am triumphant at 3 weeks, foolish and noob.

There is a rise and fall in tone. Victorious and maudlin, writing about the rain.

When I think about my behavior and communication over the fall and winter and spring before I went psychotic about the clouds and thought I was supposed to prove god, that there was some big plan that I was somehow involved in…well, I can see “signs” that I was already beginning to get a little magical in my thinking, a little exuberant in my behavior and communication, slightly edgy. Hypomanic, hypermagical.

It had been a long time since I really considered myself bipolar, but I knew I had a difficult time. I was doing okay though. Employed full time at the museum and getting the kids to school on time. My marriage had fallen apart, but I was okay. Adjusting.

I remember finding The Icarus Project when I was researching creativity and mental illness, bored at work and wondering why I was feeling so mercurial. Reading the text posted on the screen, I was surprised to find myself identifying with it. “Yes,” I thought, suddenly remembering all my hospitalizations, all my medications, the scar on my arm. “My life has been affected by mental illness.”

I honestly hadn’t really thought much about my history of mental health challenges, despite the fact that I had a prescription for lorazepam and venlafaxine from my primary care physician. Just to help me cope with the stresses of being a working mom going through a divorce. Not because I was mentally ill.

I had stopped disclosing my mental health history on doctors forms, because I was ‘over it.’

I adopted a bias of omission in my thinking about it, my identifying with the experiences of being mentally ill, having mental health crises. I chalked it all up to a fucked up adolescence, and could see a little of how it all went down, how I was a kid with problems and those problems led to other problems. I was an adult now. I was better. I had gotten married and was maintaining a household and being a very good mom. I was not mentally ill. I was solid.

Except that I cried a lot, and was edgy as hell. Distractable and overwhelmed as my marriage fell apart under the stresses of two people ill-equipped for one another, for trying to build a life together, two people going about the whole thing all wrong, all wounded, all confused about who they were and whether they were happy, frustrated and tired in their busy, crumbling, life-building lives.

I was a little concerned about myself. I had started to feel that sinking into myself, that pull to be alone, that panic in having to talk with people. Things had started to get loud.

It was harder not to cry. I started to lose weight, smoke more. My eyes took on a wild glint through the fall of 2009.

I remember a lot of the years before, the years of my marriage and its decline, the kids’ youths, them being babies, the years before I met their father. I could, if I started from the beginning, probably remember quite a bit, in image and sensation. A lot of my life, the experiences I have had.

I probably could find a bigger pattern in my evolving wellness and/or lack thereof, a series of seasonal rises and falls, year after year, a larger curve, while segments of years between crises, a slow build, a month to month wave pattern, the spikes and flatlines of a long day, any day.

I have wondered if getting swine flu that winter, and having that fever, that pneumonia, if that created a critical state of inflammation in my brain. It might have. It certainly did for a moment there, when my whole body was exploding with pain and I couldn’t move my limbs from the floor in the hall.

I don’t know how an illness like that affects one’s mental health.

I was quite ill.

Aug 13

She becomes aware of a familiar doubt as she considers the few dozen pages compiled over the past several days.

“It won’t make sense to anybody.”

She feels a dampening in her spirit, wonders if she ought to go on. “You’re supposed to have all this worked out,” she thinks to herself, her mouth set in a half-frown, considering. “A book is supposed to be polished, coherent. It is not supposed to include your doubts.”

There is a quiet, bargaining voice in her, that says that maybe this is what her book is, that maybe her book tells about the process, tells about the doubts, tells about how difficult it is to tell…

“Who wants to read that?!” It is almost laughable.

“No.” She says. “It’s not laughable. It’s real.”

She feels a standing like her fists at her hips, squared-off like that, something like indignant, something like defensive.

Takes a deep breath. “Maybe, if nothing else, if I do my best in the time that is available to me, and I put together something the best I am able to, and I show it to somebody…they will see that I need help with this project, and they might know someone who could help me.”

My god, she thinks, is this whole thing a cry for help?

She wrote almost 3,000 words in the morning, without even having to try much at all. She just kept writing.

Aug 13

I don’t know how I talked them into letting me change schools so much, why they went to such great lengths to try to find something that worked.

I guess they didn’t have much choice when I started flat-out refusing to go, became violent when they tried to make me go.

I got kicked out of St. Patrick’s two months into my eight grade year, because of the incident with the stealing of the peppermint schnapps and the being-a-passenger on an idiotic joyride.

I finished the year at Mary Lee Clark Middle, but was different. My hair was still permed, but I stopped spraying my bangs up. I still hung out with some of the same kids I had hung out with before, kids from the subdivision, Navy kids, but I was different.

I had joined the ranks of kids who got sent to Charter. There were lots of us, at least a half dozen, people’s older or younger brothers and sisters. Mostly brothers, mostly because of drugs.

Aug 14

…was in the forest over by the arboretum, running for a long time. It gives me peace.

Hey, I was thinking a little at the beginning of the run, and I ended up writing a lot at the end of this message. It’s pretty strident, but also compassionate…sometimes it is hard for me to see people play out the same patterns and end up in the same places.

I know it’s waaaaaay not that simple…but, I don’t know what to do to help, other than be here

( albeit remotely, because a/I am locked into a determined flow around a longstanding project and b/never much hang out with anyone anyway except for one or two people who seem to be able to understand my asociality and need for nonanthropocentric time. I’m usually pretty wiped out as far as the realities of other people’s lives after work and being a mom and stuff. I don’t have the social capacities to maintain moderate or even light friendships in any proper sense)

I can help you to brainstorm solutions or coping or ways out of this, explore other options…but, I can’t do that too much, because then I run the risk of being in the position of being someone’s only person, and that is not a safe social space for me to be in, nor is it safe for the other person, especially if they are vulnerable to abandonment, because of the way I am, I can drift quite a bit, or become resentful due to falterings in my ability to maintain boundless compassion, or unmet needs for self care that cause me to become anxious and fray at what I perceive to be scarcities in time and attention and spirit.

I guess what I’m saying is that I’d like to be a support for you, but I am not sure how to best support you. I want to be there for you, but have to recognize the limits of my ability to do so, within or outside of the role of being a person you met at meridian that you have a unique and powerful seeming connection with, that is kinda awesome and rare and something to be taken seriously.

I guess my knee-jerk thing would be to be like “faith you’re being selfish you have to help ______ however you can because she has no one.”

“Forget the rules of not involving yourself socially with people you from work, both your rules and your organizations rules.”

“Be human. You have to help the other human. It’s the only thing that matters.”

But I recognize these reasonings to lead down the murky path of taking responsibility for fixing someone else’s life out of a sense of ethos and guilt…and, man, I can’t do that.

Anyway, I guess I wrote a lot here, too…and I’m sorry if it’s like, whoa, wall of words. I care about you and respect you and want to be there for you…but, I have to be transparent about my capacities and limitations in being a good support, even to a person who I know it is really important to support.

Okay…I have to work on the project for a while…check in though…try to be okay. Sit outside. Breathe. Remember who you are. I, at the moment, am long winded. sorry…

I’m sorry you’re in the situation you’re in…and that you feel like you will never be ok again…

Try to see out of the world where the people you choose to care about and let into your life hurt you and leave you…

I will be around the place next week, but not sure what my schedule is just yet…

You’re not a burden…*and* you can’t live life longing for a anchor with other people, especially if the people you drift toward are sinking ships that you (and I totally get this and it comes from a good place) you want to help because you believe in them and care for them…but, it is not up to you to save all the complexly wounded and crashing and burning people. Ultimately, people only save themselves…or they don’t…and that is a sad reality.

You’ve chosen to be there for people who *cannot be there for you* who *cannot love you* with any sort of real love with integrity…which hardly anyone can love anyone with anyway…but, really, this is a bad situation…and you have choices and options as to how to proceed, not just in your actions, but in your spirit, too…you can choose what you let destroy you…and what you let sever you from your connection to everything that is so much bigger than any argument or hurt caused by people…there are things in this world that will never let you down…and they don’t want or need anything from you, and your joy feeds the wind and your loneliness will go away when you are not scared anymore to be alone.

Aug 14

Tue, Aug 14, 2018, 8:45 PM
to me

This morning, driving to work, she thought about this project, and how she knows how to proceed now, what it is and what it isn’t. What it could be. She is confident she can be the niche in multiple markets. She feels sheepish when she admits this to herself, wonders if she is being grandiose. She considers the facts as she understands them, taking into account that she doesn’t understand quite a bit about anything, even herself, her perception of who she is and why her lived experience as a human being might be worth talking about. She doesn’t know if it matters that she was one of the unseen twice exceptional kids of the late-70s and early 80s, who was not exceptional enough in either aspect of her exceptionality – her brightness and her difficulties – to cause concern or garner interest beyond correcting for a speech impediment in a small dark classroom on the short hall by the library, through the breezeway, past the sidewalk down to the street, under the pines, the town beyond, a small, dark classroom where she sat with a man who was nice enough in beige and who explained the sounds I needed to make in order to learn how to say my own last name.

(There is the first person again, slipping through.)

There were other kids in the class, a boy with cerebral palsy and bright orange hair, a clattering brace on his leg, a girl from Sand Hill Road, across the highway, right past the tracks where the nuclear protestors had started to lay down, right there on the tracks, trying to stop the trains.

The girl had a lisp.

I don’t think they ever stopped a train.

I wasn’t thinking about any of that when I was in the speech room, which was also the Special Education room. I was thinking about how to make a rrrraaaawwwwrrrr growling noise, trying to make my mouth make the sound. Trying hard, as hard I tried to write the lowercase cursive r, my hand always drawing a wave instead, almost a u.

My hand remembers the feeling of the warmed and slick-wet carton of milk that waited by the classroom door for me when I rejoined my class after speech. I missed milk break, and drank my chocolate milk silently, hand dripping sticky water onto my desk from the sour carton, nubby fibers of cardboard brown with milk.

I was not identified as having any learning disabilities or differences. I did well enough.

I could figure things out, learn how to get by. I was a participant observer from a young age. This is likely due to the fact of growing up in the woods, and maybe seeing other kids now and again, spending time with the family of a fellow park ranger, or some random mom-friend my mother had somehow made, who we might see one or twice, and then never again. I spent my early developmental years primarily in the company of my immediate family, my parents and my little brother, and my great-grandmother, the women who worked for her, and the tiny sinewy woman from Folkston who rented the little white house behind my great-grandmother’s big White House.

Her name was Ruby, and she sat in a big white chair along the same wall that my great-grandmother sat in a replicate big white chair. They sat there together all day long, facing forward and talking with one another, looking over the expanse of the heavy side table that sat between the chairs.

My great-grandmother was an old white woman of withering relative wealth. Born in 1894 to a Georgia State Supreme Court Judge whose picture is hanging up in that building with the gleaming golden dome that you can see right there from the highway.

When I was very little, I didn’t know a thing about what it meant to be an old white woman of withering relative wealth in the Deep South, or how my life was any different than any other people’s lives, except I liked being at home, in the woods, much more than I liked being in town, where it was crowded and bright, even though when I was little the town of St. Mary’s only had the two lanes of Highway 40 running to turn into Osborne Road, go down by the river, to downtown, where there was only the Cumberland Island office, and the shrimp boats and the Riverview Hotel with Seagle’s Bar tucked right there behind the old tall windows, under the second story balcony that was the tallest building that we had in town except for maybe Plum Orchard, which was the Greek Revival broad-lawn gem on a big corner lot. Except for the paper mill, the Gilman Paper Company, heaving out plumes of acrid smoke that hung over town if it was foggy, and caught winds all the way over the edge of town. The mill rose out of a bend in the road like a chaos of pulp pyramids and broken out windows, ladders and pipes and smokestacks and train cars.

She didn’t think much about it, other than it smelled, and her dad told her that he worked there for about a month, and that walking on the floors had eaten the soles off of his shoes because of all the chemicals.

Aug 14

At the place where I work, they call call crying or getting angry a ‘Big Moment.’ These can any sort of upset ranging from benzo-withdrawing panic attacks to despondent fits of suicidality, a relapse, a slip, a cut on the arm, voices in the dark.

Someone being sent to the hospital usually isn’t call a Big Moment, it’s called Had-to-go-to-the-Hospital.   A disorientation of finding you can’t move your wrists, the blur of the nurse behind you, your mother crying on the phone or sounding wooden.

Aug 15

I read over the assessment, the “evident psychosis,” the “flight of ideas” and even “word salad.”

I didn’t feel anything, not like I used to. For a long time, clinical language – the words of diagnosis, symptoms – caused a small flood of feels, a sheepishness, a tight ball of defiance, a morbid curiosity.

The made-up and Latinate syllables are strangely loaded, whole stories encased in black type, literal codes for human experience. Signifiers of something much bigger, much more personal, than the word psycho.

She understands that people need to be able to describe things, to name them and to understand how they work, what they mean. They need to know what to do, especially if something is a problem, if it destabilizes the organism or the colony, the clan, the family, the community.

They must be able to name the problem, to know what the problem is, before they can do anything about it. So, they give some problems names, and when they see something that looks like that sort of problem, they will give it the name they know to describe it, to help them to make sense of what, exactly, they are dealing with here.

Some things – a great many things! – are only problems in the context of the system that they occur within.

If the system cannot be changed to solve the problem, the problem must solve itself by ceasing to become a problem, adapting functionality within the system. If the problem cannot adapt to become less of a problem, the system continues to destabilize and pushes to resolve the maladaptive problem create a myriad of outcomes.

Okay. The thing is happening where I lose focus. A lot of thoughts rolling around in my head.

Myriad out outcomes is murky as hell. Be specific. What are you talking about?

She wonders, sitting on the floor at work, during the Tuesday morning meeting, rocking slightly back and forth, if the clinicians that she works with have diagnosed her, have noticed that she meets diagnostic criteria for at least a handful of Axis 1 and Axis 2 disorders.

She knows they can’t help it, that that’s part of how they’ve been trained to think about things, to observe and notice things, to describe aspects of human behavior through a clinical framework of functionality in Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) and pathology, symptoms of disorder, illness, crisis.

She thinks about the people who come to the Recovery Education Center in the same way, with words and classifications attached to them; she knows what’s in their Electronic Client Record, the diagnostic codes, the descriptors. She thinks about these things, because she knows the words mean something, mean that a person was seen in some way that suggests a tendency toward engaging in behaviors perceived by the diagnostician. The words mean something to people, and they list them off, a string of diagnoses recited like catechism, like a sentence, like badges. Like they will tell her something about who they are, or what they are like, and they do tell her something, suggest certain likelihoods in how a person might behave or think or feel or react. Relational styles, cognition tendencies. Patterns of fluctuation, instability. Stress vulnerability.

The words don’t tell her much though, and sometimes they tell her the wrong thing, the wrong diagnosis, a biased diagnosis, a diagnosis made with partial information.

She wonders if it is because of the ways that naming a thing works that we are more likely to see what we think we will see, if it is confirmation bias that pulls us to find evidence of what we expect will be there.

Aug 15

Okay. Some days will be like this, where my writing will be off, my energy and focus off.

Sometimes there is no coherence, no flow, or just the hints of flow, pulling me this way and that, shiny ideas, things that catch my attention and then go flat.

I am reminding myself to keep going, to just fucking focus.

I can do it.

It’s just so big…

The first time she left it was a Dodge pickup truck, red like your daddy’s life that paid for it with a government check after all those chemicals, all that cancer, and it was Slayer and Pantera on the interstate over to Alabama, to your mother’s trailer out on a flat, flat road where it rained everyday and did not smell much like home.

She loved him for his long hair, his green eyes, his sadness. He had been there, to that place where she had been. She had visited him there, after he began to withdraw from the Xanax and the cocaine and everything else he’d been doing with the greasy haired head cook at the Huddle House, where he was also a cook, his hair in a ponytail. She didn’t know him. He was a military kid, whose family somehow landed, like so many families, there in the town she grew up in.

He lived in the north county though, almost out of the county, and she had dropped out of school, so she didn’t know him until she saw him at the Huddle House where she went to eat grilled cheese sandwiches, drink coffee, and smoke cigarettes in the corner booth wearing a heavy dark sweater, hair short and sleek and dark purple burgundy.

She introduced herself by writing him a poem, entitled Beautiful, in which she wrote in careful letters of what she questioned to be a quality of a minor god, a Demi-god, and concluded that no, it was his humanity, the something-like-sorrow in his eyes, that she found to be, predictably, beautiful.

It is easy, she learned, to make people fall in love with you through poetry, but only if you really feel something like love for them, or for whatever it is the poem is about, some small string of love, that makes a sound when you find the words that make the images that bring to heart the light that cannot be named, a certain feeling.

She loved him for exactly who he was, spindly and bird-like, with a fragile mouth but hard eyes, pretty hair, a dark side. Death metal. A dead father.

In the apartment in the basement on the hill in northern Michigan, when she was 17 years old, she burnt a ring in the old rose carpet, eating ramen noodles from a hot pot while watching reruns of The Golden Girls while the snow came down outside. They lost the security deposit when they moved out after their landlady overheard her screaming at her mother on the phone.

They were living in the upstairs walk-up over a garage at the end of a scrabbly, snow covered street when she left in the middle of winter, tired of the snow, of being away from home, of living with her boyfriend. She wasn’t even 18.

Her mother drove her home to Georgia, and she got food poisoning from a Burger King near the Ohio border, vomited and shat the whole night in a motel room, shivering. Sicker than she’d been in a long time.

She would go back to school, that was the plan, and she enrolled in classes at the Georgia Military College satellite that was out on the base, dispersed across meeting rooms and military classrooms around the base. She had to pass through security to go to class, be patted down to attend English Composition 101 in the Trident Training Facility conference room.

Aug 15 10:40AM

It’s a really challenging day with this project, like every known barrier in process and productivity is throwing itself down or clamoring up, tugging at my attention, scattering my thoughts.

I think I am tired.

I consider the utility of pushing forward, getting to a point where I am excited to work on this again.

Aug 15 1:45PM

This is not just the story of her “struggle with mental illness,” a telling of her diagnoses and symptoms, glittering and muddied accounts of the times she went to the hospital, shards of visual and dialogue to convey the grinding and falling of what she remembers in vivid detail as whole days, weeks, full of long punctuations and violent non sequiturs, volatility and intrusive thoughts.

Nor is it a recovery story, how she “got better” and learned to accept her illness, her disorder, found the treatment that worked, the right pill to take, the right way to calm down. How she has a good life now, and is – if not exactly normal – mostly happy.

This is a deconstruction and representation of a person’s experience, an imprecise analysis of being different, but not understanding the ways she was – and is – different, of being hurt, but not recognizing the wounds incurred as being wounds.

Because of the way she thinks about how experience is formed, how lives unfurl, she cannot tell the story of her disorder and of the various impacts it had on her life without telling the story of the place where she is from, the themes that informed her reality, her identity, her fear responses and how she feels when she feels happy, when she feels sad, what she wants to do when she is angry, what she thinks about, where her mind goes, what she makes of the world and herself in it.

This is the story of a project, into which an entire life seeped and then exploded, lines erased and reconfigured to spell out something she’d never seen before.

She would draw a picture everyday for a year, as simple as that. Lots of people do it. Something daily. A drawing. A photo. A haiku. Anything. They make a project, and do a thing everyday for a year, tell about it on social media, write about it.

So, she began drawing, and began writing about drawing, and posting her drawings and her writings on a website nobody read. She felt like everybody was reading it, or might start reading it at any time. Exposed.

She can see in her early writings how defensive she is, how she is already defending herself, learning not to care. She is already talking about perspective and the importance of doing things you love, of knowing what you love. She was already beginning to wonder who she is, and how her life had turned out the way it did.

Her marriage was dead. The father of her children was being a jerk. She was being passive aggressive. Working full-time, taking the kids to school, trying to help them through the transition of their father not living at the house. She thought a lot about how differently people can see things. She had to think about this, because everyone in her life seemed to be seeing something different, inhabiting an entirely different scenario. When she got upset because something sad or mean or impossible happened, and cried and closed my door, it was because I had a mood disorder, not because I was a human being whose life within her family had fallen apart.

Her husband knew about her mental health history, her disorder. He’d met her just a few months after she cut her arm open, but was “doing better now.” Happy, exuberant even, in the Portland springtime. Happy and still employable, because she had a degree and a few years of spotty experience working with people whose lives were a struggle, a lot of volunteerism, hanging out in parks with homeless people, having conversations. She had a job, and could tell her family things were going well. The sun was out. Her co-worker had magnetism, an accent from up north, dark eyes like hers.

He knew though, that she had had mental health challenges, had become terribly volatile while withdrawing from Effexor while driving cross-country in a van with two dogs in the wintertime, in her first trimester of pregnancy.

She had to get a psychological evaluation, because her ‘mental health’ had become an issue in the divorce, in the considerations of what was best for the children, only 6 and 8.

It is ironic that, at that time, she was a good mom, and was actually handling things rather well. She was a little stressed, a little edgy, but she was handling things okay, still working, getting the kids to school on time, picking them up on time, playing with them and trying to keep their lives happy even though their Pop had moved out and they cried more than usual. They cried a lot.

She tried not to write about any of that, because it felt weird to have her family’s life on the internet, but sometimes it slipped in, as lives do, and it helped her to see the situation noted in brief prose, small analyses.

It helped her to try to make sense of what she was dealing with, and to keep track of who she was in the midst of being a mother, and a museum worker, and a soon-to-be ex-wife. Sometimes, in those early writings, her tone is obnoxious, and the things she says are stupid and strange.

Mostly, though, she wrote about drawing, brief notes about the experience of posting, how she might like it on some days, be getting the hang of it, and then not like it other days, feel pressured. She made notes on the weather, brief mentions of mood and energy, activities, things she thought about.

Nobody read it, but she kept posting.

As the winter set in, the website became a place for her to talk openly with herself about whatever was on her mind. Her drawings were improving and sometimes interesting things showed up in the sketches.

She cannot trace the confluence of events that led to the steady and then profound decline in her mental health and functionality, the origin event that led to her radically launching into a different reality, in which she was an unrecognized genius and God was alive in everything, the world full of currents and signals and codes.

It is possible that she was already in an elevated state when she took the psychological evaluation in the sunny upstairs office on the north side of town. She was wearing a loose orange skirt, a purple top, bright green shoes. Her hair was platinum blond.

The questions were easy. The answers flew out of her. It was fun. She was a delight, a clever delight, as the sun slanted through the afternoon windows and spoke about her occasional anxiety, the lorazepam prescribed by her primary care physician.

She did not meet with the psychologist to review he results, just had the report sent to her.

She has spent the past 8 years trying to figure out how she really believed that she could prove God with pictures of clouds, how she really believed that what she saw in the sky was real and meant what she believed it to mean.

How did that happen in her mind, in the reality she was inhabiting?

At the hospital, they called it psychosis, and chalked up everything she was saying as delusional and grandiose. They noted her body odor. Wrote down her prescriptions. Gave her a shot.

She felt foggy and feral in the pale room. These people did not know her, they could not see how it could all make sense. She had started to believe that everything was a test, that she was being watched and evaluated, challenged in order to prove a point, that she was strong, that she believed, that she really believed.

How could she believe what she believed?

Aug 15 7:09PM

The idea that perhaps differences that result in difficulty is less a matter of disorder than it is a matter of diversity is not a new one.

Aug 15 7:48pm

The girl knew she’d almost died, when she fell the way she fell, right off of that swing at its high upward arc.

Aug 15 10:38pm

“We all have a secret self,” she thinks, listening to the night insects out on the porch.

She has been doing research on the internet about delusional disorders.

As she has been reading through her old writing, she has been struck by how crazy she sounds.

She knows she was delusional, but it was a glitch, a temporary thing. This is what she told herself, reflecting on those months of actively believing that she was somehow involved in an international consortium of enlightened people and influencers that were seeking to destabilize the economy, end wars, and ultimately save the future of humanity through a multimodal campaign of peace and justice. She believed that everyone was watching her, all the time, and that the task to prove God with pictures of clouds had been put upon her.

By actively believing, she means that this was the primary belief that shaped her perceptions of events and experiences, her dominant framework of reality. Sure, she knew she was also who she was, with her name and her family, her small little life. However, she believed that she was right on the precipice of proving something tremendously important, and that the evidence of the numinous that only she could present would surely help the world.

She believed that God, or something like God, was watching her all the time, and knew her thoughts, knew what was in her heart.

If she thought about it in just the right way, she could rationalize the glitch and it’s resultant craziness by considering her formative psychological constructs relating to awareness of interconnectedness in nature, exposure to revolutionary espionage plot lines in popular culture, and a protracted state of profound loss and life transition stressors that, in conjunction with an increased dose of a prescribed antidepressant, launched her into scrambling realms of hypervigilant analysis,  an instinct to try to solve the problem of her life circumstances, to solve all of the problems, an amped up dopamine level reinforcing her preoccupation with stressful and exciting ideas that set off a profound motivation to believe almost anything she thought, but especially made her believe whatever made her heart beat fastest, what thrilled her and scared her.

She talks sometimes about her experience of psychosis, the delusions she held, but she doesn’t tell the whole story, she doesn’t tell anyone what she really believed, what she sometimes still believes.

She no longer believes that she is a part of an international revolution of consciousness and ethos, a new world order.

Aug 17 9:56PM

She doesn’t remember the specific thoughts or small actions she made around the house on the first day she tried to die. She recalls trying to write some sort of note, and giving up there at the small table, body wracked with a searing despair that turned her hand into a clawed fist gripping the pencil.

She has broken many pencils, trying to write something down while her body exploded, first snapping the lead, jabbing into the paper, then splitting the pencil in two, collapsing into sobs or standing up so quickly and violently that the chair scraped and clattered, sometimes fell.

It’s unclear to her, whether the memory of writhing in the darkened room as great rolling waves of grieving terror, sharp metallic dread, tore through her, clenching her jaw, kicking her legs, screaming into her pillow, tearing at it with her teeth…whether the memory of that, the image and recollected feeling of it, is from the day she tried to die, or a memory assembled of the many days and afternoons and nights she spent wailing in her room in the rented house on Hull Road, just outside of Athens, Georgia.

She’d wanted to die for four of the six months she was there, after she dropped out the graduate program in Sociology, got a Sexually Transmitted Infection from a person she met at the tattoo shop where she had wings tattooed on her palms in the heart of winter, and broke plans to go to New York with the girl who’d lived downstairs from her on 7th Avenue. The girl who had been her first best friend in a couple of years, who had the woman’s name tattooed on her arm when the wings were done.

The woman sobbed, angrily explaining that she could not go. She just could not go.

She was scared, because she did not know why she felt so upset all the time. Quitting school was a relief, a great decision. She hadn’t been able to do the work. It was too tedious, the research and reporting. The formatting.

On the metal cover of the old fireplace opening, she painted a full moon and a river, just like the one at home.

She saw the biggest moon she’d ever seen, driving west on the loop road. On the last day of the year, the college radio station played REM’s end of the world song for 24 hours straight, and she listened to it a few times, turned the radio off.

On the day after Valentines Day, she bought all of the day-old roses she could find, and strung them together into garlands that she hung around the house like she was hosting some kind of deadhead wedding party. She painted a near skeletal man, with a raven on his head, hated it because it scared her, because it was a good painting and the man was aghast, made her feel aghast. She painted a vaguely female form over it, but he bled through, and she slathered on silver paint, but she could still see the line of the bird’s back, so she faced it toward the wall and wasted the paint.

She was already depressed the day she moved to town, missing the misty air of the northwest and with the reality that she had just driven cross country with her mother, and was moving back to the South settling into her as twisted, trapped, oh-shit-what-have-I-done feeling in her gut. She didn’t want to die though. She wanted to be stoked. She wasn’t stoked, but she didn’t want to die. It was just depression. To be expected. A major transition. A new set of stressors, a whole new town to learn.

It was a foolish pride that bloomed in her about being a graduate student. Her father had shed a tear at her college graduation, and – perhaps because she was such a fuckup throughout her adolescence – she wanted to do well, and being a graduate student with a full assistantship was doing well, much better than expected.  

She went into the program wanting to study either female boxers and gender identities, or the use of the still-new popular internet by white supremacist groups for recruitment and proselytization purposes. She’d gotten into the program with a mediocre essay lamenting that, growing up in South Georgia, she had been told “that’s just the way it is,” as a means of explaining basically everything from racism to war, and that this had seeded in her a desire to understand why things are the way they are. Sociology had given her tools to think critically about culture and economy, and had provided at least a little understanding of why things are the way they are, why there is racism, why there is war, why some people are poor and why some people are rich and why some people get into some truly outrageous shit.

She loved it, that way of looking at the world, questioning all the different ways that a situation could be seen, could be measured, could be explained.

Her exceedingly hip undergrad professor, whose mother lived on the very same island that she had gone to the adolescent inpatient unit on, who grew up in Georgia, gone to Emory, talked about Foucault, and had studied white supremacy with participant observation methodology, meaning that he joined up with the groups in order to learn more about them.

When he introduced the concept of being a both a participant and an observer, she realized that a part of her had been doing this her entire life, being a part of things, but not really a part of things, always a little disconnected, at the edges watching and wondering what she needed to do to fit in, to be a part of the group.

She had best friends, and semi-best friends. Assortments of people she was close with for a while, and then drifted from, became uncomfortable with, or awkward around, or she began to become an undesirable friend in some way, clingy or moody or unfun, uptight about small things, getting crazily upset over nothing. Not being chill.

“Do you know why they don’t like me anymore?”

They were sitting together in the Thai restaurant on the edge of NW Portland. They went up there to eat together after they fucked in her apartment. They were friends, still, but all the other friends they’d been friends with didn’t talk to her anymore, and she didn’t know why.

“I don’t know,” he shrugged. “I really don’t know.”

She believed him and so stopped asking. She’d been ghosted by people before, and she’d ghosted people. She understood that sometimes things just change. She had friends, and now she had this one friend, who she slept with every so often and who she had had an epic penpalship the summer he was traveling and she was traveling, the fall and the winter before he came back, slowly dwindling to just a postcard or mailing every now and then, an inappropriate nostalgic letter sent years after she’d moved away and he’d gotten married. They were friends.

He felt something from her, he said.

People will say this to her sometimes, and sometimes she feels it, too, a sort of resonance or sense of connection in the space between herself and another person, a clarity in their face, the details of their eyes, their voice. It happens with old people and young people and handsome people and dirty people and big people and poor people and rich people and people of all shades of human skin.

She thinks now that it is oxytocin, that sharpens the senses and creates that sense of warmth. Dopamine, too, because it feels good, the oxytocin, and we want to connect with people, to be connected. She doesn’t know why she feels oxytocin more with some people than with others, the algorithms of connection.

Sometimes the connection is so strong and self-reinforcing that entire relationships, entire lives, are built like an arc around that certain feeling of having a real friend in the world.

She has had legendary and beautiful friendships. Life-saving adventures in simply loving the feeling of being around another person, talking with them. The solace and simplicity of being able to just be myself, because that is what makes the feeling.

“You were beautiful to me, the tattoo on your hand, that number thirteen on the back of your neck.”

She wanted to talk about big ideas, to find truth and justice. She did not want to use parenthetical referencing. The look of it was bloated and clunky, names tagged on to the edge of sentences as both awkward distractions and things she was supposed to pay attention to.

The winter after she moved into The Mitchell, she began to pause when she passed by the Grand Avenue Boxing gym on the way to the Lebanese restaurant where an acquaintance from the punk house scene gave her free spinach pies and bread on Friday nights. Every weekend, she would go to the library or to the used bookstore and she would look for books and read sections of books and find books to read through the weekend. Then, she would get an enormous amount of Lebanese food and stay in her apartment all weekend, eating corn Chex and cold shatta with hummus, reading and smoking.

She had started to pause by the boxing gym though, to glance sideways through the condensation on the glass, the sparse gear, the open space, the ring itself, the figures moving through the water on the glass, not fast like boxers on television and in movies, but almost clumsy through the fog, flurries of movement, long pauses, pacing. Yellow light light a painting on the rain-slicked sidewalk in the early-dark of late afternoon.

Aug 17, 10:39PM

Fri, Aug 17, 2018, 10:39 PM
to me

“A person cannot write a book that is all jammed up with their ideas about writing a book.”

What this means, in her mind, is that there is some rule (at least in her mind) that books ought to be what the book is about, not about the process of writing the book, or the author’s laments over how fucking hard it is to write the book, why it is hard, why every time they try to just tell the story, they feel like they are lying, like they are plastic, like they are telling a story, but not telling the whole story, or not telling it right.

That is not what the book she wants to write is about, not about how hard it is to write the book.

She wants to write the book, but is beginning to think that she cannot write the book, because writing a book is fucking hard.

“Especially,” she thinks, “the book I want to write.”

“That book might be impossible to write.”

She has a feeble hope that if she keeps writing, even if she is just thinking-writing her way through her options as to how to proceed from one or the other of one of the conceptual or stylistic impasses she encounters on every time she tries to add to the document that she is trying to make into a book.

She considers a possible summary,

“In 2009, a quirky mother of two who grew up in the woods of South Georgia and once was told she was almost a genius began a project to draw a picture everyday for a year.

As she drew and took notes on what she was thinking about, posting low quality scanned images to an unread website, her little began to fall apart in a series of small tragedies. A divorce, a dead dog, a lost job. By the following year, Faith Rhyne had spent months slipping further into an alternate reality, a psychosis, and was desperately trying to Prove God with pictures of clouds on the internet.

Faith did not intend to blog her way through psychosis, or to keep writing as she slowly muddled her way back to stability through developing an evolving understanding of her atypical tendencies and vulnerabilities and what she needs to do (and to not do) to keep her head straight and be able to live a life that she feels good about more days than not.

She never wanted to have a sad life, and when it seemed that her life had become sad, it made her sad.

Aug 20, 11:21AM

When the morning came, she pulled her body out of the bed, feeling out the soreness and strength of her limbs, her bones. She is always thinking. Even in the very early morning, even half-asleep. The thoughts are imaginings and ideas, sometimes stern voice messages from some corner of herself that blare out other thinking about the day, about herself. She has learned to keep moving in the morning, to get up, because if she doesn’t, whatever feels the thoughts might create might catch her, take hold, flood her first thing in the morning with adrenaline and cortisol, make her heart hurt, send her mind toward anger or grief, fear, the vast landscape of her insecurities.

She has learned that she can look to these thoughts, first thing in the morning, for clues about what her fucking baggage is, what belief or fear is running in the background of her life, and she knows – oh, God, she knows – not to listen to whatever detritus of her most fearful self is spun into her consciousness by some bad dream or avoided core conflict amplified by the early morning cortisol rise.

She is still surprised, again and again, by how real the world that is made up in her mind can seem, first thing in the morning.

“It’s the feelings.” She is sitting on the front porch, in the din of late-summer insects, the sky a low grey drum, holding all the sound close. Traffic moves by on the street below the house, buffered by the hedge-trees, the apple trees, the black locust, black walnut, silver maple, Virginia creeper growing through it all. It’s still loud, the rush and sucking, rolling hum of tires on the street.

Monday morning, and here she is. Same as it ever was. (Talking Heads) Smoking, still, the hand-rolled cigarettes that she knows with a gravity of knowing that makes her pay attention will likely kill her if she doesn’t stop, that already are killing her.

She always pauses when she thinks about it. Let’s that sink in, feel a little fear of death. Then she takes a deep breath, and pushes it away again, and she knows she should not do this, that she should feel that fear deep, that she should learn to see cigarettes as snakes, smoke as sulphuric acid.

This is part of her ‘routine.’ The sitting out on the porch, smoking too much and trying to write a goddam book. She does this in the mornings, and she does this in the nighttime.

She does this every chance she gets, because it is one of her favorite things to do. She likes to sit other places, too, Parks and old broken places, by water, docks, smoking and writing, or just thinking, thinking and feeling. The porch, however, is her habitual haunt, the most frequent place she finds herself, a place for long pauses in the movements between work and home, youth, and running. A place for the activity of trying to write the goddam book.

She shouldn’t say goddamn, since it’s disrespectful to people who might take offense to using the Lord’s uncapitalized name in vain, or something like that.

She knows that the dismissive tone of ‘or something like that’ could potentially be read as additionally disrespectful.

It’s unnecessary, she tells herself, to be antagonistic when it’s possible to not be, to be neutral, to play an even hand.

She doesn’t have to curse.

Words have power.

This, she knows, is absolutely true.

However, they only have the power that we give them, the feelings we couple with them, the way we allow them to shape what we perceive and experience, how we understand the world or ourselves.

She thinks about why she curses, and how sometimes the words give an emphatic charge to what she is saying, or the particular rhythm of their syllables melds well with the subject of said profanity. Sometimes, when she says “motherfucker” she feels like she could just about punch somebody in the face, and it feels good.

She can feel it right now, that little bit of sharp tang adrenaline, the rush of blood to her arms, the keening of her senses. Fine pale hairs raised from the blue roses tattooed down her right arm.

A deep breath, a small shiver. It’s gone. She’s moved into to something else. As she sits, there on the porch with her smoking and her book wrestling, she occasionally wonders what she looks like there, sitting on her porch. She doesn’t like to imagine this, who she is from the outside, because it disorients and disturbs her, opens the door to a smorgasbord of possible projections and unhelpful imaginings of how people see her.

Sometimes, like with the thoughts first thing in the morning, or the thoughts when she is feeling “upset,” she can notice what comes to mind in an inquiry of how others might see her as an indicators assumptions and beliefs, information about how she sees herself. She is so off-put by the fact that she still has ‘low self esteem,’ and it surprises her, just like it surprises her first thing in the morning, how real it can feel, to see herself as such a total fucking loser.

“I mean,” she thinks to herself, “I am not a total loser.” Then she quick-remembers that she is not a loser at all, unless being a loser means a person who has lost things.

If that is the case, she is a loser.

Everybody is a loser, if that is the case.

She imagines herself sitting there, too thin again in the late-summer, her glasses slipping off of her nose. Her hair is way too long. “You need to cut that,” her daughter tells her. Pointing like it’s something supremely distasteful, her mother’s too-long hair, held always in a thin braid that turned to coppery gold at the tips, the oldest end of the strands.

She forgets she has tattoos, even though she sees them, right there on her hand and on her wrist, the insides of her palms, to tops of her feet. These are the ones she can see, when she is sitting on the porch, her back convex, slouching over the phone she writes on, her sudden adjustment, the straightening of the spine, the pulling back of the shoulders, into a librarian posture that she will slowly slouch back out of. She is always taking deep breathes, to remind herself of the health and functional vitality of her lungs. She can run up hills, and though she knows she could run up hills so, so much faster if she did not smoke, she can run up hills. Big hills. Long hills.

“It feels so fucking good to breathe,” she tells herself this. Trying to deep-feel the breath in her, to really love to be able to breathe.

She spends an hour, sometimes two at a time out there. Writing on her phone, pausing to sit up straight, slouching back down, looking around, sometimes putting her feet up on the cypress bench her father made for her wedding a long time ago. Sometimes with her legs crossed, her foot moving, vibrating like a piece of marsh grass caught in a little current.

The house next door is a men’s Recovery house. A sober house. She wonders how they see her. They say motherfucker all the time, loud out on the porch, conversations on speaker phone. She laughs to herself, about what she would sound like if she used voice to text to email herself, instead of typing into a little screen like she does. Mumbling and imperious proclamations, didactic lectures to herself, frustrated goddam and motherfucker, how in the fuck is a person who is supposedly a person with a supposed mental illness who is a mom (at least for part of the week, for part of her life)…

There is a sudden break in train of thought, distraction by a reaction to the fact of her being a mom.

(She hears, in her thought-realm, an imagined perfect American mom say “Girl, your children are your whole life! Your whole life!” She imagines the expression, the open palm held up, pushing the strident words of whole life. She can only shrug in her imagined response.)

(These imagined people and their perspectives, what people might think made into caricature that involuntarily bloom into being, nudged by a thought. In this particular intrusion by a haughty perfect mom, the thought was the ever looming, “Am I a bad mom, because I sit here and smoke and write about my stupid life because of some stupid idea for a stupid book about the time I lost my stupid mind and fucked up my family?”)

(She has to laugh a little at the almost-cartoon stands of perfect moms rising from their seats, like a football game wave, but all at once, so many, all of them with clean hair that’s not too long, clean hands with no tattoos outstretched, pleading for her to get it, not even mean, but exasperated en masse, a whole stadium of them, saying, “Yes! Yes! Girl, you are a bad mom!”)

She is not a bad mom in the way that her children are sorely neglected, not abused or unloved. She loves her children, and is good to them. At least good enough.

She is a bad mom. Her priorities are fucked.

“This book is really causing problems in my life,” she thinks, sometimes. When she thinks this, she feels what a better writer would never dream of calling merely a great weight, but there it is, a great weight. Heart clattering like tin in the sun. Shoulders tensed in.

She knows that she could stop. She could stop the smoking and stop the writing of the book, the goddam book, and she could volunteer more and she could whole-heartedly throw herself into these last few years of stewardship in the lives of the young people that are her children, who are amazing people whom she loves dearly. She could make them central, devote her life to orbiting around their lives. She could work harder, clean more, and categorically disregard her needs, transmute her needs into her children’s needs, so that if all their needs are met, her needs are met. She could learn to have no needs. She could learn quick.

There is something not right about that though, not for her. Not in her family. Not for her children. They do not want her to hover over them and glom onto their every activity. They are good young people. Amazing.

She is grateful everyday that she does not have to put up with the sort of shit her parents put up with during her adolescence, her early adulthood. Her whole life.

Part of her wonders how having a kind of fucked up mom has shaped their individuation into the people they are. They are really good kids. Not perfect kids, or kids trying to be perfect. They just are who they are and do well in the things they care about. They both love school.

She hated school. Haaaaaaaaated it.

(She wonders if the American standard adolescent deviance from the perceived norms and preferences of one’s parents, as established by developmental processes as augmented by cultural tropes about rebellion and teenagers in The United States, causes some kids of good parents to turn toward delinquency and smoking?)

At work, she teaches the parenting class, and it’s okay that she is a kind of fucked up but good enough and maybe perfect for her kids mom, because nobody in the class is a perfect mom. Nobody has a perfect family.

It’s not just the book that causes problems in her life. The book is just a manifestation of the bigger problem that is the person she cannot seem to help being, her persistent self.

Her persistent self is not so severe as it once was. Still, there is severity. Like she severely knows that when she is not writing, or drawing, or making, with time to gawk around and think about things, or to clear herself of all her thinking, of she has to rush from one thing to another, existing only in service to other people, if she cannot have time to adjust her thinking and sort through her reactions to the environments and situations she must make her way through in the course of a day, she doesn’t feel well.

She doesn’t feel well in a way that makes it hard to do anything. An acrid sadness settles into her, and she becomes heavy in her thinking, slow. Stuck.

Her preoccupation with writing the book, or doing this painting, or some drawing, keeping her creativity alive, trying to find some footing in some project, is bound up with her desire to have a life she is good at and enjoys living within.

The jeering critics of entitlement and equity are right on the heels of this earnest wish for a better quality of life, mostly for herself, so she can be ‘who she is.’

“Why should you get to have a good life? A life you enjoy?” Oh, there is a feeling of pure scorn towards the notion that any privileged fool such as myself ought to have an easeful life when all over the world people are living lives that are wretchedly hard in ways her own life has not even allowed for her to begin to imagine. Not to even begin.

“Why should you get to be who you are when people are enslaved, enslaved. Enslaved.”

This is not even a question.

It rises in her mind like an accusation.

It’s true.

She knows that she should get over herself, be grateful for her privilege, her education, the opportunities she could take advantage of to advance in the ranks of the nonprofit behavioral health industrial complex, or work three jobs at the Burger King, the grocery store, some random place that is terrible to spend time in, doing something that is terrible to spend time doing.

Man, when she thinks about the jobs people do, she literally cringes, and she doesn’t, she knows, even know the half of it. Not even a smidge of the filth and poison, not a decibel of the loudness, a glint of the light, a shade of the dark, the smell of the blood and the shit.

She gets to lay down on the floor at work, and do body scan meditations, her palms laid flat on her belly, in a dim room with broken people she trusts because she knows their lives.

She is so lucky. She is so spoiled.

Why can’t she just be happy and effective in her life? Make the life she has be the life she is good at?

She can do that. She has been doing that.

She has been at her job for almost 8 years.

Her house is good-enough clean. There is always food. She is encouraging the youth to cook their own meals, to direct their own days and time in between busy schedules of cross-country, band, and honors academics. She drives them where they need to go. She feels moderately happy, with periods of intensified happiness and deep gratitude and love for her life as it is.

There is, however, also a certain ever-present yearning to have a different sort of life, a life where she had a reason to sit and write and gawk around, to do art work.

Is it so simple that she mostly just wants to do art, to write, because she feels so good doing it, so at home in herself?

She has tried for years to think and plan and diligently experiment with different ways to continue doing artwork in the context of a busy life, being the person she is, taking into account the ways she engages in her creativity.

There is something quiet and terrible about living a life where one often feels that they would be happier doing something else with their time.

Yet isn’t this what life is? Aren’t most people’s lives like that?

Her life has not been like most people’s lives.

She cannot do what most people might be able to do.

For years, she has tried, and for years the results are the same. If she tries to just have a normal, middle-class American life, with a focus on her children and her stewardship of them, with constricted and appropriate adult interests, nothing too weird, nothing to time-consuming…well, she begins to feel miserable and bitter. Wooden inside. She laughs less. Feels blank in who she is.

She has tried to get around this a thousand times, and she can muster different outcomes for a period of time, or manage to hold some awkward balance between her lives, the person at work, her motherhood, her being – in her most true self – that woman on the porch, smoking and thinking about why it is that she can’t just let the idea of the book go.

She understands that the idea for the book itself was born of delusion, and that that alone could be grounds for dismissal in the viability of the idea that writing a book is something she wants to do.

Sometimes she loathes, loathes, this aspect of her voice that is always explaining things to herself, going on and on.

She doesn’t feel like she needs to call the book the goddamn or God Damn book. It’s just a book. It’s a great book, a blessed-be glory hallelujah book.

Okay. Maybe it’s not that.

Aug 21 5:18PM

She back here again. Same porch, different day.

“Nothing is ever the same twice. There are too many variables, too many combinatorial possibilities. Even on a one inch square of tile, nothing is ever the same twice. Except for an atom, I guess. A molecule.”

She writes this into her phone, and listens to the mid-afternoon birdsong and breeze hum on a Tuesday. On any other Tuesday, she’d still be at work, watching the clock until she could get out of the air conditioning and go be in the forest somewhere. She runs further on Tuesdays than on other days, though she runs as far as she used to run on Tuesdays on the other days she runs.

She’s not running today, because yesterday she got stung by two yellowjackets, and her feet are waterballoons filled with an itching burn, swollen and red, like they’d been boiled.

She didn’t need to go home from work, but she could, so she did. The appointment she had cancelled, and she co-facilitates the class in the afternoon, so she just left it to her co-worker to cover.

Last night she only slept for a few hours, not because she couldn’t sleep, but because she stayed up late, texting with her best friend who was camping at the edge of a disaster-filled town in southern Alberta, sleeping under a tarp on the side of a mountain they call Hill 60, home of a graveyard and a prostitution history.

They were talking about spirit animals and trading banter about strange signs, an old white dryer with the word GARBAGE spray painted across it in a shade that looked very much like fresh blood. He told her about visiting the Frank Slide Interpretative Center, how the mountain fell over and sprayed rock for three square kilometers. She told him about the yellowjacket stings, one on each ankle, the left leg as she was running down the hill, the right leg as she was running back up.

She didn’t quite know how to articulate the questions she had about why she believes what she believes about some things.

This is the crux of her quandary, both in the not understanding why it makes so much sense to her that the yellowjacket might be trying to communicate something with her, or to teach her something, or that there may be more to encounters with the natural world than simple biologically and botanically driven forces at work, and in the difficulty saying anything at all about these things, in even formulating the question, even finishing a sentence, because the questions just go on and on about how it could that something works through the forest, or through animals, to embody them as messengers and teachers, how might that operate?

They unspool into everything, these questions.

She wonders if she’s crazy.

Then she thinks about the story she’d forgotten, the memory of running, crashing through warm late-summer leaves along the bank of the river, wheeling through underbrush to cut up to the main road and running, running right into a groundnest of yellow jackets.

She remembers stopping, but doesn’t know if she stopped.

She doesn’t remember anything else, but the insects flying at her everywhere.

Aug 21 6:16PM

Perhaps the big challenge with the book has been that she has been trying to consider how she might make the most use of her story, if she were going to try to make use of it in some way beyond it being, oh, just her life, seldom mentioned.

She understands that it might be much, much better for her to buckle down and try to, like, be normal for a minute, and write a straightforward mental health recovery narrative highlighting the role of integrative health and neurodiversity in…

“Ugh,” she makes an audible sound, sitting on the porch alone. “Psychosis Recovery.”

She knows that it wouldn’t have to be like that, that she could write some zany account of her struggles with mental illness and leave out all the half-ass deep analysis and big, deconstructive questions. She could leave out every single story that has anything to do with believing that the land might sometimes speak to her. There is little reason to go into detail about her intelligence, her cognitive processing style, the way that she conceptualizes ideas, experiences thoughts, and accesses memory. Nobody wants to hear about that.

They want to hear about the illness, the mental illness, and the recovery. The getting better part.

People need hope. They need to believe that they are not alone in their confusion and misery, that someone who maybe even had it worse off than them might be able to get better, that maybe there is some way to not want to die every single fucking day for waaaaaay to many seasons.

They don’t want to hear about how, in America, capitalist culture shapes ideals about what is normal and healthy, and about all the ways that these ideals are woefully biased toward functionality and social desirability in the marketplace, and don’t always have much to do with being healthy or sane.

Do they?

She knows that the idea that capitalism makes people crazy and miserable (a stunning oversimplification) is not an especially new, or unique idea.

She doesn’t think that most people sit around the dinner table and talk about capitalism and how it is affecting their life choices and opportunities, how this economic model in the 21st century United States might be disastrous to people’s mental health.

She doesn’t know what people talk about?

Sports. Movies. Schedules. Food.

Do people talk about whether or not they are happy?

People don’t want to read about how she learned to be happy after being so tremendously unhappy for such a long damn time, do they?

She thinks she be of more use keeping it simple, introducing a well-researched and accessible compendium of perspectives on traumatogenic psychosis, the role of human learning in sensitized stress responses, and skills to shift biological processes to support optimal mental health and resilience.

Maybe she could leave her story out of it entirely?

That’s be a worthwhile book. She could write it. She knows the landscape of ideas, enough starting off points for research. She has a MA in Psychology from a progressive humanist school, and has worked with trauma-informed practices for years in the community mental health industry.

Aug 21 8:59PM

She wouldn’t say anything about the military, or how her hometown changed when the Navy came.

Maybe she would.

It’s a big part of the story of her mental illness, when the Navy came.

She isn’t suggesting a case of singular, direct causation, the Navy coming to her hometown, a place she thought of as hers, and changing it so dramatically that it became an almost hostile place, an ugly, quick-built place, with flashy cars and cheap housing, all the fast food, roads spreading out, the perpetual smell of hot pavement, of new asphalt, all of this catalyzing her mental illness.

It was a factor. A big factor. A fundamental destabilization.

She understands that some people will not agree with her and that some people will hate her. That they might call her names, if she manages to do this thing that she is trying to do, in which she writes a book that is useful and interesting, a book that starts conversations, that creates questions.

She asks a lot of questions.

One of the questions she asks, of herself, is this:

“What the fuck are you talking about?! Seriously, you’re just rambling on and on. Stick to a point. Finish a sentence. Focus, lady, focus.”

She learned how to pay attention to what she was thinking, and to be able to shift attention, but there is always some part of her thinking and interpreting and projecting mind that is just churning all the time, stringing together loose connections, chasing phrase and image, not even watching where anything is going.

There is something about writing like that that she loves.

Besides, she reasons, wouldn’t it be appropriate for the author of a work of creative narrative non-fiction to write of their thoughts and impression in the way that best represents, in their estimation, the modalities through which they experience the world?

She doesn’t think it would be entirely inappropriate. Unreadable, perhaps. Not inappropriate though.

As she was writing earlier, about her mind not watching where it’s going, she remembered the point she’d intended to make earlier, about the yellowjacket sting, her running through a groundnest. It’s hard to watch where you’re going if you can’t see what you’re trying to avoid. Nevertheless, watch where you’re going.

She has to think about this, where is she going, what is she doing, basically all day long. It’s not that she forgets, exactly, but sometimes she gets so lost in thought that she will realize, all of the sudden, that she is still at work, that she is arriving home. That it is Tuesday.

She didn’t go for a run today. Her feet are still swollen by the yellowjacket stings that she can half-believe, if she is in the right mindset, might be some kind of medicine from nature, some kind of lesson from universal thematic consciousness, or something like that.

Currently, they are simply stings incurred while running in the forest, disturbing a groundnest and creating an aggressive response in the yellowjackets.

They’re just insects.

Aug 22 10:41AM

I have wondered why I don’t write more, why I didn’t write more, about some of the beautiful things we did, we have done.

There is so much in those things. Those things we have done.

Aug 22 4:24PM

She has a remarkable memory for things that she doesn’t want to remember.

The EMS worker wheeling her past the washer and dryer by the backdoor, the flat black non-taste of medical charcoal. The smugness of the intern on the psychiatric unit, just a couple miles from the stadium and the campus, where the early Spring was filled with pink dogwoods and damp golden light. The intern wore shined black shoes with an old-fashioned, late-90s buckle across the top of his foot. It was the new millennium now, and he told her to quote taking money from her parents and get a job, smug, as if it were so simple as that, as if she were an idiot for not having figured this out.

Her hair was oily and lank around her face, lips pale and dry from the side effects of the medication, the inside air of the hospital caked into her mouth. She hated to speak, to be watched and listened to in places like that. She kept her arms around herself, aware of the fact that she was basically wearing pajamas, socks with rubberized tread.

Talking with the psychiatric intern, her vision was still blurry, two days after the toxic blast of what she’d taken. Her pupils still tight constricted by the opiates prescribed by a gynecologist for the persistent pain she’d felt in her abdomen that Fall, sitting in the hard chair of the lecture hall, being the graduate assistant for an Sociology 101 class.

She hadn’t taken the pills. The pain went away when she dropped out of school.

She had a whole bottle, 60 of them. Opiates, with acetaminophen.

That’s what would have killed her, the acetaminophen, they said, if, as she was losing consciousness, she hadn’t called her mother 8 hours away, and must have said something, because an ambulance came.

When she thinks about this, her mother receiving that phone call, she feels terrible.

Even now, two decades later. A heavy sadness comes into her, thinking about what that must have been like for her mother, to receive that phone call.

Those other phone calls.

Her father later sat in the rented back yard, head down, sad and worried because of what she’d done. “You just have to find a thing and do it. Just find a thing and do it.”

She understood the concept of this, and even believed that she could possibly pull it off, this thing of finding a thing and doing it.

However, there was something of resignation in his words, and something of the intern’s tone, of ‘get the fuck over yourself and get a job and make a life and just do it.’

She knew, even then, that there was something deeply wrong with her, that made it almost impossible to do some things. The thought of working in the Department of Motor Vehicles, for example, create a stir of images and sensations, fluorescent lights, sticker-smelling air, plastic. Quiet. Paperwork. People.

“Oh, man,” she thinks to herself, “there is no way.”

Working at the DMV, that couldn’t be the thing. There was a long list, already, of things she knew she could not do, or things she thought she could not do. Things that, based on her experiential evidence, may present significant challenges  to her, so far as her ability to tolerate particular environments and to deal with tedious environments, to have to be a certain way that she finds it hard to be, smiling and constrained, modulated as fuck.

She was smart though.

She could figure it out. There were lots of things she could do, and things she liked doing, felt alright – even good – in doing. Mostly, she wanted to be an artist and talk to people in parks and be useful in some way.

She also wanted to solve problems, and liked trying to understand things.

She liked being outside, and in old buildings.

She did not like the mall. Not anymore.

It was something about the smells, the meld of pretzel and perfume, popcorn, plasticky newness, but not quite clean, the pawed over, rebreathed air of the mall.

It was so different than the smells of the woods, the smell of the kitchen at home. There weren’t old bones anywhere. So much was new.

She laughed earlier, at the oddity of her sitting and writing about the suicide attempt at the turn of the century, and then getting up to go inside, to make sandwiches for her daughter to take hiking. Making chipper small talk, completely shifting gears.

She does that all day long. Shifts gears. Inhabits different aspects of herself to suit the situation and the role she might be operating within. Some days she is better at it than others, the shifting. Sometimes, she is not comfortable shifting, or doesn’t want to shift. Occasionally, she cannot shift, and the state she was in bleeds into parts of the day where it doesn’t belong.

What she has been doing, lately, is trying doggedly to just keep writing, and to keep writing as though she is writing for the book, the damnable book, the delusional book.

She remembers that she’s not said what she set out to say yesterday, that she believes the book is delusional, the whole idea of it.

Perhaps she did say it, and perhaps it’s worth repeating. The whole idea of this book is delusional.

Aug 22 4:25PM

She drifted toward the edges of things, was at a school and then away for a few days, a semester. Her burgeoning mythopoeticism, seeded by the images of people dancing in the desert on television ads for freedom music and the shaded illustrations of a few of the books she had read as a child, that she had been shown, those worlds of shadowy forest and magic, drew her toward the pale-white gothic boy who wore his father’s shined military shoes in lieu of combat boots and daydreamed on the phone with her about kissing someone in the snow though it had only snowed once in the whole time she’d been alive. She didn’t really like him that much, but liked that he could talk about The Cure, talk about songs and hating the town they lived in. She was drawn to the handful of punks and metal heads because of her anger, and her loathing of school. The fast music, the screaming voices just like she screamed, hating places, wishing she had never been born.

For a while she desperately, still, wanted to be normal, wanted to ride in the cars of clean boys, to snark and gossip like life was easy and fun, sun-tanned and laughing like nothing was wrong, wearing pastels.

Then she stopped trying to be normal, because she could not be. She could not talk with the kids who were her friends in early middle school about the depression that made her want to die.

More and more, she only felt comfortable with the kids whose lives were messy, who had fucked up families and wore torn up clothes.

They sat with their legs hanging off of the dock, swinging into the open air above the river, where the water slapped against the dock likings, sheer amber at the surface, showing the barnacles and occasionally scuttling blue crab. The tide was going out, the sun was going down, and the whole world was filled the thrum of summertime, like a golden light itself, pulsing out from the oak trees by the cemetery, rising up from the marsh and the currents itself, rush and slap and lull. “Man, did you see those trucks on Friday?”

The boy hung his arms through the railing, moved his hand up and down, watched it. He had just started the 10th grade, and his friend was in the 11th, but she’d probably drop out soon, or change schools again. She he’d known her since the 8th grade, since his dad was transferred here from Virginia. She had already been sent away once when he met her, and she changed schools a lot. She hated school more than anyone he knew.

She spat into the water, because she did things like this. She was always acting tough, unless they were in the woods or walking on some not-yet-paved road or wandering through the frames in rooms of houses that did not yet have doors, then she acted like a little kid and was fun.

She was alright to sit by the water with, because she could just sit there for a long time. She never seemed exactly bored.

“Fucking assholes. So fucking stupid.” Her voice was flat, dismissive, but with an edge. The trucks had driven through the pasture lawn in front of the school on Friday afternoon, flying a rebel flag, another hand-made flag saying “It’s a white thing, you wouldn’t understand.”

They didn’t talk about racism, or even name it.

Just said it was stupid what those trucks had done, driving through the grass like that.

Then they got up to walk over to convenience store, where she would walk right in and buy cigarettes like she was 18 years old.

Aug 22 4:25PM

It was 9 years ago

today or yesterday,

that I got started

and it figures that last night

I hit a wall

came up on a cliff

had to really look at what I had done

and the expanse of what I aimed to do

how far I am from capable

 

It was okay.

I went to bed peaceful,

having given up for the day,

but with a new resolve,

a new understanding,

that this is life,

this is death.

I can get start again tomorrow.

 

What this asks of me is to admit,

that I was wretched, that I was foolish.

To show my foolishness to the world,

to all the other fools.

 

“It doesn’t matter.”

“This isn’t a confessional.”

“This is a deconstruction of foolishness.”

These are the things that are crowding my mind.

Aug 22 4:26PM

This is the nature of the impasse where I find myself. I have been aware, for quite some time, that is unlikely that I can re-tell of my efforts to tell the story in some kind of comprehensive and yet concise overview. I know that such a telling is theoretically possible, and that a more skilled writer may be able to pull it off.

How do I tell the story of a human being who was born into a family that lived in the woods  on a river in a father-built geodesic dome, who rode up by the captain on the Cumberland Queen, because her father was a ranger on ‘The Island.’ Her great-grandmother was born in 1894, and lived a quarter mile away, across the road from the pear orchard. She didn’t die until the girl was sixteen. The girl spent her childhood watching age take her great-grandmother. Being in hospitals.

The girl almost died, when she fell off of a leaf swing on Christmas Day, 1982, and “broke her spleen.” She was in the hospital for months, but it wasn’t until…

…who had artists and runaways and racist judges in their bloodlines? A human being who, likely both by blood-writ tendencies toward intelligence, sensitivities and anxieties and the impact of significant medical trauma at a young age became troubled about the world and the ways that some things made them feel. The ways things don’t make sense, and are brutal.

How do you tell a story that is about trying to tell a story, without talking about the ways you tried to tell the story.

My mind is scrambling around in a lot of directions right now, a total overload of significance. I cannot unpack the manifestation of my psychosis from formative experiences and inherent attributes. Who I am. What my life has involved. Where I am from. What ideas informed my emerging personhood.

I absolutely do not want to write a self psychoanalysis. That is not what this is.

Aug 224:27PM

She sits on the porch alone, nine days after he arrived in Edmonton just a few hours before her alarm went off at 4:30 in the morning, waking herself up early.

She had set the alarm and made the ambitious hiking plans in an effort to stay a few steps ahead of any lurking sorrowful fears that might swallow her up if she let them.

A sharp-edged doubt crept around her as she pushed up fog-soaked rocks with his old backpack settling its weight again and again in her stride.

It wasn’t until yesterday, over a full week later, that the doubt which had gnawed its way into an idea, a scenario – nagging at her, bothering her, to the extent that she literally prayed it would go away, she did not want to believe it, she knew it wasn’t true…that doubt fell to pieces as she came out of a different forest, where she’d run in a storm for reasons she doesn’t fully understand beyond the  when she runs, she figures out how to not be scared.

Now, she is sitting on the porch and the day is beautiful, perfect even, with sun and clouds and warm and breeze. She is wearing a sweater, her feet are bare. “Is it crazy to think that those ravens meant something?” Earlier, he had texted her a video of glaciated mountains all around, scooped out valley land far below, a river winding through it, just the hush of the wind and some unseen movement of his body, the crinkle of a jacket, as sound.

“It’s so quiet up here.” He texted. “You know I’m at 1,000 feet above tree line?”

“Yes. You are way up there…up above it all.”

She laid in her bed, the room dim in the afternoon on southwestern side of the house. Sometimes, she remembers to try to lay so that her head is facing northwest, the direction he is in. She is laying north-south today, looking out the window at the cloudy afternoon, feeling drowsy.

She told him she was thinking about how sometimes, when they are outside together, sitting in the wind or still, walking over seeping ground, they talk about what it is like for them, what the sensations are of being there, the general state of mind, what they are thinking about.

Sometimes they chatter on and on about this thing or that thing, silly and grand ideas, people, their own small histories.

Sometimes they say nothing, and are deeply, peaceably silent with each other.

She imagined herself there with him, his hand near. The two of them tiny and with no walls together in the bigness of the Canadian Rockies. How it might feel, to be there with him. She thinks she knows, and a light happiness settles into the space right below her heart, up near the top of her stomach, that brief expanse between the curve of her ribs.

The phone chimed.

“Two ravens are flying over head, cawing!”

“One just buzzed me”

“!!”

Is it crazy, she wonders on the front porch, in the breeze with the sunset caught gold in the maple, to think that maybe those ravens had something to do with friendship, with her wanting with the part of her that dreams to be there with him.

These are the things she thinks about alone, after her children have gone back to their father’s house across town.

They have seen ravens together for months. She looks up the meaning of the raven as a spirit animal. Gets pop-up ads for gift cards and weirdly loading websites. Images of sleek black birds and words like “transmutation,” “magic,” and “mirth.” She closes out the tabs. She’s read enough to remember that ravens mean magic, and that is enough for her. She is a sloppy researcher, a sloppy believer in anything.

Aug 22 4:27PM

The collapse of a person’s life can come about in large, obvious events, or the collapse can come about gradually, in a series of minor malfunctions that have the culminate effect of totally obliterating the functionality of a life.

I can peel back the teeth of days

Collage the fragments

(Calcite shards overlaid with sinew

That moves just like water

Or fabric

The skin of us

All the hard and soft of many living days)

On the morning of my birthday I decided that I wanted to take a wounded mother to see above the tree line and to say a prayer with me. Of course, the clouds socked us in and we couldn’t see a thing, but we prayed anyway. For all the mothers, all the children. Everyone.

On the afternoon of my birthday, I hefted the canoe off the truck and got into the river alone, figured out fast how to paddle with a j-stroke, a little rudder kick at the end of a strong paddle stroke, to keep the boat straight. I had a moment, out there in the river alone, of alarmed wondering.

Aug 22 4:28PM

I’ve been on a bit of a writing hiatus these past few months, because that’s how these things go sometimes. Occasionally, I have had the thought that I might just drift into not writing at all, but then I realize that at least I am still thinking about writing and that is moderately reassuring.

It takes me a minute to find my voice when I don’t keep clear writing practice times and a great deal of the heretofore structure of my life has simply ceased to exist for long periods of time over the past several months. My writing time has been used for other things – walks in the dark and canoeing, drawing, talking with my best friend, holding hands and feeling like maybe I don’t have to do anything with my life after all.

Ironically, a lot of what I’ve talked about these past few months has been doing something with my life, or rather what I want to be doing with my life.

Aug 22 6:28PM

She could write a poem about all the things she cannot say, the things she cannot tell about.

She is certain that there is already a poem that begins like this, probably hundreds.

Maybe all poems begin like this?

With the seed of a dusty, desiccated frog found up under a bookcase in the hall, where she had been lying with her face against the new carpet, smelling that new carpet smell, and looking at the fibers, how there was red and green in what looked like plain blue.

She thought it was just a pile of dust, old hair and she reached to pull it out from under the bookcase, because it was something to do. She saw an object, she picked it up. As soon as her fingers touched the silty soft mass, she could feel that there was something inside.

There in the hall, with the delicacy of a surgeon, she pulled the fur and web and fibers away from a tiny, brittle frog shape, almost made of paper, its skin brown and grey, sucked tight against the structure of its back, its tiny feet, triangle head with sunken eyes.

She does not know why she put it in water. She may have wanted to keep it, because it was, she thought, so well preserved. As she sat on the back steps with a teacup full of well water, poking the almost weightless frog body down into it when it floated up to hang just below the surface.

She did this for a long time, because once the frogs skin got wet, it started to change color, to brighten, and she became curious.

In the water, the frog transformed from withered husk to small green tree frog, like the kind they would find in the pools of water at the base of the bromeliad. It was alive. Very alive. Almost as if nothing had happened to it at all.

She understands, logically, that this could only have occurred because the frog was dehydrated and entered into a state of metabolic dormancy, as many amphibians will do if faced with adverse conditions, and that when she patiently rehydrated it, the frog resumed its usual bodily operations.

She didn’t understand then, not exactly. She knew there must be an explanation for how a dried up seemingly very dead frog could come back to life so vibrantly. She just didn’t know what they were, those explanations.

It seemed like magic to her.

She put the frog in the bromeliad and was happy that it was alive.

She felt like she had saved it, and that that mattered.

Aug 22, 2:53PM

“The book was born of delusion, and so it is a bad idea.” When she is feeling especially sane and unmagical, she thinks things like this.She knows that a great many things, both terrible ideas and wonderful ideas, were born of delusion – the belief in something that is not observably or verifiably true.

However, she also knows that the idea tha

t she could write a book that could radically shift the way we commonly think about how experience is formed by telling the story about how she lost her mind trying to prove something like God with pictures of clouds…it’s a crazy idea. A grandiose idea. A self-important idea. Like she has anything to say.

August 22, 2018 9:32PM

Exit Strategy

Continue to work at_______with reduced difficulty, develop writing, make submissions, finish beautiful book, explore creative alternative income opportunities, transition smoothly.

Reality:

Continuing to work at _________is harmful to me. I understand that we are only harmed by what we allow to harm us. However, in order to reduce harm (emotional and psychological stress), I have had to basically deaden my heart for large portions of the day, which is a harm in itself.

I have performed mental and emotional acrobatics for the past year, trying to continue working for _______ without incurring harm. I have progressively cared less and less about what happens there. Now, I no longer care.

Use accrued PTO payout and final wages, as well as funds generated through the sale of unplayed musical instruments, antique typewriters, and things like records and shoes in good condition, to take a couple of months off of work to sell unplayed musical instruments, improve the house, work on developing aforementioned alternative income streams, and figure out a sustainable direction for the next several years. Communicate with people as needed re: plans. Remind people that you have been living with yourself for a long time, and you know all your tendencies toward bullshit haphazard escape plans.

That is not what this is. This is not Faith freaking out. This is Faith trying to avoid freaking out.

Remind people, also, that you are a mental health professional and know what you need to do to be optimally well in mind, body, spirit, and relationships.

Reassure people that you are not shirking important relationships with your children, but are trying to ensure that you will be a happier and more effective parent if you take care of yourself.

Because I am a person who is outside the statistically normative range across multiple measures of cognitive function, sensory integration, and incidences of atypical and/or adverse life experience (such as significant medical trauma, lengthy illnesses, other severe physical injuries, including medical shock, various interpersonal harms, witnessing people hurt, being hurt by people, causing harm myself, knowing a lot of people who have died…none of this is to say that “oh, my life is so hard, poor me, I’m special.” My life is great and I know lots of people have been through hell and back like I can’t even imagine and are still able to be okay and to have a normal life.

However, I have challenges, and I have tried to correct for those challenges to the best of my ability.

It is necessary that I accommodate these challenges within my life and this impacts how I participate in my life, what I do and don’t do, so that I can be effective in doing the things that are important to me, in which the youth are a priority.

It’s important for me to stay well.

I need to make changes in my life and get a few things out of my system.

August 23, 2018 10:37PM

On the very first day, she walked boldly in alone, and only felt a little scared. She was excited, for a while. She liked the new, the different.

Then, she didn’t.

When she was in 3rd grade, she thought Boy George was beautiful and fascinating, like some kind of fantasy creature, not at all like the men in her town, who had short hair and stupid mustaches that looked strange on their faces, who would never wear teal or pink. Boy George looked like a bird to her, and that was why he was beautiful.

Sometimes, when she talks about how she might have been a little autistic or something, she cites the time she had to have all the combs, the entire set of fluorescent Afro combs in the clear plastic tub at the Mom and Pop #3 Exxon Station on Osborne Road. She could not pick one color over the others, could not choose even two.

She wore them all fanned out in her back pocket, with her twister beads thick around her collarbones. She thinks now that this had less to do with a spectrum disorder than it had to do with being a kid who wanted things, who liked to get things, at least for a time.

She did not learn to delay gratification, and she learned – also- that being sick afforded one outs and special privileges.

The morning was grey and they had to drive all the way to Jacksonville, to get to Dr. Buckingham’s office, which contained a human brain in a jar and a number of yellowing diagrams of the human skeletal system. There was a bookshelf, wooden and with books, right beside the treatment and exam table. Dr. Buckingham was the doctor who fixed her broken elbow, put pins into it, stitched up a four inch scar that looked like a thick-legged centipede across the pale skin on the inside of her arm.

First, however, they had to drive in the opposite direction, all the way downtown, to Bennett’s Rx, to select a special stuffed animal from the glass shelves across the aisle from the Peppermint Bon Bons and the boxes candies. One aisle over from the hemorrhoid pillows and cardboard cartons of cotton balls. The pharmacy itself was elevated across the back of the store, with a mint green back wall that cast the white shelves filled with bottles and jars in a distinctly medicinal glow.

I got to go to Bennett’s and pick out a stuffed animal every time I had to go see the orthopedic surgeon.

It is worth mentioning that she remembers, or believes she remembers, looking down to watch the doctor cut open her arm, and pull the pins out of her numb bones with a pair of the shiniest pliers she’d ever seen, and that she thinks that it’s possible that the doctor only used local anesthetic, or perhaps not enough anesthetic to perform this procedure without an 8 year old girl being conscious, watching with aghast curiosity the blood streaked metal pin come out of her bone.

Sixth grade was a trailer in field full of mud-slicked grass out behind the parking lot of the county middle school, where kids from Kingsland and clear out to Woodbine, even Harriet’s Bluff, would continue to go, while the kids from St. Mary’s would go to a new school, which for the time being was a cluster of trailers in a field.

She wrote her very first ever short story about a little kid who lived in a trailer park, because by the time she was in middle school, she had friends who lived in trailers, friends who lived in cheap apartments. Friends with step-parents and mothers and fathers who fought.

August 25, 2019, 7:27AM

She wakes up early, after just six hours of sleep. This is part of her effort to be tenacious.

She knew they were afraid she would die.

She knew about the box of letters, old photos tucked into yellowing envelopes.

There was a connection, she understood, between what happened to her and how she felt. She knew that she was angry about specific things, that she had gotten hurt.

The yellow-gold painted metal, rust coming through at where the body of the machinery was creased into angles, scraped or dented. Earth crusted into corners. Everything about the machine was big. Even sitting silent in the late afternoon, it seemed to make a low growl, just in the look of it, the arm drawn up, the body a hulking mass set down into the torn up ground, pine trees spaced around the edges, mute witnesses.

She had to climb up onto the heavy steel treads to get into the cab, seat hard and plastic, the knobs of the shifts and levers perfect, shiny spheres. Through the flat glass window, the spire of the upper arm rose up, and she could see the hand of the thing, the toothed thumb. Her father’s voice saying, “There’s a lot you can do if you have a thumb on one of those things. You can pick up whole trees. Without the thumb, you can only dig and scrape.”

The keys were in the ignition, simple keys. Two of them on a single silver key ring, one hanging, one in the ignition. The touched them, and when they moved, she felt like she’d done something wrong.

The machine smelled like oil and sweat, hot plastic. There was a Mountain Dew bottle on the small space of floor beside the gear console. It looked like it had dip spit in it.

It was hard for her to tell, already, what had been there, at that spot where she was sitting in a backhoe in the late afternoon, her bike laid in the dirt across the tracks of the machine, trucks, footprints broken by the tangles of roots that sprayed up from the ground, upended into the air, drying out.

She knew where her road was, the dirt road that led to home, but she could not figure out, already, where the smaller road out to the blackberry thicket had been. That might be where she was, or near it. The canes and brambles, toothed leaves and the spines on the fruit itself, tiny hairs, the fur of a bee, the spine of a wasp. Everything clawing and sweet stained purple in the sun as she tromped along the edges of the thicket in the sun of her childhood, her mother and brother there, too.

She thought she might be near there, where all those blackberries used to be.

The key felt sharp between her fingers when sh

e pulled it from the ignition, loud scrape in bubble of silence, her sitting there. She closed her fist around the keys, and without thinking, a quick animal movement, jumped out of the machine and walked in a straight line to her bike, stalked, she lifted the bike, steered it with her hand tight on one side of the handlebars, her right fist pressed against the other. As she moved toward the perimeter of the scraped-clean area where a tennis court would be built, she shot her fist out into the air and opened it hard, spitting the keys out into the smilax and muscadine, scraggly pine that hadn’t yet been cleared.

08/256/2018 [Draft, unsent]

It would be easy to write a sensational collection of graphic, gritty crises.

That wouldn’t be the whole story.  Even as I was emerging into adolescence as a ‘girl with problems,’ I still had friends, and I still had hopes, things I almost desperately wanted to do in the world, places I wanted to go, glimmers of feelings I wanted to feel.

I wanted to go places. I wanted, also, to be a scientist, and a writer, and an artist, and someone who helps people or the planet.

I was a young idealist.

08/25/2019 9:03AM

She has a remarkable memory for things that she doesn’t want to remember.

The EMS worker wheeling her past the washer and dryer by the backdoor, the flat black non-taste of medical charcoal. The smugness of the intern on the psychiatric unit, just a couple miles from the stadium and the campus, where the early Spring was filled with pink dogwoods and damp golden light. The intern wore shined black shoes with an old-fashioned, late-90s buckle across the top of his foot. It was the new millennium now, and he told her to quote taking money from her parents and get a job, smug, as if it were so simple as that, as if she were an idiot for not having figured this out.

Her hair was oily and lank around her face, lips pale and dry from the side effects of the medication, the inside air of the hospital caked into her mouth. She hated to speak, to be watched and listened to in places like that. She kept her arms around herself, aware of the fact that she was basically wearing pajamas, socks with rubberized tread.

Talking with the psychiatric intern, her vision was still blurry, two days after the toxic blast of what she’d taken. Her pupils still tight constricted by the opiates prescribed by a gynecologist for the persistent pain she’d felt in her abdomen that Fall, sitting in the hard chair of the lecture hall, being the graduate assistant for an Sociology 101 class.

She hadn’t taken the pills. The pain went away when she dropped out of school.

She had a whole bottle, 60 of them. Opiates, with acetaminophen.

That’s what would have killed her, the acetaminophen, they said, if, as she was losing consciousness, she hadn’t called her mother 8 hours away, and must have said something, because an ambulance came.

When she thinks about this, her mother receiving that phone call, she feels terrible.

Even now, two decades later. A heavy sadness comes into her, thinking about what that must have been like for her mother, to receive that phone call.

Those other phone calls.

Her father later sat in the rented back yard, head down, sad and worried because of what she’d done. “You just have to find a thing and do it. Just find a thing and do it.”

She understood the concept of this, and even believed that she could possibly pull it off, this thing of finding a thing and doing it.

However, there was something of resignation in his words, and something of the intern’s tone, of ‘get the fuck over yourself and get a job and make a life and just do it.’

08/27/2018 [Draft, unsent]

I drove out west from Alabama with a kid who would end up on heroin in Oakland. In Los Angeles, we walked to a shitty Burger King, and looked at people on the street, real live prostitutes.

All the prostitutes at home just look like poor women, which is what they are. They do not wear short skirts or bustiers. The women at home stand awkwardly on corners or at the edge of parking lots,

I dropped him off in Berkeley, just a random, busy place. “I’ll find somewhere to stay,” he said. Shrugged.

08/27/2018, 2:25PM

She comes back to the same themes, the same questions, the same efforts to explain.

The morning is loud today, with the insects singing their dying songs and the first-day-of-school traffic going by a little too fast, more cars than usual, people from all over the city pouring towards the middle school up the street.

Monday morning, and here she is, on the porch. Her children got to school early, because everybody was up and ready to go. She is grateful everyday that her children are not like she was when she was a teenager.

When she sat down to write, after days of scarce time, the first words that came out of her was, “I don’t want to write about any of this.”

She has been trying to create small episodic pieces of writing to fit together into a whole, some broadly cohesive and well-seamed work depicting her experience as a ‘person with a mental illness.’

“Haha,” she laughs a little in her head, a smirking feeling in her as she sits in the worn-edged white rocker on the porch. “It’s not about that, but it is.”

When she drives, she thinks – with an effort to be objective – about whether or not she is strange, observes her grubby car, the coil of her too-long braid resting at her hip, the tattoos on her hands and the thoughts in her head. She thinks about people she knows and people she doesn’t know, people she sees and how they sometimes look at her, and do not look at her. How in some places she is not noticed, and other places she is.

When she is noticed she tells herself that it is because she is tall and maybe interesting looking, because she wears clothing that makes her feel most like herself, clothing she feels comfortable in. All solid colors, layers of tight and loose, pants like a pirate.

She’s always had a personal style. This is something her mother has said to her. The country people at work say she is unique, drawing out the u like chewing gum, snapping the hard final sound. They all say unique the same way, the country people. It’s a word that is hard to say in any other other way, the syllables like a one-two punch, the softness of the vowel, the bite of the word’s ending.

She knows that a lot of other people do not think about words in this way, they don’t feel the feel of them or get them stuck in their heads, repeating over and over with a host of vague associations and the mental image of a short little woman with a child face and a 4th grade education, smiling and declaring, “You are uuuuuneek, ain’tcha?”

They don’t involuntarily remember everything they know about this woman and her life story, the names of her pets, the incidences of her childhood, the way she looks when she is dancing, being silly in the classroom at work. They do not have to fend off the gaggle of secondary and tertiary associations that clamor into her mind, images and partial thoughts.

They do not have to take a deep breath and pull themselves, their train of thought and attention, back to what it was that they were supposed to be thinking about, what they were supposed to be doing.

She knows she seems distant sometimes, and that sometimes her face is troubled. Sometimes she has to take deep breaths.

She forgets what she is doing.

As she is sitting with herself on Monday morning, trying to bring herself back into writing, into remembering the project she is working on, after scrambling to get through a week of working and driving, a suicide, a half-time show, a cross country meet, a funeral, a birthday, a first day of high school, she feels a small rush of accomplishment and appreciation for the fact that she has not completely fallen apart, and has been able to move through the gauntlet of these past several days, weeks, months, years.

Her life has felt a little like a gauntlet for a long time. Not always tremendously hard in big, noticeable ways, and downright benevolent in the small stretches between obstacles and incidences, but nonetheless the days feel, and have felt for a long time, like a near-constant challenge of determination and navigation.

She still thinks that she ought to be able to do everything that everybody else does.

She catches herself quietly believing that there is something wrong with her that it is a stress-producing event to go to a football game, to go to work, to buy new shoes at the shopping center.

These are things that other people do, all the time, and it is no big deal. It is just their life, and they do it and are happy to do it.

She reminds herself that she doesn’t know what other people are happy to do, that she knows nothing of other people’s actual internal experience of their own lives.

All day long, she daydreams about running away. As she rides in the backseat of the car, she watches the woods slide by along the highway. She catches glimpses of hot breaks of sun and shade, sometimes fences, No Trespassing signs. Sometimes roads behind a thin stand of thin trees. Passing thick forests – not cut or burnt, turned into fields, torn down and replanted – she tried to keep her eyes moving with the car, but holding to the forest, peering into it in split second stillness, seeing into the woods.

The feeling in her chest, peering into the woods, was one of wanting to go into the trees, to walk away from the noise of the car on the road, the talk of other people, the place they were going, wherever it was, the sense of known destination.

It was a feeling like she had walking out into a hot beach, and running, running to the water, how she knew the feeling of cool on her feet, her body hurtling towards the water, running without thinking toward something your body wants, some seeking relief or comfort or fun.

When she looked at the woods, she wanted to go into them. To walk away, to disappear.

She mostly understood a deep, disgusted scowling, a loathing of all the cars,  the endless bulldozering and paving of places she had looked at her entire life and had never known to change. Many places were suddenly gone. Where there was woods one day, there may be a carnage of split pines and torn palmettos by the afternoon of the next.

She knew she was scared of war.

The old trunk was in the loft in the dome room where her parents slept. Cracked leatherand a half-broken latch, full of old papers. She could read, but she didn’t read the pamphlet she found. The one with what she would later learn was a nuclear reactor, two of them actually, standing in what was rendered in black and white on yellowing paper to be a wasteland of some sort, with great billowing tentacles of thick menace oozing from the tops of the buildings like buildings she had never seen before. In thebackground there was something like a cloud, but the most fearsome cloud she’d ever seen. She didn’t read the pamphlet. Only the word NUCLEAR. She just stared at the picture.

She knew that people laid down on the railroad tracks, though she’d never seen this. She knew about it, because she’d heard her parents talking about it, how nobody was hurt, that they’d been trying to stop the trains from going out to base, because they were carrying something to do with the nuclear submarines or with Lockheed Martin or the Trident Training Facility.

Nuclear war was her biggest fear.

Bigger even than the death of her family, or even her own death.

It was a fear too big to think about, a choking fear.

She only looked at the picture. She could not read the words. She was scared of them like she was scared of the pictures on the boxes at the movie rental store.

It was hard not to think about the possibility of war. Her hometown had become a military town.

The task of determining why a person ‘turns out’ the way they turn out is complicated, but it makes total sense to her that she would be the person that she is, and have the values that she does, after growing up in the woods with a park ranger father and a plexiglass geodesic dome for a living room, and watching the United States Navy transform everything she knew into something different. Not only different, but actively representative of her biggest child-fear, and full of new things to be afraid of, bulldozers and muscled men, conversations with people.

Because her parents were a little-bit hippie, enough so that they had a VW van, once moved to a commune, and built a house on stilts with a dome by themselves, she knew about peace symbols, that they existed on record albums and on the ads for Freedom Songs, spinning on the screen with a disco light pulsing behind them.

Her parents were normal by the time she started middle school. Her dad no longer worked for the park service. He sold the land. Her mother listened to Huey Lewis and the News, Steve Wynwood. They got a Suburban, big and black and grey, a hulking beast of a vehicle.

It was time to design the sign for the subdivision. Her father was talking to her mother in the kitchen. “Let me draw it,” she said, because she liked to draw and was good at it. “We want it to look real nice,” her dad said, “but, go ahead. That’s a great idea.”

She didn’t sit in her usual seat, but in her brothers, so her back was to the stove, and she wasn’t facing her parents by the sink. She drew out the letters like boards, like old boards, with old board lines and ragged edges, segmented together with nails, several bent, just like something from the Berenstain Bears. She thought it looked cozy, humble. Pleasingly rustic. It reminded her of home, of the house she was sitting in, the way there were some nails not flush, little edges of metal, uneven boards, spaces between.

She has pictures of the day they hung the sign, taken from an old envelope of photos in a storage bin at her parents home. When she was 20, she went through the bin, and tried to find photos that might represent her childhood, because she was on the brink of emerging into an uncertain adulthood, and was still gripped by powerful waves of what she felt as nostalgia and homesickness.

She still loved her childhood, ferociously she loved it.

It would be years before she realized that there is something cruel in teaching a person to love something deeply, to love it like it is a part of them, and then to destroy, or to allow to be destroyed, what is loved.

It would be even more years before she realized that we all do the best we can to protect what is loved, and that sometimes there are forces beyond our control that make situations impossible.

“Well, the annexation doesn’t start until next year, so we have time to plan.”

Her father slapped the envelope against the counter, not angry, but almost resigned and shaking his head slow like his mind was blown. “They’re gonna go through the roof,” picks up the envelope, “through the roof!” slaps it down again as a sort of punctuation.

“What are you talking about?” She is at the table, awkward-stage slouching over a bowl of cereal. It is afternoon, and the river is gleaming like a ribbon of swift blue under the sky. The kitchen was warm and smelled of wood and salt breeze, of moss.

She is still learning that it is always worth it to love something deeply, to know it well and to love it and to be grateful for it, even if it becomes lost, or dies, or is destroyed by things that you have no control over. Even if it ends up breaking her heart, she knows it always better to love.
This is about her mental illness. It is about her experience of being the person that she is, the effort to understand why she sees things the way she does, why she feels what she feels and believes what she believes.

Because she is a person who was diagnosed as having a mental illness when she was young, she grew up reflecting in the concepts of normal and disordered.

Happy and imbalanced. Depressed and inappropriate.

She was not okay. She almost died.

Did she have a mental illness?

Does she still, in fact, have a mental illness?

What does mental even mean?

08/28/2018, 7:32PM

She left work early again. Last week it was the yellowjacket stings. This week it was the internal shaking and strange dropping feeling she got in between surges of what felt like a desperate, keening heartbreak. The feelings of loss that blanked her mind and made words sound hollow, people seeming plasticene, her own no

Psychologically, she knows how to deal with suicide. She knows how to expect that shewill feel feelings, and to mitigate those feelings by reassuring herself of her belief that the best of us never ever dies, and just goes on to be a part of everything as she understands it. She knows how to think of the person laughing, and to expect that a flash of their face in pain, the heaviness of their eyes, the turn of their mouth, will push its way in, and she knows to feel compassion and to hope the person found some mercy, but to still hold sadness that the person did not get to experience the feeling of consistently loving life.

She is so fucking happy to be alive. Even on difficult days, during long seasons, she is still so happy to be alive.

(Her curiosity helped keep her alive, helped her to learn to love being alive just to see what might happen next, for the challenge to find beauty, the feeling that must surely be grace when she does find it, when she can find something that makes her deeply happy to be alive just to see it, a small bird on a wire.)

She knows that these are the things she needs to orient herself to when someone she knows commits suicide, or completes a suicide attempt, or kills themselves. She knows a lot of people who kill themselves. Some in slow ways, some in fast ways.

“You seem to be really good at dealing with this,” her son remarks in the kitchen, as she stoically sweeps the floor, preparing to go to the memorial, her heart a numb tangle inher chest.

“Well, it’s one of the hazards of the job,” she shrugged, “you get really good at shutting down your feelings, because you have to.”

She knew she was sad about her friend’s death, sad that another friend had to track her down via email to tell her, because she doesn’t keep in touch with anyone lately, she just sits on the porch and writes, goes to work at the Recovery Education Center, where she’s worked part-time since three months after her hospitalization back in the worst winter of her entire life, almost 8 years ago.

She is approaching the anniversary of that last involuntary commitment. Some years she hasn’t even thought about it. The first year she didn’t remember it, she almost cried with gratitude that she could forget, despite the fact that she had – in fact – remembered, but only briefly and at the very end of the day.

She was texting her co-worker, her office mate, about his break up and about the weird places they were from. Her coworker was one of the only people she’d ever met, here in the mountains, that had been to her hometown in South Georgia, who had actually lived in Yulee, Florida, right over the Highway 17 bridge, first town after the border. Her coworker was her friend. They both had social anxieties and worked as ‘mental health’ Peers. He had not ever lost his mind like she had, but he could understand her eccentricities because they are both artists.

“Oh my god…I just totally realized that it’s the anniversary of the worst day of my life and I didn’t even realize it until just now. Do you think that means I’m healed or something? Haha…”

She felt light-hearted, happy that she could think about that day and feel nothing. She quick-texted back.

“I mean, seriously, this is amazing.”

He responded: “that’s good. Must be all that dopamine from the almonds.”

She felt a little bummed that he didn’t get it, that he attributed her elation and over-sharing to possibly increased dopamine from the almonds she’d been eating huge handfuls of in an effort to increase her dopamine levels naturally.

She got sick of the almonds and was possibly slightly more motivated, but there are too many factors to consider in experiences of motivation to attribute causation to her gaining three pounds from over-eating almonds.

This year, she is thin, almost too-thin. It’s from the running up hills, the increased smoking. She smokes and runs up hills. She does not feel hungry because it is hot and she has been feeling emotional. This year, she is thinking a lot about the anniversary of that last time she went to the hospital, that whole series of events in sharp-detail still.

She understands why she is thinking about it more. Why the time of year might feel the same as it did that summer, that the insects in the yard might be droning the same humming buzz and chirp, that her feelings of uncertainty, of transition, of loss have been stirred up this year in ways that perhaps they weren’t that one year she forgot what day it was.

She doesn’t want to remember the day. She just does. Remembering just comes into her mind, makes her feel things, makes the feeling of the time kind of echo in her, swell andthen recede.

She can sit with it now. More than she could before. Before, remembering would get her in its grip, and flood her with feeling. She would go quiet, scowl at the sink, mouth turned down like she might cry, body heavy and trembling inside.

There were a couple of years that she had minor tough moments around mid-September. Mostly, she is happy to not be in the hospital, and this is what she remembers when she notices that it’s that time of year again.

She wonders if she will remember that her friend died two days after her daughter’s 14th birthday, that the memorial was the day before her son’s birthday. She is okay with remembering that. She learned a lesson from her friend, that helped her be a better mother to her own daughter.

She is happy to remember her friend, despite the underbelly of sadness because her friend killed herself, and called for help, but did not live. She reminds herself that the other side of sadness is love, and that we are only sad about things that matter to us, to think about the love, to hold that with the loss.

Psychologically, she knows how to accept and find peace with someone’s death. Emotionally, she still feels sad.

She has learned to think about her emotions as sensations. This is what she talks about in the trauma recovery class, how what we feel as feelings is our nervous system reacting to our perceived lives with either distress or eustress, feeling that feel good and hold positive associations and feelings that tear us apart in the chest and can be hitched to almost every bad thing that has ever happened to a person.

She knows there is nothing wrong with being sad. That being sad is okay. It troubles her sometimes, though. The way she feels when she feels sad, what it reminds her of, what it does to her. Makes it hard to breathe. Floods her eyes. Turns her body heavy or light, like she might pass out, sends heat and flex and stab and tear all through her chest, up into her neck where she swears it feels like a ghost hand, closing up her throat.

She knows how to not feel sad, but that means not feeling much. Being neutral inside, only a little edgy, because she can still feel the sadness pushing at her muscles, and she takes a deep breath and reminds herself that she is okay, she is doing it. She is making a school lunch. She is going to work. She feels alright. There are things she is excited about. Her hair looks like shit, but whatever.

She can numb out, at least for a while. Then some combination of factors might combine to create an irreconcilable cumulative stress load that exceeds her capacity to regulate, to cope.

Then she cannot help to cry. Then it becomes hard to even speak, because if she moves at all, or tries to make a sound, all the feeling in her might fly out and break her wide open. She knows, rationally, that she is okay, that she can move. That she can change her posture, speak. Shake it off. Go outside. That her feelings cannot hurt her.

Except they do hurt. They hurt like knives and weights. They hurt like burns and scissors.

These comparisons are not helpful to her. She knows this. They are only sensations. They are not knives, they are not scissors. They are how her body has felt when it is scared or tired or overwhelmed or confused or sad or all of the above, in fear. Struggling.

She knows that the feeling of heartbreak is to be expected when someone commits suicide, but she cannot let herself feel heartbreak and simultaneously work in the community mental health and substance abuse recovery industry.

She left work early today, because she was falling apart inside in a way that she was having a difficult time managing. It was an easy explanation, and justifiable bail-out.

She cannot help but to be a little testy when she explained to her supervisor, a kind younger woman with big eyes and a gentle face, that a friend had committed suicide and that it had really brought up a lot, and that she hadn’t even really had time to sit with the grief and implications of the loss.

A rush of words, “It’s really been since last Thursday, because I found out Wednesday night and then I came here on Thursday and Friday and then there was a football game and a cross country meet and the memorial and then my son’s 16th birthday and then we hiked to Mt. Mitchell and it was my daughter’s first day of high school and I just haven’t even been able to cry or anything. I’ve had to just keep going.”

In the back of her mind there is a voice that says that that is what people do. They keep going. That is what life is.

A counter squall of “What if a person can’t keep going? What if they can’t do it?”

Some asshole sneers, “Well, then they’re a fucking ——-.”

Fuck that guy. She is constantly countering all the different ways of looking at a situation, of looking at herself.

She doesn’t ‘hear’ the voices, like an external voice, like some voice-hearers. She has heard voices, and static, and music, faint singing, but only in extremely dysregulated states, and in a way that was neutral if not slightly worrisome but at least interesting, as a phenomenon, because she knew enough to know that what she was hearing was not real, that it was coming from inside her head, but just sounded like it was coming from outside her head. She did, imagine, that there was a crowd at the middle school, a rally, a military rally. She wondered, also, whether her mother had just come into the backdoor and was calling to her from the kitchen as she walked up the stairs, alone in her house. She tried to commit to memory the lilting notes of the song, because it sounded like it might be sung by angels.

She has never been able to remember the song.

She had insight. However, her initial perceptions of the experiences were fraught with strange conclusions, that she then had to work out. To really look at the plausibility of a military rally at the school, with guns and propagandizing, booming voices, angry cheers. Maybe it was a football game?

Reality testing came naturally to her, because she had had to consider how her behavior might be seen by others for a very long time, just like everybody else has had consider alternative perspectives

August 29, 11:59AM

he left work early yesterday, and came home to write. Something is happening with the mountain of accumulated false starts, experiments, and pure slush she has been trying to sort out in her mind as some kind of telling of a story.

She does not know how much writing she has done. She only knows she has been writing for nine years, and that nine years is a long time. She wrote before, a lot. Letters and short stories. The beginnings of journals that she abandoned in a few days.

There were times she didn’t write, long depressions and loathing of the sluggish muteness in her, years when her mind would not slow down for all the things she had to do, when she sat down to write about being a mother, too much flooded into her and the baby began to cry.

She has tried to stop writing before, to see if she felt peace of mind, if she could just be present in her life and cease with the internal narrative. There are times that it quiets, naturally, that aren’t depressions. Times when she forgets almost about writing, when she is just happy to be where she is at. Sometimes, later, usually when she is feeling grateful to have had some small experience or another, she will try to write about those experiences where she forgets everything about herself and is simply where she is, doing what she is doing.

It was inevitable that she would be upset, riding in the car to the bus station in Jacksonville, to board a Greyhound headed north to New York City, where she would go to the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the New York Public Library primarily to stand in those spaces, look at those objects, step into rooms of quiet and stillness from the rush and hustle and infinite layers of sound that was the city outside. She will not ever forget the moment she stepped out of the bus, passed through the Port Authority tunnels and crowds and stairs that smelled like piss and dirt, already invisible, as soon as she stepped off the bus, infinitesimal as she found herself on the sidewalk, people flowing around her, the city seeming to explode with movement and structures and sound and light. She had tried to start keeping a journal, had taken a Polaroid of herself reflected in the bus window. She looked bewildered and young, like another Polaroid of her at a skating rink birthday party, age 8. Slumped against a wall, hands clasped and fingers twisted together, head lilting, eyes with a seven mile stare, face neutral. She was tired. Birthday parties made her feel weird, gave her the clown feeling.

That is what they called it, the feeling that she got, that made her not want to get out of the car. It was a feeling in her stomach, a feeling in her arms. “It feels like a clown,” she told her mom, naming the association she had, which was not a specific clown, more the idea of clowns. She wasn’t scared of them, but she didn’t like them. They were loud, and touchy. Garish with their plain human teeth stained yellow right there, little beard hairs pushing through the make up, knots in the wigs. They looked plastic. Gross to her.

She didn’t know it then, when she was a kid, but she thinks, now, that maybe it had something to do with not liking a thing, and feeling this enormous pressure to smile, to like it, to not run away or push the grinning lurching person away from her, because that’s not what you’re supposed to do.

She might call it childhood social anxiety now, but when she was a kid, she called it the clown feeling. It usually went away.

By the time she was upset while her father drove her to the bus station, her ability to regulate emotion was glitchy as hell. She was 22 years old, and was going to graduate school in the Fall. She didn’t know why she was upset. She didn’t yet know that within the next year she would take all of the pills in the house and almost die.

She was going to graduate school in the Fall, just taking a summer trip, alone to Nova Scotia, by way of the East Coast, riding buses, taking ferries. She had a backpack for her things and planned to walk the cities that she had bus layovers in, because she liked the impressions of changing neighborhoods and the feel of places, the look of them, what she could read about a place in its aesthetic, its peeling paint or polished surfaces. She looked to look at things, at places, at the layers of them.

Sometimes though, she felt numb, disconnected, watching the weigh station pass by on I-95, her father driving her to the bus station. Then, great sobbing cries, almost child crying, would pour out of her, snot and tears everywhere. She felt angry. Sad. Hugely angry and woefully sad.

She didn’t know why. She had felt like that for a long time, in between feeling alright, feeling pretty good, doing okay. Whenever anything sad or troubling happened though, even if it was just something she thought was happening, some significance or spin she put on a situation, nothing even real, her body was flooded with feeling that freaked her out, made it hard not to cry, hard not to slam doors.

She was strong. Tall like her father, naturally strong. Physical. In ninth grade at the boarding school in North Georgia where she went for just one year, she and two other girls were comparing bodies. “You’re like a model,” the thin girl was told, though she was too short to be a model. “You,” her body was surveyed by the girl who had a ‘classic figure,’ “you have kind of an athletes body. You look like an athlete.”

When she was angry and sad, all the strength in her seemed to surge and recede, bursts of violent energy, strong desire to lash out, to hit, to kick, to run, all bounding through her limbs at once, followed by utter weakness, like her legs are made of wood and her muscles are like string.

It was exhausting. To feel so much, to be so moved, to be so outraged, to be so frustrated, so sad, so utterly thrilled to be alive and so dreadfully grieving to want to die, all the time, churning in her, making her strange, hurting and confusing people she loved, sending her home from the party.

She still managed to have friends, to find people she could be around. It was easier when she got older, and could find places like the trailer out behind the Chinese restaurant on Atlantic Blvd, the band set up in the living room, the 24 year old drummer that she hung out with the summer and Fall she turned 16. Dyed her hair purple, smoked cigarettes at the kitchen table by a half-empty can of Milwaukee’s Best, watched the band practice and felt alright.

She could always find some weird guy to hang out with, some other girl who had given herself tattoos and liked driving around smoking and taking photographs listening to the Pixies and Dinosaur Jr. her friendships didn’t last too long. She sort of drifted away from people, started to feel weird around them. Didn’t know what to say.

She liked being alone, setting off alone.

August 29, 2018 2:00PM

The history of this

Is a history of small marriages

The first being laughter

After the prelude of meeting

In a dumb office with broken chairs

Wearing a jacket the color of dried blood

 

We talked about nicotine addiction

And Edward o Wilson at the gas station

Evolutionary biology and books

 

“What book are you reading?”

I named the one that I was not reading, but had brought to the bedside table with the intent to read.

The Insect Societies

And on that day, that very first day,

You heard my most embarrassing story

Of the cute wrestler and his parents house

Watching Dolomite

The clogged up toilet

The dash to the garbage

Laughter bonds people in some way.

August 31, 2018 8:10AM

She will only use Google searches to conduct her research, and will cite appropriately using MLA format.

Bipolar Disorder

Lithium

Neurodiversity

Delusions

Psychosis

Mental health and creativity

August 31st, 8:31PM

It’s always so clear to her in the morning, what she needs to do.

She doesn’t notice the clouds like she used to. She sees them, and can sometimes catch some angles or densities that she knows, if she sat quiet and watched for long enough, she might be able to see something in, some shape or figure, a straight line or a curve. Something that looks like something else, a cloud that looks like a letter, that looks like a sharp-eyed animal, a massive wave, an arm outstretched. The number 8 on its side written in water and light, the undulations of winds, cross streams of air.

She knows that if she sat still long enough, and watched closely enough, and thought about how the sky might look to someone if they’d never watched television, if they didn’t have written words, if they didn’t have books. If all they had was the belief that what happened in the sky was important, because it could bring rain, storms, snow and ice. The sky could, and still can, destroy everything a person knows of life, crops and shelters, paths and families.

She wondered what people felt, a long time ago, when they looked at the sky? She wondered what they noticed, looking so closely at the clouds, the shape of the wind writ against the water and dust of the earth, gleaming and glowering from above.

It was easy to understand why people thought God lived in the sky, in the water, in everything.  

The basic patterns are the same. Elements endlessly reconfigured, each form and component of a form, down to the atoms in our cells, all held together by tiny bonds of lightning and charge.

Of course, she learned this from watching television, nature programs, and reading books about patterns in nature. She also learned it by observing the branching pattern on the pale inside of her own wrist and seeing, like everyone sees at some point or another, a river, a willow tree.

She knew that if she sat still long enough, and studied the ways the clouds formed and stretched, blooming and receding, endlessly in motion, never entirely still, that she would be able to see something in them, and that she would remember, not just as a concept, but as a feeling, a deep understanding that the world is very old, and that it is alive in ways that she knows she cannot even conceive of.

She likes to imagine that people made up stories about what they saw in the clouds, and she wonders what some of the figures she saw would mean to someone who believed that the shapes of clouds meant something.

She does not know if she believes that or not. She did believe that. She used to believe that. Sometimes she believes that, a little, because – to her – it is a wonderful thing to believe.

Believing that the shapes in clouds meant something played a big role in her losing her mind in the way that she did.

The clouds don’t look different to her now, but she looks at the differently. She still notices them, spends a few long moments looking up while in parking lots or driving. She cannot see the sky from her porch anymore, not like she could the year she took all those pictures, sometimes hundreds a day, trying to document what she believed was Proof of God.

The trees in the yard have gotten too big. She can only see the sky in patches through the leaves. No details, just general suggestion of blue or grey, sunrise and a bright spot of moon.

It took her a long time to understand that she had probably not proved anything at all, but her own stubborn naïveté about what constitutes proof as well as the power of a person such as herself to change the history of the future of the world.

They called it Delusions of Grandeur, after she tried to explain, there in the emergency room on involuntary commitment orders, that she was a genius, “Well,” she said, “I have an atypical intelligence.” She rushes on, knowing that if she paused at all, the nurse would interject, would cut her off. She felt like it was important for them to understand. “It affects the way I think about things. I…I…”

The nurse was making notes.

This morning, as she entered the town where she works at a state-funded Recovery Education Center, she had the thought that, as she knows, what she most wants to do is be useful, to make good use of herself, to maximize benefit of her time and energy, of her personhood, for both herself and the well-being of others.

She doesn’t understand why she feels sheepish when she thinks that she might really be able to help some people. It’s strange for her to feel a rush of humility, almost self-deprecation, an uncomfortable self-consciousness in response to her considering the possibility that she might really be able to help some people. Not with the whole proving God thing, but with how she has figured out how to live with big ideas and a bounding heart, a seriously glitchy nervous system and the legacies of being a teenage mental patient. She used to want to die, and even tried to die, once or maybe twice, and thought about dying and felt like dying, like maybe she was actually dying, and now she is grateful not to have died, because the world is still an interesting and beautiful place to her.

She doesn’t want to write an inspirational mental health memoir about how she always knew she was different and how her family history was riddled with reclusivity and anxieties, a possible suicide that nobody talks about, a rebel in the bloodline, nervous disorders and melancholias, spells. She didn’t write about how getting her diagnosis helped it all make sense, and how she finally found the right doctor and the right medication and could lead a healthy productive life and have a successful career.

She can’t write that story, because it isn’t her story. Some days, she doesn’t even know if she wants to tell her story, or what she hopes would come about from her making some sort of book about her life as an atypical person with non-usual experiences.

What would be the point of telling this story?

She knows that she is not the only person in the world to grapple with strange and intense human experiences that frighten, elate, and disorient reality. She knows that she is not the only person in the world whose life has been impacted by having an out of control nervous system that always thinks you’re in danger or dying. There are probably millions of people who have a cognitive processing style similar to hers, that makes quick associations and tests probabilities and notices patterns and is always figuring at all the different possible ways an event, even a tiny event, a song on the radio, might be interpreted.

Lots of people feel things deeply. Lots of people have strange ideas.

Some ideas are dangerous.

She knows that she is not the only person who has tried to die, who has wanted to die.

“If I really wanted to be effective,” she thinks to herself, sitting on her porch with mosquitoes lighting on her arms, blowing them away, a sharp stream of air from the side of her mouth, “I’d just…”

She knows that she could make YouTube videos where she talks about how she learned how to not feel so freaked out that she wanted to die, and how sensations of fear can steer our experience into distress, how she learned how to not be so afraid, not to have so much fear in her body and in her mind. She could put on makeup and be interesting.

There are people arguing down on the street as she considers all the ways she might be able to be more useful in the ways she does her work as Certified Peer Support Specialist  and Qualified Mental Health Professional.

She feels a little bit of a wry smile in knowing that she doesn’t really want to approach this from a Mental Health Professional angle, whatever that might be. There is little consistency in what exactly constitutes a Mental Health Professional, or what that might bring to how something is discussed.

People don’t usually listen to people who don’t have Ph.Ds and professorships at prestigious universities. Sometimes they do, but not usually.

She used to be an unemployed, ex-genius mother of two who lost her mind and tried to prove God with pictures of clouds.

Now, she is an underemployed mental health professional who sits on her porch at night and endlessly tries to figure out how to write a concise pitch for a book that details the formative events and fundamental mechanics of cognition and perception that contributed to her experience of psychosis.

What happens when someone experiments with seeing the world in a different way? That depends entirely on the someone, and what they pay attention to, what they see as important, significant.

She got laid off from her job, her marriage was dead, and her dog got hit by a car. When she couldn’t stop crying in the office, her doctor increased her prescription of the anti-depressant she had been on for years, and while she did not stop crying, she she did stop sleeping, and began to stay up late thinking about things.

Because she was unemployed, she had time to sit on the porch and smoke cigarettes, draw pictures and look at the sky. Type out notes and long explanations, internal dialogue, partial thoughts, veiled and cryptic musings about what, really, was going on.

She’d started emailing herself almost a year before, when she started her blog about drawing a picture everyday for a year. There wasn’t anyone else she could talk with about the things she thought about, the things that were happening, what she saw in herself and in her life, in the world.

In the Fall, as a ritual in her dying marriage, she was required to receive a psychological evaluation, even though she was still mostly okay, the year before she lost her mind, the years before that, when her children were young. She got upset when she and her husband had an argument, some strained grievance with one another. She didn’t know how to calm down sometimes, until everything was alright again. But, she was mostly okay. She hadn’t fallen into a depression in years. She was happy to be alive.

Nonetheless, it was required of her to receive a psychological evaluation, because she still had the scar on her arm from the bad morning when she was twenty three, and her husband knew about the times she went to the hospital, had met her when the scar was still brand new. He knew that she’d been ‘sent away’ when she was a kid, that she’d struggled with depression. He had watched her withdraw from Effexor on a cross country road trip in the winter with two dogs in the van while four weeks pregnant. Sick and shaking and crying on the backseat, the smell of coffee and dogs egging on her persistent nausea, adding accent to the strange bolts of numbness and tingling that shot through her arms as the drug slowly left her system. She had no idea that withdrawal from a psychiatric medication could make a person so woefully ill and unstable. Her doctor had simply told her to stop taking it. She was a mess.

These things are remembered when one is looking for flaws, vulnerabilities, concerns.

There were mental health concerns, even when she was still mostly okay.

Within the results of her interview and reported history were the results of her Intelligence Quotient tests.

She had forgotten that she was smart in some ways, smarter in some ways than in others.

It bothers her, sitting on the back porch in the falling night, that she should feel a cowering feeling in the core of her. That there is an impulse to retract, to mitigate the boldness of her statement of smartness with some fun-making remark about how foolish she really is.

She is smart enough to know that the best evidence of her wisdom is in her knowing that she is a totally fucking idiot in a lot of ways.

 

 

 

Those tests don’t measure wisdom, they don’t measure grace. They do not measure the genius heart. They measure something though, albeit imprecisely and by methods inescapably biased. They measure something about how a person thinks, how they solve problems and make associations, how well they can utilize things like working memory, how adept a person is at seeing patterns and making connections between seemingly disparate information or concepts.

She is a statistical outlier. She was a statistical outlier when she was a kid. Always a couple standard deviations away from the norm. Nothing much was ever said about it, other than that she was smart. She wasn’t that smart though. She didn’t think so. School was a drag. She liked to learn about things though, and liked a focused task, an essay or a book to read. Dates to remember. She liked the feeling of learning, of registering new information, of seeing things differently than she had before, of understanding something about the world.

She didn’t think there was anything unusual about this, and assumed that other people probably experienced the world in much the same way she did. Other people seemed more at ease, but she didn’t imagine that she was much different. Her living in the woods and only having three channels of television and having a park ranger for a father and a house filled with books and interesting things like the rattles of rattlesnakes had as much to do with her auto-didactic science nerd leanings as her cognitive processing style did. Her mother was a librarian at the small library near the elementary school and she would walk there in the afternoons, lay on the floor and read book after book, many of them two and three times over. She edged into the adult fiction, Stephen King.

She  lied about the number of times she had been hospitalized, left out the two worst, because she did not know if the results of her test would be brought into court, or what the results may say about her if she told the whole truth about what she experienced and what she thought, about her life, the things that define her in herself that she doesn’t tell anyone else about.

September 1, 2018, 9:26AM

The writing becomes a problem when she cannot take care of other things she needs to take care of, the house, the job. When she is pulled from her relationships with people in her life.

She becomes distracted, absorbed in either writing or thinking about writing.

It is possible that the more she writes, the more the quality of her writing declines. However, the experience of writing, the exhilaration of accumulating words, phrase and sentence weaving jumbled elegant onto the page. She knows it’s just a flow state, that makes her want to keep writing. She knows, also, that what she experiences as jumbled elegance while she is writing may well merely be producing a heap of unintelligible detritus as read by any other human being.

She doesn’t know what she is doing. She feels a rush of fear. What would she give up for writing. She ought to be doing the dishes right now.

Is she obsessed with this idea for a book? Is the whole thing a fucking delusion? Is she just crazy and can’t write at all? Will never, ever finish the book, will just go all to the entropy of trying.

She understands that these things are possibilities. Can reckon with that.

It is stupid to not be able to let an idea go. The idea is a delusion. The delusion is that she had a series of life experiences that formed her up into being a person with what may be measureably unique insights into challenges with mental health and emotional well-being. She believes that she can help people, because she learned a lot in trying to figure out how not to want to die and in how to see and experience beauty in the world, how to love being alive.

That really is the crux of it.

She believes that if she can write a coherent and engaging enough book that utilizes experiential narrative prose to beautifully communicate key concepts in reframing perceptions of mental illness through taking into account factors of neurodiversity and adverse lived experiences, that people might be able to make sense of what is going on when people lose their minds, or at least have an example of one person’s experience.

unlearning fear and understanding personal mechanics of experience (thought and emotion, reality formation) that she —

September 26, 2:32PM

She has worked as a Peer Support Specialist for the past seven years, in a semi-rural college town in the western region of a southern state. The place she works is called the Recovery Education Center.

In 2015, she got her MA in psychology from an easy-to-get-into school in California with roots in the humanistic tradition.

It is strange to her, that even without considering what she learned in her own experience of dealing with significant mental health challenges, that she should question whether or not she can help people. I mean, that is what she does for a living.

Right

Right?

What is this terrible self-defacing doubt in her own potential usefulness?

Why would she think that being an ex-genius who used to want to die and now loves to be alive might not have anything of use to say on the subject of her own lived experience and perspectives pertaining to her own mental health and reasons to live?

It comes down to the question of whether her experience and her telling about it may be useful and informative to other people.

She does not know if it would be. It absolutely would not be useful to a great many people.

She thinks about all the people who are creative thinkers and the strange directions that big ideas can pull our lives in, and how she learned how to live peaceably with big ideas and a lurking sense of some greater purpose. She has had to renegotiate her perception that her current life is ‘not what she is supposed to be doing,’ and the belief that certain aspects of her life are actively preventing her from rising into what she imagines her full potential to be.

She knows she is enough, that her life is enough. That even if she doesn’t write a book, she can be happy in her life.

Still, because she knows that everything that we do and everything we do not do has some impact on our lives, creates some effect in the world we live in and in the lives intertwined with our lives, she cannot help but to consider the possibility that her telling the story of how she managed to lose her mind and make sense of it all might help some person who is struggling better understand their experience, or help them to figure out how to deal with problematic realities and beliefs.

She really doesn’t want to write a mental health recovery manual. She just wants to write about her life, and how she has figured she turned out the way she has turned out, why she believes what she believes and feels things the ways she feels them, thinks in the way that she does.

She wants to write about how she learned about happiness and feelings of peacefulness, about how she learned and experienced fear, the things that scared her most, how she learned to pay attention to those fears and adjust the power they have over her nervous system and perception of herself and the world. She wants to write about how she learned to make sense of reality, because she believes that everybody – at some point or another – struggles to know both what is real and what is really important.

The second level of the delusion that this book is born from is that she really can write a book that stimulates dialogue on the crazy numinous beauty in the world, or inspire someone else to look at the everyday

phenomena of their thoughts and feelings with a deeper understanding of how everything is connected in creating our experience.

There is a part of her, a persuasive kernel of belief, that still considers the possibility that maybe she was right, maybe there is something to the idea that if people could look at the world and imagine what they might notice in the sky if they’d never watched television, that maybe something in their humanness would find it beautiful, that they might be able to feel beauty, not just the beauty of a sunset, but the beauty of knowing for a split second what it might be like to see something in the sky and to believe that god or the spirits are talking with you, telling you something of yourself and of the world in the ideas that you have while watching the wind, in the sensation in your gut as you face a simple truth.

The simplest truth she had to face was that the world as she sees it is immeasurably old, and that her entire life experience means very little, is minuscule beyond her imagination, and that everything always is changing and that everything always is connected.

The deeper delusion is that something like God wants her to use her experience, the fiber of her being, everything she is that she never asked to be and all that she brought into life within herself, that she stubbornly kept alive within herself, to make something beautiful in the world, something that might help some disaffected and disconnected person in a dark room somewhere at the very least have something to think about other than their own numbly writhing misery.

The very deepest delusion is that, somehow, through telling the story of how she lost her mind trying to prove God with clouds a series of remarkable epiphanies may occur in the collective consciousness that will somehow ‘make the world a better place’ through helping people to understand what is most shared among us, these fleeting constructions of our lives and economies, what we are all scared of and long for, and that maybe people will see that they don’t need all of the things they have been taught to believe that they need, they will see that the simplest solution is to look at the people we love and the people we hate with the same curiosity, with the same love, with the same same deep appreciation for the people that they are and the strange phenomena of circumstance that create us, and that somehow this will perhaps help to end war.

She understands that this a great leap, an absurdity of her most unrealistic child-mind and her most fervently hopeful heart, her most fearful mourning.

September 2, 2018 9:11AM

She is one of those people that “everyone always says should be a writer.”

She is one of those people that everyone always says “should write a book.”

People told her she should be a writer before they told her she should write a book, before she had anything observable in her life that may indicate that she had some story in her that is worth telling.

They liked her letters, the essays she wrote for school. The way she talked or explained things, moving her hands in the air, making punctuations, drawing out pauses.

“You should be a teacher.” This is another thing that people told her.

“You should be a clinician,” her co-worker, a clinician, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, told her, just day before yesterday in the hot morning behind the dumpster, smoking cigarettes and staffing clients, students.

“Why aren’t you a clinician? I mean, that’s the work you do, you’re doing clinical work.”

“No, not really. I’m just teaching people practices. Talking to them about their lives and how they think about their lives.”

“You should totally be a clinician.”

The reason she does not want to be a clinician, would never be a clinician, is because of, a) the licensing process that she understands would be a pain in the ass to go through, b) the work within the non-profit industrial system or the hassle of becoming a private provider, c) the diagnosing, and the requirement that she become educated in diagnosis, that she sit in classrooms and have discussions of Case Studies and learn to apply the correct differentials in determining which disorder ought to be applied to the person’s name in their Electronic Client Record.

She could not do that work, because she does not entirely believe in the accuracy of diagnoses, and believes that sometimes diagnoses can confuse people about their experiences, muddy their understanding of where it comes from and what they might be able to do to change it.

The effort to create a reliable and functional classification of the mental disorders, of all the ways that people can be troubled in their heads and hearts, in their behaviors and lives, is appreciable. She appreciates the effort, and sees that, yes, there are consistent ways that things go wrong, and these ways manifest in a sometimes predictable manner, and that, yes, there are similarities, some patterns, in the ways people are scared and miserable and confused about what is real.

The etiology is all wrong to her though, the murky explanations, the lack of explanation. The recommendations are all wrong to her, to seek professional help and the requisite proper medication.

Maybe they are not wrong for everybody. They are wrong for her though, and she doesn’t want to participate in systems that invest in the validity of the diagnostic medical model of mental illness, because she thinks it’s unethical, to give people misinformation, or partial information, about what is happening in their lives, to deliver dire simple answers, a biological imbalance, a disease, a disorder, possibly genetic, often lifelong, from across a desk, a space of floor, calmly, almost placid, wearing clean shoes and drawing a paycheck, making the referral for a medication evaluation, sending the person out the door with a card, come back Tuesday, to walk back into their life, their precious singular life, their life that is coming apart in some way or another that matters to them, their life that they mourn the loss of the desire to live, their life fraught with fear or blasted open with the adrenaline of the big ideas that they can’t stop thinking about. To sit down at a table, elbow on Formica, to hear the sound of the television from the dark living room and to feel the brightness of the day outside pressing into against the closed blinds. To think about what’s really wrong. To put the appointment card on the refrigerator.

September 3, 2018 10:49AM

The question is not whether or not I am still crazy. That’s debatable. There are aspects of my experience that may well fall within the catchment of crazy, depending on how one defines the parameters of what is sane and what is not sane. Some people believe that once a person becomes as crazy as she was, they are not the same, that they are vulnerable to additional episodes, further deterioration.

She considers the objective, observable facts of her life, her self. Is she deteriorating?

Has she never actually recovered?

Did she really only dodge a potentially worse fate, and not actually end up bounding into a life of self-realized potential and a wealth of happiness as she tries to imagine that she has, as she has experienced?

Is she ignoring reality?

She doesn’t have health insurance. She doesn’t earn enough money to live on. Her house is messy and too much to take care.

She is happy though, because her children are healthy and well-adapted to the people they are, the circumstances of their adolescent lives. They have positive interests and show no sign of delinquency.

She is happy because she is loved by a remarkable person who sees her with unconditional positive regard, and loves her for who she is. “You don’t ever have to write a book,” this person tells her. “I don’t care if you have a house or a book or a dime to your name. I love you. You are my best friend.”

In the late-afternoons, she runs up hills, and believes that anything is possible.

She is able to feel like she might fall apart at any minute and still pull it all together and go to work. She is able to live with complicated glitches in her experience and how she feels. She knows who she is, and what she loves. She has activities that please and engage her. Friends that she deeply respects, but hardly ever contacts, because she is trying to write a book. Always trying to write.

Although she can look at her life and recognize that she is waaaaaaaay better off than she might be, she also knows, with that sort of deep solemn knowing, that she is happiest when she thinks about having a different sort of life, a life where she could just be the person she is and sit around and write all day, go walk around in mountains and deserts.

That is another delusion. That she should get to have a life in which she is able to do the things she wants most to do, which are to love and to write, and to look around at people and nature.

It reflects her privilege, this belief, that she should have a life that she enjoys.

She feels guilty for wanting a life that she enjoys when so many people have miserable lives and jobs that are much, much more difficult to tolerate than her job.

She doesn’t want any sort of luxury. She doesn’t want anything fancy or indulgent. She wants to live in a van, or in motel rooms, in a tent. She doesn’t want to have to go to work, to structure her life around the impositions of set repetitive schedules, things she has to do in order to keep her life from caving in. She doesn’t have health insurance, and yet she must continue working in her job, because she cannot figure out how to find another job that she could actually do without falling apart under the strain of meeting and knowing new people, learning new tasks. She doesn’t want to do it. She has spent her adult life anchoring to jobs, and she knows what it takes to get a job, to show up for an interview, to present some version of oneself as employable. To be seen in some way based on the information contained in her resume.

When she thinks about changing jobs, getting a different job, she feels like she cannot breathe. She doesn’t think she could do it.

After her last hospitalization, she did not apply for disability, because she did not want to be disabled and because there were things that she could do. She has a college degree. She has valuable occupational experience as an educator and human services professional. She knew that she could pull something together, when she had to get a job after her last hospitalization.

She knew that she could find something part-time, because she could not work full time. She had never been able to work full time without beginning to fall apart in ways that made working impossible and which she did not know how to control.

She doesn’t think that she doesn’t want to work because she is lazy or entitled. She doesn’t think that she deserves an easy life.

She doesn’t think she has had an easy life. Her life almost killed her.

She wants a life she can be good at, a life that doesn’t slowly stress-wreck the person that she is.

The woman who did the parenting class she was required to attend told her she ought to “clean up, don’t wear those ratty sweaters, don’t talk about the writing, whatever all that is.”

The woman was kind, trying to be helpful, making suggestions as to how she might become more employable.

September 3, 4:40PM

She knows the idea is a delusion, and wonders if – because she knows –

it still counts as a delusion.

Last night, she laid in her bed with the computer on her lap, with her

hair fuzzing out from her long braid, her glasses crooked on her face,

and read over what she had written, was able to see it objectively,

with the eye of an editor, a researcher.

“This is sad,” she thought neutrally, not feeling much of a feeling of

sadness, just the flat reckoning with a reality that she did not

especially want to see, but nonetheless was there, spelled out, page

after page of fragmented memory, the tone of bargaining, the dead ends

of reason.

Her room held a thin scrim of clutter around her, wires bent and

twisted on the desk, a dust of dried tobacco, laundry in a basket on

the blue chair that used to be green, that used to be in her

great-grandmothers house.

Downstairs, there were cheap empty white shelves in the main hall. She

had moved them there two days before, after emptying them of their

contents, an old olive jar filled with stained paintbrushes, a pocket

Hebrew dictionary. A small wooden chest she had had since she was

young, which used to hold the thick and yellowing prayer cards she

took from the drawer of the end table by the settee in her

great-grandmother’s cavern of a living room. There was a moment of

thin excitement, not knowing what she’d find, opening the chest after

she pulled it from the shelf. The chest was empty save for a thin

spill of beads across the bottom, green and blue, glassine and milky.

She walked past the shelves in the hall yesterday, and wondered how

long it would take her to move them down to the street.

The house was full of half-finished things.

If she didn’t write, she’d have plenty of time to move shelves, to

move the two decommissioned aquariums from the front porch down to the

weed-filled strip of grass and dirt between the sidewalk and the

street in front of the house. To set things down there for people to

take away.

She’d have plenty of time to clean the house, to wipe away the thin

webs of spiders that gathered in the corners of the windows, to wet

down the floors and remove the dust of the street and the trees, the

dust of the house slowly crumbling, the minuscule detritus that

drifted in from the world outside and down from the ceilings

themselves.

The idea is a delusion. That she should be a writer, that she has some

book in her.

She has tried for 8 years to write a book.

It is ruining her life.

She cannot let it go though, and she knows this is a problem.

If she were some other person, she might be able to simply set aside

her pernicious idea of writing a book. She could settle into her work

at the Recovery Education Center more fully, become a Lead Peer, go

running in the forest like she does, more fully enjoy being at a high

school football game, listening to her daughter play in the marching

band. Not be distracted all the time by thinking about writing, about

writing the book.

She could spend time painting, and make a garden again.

Maybe she would have friends again?

That would not be a bad life.

The book she wants to write was born of delusion. There are quiet

motivations that run in the background of her thinking about why she

wants to write a book, what she thinks might happen if she writes a

book. She can recognize these quiet motivations as delusions.

She will not win the Nobel Peace Prize. She will not end wars.

She knows that this is not possible.

The thing that nags her though, everyday, the thing thing that has

nagged her for years, is that maybe she could help someone make sense

of their reality, so that they don’t completely lose their mind and do

something terrible or foolish, hurt themselves or other people, that

maybe she could help someone better understand why they feel the way

they feel, why they believe what they believe, how they might think

about the world or see the world.

She knows that she might not be able to help everybody, that she

cannot save the world, but she also knows that she might be able to

help some people.

“People will find the help they need,” she tells herself. “It’s not

like what you have some special help that people can’t get elsewhere.”

She knows, however, that this is not true.

There are lots of people who need help and don’t get it. Or they get

help, but it is not the help they need. People die. It happens.

She tells herself that it is not her responsibility to save anyone.

She only has to live her life in the best way that she possibly can,

to just do the best she can to help where she is able.

When she was 15 years old, disaffected and glowering in the passenger

seat of the Jeep Cherokee, driving into town with her mother at the

wheel, she saw a rare apparently homeless person standing on the side

of Highway 40 and King’s Bay Road, there right in her little hometown.

She’d seen plenty of homeless people before, in Jacksonville, driving

through the streets near the river, going to this doctor’s appointment

or that one. The hospital, the orthopedic surgeon, the

ophthalmologist. All of the neighborhoods surrounding river were

filled with people walking slowly in the heat, limping and lurching,

silvery and rusted carts piled with bags and bags, slumping in the

shade of the oaks and azaleas at the edges of the parking lots,

sleeping on benches, not waiting for buses. She’d never seen a

homeless person in her town though, not in her hometown. He was

holding a sign, asking for work, for food. “Hungry,” the sign said.

It was not unusual for her to have thoughts come into her head. All

day long she was thinking. The thought that came into her head when

she saw the homeless man by the highway was different though. It was

clear and solemn. It came with a feeling, a certain gravity in the

center of her. It felt like truth. “If you see a way that you could

help and you turn from that, if you do nothing, that is as good as

sin.”

She didn’t know where the thought came from. She didn’t care about

sin. Didn’t think about sin. She wasn’t religious. She hated religion,

listened to hyper-analytical punk rock deconstructing the mammoth

pogroms of the world, God and capitalism.

Still, this thought lodged in her as some kind of truth, and made her

feel badly if she didn’t help in some way that she saw that she could,

made her feel selfish and cowardly, guilty.

“Turn the car around,” she told her mother. “I want to go home.”

Her mother was confused, hit the brakes. “What do you mean?”

The girl could feel a quick-blooming urgency in her, an upset rising.

“Just turn the car around.”

September 3, 2019 5:23PM

School

More about school

Moving, more about moving

Restlessness

Adulthood

Recovery

Essay on google

The first day she walked into the classroom at the Recovery Education Center, she didn’t know what to say to the double-tabled rows of adults looking at her. They were worn out and beleaguered looking folks, one too-thin young man sprawled with his legs out, appeared asleep. A woman wore bright blue eyeliner. Her hair was falling out. They were poor people. Adults. They weren’t kids or teenagers. They were adults.

She got the job, in part, because she’d been able to talk about inquiry-based education and working with adult learners when she was a literacy tutor out in Oregon. “So, today is my first day.”

September 5, 2018 1:31AM

Pareidolia

September 5, 2018 12:41PM

I wish that I didn’t have this perception that you seem to think that I am inevitably on the precipice of some major breakdown.

That makes me feel like shit.

I’m going to go into this store and continue to be okay and even well despite having had insufficient sleep because I knew I got good rest on the weekend, and know (though do not always heed, due to necessity or foolishness) my limitations and what I need to do keep myself reasonably well in the ways that matter to me.

I appreciate both your reflex to be concerned as well as your setting boundaries around participating in things that may position you in a role of concerned caretaker…I am not going to let anything bad or critically destabilizing happen in my life.

I wish you didn’t worry about me in that way. That’s not really a position I am comfortable with, the person who people are concerned about.

I get it though, why you’d be concerned.

September 8, 2018, 11:49AM

She met him downtown while she was playing her banjo on a dark bench near College and Lexington, those same three chords, C, d minor, Open G.

Compared to the raggedly jaunty or impressively skilled music that drifted from the real buskers over near the more crowded corners, the broad sidewalks of Biltmore, her playing was atonal and pausing, almost mournful drifting from the edge of the pay parking lot where no one hung out.

He was an old man, short and like a sea captain, white hair and a stocky, limping body. He set his styrofoam container down on the bench, “Can I sit down?”

She settled the instrument, the banjo with the curling name of Silver Princess arcing across its headstock, so the neck lay across her chest like a sword at rest.

He was a little winded as he carefully leaned his body to the bench, straightening his right leg in front of him and then pulling it up at the knee to plant his cheap padded work boot firmly on the sidewalk.

She wasn’t scared of him. She wasn’t scared of anyone anymore, because she could not care what happened to her, so she didn’t care what happened to her. She had to be fearless, because when she was scared, she could not move and her whole internal existence tumbled into everything she most dreaded.

Before she went to the hospital, she’d gotten into a car, a man’s car, and asked him to simply drive her around the block. There was a FunYuns bag on the floorboard. She could smell it. “Why are you doing this?” The young black man had stopped to ask if the woman needed a ride, because she was standing by the side of the road like someone who was trying to flag down a ride, even though her hands were by her sides, she looked a little like she needed a ride, or needed help.

“I’m just practicing. I wanted to prove to myself that I could.” She stated plainly, as if this weren’t a strange answer at all, and thanked the man before he dropped her back off near her house.

She is ashamed and frightened when she remembers this about herself, that she had done this thing.

“You have to tell the truth,” she reminds herself as a she writes, but knows that while she will not lie, there are some stories she will not tell, because to tell them would mean that she would have to look at all the crazy, stupid, sad things she had done and thought and believed. Those things would be written in stone, if she wrote them. Every crazy person has their secrets. Every human being has their secrets.

She was humiliated as she sat there, regarding the man she saw as a sailor, a captain even, in the look of him. The humiliation was constant. She tried to be bright in her spirit, braiding her hair and putting on mascara, the soft gold dress that she wore with a sweater, fancy but worn out and demure. She had no idea why she was going to play banjo downtown. She hardly knew how to play. As constant as the humiliation, there was an unceasing drive in her to find or to make something beautiful, something redemptive, something interesting. It was maddening and sad to be at the house alone, with no children, taking pills, laying stunned in bed, not knowing what to do, suffocating under the weight of neuroleptics and the grave truth of how royally she had fucked up her life.

She’d been out of the hospital for three weeks. The days were still warm, but getting colder.

She didn’t care what happened to her. She just wanted something to happen. Nothing was happening sitting at home. There was no telepathic consortium contacting her. The clouds persisted in looking like faces and bones, but her feeling about them was flat, bludgeoned by dopamine antagonists.

She wasn’t scared of him. He had, she believed, a kindness to him. A benevolence. He was old, with bright blue eyes, a truckers cap and worn work pants.

“I like your banjo playing.”

“Eh,” she shrugged, “I’m just learning. I don’t really know how to play.”

She’d had the banjo for years and had learned just enough to play alone for a long time, variations around the same chords, fingerpickings and strums. She couldn’t stand the way the instrument sounded beyond the fifth fret, so there wasn’t too far she could ever go in the half-songs she played over and over again, until she wasn’t thinking about playing at all, until her fingers found some rhythm or falter that they liked, until some energy rose in her and she was just playing, vibrating with the space in the open back of the Silver Princess.

She got enough out of that. She didn’t need more. Still, she had needed something to do. Somewhere to go. “I’m just practicing.”

He sold tomatoes at the Farmer’s Market, and slept in the cab of his big old Chevy. Told her about this, and seemed perfectly happy. His leg was bad, a vascular problem. He has diabetes, offers her part of his left-over meal, chicken strips and limp lukewarm fries.

“What do you do? Are you an artist or something?” She felt ashamed, being asked about herself.

“Not really.” She is always shrugging lately. “I am…”

“My life is kind of a mess.”

That is how they became friends. He talked to her on the phone while she cleaned the kitchen, getting ready for the visit from the DSS worker. They drove all the way to Hendersonville to eat a random Bojangles. She recorded him talking with her about his perfectly ordinary life, his childhood in the Northeast, his time in the service. He wanted it for his daughters, who he lived with, one and then the other, when the market season paused for the winter. He showed her vast expanses of chrysanthemums, a million perfect Fibonacci expansions of brilliant yellow sprawling across the pavement of the backside of the Farmer’s Market. He told her about the problems with his neighbors, their fights in the RV, the kids at the very backstall, the less-than-prime stall.

“Nobody comes down here,” holding his arm up toward the busier central stalls of the market. “They don’t send anyone down this way, so we just sit here and wave at the people who do come down here so they can turn around and get out of here.”

They talked about God and praying to saints while they ate fried chicken. He was Catholic. She didn’t know what to believe, but was glad to have someone to talk to.

When the season ended, he moved south to live with his daughter, and she went back to doing what she was doing, which was being a crazy person with no friends. Peter, the elder sailor, said they’d call, they’d keep in touch. She said they’d call, they’d keep in touch. She knew she wouldn’t, and was okay with that.

He was her friend though. She understood that maybe he was helping her. That he was doing her good by keeping her busy, by showing her flowers, giving her somewhere to go. Listening as she didn’t say much about her life. Praying for her because he was a person who prays.

She doesn’t know why she thought about the Illuminati. This is what people in America think about when they go crazy? She had never cared about the Illuminati, other than liking the sound of the word, it’s meaning.

(Insert)

When one believes to consider, in the effort to try to make sense of why they are experiencing what they are experiencing in their head and their perception, the possibility of things like international telepath consortiums, they eventually happen upon the idea of the Illuminati, or the US Government, or some other shady powerful shit that people have seen a dozen movies about. We love spies.

Because she is an American, she had access to these ideas of espionage and orchestration and programs and people who may have the technological capacity to infiltrate and manipulate and surveil the happenings in the world. She had visuals of dark rooms and hundred-light control panels, bays of computer monitors. She could imagine herself a bright pulse on a screen.

She also thought, perhaps, that there are some great and powerful metaconsciousness running the world, doing some work of covert advising and monitoring, creating of impulses and scenarios, puppeting the world by some means of a dispersed network of Supra beings and primary channels of electromagnetic flow. She lives in a city where the bulletin board at the health food store is plastered with purple and blue and golden flyers for yoga retreats and transcendental meditation workshops, electronic dance music concerts. She knows what hive mind looks like.

She thought that everyone was connected, but that maybe some people were more connected than others and that, somehow, she was one of those people.

It made sense to her. Of course. She was a person with a weird-ass IQ who had lost her mind at least a few times, was all broken-as-fuck. They’d never see her coming. She was a genius. She grew up in a dome on land she believed was haunted. She almost died, but didn’t and was once visited by an all white bird that beat its wings furiously against her closed bedroom window. She was, she thought, good in her heart. She had a good heart, a strong heart. This is what she knew of herself and believed of herself.

“It was just some overcompensatory shit that I made up to not feel like such a loser.”

“I needed to have something to believe in.”

“I felt all alone, forsaken.”

“Something in me broke open, and the world became strange.”

I did not understand why the things that were happening were happening. How something observably strange, but nonetheless also observably real, the held substance of a book pulled from under the oven, where the cat is meowing and meowing, trying to get at something. There is nothing there except the book, an old paperback copy of Chaka from her African literature class fifteen years ago.

This might be dismissible to a person who was not her. Possibly strange, but ultimately dismissible. The day prior a wasp had been sitting right in the sunlight by her open front door, she moved to walk past it, because she is not scared of wasps, and goes about her business near them. It doesn’t move, and she pauses, looks at it, seeing if it is alive. It’s abdomen moves up and down, like a tiny metronome. It’s antennae slowly waver, sending something she cannot see.

She left her phone on the stair post just last week to return and find a massive praying mantis posed upon the black plastic.

The clouds had begun to look peculiar to her, like letters. She had seen, the other evening, what she would have sworn was an eye, a perfectly proportioned human eye wrought in rain-building clouds.

She wondered how she could be losing her mind if these things were really happening. Suspicions and murky explanations began to show up in her thinking. She felt increasingly strange, as though something in her was shaking, and humming. When she was around other people, she was nervous and flat, her mind elsewhere, wondering what was going on. She only felt peaceful alone, drawing and thinking.

In many ways, the delusion saved her, gave her a sense of purpose, some way that her life and her recovery might be important beyond her damaged existence as a mother, beyond her own life enjoyment. The prospect of having a life where she was an umemployed mother of two who couldn’t see her kids was not enjoyable to her. She tried to imagine a different future, where she gets over herself and her crazy, stupid ideas and, sure, she can still do art, but she can get a job and straighten up and clean the house and stop hurting people by being crazy.

For all her great ideas and bounding analysis, she could figure out how to get out of the mess she’d made, or who she was within it. She was a nobody, a loser.

She prayed fervently to a God she was not sure, after all, existed and tried hard to muster the feeling of belief, the sensation of being protected, loved, looked out for.

She felt nothing, was alone.

Still, the idea, because it was a big idea, a powerful idea in her consciousness and experience, persisted. In the context of a story where an undetected half-mad genius light stumbles upon a simple proof of something that might have been seen and felt as God a long time ago, if she really had somehow pushed through some veil in herself, broke herself wide open to the sort of metaphysical planes she’d only seen on album covers, well, in that story, well of course she is going to have a trial, a gauntlet, a great many of them. In that story, built of delusion, she had to persevere, to make something worthwhile in the thing that she was, by virtue of her divine vocation as proffered upon her by the bright spirit of her favorite dead uncle, the purpose of her type of intelligence, her way of being. She is a creative, doing what creatives do, which is make things out of other things, and try out different ways of seeing how things work together, solving problems, exploring.

Even as she was losing her mind, she understood that this was a part of it, her creativity, the person she is, the way she thinks.

September 12.2019 10:45AM

When she went to boarding school in the mountains, she stopped getting

angry. She could not get angry at boarding school. She was rarely

alone. She still felt strange though, disconnected in herself somehow.

Not excited to do much.

One night, she fell out of her top bunk bed, after sitting straight up

and pointing at the floor, exclaiming, “A snake, there is a snake

there!”

 

They walked up the side of the mountain in the late-Winter, when

everything is brown and dead and damp, thin pine trees straggling up

the slope toward the worn down ridges, not even a real peak, just a

slow curve and dip down into the saddle of land that joins it to

another mountain. They called them mountains, because in the state of

Georgia, they were the closest thing to mountains that they had, the

small tendril of the Blue Ridge Parkway cut through by highway 441.

There were only four of them, the English as a Second Language teacher

and her husband, who lived on campus with his teacher wife and made

chairs out of old muscadine vines, old twisted laurel he found in the

higher elevations north of them.

 

She and a boy from the Hollingsworth dorm were the only students who

came. He was quiet and thin, moved like a skeleton through the woods

ahead of them, some boy from Tennessee that didn’t talk to anyone. She

liked him, because while she talked to people more, she felt the same

sort of quiet in her, an okayness in being alone.

 

She breathed hard going up the hill, and listened as the teacher, a

young blond woman with short golden hair and a Master’s from Columbia

disclosed that she had miscarried, that they had planned to name the

baby after her sister. Camille.

 

The teacher was her friend. They had sat in the clean sunny kitchen of

their small faculty cottage and listened to Chris Isaac sing about not

wanting to fall in love. The teacher had told her about going to the

city, to New York, and how she had stopped shaving her legs, because

she wanted to feel protected.

 

She felt calm around the teacher, calm and at ease with herself,

understanding that people can be scared and quit shaving their legs

and still become teachers, can still have nice lives. Can work through

the cold winter in the city.

 

When there was a cold front down from Canada, she signed out from the

dorm and took her bike out onto the road behind the school, riding up

and up and up, past tiny shambling houses, trucks hugging the middle

of the road to pass her as the cold air burnt into her lungs and her

legs pumped hard up the hills. The air was damp and cold, full of

woodsmoke. She felt like she could ride forever. Coasting back down

the hill, she saw the buildings of the school peak through a clearing

at a bend in the road and saw how far she’d gone, knew that she’d be

in trouble for missing her sign-in time, being late for dinner.

 

She woke up at 5:00 am every morning and called her mother using the

1-800 number her parents had set up for her to contact them from the

payphone in the upstairs hall kitchen. Everybody else slept until at

least 6:00. She liked to get up early, when everything was quiet and

the halls were wide and still, the yellow-gold light of wall-mounted

lamps punctuating the early morning dark of the place.

 

She didn’t mind boarding school, no more than she minded the public

high school that she had finally simply refused to return to mid-way

through her first semester as a ninth grader. The school used to be a

reform school, but was “transitioning to a preparatory academy.” The

kids were a mixed bag, troubled and privileged. There were rumors of

sex in the vestibule. Almost everyone dipped tobacco and drank

robitussin in their rooms on at least one Saturday night after an

outing in town, where they’d file through the aisles of the Revco drug

store, gathering candy and cough syrup. On Sunday mornings, they were

supposed to attend church, either in the chapel or in town. A bus

would drive them to the church they wanted to go to. Sometimes she

went to the Episcopal service, and never knew the words to the hymns.

Most Sundays, she pressed herself under her bed until she was

perfectly still against the wall, straining to hear the sounds of

rooms being checked by the house parent so she could ready herself, so

she could stop breathing, be even more still, so still she wasn’t

moving at all.  The house parent’s Reebok’s would creep across the

carpet, varicose veins on her ankles, pause, and then turn, closing

the door behind her. She spent the whole morning eating sugared kool

aid mix out of the container and reading, small red stars of dyed sugar crusting

down into the spine of whatever book she held.

 

Over the summer, she and her brother took wilderness trips, a month

long, backpacking and rafting through Wyoming and Montana and parts of

Idaho.

 

She didn’t know why she did not want to go back there in the Fall. Why

she wanted to try to go to public high school again. Again, she could

not tolerate it, began to refuse to go. When she had to go, sullenly

stalking into the building, scowling at the smell of school that

poured out from the front doors, she only stayed a few hours. She

would get a headache, and go to the office, call home, get picked up.

September 11, 2018 11:33PM

Proving God With Clouds: The Autofiction of an American Delusion

She did not know she was doing autofiction. If she were honest with herself, she didn’t know what she was doing at all. She’d been doing it for years. Going back and forth between first person and third, slipping into the She and bounding in with a declarative I, sometimes in the same sentences.

Is a person doing a thing, if they do not know what they are doing?

She may not have been doing autofiction. Truth is important to her, and she admits it when she lies about something. (See p. re: lying on a psychological evaluation so that she might appear to have a less troubled past than she had, because she understood that what people know or think they know about your past can change the way they see you in the present)

However, she leans heavily toward a bias of omission in a great many areas of her personal history and experience, who she is.

“You’re very secretive, aren’t you?”

This question was asked by the person who may know her best among all the people who know her.

There is a lot that even this person does not know.

“Sometimes it’s better to keep things to yourself.” Her soon-to-be mother-in-law pulled her aside in the wood-smelling kitchen of her childhood home by the river in Georgia, spoke the words in a low tone of advisement. Faith had smiled along, and nodded as though to say, “Yes. Yes absolutely. Totally hear you on that. Keep it…to…yourself.”

Something in her withered, but she kept smiling, and understood with just a little bit of heaviness, that withered hope for ease, that her soon-to-be-mother-in-law was absolutely correct. That sometimes, yes, it is a very good idea to just keep it to yourself.

In the beginning, before she began to write in third-person about her day and her thoughts, how her body feels in response to experience, what she notices and considers, when she was still writing from the I, for the most part, it was her writing openly on the internet, albeit on an unread weblog with shitty pictures of amateur drawings on it, about her crying, about her family, about who she is and how she didn’t really know. That was what raised concerns.

She did not begin writing personal non-fiction narrative in an autofictive style for the purpose of writing an autofiction, because she did not know that such a thing existed, because she has barely read a book the past few years, because she has been working in the community mental health industry and running in the forest, and being a mom of some sort to the two beloved growing-up young people she birthed in some splintered different life of some person who she was, is, will be. (Neruda)

When she is not “spending time with the people she loves, working, or running, she is sitting alone on her porch writing thousands of words to herself via email through her phone, sometimes for hours and hours, all these scraps of days. Her thumbs become numb, but she keeps writing. She goes on for pages upon pages about her drive to work, the songs on the radio, half-assed theories about everything, whatever she found beautiful or interesting that day.

Over the past 9 years of emailing herself, Faith has slowly settled into a life that, from the outside, looks to be the life of a moderately eccentric, semi-reclusive artist kind of crazy lady, whose yard looks like shit and has poor social niceties, but is alright enough.

“It’s a big house, too much for her to take care of, just her there.”

“You can’t even see your house from the street. It’s in a little forest.”

“Oh? You live in the Boo Radley House?”

“Well,” she had shrugged, “I’m kind of like Boo Radley on the inside.”

She didn’t know, exactly, what this meant, but it came out of her mouth and felt true.

Curious and creepy and leaving small gifts. Trinkets and wonders.

She laughs at herself. She is ridiculous. She’s not like Boo Radley. I mean, she goes to the grocery store.

Haha, there I go. Slipping. See, a real autofiction writer would not skip tense like that. She’d remain in the She. The third person.

Or not? She doesn’t know, like she was saying, she has hardly read a thing, because she has been too busy writing emails to herself about what she is trying to remember from the day. Trying to learn how to encapsulate great swathes of experience into poetry. Reading some books would probably help her to be a better writer.

She wants a life where she can do all of the things she loves to and needs to do.

Last week, she put in notice at her job at the Recovery Education Center. She has worked there for almost 8 years, which is a long time.

She sat on the floor in her aunt’s small house in Marin County. In two weeks, she was supposed to go to Australia, where she was going to ride a bike along the southern coast, because she liked the name of the town of Adelaide and wanted to go somewhere far away. She put the ticket on a credit card she’d gotten when she was in college, before she became a graduate school drop-out living at her childhood home and working part-time at a dog kennel out in the county where she would, one afternoon, find an entire horse skeleton in the pine woods behind the kennel, and quickly snatch the skull from the ground and run like she’d stolen something to her car, where she tucked it into the trunk, now a sacred object to her.

She did not question why she loved it.

Sitting on the floor of her aunt’s small house in Marin County, still believing that she would go to Australia, planning to walk in the city the next day, unaware that that night she would dance erotically in front of the sliding glass door in the bedroom to the deck, and wish she weren’t alone. She had learned to be alone. She liked being alone, but sometimes she got a bored and lonely feeling. She slid the thin volume of poems by Pablo Neruda. Of course her aunt would have these poems, gentle yoga-doing aunt in California. “I have no never again. I have no always. In the sand, victory abandoned its footprints…I repaid vileness with doves.”

It is the only poem that she can remember most of the time. It told her about herself, about something shifting and bewilderedly forgiving in her, some plain-faced benevolence and the blithe detachment that she had begun to notice as people drifted in and dropped out of her life, as she herself spun slowly off into some eddy or another, completely disappearing.

She was beginning to understand, sitting there on the floor of her aunt’s house, that everything changes and that what matters is to try to be good.

Some reflexive part of her rolls her eyes at this, snarks.

Still, she thinks that a lot of people try to be good, that a lot of people who might even be doing some really horrific stuff, even genocide, might be trying to be good. Trying to do the right thing.

People are sometimes atrocious idiots about what they believe the right thing to be.

September 12.2018 12:31PM

It made her feel weirdly sick sometimes, to remember what she

believed, what she imagined and hoped for.

The girl pulled herself out of the backseat of the Suburban, dragged

her bag across the bag seat, got her bear. She was thirteen years old,

and she carried the bear by its arm. The place looked like a boring

hotel, with its sets of glass doors, it’s lamp in the lobby, curved

desk at the entrance. The sun was beginning to go down, but a person

sat at the desk like a clerk. This wasn’t a doctors office. It never

closed. It was always open, because it was a hospital.

They had to be buzzed in, and they walked stoically across the no-slip

mat between the first doors and the second doors, none of them

speaking, her father leading. She felt a numb electric heaviness in

her as she and her mother went to stand off to the side while her

father talked with the clerk-lady.

“Yes, good evening,” she heard him say, pleasant and southern, the

faux gentility he’d learned from growing up with old ladies. When in a

terrible and awkward situation, like taking your daughter to an

in-patient psychiatric unit, it’s best to just be polite, to not say

anything about what is happening, to get through it with the minimal

upset or expression of emotion. “We’ve spoken with you.” A cordial

introduction of the family name, “We’ve brought Faith. She has an

intake.”

The girl stood off to the side with her mother, the voice of her

father drifting across the empty space of the place, hitting the doors

in every wall, pressing against the glass windows to the small central

garden, where people who looked like tired normal people smoked

cigarettes in loose clusters. Adult patients wearing no-slip socks or

slippers. Lighting their cigarettes on a small installed hot coil,

pushing the button and leaning their faces to the wall where the heat

sprang up. Nobody could have lighters

There was a list. Her mom made notes on the same yellow legal pad she

wrote grocery lists on. “You can take razors, but you have to check

them out.” “You can’t take anything aerosol.” “You can have one pair

of shoes, but no laces.”

The girl stared at her old white Keds, stained grey at the edges with

the dirt from home. She pictured her feet, riding a bike, hot sun on

the new-paved roads. There was no way she was going to cry, though

feeling in her was a great building wave, a thick heavy pulling, a

sucking toward the bottom.

It was hard to breathe. If she said anything, she would cry. A nurse

came. A lady. Her parents were told to leave, to leave her there.

She felt an enormous panicking inside, but understood she could not

move, that she could not do anything, or say anything. It was hard to

breathe. Her hand was sweaty hot still holding the bear. “You’ll need

to give that to me,” the nurse held out her hand. “You can have it

back later.”

“Faith, we’re going to go.” Her father made the

sad-sounding-but-factual declaration. “Give her the bear.”

“We’ll talk to you soon. In a couple of days.”

Her mother looked sad. Her father looked sad. They were leaving her

here, because she’d done a stupid thing. They were getting her help.

 

She gave the nurse the bear, dropped her head, felt her entire face

trembling with the child-grief she’d known for as long as she’d been

alive, that ocean of crying in her. “Okay,” Her voice broke. “Bye…”

There was a payphone by the river, down on Second Avenue, and she

cried on the phone with her mother. “I don’t even know where to go!”

 

She was standing in the middle of a beautiful city, a brand new city.

A place that is real and existing and that she is standing in,

thousands of miles away, finally, from home.

Of course, she wants to come home.

She is always wanting to go home. This time, she will not, and she

knows this, even as she is going through the motions of her

homesickness, talking on the phone with her mother, she knows this.

Underneath the confused big feels of being far away and in a totally

new place, there was a bright and vital excitement. She was far away

and in a totally new place.

It was hard for her to find friends, because she is strange, with

short bleached hair, wearing massive flat knit sweaters, old army

fatigues, dirty boots. She is not a stylish punk, sitting in her

student housing room, listening to Born Against and eating pizza while

staring out the window at people walking by the science building,

teams of white and green crossing the field to the Athletics Complex.

She was friendly enough, and met a nice lesbian girl down the hall,

who she could not kiss because she did not want to be loved by this

girl.

When she lost her favorite brown sweater, she made a flyer, “Missing

Sweater,” drew a picture of it, an amorphous alive looking thing.

“Beloved Brown Sweater, Call With Any Info.” She only got one call, a

message, a guy laughing, saying she was a fucking loser. Lose-er.

She didn’t understand why, but it made her feel bad.

It was easy to find the record stores. They were everywhere, all of

them different, dust-and-plastic, paper incense smelling caverns

filled with sound and pictures, patches and studs, used microphones,

rickety racks of t-shirts, flyers taped to the counter. This was no

mail-order. All of the 7” Screeching Weasel Eps were there, all the

Jawbreaker, the J Church 10”. She didn’t care if she didn’t have

friends, not really. She liked hanging out, talking with anybody or

not talking to anybody.

The smallest record store was right at the foot of the bridge, and

half of the space was gutted out for a plywood, black-painted stage

for shows. It used to be Thee O, but that place was gone, and a new

place was there. It was only her and the tall slouching guy behind the

counter, bangs like a Ramone. It surprised her when she asked, “Hey?”

and made the guy look up.

“Yeah?”

“Do you know where the punk rock scene is around here, or where the

punks hang out?”

She had seen people with mohawks in the park, rail-thin and scowling.

She had seen a small gang of Skinheads-Against-Racial-Prejudice type

kids, tight-laced boots with their pegged pants. Kind of Ska kids.

The guy laughed, was bemused, “Hmmm, well…”

She was listening, curious. “If you take the number 12 bus to Sandy

Blvd. and get off at 47th, there’s a house there, called the

Powerhouse, you’ll see it, just walk right. It’s by this big

electrical thing.”

September 12, 2018 3:28PM

The corner booth at the Huddle House was her favorite.

There aren’t any gaps in her memory, at least that’s what she thinks. It’s not that she doesn’t remember. It’s that she is lazy about writing down the grit and shine of a couple of decades of her life. It’s fascinating to her, the way she seems caught with one foot in her youth, one foot in her madness, the decades between just brief mentions, phone calls and small occurrences. It’s not as though the years she spent moving back and forth across the country were not important, or that nothing happened during the years she lived in Portland, or the years when her children were young, the years of her marriage, it’s not as though these things do not matter.

In the things she comes back to, however, she finds herself re-telling the same scenes again and again, bounding between her childhood and early adolescence and the time she lost her mind about God and the clouds.

Although she has been living out the years of her peculiar recovery, those years, too are under-represented, at least in the details of the specific things she did to ‘get better.’

She wonders if it is okay if she doesn’t tell about all the moving, about all the different rooms she inhabited, her long trips alone, her education at the university, her friendships and walks over bridges.

Is it okay to say little of her marriage, indicating only that it existed and then ended, that there were concerns about her mental health?

She doesn’t like to write about being a mother, because it is too difficult to be honest. She loves her children. She does not like how white middle class 21st century American mothering  in the 21st seems to erase who she is, the way she does not fully exist as a person within the role of mother.

She supposes that it’s a matter of how she wants to tell the story.

The first time she left home, they towed her car behind the truck he’d bought with his father’s death benefits, drove north through the grey and green of Ohio, Michigan, up to the edge of the biggest lake, where they had a small apartment in a basement and stayed up late at the all-night Mister Donut, playing Gin Rummy and drinking bad coffee while it snowed and snowed after a fall of red leaves and burnt carpet and doomed efforts to go back to high school, where she managed only to do a half-assed report on daguerreotypes in the Civil War and all the kids were much, much smarter than the kids at home, and she was weird, with headaches and a boyfriend she lived with, a GED. She didn’t have to be there. She quit again.

Eventually she went home, broke his heart, that boy she loved who she found at the Huddle House across the street from the county high school where she’d sit and drink bad coffee and smoke cigarettes and glower at the shimmering heat outside. He had pretty hair, long and clean, tied back in a ponytail while he cooked on the line. Rail thin and green eyed, sad all around him because his father had died. He was beautiful to her.

She would be there when he began having seizures coming off of the Xanax he bought from the head cook at the Huddle House. She went to visit him at the same place where she had been, except on the adult unit. They walked through the woods behind the house where he lived on the porch, slept on the floor in the small space that the friendliest waitress had offered up to him. He lived with her and her family, out in the county.

She had panic attacks and went on vacation with her family where she had sex that she doesn’t remember with the owner of the resort on her last night there. She got trichomoniasis and had to go to the health department out by the old county middle school, talk to the nurse, tell her what happened.

“You don’t remember at all?”

“No. Not really.” She looked at her hands in her lap. “I mean, I remember looking down at one point, but I don’t remember much else.”

She took the medicine and moved to Northern Michigan with her metalhead boyfriend. She’d break his heart, move back home.

The year she lost her mind, he randomly got in touch, and stayed in touch. Emailed her back, told her about his family, his work, how he got through his own divorce. He showed up out of nowhere, was a friend to her.

The following fall she was living in Jacksonville. Working at a Subway and feeling depressed with her new boyfriend, a drummer who was still in love with his ex-girlfriend who looked just like Meg Ryan.

She moved home.

When she went to the mountains, she went alone, stayed for nine months, sat silently on the couch of the long-haired man in her English Composition class while the Statw Bureau If Investigation searched the house, walked the boyfriend of his roommate out in handcuffs with heroin trafficking charges. She slept with her neighbor without being his girlfriend, worked in a deli and dropped her classes at the community college, moved to Alabama in the spring to live with her brother for 70.00 a month rent. She worked the day shift at the burrito place that her brother’s girlfriend’s father owned, fucked up the chile rellenos. Slept with man who worked at the Auto Zone, who was attractive, but who she wasn’t attracted to. Drove drunk, went to shows. Said dumb things. Didn’t learn to play the guitar on the porch.

She moved to the west coast in the summer.

September 16, 2018 [Draft, unsent]

She sits on the back porch with the steady rain of the dying hurricane creating a dull noisy ensconce around the house. Big, square house. Dirt on the white paint, day grey and dripping, the kudzu and wisteria hanging down from the young oak and privet, the roof of the shed.

Everything goes to wild, if left to it’s own devices long enough.

She is curious about the unrestrained world, the growth of the hedges if they are not cut back.

September 17, 2018 1:52PM

The wind after the storm was full of cool gusts. The sky a saturated blue with perfect stratocumulus billows drifting steady and lazy up above the mountains.

She watched the currents of air push through the trees of the yard, the spin and rustle of the leaves, reminded herself to just chill, to not be so urgent in her aim to write down the conversation she’d had with mother, which had ended just moments ago as a yellow cement mixer roared by her house.

“I gotta…I gotta…”

Her mother was still saying goodbye.

“I gotta go. It’s too loud here.”

The truck moved up the street, but the sound of it still gnawed at her attention, her mother’s voice sweet and chirping on the phone. She felt like she was going to jump out of her skin.

She hadn’t wanted to be on the phone long, just wanted to check in about how things were out at her parents’ home in the county, where power goes out and roads flood during storms. “Oh, it’s all fine here. Dad’s sweeping the porch, and I’m picking up some plants that got knocked over.” Her mother coughed, something deep and ragged. As Faith listened, she looked at the leaves of the calycanthus down in the yard, big and broad on the under-branches of the woody shrub, adapted for the lack of light. She wondered, briefly, if her mother would die of lung cancer, if she’d get emphysema. She feels briefly sad, picturing it, her happy mother dying and unable to breathe, then puts it out of her mind.

“So, no power outtage or anything?” Faith felt restless. She doesn’t like to talk on the phone, but knows it’s important to call, to make the effort to check in, see how things are going.

“Nope. Everything is just fine. Isn’t it a pretty day?” Her mother is easily delighted. “How are things in town?”

“Oh, fine.” Faith was weary, reporting that everything was fine, sharing segments of schedules, plans for the day, complicated arrangements to leave her daughter volunteering and pick up her son, go back to volunteering. “I went to the store, and I guess I’m just gonna try to get some writing done. I’m trying hard to get this manuscript finished, a draft, a solid draft, done by late-October.”

“I was going to ask you about that! How is it?”

Faith had woken up at 8:00, because schools were on 2-hour delay. Her neck hurt, a sharp grinding pain on one side. She felt upset, and she didn’t know why. Cried for a minute, feeling like a loser who is writing a shitty book.

“The whole thing is a delusion.” The words rose up into her, settled as she walked through her morning. The taking of her children to school, the driving to the store.

“I need help with it,” she told her mother. “I am trying to just get a draft done that is representative enough of what it might be, with help, to find the help I need.”

It is a crazy idea. A dumb idea.

She pictures it on the way home from the store, day sprawled out all sunny and rain-clean. How she will reach out to people, the people she will reach out to. She pulls into the driveway to park under the overgrown canopy of wisteria and kudzu that is encroaching on the house. Feels a little smirk of her clever self, thinking about why she isn’t scared to contact a stranger. She wonders if she will include the emails she sent to strangers in her telling of the story.

She ought to.

Those emails are, themselves, telling.

For the most part, what they say is that she is ridiculous and idiotic. Self-righteous and deluded. Sad, crazy lady trying to prove God with clouds. Thinking people ought to know.

She doesn’t mention to her mother, sitting on the porch, talking on the phone, that she is aware, and has been aware all morning, that eight years ago, on this day, she was one week in from a two week hospital stay on involuntary commitment orders issued by the magistrate on petition by her family.

This year, she has thought about that a lot. It is on her mind, although she tries to put it out of her mind, to pull herself back to the present, to remind herself that it doesn’t matter, was done, turned out okay, etc. etc.

For days, she has had crying coming up close to the surface, confusion and self-doubt churning up her thoughts. She tries not to take it seriously. She is okay, in some broad scheme of things, she is okay. In some ways she is better than okay. She will be okay.

She offers these reassurance to herself, looks around, checks her reality. See, she is not a sad, deluded crazy lady with an impossibly terrible manuscript and a regrettably naive ambition. She is a calm, competent mother of two, driving to the store.

She understands that in working with any large project, an artist will experience moments of destructive self-doubt, agonizing recrimination over how idiotic they are to try to make something beautiful and then to only have shit on their hands.

None of this is mentioned to her mother, who is asking some thing about editorial processes that Faith doesn’t have the slightest clue as to how to answer. “So, would someone then help you to figure out what parts might need to be changed, or rearranged differently?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know what would happen. I’m not sure who I will reach out to, or how I will reach out them.”

She doesn’t tell her mother that she saw a young woman in the line at the grocery store with her own mother, a weary tan looking lady, stringy like a smoker, Pink Floyd t-shirt, and her daughter short and plump, greasy hair in the back, a plastic tiara of golden cat’s ears, black lace sleeves on her dress. Kind-child brown eyes.

She didn’t say that she felt strange, wanted to tell the girl something, said “Excuse me…” stepped toward the girl, “Excuse me…” The girl turned. “I like your ears,” Faith knew her eyes were beaming. “Keep being who you are. You’re great.”

The girl smiled, smiled like she was tucking some small found thing into her pocket. Turned, walked away.

“They’re from Hatteras,” the cashier, aging herself with pink lipstick, hair ragged orange-y tufts. “Just going home today.”

“Oh,” Faith handed her store card over the small counter, “Hard to imagine what that must be like. It’s beautiful here.” She looked toward the big windows of over the customer service desk.

The process of beeps and sliding objects that would time out their transaction began, and Faith moved to bag the few groceries, sparkling water and paper towels. “I guess you just have to go, and leave some things.” The cashier shook her head, set the cardboarded brick of canned drinks toward the bags with a thud. “You just do what you have to do, I guess.”

Faith noticed that she sounded uncertain when she said, “Yeah, you can’t just fall apart.”

“You’ve got to be prepared, too.” The cashier was no-nonsense.

“The best you can anyway,” Faith set the bags into a cart. “Seems like most people can barely keep up with what they have to do in their everyday lives, much less get ready for storms.”

She moved to pay, “I’m from South Georgia, down on the coast, and my family finally moved up here, because every year it was drag the plywood out and cover the windows.” As her card was fumbled back into her bag, she disclosed, “My father is still obsessed with weather. He watches it all the time.” Wondered if maybe she’d said too much, shared something that was not hers to share.

She tries not to talk about people other than herself, unless she is talking about people in a general, hypothetical sense.

“Well,” The cashier loosely folded her receipts and the unwanted coupons, once and then twice, handing them over like a small gift, “the more you watch, the more it’s outside, out there.”

Faith stood still for a minute, thinking about this that had been said. She smiled for real and said goodbye. Called back to the lady to have a nice morning.

As she walked across the sparse-filled lot, she felt like crying, and she thought it had something to do with the girl, what she had said to her. “Keep being who you are.”

She wondered if the girl would remember it, if she would remember it if she ever got sad about who she is. Faith knew the girl had noticed her, tall lady, worn grey jeans, flip flops and those tattooed birds on the top of her feet, her too-long hair in a thin braid down her back. People notice her sometimes. She is tall and her hair is too long. She has tattoos on her hands.

“I like your roses,” the checkout guy at the smaller, fancier store toward the northside of town had said the day before, when she and her kids went to get chocolate and popcorn because it wouldn’t stop raining. “It’s funny, because most people, they have sleeves, but they don’t have tattoos on their hands.”

“Yeah,” Faith glanced at her daughter bagging groceries, “the first tattoo I ever got was on my hand.” She laughed a little, “My mom was like, what did you do?!, and…” She paused, “Well…I knew I didn’t want to be a banker.”

She didn’t tell her mother any of this, sitting and talking to her on the day after it had rained all day, the anniversary of her admittance to Copestone. She didn’t mention any of it.

“Are you looking forward to not having to make the commute anymore?” Her mother sounded excited.

“Yeah,” Faith thought for a minute, “I’m really gonna have to get some things in place though, so I have structure, things I need to show up for.”

September 18, 2018 11:29AM

“I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

 

“Isn’t that kind of exciting?” Her mother is an optimistic person.

 

Faith’s voice had a flat edge in replying, “It’s actually kind of scary.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

October 4, 2018 6:01AM

I do not like to say

that something is like

some other thing

to make these comparisons

naked metaphor

exposed as a fraud

Potemkin village

on the banks of a river

that is like a river

doing what a river does

which is go on and on

like everything

October 20, 2018 1:45PM

I need to remember that if I feel weird, it’s usually because I’m not putting my energy where it needs to go, or am avoiding something I need to be working on or thinking about something in a way that is not useful or that is harmful.

In an old box of papers, i found an early draft of an old short fiction story that seems to not die, about a young man who lives with his grandma (or in some versions, his aunt) and steals a bicycle.

I think I miss writing, and also understand that I need to continue this purification process, and getting rid of stuff, that right now that is important…

I don’t know why I’m going running, other than that my body feels restless and my mind is a little scattered and I have feels.

When I get back, I am going to pick up the young man, then maybe I will get rid of and sort more things and maybe tonight I will sit down and look at writing…I never did write a poem yesterday, didn’t take a single note…

(I probably feel weird because I had stress-dreams about _____ last night and then also this morning, when I went back to sleep.  Oh, I just remembered that _____was in my dream, too, but I don’t remember why or how. )

October 21, 2018 9:18PM

I aimed to write a few notes

on the mystery of dust

millimeters thick

whether old objects can have a gravity

of their own

like black holes in the attic

Questions like this

and like the mildew on the underside

of the mattress

how’d water end up there

The microclimates of this home

This moldering life

I meant to take notes

So that if remember how easy it was

to tear up the bridge

Between this house

And the field next door

screws loosened like first teeth

Easy to pull

Damp cracker wood

Under the redbud that’s full grown now

Old like me

The Leland cypress

that scrapes the roof edge

The smaller tree long dead

Like I am not

Yet

I filled an entire dumpster in three hours

Baby toys covered in dust

 

I meant to say something

About the cathartes aura

Flying overhead

October 22, 2018 9:25AM

Through these small and intermittent conversations, we are slowly becoming better and more intentional people.”

She says this to the barista, pulling the heavy door to open toward her, stepping back into the day. Under her hat, light green cotton flat knit, pulled from a free box four years ago, her hair is unbrushed. The morning is cold, surprising frost on the ground, breath in the air. Somehow the summer is gone, and there was no autumn, just a few lightly brisk days between the warm and the damp chill that will be in the mountains until spring. Yesterday, she noticed herself missing the glaring heat of June, July. The heavy buzz and sweat in her eyes of August. She knows it will be a long time until it is warm again. She wills herself not to miss the summer.

It has been one week since she left her job. Last Monday, she was still an employee of __________. Signing off on her unfinished service documentation notes at a small table in the upstairs kitchen of the administrative offices in a town she hardly ever went to.  There was brochure about schizophrenia on the windowsilll. “A serious brain disorder,” the clean typeface told her. “Symptoms often disabling.”

Her long hair was wet and plaited into three separate ropes, like whips or tentacles, snake cords, one for her, one for each of her children.

“I never knew your hair was so long,” the Human Resources assistant commented, as she slid the checklist to the edge of the desk for Faith to initial. Yes. She had returned her keys. No. She had not returned her name tag. ‘Melted,’ was noted below this box, a summary of her telling the story of when she had found the plastic warped and ink-bled in the side pocket of her driver’s side door, her face bruised black and distorted in the crisp plastic sleeve.

“I guess I’ve always seen it up,” the woman handed her a pen. Faith had worked for ___________for almost 8 years, since the winter she got out of the hospital. She glanced down at the curled ends of her braids, coiled at the curve of her hip where she sat. “Yeah, it’s pretty long.” She felt awkward with the lady, like she felt with a lot of people. She was not normal.

A person can spend years doing something, and then – bam – it’s done, no fanfare, no crashing or celebration. A simple walking away, a vertical line of checked boxes, a form slid back across a desk.

She took a picture of herself on the day standing in the parking lot, smiling and with crinkling skin around her eyes. She looked old, but happy.

***

Her hip felt like it had bees in it. A buzzing ache and sting. She’d been dreaming about the people from work again. For the past three nights, she had dreamed about them. During the day, she did not think about them. The pain in her hip woke her up.

***

When she was a child, she was terrified of nuclear war.

She used to be scared of nuclear war

and imagined the girl asleep by the tree

In the painting hung behind the couch

To be a refugee of some sort

In her frilled edge dress

Alone with a town in the distance

Sleeping under a tree

Like she might be dead

Or like everyone else might be dead

There in the painting

Hung behind the couch

With its upholstered hourglasses

Like ladies

No arms no legs no heads

Just body shapes repeating

While the television talked about Gorbachev and Reagan

Nuclear weapons

Blaring out to her grandmother

Sitting in a chair like a throne

Too old to care if the world might end

Because of angry, serious men.

October 31, 8:23AM

It is not unusual for a person to have unwanted belongings, to have piles of old things wedged into the corners of their lives, into the closets and spaces above the rooms. Faith didn’t like the feel of these things, lurking in the dark of her house. She wanted to be rid of them.

The pangolin is born without knowing

that it is a creature in a dying world

it scuttles across the earth

with no idea

that the smoke in the distance

is terrible

the bitter in the ground

poison

born with just a few others

Soft scales and the pull of the muscles

Across the back

The safety of a ball

Curled,

a tight-fist

In the hollow of a tree

Where the roots washed out

A hole in the ground

November 9, 2018 10:01AM

Warm sky in your eyes

The glow of underneath leaf

Water in the air

Rain carries the scent

you warm in the heat of day

cooled now, grey comfort

 

November 11, 2018 9:06AM

feel it again

Gathering as leaves

Warming as the day peaks

promises of ‘next year, next year,

By this time next year’

The rake scrapes across the stone

And something like laughter

makes her shoulders rise and fall

Just a little

Almost a shrugging off

old convictions, mislaid goals

The pages of books never written

Drifting unseen as always

To join in the spinning of air

The making of promises

Can you feel it again

November 11, 2018 [Draft, not sent]

The late-model sport sedan pulled up to the curb and the driver, a young man with a soft body and a nice enough face, eyebrows raised in question, half-concern, leaned over and opened the passenger side door, pushing it open toward Rachel. “Do you need a ride?”

Rachel didn’t need a ride, she was standing in front of her house and didn’t have anywhere she needed to go. It was nighttime.

She was standing down on the small strip of scraggly grass between the sidewalk and the street. She thought that maybe people were watching her, and she wanted to show them that she was not scared.

I shrugged though, and got into the car, which had a smell like old foam going yellow under the dusty fabric seat covers. It was an old car, a Nissan or a Honda, small and boxy, no aerodynamics, close-feeling in the front seat. The door was made of metal, creaked on it’s hinge and clicked shut. Rachel held her legs close together, her arms pressed into her side. She could smell herself, acrid and full of smoke, oily sweat from the hot day sitting on the porch taking pictures of clouds. “Where are you going?”

Rachel thought for a moment as the car moved her away from her house and up the street toward the middle school and downtown. “I guess just around the block.”

There was a Funyun bag on the floorboard, open and empty, gaping and silvery. “Around the block?” The man looked confused. He was trying to be helpful, or maybe to get a date.

11/16/2018 [Draft, not sent]

Motivation:

To understand my personal experience, and to explore ways that reality is constructed in human consciousness. To develop a *simple and straightforward* overview of ways that learned perceptions, beliefs, and feelings work together to create what we understand to be our experience.

November 17, 2018 8:31AM

“You don’t even have to worry about what other people have said about anything.” Edward sat cross-legged on the bed, gestured a dismissive wave to reviewing the literature. “You’re an original thinker. You have your own ideas.”

Rachel stared at the corner of the white room, and could feel the slight twist of her mouth. She was listening, thinking. She couldn’t look right at Edward when they talked about ideas. She was easily intimidated by the bright set of his eyes, distracted by the way his mouth moved, forming words.

It has been months since she wrote with any regularity at all. She is out of practice. Words come slow and awkward, creatures creeping out from the edge of the wood. Timid, quick to scatter.

She is not sure if she has anything to say. Remembers that yesterday, driving down the backside of a mountain where she’d stood with her best friend and watched a sunset they hadn’t meant to see, she had the thought that she used to write fearlessly, and had felt a dull pang of having lost something bright in her until she remembered that she hadn’t actually been so fearless, and, besides, it was easy to pretend to be fearless when nobody was watching.

All day long she has deja vu and wonders if she may have a little bit of brain damage.

November 21, 2018 9:24AM

I start over again.

November 23, 2018 10:39PM

Always,

a day full of voices

Warbled and piping

Bowed heads

and the happy, kicking feet of children

Old brows stern with the serious business

Of giving thanks

and the rituals of passing plates,

setting knives aside

with a gracious hand

 

Outside,

Away from talk

of games and scores,

sickness and health,

plans, a grievance,

maybe two,

wishes and a regret,

the solemn nod to the seat

now empty

 

owls call into the dark

roots rest in cold soil

dry leaves spin silent to the waiting ground

their arrival announced

in a whispering, settling sound

that nobody hears

While water falls across rocks

Stirring up wind

That blows branch and limb

against the windows

of warm houses,

and shudders the flames

of fires burning

all night long.

This year, on the fourth November Thursday, I spent the night outside with my best friend/person whom I love, eating cold fruitcake my father had baked and talking about the ways that families change, the holidays that nobody has much energy for anymore, and the slow emergence of new traditions.

November 24, 2018 9:36AM

She knows that this uncertainty is an inescapable part of being human, and on some days she even tells herself that her shifting take on what is real makes her more honest than the average person, who might cling to some made-up version of a story about what is happening and how the world works, who they are and what they are about without even realizing that they are living a lie, consoling themselves with a fiction. She believes it is a good thing, ultimately, that her grasp of the truth is fumbling. She knows, if she knows anything, that the closest thing to truth that she might hold is that her hands are empty, dumb in the air like cups, cradling the shape of a bird that has just flown off, damp with the water that they cannot hold.

She scowls when she says the word delusion, spits it out, bitter and dismissible. “If you believe something is real,” she says, ‘then it may as well be real.’ There are holes all over this statement, and she knows it. What she is trying to say is that if a person believes something, really believes it, then that belief becomes real in their experience, shapes how they see the world, creates fear or wonder, makes them feel things, builds their understanding of what is what and why.

Just believing something is real doesn’t make it real outside of the person, but it can make it real inside the person, in their mind and in their heart. That, to her, is important, because if something becomes real in someone’s mind, it shapes what they see as real outside of them and what a person sees is what the world becomes in their perspective, in their experience.

She tries hard not to be crazy, not to draw implausible lines of causation between unrelated events, not to interpret what she sees or notices, to take things at face value.

She ran up the trail, her footsteps and hard breathing making the quiet woods loud. Down the ridge to her left was the river, a grey-blue glint between trees. The ground was muddy and sweet-smelling after rain. She stepped into the thin grass beside the narrow strip of worn path, her pace slow and plodding as a military march. The sting was like a punch on her right ankle, and she leapt back onto the trail, sped up without thinking, catching a glimpse of the yellowjacket zigging over the ground like a warplane warning. She didn’t pause to look at the sting, felt it warm and pulsing down into her skin, toward her bones.

“It is just a yellowjacket,” she reminds herself as she resumed her slow, deliberate pace in running up the hill. She ought to be careful to be true to who she is, to keep working at her goals, to not get distracted and dreamy, to keep going. “It is just doing what yellowjackets do,” she counters her thought that the sting means something, is some sort of message, some sort of clue. “I stepped near its nest, and it stung me. That is what yellowjackets do. It doesn’t mean anything.”

On the way back down the hill, she got stung on her left ankle, the twin stings like the marks of Mercury’s wings. Her feet became heavy and swollen, burning and itching, hot and red. She left work early, and sat on her porch with her feet elevated, trying to write a book about how she saw god in the clouds. “It was a gift,” she thought, regarding her puffed up feet resting on the bench that serves as a railing on her porch. “The yellowjackets gave me a reason to go home early from work so that I can write.” She notices this thought, this belief, but doesn’t bother arguing with it, because what does it matter if she believes that yellowjackets are her friends.

“I have a lot of wasp energy,” she explains to her blue-eyed lover, a man who she believes she has loved before, in many different lives, possibly forever. She tells him, her best friend, about the time she ran through a ground nest of yellowjackets down by the creek she grew up beside. “I was running through the woods and all the sudden there were yellowjackets all over me, everywhere, coming up from the dead oak leaves on the ground, hitting my arms and head and legs like hail or little stinging stones, and for some reason I just stood there, stopped running, didn’t move, just stood there and screamed until my father came and picked me up, swatting the yellowjackets away from me, carrying me home with my dozens of stings.”

“I have a weird thing with yellowjackets,” she explains, and doesn’t understand how she can believe something that she doesn’t choose to believe, how she can believe something that doesn’t make sense at all. The yellowjackets are not her teachers. She is not a wasp.

Her lover is kind to her about the strange things she believes, because he believes strange things, too. He is a vulture; she is a wasp. They laugh and talk about whether or not they might be crazy. As a reassurance, they have a ritual of rationally disproving the supposition that the world is speaking to them through birds and insects, animals in the forest, wind and dreams.

She types ‘what is a delusion’ into her phone and reads through the stern definitions of unshakeable beliefs despite contradictory evidence, symptoms of mental disorders. It doesn’t seem so simple to her, that we should believe only in what is agreed to be real. She laughs at all the outlandish things people believe. Her beliefs are innocuous. They don’t hurt anybody.

November 23, 2018 10:38PM

Truth is a slippery thing, flashing and twisting as a fish under the water, a fin breaking the surface briefly. This is not to say that she is a liar, only that she doesn’t always know what to believe. She tries hard to tell the truth, and can count on one hand the times she knows that she has lied. Nonetheless, she has struggled with what is true, what is real.

December 3, 2018 9:50AM

People want explanations. They want to understand why things are as they are. They’ll take whatever answer they can get, provided it makes at least a little sense and resisting disproval by being vague. Who is to say that she did not end up with the way she is because of her nervous bloodline? Who is to say that she does not have some sort of imbalance?

She thinks that the way she feels and how she thinks are more complicated than just genetics and chemical imbalances.

It’s been two days since the one year anniversary of her making the golem and burying it in the sandy dirt on the thin spit of land between the creek that runs beside the bank and the larger flow of river that is Dark Entry Creek. She folded the papers inscribed with the Hebrew word to animate the golem and put the bundle into a small box with a shard of bone hammered from a deer’s skull, a single grey hair from her own head, and several small crescents of fingernail, a sprig of cedar leaves, dirt from her great-grandmother’s gravesite down at the cemetery near the pavilion downtown, and a paper towel stained lightly with her own blood in the faint shape of a heart, from the towel she had pressed onto her fingers after she got them tattooed, two small hearts on her middle fingers.

She had gotten the idea for the golem a few days before she went home for the first time in years and years. Many ideas come to her as she is driving to work. Ways that she might start the book, ways that she might finish it. She is getting older, running out of time, beginning to forget.

When she thinks about the book she feels young again, like anything is possible and everything will be alright. It is a feeling, a definite sensation in her chest, a pressing lightness, a thin excitement. It is the feeling of walking out of school, of getting into a car and driving away from home. There is a part of her that believes that if she can write the book she might be able to feel that way forever, and that – conversely – if she fails to write the book, she will – more and more – feel that other feeling, the feeling of becoming old, the feeling of death creeping in. The more she does not write the book, the older she becomes, and she wills herself to not believe these things, to not think about these things. She will not die if she does not write the book. Her spirit will not wither. Her skin is not wrinkling because she has failed to write the book. She is getting older. It is as simple as that. She will continue to get older, whether or not she writes the book.

(It is hard for her to unbelieve these things, to not feel a powerful fear about this idea.)

(With tattoos on her hands there is no pretending that she is not strange.)

The light in the mountains two days after the one year anniversary of her creating the golem is the same as it was the morning after she buried the golem in the dirt by the home she grew up on. She didn’t know whether to leave the golem or take the golem, but wondered what the people who were buying the land would think if they found it, crumpled and decaying, the edges of the box gone soft and pulpy. She walked out to where she had buried it, and found it laying on the grass, pulled out of its hole. An animal had dug it up, smelling the scent of her fingernails and the nacho chips she had eaten the afternoon before, hours before she made the golem at sunset, bit off her nails and put them in the box. An animal had dug it up or, like a real golem, it had clawed its way out of the ground, pushing up at the soil, animated by the directive will to exist, to be a book out in the world. Her golem was a book, a book golem. A small little sheaf of numbered pages, tied together with twine. She had tried to write a book for years. Maybe a golem would help her.

It had been a year and two days, and she still hadn’t written the book. She had tried, had even quit her job at the beginning of the fall, in the final stretch of time before the close of the year, but her book was not written. She would have thought that she’d be sad, or frustrated with herself, to have – again – not done the thing she’d set out to do. She had tried, had piled together a few hundred pages of old emails and rough-draft essays, had written out partial stories that she thought she might include, stories she thought might be important pieces, but that she didn’t care enough about to finish.

She catches herself in her thinking, it’s not that she didn’t care, she counters as she wonders how the light here in the mountains can look so similar to the light down by the river. She did care. It is hard for her to think straight, hard for her to remember. This is why she didn’t finish the stories, why she didn’t write the book. It is hard for her to think straight. She wonders if her mind is beginning to fail because she is getting older, or because she is the subject of a spell, a curse, a bad juju that comes at her because she dabbled in magic.

December 3, 2018 9:50AM

She knew, as she fell, that she’d made a terrible mistake, that she’d let go of the rope. The rough fibers of cord still burnt at the edge of her hands, from her trying to hold on, from her slipping. It was easy to let go after her legs went loose and her feet plopped dumbly into the air under the leaf swing, swinging and kicking like fish on a line, hanging limp after realizing the uselessness of their muscles in this space where there was nothing to push against, nothing to put one’s weight into.

She didn’t decide to let go, she just did, and was almost surprised when she found her body flinging itself out across the leaf-littered ground under the oak tree like she was not heavy at all, like she was a branch or a stuffed animal flung for the sake of flinging, a half-spin and upward arc marking the path of her ascent.  She was too little to know that time slurs in the moments right after a terrible mistake is made, the seconds immediately preceding something very, very bad happening, when it is too late to change course, when the fall, the crash, the breaking is inevitable and all you can do is wait for it, see it coming, shield your eyes, brace yourself for the impact. She didn’t understand that it was normal to be stunned, normal to be confused, to grab at the air and then go limp, baffled to find that you’ve become an object falling through the air on a perfectly lovely Christmas morning, right there in the front yard, where it is already warming up because it is always warm where you live and the sun is glittering like tinsel on the river and everyone is having a great time there in the mid-morning after the waking before dawn and the opening presents with the fire in the wood stove going just for the effect, until the room was stuffy, way too warm, and the sun rose to glare through the windows and the sound and feel of crumpled red and green papers was a bother to the nerves, sick taste of peppermint and chocolate sugar across the tongue.

December 3, 2018 10:05PM

The boxy bright brick sedan pulled up to a slow stop at the curb, idling in quick rasping breaths, shuddering belts and struts. A young black man with a soft body and a nice enough face, round and probably a lot like his mama’s face, a lot like his grandma’s face, eyebrows raised in question, half-concern, leans over and opens the passenger side door, pushing it open toward Rachel. “Do you need a ride?”

Rachel didn’t need a ride, she was standing in front of her house and didn’t have anywhere she needed to go. It was nighttime.

She was standing down on the small strip of scraggly grass between the sidewalk and the street. She thought that maybe people were watching her, and she wanted to show them that she was not scared. There were many tests.

She shrugged, “Um…yeah, thanks.”

The car had a smell like old foam going yellow under the dusty fabric seat covers. It was an old car, close-feeling in the front seat. The seat creaked as her weight settled, and she could feel the springs under her hips. The door was metal, heavy and squealing on it’s hinge as it clicked shut. Rachel held her legs close together, her arms pressed into her side. She could smell herself, acrid and full of smoke, oily sweat from the hot day sitting on the porch taking pictures of clouds.

“Where are you going?”

Rachel thought for a moment as the car moved her away from her house and up the street toward the middle school and downtown. “I guess just around the block.”

There was a Funyun bag on the floorboard, open and empty, gaping and silvery. “Around the block?” The man looked confused. He was trying to be helpful, or maybe to get a date. He turned off the Main Street, moving down the same hill that on different days and in full sun she had walked with her children, just a walk around the block, ambling and hand-held.

She didn’t think about that, moving down the hill in the dark. She just sat with her knees tight together and her hands laid flat on her thighs. “He is nobody,” she thought. “Just a regular person. A man who has picked up a woman, who is giving her a ride.” She felt, nonetheless, that what she was doing was being seen, was being witnessed. It was wondrous and funny to her, how people do not even know they are being watched and being seen through, that people do not even know that something is working through them. She saw herself, a brave woman riding in the car of a stranger, saw herself as from above, slightly to the right, looking down into the passenger window of the little red sedan that was cresting the hill at the top of the street she lived on. She could see the dark shape of her house, the lamp on in her room.  The light was orangey-warm. She wanted to go home, wanted to get out of the car immediately, to push the door open and tumble into the night air, to stagger back into the life she had before she had become a woman who got into cars driven by strangers.

“Why are you doing this?” The young man asked her, nervous and with only a half-glance her way, like he was embarrassed, or afraid. “Why did you want a ride?”

“I just wanted to prove that I could it,” she said this matter of fact, as though no further explanation could possibly be needed.

“Okay,” the young man said, a tone of understanding, almost agreement. “Okay.”

The car came to a stop right across the street from where he had picked her up five minutes before, and she had her hand on the door handle as he put the car in park. “Are you okay?” He turned toward her, shoulders twisted in the small space of the driver’s side. Rachel laughed a little, trying to be casual, like there was nothing strange about any of it, like she knew something that he didn’t.

She felt a grain of doubt in the center of her trust. She wanted to get out.

December 3, 2018 10:23AM

As the summer wore on, she saw more and more shapes in the clouds. She began to study them more closely, to document them. “Surely,” she thought, “it must mean something, a cloud like that?”

 

 

By the time the mornings became cool and the insects started to sing their loud droning dying songs, the unemployed ex-genius mother of two was taking hundreds of pictures a day of the sky, believed that the sentience of the earth was in contact with her soul. To believe, to really believe, that you are seeing God can wreck a person’s mind. What are you supposed to do if you think you’re seeing God?

All she knew to do was weep and tremble in the front yard, awash in an overwhelmed and singular awe, again and again, with each rolling cloud that looked like a crown of light, a sacred heart, a serpent and an omega.

She took the pictures because she did not know of what she was seeing was real or not.

Within several to email the Vatican by contacting the television and media office in Rome. She also emailed St. Paul’s Outside the Walls, and major newspapers across the country. She believed, without knowing why she believed, that an international consortium of enlightened telepath geniuses that were aware of her every move and thought had taken up residence in a ridge line apartment complex directly across town from her house, near the cell towers where she had watched the sunset with her kids when they were little. Songs that streamed to her computer began to take on a strange, telling significance. She listened to the radio more closely, reading the songs for themes and clues. She attempted to contact a prominently reclusive indie rock musician through an independent film company because she believed that the musician was somehow spiritually involved in the electromagnetic culture jamming campaign to save the future.

In an effort to understand what the fuck happened in her life to make her lose her mind the way she did, Faith Rhyne has spent the past 8 years emailing herself long-winded thoughts and questions about the nature of human experience and interconnectivity in the world.

December 6, 2018 9:27PM

When the ground got broke

they didn’t know they’d found bones

in the grey toned earth

calcified sand

down past marrow

just dirt now

sold cheap by the new road

implements already looking like rust

Soon as they get set down on the lot

Hay breathing gold dust

Out into the late afternoon

Some kind of heavenly light

To distract from the red-stained earth

And the smell of cooling soft Clover

thick on the tongue

Like the forgotten accents of places

We didn’t know better but to call home
It was surprising to us,

How woods turned into fields

How fields turned into lots

Into yards

Into the low slung blocks of storefronts

Carpet and tile, beauty and sports

Used to be a family, back there on the line

Behind those big windows

See everyone pull into the lot

Wave from the counter
November 7, 2018 12:39AM

We can say things in those places.
December 9, 6:44PM

Let the damp leaves of our stories

find a place to settle
December 10, 2018 8:39AM

It was better,

she decided,

to do this,

than to do nothing at all,

than to sit on her back

spine curved,

legs up

feet propped

on the stove

like a teenager

with fire burning

The backs of her thighs

sullenly regarding the gathered

blooms of weeds taken

from down by the street

Out in the snow

The dried husks of flowers

A ten sided shape

she’s forgotten the name of again

And still,

It is better to do this.

When the screen shows

helicobacter pylori

In the scroll of outcomes

As she looks for homes

Outside of a small town to the north

Maybe along that moldy creek

That damp bottom

With the winding road

That no one wants to drive

Couldn’t get out at all

If there was any sort of weather

Any sort of snow

She worries about the sour taste

in her mouth

checks the balance

Does the math

Wonders how to escape the inevitable coming up short

And considers

her great grandmother’s stomach

Discarded full of cancer

A one to two percent chance

Isn’t much at all

Still it is a strong enough likelihood

To remind her to live well

December 10, 2018 8:58AM

It has been a few months since I sat to write simply for the sake of writing. I got it into my head that I ought to be ‘working on my project’ and not distracting myself with long-winded self reflections or notes about the light of the day or some bird that I saw. If I wasn’t working on ‘the book,’ then I was getting distracted, wasting my time. Of course, the book was dead in the water months ago, a bloated digital document twisted and contorted on itself, bobbing conspicuously in my Google docs, slowly sinking further and further down the page as I opened the project less and less frequently.

So, I stopped trying to write the book, but I also stopped journaling, and that was a mistake.

I have managed to write a few poems here and there, more as an exercise in not letting my writing completely die than anything else.

The snow just turned to rain, and the rain will melt the snow. I am sitting in my dining room, which is also my living room, because I have rearranged everything again.

December 10, 2018 10:30AM

She kept her grandiosity a secret.

December 11, 2018 8:30AM

She woke up in the morning with the word corporeality hanging in her head, the weight and sinew of the syllables solid and slippery in her thinking as she watched the shape of a bird fly into and then out of the branches on the other side of the driveway. The white room is in the northwest corner of the house and stays dim in the morning, even as the sun rises and the day’s beginning sky is revealed. Today, the sky is blue. It is a bluebird day, clear after storms, and she woke up with the word corporeality on her mind, noticing that she could see the way the limbs of the trees spread out from the trunk looked like ribs. It had been three full seasons since she saw the bones of the trees. She can only see the interior limbs in the winter, when all the kudzu and wisteria has died back to thin roping vines.

Everything looks like a body to her.

She woke up this morning with the word corporeality hanging in her head

Solid and slippery

As a wet bone

A bloody flank

lovely – light! –

like a dancer

In the spread of limbs

Away from trunk

Revealed just past the ropes

Of the summer’s kudzu

And wisteria

Ghost of soft purple and trembling leaf

Now nothing but cold cord

Stronger than it was when it was green

Not yet going the direction of dust

No, that’ll be another few seasons

Of sun and rain, freeze and heat

The way of things

Growing and dying

Small tendrils teaching blind to the edge

Of last year’s purchase still wrapped

Round the branch

That, this morning, looks to her

Like a rib,

And then another,

The elliptical curve

Of a cage

The hollow of a chest

Silhouette of spine

A little breeze blows the withered vine

And the heart stirs

December 14, 2018 10:42AM

The previous year’s winners
She woke up with the phrase second wind clear in her mind

Cold rainy day

December 21, 2018 7:54PM

She wanted to stay asleep, to go back to sleep, fall into the dim blue grey furred feel of warmth under blankets. It was still dark outside, and would be for another hour. The sun rose late and set early this time of year, the day before the winter solstice. It was cloudy already, but the rain wouldn’t arrive until mid-morning. She knew she would regret not running if she stayed in bed. It was going to rain for 2 days.

Her body hurts in the morning, feels sore like an old person’s, moves slowly and stiffly, heavy machinery, rusted during the night. It is easy for her to wake up once she gets out of the bed, but she is still tired this morning as she drives the car toward the forested park on the edge of town. The sun hasn’t so much risen as it has seeped.

***

She was on a small hill by a lake, and the woods were winter woods, full of ash-colored bark and bare branch. There was sun, however, thin and clear and cold, late-afternoon, before the day began to slip into twilight. She knelt down with a tall tree, tall like a poplar or a silver maple, off to her left, within the circle that could be considered to be the base of the tree, within its territory, near like that, beside the tree, under it. There were two little wooden boxes on the ground in front of her.

She didn’t feel at all afraid of the beast beside her. They were friends, she felt, and the creature wouldn’t hurt her at all. She could see that the creature was almost like a bear, big like that, and with fur so thick that it seemed almost to be made of shards of wood, or like it was stuck together with sap. They were looking at the boxes together, she and the creature, turning them over and over in their hands, first one and then the other. They were plain little slat built boxes, with simple hinged lids.

When she moved to open the box on the left, she just barely caught a glimpse of the tiny twisted form inside, naked and like a tumor or an embryo, something conjoined in the way it branched at the top.

She was surprised when the creature snatched the box away from her and stood, almost leaping up, the box held between its massive hands, heavy like paws. She saw then that the creature could easily hurt her, that it was bigger than a bear, bigger than the biggest man, a beast. She still wasn’t afraid though. She felt silly, sheepish, over not having recognized how strong the creature was, and she was stone-quiet as she watched the creature hold the box out from its chest and then bring it fast toward its head as it opened its mouth and slammed its face into the box to shatter it and splinter it, destroying that twisted form.

***

The forest loves her, and she loves the forest. She doesn’t know why she believes this, that the forest loves her, but she does. She feels it, a closeness and fondness, something tender in the mute stands of trees, the watching branches. It’s ridiculous, she knows, to pretend that the forest loves her. The forest cannot love a person. The forest does not sigh a benevolent breeze when she enters the golden green light under the trees, when she moves over the winter-cold ground, feet whispering across the needles of pine.

She knows that the feeling of the forest loving her comes from her, comes from her loving the forest and imagining that the forest loves her back.

12?28/2018 [Draft, not sent]

The crows woke her up, call-and-response code cawing in the pale of pre-dawn. Inside the tent the damp air of the place had gathered on the nylon and formed a thin damp on everything. In the night time, she had kicked the camp blanket off her legs and it was wadded into the corner, a little wet with the morning dew that had gotten inside the tent. This was the beginning of everything getting dirty.

I haven’t written for a while and I have to laugh at the seeming necessity of stating that as I make today’s attempt to resume this practice of noting my thoughts, observations, and ideas. I don’t know why I can’t just start writing again, why I think I need to acknowledge that I have – again – fallen out of the habit of creating a record of what I am thinking about and what I have noticed. It is not always a hard habit to keep up, but it has been this past year. At some point I wondered if it was a worthwhile thing for me to be doing, sitting alone on my porch and smoking cigarettes, writing out what I thought about on the drive to work, ignoring friendships and household chores in favor of the (word?) indulgence of trying to articulate a feeling of hopefulness I had briefly felt in the morning, a question the had come into my mind as a sense of unease and uncertainty, the specific wording of a phrase that I felt was beautiful.

January 7, 2019 [Draft, not sent]

When it became too painful, too distracting, too hopeless, she stopped caring about the world, threw up her hands, averted her eyes. Took a shaking, deep breath. Stopped caring. Did what she had to do. Drove to the store. Swept the floor. Showed up at work. Quieted down the parts of her that were all stamping feet and clenched fists. The outraged howl, the great grief of it all.

“These people don’t care,” she thought, looking around the room, and she felt let down, disappointed, alone.

“I can’t care,” she thought, and she felt let down, disappointed, alone.

On the first day of her new job, she got there early despite having had dreams about waking up at 11:00 am and scrambling to try to be in touch with her new supervisor, fumbling the phone in her hands, finding the number, then losing the screen.

The parking lot of the church was filled with pigeons, and they scattered when she drove up, the rushing sound of wings merging with the roar of traffic on the 240, people rushing around to the other side of town, to work and to home and to appointments, to buy and to bury and to leave for the last time, to finally go back. Who knows? It’s a busy, busy world.

January 10, 2019 3:54PM

It doesn’t matter if some young man is crashed out across the high back chairs in the lobby, hands down in his pants. Butter garlic sauce catching fire in the microwave. Didn’t take off the foil. Egg broke shell hard boiled in the middle of the wood floor and the room all warm with the south facing windows, this place finally quiet after the walking round and round and talking about safe injection sites and the little corners where people might shoot up.

There are nine fake leather recliners around the perimeter of the room, worn dull across the arms, some with black duct tape sealing up big splits and some with stuffing belching out of a seam. The chairs are somewhere between the color of wine and the color of dried blood. On Wednesday mornings, the interns from the acupuncture clinic over on S French Broad Avenue come over and do free treatments. People pull the levers on the side of the chair and the footrest kicks out, they roll their socks down and hold their wrists up, let their eyes close. “Relax,” the interns say, wearing their short white coats, faces placid and composed. Acupuncture students. Vegetarians and meditators. People who don’t drink coffee or eat Cheetos or shoot up pills they’ve crushed into a fine, fine powder.

January 12, 9:55AM

She is sitting by the fire in the morning and is struggling to feel grateful, to feel blessed. In her body, there is a heavy sadness, a feeling of dread, deep unhappiness. She has had this feeling since she was a little kid. It is both familiar and terrible. She doesn’t know where it comes from, or why it won’t go away, why it stays on year after year, quieting for a time, receding, then expanding, like slow breathing across the span of her life, a dragon.

Clinically, it would be called depression.

I fucking hate it. I hate it. I hate it. I hate it.

What a fucking dumb thing that I should have to deal with, feeling angry and sad, unable to talk to the people I love, unable to laugh and be light in my being. Not able to think or have ideas. To be clever or interesting.

Fuck depression. Fuck it, fuck it, fuck it.

She is writing for the sake of writing, not trying to write anything good even, just writing what is on her mind, which is her loathing of depression and her being totally fucking sick of it, again.

January 24, 2019 9:00PM

They drained the lake. Drained it hard. Took the water down so low that it looked like a tidal mud flat.

She doesn’t want to write, doesn’t have anything to say. Has too much to say. Can’t fit in. Feels sad in the morning. Angry in the morning. Walks in the rain, holds the red so that the bowl holds, is reminded now of the broken bowl, the red bowl. She was writing about her umbrella, about how it wanted to whip up and turn in the wind, how it bucked and the wind stung her fingers where they held the red, holding the shape over her head, leaning forward, walking again like she had walked just the other day, when it was only bitter cold, not raining. Funny how these things come round again, the hunched shoulders, the head held down, walking hard into the wind.

Found ten dollars on the ground, and wondered where it came from. It was wet like it had been out there all night, there on the side of the street. She’d only seen two people walking, a young girl wearing baby blue pants and a woman looked like her granny walking fast behind her, smoking a cigarette all slack-lipped and breathing hard, keeping up.

She wondered if she should call the school, see if anyone reported the money missing, wondered if the girl needed it for a field trip. Couldn’t have been too many people walk that way. Maybe the girl lost it.

No matter who lost it, chances were good that they need it more than than she does.

The man held her hand, had smooth, long-fingered hands like a piano player. Some of the street people have hands that are smooth like leather, like they been burnt and then healed. “Would you know an angel if you saw one?” The old drunks are always asking this, and she always says, no, probably not, that’s why she tries to listen, tries to really see. “Look,” his voice is wobbling, “Look at my eyes.” She knows she has been distracted, thinking about the time, where she needs to go, what she needs to do. She looks at his eyes, but can’t lock into them, can’t get lost, can’t really feel him in the inebriated gaze leveled at her.

It’s stupid, she decides, to be angry at herself for not writing, for quitting writing for the year that she all but quit writing. Her thinking about it is messed up. Her accounting is bad. She didn’t quit writing, she never quit writing. She didn’t write as much. Sure. Her writing practice changed. She stopped giving up things so she could write and started giving up writing so she could do other things. Like spend time with her boyfriend, who she would slowly begin to blame for her not writing. Which was stupid.

The year she stopped writing began with her making a book golem and burying the small parcel in the sandy soil on a spit of land that was called ‘The Point,’ because the small creek cut away from the big river there and the currents carved the land into a v shape behind the house where she grew up. The soil was the same, sandy white and rich black, gritty and cool on her fingers as she dug the little hole, tucked the box into the ground. She wanted to eat the dirt, swallow at least a few grains of sand, chew the soil out from under her nails and force the sand back far enough on her tongue to swallow. She wanted to eat the dirt, the ground of this place where she had grown up.

(She didn’t think about any of this as she quietly regarded the pallet out in the mud where the lake used to be. She was watching though, how there was a river at the bottom of the lake, and how there were little rivers that snakes into it, and how the water flowed fast through the flats of mud, just like any old river.
January 29, 2019 8:49 PM

It was easy to smell the spring

Held particles of warming water

And to see it

Daybreak a little earlier, a little earlier

Come on now, where that bus at

See them winter clouds

Nearly like doom

The death of folks

Live down by the river

Can’t get no morphine

Not like out in California

All these people talking

about bashing in they doctors’ head

Some other person’s head

Cut it clean off with a machete

Can’t hardly relax none at all

Even with the door locked

I don’t understand why some days I am full of love and benevolence, a deep appreciation for the people in my life, my life in general. Loving my life. In love with it in a way that I can feel. Warm in my belly, glow around my bones. And then, some other days, sometimes the very next day, I am angry, petulant, scowling and pushing people away. Sabotaging. Wrecking.

She walked up the road with him just like they had the week before, the same road, same cold coming off the mountains around them, the catavatic air rolling down. The road used to be gravel, but the stones were worn to silt, washed away to the clay underneath. It was an easy road to walk, a slight incline, but nothing near steep. The sun was going down and they were talking about gratitude. “I want to be present in deeply loving and appreciating you every moment that you are alive.” Her voice had broken with the proclamation and she felt like she wanted to cry, both because there was a part of her that believed that he might die and because she knew she’d been an idiot to not be damn grateful for every second she had with him. “I will remind myself,” she said, her voice hard at the edge with the grit of determination. She knew she’d forget, slip into some distorted world where things between were bad, where he was trouble.

The owl flew across the road right in front of them. Just like the owl at the lake had done, sat in a tree, looked at them with dark eyes.

“This is just like my dream,” she said. Looked at the rise in the road, the wet gravel of the ground. The pale pink of the sun going down beyond the sheet of heavy winter clouds. “It was just like that, not knowing if it was a hawk. Seeing that it was an owl, and it flew right across like that, going in the same direction, just like at the lake.”

February 11, 2018 8:34AM

If she waits too long, she forgets. It happens all the time, the forgetting. After work she ran, just up the hill and down the hill on the little trail behind the stadium. While she ran, she noticed that his face, slack mouth twisted, side of his face swollen, still showed up in her thinking, even though she was not anywhere near him anymore, even though she was running alone in the woods. She could hear the sirens down on the main streets and wondered if they had to drag him away, lock him up howling like he’d been howling. Before she left, she went downstairs, said goodbye to her coworkers, get stunned still from feeling the vibrations of his screaming voice in her chest, in her body. None of them knew anything about it, what it was to grab the man and hold tight to him, saying “close your eyes, just close your eyes. Can you feel the sound of my voice? Can you feel it in your chest, when I speak? Hold onto to me.”

He was going to stab himself is what he said, but she didn’t believe him, didn’t think he’d really do it. He was digging in his coat for a knife he said was there, screaming for people to get the fuck away from him. She didn’t think about whether it was a good idea to hug him or a bad idea, whether he was dirty or dangerous. He had an infected arm, a dirty needle abscess. His mouth was full of sores. His feet hurt from being wedged into shoes too small. “Let me sit the fuck down.”

She forgets if she waits too long to tell about it, to tell about the day. While she ran, she thought about mercy work and the way it is different than recovery work. She didn’t think about it as complex care work, or crisis intervention work, none of those verbs spun from the systems that exist to try to fix things, that exist to solve problems, to transforming lives, to promote wellness in the community, etc. etc.

There is no solution to a howling young man who is gripped in the agony of his existence, whose brain misfires, whose body is full of virus, full of infection. This wrecked person.

There is only brief mercy. That is the work that is being done when she sits with him. It is not recovery work or complex care coordination, or crisis intervention. It is mercy work. There is no other name for it.

She is not sitting with him to solve his problem, she holds no expectation for recovery, she doesn’t use motivational interviewing to try to encourage a change. She is not inspiring hope.

She is just sitting with him. Hearing his voice, seeing the spittle at the corner of his mouth. How his mustache has grown long to curl over his lip, how he is just a boy with brown eyes like her very own son, wanting to find a ride home down the mountain, wanting to get home.

“I want my mom!” He cries like a little boy, screaming. A tantrum. He told her he is two days clean. Hasn’t eaten. Is dehydrated.

The first time she met him, he was sleeping in a pile of garbage outside the building, blankets and little twists and shreds of trash piled around him, his dog barely noticeable in all the mounds of clothing and rubbish.

He had a machete tucked beside him.

 

The Floodplain

It has, as usual, been months since I posted here.

Here is a longform compendium of small segments of thought and experience, considerations, brief poetry and a dream that I took the time to sit down and note over the past couple seasons.

April 30

On the night before the full moon

I bickered with my oldest child in the wind

About why he could not run off

At sundown,

So we watched the day explode

Glad for the gales that make silence

No need to talk in wind like that

light gold and purple

All across the mountains

 

Walking in the dark

Across the field of dry grass

Spotlight on our backs

Shadows on the road

Knob rising black against the sky

Right under Venus

No lights up there

feet getting wet down here

shifting stones in the ink of the ground

 

I was with my children

Taller than I am

Big in the stream, wetting her head

Her feet, like some baptism

But just silliness then

Silly like the geese in the river on Sunday

Reminding us

not to leave one another behind

“Hi, my name is ——- and I was a patient of Dr ———‘s a couple of decades ago. I am interested in getting my medical records.”

“Your name again?” The voice southern and sunny, highlighted hair in psychiatric lamplight. Dim to soothe the children, to mitigate the heat of the parking lot.

“————“

(There is a pause on the line. My legs are warm in the sun, here in the mountains. Birds are singing and it is spring. I wonder if I will write about this, about trying to get my medical records after 20 years, wanting to read and consider the information they contain about who I was and how I was seen, my treatment and prescriptions. I don’t feel nervous, scared, excited. I don’t feel much of anything, other than my own heartbeat steadily thumping and the sun on my legs, an itch on my nose. “What will I say?” I wonder, “if she asks me if I am sure I was a patient?” I feel something like anger, indignance rising in me. The flash of a building, a parking lot in the sun, the dim of the waiting room, the fluorescence of the hall, scale against the wall, box of gloves on Formica.

“Was this over seven years ago?”

“Yes.”

(I said it was decades, decades ago.)

“Was it over 10 years?”

“Yes.”

“If it is over ten years, we don’t have them. We don’t keep records for that long. If it was before 1999, when we got this system, they’d be in the old system, and we don’t have that system anymore, since we got the new system.”

“Oh, okay. Thank you.”

I thought I didn’t care, but felt a little relief in understanding that I never have to think about or wonder about those records ever again. I don’t think about this often, but it crosses my mind every now and again. When I have thought about those records, I notice that I have a lot of memories and feelings attached to the existence of adolescent psychiatry as a force within my life, a part of my history.

I feel a little upset in my body, a little disconcerted in my head, distracted by quick and loaded memories, unsure of myself all the sudden when I think about those records, other records, times I have been to “the hospital.”

“That shit fucked me up. Fuck that.”

The nervous confusion gives way to a strident sort of defiance, a bolstering. Very adolescent.

I have been to the hospital twice in the past 25 years, once in 2000 and once in 2010. I will never go to the hospital again, unless it is a medical emergency of some sort, some care for my physical body. I will not go to the psychiatric unit again.

I got the idea to call and request my records while I was reading a Psychiatric Times history of child and adolescent psychiatry article and noticing that the author somewhat glossed over the years between 1983 and 2003, when the article was published. There was no mention of the number of children treated, and only general information about what constituted treatment.

The article focuses primarily on the expansion of professional organizations and associations devoted to child and adolescent psychiatry, as well as increased funding for research on mental illness in young people and behavioral health services for children and adolescents.  

It says very little about the young people who were treated or how they were treated.

I looked up this article in response to a line of thinking about how I might reformulate the way I do my work as a “mental health professional” and what I might need to include in my bio, if such a thing existed.

It has been almost 30 years since I was first diagnosed as having a mental illness.

I don’t believe that I was ever sick. I do believe that I was scared, and that I did not know how to handle that fear, nor did I understand why I was scared or even that I was scared. I just knew my body hurt when I got upset, and my chest felt like it was tearing open, and I was angry and I was crying, running down the road, running back, curled into my room like an animal, at ease only when I was alone for a long, long time, away from people, awkward silences, sheepish shame after slamming the door. Misbehaving. Smoking. Sneaking out. Drinking. Just like all the other kids in the military town where I grew up. The town was a mill town before it was a Navy town, and before that it was a shrimping town, and a farming town, just like all the other towns were, in the way-back-when South

Nobody understood why I got so upset. “Count to 10,” my mother would say, and it’d only make me cry harder.

“You’re very sensitive.”

“It breaks my heart to see you so upset.”

When they took me to get the psychological evaluation, they were trying to do the right thing. They did not understand. They did not have access to the ideas and perspectives that would explain what was wrong with me. They only knew that something was wrong and that there wasn’t anything much they could do to help me feel better when I was upset.

Crying on the bank of the river, permed and highlighted hair seeming stupid in my peripheral vision, body exploding in weeping and fear, despairing anger, my father walks silently toward me. “I’m sorry you’re so upset,” he pauses, looks at the river. “Do you want to go shopping or anything like that?”

I only cried harder.

I did not know that I was grieving. Nobody knew that I was grieving, that we were all – in our own way – just torn all up inside over what had happened to home.

Nobody talked about it. We could not name it. It was too big, the new streets and shiny signs, the trees cut down, pine sap bleeding in the sun.

May 4

 

In saying thank you

to a mountain, I rise up

into everything

The reason I write so much about the drive to work is that I am usually wildly inspired by the commute, or – rather – during the commute. I wouldn’t say that I am always full of big, shiny ideas and gleaming clarity as I make my way down the 26 as the sun is rising, but it’s a reliably inspiring stretch of time, watching the light turn to day and checking out the skies, the river flowing under the bridges, shoals alongside the traffic, trees showing their branches in winter, fuzzing into progressive green as the days warm every year.

Sometimes, I don’t feel like driving…and the traffic is bad, the light glaring. I want to be somewhere else, but then I remind myself that I am lucky, and that everything is okay, that this is the day I have, and I start to look around again, imagining the smell of the woods alongside the road, notice wild daffodils. Think about where I’d rather be going, and consider how I might get there, what it might feel like to be near an ocean, writing a book, walking into a desert, waking up somewhere wild and quiet, none of the rush of sound and grey silvery movement, flashing colors of the morning in the city, in the town. Somewhere without cars.

Tonight, on the way home from work, I saw a tractor trailer carrying hearses and a limousine, and I thought about how the best of us will decompose…our papers and canvases, our hair and our bones, love letters and photos, the feel of eyes meeting, the small kindness of a hand being held, the careful spices of a billion loving meals. What will be left of us will be plastic and hard, right angled steel, toxic circuit board wastelands that hold no data other than the materials they are made of, the shapes made of poison and oil.

“Every time I come here, I want to lay down on the ground. It’s a pull, like a dog laying down by a fire or a thirsty person spotting a glass of water. It’s like this quiet powerful urge, that I feel in my body, to just lay down on the ground, and when I do, it’s like the edges of me are erased.”

She looks out across the roll of mountains to the west, ridges glowing spring over purpling valleys, rolling just like an ocean. An ocean of rocks and trees, swimming with millions of creatures, seeping water out of the cracks in the stone, from the ocean underground, the rivers underground.

As they set out walking, when the sun was still high in the sky, even though it was after 6:00, the first long-seeming days in early May, she noticed her heart breaking. The road that ran along the edge of the rising bald used to be a railroad, way up here in the middle of nowhere. On this side of the country, it’s hard to find places where people haven’t cut trails, run wood and iron through the land, cut out paths through hillsides. Within the past 100 years, all of the trees were clear-cut and a rail-line fire burnt the top of the mountain so deep that the soil itself was scorched.

She doesn’t understand why she cries almost every time she goes up there. “Maybe it’s just an emotional release after a long day?” She thinks about the sudden quiet of the mountain when the car finally stops, the hush of the place, empty for the wind, nearby bird song, intermittent murmuring as people pass by, voices swept off and dulled by the wind.

She forgets about the woman crying in the chair across from her, the hours of talking and listening, watching the eyes and turn of the mouth. Thinking, feeling, thinking about feeling. Absorbing and processing enormous amounts of information, trying to be useful, to make the day worthwhile, to learn something, find some beauty. Even on her worst days at work, she still shows up, tries hard to remember that what she offers up of herself matters, that it can change the course of a person’s day.

She is tired of offering herself up.

She looks out over the mountains, watches the sun slip, feels a deep, peaceful void in her, not thinking or feeling about anything. Having nothing to say other than to comment on the tops of the trees cut into the dark.

He was asking her questions about why she wanted to lay down on the ground, what she felt like laying there, what she felt like when she stood up. “Is it like an emptiness? Inside of you, an emptiness, but not bad or scary, just an empty, black space?”

She sat down in the passenger seat of the car. Heard herself laugh a little.

He cocked his head.

“Yes.

We are designed to fight back when we’re scared or to die trying to fight back, to escape. 

May 5

“I was just picturing…” she paused, still feeling the pull of silence in her, that warm black hole, looking for words and images at its edges that might name the shape and feel of it. There was the color black, in the picture of the space between her ribs, the bones there, pictured in her mind, but had no fear of the dark in it. It was a still pool, filled with nothing. “The space between my ribs,” she smiled, words clumsy in her voice, her voice a funny thing coming from her body sitting still weightless in the seat of the car, somehow the same person she was when she had looked out across the forest from the parkway, said hello to Looking Glass Rock, big hulking curve bulking up out of the forest, worn smooth from the thousands of years. 

He laid down first, and she was relieved. This is what they would do. They would lay down under a tree in a little grassy soft spot up off of the trail. She hadn’t ever asked to lay down, hadn’t said, “I want to stop here. I want to lay down.” Constantly, these past couple of months, she has been fighting the urge to lay down on the ground.

She first felt the urge back in the fall, running in the forest alone at sunset, during the season of core sadnesses and deep hopes, of dumping old fears out on the North Slope trail, running in the dark after she learned that the land she grew up on, hundreds of miles away, was finally being sold. Crying on the way to work, near forgotten child-heart all broken and angry over losing home, the decisions of her family, what would never be and what had been. The sensations of the loss tore through her as she sat at her desk, drove down the road, walked through the aisles of the grocery store.

She fought it, that urge to lay down as she rounded a bend on the hill up through the rhododendrons, to where the Art Loeb connector trail meets with North Slope at a little branching in the creeks that run to the Davidson down in the belly of that part of the forest. She could run all the way to the top of the mountain from there, run all the way to Maine, by way of the Mountains to Sea trail up at Black Balsam, the Appalachian Trail further on. She didn’t want to run to Maine. She wanted to lay down, and she fought it as she ran, picturing herself laying in the night, laying forever up under the trees. She’d be cold, nobody would know where she was. The desire to lay down didn’t care, found sweetness in the thought of the dark, the coldness of the leaves under her. She felt like dying, and she kept running, breathing through all of the images that came to her when she thought about home and about why she felt so sad and angry.

She was, somehow, still the same person that she was when she ran in the forest at night back in the Fall, after work, just like now, sitting in the car on the top of a mountain, the day at work stripped away, almost a story, something not real, not close.

May 9

It is important for me to have beautiful experiences, occurrences in my life that catalyze wonder and awe.

Beauty is a feeling, a big open space in the heart of me, a fullness and pleasure, warm calm, open mouthed and quiet.

Beauty has a stillness to it, a soft and gleaming appreciation for existence, beholding the strange fact of me standing in awe on the top of a mountain or in line at the grocery store, catching some fleeting exchange in everything moving around me.

It feels like light in my chest, a warm feeling that makes me shiver a little at the edges, because it excites me, beauty does.

Beauty makes the world feel vaguely full of magic.

(gratitude – love – oxytocin, dopamine if one values beauty and looks for it and then finds it, sensations of reward. Serotonin in the sunlight. Good feels.)

The thing that I find most beautiful is that anything exists at all in the way that it does.

That a stranger can smile at a stranger and silently change the course of their day. That the light in the trees can look like a place I haven’t been to in years, and return to that place to me in the form of sudden memories, the body recollecting what it felt like to be there, to be young, to be happy. The fleeting restoration of a whole lifetime in the slant of light.

I had to expand the way I thought about beauty, widen the scope of what I find beautiful, because it is important to me to have beautiful experiences.

Everybody feels beauty in different ways, in response to different things.

I am lucky, because I have been able to learn how to experience beauty in seemingly mundane situations. Sitting in traffic on the interstate, cleaning the kitchen.

The simple act of breathing amazes me, if I can remember to be amazed.

Some things are more amazing than others.

New landscapes, wide open spaces, a person playing music. Certain forms of art. How love looks on a person’s face.

I like that sort of big, wide-open beauty, the beauty of knowing that seeing something, being somewhere, understanding something, witnessing something…that it has changed me, that I am a better person for having had the experience.

(Measuring “better,” What values do personal growth goals reflect?)

Every human being in the world has felt fear at some point or another. The biological and psychological phenomena of fear and the conditions that create fear within our experience are universal to this species. However, everyone experiences and responds to fear a little differently.

We are all scared.

Basic human functions of survival equip us with fear as a means of motivating us to avoid danger, so that we might stay alive longer. Upon entering the world, we carry in our genes the fears of our ancestors and a wariness toward things that people, in general, ought to be afraid of.

We learn and unlearn fears as part of our experience of living. For some people, living is a terrifying experience.

People live with fear. People live in fear.

When we are scared, our physical bodies are affected. Our heart rate changes, digestion slows or quickens, breathing becomes shallow, our sense of the world is distorted. We can’t think straight. We can’t relax.

We are trying to survive.

Fear is an everyday thing for many people, in some way or another.

Anxiety after watching the news, or gunfire next door, a car stopped in the middle of the road, a city on fire, a storm on the way. A nonsense nightmare that leaves you in a sweat. Getting hurt. Seeing other people get hurt. Being alone.

(How does it feel to me to read over those words, those phrases?

I can feel my heart beating faster, a restlessness below my breast bone.

It’s such a familiar feeling. Fear.)

Fear is intertwined with basic learning processes, memory and association and problem solving. As early humans, we moved about the world seeking to survive, to find food, to stay warm, to procreate and avoid danger, avoid threats.

Our hippocampus makes memories of the things that have hurt us.

We can be frightened by thoughts and imaginings. We can be frightened by memories.

We can be sitting in a totally safe and wonderful place and experience a powerful fear reaction because some small smell or gesture alerted our survival brain of a possible threat. Someone who has experienced harm in association with, for example, a loud, angry voice or a raised fist, might have become suddenly scared in a sports bar. If a person has learned to associate banging noises with something to be frightened of, the hard closing of a door may create a fear reaction, a stress response.

Fear is a form of stress, basic distress.

When we are scared, we are much more likely to think about terrible things than we are to think about comforting and soothing things.

Why would I pay attention to small gratitudes and mental images of puppies if the building was on fire?

We are hard-wired to pay attention to that which is most threatening to us.

When we are under threat, we tend to look out for other threats. We see the world and our circumstances in a fear-framed way.

Sideways glances are suspicious. Everything is terrible.

You can’t stop thinking about it.

Fear itself is frightening, and activates a distorted state of consciousness that may create additional fear. When we are scared we look for things to be scared of, things that might hurt us.

We are more than our physical bodies. We are also our hearts and minds, our spirits.

We have identities and ideas about who we are, whether or not we belong, whether we have value in our families and social groups, our societies.

In many countries, beyond the vulnerable years of early life when one cannot care for themselves, friends and family are no longer necessary for basic physical survival. However, for much of our human history, people would die if they were alone.

In the first few years of our lives, every single one of us would die if we were not cared for by another member of our species.

We do not like to be alone.

Some people are scared to be alone.

We can be frightened by what is happening, and what it means for us in terms of our survival, and we can be frightened by what we think is happening and what it means in terms of or safety, access to resources, or social inclusion and security in relationships we believe are important to our well-being.

We can be frightened by things that have happened in the past, but aren’t happening now. We worry that these things will happen again.

We do not want to be hurt.

May 19

Trees in flood water

Air green and gracious

The smell of the river all over everything

Wet stone and algae

Damp wood and slight death

 

Ticks hanging off of branches

Spiders walk on water

Birds ain’t bothered none

By the ground all covered

In ripples and currents

What do they need the ground for

All the insects clamoring up the trunks of trees

Right there for the taking

May 20

They say to start from where you stand

In this case not standing at all

But laying in the grass and listening to the lake spill over the dam

And into the creek

 

With my children out in the woods somewhere, the small fish swimming

Right under the surface

Fins cutting fine lines

And making little circles

where the water breaks

 

There is no rain at the moment

But it’s been coming down for days

All the rivers swollen and rushing

Hurried along

 

So to start from where you are

I have to begin from here

Laying in the grass and listening to the lake

Spill over the dam

And thinking about whether you ever wonder

If, really, I only want to be alone

[Photo of me paddling a floodplain not taken by me. I am grateful to not be alone.]

I have thought a lot these past few days about what constitutes my muse. These considerations have been impelled by a conspicuous absence of said muse.

When I use the word muse, I am referring to creative and motivating energy, a fluidity of ideas and deep engagement in the creative process, whether that be in the active production of art work (in some medium or another), or in the generation of spirit-feeding motivation, inspiration that may spur on creative endeavors.

All that being said, I haven’t felt much like writing lately. Or drawing. Or doing much of anything. I can consciously recall the existence of ideas and plans and projects, but I don’t feel those ideas the way I did when they were shiny and alive, filled with muse. I can’t seem to connect with the part of me that feels excited to take out paints or play with lines, to write a book. These desires feel so distant that they may as well belong to someone else, some other person that I am, but haven’t been in a while.

My creativity is stifled as hell lately. It is cautious, pensive. Nagging and bloated at the edge of me. I sit down to write and I don’t even know where to begin. I try to begin from where I am, but that bores me, because my life feels boring when I am not writing, boring when I am uninspired. I can cognitively identify that something ought to be interesting to me, or that some scrap of moment is conceptually beautiful on the basis of aesthetics or phenomena that I understand myself to value and to have been moved by in the past, but I don’t feel especially moved.

I don’t feel much beauty when I am disconnected from practices that encourage my creativity, that stimulate my imagination and activate the regions of my brain that generate images and ideas, engage the processes of picturing and formulating, drawing associations, playing with perception.

There is probably some gift in these transitory times of bland neutrality in being, this moderate avolition to create, to participate. It is worth asking myself who I am without my muse intact and active, to observe my life without the golden light cast by imagined possible futures, without the driving anticipation of how much *fun* it’d be to work on this project or that project.

Without my so-called muse, I am left to simply see things for what they are, not gilding them with any glow, not exuberantly moving toward making something. I am just here. A woman on her porch, with birds singing and not meaning a thing, and I can feel it coming back a little, that state of myself that is my muse.

Writing helps me to find my way back to that feeling of engagement, makes the birds singing and meaning nothing feel beautiful, situates me in my life in such a way that simply being alive is enough.

It’s an interesting thing to me, the way that not striving somehow sends forth anything that I might strived toward.

All of my ideas, all of my mirth and motivation, my ease in phrase and line, my delighting in beauty…all of these things are generated by a particular feeling, a sensation in the center of me, a series of fleeting memories and associations, a remembering of who I am, who I was.

Earlier today, I was putting away laundry and thinking about the state of my muse, wondering where it had gone off to and what I might need to do about the situation of my creative quietude, and I had a flash of memory of being young, an adolescent, and all the memory was made of was a recalled light and scent, river and marsh and sun in the late afternoon, this feeling of being inspecifically excited about the future, alive with a motivation to see and experience and to create, to live. It feels a lot like freedom, and it feels a lot like happiness, this little state of being myself in this way.

There is a lot of poetry in me, a lot of imagined drawings, a list of projects and paintings and innumerable possible lives, places I want to go.

If I do not regularly engage the parts of my brain that generate prose and conjure images, those aspects of my neurological function will not be as active. Predictably, there are experiential and psychological consequences to which parts of my brain are active at any given time, how my body responds to what I am doing and not doing.

Because I am a person who has systematically reinforced an action-reward relationship between dopamine, the belief that “creativity is good, using these parts of my brain is good. To be creative and to experience the sensations produced by creative flow is a good thing,” and working toward creative goals, it *feels good* when I am doing art, when I am writing.

If I spend several months in a state of creative frustration, faltering in my efforts to engage in creative work in ways that are satisfying/meaningful (in that they make me feel something – a sense of accomplishment and/or a sense of beauty), if I couple creativity with frustration (by experiencing stress in relation to creative endeavors, by setting goals and not meeting them, experiencing the resulting impediment in confidence and activating old narratives that do not support awesomeness, e.g. “you’re never going to figure out how to get all of this out of your head and onto a page, into the paint. You’re kidding yourself if you think you can. You’re just a go-nowhere.”

It is worth noting that for a long time this narrative was augmented by a drive to become successful as a writer and/or multimedia artist, and/or cultural creator.

I think a lot of creatively inclined people inadvertently shift their motivation for engaging in creative work from doing art for the joy of it, to doing art for the sake of “trying to do something with art” or “make something of myself with art”

…and that is an error in so many ways.

Diverting the purpose of creative activity from an interest in generating experiential benefit (to “do art” because it feels good to do art and doing art enriches the quality of one’s day and life) and doing art for the purpose of pursuing some imagined economic or social benefit is a function of the capitalist ethos of productivity in which activities which do not garner economic profit or advance social capital within a marketplace that values economic success and in which social capital furthers economic success are not seen as valuable and to validate the use of time in doing art one must somehow make art profitable beyond one’s personal experience, externally valuable.

So, the motivation shifts and the relationship to the motivator, which once was to create for the joy of creating and which – in the context of a capitalist marketplace – is co-opted as a potentials means to make money or to achieve social successes which may aid in ones ability to monetize art, shifts as well and all of the resistance and antagonism of participation in an economic model that one believes is unpairing of authenticity and freedom becomes bound up with art, what one wants to create and why.

May 23

My mom and I were walking across a city bridge in the rain. I did not know the city.

The bridge, like many bridges in my dreams, was broken-seeming, oddly constructed, with rattling open stairways dropping down and around pylons that are ridiculously huge, hulking, or dangerously thin, falling apart.

The bridges go on forever. Some sections are blocked, a locked door or a barricade, a break in the wood.

Sometimes I go through these sections, climb over or around the break in the bridge, and sometimes I turn back.  

As I sit here in the waking day, loud birds singing and the smell of rain still in the trees, rising up from the ground as the day warms, I have a sudden remembering of many bridges I have dreamed, brief flashes of the look and feel of them, the parts of the dreams I remembered in the very early morning, held onto for some reason, with just the hints of the whole landscape and sleep story at the edges, in the feeling of going somewhere, trying very hard to get somewhere.

A determined resolve while resting, an adventure, a life-death feel.

In dreaming, I forget I am dreaming, and I am scared sometimes, pulling at a door, encountering a person.

I don’t ever panic though, or cry in my dreams.

I think I know, even when I forget in the dream and am wholly present in trying to get to wherever I am going, trying to avoid whatever it is that I am trying to avoid, to get closer to where I am trying to go, that it is not real, that whatever it is I am doing, wherever it is I am going, it is not real.

It doesn’t matter.

In my dream-thinking, it does matter. In the best sorts of dreams, I am in the dreamt-up landscape wholly. I am myself, but existing in, living in, those landscapes I dream of and I have some spotty knowledge of the place in relation to other places. There is backstory, a sense of knowing what leads to what, where I need to try to go, what is happening.

I am moving towards something important, something that feels like freedom or sanctuary.

In dreams, I am concerned when I am distracted by some dream-time absurdity, technicolor foods and the lure of sex.

I feel worried, but not overwrought. I am optimistic. Always running out of time, but always almost there.

In the night-waking moments of hearing a bird call out, a car door slam, feeling a warm arm, untwisting a sweat-damp sheet from my legs, I become aware of my dreaming, and I am curious about what happens next, eager to fall back into sleep, delighted in the feel of it.

There in the dark, I have an enthusiastic diligence in returning to the world where I have somewhere important to be.

In all of my dreams I am going somewhere.

Trying hard to get there. Sometimes I’m alone, but trying to get to people, and sometimes I am alone trying to get away from people. Familiar strangers populate the scenes, they wait and gather, come along or stay behind.

Sometimes I am with my family, coworkers, people I have known, all with dream-tooled peculiarities in their clothing or behavior, like they are other people.

I dream animals and oceans. Roads and bridges. Rain or heat like I hardly ever feel. Beaches that look like deserts beside oceans, humid places full of light and dark and lush and rubble. Flooded roads, a ruined city.

I don’t remember all my dreams right now, sitting in the sun and hearing the birds, half-considering the day and what it will need of me, what I want of it.

I am remembering a lot of dreams, which is interesting to me. It excites me to have this experience of a clear set of linked memories, bridges I have dreamt of.

As I am writing this, listening to the morning, feeling my heart beat, the segments of bridges and scenes from other usually-forgotten or unrememberable dream landscapes are running in the background, full of the color green, the feeling of damp iron under my hand, the grey of concrete, footsteps, dim light, bright light, old wood.

This morning, I remembered that I dreamt my mother fell off of a bridge.

She was coming down a wet metal staircase, pipes and cables blithely suspended in the air, grey sky clouds glaring in polygons between the struts and pilings.

I saw there was no railing, the river right below, moving fast and thick, dark but dimly clear.

In almost every dream, there is a river.

My dreams are full of rivers.

I wasn’t thinking about this in the dream. I was thinking about how surely she would see the break in the barriers between us and the river, that small space where she might, if she stepped the wrong way, fall down into the pull of the water flowing west.

I watched her left foot slip over the low edge of the metal scaffold we stepped down to as the stairs ended. The idiocy of her white thick soled walking shoe. Her arm flung back, reaching. A pink shirt.

She disappeared over the edge, but – look- there she is, held somehow in a patch of still water, not even eddying, but in an impossible pool, the stillness of a lagoon, not spinning or pulled at all, but hanging there in the water, just below the surface.

Why is she not moving, why is she only hanging there, like we did when we were kids playing dead in the pool?

The water is never cold when my diving body hits it.

I can see beneath the surface. Open my eyes and keep them open. The water doesn’t sting. I do not lose my contact lenses.

I have to hold my breath, but I can hold it for a very long time. For the most part, I don’t even have think about breathing when I am swimming underwater in a dream.

The pylons of the bridge are mammoth dark forms behind my mother, who is still hanging in the water.

Surely the river must be moving, must be currents all around, in the dark beyond where I can see.

It is always hard to swim in clothes.

I have a fleeting concern about being wet.

I feel stupidly casual, swimming toward my mother. I am certain that as soon as I get her out of the river, she will be okay. All I have to do is get her out of the water.

I am biting the collar of my shirt as I swim, because it is bothering my face, wet and twisting. I have to swim down, a strong push of my legs, kicking and straining to get low enough to then swim up under my mother, to pull her arm over my back.

I try to remember how to save a person who is drowning. Picture placards with smooth edged people, cartoon chins confidently lifted, the head of the unconscious swimmer appropriately laying tilted to the side, never face down.

Out of the corner of my eye, there is the mystery of two scuba divers in the silt-water green in the distance.

Will they help? Are they there to help? Why, in the dream, do I not want them to help? Why do I want to save my own mother?

I kick turn away from the divers, and have to use all of my strength to move my mother’s body back toward the bridge, where maybe, just maybe, I can hoist her up to scaffolding she had fallen from.

I thought about this as I struggled to swim, still underwater, not yet having broken the surface, the sleeve of wet pink fabric close to my face.

I pictured it, me holding my mother across my back with one arm, how tightly I would have to grab the metal bracing that certainly would be there. I saw how her body would roll up onto the flat surface suspended in the air under the bridge, and how – then – she would be okay, and we could continue with wherever we were going.

In the dream, we were still in the water when I woke up, close to the surface though. Just about to break into the air, to look for something to hold onto, some way to get out of the river.

June 4

It didn’t occur to her to be scared of the wind on the Parkway, driving home in the dark, trees bending and whipping around as silhouettes against the just-dark sky.

June 9

“Do you want to hear my theory about suicide, about why it becomes a thing in people’s lives?” I felt the blood rush up to my face, about to be honest.

The classroom is a dim-lit blue, a handful of people scattered in chairs around the table, along the wall. Hands holding themselves, clasped on top of a notebooks, in laps, atop a stapled sprawl of papers. Everybody in the room is holding their own hand.

Class was on break, and someone had just said that they’d been depressed, a little suicidal.

I used to feel a rush of fear when people said things like that. Now, I don’t react. It’s just not in me anymore, that rush of fear. I have sat and listened and witnessed people talk about how they want to die for a long, long time. My heart breaks a little, a tremor of fullness, thinking about how often I hear people speak about wanting to die.

I don’t feel the rush of fear I used to feel when people say they want to die, just a variable bloom of compassion, and a quiet scrambling impulse to fix whatever it is that is making a person want to die.

I know that there are some things that can’t be fixed in a simple conversation. I know it’s not my place to fix things.

Still, there is that impulse, that drive toward resolving suffering, alleviating pain, correcting. I have to remind myself that sometimes what I see as suffering is actually growth, that pain leads to healing if people find their way through it, if it is not staunched too soon. It’s not my place to fix things or to name things as needing fixing, as being broken or somehow wrong. It’s my responsibility to do whatever I can do to help people who are suffering.

All of this is in the feeling that has risen up in my chest, a compulsion, an excitement. I want to tell them my theory. My theory about what is happening when people want to die. “Do you want to hear my theory? My theory about what is happening when people want to die?”

People usually leave for break.

They stay in the room, shrug.

One girl looks excited, because when I talk about theories I become animated, I become light. I say interesting things in incomplete sentences. My hands come alive.

I ask again, making sure. Set out to offer a disclaimer, “I don’t know if this is a real theory, but it makes sense to me,” and suddenly I am talking. “So, if a person is in a bad situation, or a series of bad situations, and they need to find a way out, it’s our human instinct to find a way out, and they can’t find a way out, then – eventually – they come upon the idea of suicide as an option, a possible escape.”

The words are falling out of me. I feel a little breathless, the rest of the idea crowding up into my throat, my brain pinging and warm with thinking. I feel big, standing up from where I sat, to hang my hands in the air, hold spaces around my head, gesturing the brain, the idea of a memory, the explosion of images associated with a word, the bomb of sheer agony in picturing yourself dead, dead by your own hand.

“There is something uniquely and powerfully traumatic about wanting to die.” I slow my voice down. Look at people’s faces and the slack mouths tell me that I have given voice to something that feels true. “So, when a person comes up on this idea, that they could kill themselves, it lodges in their survival brain as a terrible threat and remembers it, remembers the feelings, remembers the thought, the images given to the idea.”

I think suicide gets woven into fear, even though – at the beginning at least, the very first time it is considered – it may be one of the things we are most frightened of, that we will die, that our bodies will be found limp and wounded, exposed in their most human fragility. That we will break people’s hearts by the way that we’ve died. 

People seem to fight to become unafraid of death, unafraid to die, to do it. To solve the problem of living, the problem of trying to live while wanting to die, the problem of wanting to die. Their eyes are terrified or stone blank as they say, “I’m not scared. I don’t even care anymore.”

Their hands are fists. The voice falters.

The door is open. Out in the lobby of the center, people are talking about needing a ride.

June 13

———————///

“Here, look,” she said,

leaned into the dark

Disappearing into the slur of night

New moon, no moon

The thick of shadow suggesting

Just a little light

From somewhere around here

Up there, with Venus rising

Sun gone but still there,

over past the mountain

casting dim on the clouds

To shimmer the leaves and slick up the water

But fail

to show us the bark,

to show us the details

 

(Lenticel and the pursed mouths of blooms

Not quite open

“Kalmia latifolia,” she’d told you at the car

A hundred years ago,

Back in the day

When she  told you,

“I am learning to learn again.”

And listed all the names she knew.)

(She didn’t tell you that the sounds of them, these names of plants, felt uncertain in her mouth, that she felt like a child saying them, and that in this strangeness she remembers that she was a person who knew the names of things, and who could say them like quicksilver, say them like music, syllables like  dancing in the everyday talk of flowers.)

(She feels a little heaviness to know she has forgotten, and excited to have to learn how to learn again, to find out what she doesn’t know, what she can remember. She doesn’t tell you any of this, standing beside the car with the day all blue and rhododendron catawbiensis mutely blooming behind you.)

 

At night, she leans forward

Into the mass that is earth

Toward the rustle of spring

And for a second she is gone

(She will tell you, now, about the moment just a little later, after the leaning and looking, when you’d gone on with walking, that you stepped ahead, and she could not see you, that when she called out, you might remember her calling out, she called out from a feeling, a flickering fear of the dark, of the thick of it, a quick animal pull toward your hand.)

For a second she was gone,

But maybe you still saw

Her lean into the deepest of the dark

Heard her push aside the branches

Feet grinding stones

Licking into moss

The softness of the spring

The damp fur of the mountain

Speckled with light that might be the moon

That might be the water

sharp like diamonds

Or plain old mica

the bright of a city viewed

From up in the sky

Points of light

Like she’d never seen before

That she tried to remember

Even as she was seeing

The look of them, at first

The feel of the ground on her hands

The press of the nighttime around her

All of it

Reaching forward, just one finger

Feeling toward the glow

To see what would happen

if she touched light

She held her breath to see

that the light stayed the same

Was fixed to the ground

Beaming up in pinprick smears

a scatterplot of stars on the ground

Spelling out,

“There is water here.”

 

She laid an open palm down

Pressed a little

Just a little

Breath slow, being quiet

Hands drawn back

Though you couldn’t see all that

Just a shape that you know

Is your friend

 

“Look!”

She calls back, plainfaced

excitement in the loudest whisper:

“They’re fireflies…”

———————///

June 17
I could sum up the time
All those years
In a compendium of moments
That fell from the night before the interview
Before the man sitting on the couch across from me
Northern and southern
and a little like the desert
Those golden tan cities blown to pieces
Where my mother’s father’s people
Used to live
I covered the scar on my arm
From just a few months back
That moment that spilled from the night before like my very own blood
Bright in the sink
But it was spring time now
Not like then
Back in the winter that lurched from the fall
And I wasn’t thinking about any of that
Walking on 10th Avenue
The morning of the interview

(She’d stood in the living room, repeating the story she’d tell to the people, the way she’d say her name and look straight ahead. She practiced her smile, saw herself grimace in the reflection of the room in the window, pacing.)

I could sum up all those years
In the talking with doctors
The rise of my belly
The thickness of my feet in the summer time
Smell of milk and pneumatic pumping
The weight on my back
In my arms
Those were heavy years
And my bones began to show again

 

(incomplete)

June 24

It makes a lot of sense that I would write a mental health memoir – the story of my struggle with mental illness, the story of my recovery process, what I have learned from ‘living with…’

I could do that, write a mental health memoir, tell about going to the hospital for the first time, the fifth time, the last time.

I could describe the diagnostic scene like a one act play.

(Insert)

There are long lists of terrible fits and protracted despairs, near-deaths and lofty exaltation, the joy of living after wanting to die.

Plenty to write about. I’ve already written about mental health a fair amount. A lot.

Why is it so hard for me to simply declare, “I am going to write a book about my experience as a non-neurotypical girl who couldn’t talk right and grew up in the woods, never knew she was smart. I want to tell about the land I grew up on, and southern racism, where I come from, and when the Navy came, how I made sense of that, how I learned about the world and how it works, for whom.”

The town I grew up is home to a large nuclear submarine facility, a Naval base. The base wasn’t there when I was a kid. By the time I left at age sixteen, the base had changed the place, paved and bricked it into another town entirely, bright-painted low riders sliding around the Walmart parking lot in the hot Georgia sun, date rape out in the woods, reefer in the barracks.

I will tell about falling into the framework of “a person with problems”

For years, I have grappled with the idea that there is something wrong with me, that I have a disease, a disorder. Despite, meeting diagnostic criteria, at one time or another, for a hefty handful of severe and persistent mental illnesses, I don’t believe that I have a mental illness.

Some might say that this resistance to “accepting my diagnosis,” this unwillingness to believe that “I have a mental illness,” is a matter of anogsognosia, of being so ill that I do not understand that I am ill, a lack of insight. 

I don’t believe that I have a lack of insight.

There is something tricky about this suggestion, the vernacular reassurance that you are only crazy if you don’t know you’re crazy, that resistance to accepting the validity of one’s diagnosis is indicative of one having a mental illness.

There is a trap in that logic, in that it assumes validity of the construct of mental illness as conceived of by a person with the authority to ascribe or deny validity while dismissing the validity of the perspectives or analysis of personal experience by the patient, client, consumer, person with a mental illness.

If someone thinks you’re crazy, everything you say is crazy.

They don’t even listen, or they listen only partially, with a bemused or concerned look on their face.

You’re not crazy, unless…

I don’t know that I am crazy. (Footnote, double entendre, intonation, syntactical embafflement. What the fuck is crazy anyway? How much can we say about that? )

For a while I believed that I was “supposed” to write a book of some sort about my experience, to help to communicate something to people, to offer hope and shed light.

It was all a little grandiose, that belief. Nonetheless, when a person really believes in something, believes it down to their bones, can see it all and understand why and what and how, when a possible world blooms in them like springtime…that sort of belief can get in a person’s head, can burrow into their heart a gleaming blue clarity, a flickering light.

I’d never felt so close to something like God.

When you’re a person with a mental illness, saying things like that can cause concern, especially if one once tried to prove God with pictures of clouds, and this endeavor (the proving God with clouds) was perceived to be a symptom of a mental illness, which – in a way – it probably was, but nonetheless was also a lot of other things.

I am stammering, because I really did lose my mind for a minute there, and, for a minute there, I almost lost my insight. It dimmed, was briefly eclipsed. Not so eclipsed that I don’t remember the quiet voice of my rational mind telling me that it was crazy to believe what I believed.

(Note the recalled excitement of the rational mind, the fervor to solve problems, the enthusiasm for big, beautiful ideas, getting jacked on systems thinking, the analytic urgency caused by fear related to recent and ongoing traumatic losses and persistent significant stressors, exacerbated (fear as stress response activating limbic and survival brain mechanisms) by overmedication with a popular antidepressant medication, prescribed by my primary care physician to help me cope with emotionality related to the stresses of life as the working mother of two intense toddlers, to help buffer the effects of inadequate self-care during a bad divorce.)

I became perseverative in my thinking about certain big ideas, a well-spring of focused and potent creativity opened in me. The dailyness of my uncertain and upsetting everyday life, in which my marriage was over, my kids were crying, the dog had died, and I had to try to smile and make dinner, get to work on time, be happy for the kids even though my chest was caving in with weeping and I could barely sleep for all the ideas in me, all the images and sounds, slow dirge-y songs, long strings of logic…

Wouldn’t it make sense for people to look at the sky and see pictures, tell stories, give importance to strong shapes or strange light, watch for storms and rays of sun, look for animals and ancestors, find bars and slashes, curls and whispers like fire from the mouth of a dragon, a slow winking eye? 

I had never thought of anything more beautiful. To imagine seeing the sky as something with meaning. 

Writing this, I am momentarily returned to the trembling in my chest and legs, the gravity and light of awe, that breathless feel, the realness of believing that I can stand out in my yard with my hand to my chest and watch, gape-mouthed, as the gilt orange glow of a perfect crown rises over the pitch of the roof in exacting lines, pristine spacing, divine composition, and that I could imagine what it must have felt like, to look up at the sky and believe that the gods are showing you something of themselves.

Watching the clouds and imagining them showing me something glorious and powerful offered up by the universe, by something I imagined might be called God created the most powerful experience I have ever had, and I have thought a lot about why I had the protracted series of experiences that I did during the divorce years.

Did I need something beautiful to believe in? Did I need to believe that I was being seen by some benevolent force in the universe? Did I need a distraction? Were my stress levels so amplified and imbalanced that I was experiencing visual distortions, sensory disturbances?

Was it all just a perfect glitch of my psychology and physiology in the context of a hard time I was going through?

I think that the answer to all of these questions is probably “yes,” or at least a shrugging “yeah, probably.”

Yet, I still like to believe that the natural world is alive in some way that connects to me and inspires me, and comforts me.

I don’t think that mental illness is a good descriptor for what I have experienced and continue to experience, in some way or another.

I was told I have a brain disease at age 12.

I grew up believing that there was something wrong with me, and the only way I could prove that there wasn’t anything wrong with me was to be able to do all of the things that other people, people without brain diseases, are able to do, like tolerate school, and communicate calmly, delay gratification, not cry all the damn time and quit slamming doors.

I was put on psychiatric medication at age 13, and at age 15 was prescribed a selective Serotonin reuptake inhibitor that is no longer prescribed to children and adolescents due to the increased risk of harm to self or others, suicidality and homicidality. 

June 24

…I write so much about writing, about my creative process, because reflection and contemplation is a component of how I engage in my creative process, tap into that feeling of being inspired and awake around an idea or project.

In my effort to figure out what creates a state of muse, I have identified a few factors that contribute to me being able to activate my optimal, muse-filled state, as well as specific conditions that may need to be met.

The first requirements in activating the muse are that I be adequately rested, fed, and exercised. I need to regulate and mitigate toxic stress and/or fear. Being adequately tended to physically helps my body to regulate stress, which impacts my neurological functioning in terms of stress reactivity, sensory integration, and cognitive processing.

I need time to be alone, with minimal interaction with other human beings. Time that I am not attending to the presence and needs of other living things, unless they are plants or wild animals that only need for me to leave them alone.

As a person with low social needs attending to other people, being aware of them and how my interaction with them affects them, what they want or need of me, how I feel with them, whether or not we are having “fun,” “getting along,” which direction the flow of exchange is taking, how I am spending my time, what purpose I might be serving for those around me, what purpose they might be serving me…well, it’s all a little overwhelming…the social metacognition that seems to be running in the background of nearly every conversation…

Because people matter to me, and my relationships with those I love are important to me, for a long time, I could become very troubled by confusion in the interpersonal space between myself and another person.

I want to be a good friend, a good mother, a good partner…it is important to me that people I love know that I love them, even if I need to be alone. 

June 27

She considers the ringing in her ears

And the sweet lull between cars passing

Down on the street beyond

The tangle of old apple trees and privet

That hides this house

 

The birds settle down

when there are no cars

And the sky is beginning to have

That soft look about it

Like the inside of a blanket

Not even grey, just the white glare of down

a thunderstorm just being born

In the slight wind from the southeast

Where all those boneyard beaches are

 

She’d spent the morning daydreaming

Awake and smiling

In the ease of line

And in the imagining

of a quick drive from here

To there

A whole ‘nother world

Down there by the water

 

Now she considers the ringing in her ears

And how bothered she is by the sound

Of cars, the guttural push of a bus on the hill

 

She doesn’t think she wants

to go for a bike ride

To be out on the road

With the bright and the glare

The cars driving past

Loud all around her

June 28

The most important

gratitude, this time we have

on a dark morning.

July 26

Why is it so hard for me to simply to just write a book?

Writing a book, as it turns out, is hard. It’s not like emailing myself thoughts about my day, or writing a letter to a friend.

A book is supposed to be a cohesive, singularly focused work, right?

Not a collection of the day’s fragments of consciousness, only loosely connected by meta-themes of identity, pathology, the conundrum of human experience, mental health recovery, and growing up in the woods.

Oh, yeah, and the interconnectedness of everything by virtues and mechanisms of nature. Proving God with clouds.

Right?!

Right.

Even I am like, Faith, what the fuck are you talking about?

Dude, those themes are huge. How in the hell can you possibly pull that off?

I know that there is a way to tell this story so that everything fits, moves together in a sort of synergy, incidences deftly connected, with prose that would impart the full expansive awe that one may, for example, feel when standing in the front yard on a partly cloudy day, facing north with her eyes locked on the northern sky, where thick cirrocumulus ribbons and wedges of golden light spelled out a figure with a crown stretching half ‘cross the sky, triangles of brightness spaced out in a perfect arc, perfect equilaterals, and to see this, this massive crown rising up over the peaks of the roof and to feel your knees weak and your bowels slack because you believe, you really believe, that what you are seeing is some face of God, and your heart just about explodes with fear and wonder while down on the street somebody walks by talking on their phone, and a car drives by because it is just a regular old Tuesday and nobody ever looks up much.

I know there is a way that this story can be told well.

How could it be that I am not fit to tell my own story, that I am not able to meaningfully discuss my own ideas? What does that mean?

I think the devil is in the details, so to speak.

Meaning, that if I define ‘meaningfully’ as “well-thought-out and substantiated discourse that deepens human understanding and provides a positive quality of reading experience for the vast majority of the population”…well, I am pretty much screwed, because there’s not much chance that I’d be able to pull that off.

All week long, I have thought about this review on the back jacket of Don DeLillo’s book Underworld, that essentially said that the best books teach you to read them.

I wonder if, also, some of the best books, or at least some worthwhile books, teach the reader something of what it is like to exist in the world of the author, or the narrator.

Would it not be appropriate to convey the experience of a person who is not-exactly-neurotypical in a manner that accurately reflects the processes and tendencies that augment and mediate reality and capability?

If a person is telling a story that was strongly shaped by particular cognitive tendencies and/or experienced emotional realities, would structuring the story to mirror or evoke these phenomena of thinking and feeling, the faulty architecture of ideas and language exposed, showing the way the person’s ‘mind works,’ to muster some sort of impression of felt experience?

What if you imagined what would happen if people could only see what you see, understand it like you do?

What would that do in the world?

Well, if you’re imagining these things, what that might mean is that it’s possible that you, as I myself have been, might be a little “delusional” in your thinking. Or megalomaniacal. Or simply overly fond of your own ideas and over-confident in their quality and potential efficacy.

…or you might have some really good ideas, some ideas that really might change the world.

Everything we do or do not do changes the world.

Some things can change the world, and our lives, in a big way.

Books can change the world in a big way.

I mean, look at the Bible, or any Holy text.

Look at all the stories that have shaped and defined our lives.

Any mass communication which impacts how people perceive and participate in their social, physical, economic and natural environments can change the world. Of course, that change can take all manner of forms, from fleeting consumerist interests, to massive social movements and radical shifts in economic models.

Ideas are technology.

July 25

She knows she will go upstairs and open the document and erase most of what she’d written, try to start over. This is what she must will herself not to do. She can possibly erase some, that part about Wittgenstein and Arendt. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about and she knows it.

For a few minutes, she was briefly inspired to go to library to look for a Wittgenstein book, after coming across an article in the Google search for “philosophy of beginnings.”

The article abstract did not especially pertain to what it was she was looking for, which was some sort of overview of everything that great minds (and perhaps even not so great ones) have ever said about the human phenomenon of beginning to do something, and all the various ways these processes of change and evolution are significant in our lives.

The search only turned up a handful of listings for Philosophy 101 and the beginnings of philosophy, with the exception on an essay about Wittgenstein and His Philosophy of Beginnings and Beginnings and Beginnings, with an intriguing encouragement to consider the sensations of being at the very end of the abstract.

(She thinks about her feelings a lot. Her feels. She wants to understand the sensations that creep and flood and bloom around in her body, why these feels attach to thoughts, and memories, sometimes to nothing clear at all, a whole slew of imperfectly recalled epic minutiae of life experience. A glance. A sound. A conversation. The wind. So many feels. So many thoughts.)

She considers what might be involved in writing an essay on the construction and fallibility of memory in humans and quickly realizes that the first step would probably be to read just one entire article or book on the subject of memory in general before she goes any further in her having of ideas or imagining that she knows what she is talking about.

(Laying in her bed, eating tortilla chips out of the bag as she writes this, she briefly considers the extent to which she doesn’t even have the language to meaningfully say much about many of the things she is curiously interested in, the things she tries to figure out on her own.)

She becomes aware of a thought which presents itself as an orated issuance:

“Across the disciplines, the required utilization of nuanced specificity in terminology excludes from dialogue those who have not time, ability, nor inclination to learn what, precisely, is meant by the word knowledge.”

She doesn’t know what she is talking about, but she wants to know why she thinks the things she does, how she thinks about her life and experience, what informs her conscious participation in and understanding of reality.

(Insert beautiful essays on thinking and reality.)

She briefly remembers an essay about the process of scientific invention in which the author – an accomplished scientist of some sort or another, she mostly only recalls sitting at her desk at work, reading the article – said something to the effect that you have a question and you try to find the answer and the initial inquiry connects you to all sorts of different information and work, and then, at some point, you come upon a point where things that may not seem immediately connected are actually and apparently integrally connected, or you find some new combinatorial process, and your initial question becomes a whole series of new questions and that is where scientific invention happens.

The essay also suggests that invention may occur at the point where you’ve answered everything you can answer, you’ve found all the known answers, but yet you still have questions.

It is easy for her to want to learn more about the idea of beginning, and easy for her to conceptualize a scope of information and connected work that would likely satisfy her curiosity. It is easy for her to figure out how whatever it is she is thinking about connects to a hundred different things, and how all those things connect to a hundred more and so on and so forth.

The details of association fuzz out at the outer edge of the seemingly tangential, and she has to remind herself to not connect things that are too distantly related to make sense, or that are only connected by a thread.

It’s easy for things to get big in her thinking.

She is constantly talking herself back to the original point. “Looping back…” she’ll say, going on and on about something

It is not easy for her to sit down and do the work of researching a brilliant, focused essay on beginnings.

It’s too broad a topic anyway.

Everything is a beginning;

everything is an ending.

Chapter 1

The End

Part of her thinks that’d probably be about right, to erase the part about Wittgenstein and the call this whole document quits, less than a 1,000 words, no big loss. She can start over. This is what she usually consoles herself with as she saves the document to one of several aborted-beginnings slush files glutting up her computer, her cloud.

She has, in the moment just before this one, reminded herself of what it is that she is beginning. Again.

For the past nine years, she has been trying to begin telling a story about a woman who grew up on a river down in Georgia who eventually lost her mind trying to prove God with clouds on the internet, and now is fairly okay, healthy even.

Active. Alive. Occasionally thriving, always growing. Generally happy. 

I didn’t start off trying to tell that story specifically, about trying to prove God with clouds. I started off wanting to write blog about drawing a picture everyday for a year.

It was in the process of drawing a picture everyday for a year that I ended up losing my mind about clouds and language and God, losing my mind in ideas about God, ideas about clouds and letters.

I blogged my way through a traumatogenic and medication-induced paranoid spiritual psychosis that caused my entire life to fall apart in some fairly major ways, as well as significantly damaging my previously constructed ego.

Even at the time, I thought it was worth it.

Even when the idea meant that I might be pushed out of my family, or, as my immersion in the psychotic framework of reality deepened with isolation and additional duress, kidnapped by operatives.

While I understand that I was crazy, and remember quite clearly the experience of being crazy, of really believing the things I believed and the experience of the world changing rapidly within that belief…I am grateful to have believed that I was not only glimpsing God, that I was seeing God everywhere.

A lot of people who’ve experienced psychosis have terrifying and baffling realities that they have to try to live through and live with. Persecutory voices. Horrifying beliefs. Perceptions of the ghastly and strange.

My experience wasn’t like that.

There were months and months and months that I was certain that every single thing I was doing and saying was being recorded, surveilled. I didn’t find it scary. A lot of people are watched in this country.  

I had the belief that something bad would happen to me if I didn’t somehow prove God, and there was something awful about that belief, an enormous pressure.

I did believe, at times when I was anxious, that I might be beseiged by dark forces, that I was at risk of harm at the invisible hands of dangerous ghosts.

All of these potentially terrifying beliefs were tempered by a conviction that I was loved by something massive in the universe, and that I would be okay, so long as I continued to do what I was chosen to do, to do what was mine to do, to prove God, to help people to see, to fulfill some contract that I felt I had entered into without realizing it.

This was a very problematic belief, and I knew it.

I drew a picture of a wild-eyed ragged man holding a sign, “Look up! The world is alive.” and thought about all the wild-eyed people who have done horrible things because they believed that some force in the universe wants them to do this thing, that they must do this thing.

Some ideas are dangerous. Some beliefs lead to tragedy.

I just wanted to take pictures of clouds and inspire reverence…but, I knew it was a problem that I believed that some force in the universe wanted me to do these things and that something of my own salvation, and perhaps even the salvation of the world, might be tied up in my doing of this thing that had been set upon me to do, that I didn’t ask to have to do.

I was crazy, but I also knew that what I was experiencing wasn’t exactly rare, that throughout history people have had experiences of perceiving divine manifestations and directives. It’s one of the oldest stories around, people finding themselves in the wilderness, face-to-face with what they understand to be God, or an angel, or their ancestors, some force or another.

I hadn’t ever really thought about those stories. Hadn’t thought much about God, or saints or anything like that. All I wanted to do was to be able to be an artist and to have a peaceful family, to be useful in the world and to not have so much stress in my life.

I never wanted to prove God, until I did, after I felt like God had been proven to me.

 

We All Think About Our Lives

January 10

…who could build a living life out of bare sticks and fallen branches, laughter and love-spit, the dew before dawn, whisper of footsteps, breath-sounds and fire hiss, sharp cedar smoke in the scent behind ears and knees, salt on the fingers and the cool, damp earth smell of sex itself?

(Two figures walk down the sidewalk in front of this house, saying “I want it all. I want it all. What you tryin’ to get?” )

Could we build a life that is alive out of mirthy gales and the art of finding beauty in the absurdity of strip malls, from the dust of old books in tall stacks, looks on the faces of strangers, sweet hunger satiated?

Can a life be made from things we’ve lost, from bones we’ve found?

…warmth under blankets and the heat of the sun, a bath full of sulphur and steam, embers and flames, the dry burn of your hand on my hip…

I have this stubborn and glittering belief that the sound of real laugher echoes all the way to the heavens, and this belief begs the question:

What sort of life would that be, to find myself, again and again, at home out in the world, under starshine and mercury vapor, the glow of the whole universe, resting our bodies on black water and on cool ground, the hard stone of the mountain under moonlight, the sanctuary of setting down all we carry at the end of the day…when we could just about fly for the lightness of it all?

I have to tell you, I think it is possible.

…to dab, and daub, and wedge, and break, to mend, and bend, and bind together the cold wind from the hills and a bright slick of algae, perfect green stones that turn grey as they dry…the call of coyotes on the ridge, hawks in the wind, and the wavering of Cathartes in its Mobius glide…the look of a face in the morning and that shiver in my spine…songs heard alone, and a flash of that gold in a left eye…can we build a life of all these things?

I think it is possible.

Some knots take years to undo. Some knots take years to re-tie.

Have you ever torn something apart to rebuild it?

I have…and I don’t think I want to do that again.

I can build though, and carefully take down walls, plane down edges, open up windows…i can turn one thing into another with the alchemy of morning, each and every day, with the grain of midnight at the edge of my eyes, the aliveness in my heart, when I think about this question of if ever there were…

Jan 18

to me

How much does desiring freedom have to do with the choices she has made, the ways that she has torn her life apart, again and again?

The sun shining in through the plexiglass triangles that made the walls of the living room reflect in glare off of the television screen, casting the curved glass in grey shadow, the image of a turntable spinning cutting to a lady spinning, outside in the sun, the green and gold of the scene, the sun in her hair, blurred on the screen,  to an all-black room, the same lady spinning into a smaller and smaller point, the screen filled with nothing but black and the reflections of windows shaped like triangles, the trees and river, all reflection as the spinning lady turned into a single point of light that pulsed once, twice, in time to the music, a magic carpet ride, a horse with no name, the figure kaleidoscoping outward to fill the screen as the names of bands and songs scrolled up the screen in bright yellow print.

“2 LP or 2 cassette set, The Freedom Years, The Greatest Hits of the 60s and 70s”

The girl reflected in the glare sat slumped in a chair, eating a grilled cheese sandwich. The cheese was cheddar, not American, Roman Meal bread, Fleischmann ‘s margarine, little white tub with the green and gold corn shape.

The cheese was cold and rubbery between the bread, oily slick molten like plastic at the edge of the crust.

She wanted to be riding a motorcycle through a desert, wind in her hair.

Jan 24

to me

This crucible this cauldron

The smelting of a good life

A simple passage of the heat from you

stitching the knock of paddle on boat

with the teeth of wind in late December

Cold wood under the hands

Snapping cedar

Runnels of water birthing trees in the sand

Somewhere far away from here

Low tide high tide

Always moving, that place there

Brackish as it is

Jan 26

to me

“So, everything is an ecosystem, we ourselves are ecosystems.” The upturned hand hovered in the air between the front seats of the car, turning to drive past the high school and over the bridge, and she remembered, for a minute, the night of the long conversation.

Jan 28

to me

“Maybe it’s one of those things, those situations you hear about where two people meet and their lives move together with a baffling ease, as if one were what the other had always needed – (the jubilation of the compound machine!), and they – these people who find themselves in one another’s lives and hearts in ways that – (to observers may seem to defy reason, to be crazy) – within the relationship evidently (as measured by subjective and objective improvements in functionality and experienced quality of life) create a new sort of synergy in living, the emergence of a rare and undeniable partnership, a co-mergence, components that had drifted in isolation find themselves together, and in that togetherness they can move in new ways, become new things…and so they decide – these people, in these sorts of situations, which arise every so often when one heart finds another and feels a new purpose, when lives weave together to make a sudden, new and gleaming pattern – that what makes the most sense is to be in that togetherness as much as they can, because that togetherness is home to the people they most truly are, home to the people they might become in loving and in being loved.”

Maybe it’s something like that…?

Jan 28

to me

Systems of human experience

Jan 29

to me

“Everything is an ecosystem. Life is an ecosystem,” his hand hovered, palm up, in the space between the seats. She was turned slightly, watching his profile as he drove, the orange of the streetlights cutting shadows into the youth of his face, showing him as an old man. She made a small listening noise, a sound that meant to say, “yes, go on.”

She wanted to touch his hand where it hovered there, but didn’t, because this conversation was not about that, not about hand holding.

She felt the angle of the seat and car door against her back, felt her own heaviness held in the seat, and was almost distracted, until he went on. “So, there is the theory, this law, that basically says,” he looked at her, “It’s been a minute, so I might be a little rusty on this, but it basically says that what is most evolutionarily successful is whatever is able to maximize its potential efficiency and energy expenditures.”

(Note: efficiency/expenditure – those who figure out how to get the most accomplished toward beneficial outcomes with the least expenditure of resources. A discussion of homeotelic systems, mastery and micro- mastery, and ways that time spent in learning and producing can be synergistic with strategic consideration of ways that efforts put forth in one area can reinforce growth or micro-mastery in another area. Example: using art to fund living to fund travel which inspires and produces art…so that time spent in creating art and building a patronage base…

That’s a macro-example, a lofty goal. Bringing it back to today, is how I am spending my time supporting my growth to award a life that supports my optimal function as measured by joyful ease(?) and efficacy in doing productive things that are enjoyable to me more often than not, being who I am and working with my evolving strengths and growth areas to create a life that I really shine in?

(?) ease does not mean easy, it means that the machine is well-operable, gears moving without grinding, e.g not working a job that requires one to defy/try to alter their body’s biological need for sleep or basic cognitive and sensory processing functions…ease means that the way that you are living your life is not creating harm and struggle, but is generally supportive of/facilitating of deep-felt and meaningful positive experiences.

? Shine does not mean to be exuberantly glittered and beaming in some imagined big loud life, it means that the part of me that is what I call my heart, the core of me, is open and warm, glowing while I sit quietly in some place with no fluorescent lights.

They passed by the highschool, where back in October, she’d walked around and around the buildings while the band played in the stadium, talking to him about wanting to write a book.

She had walked in the dark, her stomach sore with laughter, unconcerned by the fact that she couldn’t find a way to get into the school, not one unlocked door. She was supposed to be volunteering at the band’s fundraiser haunted house, where – a few years back – she had walked with her children through an upstairs hall filled with garish adolescent-sized nurses, ghastly white faces and dark lipstick, blank expressions, trays of pillcups outstretched like offerings that you could not refuse, backing you up against a wall.

People wailed and ranted at the ceiling, chains around their ankles in the red-light dim, clatter and scrape on the linoleum. Some sat in a stone-still catatonic stupor, slumped and vacant.

It was the psych ward as a house of horrors, the house of horrors as the psych ward.

Feb 3

to me

She has to remind herself to separate out her own experience, to set aside the images that rise in her mind as someone sits across from her in the thick-stuffed striped chair, their eyes filling and wide, telling about the time they went to the hospital.

Feb 4

to me

The world feels too quiet today, muffled by these clouds that haven’t yet dumped their rain hanging heavy over everything, all gloom and doom and the promise of a damp afternoon, a chill that drips from the winter-brown leaves still hanging from the privet hedge that has long-since grown into trees.

Yesterday, and the day before, almost everyday, she knows how she will tell the story, and then – almost everyday –  she forgets, the idea (that clarity, that certainty!) washed over by the scramblings of the day, collapsed and cluttered under the lists of things to do before she begins. Before she begins to tell the story.

She feels like a failure on days like today, when the day is shushed by rain and grey.

How can she be such a tremendous failure?

She is incredulous, baffled by her own persistent inefficiency.

(Note: I have been doing a lot inventory of where my mind and feelings go depending on how I am thinking about things, thinking about my life. This “not getting enough done I am a failure” thing is a really dangerous construction, which I am in the process of remediation and neutralizing through calling bullshit on myself, not believing what I think, but paying attention to what I think because there is some good information in what sort of toxic thought modes come up in response to certain situations. Note: toxic denotes a harmful effect – in this case the feedback loop between thinking and feeling that can create distress (physiological stress reaction, survival brain engagement, fight/ flight) that perpetuates attention to fear-thoughts and risk -perception, which leads to more distress because…on and on.

So, this isn’t a “oh, woe I’m a failure” kind of thing…it’s a “man, this crap still comes up for me? What’s up with that?” kind of thing.

Feb 6

to me

That is one thing that being crazy taught them, that no one understands what it is like to be who they are, to know the things they know of themselves.

The she that is a they here, the they that is a she, in the way she is seen and all the people they have been to this doctor and that nurse, those teachers, the mother, the father, the lover, the old woman down the street, the kids at school, this person learned that she is a they, and learned – because she had to – how other people see her, what they make of her. All the people she is in other people’s view of her.

Feb 7

to me

When it’s been this long since I have written, I always start out talking about how long it has been since I have written.

It was a matter of simple mechanics, equations of time and energy, what the days hold space for, what she is able to do while she is doing other things, the things she cannot do while she is doing other things, which is this…writing…

She feels suffocated by all that she has not written.

Her to-do lists go undone.

Feb 7

to me

What it becomes is this critical mass of input, without time to make sense of how the experiences sit with her, what they mean to her, what they do to her, the effects of living, of moving through a day, walking and talking, drinking water, eating an apple, then another apple, at her desk, and noticing the crisp of it, the sound of the door to the office opening, and then closing.

Feb 12 (13 days ago)

to me

They stood on the broad board floors of the house she grew up in, the rafters and eaves a dim cathedral space above them. The house smelled the same as it always did, damp rot and dry rot and Spanish moss and brackish water, the memory of papermill.

“We could approach it like an experiment.”

No one had to touch paper to make the manuals

Slick page and red ink

White pulp

Blood and meat under that shine

Laid on in China

Or some toner-stink room in a strip mall

Township

with it’s own zipcode

The Subway and the Hobby Lobby

Over by the interstate

Not quite the heart of the triangle

Nowhere near Central

Where the boys on The Row

Those men getting old

Wait for letters from women

That they call girls

Baby girl this

Baby girl that

Don’t you need a man to love?

That’s what they say

Those boys on The Row

telling stories in #2 graphite

’bout their mamas and their crimes

All wrote out in penmanship

Make a teacher weep it’s so damn neat

Ain’t got nothing else to do

But write these girls

Nah, those booklets don’t have nothin’ to do

with that place

Ain’t nowhere near it

Didn’t come from nowhere over there

Put em all in a box, stack those smooth-edges

Sheets still sticking

Bindings creaking, scraping

Cover static and sucking

Don’t have nothin to do with real lives

With real meat, real bone

Real shine

Sittin’ out at the edge of the county

By the same square window,

pale pink light in the morning

Yellow beige

Nicotine light

All day long, the worst at night

Lamplight glow and waiting

For payday

The 1st, the 3rd

“They say that Starry Night is such a good painting because Van Gogh managed to shape the sky in the same way that stars really turn, winds really blow.” She pointed to the swirls on the water. “Look, it’s like Starry Night.”

Feb 24

to me

The clouds have been auspicious these past few days. Fine-edged and angled, hanging there against the February blue like some kind of alive thing, drifting and white.

She stood in the parking lot at the bank, looking up, phone held out into the air above her head, squinting into the glare. The doors to the bank scraped open and a group of tucked – shirt, stylish flats business-lunch sort of gang of grown ups walked out into the sun.

The greying man, mauve shirt and purple tie, grinned at her, a lanky woman in a parking lot, hair too long and held in a braid down her back, tattoo across her shoulders. “Can I get in the picture?” He called to her, and his female companions let their faces settle into tight line smiles. She shrugged, looked up at where the clouds were hanging in triangles and hawk eyes, up at the sky. “Well, that might be a stretch.” Grinned back at the man and wondered what he felt, what his life was like.

Clean cars and emails, desk work and forced joviality. Making the sale, again and again.

A long time ago, she had stopped worrying about whether or not she seemed strange to people. What is strange, anyway? She thinks other people are strange.

She doesn’t understand how they think or how they feel, how they can do the things they do – go sit at their desks and pick up the phone, have conversations they don’t want to have. She has a job. She has a desk.

On days like this, when she is waiting for someone to come out of the bank and take her to the river, she thinks it’s strange to be the person who – on Monday – will walk into her office and set to accomplishing the tasks of the day, the copies to be made, the keys to be pressed. Conversations with people who are miserable and trying not to be miserable.

Some try harder than others, but she still finds something to love in all of the wringing hands and tear-filled eyes.

Feb 25

to me

I’m not an expert on memory, or much of anything else. For a long time, I thought I had an amazing ability to recollect the events of my life, that unbroken string of experiences that rolls like a reel of who I am. It wasn’t until I realized that I only remember what I remember that I began to question the integrity of the internal store of impressions and still – frame images and the brief flinches and pulsings of sense, that I held so proudly as my memory.

(no subject)

Feb 27

to me

The entire world stretched out to the east and west, driving along on the spine of the mountains, taking the Parkway home. The feeling of nausea was tremendous, the land sinking into the cold of itself, grey light down in the valleys, just the uppermost angles lit gold and slipping fast.

They were taking the long way home, talking about how much they can’t stand their jobs, how they feel at the end of a day. “Well, anytime someone is having to force themselves to do something, it is corrosive to the soul.”

She didn’t know what she meant by soul, but knew it had something to do with the will to live and the ability to laugh.

“Maybe most people, or a lot of people, at least some people, can kind of anesthetize that loathing, that body resistance, or learn some helplessness, or just…numb out, pain pills and television.”

She was being obnoxious. Privileged bitch. Don’t know shit about living, how most folks, work is all they know, trying to work, hating work, but working and not trying to do nothing else, wasting time thinking about how they ought to be able to be free.  People are glad to have jobs, even terrible jobs. Make ’em a little money, feed they family.

Everybody wants to be free, but it’s easier for the privileged to believe that it’s possible to be free in these ways she wants to be free. To be able to go where she wants to go, to rest when she needs to rest. To do what she wants to do.

“What a fuckin’ brat,” she thinks, head beginning to feel slack with the vertigo of switchbacks, driving up and up. “You can’t pretend that it’s not depleting, that it’s not corrosive.”

She understood that this was true. She couldn’t ignore that she didn’t feel well at the end of a day, hours staring at a computer screen or a crying human face. Some smiling. Sparse laughter. No sunlight unless she took a break to stand in the parking lot and stretch her arms up, feel herself grow taller, her body relax. The strong desire to be in the forest, outside.

She is privileged. She doesn’t watch television.

She doesn’t watch television because she has better things to do. She is privileged because she has better things to do.

Mar 4

to me

When I stop thinking about, and working towards, the inspecific ‘project’

That has become,

In my mind,

And burrowed deep into my bones,

A legacy that is mine to carry

My dead uncle’s keen fury

The cunning writ of his aunt

Cold blue eyes that I don’t have

Ink and blood, photos and ash

Old papers in a drawer

That’s what the inside of my bones

The marrow of me

Is made of

I just forget

In that curious way

That endless days

Have the power to make a person forget

Who they even are

What they are made of

Where they come from

And what keeps them alive

I meant to say, starting out

That I can find that stillness anywhere

That deep woods feeling

That wilderness

Though the view is not always so lovely

Sitting on my front steps

With bricks all crooked like cancer

Wedged down into the yard

the grey flat street a hard line

Under the tops of trees

And the fineness of the trails

That weave through fields of green and gold

Here in the splashed rain flats of this old

White wall

But I can find that stillness

In the slight movement

Of these first yellow blooms

And the hum of peach blossoms

Waiting for a little more warmth

The absence of traffic

The distance of sound

Walking the other night,

Falling light, before the coyotes

In the dark

Yipping and howling at the full moon

right before we crossed the bridge

Another small marriage

I asked

Weaving out of the bowl

Where there was no wind

If you always held a picture

Of the birds eye view in mind

If you saw the world spread out like that

You yourself a pinpoint moving slow,

A dot on a map

“I always know what direction I am going, which way is which.”

This was a lie, because I don’t always know

And I know that I don’t

that sometimes the world spins

Or the river turns

I am all turned around

Paddling further into the marsh

Running toward the Balsams

And then I stop

Very small

able to get lost

lost

It takes me a minute, sometimes,

To figure out where I am

And where I need to go

In me, there is this feeling

This humor

Like way back when

They imagined the being

Of a person

As something of substance

That moves in the body

And it is an alive thing

That feels like light and metal

But it is only the beating of my heart,

The heaviness or lightness

The signals flashing over cords

Small flutters and clenched

A tightening and loosening

Moves like water in me

Swells and smooths

Builds and breaks

Dances

Turns to glass

Reflecting heavy skies

When I forget

Because of the impossible fullness

Of days

That haven’t been ordinary

For a long time

Because when one is a person like me

Nothing is ever ordinary

The heron in the field

Bluebird above magnolia

Hawk over highway

Sweetness sunlight

Color of sky

Calls in the night and early morning

Nothing is ever the same

And there’s a hundred different ways to see a thing

So even this curve of branch holds wildness

Roots mirroring growth under the concrete

And soil

Touching the place where my lover stands

Wherever that is

By way of a hundred million small connections

…and I remember, when I think about this

When I feel this

That the world is big and wild

And held together by small stirrings

And broad strokes

That must surely gleam like magic

I feel the marrow of me

My weight in the sun

Almost nothing at all

And remember, again,

Who I am.

Mar 8

to me

I have to be slow in the way I begin , but not so slow that I forget that I have begun, which has happened a number of times. Too many to count, to try to remember. They blur into a slide of blank pages and opened documents, blue-lines and the press of ink, the click of key, pencil whisper. The tremor of thrill, the rush of fear.

Oh, hey now…what’s that? Rush of fear? Little flood of doubts and rushing blood, cheeks flushed, sheepish.

Morning light outside just as bright as it was a few minutes ago, when you wrote that first brave sentence, but different…sharp or flat, a quality of glare, none of the pearline roundness of the morning that was the morning of beginning, which was a different morning than the morning you’re in now, even though it is the same morning, just a few minutes later, as you stare at the sentence, the blinking cursor, or press the pencil harder, let it fall out of your hand, feel the heaviness of yourself, sitting in the chair, your heart beating hard and brow furrowed, wondering what to say next, realizing again how difficult it is to begin.

Mar 19

to me

I am looking for someone to help me to develop and distribute this amassed body of work in such a way as to maximize its efficacy in being a beautiful story out in the world.

Mar 21

to me

I have started several projects here of late, and haven’t thought about this one much at all, other than a fleeting awareness that this exists as a thing floating around on the internet. “I should probably say something.”

…but, posting here hasn’t felt like priority. This is more a dumping ground, a random sampling of experiential detritus, with scraps of mediocre poetry that serve as keys as codes notes to myself to remember small marriages, eulogies to the morning, to the passage of time itself, my effort to not forget this life, with its drives and its laundry, its walks with the dog, because it will not last forever.

…and ideas…a place to store ideas…to play with ideas…to work out my understanding of a thing or situation, a phenomenon.

I haven’t been writing much…just a few notes here and there, not really engaged in the flow of words, glutted up with too much to tell about, the driving urge to do it justice, the back wave of frustration of having so much to say ( souch I want to remember!) and so little time to say it in (so much life unfurling!)…

One thing that has surfaced in my mind as something to say is that I Love to Hear Myself Talk…and to state that it makes total sense to me that I would like to hear myself speak, because I couldn’t speak correctly for a long long time, my entire childhood, and now I can speak beautifully, in different tones and pitches and volumes, with gestures and pauses and fun-feeling expression…i love talking with people, talking to people…i like to feel my voice. There is nothing wrong with being an oratorically – inclined person.

…so, why do I feel trepidation on the backend of my confidence?

I could write a whole book on the silencing of voices that occurs when people are assholes to our authenticity, tell us to shut up. Even if a person does not cognitively (consciously) care what another person thinks, as a species that is characterized by interreliance among its members (with group inclusion often being a matter of life and death) we want the people we perceive as having power to like us, to be on our side, to take us into the graces of their resources and influence.

Middle school popularity. Stings in the body when those girls roll their eyes at your shoes, because it means you’re different, not good enough. You’ll fend for yourself, wearing shitty shoes.

I reduced my hours at work. It is the first day of spring and it is snowing, lightly and persistently.

Mar 24

to me

That old blue jacket

and the time travel of photos

How brick smelled under new rain

Not the brick, but the moss

The warmth of sun

That was the scent

Under those skies gone grey

In the summer

Out by the mines in Birmingham

It is hard to name the feeling

that comes on the heels of consilience

that unease, the disorientation of all things being as they should, a point of smooth juncture in a cluttered field, with the jags and ruptures that led to this perfect arrangement still in the background, perimeter, out toward the possible future.

It’s reading the river,

watching the way the roots branch

and mapping out the circumstances and forces that might create a continuation of ease amidst the massive clutter of potential wreckage

Stuck in the marsh

A boat dragged by a hurricane

They walked, as they always walked, everyday, up toward the two big hickories that flanked the bone-grey road. This walk, small passage between the tall trees with her mother, her father, her brother, was home, the undistilled feeling of it, the sunlight and grass smell that shimmered over the pasture, the glare of heat, soft light in shadows, thickening woods, and all was just right and safe walking down the road, passing through the two trees.

She did not know what pulled her to look back, to pause and glance up at the highest branches of the oak at the edge of the little field, grass spring-fed bright and cool to the eye at the edge of the woods leading out to the marsh. Her eyes were drawn to the mirror, hanging up in the branches of the oak, oval like the one in her great-grandmother’s bedroom, faded like that, not reflecting much other than green and light.

She stared for only a moment, wondering why a mirror hung in the trees, feeling a cool stillness settle into her, around her, the sun falling behind a cloud. When she turned back to her family, they were gone, disappeared. The fear rushed in on the wake of the understanding that she was completely alone, that her family was gone, disappeared just like that in the moment she had spent staring at the mirror hanging in the trees.

Mar 28

to me

The idea came to me in the early morning, as ideas often do, whole tumbles and arcs of them as the day wakes up. I’d been 1/2 puzzling over a question for a couple of days, trying to figure an idea that would fit within a given set of parameters, that would meet certain requirements.

What could I do? What could I do?

What would graciously hold all that this must hold?

What sort of story would that be? What kind of pictures would that story take to tell?

The idea came at first as a single line, and then stitched itself together almost in an instant, all the words, the cadence of them, the scenes and subtext, the theme and point of it…a gestalt wallop of idea like lightning in my head, and I was suddenly awake and paying attention, my heart pounding and face awe-slack while the possibilities that I may actually be able to do this beautiful thing, this idea that came to me in the morning, bounded around inside of me, smoothing and tucking a whole ‘nother world.

I’ve been struggling to write, but I think about writing all the time…as per usual…and try to write here and there…my head and heart are cluttered with stories to tell, notes to make…i go over the scenes and images, the recalled dialogue, the cast of light, the sensation of a billion prices of cold heat across my skin, frigid water from the center of the mountains pressing into me all over, the acrid rhododendron fire and Crescent moon, wind from the slope, another small marriage.

Things like that…

“It’s hard to merge systems. It’s a matter of functionality, and all day long I can understand how and why this works and doesn’t work and I can name what must be done, but . . . damn, it’s just entropy, the slipping of things, and inertia, the sticking of things, the falling into habit, the fumbling along in patterns, faltering, veering, drifting.”

Apr 8 (9 days ago)

to me

I used to drive to work alone

I used to sleep alone

and when the mountains showed themselves

the rise of rib and shoulder

Against the light of a day coming

then a day fading

I was there alone

with this world in me

sheaves of ideas

churning and unfolding,

body monitoring what matters

in measures of heart rate

and breath in the morning

the feeling in my limbs

running in my legs

the smell of forest

and falling night

a thousand different memories

strung by a detail

the color of sunrise

song phrase and oxytocin

cortisol

near forgotten prayers

(those times I used to pray. In six words, a legion of moments rushes in, sensation and clear scenes that cease to be, but still reverberate, which is what fervent prayer does, draws into focus and expands outward the apex of fear, binding up doubts in hope, casting the bundle up and out, saying please, please, thank you, thank you, give me what I want, let what will come to pass come to pass, let me believe that it is the right way, let me know the right way, let me see, let me see…praying is a good way to get a look at what you really hope for, to muddle through the mess of apprehensions and find something shining to hold, a sliver of lake through the trees. I stopped praying for what I wanted a long time ago. Now, I just pray to be able to trust in my own discernment, to know what is love and what is fear, to be able to turn from what is motivated by errors in my thinking about what is good and what is needed. I don’t need much.)

I was here alone

Apr 9 (8 days ago)

to me

For months, I have been in a crash course of tactical and strategic contemplation, intermittently making notes in a small green journal, many lists and arrows. Charting a life course, an imagined means to a desired end, the life I most want to be living. I have spent hours envisioning myself free. Thinking about boats and sunrises, being in the desert. The smell of coffee in bookstores. Train rides. Conversations with strangers. A feeling. The sensation in me, down into the marrow and up into the blood, of simple happiness, of not having something grind away in me as not being quite right, some let down or another.

(If – for me – my experience of happiness depends on believing that things are *okay* in my world and that I am living *right* I can be happier by changing how I think about things…which can be a slippery slope, because sometimes things don’t feel right for good reasons, because things aren’t okay, and I’m not living right. I am letting myself down. I am scared. I doubt the potential of a positive future. I will fuck it up.)

Do you see what just happened? I was writing about happiness, the feeling in me, the warmth and spread of it, that lightness and ease in my mind, deeply present and alive, warmth and relief in the feeling of cool air, mirth, the heat in my legs running as fast as I can, the smell of pine trees and fire, the dry hush of paper, the drag of paint and paddle, the fight with wind on the top of a bald, across a lake, waking up rested with sun in my face, newness…every single moment of being born again galvanized into this glow that sits at the center of me. That’s what happiness feels like this morning, the words and phrases, images that came to mind when I wanted to get back to what I was saying before the slightest thought of fear led me astray, into that landscape of doubt, the conviction of it all.

This morning I am doing a dance between a bountiful hope and everything that threatens it. It isn’t always like this. Sometimes I believe more than others, feel a possible future more strongly…in all manner of directions.

It’s ironic to me that months (oh, who am I kidding . . . years) of thinking about the future have led me to the conclusion that thinking about the future is basically fucking me up.

There are times that I don’t think that it is very practical to try to “be in the moment.”

Is it not inevitable that I will careen off a cliff or forget something important if I move forward without any sort of plan at all?

With a little more mental exertion, I can understand that being present in what one is doing and experiencing and moving toward is not about complacency or bumbling around, but is about being conscious in the fleeting richness and wonder and stillness of each moment we are alive, each breath we take.

At least, for me that’s what it’s about…with a kind of intuitive sense that if I do this thing, be fully present and participatory in the day at hand, then what I know is best for me, what I know I love, what is good for me…these directions will emerge if I learn what actions, behaviors, and worldviews / perspectives facilitate the experiences of what I know to be happiness.

So, in that way, I can believe that being in the present and not mucking about or reveling in the throes of some potential future, terrible or wonderful, not exerting my resources of time and mental energy in experiential daydreaming and deep analysis of ways and means and possible threats…that not existing in a perpetual process of SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) deliberations and the construction of matrices of possibility and potentiality…to the extent that I am simultaneously living in ( at least) several different lives, while holding one foot in the here and now, who I am in the walking-talking realm, with all the striving and shrinking people I might become nested into me…some gilded and busted, plasmatic matroyshka, constructed of everything I have ever known and loved and feared…if I set the details of the future aside, let motivations rooted in fear and striving fall to the wayside and just focus on what creates a sense of congruence or at the very least a movement away from dissonance…and do those things, inhabit those thoughts, nurture those beliefs…find a way to do all this work of reality management and conscientious participation in my daily, immediate activities, headspaces, and feeling-states/feels in theidst of attending to my life as I have structured it, or as it has come to be structured as a result of spotty and disrupted deliberative upkeep, maintenance in the manageability and desirability of the design and its consequences…to work from the premise that if I do more of what I love, that my life will organize around those activities…if I, having determined what I have determined about my own functionality (my assets, my limitations, my vulnerabilities in terms of tendencies and glitches in my abilities and capacities), simply do more of what makes me happy, and tend to what needs tending to in the current structure  in a way that nudges operations to something more amenable to my personal potential to be as authentically alive and productive in my aliveness as possible, to experience joy and beauty in everyday.

( For a long time, I thought – and sometimes still think – that to experience joy and beauty, I have to go somewhere rare, do something bold. This is, no doubt, part of my basic personality structure, to have this erring toward audacious requirements in my thinking about what would be awesome. It has taken me a long time to understand that the everyday is awesome. There is some tragic error in the thought that beauty can only be found on sunrise beaches, though, yeah – for sure – there are definitely some situations and settings that are much more likely to facilitate happiness than others. However, I am not at the beach right now, and yet I want to experience awe and wonder, and so it comes down to the breeze in this red maple and the thought that the wind stirring about in my yard here in the mountains is carrying water from all the way across the world in its currents, and that I am alive and that today I have a chance to have a beautiful day, to believe that I am blessed in the food that I have and the warmth of the water on my hands, my children coming into the kitchen, the person I love returning home, fire and love, a safe home, a beautiful home in the oldest mountains on the planet.

Why is it so easy to forget these things? To become distracted and stressed out about dumb trivialities of living? As animals and as people with personalities and ways of experiencing their lives and environments, some things can really fluster us, some more than others.

I am distractable, for example, and I live and work in high distraction environments. This results in a hindrance of my efficacy, unless corrected for by either practicing self-discipline of attention and task-orientation or by reducing distractions in my environment, if it is important to me that I not be distracted. If somethings is happening that is upsetting me/creating distress, I can change that thing (somethings are easier to change than others) or I can change how that thing makes me feel by what I choose to believe about the situation.

( In families, this seems selfish, to want to structure my life in a way that prioritizes my happiness, rather than my children’s? I know that if I am happy, I am a better person. All I want for the people I love to be free in who they are and to not be held back and contorted by what other people want or need them to be. Besides, my happiness and my children’s wellbeing are not mutually exclusive.)

This is nothing new.

Apr 11 (6 days ago)

to me

I painted a tiny picture once

Of a woman on a table

Cut open at the chest

Blue roses spilling forth

From the cavity of herself

And what I meant to say with this

Sitting at my desk in a white painted room

With a window northwest facing

The view of the roof next door

lives underneath the tar

woman at a counter on the bottom floor

A store clerk and a seamstress

Making noodles

behind a wall of glass

While the brush painted blue

Onto blue

The curve of petal and closed lid

The movements of the city

Rushing as a breeze in the bare limbs

Of the tree that grew up between the buildings

And what I meant to say

Years ago, with that tiny figure

Blue roses spilling forth

Was that I wanted to show you

What’s inside of me

12:57 PM (11 hours ago)

to me

Every once in a while, I thought about the indirect consequences of consciousness that may come about by having a regular practice of narrative reflection, of writing down my thoughts from the day, what I noticed and experienced. “Is this affecting the way I live my life, does this shape what I notice, change how I think about experience?”

Of course it did, and does…because despite the fact that I haven’t been engaging in regular practice for the past several months (almost a third of this year!), I have nevertheless persisted in walking through my days like a writer, always noticing the arc of story, the nuances of posture, the way one moment weaves itself with others.

The look and feel of it all, what a scene or exchange, a series of thoughts and feels…how I imagine I might remember it, what it means to me…whatever is happening…what it does in my body and heart, in my mind, the spiritual significance…whether or not it lights me up, shuts me down…considering why I feel the way I do about things, what the origins and consequences of those sensations and the meanings I give them might be.

…as I write this, I’m like -dang – I do a lot of thinking and feeling about thinking and feeling.

There are times I don’t think, for long moments walking in the dark on a trail, moving up a hill over rocks, breathing in the night, playing piano with my eyes closed, watching the water fall from the paddle.

…then, because these moments of not thinking are so blessedly beautiful, to be still in myself in my moving through the world, not harvesting and gathering, analysing and interpreting, not willing myself to remember…because these moments are so beautiful, I will myself to remember, and think about how that memory will situate itself amidst the rest of me, wonder what I might forget, try to notice everything, begin recording.

I forget so much. So many names and fragments.

I have been conspicuously avoiding the act writing, but I have made a lot of memories that I don’t want to forget.

When I began to write down my experiences, I taught myself to remember them, to remember what I was thinking about, what I was feeling, how I saw things.

The more I learned about subjectivity and objectivity, constructs of perception and significance, the more I puzzled over the construction of my own experiential reality.

I learned to take perspective, to be with feelings and to neutralize them, to change the way I feel about something.

I can strip things of meaning to their bare absurdity.

However, there are some things about the basic mechanisms of how I think (my cognitive processing style) and feel (my sensory integration mechanisms and stress responses) that might difficult to change. We’re talking basic operating system, how my brain makes sense of the world.

Every human being is an analytical creature, taking in information, assessing it for threat or reward, weighing out risks, coming to conclusions and making decisions.

We all think about our lives, to some extent or another, to some consequence or another.

 

Experiments

[This is a draft of things I might say to introduce my imaginary videolog.]

Hi, my name is Faith and I am creating this video log as a place where I can talk to myself and whomever else may listen about mental health, recovery from / with “extreme states” or “altered states of consciousness,” personal narrative, neuropsychology…and all sorts of other things, I’m sure. This is an experiment.

I am an experimenter. I like to see what happens if…

A little bit about me…first of all, I’m not new to this. You can scroll down my videos and see that I have been a random person on the internet before. I chose to post this new video log here on this channel, with my old and variably embarrassing videos, because a big part of who I am is that I am a person who has made mistakes.

This might be a mistake.

We’ll see…

So, what is my angle? Who am I? What do I have to say? Why is it important?

These are questions that we all – in my opinion – ought to be asking ourselves.

I think about these questions all the time.

So far, I have determined that:

A) I am not a neuroscientist.

B) I probably would have liked being a neuroscientist

It’s important that people have a basic understanding of how their brains (and bodies) work in creating our human experiences.

This working knowledge of basic brain/body/experience mechanics is , to me, is especially important for people who have been informed that they have a brain disease, or a brain disorder…an illness in their mental.

There is increasing evidence that experiences and behaviors that may meet clinical criteria for a Mental Disorder may be traumatogenic…meaning that the human brain and body respond to traumatic experiences, chronic and acute stressors, and injury to the body or sense of safety in one’s life in fairly predictable ways, and that the effects of profound stressors can – indeed – create disorder, dysregulation, imbalances.

However, disorder does not mean disease, and what is out of balance can be brought back into equilibrium. 

The evidence that people can heal is as strong as the evidence that people experience harm within their lives.

This may seem like a pithy statement.

Of course people get better, of course people get hurt.

It’s not pithy.

It’s life and death.

Why is it that some folks can bounce back and move on with their lives after adverse experiences and others become significantly impaired in their ability to function, adapt, and be at ease in their lives and experiences? What do things like race, gender, and social class have to do with people’s capacity to get better?

I am a “mental health professional” with a Master’s degree in Psychology. 

I first entered the mental health system when I was 12 years old. That is a long story, stretching over several decades. I will probably tell parts of that story here, because I can’t really separate out my lived experience from how I know what I know.

“Your daughter is very smart, right at the edge of genius.” The psychologist sat with her hands clasped lightly in her lap, seething southern glare pushing at the blinds covering the windows so that they looked like bright white rectangles.

“Oh, yes,” her mother nodded, hands also clasped, because that is how you sit while discussing the results of your child’s psychiatric evaluation. “She is very smart.”

The girl sat there, slightly out of alignment with her mother and the psychologist, still feeling the electrode goo plasticky around her hairline. 

She felt pleased that she was smart, glad that she was smart. Being smart was a good thing. 

The psychologist woman shifted papers around in her lap, looked up, “She also seems to be showing early signs of depression, which can be caused by a chemical imbalance or difficulties at school.”

The conversation shifted to depression, the signs and symptoms, what to do if it “gets worse.” The two women, the girl’s mother and the psychologist, discussed possible follow-up therapy while the girl rolled her ankles under the chair, feeling strangely conspicuous, but also invisible. Like she was not in the room, but was.

She didn’t know that no one would bring up her intelligence again, that it would be forgotten, that she – herself – would forget, one bad decision at a time, in series of hopeless nights across winters, that she was smart.

I am not a genius. If I ever was, I am not now. However, I am fairly spry in thinking about things – peculiar configurations and details in my head, playing with ideas and concepts, mapping out meanings and finding patterns, themes.

The first time I remembered that I was smart was when I got a couple points shy of a perfect score on the logic and analysis portion of the old Graduate Record Examination. I didn’t know I could do that.

However, quickly thereafter, my smarts failed me when couldn’t make it through the first semester of graduate school, and ended up in the hospital after doing some supremely unwise things.

The second time I remembered I was smart was in the process of a not-great divorce. I had a psychological evaluation done, got the full report emailed to me, the break down of how my cognition works, as measured by an imperfect tool.

Everyone knows that IQ tests are limited in the amount of information they can offer, and depend a great deal on the circumstances and state of the person taking the test and the person administering the test.

However, they do measure something…and when a person is testing at the outer margins of the statistical range, that means something, if only that they are different in some way or another, like everybody is.

Everybody is different in a hundred billion ways, but some people are more different than others…or the ways that they are different significantly impacts their experience, participation, and inclusion in the social milieu, their success within economy.

I used to be a genius. I was, nonetheless, a total fuck – up.

There is a unique brand of scorn and dismissal reserved for those who claim to be smart. I definitely get that claims of intelligence are likely to be met by challenge and derision.

So, let me assure you, I whole-heartedly know and believe that, in some regards, I am a complete idiot.

Still, the world is full of smart people and idiots, so many talkers and doers. So, I don’t think that my being smart and / or an idiot ought create any barriers to the legitimacy of this effort to experiment in using alternative media to convey information to an unseen and unknown audience for the purpose of…

Why am I doing this? What’s my aim?

I would like to introduce a vernacular and yet informed voice of moderate working knowledge into the sea of messages and content that floods this place around topics of human experience and ways to improve one’s human experience.

Often, when I am at work, at a semi-rural community mental health and substance abuse recovery center, talking with someone who has been through several circles of hell and back about how shift their state of experience through simple actions like breathing deeply, pushing on a wall, thinking deeply of and picturing someone or something or some place they love, something that they know makes them feel warm inside…when I am talking with people about new ways to understand what is happening in the brain and mind and body during a panic attack, or an episode of depression, exploring what works for that person, singular as they are, in helping to reduce distress and increase eustress, supporting the body in reestablishing equilibrium after an upset or a harm…when I am working with people, often folks who live well below the poverty line, who may not have much more than a middle school education, I see that this way of looking at and responding to experience through the lens of trauma-understanding is helpful to a lot of people. I can see it on their face, that they get, that they understand, and that understanding alone matters. Not knowing why you might feel like your insides are caving in and your throat closes up is scary…knowing that that happens because of fear, the body’s response to fear, it somehow seems to make it a little less scary.

They say it: “Yeah, I actually feel better.”

There is something healing in the ability to conceptualize what is happening in one’s body and brain that is creating sensations of severe distress, or of pleasure, comfort.

Reasons:

…so that people who’ve been hurt can maybe find some healing

…so that people can feel more joy and less pain

12/12/2017

Make intro box, and instructions, send back or send to someone who might help.

Portraits of lovers as spirit animals and symbols

Personal catalogue of symbols and associations

12/14/2017

“I want to stay home.” This was the first thought she had, laying in the dark in the very early morning, waiting for the alarm to go off in 24 minutes. She curled further into her bed, wrapping her arms across her chest, feeling the hard shape of her shoulder under the thin sweater she sleeps in. The thought of wanting to stay home was an interpretation of the feeling in her belly, a slight unease, gentle pressure below her heart, in her heart.

She knew the feeling well, a pull in her body to not get up, not yet, to not move through the paces of getting ready to go to work, spending her day – so many hours – not doing what she wants to do, laying there in the dark and imagining the mid-morning winter light in the dining room, dogs quiet and sleeping, the smell of acrylic paint, airy scrape of the needle on records, smoothness of brush and the press of thin wires wrapped around her fingers.

The inside of her lower lip held lightly between her teeth, that sort of focus, that sort of concentration, tracing water across paper, covering lines, redrawing and redrawing.

She wanted to stay home. There is a picture she wants to draw, a painting she would like to begin.

Her house is a little messy. Not terribly so, but she has not done some of the things that need to be done. Dusting and mopping. Vacuuming.

For three days, two bricks of cheese and a stick and a half of butter have sat on the counter in a metal bowl, coming to room temperature so that she can make cheese wafers, a different shaped form of her great-grandmother’s cheese straws. The kitchen is cold, and so the cheese stayed cold. She never made the dough, finally put the whole bowl into the refrigerator. She could take it out this weekend. Maybe she could make gingerbread with her daughter? Fill the fridge with cooling disks of dough, brown and orange. Dead leaf colors. Winter colors.

Her body feels tired, but not too tired, as she turns on the light, moves to get up, to begin the day as planned. To go to work.

She has gotten very good at finding reasons to be pleased enough with going through the motions of the day. Her days are enjoyable.

Still, she wants to stay home.

For two days, she has noticed the heavy, clotted feeling in her head, in the core of her. It is the feeling of not writing. As she drives past the airport and the song on the radio fades out into another station, she realizes that this is why it is difficult for her to have friends, to maintain friendships. In her current life structure, she often has to choose between writing and talking with friends. She is a lousy friend sometimes, because she chooses writing.

If she does not write, she becomes restless in her core, anxious, the edge of unhappy. She laughs less. The days blur.

She wishes she weren’t like this. It is a habit, to wish oneself other than you are, other than she is. She knows that there is not much she can do to change this part of her, this part of her that writes.

01/11/18 NOTE: I am changing the way I think about my relationship with writing, which is a relationship I have with myself, that affects the relationships I have with other people. I have been choosing friendship and family over writing…and there are so many new things to write about! Clarified ideas and small anonymous scenes, strange places. New phrases. It is good that I am changing my writing practice.

12/20/2017

to me

Rose Quartz vulture, beak like a knife

Like a nail,

sweetly piercing, holding

This creature in my chest

to let loose its life

thrum through my ribs

Suffuse my belly

Blue light sky

edge of wing

Pale white gold

Against all that shimmering

on the currents

12/21/2017

Lately, I have been more inclined to create visual art than to write, and my inspiration has taken the form of images that I’d like to paint, rather than ideas I would like to express or projects I would like to complete.

I’m such a project-oriented thinker, gestalt in that way…the grandiose finished product(s)…a book, a series of works…is clear in my mind, but like a person observing a distant point across a vast landscape, I can see it clearly…but, have only the vaguest ideas as to how to get from where I am standing now to that far-off place where maybe I can go, if I can find my way.

By the time I get there, distant places never look the way I imagine they might look.

I could carry out this metaphor of traversing the wild landscape in an effort to reach a distant, but visible – so visible! – point further…the way the journey might change me, the way that things which look grand in the distant can be barren, scrub – filled fields when you are standing there, at that place you fought so hard to get to.

[Draft text as experiment]

Hello, my name is Faith. It was my grandmother’s name, and now it is my name. My middle name, Rachel, was my great grandmother’s first name. Sometimes I think about changing my name, to something I choose, but I never do. I’ve heard that one’s name is chosen for you before you were ever born, before you even exist. I don’t know if I believe that, but I like my name well enough most days.

I work with people who are sick and wounded and dying both slowly and quickly, the edge of death always just a few situations away. Sometimes, I think it matters to them that my name is Faith. It makes some little difference in their day, repeating it, “Faith?”

“Yes, Faith.” Holding their hand as I introduce myself. “It was my grandmother’s name.” I try to smile as sincerely as I can, because it makes a difference, to offer something to someone in the midst of a bleak life, a difficult day, a slow death.

One of the reasons I sometimes consider changing my name is because there are, er, things hat come up with a Google search of my name that are connected to the time I tried to prove God with pictures of clouds, and there are videos of me saying that I was never sick like they said I was, there are videos of me singing songs off key, playing the banjo badly. There is one video of me by the ocean in a beautiful place, talking about how I’d been psychotic. The sun was going down.

I am writing this to you because I understand that it is time that I begin to experiment with reaching out in this way (and other ways) to people that I think might be able to help to put my in touch with someone or some small group of people who may be interested in helping me to be more useful and to create more beauty within this life. If you do find yourself in a position to consider these matters, please kindly return this correspondence in the self-addressed stamped envelope provided, or give it to someone else, or set it on a shelf in a room somewhere, to sit and wait to be found. I appreciate your time and attention.

If this is sent back, I will simply send it to someone else, as an experiment in developing my new ways of trying. I have a severe and persistent belief that there is something I ought to be doing in the world, and that if I do not try to do this thing/these things in the world, then something important in my heart will wither and I will slowly stop laughing. I understand the ways that a belief such as this might be problematic, how beliefs like this –  that someone ought be doing some divinely ordained vocational something or other – can lead to all sorts of chaotic and ill-conceived tragedies. I don’t know if God wants me to write a book and to be an artist, but there have been times that I strongly believed that in doing things I might best serve my highest possible purpose within this life. I have had to negotiate and renegotiate what I assume me serving my highest purpose might look like. Most days, I am comfortable with the thought that maybe me serving my highest purpose is me shaking hands with someone who is struggling to continue to live, telling them my name, smiling at them in a way I hope they can feel.

That is enough, isn’t it?

I can believe that.

Nonetheless, there is a part of me that is always nagging and churning about “a book, a book” and filling my mind with images of paintings I’d like to paint, words I’d like to speak aloud, places I want to go. This has been going on for years, this preoccupation with somehow becoming a person who makes their way by word and image, by voice and smile. For a period of time, it was necessary for me to consider whether or not I may just have delusions of grandeur, a thread of hypomanic audacity in me . . . but, I really don’t think it is that, because I have worked at my project for years.

I have had delusions of grandeur in the past, because I think in big ideas. I find big ideas exhilarating. In attending to any possible set of circumstances or situations, I try to identify and consider all possible outcomes and, in doing this, I have conceived of some rather lofty outcomes.

Because of the way I think about things, imagining them happening in great detail, I can feel awe and terror and amazement in picturing something happening. That is how I learned that I want to be a well-known person, because of the thrill I experience in imagining having the sort of influence and freedom that I (probably naively) think that a respected notoriety may affords a person.

In addition to daydreaming about making my way through art and ideas, being an artwork in and of myself, I am the mother of two teenagers, and an employee in the state – funded behavioral health services industry. Sometimes I wish I could forget about writing a book about how I lost my mind trying to prove God with pictures of clouds, how my life fell apart in that ambition and I ended up sedated in a hospital, losing legal custody of my children, how I moved forward from all of that, what I learned in trying to figure out why I still couldn’t unbelieve the things I saw, the things I knew, when I was crazy.

I think I might still be trying to prove God with pictures of clouds, seven years later.

For a long time, the website where I posted my cloud photos and disjointed rants was called Prove Me Wrong, because I really did want someone to tear apart my ideas, help me see the holes in my thinking, so that I could put the idea to rest.

I cannot believe in something that doesn’t hold up logically, that doesn’t make sense. That has been a difficult cognitive character trait to reconcile in relation to my belief that what I experienced while I was what could be clinically considered to be psychotic was more than just the flotsam and jetsam of a disordered mind, a wrecked self.

Yes, my mind was disordered.

Yes, I was wrecked.

However, I still can’t believe that what I experienced was entirely superfluous to what is real and meaningful.

In 2010, I began a project to draw a picture everyday for a year. Concurrent with beginning this project, my marriage ended, my dog got hit by a car, I made a friend and lost a friend, and my primary care physician increased my dose of a popular antidepressant. By mid-summer, I was unemployed and taking hundreds of pictures of clouds a day, frantically writing out ideas about why it might be that the clouds looked like letters to me, why they looked like faces, like figures, like scenes from a stained glass window, kneeling and reaching, flying.

I was only a little crazy when I began to notice the shapes in the clouds.

By the time I had developed ideas about the origins of written human language and the capacity for numinous encounters by simply looking up at the sky, I had basically lost my mind, not my ability to reason, but my ability to invest in the legitimacy of consensual reality. I slipped into a fascinating and paranoid world of covert purpose and cryptic divine orchestrations.

I sent emails to St. Paul’s inside the Vatican walls. I messaged a prominent reclusive independent musician through his wife’s film company. I called the FBI, to let them know that the moon had not risen as it ought to have, that it was hanging low and gold in the northeastern sky, like a ring in the middle of the night.

I thought I was a part of a plan, that somehow I was important.

I wrote every day, posted my thoughts online, where they were read by concerned family members. I was told I was embarrassing myself, humiliating myself.

I was, of course, embarrassing and humiliating myself, but that just made me try harder.

I finished the drawing a picture everyday for a year project. I am going to finish the book project, too. Usually when I ask for help, I end up discovering how to help myself, so I am asking for help.

I have continued to write, and have amassed hundreds of pages of reflective text that might best be characterized as experimental autoethnography. Most of my writing is done on a phone, in between work and home responsibilities.

It means something to me that I continue to do this.

12/25/2017

It is so easy to get off track, to get out of balance. It is also easy for me to be errored in my thinking that a particular course of action and focus is what I need to be doing, and that the things that shift my attention from said conceived – of course of action are “getting off track,” or “out of balance.” For example, I have been working at writing for a long time, and when I do not write, my line of thought tends toward the idea that I am not doing what I ought to be doing, that I am somehow faltering in my course of action. I believe that if I take time away from my children, young adults now, that I am not fulfilling my responsibilities, or am somehow falling short in my parenting duties, getting out of balance. If I stay up late to laugh and to feel free, if I use my writing time to have conversations with other people, or to draw a picture that will not become some finished work of art, that I am somehow compromising important things, that I am not doing what I am supposed to be doing.

I have had to consider functionality and intent, motivations and desire, a lot in recent months. More and more, I believe that it is important to do more of whatever inspires me to laugh, to feel free in laughter, because I know that – for me – good things will come more easily of laughter than they will from joyless diligence toward a task.

I still have work to do, and responsibilities which will not be compromised, but I think I need to laugh more in my life. To feel more free.

It’s funny to me, the way a plan for freedom can undermine the state of being free – meaning that I have felt an enormous and urgent pressure for years to somehow structure my life to accommodate more freedom (freedom as the state of being able to move about in the world with reasonably minimal constraints placed upon my ability to go where I am inclined to go and to do the things I most love to do, which is to gawk around and soak up the feel of places, record my thoughts, draw pictures and daydream fantastic art installations and surreptitious public works of poetry, to talk with people and to hold their hands, to look at clouds, and to talk about what it’s like to be human, what people’s lives are like. I like to sit with with people, and hear about what it feels like to them to want to die, to then see that flash of grace when they remember something beautiful that they saw once.

Really, these are the things I most want to do in the world, within this life. The only way I can figure to be able to do all of these things is to a) write an important book about my experience of trying to prove God with clouds and everything that led to that stretch of time, how I recovered, why I am not dead or miserable, b) create artworks that are compelling enough to position me as an outlier artist, not an outsider artist, because I am in the midst of many things, but an outlier, in reference to my distance from the median values and experiences that characterize some numerical and yet imagined norm.

Most people would just sit down and write the damn book, post about it on Facebook, maybe self-publish, self-promote. People would make the fantastic artwork, put together a clean-edged website, and get themselves a gallery show, go to parties, develop an Instagram following, etc. etc.

The barrier to me doing these sorts of things is primarily psychological, meaning that I don’t believe that I could consistently self-promote and market myself as a “writer” or an “artist” – but, whoa, wait a sec…why the hell not?

There is research that indicates that people with social difficulties in their walking-talking lives are also likely to display those same tendencies of sundry awkwardness or unease in their social media interactions. I don’t know that this is true, because there are plenty of spaces online where all sorts of socially avoidant, misanthropic, and otherwise asocial folks can get together and chat, forums and rooms, threads and pages.

(I found one of my best friends, a person who probably helped to save my life in a time of great peril, in a space like that, where people who had experienced various madnesses could connect with one and other, share experiences, trade ideas, art, community. A moment ago, I experienced a small weight bloom in my belly with the thought that I am a terrible friend. This isn’t true though.)

12/27/2017

Tonight, I am driving down to the coast again, to take another few days to be near those home waters, to feel myself in that place. The feel of the air coming off of the river sparks memories, reminds me of who I was, and still am. This is an important thing for me to do.

A couple of months ago, I wrote about how fun it is to imagine doing some things, like I can bring to mind and feeling what it might be like to drive into the night, to walk into a room, to find myself on open water, laughing with a friend, or feeling quiet inside. I can hear the slap of the water on the side of the boat, taste my own dry mouth, feel the squint in my brow.

I will need to remember to bring a hat.

Funny, how sometimes the things I imagine end up coming to be…and how sometimes they don’t.

My plan was to have a query letter written, to have something put together to send off to a few people, a few places. I didn’t do it, didn’t write the letter. I started writing the letter, but I didn’t finish it. Didn’t make the beautiful little booklet, though I gathered some materials, came up with a plan for construction, felt excited as I stacked papers in a pile on my desk. Then the dog started barking, the clock slid, the day gathered around me.

12/27/2017

There is so much detritus

that comes up with an open heart
It’s easy to see it

The hospital in people’s eyes

and the forest, the whole wide world of them

Her face was like this January moon

That held its fullness in the sky for a moment

Just a few days ago

(That was a moon I forgot to look for

I miss them sometimes

But I saw it in her right away)

Beaming and pale

Dark hair just as long as my own

A little round face, that was still big

Set atop a miniature frame,

Wolf on her shirt

Walking stick in her hand,

So tall as to be a staff

Knife on her hip

 

The girl spoke nervous

Quiet like she might be made of air

The syllables of her name were hard in her mouth

But fell at the edges from the tip of her tongue

She hardly blinked at all

(In Brunswick GA there was a doll museum called Mary Miller’s Doll Museum and my great-grandmother was friends with Mary Miller, another old woman, so we sometime got to go, walk through the few small rooms of figures lining shelves, mirrors for walls, hundreds of perfect little eyes, wide and smooth.)

She was probably used to people staring intensely

at two disks of pale clear frozen green

Flecked with gold gingko

“I’m not schizophrenic. I don’t have schizophrenia.”

We talked about belief and experience, that sense of connection, being in the woods.

She signed where she needed to sign, said we ought to go out walking.

01/06/2018

Okay . . . so, it’s been a minute, a few weeks, actually…where to begin, where to begin…

I’ve thought about changing my writing practice. The evening blocks spent emailing myself aren’t working for me anymore. There are other things I need to be doing. Other people I need to be talking with, people other than myself. 

Nonetheless, here I am…with the press of how genuinely epic the past few weeks have been in my small and expanding life pushing into my thoughts by way of images, that reflexive urgency to write down as much as I can, so that I can remember small aspects of meaningful experience as thoroughly as possible. Not just the scene, but what I felt

If I write things down, I am better able to remember them, because I remember the act of writing and the look of the words.

I’ve gotten better at this encoding of experience through savoring and written documentation of key experiential facets…key in that small mentions of detail open up connections to associated experiences or, in other words, act as linguistic signifiers of complex and layered phenomena of moments and seeming minutae.

It’s all too much to write down, everything I want to save, or play with telling about.

 

It’d be foolish to try to tell this from the start

Sitting here in front of the fire

With a whole world in me

A collider pressing and spinning

The smells of the forest at night

With cigarette smoke pulled through the cold wind

The lap of water against a boat

That sandy mud flat shifting and sliding

Under my feet in that quiet

Unexpected rain

It really all does come to that

To me just sitting there while you learned

(…that _____  was dying.)

(Oh, and here I am with an ache in my chest that does not feel wholly my own, but that reason tells me must only be mine?)

What else is there to say?

 

I sat down to write some notes

about everything that has happened

but the dark water still in me

Boiled it all down to those drops of rain

The mud seeping up from itself

around us

All that water

stinking mud

The belly of the crucible

all those small sounds of living and dying

Under those grey skies that just couldn’t wait

 

How did we end up lost in the marsh like that?

(Did our wishes make that happen? That I could be there for ___, in some way that mattered, that ____ might not be unduly harmed in receiving the news of ____ imminent death, because I knew that it was a call that would come…and I wished that I might be your friend in that, as only I might be able to be, because only I have the heart that I have. Did you wish to not be alone, to have some kindness to hold you? Are the two figures in the little green boat, wedged up onto the sand, in the middle of a maze, knowing what direction they are facing…is that what the workings of circumstance, opportunity, and inspiration in the world conspired from the wishes in our hearts?)

(I have not always tried in the wisest of ways…I tried in the ways that I knew to try…they were bad ideas…a lot of them . . . but, may have been seeds of better ideas . . . nonetheless, because I tried in crazy ways, I learned that when I try I am crazy…that is what people taught me about my trying….they did not try to help me try in better ways…and that is okay . . . but, they said I was crazy for trying…and missed the point of why I was trying, and what I was trying.)

 

Game Changers 

11/15

I woke up this morning and my body was sore, stiff from running, a tightness in my right hamstring, tense around my shoulders. 

I hit snooze four times, and was still on time to meet the person at the forest. It felt good to walk, to stretch out my legs. I still felt running in them, a quiet and quivering energy, a coiled twitch in the big muscles of my thighs. We walked fast, stopping only to take pictures of whatever we saw that caught our eye. 

“I can anthropomorhize anything,” I laughed a little at myself, taking a picture of a dead fall tree leaning against the sturdy trunk beside it, a clinging friend. 

The cut logs reminded me of my cats and dogs, lined up and staring. Waiting for food, about to crowd me. “What is it called if you see animals in things? Pomorphizing what? What is the suffix? The prefix of downed trees that look like pigs or dogs? 

The splinters were a forest, a landscape. 

I danced in the car on the way to the forest, made my hand drop down low, stripping it down with the radio up. I love the radio. 

I didn’t feel sad this morning. I felt determined. 

There are a lot of things that could bring me down going on this week. Major disruptions of old scars and fragile hopes. I am coming off of a significant reformulation of energy and perspective. A couple of weeks ago, fueled by the eustress created by accomplishing goals and disrupting my routine, doing more interesting and unlikely things in the company of positive people, I was feeling as though I could quite possibly launch or drift right back into that liminal way of life, that framework of awareness and interpretation that explodes the everyday into myriad wonders and possibilities, the sweetness of morning light pressing in with the weight of some gleaming unseen. 

However, instead of delving into a mindful demi-psychosis for the sake of art and experience, I rearranged the upstairs of my house and painted two rooms. Got rid of a bunch of old stuff, made a new mantle display. Moved my desk to the same corner it sat in during the summer of 2010. 

I have hardly sat at my desk at all. 

I have been moving around. 

This morning, I felt good. However, I tried to remember what it was to feel that searing grief, that punch-the-gut grief. Like my heart was being wrung out, blown open. Like it’d been kicked. I did not want to forget that feeling. It is one of my oldest feelings, and I hadn’t felt it in a long time. 

Last night, on the phone with my mom, I talked about lessons in non-attachment, about how I’d had just about enough of them.

“So, you said something about the lock not working. Will I be able to get in if I get there at midnight?”

I was driving to work, passing through town, just coming out of the forest. I’d called my mom to let her know that it looked like maybe I’d just drive down alone, go home to an empty house 7 hours away on the coast of Georgia. 

For a moment, there was the possibility that I would travel with a friend, that we’d stay up late in the dome room and eat wonderful snacks, take the kayaks out on the river. That I’d be able to show someone that place again. 

I used to love to show people that place. To share it, the way the road turned and the pastures opened up, the house standing up on its stilts and the river right there. Right there. I loved to walk with them up the stairs my father built, to open the heavy wood door with the iron thumb latch, to see that they had nothing to say, that they were looking around, amazed that a place so beautiful was tucked away there, right back behind the subdivision, the new paved streets and it’s wood signs that will rot like every made of wood eventually does. 

The last time I went home, the old wood signs were peeling and some had been replaced by city signs, sharp edged and reflective. Glowing green, brand new.

When I was young, men would call the house, offering us deals on vinyl siding. “We can do your whole house for under 3,000.00! It lasts about forever, and looks real nice.” 

The siding salesmen sounded like the men at the gas station up by highway 40, Mom N Pops, with condoms in the bleach smelling bathroom. The people behind the counter did not know my name, just like the men who called about vinyl siding promotions did not know my name, had never seen my home. 

“Our house is sided in cypress,” I’d tell them, matter-of-factly, but a little glib, as if they should’ve known. “It doesn’t rot. No thank you.” 

Sometimes I would allow for niceties and other times I would just hang up.  “This house is sided in cypress. It doesn’t rot.” 

Everything eventually rots. 

The plans to travel with a friend shifted, which was likely for the best as those plans had begun to expand in my mind to involve multiple days, the use of PTO, finnagling the use of my father’s aging truck, a daring canoe trip to Cumberland Island, walking past Plum Orchard, big ol ‘ white house with its columns in the front and it’s icy cold pool in its own big room. 

That was the very first place I lived, in Plum Orchard, right after I was born. 

“They were out of Ranger housing and the house needed a caretaker, people living in it.” 

That’s how I tell the story, how it was told to me.

We weren’t there long. To hear my mother tell it, being stuck on an island an easy hour to town – with going to the dock and getting a ride on some boat or another, the Cumberland Queen, the Ranger boat – wasn’t easy, especially with a newborn.  

I think that was when they moved me to my great-grandmother’s house, to the land that was named Shadowlawn. 

That place I used to love to show people, to share with people. I could go anywhere on the land, the miles to the border at the backside of theunicipal golf course out by the interstate, the boundary of highway 40, river along the other two sides of the land that we called home.  I knew all the best places, all the trees that bowed down to the ground, the small bluff under the osprey nest, the caves of sand and roots that were worn up under the earth along a straightaway that helped the tide move fast and high. I knew all about erosion. 

My father built the house too close to the river. 

Thinking about going to Cumberland, I hoped there would be egrets molting, and made a mental note to research when exactly that might happen, when the trees and ground will be covered in perfect plumes down by the water.  

It was fun to think about, fun to imagine. 

Sometimes, I can imagine things in just-such-a-way that I almost have no need to do them, have – in fact – already seemed to experience whatever it is that I imagine. It’s not real, of course, in that much of what I picture never comes to any sort of actuality, never happens. Isn’t real. Still, this sort of imagining might be one of my heart’s survival skills. 

Besides, just a couple of weeks ago, I was thinking about the feeling  of Thanksgiving in S. Georgia and wanting to maybe go down there. 

Now, I am going. 

It’s easy to see how experiential imagining could be potentially problematic, in terms of muddling reality and what is for real the situation or possibility, and also because – meh –  why do a thing of you’ve already gotten a kick from it, a satisfaction in imagining, a generated emotion or two, a few imagined details to flesh it out, moments and summaries, crossing the intracoastal waterway in a canoe? 

It was a dumb idea, but exceedingly fun to think about, so I was okay plans changing. 

Is believing that one ought to do something the same as ‘shoulding yourself,’ in terms of unhelpful seedling delusions of directive and unbearable pressure on oneself? 

Wouldn’t it be impossible to discern what one ought to do without believing that one ought to do something? Making choices is all about what we believe we ought to do. 

In this particular instance, I increasingly believed that I ought to go to my home in St Mary’s and write for two straight days. Yes. That is what I ought to do. I will do the thing. I will write the introduction and query. I will construct a reasonably representative sample of the work, and will devise an outline for myself. 

I have done this before. With the outlining and the construction. Then, I stopped doing it. Forgot about the outline, changed the idea, read too much of my own very-least-appealing writing and shuddered to remember the origins of the posts. Felt disgusted and activated to remember in vivid detail the specific days and nights, the hours, that composed especially embarrassing posts, series of posts. 

If one looks at my archives, it is easy to see when I lost my mind, trying to prove God with pictures of clouds on the Internet. A lot of the posts from that time, and earlier, are quite awful. Rants, really. With messages to myself or some unseen audience (some imagined audience) woven into the strident and preposterous assertions that I was fine, really. Other people were being idiots. They were being fascists. 

I had something important to say, and no one would listen. 

I said this over and over again. 

It is a dominant theme through the 2010-2011. 

I had/still-have (as do most people) some challenges around my cognition, meaning-making. My perspectives were (and sometimes still are) pocked and slanted by mis – learning and misunderstanding both myself and other people. Poor estimates of what exactly is going on. 

It is difficult to look at the people we were.

I had a lot of dumb ideas. Reasoning with bodily feelings, hooked in by the fear and rapture encapsulated in certain notions. 

Nothing fuels dumb ideas like fear and rapture. 

There are so many songs on the radio about running out of time. It’s true that this happens. People (and ideas) run out time. Opportunities expire, someone else does it. You just can’t quite pull it off. Maybe in the next life, etc. etc. 

I have settled in myself that it is okay if I do not succeed so long as I continue to try. For years, continuing to try has meant simply continuing to write. 

I am at the point where I need to redefine the activities of trying to include editing and inquiry, submissions and proposals. 

That sort of thing is a major growth area for me. Major. It probably is for lots of people who write prolifically but who have never had any formal mentorship or opportunities to learn the meta-organizational skills that are helpful in completing any large project, like a book. 

I am beginning to try in new and exciting (and probably more productive, certainly a little more intimidating) ways.  

“I should go home and write for two days, see what happens. Wasn’t I just saying that I wonder what will happen if I have hours and hours to write. This is – at almost precisely this point – an hour of writing. I am writing on my phone, because that’s how I like to write. I could write a lot with two days to write.”

“I won’t have WiFi. I can just bring my computer and my harddrives and write for two days. Compile and construct for two days, see what happens.” 

I pictured myself alone in the dome, maybe sitting against the wall where the couch was, the couch where I could not breathe, the first time I got hurt, when I broke my spleen. 

What if I got writer’s block, wasn’t able to write? 

I know that that won’t happen, because even if start off writing poorly and with no inspiration, if I write long enough, what I want to say, what I want to tell about, presents itself to me.

I decided that I wanted to go, and felt good about that plan. I have a paid day off the day after Thanksgiving. If I go alone and only write, two days will be enough time. I will be ready to come home by Sunday. 

“So, the lock? Will I be able to get in if I get there at midnight?” 

My mother sounded casual, but also a little conspiratorial (auto-correct just changed that word to Co spirit orioles). She spoke low, as though she was walking into another room, or didn’t want anyone to hear. 

“I’ll have dad call —— and…you know, they worked out a deal that —— is going to buy the house and the land, that last parcel.” 

I was at a red light, across from a grocery store, several counties away from my mother, who had just told me that the last remaining portion of the place my family had know as home for generations, the house my father built, would be sold to the man who had bought the pasture and the fork in the road, the man who had bought the bluff. I pictured his face, red and jowly, a bulldog face, a big man. White hair. Large boat. Small wife, lovely home. He is a real estate developer. He bought our land. Lives there now. It is his land, by deed, now. 

I was surprised by the force of the familiar but almost forgotten grief, that choked and silent weeping, there at the traffic light. 

Tears sliding, heart deeply aching, a physical pain the chest, a tightening, throbbing, pulling in from the inside and violently expanding, a black hole vomiting an entire cache of memory and image, the annals of home-grief. 

My throat hurt. Voice was ragged but controlled when I finally spoke, driving past the Burger King. “Is he going to tear down the house? Is that the plan?”

 My mom mumbled something non-committal, a non-answer. “We don’t know what’s going to happen with it.” 

I got loud, indignant, began making demands. “Î want wood from that house. When they tear down that house, I want wood from it.”

I spoke with the righteousness of a preacher. 

 “Dad and I will go down and we will get things that we need to bring up here.”

 “No!” I felt the edge of a keening and confused outrage. My throat felt like I couldn’t breathe. 

“I want a whole fucking truckload of that wood and I want to put it on the walls of this house and if I have to sell this house, I will take it with me, or take it somewhere and burn it.” 

There was nothing else to say. “I have to get off the phone. I have to go into work now.” 

I stayed in the car, took out the handheld recorder, told the story of the conversation, some thoughts I was having about what it is to love a place as a living thing, to grieve when it is destroyed like you’ve lost a person, more than a person, an entire family history, a home. A whole world, full of things you love. I spoke for exactly 4 minutes. 

My face was surely contorted, my mouth all screwed up, brow furrowed, a hard look in my eye. Trying not to cry, walking with my head down. 

I absolutely did not want to go to work. Did not know if I could go to work. I wasn’t crying outright. I was holding it in. Taking deep breaths, trying to compose myself. 

I was lucky to grow up in a place that I believed was my home and always would be. I was lucky to love a place like that. I knew, growing up, that it was other people’s home before it was ours. That it was never ours. That it couldn’t really belong to anyone, but if it did, its true owners were long gone. Ghosts.

There are very few things that make cry like I wanted to cry in the car this morning. I wanted to cry like I couldn’t stop crying, to cry like I used to cry when I was a kid. I felt like I had a lot of crying to do, like my heart was just flat out stunned and broken by the turn of events, the innocent desire to go home. 

“This might be the last time I ever go home. It will not be a place I can ever again. It will not be there.”

 The land will be there, changed surely. 

The house will be gone. 

There is a part of me that is totally okay about that, can move on from feelings of deep grief and remorse, stay in the present. 

However, there is also a part of me that feels very much like I am 12 years old, watching bulldozers gouge at the trunks of pine trees, demolish the thicket of blackberries out by the East Marsh. Pour hot, stinking tar all over the place, men cutting down trees, the air alive with saws. 

I had a few conversations about it at work, and people heard me, they got it. Even if the place they loved didn’t have a beautiful name, like Shadowlawn, most people know what it is to love a place and to not ever be able to go back to that place again, because it is owned by someone else, or has become a different place, or was simply destroyed, paved over, built upon. People still get the idea of home, what that means. 

They really have no idea though, what it means to me, personally, to find myself in this moment of reckoning with the reality that the land will be sold and I will probably not go back there anymore. 

I left work early. I did not come straight home and go to bed, which is what I wanted to do. I did not stop at a drive thru and get a milkshake because I am sad. The thought of that depressed me. I didn’t call a friend, though I wanted to. I did not know who to call.  

I considered all the people throughout history who’d lost the place they know as home, all the brutality of colonialism.  All the people, all the lands…all the harm done in the taking. Places and people raped, destroyed. 

I planned to run about 7 miles today. 

I ended up running 10. It took me a long time, but not as long as I would have guessed it’d take. 

I ran fast on the flats and downhills, and even on the moderate inclines, 30 or 40 degrees. On the steeper slopes leading up to the spine of the mountain I was running up, I had to hike – fast climbing, leaning forward, hard pushing. I almost got lost, or may have gotten lost if I had not realized that I ought to turn back and return the way I’d come, the way I was certain would lead me back to the easy trail to my car, which seemed very far away as I watched the sun go down over the mountains through the winter bare trees. I made it back to the flat and gravely trail by the time it was full dark, and ran even in the dark, because I knew I’d get cold if I stopped running. I was cold even as I ran. 

My legs felt light, almost numb. I couldn’t believe I was still running, and still running well. 

I wonder how far I could run, if I both pushed myself and paced myself? Something remarkable happens after the miles it takes me to warm up, one to shift into relaxed running and speed up, three to shift into forgetting that I am running, six to feel like I might be able to keep going forever. 

On Saturday, I ran 8 miles. Today, I ran 10. 

I felt the feelings of wanting to cry, of being sad, a dull heartbreak flying through the rhododendrons dimly aware that it was dumb to be running in near dark, in full dark, in the woods. 

I didn’t feel scared. I knew where I was going. By the time it was, I was on a familiar trail. Smooth, hardly any roots at all. 

Suddenly tired, I am going to sleep. 

Note to self: There is a time and a place for audacity? This is the season for audacity? 

I ran 10 miles in the woods today.  I ran the last two miles in the dark.

That’s how I cry now.

11/16-17

This question of core sadnesses, of home and alienation and not being loved, not having love in one’s life. 

It occurs to me that it is difficult to be loved if one cannot be seen. 

Sure, people may “love” some idea they have of another person, but if they do not or are not able to perceive or adequately assess the key attributes and aspects of another person’s being (who they are, to the extent that such things can be seen by another person), they cannot possibly genuinely love that person? 

My thinking about this might be way off. That love is not a thing extended to someone because of a conscious or cognitive process rooted in understanding of a person, but is an elemental human reverence for the existence of the light within another person, which generates positive feelings of connection (oxytocin) . . . thus, making it possible for strangers to love one another? 

That seems about right to me?

Still I was thinking about how alienation and the core sadness of not being loved, not having love in one’s life, in some whole and encompassing way, are connected. 

Some people are hard to see clearly. Some people cannot be seen at all through the obfuscation factors of physicality, language, communication, all the isms and the ways that value is placed upon what is observable. 

I am a person that has observed that I may be hard to see. 

(I just now genuinely understood that it does not mattter if I am understood, that people can still see me. They can still love me.)

I have love in my life. I am able to love. Because of the ways I define love – as a deep appreciation for the existence of a person – and because I am able to connect with people easily, to see what is best in them, or interesting, or important, able to take the stories they tell and imagine a childhood…it is easy for me to love. Because I think about things phenomenologically, everyday people and occurrences strike me as rare and wonderful, simply because anything exists at all. I feel a lot of love. 

However, while I understand that I am loved and that people imagine that they love me…they really love an idea of me. They love that they feel seen and loved. 

I do know that people love me. I can feel it. I can see it. In those moments, I am connecting with them on some very rudimentary human level. 

However, there are so many different sorts of love…and there are some ways that I know (or have known) that I am not truly loved because I am not seen. 

I can be a difficult person to see. (That isn’t true.)

Note: I sent this email to myself at 2:57 am. Sometimes people stay up late trying to not feel sad when they are sad. I don’t like to sleep when I am sad, to go to sleep sad. So, I stayed up and busiedyself with conversation, laughter, and comforts until late. 

I wanted to write down these thoughts about the core sadness of being unloved, to make some clarifications with myself. 

I ended sitting with a great assembly of all the small moments I am loved in a way that feels real, like it is really me – the closest approximation of the ‘real’ me, my spirit – that people see, that they love. 

Today, a person at work – one of the people I’d been feeling grateful to know and to have shared moments of deep appreciation with as I was thinking about being loved – told me they hadn’t slept well, that they’d woken up at 3:00 am and felt powerfully called to pray for me, and that they’d stayed up ’til sunrise, praying. 

They didn’t need to do that. I was already okay, but I will remember that. 

I know I am loved.

As a note, I do not need as much sleep as I thought I did. I can function fine, well even, on just several hours – so long as I rest (or get slightly more sleep) the next day, or the day after. I stopped eating so much bread and starch, so many processed carbohydrates. I am not tired in the way that I was. Good to know. Game changer. 

11/“…but wouldn’t it also be a matter of a person, or group of people projecting their own spin onto what they are seeing?” Looking at her sideways, head on arm, face only a half, only an eye. 

“Well, yeah, that absolutely is a huge part of it. So, you have some meta-universal force that is doing whatever it does, moving in waves and currents, making things look a certain way, or feel a certain way.” * 

She moved her hands up into the air above her, held her arms careful and straight, shifted her hands to be holding a box, then dropping one hand, pulling out a shape like a river in the movement of her wrist. Held her palm open and flat, “Then you have whatever people see, whatever sense they make of it, based on their natural environments, their habitats, beliefs, what is important to them.” 

“Even if it is just a fit of human imagination, some big projection, it’s still…”

 She dropped her hands to her belly, to the soft space between her ribs. She knew what she wanted to say, the point of it all, but the knowing had too many words she had not spoken in it, words she wasn’t sure of. She felt her pause in the conversation lengthen. She was being listened to. 

“I mean, even if it is just some thing that I projected, because I was crazy…it’s still…I mean, I have no idea how people thousands of years ago saw the sky. What they thought of it.” 

She leaned her head back a little, pressed her hands into her belly, felt that wing-shaped weight, studied the edge of the shelf, the dry sand color of the paint. 

“I felt like I could imagine it though, that I could see the clouds like they meant something, something important, like gods were up there.” 

She could not give voice to the knowing that she thought this was an important experience to have had, for all those months, in moments still. Everyday, to see and to be with the world in this animist way. 

The word liberation came to mind, but she could not quite explain why she thought that people learning to see the sky as more than a dead, flat plane, a circumstantial and senseless thing, a void of significance strewn with pretty colors, tinged by smog, blurred by rain…just a backdrop, really…something to take pictures in front of…why would that be important, seeing the sky differently, thinking about the shapes of clouds differently? 

People love the sky. 

I think that people who love the sky, who are inspired by it and moved by the beauty of it, that impermanence and so much light, so many layers…I think we are happier people, because the sky is always there. Doing something. 

This morning I realized that it is easy to make a straight line in the sky, with a sharp change in pressure or temperature, the frozen edges of clouds against cold air. 

It is easy to make a triangle shape. All you have to do is cross two contrails, let ’em sit for a second. 

If nothing else, even if I didn’t prove the existence of God, some active and electrically connecting series of metaversal forces that work in conjunction with our hearts and bodies and natural world, which spawned religion through the human effort to document and create meaning around what they saw and what they felt about what they saw in the natural world around them, spawned language in the recording of forms, the making of symbols, gave birth to divine composition, the grand archetypes of relational aesthetics, those arrangements that make us feel a particular way, that we intuitively notice and drawn to, like the flash of red on a mother gull’s beak, a mark its offspring know from birth…even if I have nothing good or worthwhile to say about any of that, despite my feeling that the theory is a plausibly good one, knowing what little I know about physics and psychology and patterns in nature…at the very least, I learned how to see the sky again, to see what can’t be seen without clouds. The rivers in the air above me, all around me. The shape of the wind and of the heat. How it moves. How the earth breathes. 

That, to me, is something worth writing about. 

That Fun Feeling

Hello, Seven years ago, I blogged my way through psychosis. A central aspect of what was clinically described as “a psychotic break” was my conviction that I had discovered a way to prove God through analysis of the shapes of clouds.  In my medical records, I was described as having “delusions of grandeur,” as I was quite certain that some power greater than me (God? The Illuminati? God and the Illuminati?) had orchestrated my realization. 

 

[Every once in a while, I experiment with how I might begin an introduction and query. This is not a sensationalized mental health memoir.]

 

 

Sep 26 (13 days ago)

The inertia that reinforces and perpetuates this life structure of mine is a strong, strong force.

For several days, I am able to find footing in practicing the habit of writing, of working on compiling the assemblage of writings that will be ‘my book.’ (It makes me happy that auto-correct just changed the singular book into the plural books. I am such a fiend for small, imagined encouragements. I collect them, these happenstance suggestions that my dreams are possible.)

…for the past several years, I have only maintained a regular and focused writing project for several days at a time, a few magical weeks. The month of November last year, when I generated over 50,000 words in 30 days, some of which may be portions of a novel that I may not ever finish, a couple of short stories that could be explored. A character or two, a conversation in an imagined restaurant in downtown Jacksonville, c. 1915, perhaps brought into the present, the youth modernized trainhoppers?

I don’t know how I managed NaNoWriMo. At the time, it didn’t seem that difficult. It was even, at times, fun in that way that only writing and painting and playing music are fun, that breathless immersion in the sound and feel of things, all that comes to mind and heart unbidden. The delight in the unexpected, the warmth of the nuances, that feeling of love…of dearness, oh small and secret creation…the double-entendre and the well-wrought hints in the space between the notes, the overlay of color.

I just sent a flurry of text messages…and am finding myself distracted by various work-thoughts/work-realities, the lives that exist in conjunction and relation with mine, the things that may need to happen to ensure that particular situations and scenarios happen smoothly, or as smoothly as possible within my scope of influence.

Being in the present is great, but does not preclude the need to plan or the reality that plans for what is not yet present is a part of the present.

I have lost that fun feeling. Work-thoughts shift my nervous system into a monitored anxiety and general flatness with burrs of an interpreted resistance to the complex reality of my occupation.

I was thinking the other day, driving you-know-where, that I don’t talk much about the details of my day. The reason for this is that the vast majority of my day happens under HIPPA law.

Sometimes I find scraps of the day in my sentences, like splinters of poems, anonymous fragments, images, my side of the conversation blurred into general statements that could be said to anyone. Third person and they pronouns.

Nothing identifying of anything other than an inspecific humanity.

I don’t talk about my kids either, other than to briefly acknowledge –  again in fragments and occasional references to my experience as a mother – that I share my life with two young humans.

I used to write more about them. Their lives, however, are not mine to write about…which is such an impossible thing, given that my life is intertwined with theirs, and my experience as a mother . . . oh, mercy, my experience as a mother…

It’s tough, impossible, to tease apart the time I lost my mind and contributing factors in my losing my mind from my experience as a mother, as a member of a family.

None of this is to say that my family made me lose my mind or that being a mother made me lose my mind.

It was not until I worked in the place that I work, where I have worked since about two months out of the hospital following my last crisis, that I learned about stress vulnerability and the impact of trauma on the nervous system and various means of experiencing and interpreting reality, fundamental mechanisms of meaning-making.

I didn’t know there was such a thing as “mental health triggers” and “emotional triggers” or whatever language you want to use.

I was in and out of the mental health system for over twenty freaking years and nobody ever told me how my brain works and how this impacts my nervous system and how my body feels, how I make-meaning out of that information.

That blows my mind when I consider it.

Nobody ever gave me even the most simple information, the most basic information, about my brain.

I didn’t even know what a Flippin ‘ amygdala is.

One thing I know about my brain is that it is all over the place most days, and wonky in what it finds important, how it interprets life as I know it…how I know it…

I forgive myself this scatteredness, because of course I am scattered.

I have slept for 10 hours over the past two nights, and have driven 150 miles, I have made breakfasts and lunches and facilitated classes and volunteered at an economic justice advocacy training, washing dishes in the kitchen, serving food, filling up water glasses. My daughter comes with me to volunteer. She wants to do it. It was her idea. A few days ago, I went to a football game to help to chaperone the band section, to “maintain the integrity of the band area” I am a crappy chaperone. If kids want to stand by tubas and dance, or lean over and talk with their friends I don’t want to tell them not to…I watched my son play music, full uniform. I love marching bands, and have for many years. It only recently occurred to me that school marching bands are probably military in origin and I hope my realization of this doesn’t take away the good feeling that drum lines and crescendos and walls of sound crashing up from the field give me. I ran up a mile – long hill today, for a total of 3.3 miles in just over a 1/2 hour, which meant that at times, for me, I was running very fast…because I was going very slowly up the hill, probably a 13 minute mile pace…and then I came home and ran the dog for another mile…I sat with at least 8 crying people, four angry people, and a great many hopeful people.

…so, it makes sense that now, 16 hours after I woke up and with still more to do…that I am tired…and when I am tired, I am scattered.

However, my scatteredness also has a bit to do with how I tend to think, which is fairly non-linear, but with intermittent laser sharp linearity, which then usually explodes of into tangential shrapnel of ideas and associations.

This was the best I could do tonight. The most that I could make note of, take inventory of.

Sep 27 (12 days ago)

to me

Ish’na’kaiah ash’nik’ay’a’hah.

The man said hello to me, as I started the walk back to my car from the Senior Opportunity Center. He fell into step beside me, talking about traffic on the I-26, and the accident he almost saw on Patton Avenue.

“I was just standing there on the sidewalk, watching these two cars, and I was like, ‘This is crazy!”

“Yeah, it sounds like you were paying attention.” I noticed that my voice dropped a little when I said the word attention, did that thing that makes me feel like I might be saying more than I am.

The man, tall and stooped around the shoulders, a face that is still handsome, shaped by indigenous blood, the set of his cheeks and architecture of nose. A beautiful person, smelling that laboratory smell that comes up after a few straight days of drinking, old alcohol, poorly metabolized, he sat down on the small wall outside of the Employment Securities Commission and I sat down beside him. “Yes,” he said. “Yes, sister, I was paying attention. I pay attention.”

I didn’t know why I thought he might be saying more than he was, like maybe I ought to listen to this man more deeply than I might listen to everyday small talk. He shifted toward me, and I understood that he would ask me for money, and I was okay with that.

He began his request, and I didn’t need him to go on about what he was looking for.

I opened up my bag, “Let me see if I have any paper money.” I knew I did. A crumple of two singles, and a secret 10 dollar bill. I pulled out the crumpled two dollars and pressed it into his hand. The man nodded, almost solemn,squeezed my hand, said thank you, “Thank you, my sister.”

He leaned in toward me, and I felt like God was watching us, sitting there on that wall. The woman wearing all black and the old man in the sun.

There was a pause, and I plucked the ten dollar bill out of the small zippered pocket inside of my bag, grasped the man’s hand, transferring the money.

His whooping surprised me, his jumping up and slapping his leg, pulling his hand into a fist that beat against his chest, solidly, once, twice. “My sister! Oh, yes, my sister!”

I stood up, pulling my bag back onto my shoulder.

He grabbed me, pulled me to him, all his sweat and alcohol smell around me, his arms strong and knotted feeling, like wood across my back. I didn’t feel scared. I have hugged many strangers in my life, and I had felt no danger from this man, none at all. He kissed my head, up by my hair line, and hugged me like I really was his sister, like he hadn’t seen me in a long time, like he was my brother.

Because it was a Wednesday morning, and I had just spent the morning giving beautiful and extravagant foods to low-income seniors and listening to my friend sing and play the same songs over and over again, guitar over by the recliner, because it was sunny and I was wearing all black and a man had given me quartz and amethyst the day before, because I hadn’t slept well, and my heart was broken because two children died in a car accident…because of all these things, and because of the force of the sweetest, the knotted strength of love, lips pressed against my head, right at my hairline, the feeling of his hands at my shoulders…I could imagine, for a moment, that I was his sister, or that something of his sister, some sister from a long time ago, was with me for that walk down the sidewalk, that talk on the wall, the money for a bottle passing between hands, a small mercy in an impossible life.

He began to utter the words, quiet, like a prayer, then broke away from me and shouted them, hollering them out to the street like he was calling down gods, exclaiming to the universe. He turned to me, and put his fist on his chest. “My sister…”

I put my hand on my chest, and we stood there, five feet apart, regarding one another, fists over hearts and smiling.

He stepped forward to embrace me again. “I love you, I love you…you, you are blessed person.”

He stepped back, took my hands in his, and nodded to me, then turned and started walking back up toward town, still saying those words, louder and then quiet, a chanting rise and fall. I watched him walk, and listened, said the words to myself, trying not to forget them.

He was almost back to where we’d begun walking together when I caught up to him. “Excuse me, sir, those words? What are those words?”

He repeated them, quiet like a secret. I said them back.

He corrected my pronunciation of the last syllable, and said it with me until I said it clearly, with some conviction.

“It means peace, and goodness, salvation.”

Walking back to my car, I said the phrase over and over again. In my car, I wrote down how I thought the sounds might be spelled, but I still don’t know what the words are, or where they came from.

I tried to Google what I thought the words sounded like, spelled out phonetically, with hyphens between the syllables, to remind myself of the intonation, the rhythm of the sounds.

I learned a little about Hebrew suffixes, and looked at the cover of an old Busta Rhymes album, Woo Hah.

It’s like a beating heart, isn’t it? I could have sworn I saw a panther in this.

Sep 28 (11 days ago)

It is 10:34, and I am feeling the slight tremors of nervousness about getting enough sleep. That’s because I have trained myself to believe that it is necessary that I get at least 6, optimally 7 or 8, hours of sleep a night. Also, as the sort of diurnal mammal that I am, I actually do need a good night’s sleep.

If I am overtired, my faculties and functioning begin to falter…like, oh, using too many F words…both in alliteration and cursing.

Tomorrow, I am coordinating a public event in a private setting. I should probably settle myself down before all that begins…by sleeping well, staying calm…being conscientious and slow in my interactions, listening more than I speak.

People will be listening to me.

I shouldn’t think about it too much.

The event is focused on gratitude and appreciation for the people and places that have been there for us during rough times. It’s a brunch, with art and music in the afternoon. I have been working on trying to pull it together for weeks and weeks.

I usually feel calm and happy and beaming when I spend time at work talking with people about gratitude. So, I figure it will be okay.

I’ll bring the sea animal waffle iron, for dolphin waffles and crab waffles. People like waffles. They like Dolphins.

This morning is a blur, a conversation with a young assistant manager at the u-scan aisles. “I’ll be back tomorrow morning, okay?”

I don’t remember what songs were on the radio. I will probably remember in a moment. Traffic has been bad lately. Sunrise coming later. It was dark when I drove home, 11 hours after I left home. An email from some city planner, about not sending emails. A zoning shenanigan I have gotten involved in, for reasons I am not entirely clear on, except that I seem to have a little energy to support a neighbor who has let people know he is not being heard. There are so many other things that I ought to be going to City Council meetings about – transit and police funding, affordable housing, decriminalizing homelessness, converting unused parking lots to green space and gardens. Why this? Maybe it’s accessible enough and finite enough?

I felt bad that my neighbor was having such a tough time getting the city to hear his point about this peculiar discrepancy in a district proposal that would allow for a 5 story building to be built in his backyard. Currently, the property adjacent is zoned to allow for an 8 story building. Three stories would be more appropriate, because there is a lovely view of the mountains at the top of the hill.

It’s mostly the view that I am inclined to defend. We have one neighbor left on our street that has been here for decades, and every day when she comes home, she sees that view, those western mountains. When she walks out to her porch in the evening, she sees that view.

I do not want my neighbor to have to look at a building where the view she has seen for 40 years used to be.

I understand things change, and that’s precisely the point…things change.

Like I said, only one of the families that used to live on this street still does. Like all the areas surrounding the district adjacent to this neighborhood, this little street is affected by the tendencies of gentrification.

Why, I myself was in the first wave of gentrification in this neighborhood…me and my family, the college renters, paying the mortgages of property investors. The neighbor of mine whose home would be very near any development that happens down in the proposed district, he is part of the gentrification of this neighborhood.

The house he lives in was an ugly house for a long, long time…squat brown modular, a groundhog posture there by the kudzu and the trail that street kids and day-drinkers used to get from the convenience store down by the railroad tracks up to the big street, closer to town, to the park, to the towers.

Over the past 5 years, he has made it a beautiful home, with gardens and a massive prickly pear that lives through winter.

It would suck to work to make something beautiful and invest in something only to find that a big ass building blocks your view and all you see all night are halogens and the lights of other people’s lives behind the shades.

There are bigger problems in the world though, for sure. We are lucky to have to houses. To have computers to look at zoning code documents when we could be doing art, or sitting with another human being.

Ugh.

I really want my elder neighbor to keep her view, but I might not be able to be of much help.

All I want to do is write a poem, offer it as a presentation during the public hearing, make a point that way. I don’t have much time to write poems on PowerPoint lately. Things keep happening. I get tired. The thought of working on a digital presentation project, of turning on the computer, looking at the computer, is off-putting.

So, there was that email, after a meeting, part of a class…painting the word Thank You in big curling letters, a blazing heart punching through the space between the words…painting with two other people…later in a parking lot with my back against another human being ‘s back, sitting in a chatty meditation, some unintentional gestalt experiment in connection through facing away from one another. The intimacy of human contact, but with no overtures of the sort of performative sexuality or sensuality that characterize many of the modes of physical connection that people seek out.

I hung up paper cranes folded from cloud photos in a maple tree.

Stopped at the store at the way home. Bought paper plates and plastic forks with my own money. Ran in the dark with the dog for 40 minutes, even though traffic was backed up for miles and I got home late, 12.5 hours since I’d left home this morning.

It’s 11:09. I have some clarity around a couple of things now.

…and I am tired.

Sep 28 (11 days ago)

Oh, jeez, this morning – foolish, foolish – I looked at my stats, because there had been an odd day when someone or something from Canada had riffled through quite a few of these longer, more recent posts…I don’t know if they actually read them, or just scrolled down . . .

This morning, I was thinking about the interactive quality of scrolling down a Web page …words sliding in a blur of grey and broken lines, images unloaded, and then – something catches – a space, a header.

A color or slight form. Some shred of text itself. A phrase.

Considering this possible mode of interacting with online content, I felt a little less indulgent in regard to this habit of long-form accumulations.

“Think of the reader! You have to think of the reader!”

I don’t expect anyone to read all of this. I, myself, can hardly read through the entirety of a post, here or elsewhere.

I do like to scroll through pages though, and sometimes make a game of what sort of information catches my eye.

Maybe that’s how this ought to be read?

Speaking of being read, I foolishly checked my stats this morning and saw that on Saturday someone read a really naive and kinda stupid post I’d made, about a naive and kinda stupid thing I’d done in response to a ______ and kinda ______ idea that I had had.

E-m-b-a-r-r-a-s-s-i-n-g.

Good to know.

I am aware that part of this whole thing was to display the process of going from a fairly sane and generally well-functioning if not a little quirky mother of two -> sliding in a relatively earnest and variably clever, lovely-but-exceedingly-foolish-crazy-world that was probably worth experiencing and that I am glad that I survived -> life coming apart at the seams, the most basic frameworks of connection and affiliation, identity and cohesive reality eroded and reconfigured – > a person who is okay, healthy even, and doing pretty darn well at all she is trying to do…who still has quirks, maybe even more.. definitely more…but, who is happy and able to show up for most of the things she is committed to showing up for…including this…

…and this pie, which I made with molasses and demerara sugar, with coarse salt…because I was out of brown sugar and only had coarse salt.

The people whose opinions of me would generate embarrassment are not the people I am writing for.

I am trying to own my story, even the embarrassing and humiliating parts of it, because I think it is important to learn how to admit that I am an idiot, and sometimes have dumb ideas that seem like great ideas…

I respect myself for being brave enough to have ideas, and to experiment with different ways of perceiving things and for trying to do something that might make a difference, that might help a person out…or, better yet, somehow, might help save the Panthers, the wolves, the Dolphins. Salamanders. Fish. Everything.

This is what happens when you grow up with parents who are naturalists in a town that is home to a nuclear submarine facility.

I don’t ever remember my parents talking about the base. They mostly just talked about the garden and the road and the trees and the tides and what was happening with the weather, watched the news about the war.

Before, I have written about finding that pamphlet in the chest up in the loft, in the dome that was our living room. Nuclear reactors on the cover, foreboding skies.

I have been terrified of “nuclear” since I was little kid. The Chernobyl era. My mother’s stories about hiding under the desk, her explanation of what the faded yellow and black sign on the side of the courthouse meant.

How can anyone begrudge a person the desire to help the world?

Sep 30 (9 days ago)

to me

 

As they rose, we all stood still

The lights drifting up toward the moon

And wasn’t there something

In all the love

That rose with them

And wasn’t there something

Of a young man

who loved to play the trumpet

And the freedom of his younger brother

In the keening cry of that lone bird

That flew over the thousands

There in the night

As the band played on

 

I have to believe that the world

Still has that spirit

That the best of us will never

Die

Will never be forgotten

Will be with us always

In the sound of young people playing music

In laughter by the creek

The smell of pencils and the quickness of smiles

And in, of course, the color orange.

[These poem-like thoughts were quick-written the morning after a memorial vigil held in honor of two young lives lost, an effort to concentrate the feeling of so much love and sadness and beauty and sorrow of that one evening, the sound of crying young people, that girl in the band who sobbed so openly, so raggedly. The pretty lights. That one bird who flew overhead as one of the kids’ best friend spoke, “He loved pencils.” There were over a thousand paper cranes at the vigil, and I couldn’t help but to think of how I had a bag full of cranes in the backseat of my car, and that I had hung them from the tree the night before as an act of remembrance for those lost, not knowing that at my daughter’s school, all the kids were folding cranes to honor their dead classmate.]

[I started a painting of the lanterns rising over the trees to the south of the school, drifting east until they disappeared, the way the air around them glowed, and then they looked like the moon. I would like to finish it someday. That is worth finishing.]

 

 

 

Oct 2 (7 days ago)

to me

On the radio this morning, driving through sun-steaming hills, quiet pastures, I heard the sound of gunshots and people screaming through the speakers. “No known motive,” the broadcaster said, “a lone wolf.”

Oct 2 (7 days ago)

to me

It’s hard for me to think about this right now. Genuinely challenging, with my mind being pulled in at least 12 different directions, lighting on images, remembering things I need to do, anticipating the next day, later this week.

I talk with people all day long about being present, about learning to shift attention. I am still learning how to do these things, and – as I explained to myself previously – finding one’s attention oriented to realms of life that one is not currently inhabiting but that nevertheless exists within, as a part of some reality over the mountains, a participant in some situation that has not yet arisen…well, isn’t that being present?

Recognizing when one’s mind is elsewhere than where one’s body stands, and noticing the ways we aren’t present, paying attention to where the attention wanders?

As I was saying, I am having a difficult time focusing.

This makes sense to me, given what I have asked of my attention today, the myriad people and scenarios that I was present with, the sheer detail of so many moments.

One idea that resurfaces is to compose broken prose poems of details, images…segments of the day stripped of context and singular. It would be an inventory of sorts, hot concrete and worn corks, slumped shoulders, the color red, the taste of honey, and the smell of paint, a word mouthed “aberration” – some fumbled answer to the question, what is your philosophy, and what a good question that is…my philosophy, what I believe, how I believe, the construction of my knowledge and ways of knowing…my values, worldview.

It’d be nice to have a simple answer to such a complicated question. I muttered something about postmodernism, and then quibbled with myself about why I don’t entirely embrace postmodernism, and don’t really know anything about it, other than that it allows for mutable truths and thrashes the conventions of modernity, bends them, makes them absurd. Picking up the broken lamp, the shattered shade from the floor of the classroom. Deconstructivist.

I don’t know shit about all these ideas.

“I think there are some things that are true.”

I painted a thin purple line onto a background of blue, felt the familiar discomfort of believing in truths, that second guessing and skeptical reflex.

Driving to work, right before I heard the story about the gunman on the 32 floor, I had been thinking about why it is that I still find it difficult to sit with the potential criticisms of the narrow minded, the sanist. Why do I care what anyone thinks? Why in the world would I feel such a deep and withering dread in imaging other people’s judgments?

I know, thinking – wise, that it doesn’t matter what people think and that, really, the only way of being free is to simply be who you are and not let haters and shitheads get you down.

Why is that so hard for me?

I am not running around as the picture of conformity. I have tattoos on my hands and dress a little bit like a pirate or a Cossack, but still have this nagging fear and ugly imagery – jeering, flat faces, men sneering, eyes rolling, the posture of awkward embarrassment.

I know what it is, where it came from…I learned to care what people think about me. I was conditioned to consider impressions that others might have of me and to anticipate possible negative reactions.

Really, even thinking about this, naming it, creates a nervous system response in me, a tightening in my chest, a drift into worry.

“Oh, stop your agonizing. Just be you. Don’t be so scared.”

This morning, right after I was thinking about why in the hell I still have this hang-up around jeering criticism even though I know that this fear is foolish and will limit my growth and potential, I heard about the gunman on the 32nd floor.

“No motives.”

“Well, of course there was a motive. There was something that this person wanted to accomplish, or do. Some motivator.”

People lose their minds sometimes, do terrible things. Atrocious acts. I think about this on the way to work.

This morning I was thinking about that person, that man on the 32 floor, and I thought about that song Sin City that I like to sing sometimes, one of the few songs that I really sing.

When I heard the man’s name, I imagined him poor, or lower middle class. Isolated, with a roommate he never spoke to.

These are assumptions, the images I had…my biases and prejudices, the conclusions I might make about perpetrators of terror based on limited information.

“lone wolf”

Note: Oct 09, I have forgotten the man’s name. How is that possible? I have forgotten so many names.

Oct 3 (6 days ago)

to me

…oh, and here I am again…lamenting the barriers to writing…it’s ridiculous, how often I end up here. I have been trying to map it, the faltering of intent, the insistence of inertia and scarcity.

I am trying to learn how to bend time, to fit more into less time…this is not simply a matter of efficiency, of structuring a life that allows for maximum output and synthesis in the least possible time, utilizing the most accessible resources…that often results in shoddy construction.

This blog, in ways, is proof of that phenomenon. (I will x through those words, because assessment of the shoddiness of this construction is based on subjective interpretation of what in this world is worthy of existing, what is solid and lasting…in terms of both ideas and objects. As an object, there are a lot of barnacles here…)

(These are incomplete thoughts, notes to myself to one day remind me of an image I held in my mind, the illusory permanence of the digital and of broken things on a low-tide bank. I am personally noting the deep satisfaction of double entendre, enhanced by the fact that, really, only a few people would get it, what I meant and why it makes me smile that a mention of childhood mudlarking could also suggest or at least very briefly nod to the possibility of economic collapse. Low tide banks.

Oh, shipwrecks. (Written earlier in reference to barnacles, as means of suggesting accumulations that obscure the actual form of a thing, that build and become stuck, concretized. Something one would need to remove in order to see what was underneath, what is bound up under all that accumulation.)

(Here, I am writing these words to help me to understand something about how I make art, and how I write books, about what – exactly – I am dealing with here.)

The other day, someone asked me what my philosophy was. I think capitalism is a terrible economic system. I have core conflicts about my participation in an economic system that I believe, by virtue of my observations and analysis, is toxic to all sentient beings and habitats.

My God, it is 8:33 and there is so much work to be done.

I ran in the forest today. It was okay. Not amazing. Just okay. I ran well for the second half.

It has taken me almost two years of running 3-5 times per week for my body to learn how to run again. I hadn’t run in such a long time, other than for very short stretches, small bursts of speed while engaging in non-running activities or play.

Last week, I was expansive and wide open, edged into adrenaline by lack of adequate sleep and intense activities, by running in the dark and going to the grocery store to get all those ridiculous donuts for that event at work.

By talking and listening. Scrambling from one thing to another. Telling myself to stay calm on the highway, endlessly on that highway, feeling the edge of the steering wheel with the tips of my fingers, looking at the cars around me, the change of seasons in the ditches, searching the edges of the woods for animals or objects. Looking for a song on the radio.

All that driving on that same road is strangely grounding. Gives me time to think, and to check in with myself…where my head is at, things I am feeling excited about and things that create anxiety in the form of a nervous system response, that tightening in my chest, the tangle of vague dreads and sadnesses, the news, lives…songs on the radio, what they mean to me, what the themes are.

 

I didn’t set out to say anything here tonight, because I have that sense of being congested in my head, of having too much to hold in the sphere of my conscious attention.

Sometimes, I wish I’d get to the point, because it is an important one.

 

Humans are social, and so it’s not like I don’t need people . . . but, my social needs are low, and my social attentions are limited, because people are not the only thing in the world and I have to have time to gawk around at the sky and listen to insects…and my world is full of people…so many people…

A person with low social needs and limited social attentions working in an extremely social capacity is bound to want to stay home alone on Friday nights.

Maybe if I had gone to school to be a librarian, and worked in tech services, I would have more social energy, spending the whole day with monographs and serials?

[Note fleeting deep desire to go to librarian school.]

Oct 8 (1 day ago)

to me

When a person has too much to do

And too much that they want to do

They don’t know where to start

And get stuck on the porch

Deliberating over what most needs their love

And attention

How will the time be well spent

What and who can stand to be neglected

And they sit and watch the wind come in from the southwest

and can feel the warmth of ocean in it

The leaves loosening and falling in slanted spins

The acacia tree creaking an occasional creak

Limb against limb

Small sound in the world.

9:38 PM (1 hour ago)

to me

I have been feeling homesick lately, in a second-hand way, wondering why I don’t miss my home like I used to, a little twinge of sadness at the lack of really feeling much at all about that place.

Yesterday, when the wind was blowing up from the south, that hurricane up from the Gulf, and the ground was wet and warm with leaves, it smelled like November in South Georgia, smelled like Thanksgiving Day, walking to my great-grandmother’s.

It has been years since I went home…4 or 5 years, a quick trip down the coast. Before that it had been 4 or 5 years, maybe longer. I have been home twice since I moved to the mountains, 13 years ago. It’s just right down the road, the same road I drive every day, just a few miles, a couple of turns.

If I called out of work sick and drove to Georgia, people would think I was not well.

What a crock of shit that is…

I have been in my habitual quandary of time and demands again lately. The slight footing I’d gained in working on an actual assemblage of a book has slipped, and I am sitting slumped in the dirt, my ass in the mud, surrounded on all sides by the usual clamoring of life as I know it.

11:44 AM (10 hours ago)

She cleans the house by entering a room and doing some small thing, pulling the broom out of its lean against the wall, sweeping the green painted floor, a few damp leaves by the backdoor and thin wisps of hair from the elder dog’s tail, which sometimes fall out in full locks, segments of fur that, when the dog was younger, looked like a plume, a wing.

The fur sticks in the drops of water that spot the floor by the sink, splashes and drips from the small thing she had done earlier, rinsing out her coffee bottle from the day before, setting a Tupperware into the sink.

“This is how she cleans the house,” she thought, and made plans to wipe down the crumbs of autumn- hued fish food around her daughter’s aquarium.  She was still wearing the pants she’d slept in, but her hair was brushed and her teeth were brushed. She’d washed her face the night before, and it felt dirty because she’d been sweating at night again in the humid warmth that the storms had stirred up.

She’d wash her face before she left the house, later in the day.

It’s going to be warm , and the insects in the hedge – trees outside are making their racket in the October light, the August warmth, the watery air like maybe there is an ocean up here in the mountains, just over that ridge.

She has a dentist’s appt. at one. When the road will be blazing and busy. She will wear a hat, she has decided, because then laying there with a woman chattering over her and tools scraping around her mouth won’t be so troubling to her senses. She wore a hat during the labor and delivery of both her children, through a c-section and an episiotomy.

The broom is put away, and she thinks about how, when she looked at those writing school Web pages, she didn’t feel much inclination to go to writing school, or to pay for it, or to try to do that while she is working full-time and being a mom.

It didn’t seem fun to her, the thought of walking into a room of a strangers and trying to be herself as a writer. Scrolling through pictures and faculty bios, she feels anxious, and she knows that she feels anxious because she is intimidated, and she understands that her intimidation is an unhelpful and unjustified thing in her, that old fear, that lack of ease in what other people might make of her, of who she will be to them. She understands that she is being “negative,” and that she is being honest.

The awkward pauses, the cocked head, the rush of sensation across her chest, knowing she’d said too much, or too little. The conversation could not be saved. She excuses herself, to sit with good posture, smiling and looking around, feeling strange.

She read through her recent efforts to write a book and saw that they were total crap, for the most part. She didn’t even want to read it herself.

Going to bed, her comforter heavy and cool from humidity, her sheets needing to be straightened, changed, she felt totally at peace with the thought that maybe she was never a good writer to begin with and that it is okay if she never writes a book, that maybe this idea that she ought to be a writer, that this is how she will be able to most be herself and to do the most possible good she might do it the world…that maybe that idea was a stupid one, and that maybe she oughta forget about it.

She may have had a blip of dull sadness in realizing that she didn’t care much at that moment, going to bed alone, about being a writer.

She reminded herself to tell her mother that she does not want to go to writing school, so that her mom would not encourage her to go to writing school and would not begin to endlessly try to talk with her about going to writing school in her effort to be a good mother, to be informed and interested in her adult daughter’s life.

“Why have we never had the conversation about going to writing school?”

That was the question she had asked.

“I haven’t stopped writing, you know. For years and years, I have kept writing. I generate thousands of words. I don’t know what to do with it all, but I haven’t stopped writing.”

The idea of writing school has never been particularly appealing for me, and I think this has more to do with vulnerability and social anxiety than it does with anything else. However, yesterday morning, the thought of being in a community of writers, a group of people who get it, this way of being and of living that asks that we stay up late and get up early and compromise friendships and let the house get dusty so that we can get these stories out of us as words on a page. A group of people that understand the feeling of not doing that, of not writing, that heaviness and pressure, grinding silent frustration, and who know what it is to hold that secret, pushing belief that you have something to say, some story to tell, that the world needs to hear.

As I write this, sitting on the porch with the dog barking inside and the insects quickening their tempo as the day warms up, my dentist appointment looming, hat still unselected, I am noticing that a part of me, somewhere near my left shoulder, across my ribs, down into the pit of my belly and then looping up into my throat to push and to turn, genuinely longs for a community of writers, of artists, of  extroverted introverts.

The part of me that is anxious and intimidated is the part that does not believe this is possible for me, that – inevitably – I will not find my friends and everything will just feel weird and I will not know what to do, or who I am.

She is thinking about this as she moves to go upstairs, turns around, gets a roll of paper towels from the closet in the dining room, pushing the door hard to close it. The wood is tight with all the rain. Everything in her house feels damp. She sets the roll of paper towels on the green table by the front door, to remind herself to clean up the fish food.

3:22 PM (7 hours ago)

She saw them through the window at the landing, mid-staircase, noticed that they had that look about them, the wisps of clouds cut by a roofline and a light pole, thin sliver of sky between houses. Went back downstairs and got her phone, which is also a camera. On the back of her house, on the second floor, there is a small covered porch, a tiny square deck that is open, the top of the stairs on the back side of the house.

The sun was a sharp white light to the south of them, squinting her eyes and trying to frame the photos so the sun was outside of the image on the screen, so that she could see what she was looking at. Nothing too mind blowing, but auspicious in the angles and relational composition between forms. The clouds were moving so slowly that she could not see how they shifted from one thing into another. The rays of a triangle smooth and then dispersing, curve of snake of letter, some waving breeze that I can’t feel, up where the air is cold.

Every once in a while, she tries to imagine, to remember, what if felt like to entirely believe that there were ancient letters and moving grace up in the sky, to step out of the house and be shocked, dumbstruck with awe, by the bizarre arrangement of the clouds and light, to be wholly convinced that something amazing was happening, and that she was seeing it.

(note: if this were an essay it’d end with me recognizing that something amazing was and is always happening and that I was and am seeing an endless procession of miracles…that maybe that’s the amazing thing, that any of this exists at all and that we, in our little lives, see so much.)

One day, I will probably not be able to see. My eyes aren’t good, and people in my family tend to lose vision as they age. Then, I will probably find music in birdsong and street noises. When I cannot hear, I will feel the feeling of my own body, the warmth of an electric blanket, the feel of the bones in my hand. I assume my sense of taste and smell will be diminished as I age. I will miss smell more than I will miss taste, though taste is amazing. There are not that many tastes that produce in me the deep sensory satisfaction that the smell of being in the forest does. It’s really that smell that I will miss, the smell of water and earth and sap, sunlight.

I know sunlight doesn’t smell, but the sun adjusts the quality of the scents, by adjusting warmth, the way that certain compounds and matter respond to heat, humidity. So, the smell of forest is a way, to me, to also smell warmth, or coolness, sunlight…these things that have no odor.

I was standing on the back porch, and thinking that maybe I had gotten a decent enough image, when I saw that the mass on the left of me had changed, the clouds to the south, and I couldn’t look right at them, because of the sun, but I could crouch low under the edge of the roof and look at them with my camera screen. It took a moment for my phone to pull the cloud into focus, with the competing wisps of wisteria and the edge of the roof, the blare of light from the sun, and then when it did I had, for just a second that feeling of awe, because I saw the cut out segments that looked like a letter, a symbol, and then, oh, then, there was the dog, “wolf” my mind thought, and then flashed to a person I know from work, that person who got lost in the forest, and I felt excited to post the picture, because, look, there is a wolf…it is right there…and then it is gone…and the shape looks more like the face of a panther.

“What the fuck is wrong with me that I can witness this totally beautiful and almost freaking miraculous seeming thing in the middle of my Wednesday afternoon, and I am not falling down in some sort of worshipping supplication, or at least some holy reverence?”

I still think a lot about trying to prove something.

I held the word holy in my mind, and said a thank you to the sky, to the wolf-panther, stood up and went lightheaded from the brightness, the stooping. My vision was spotted and flashing. I went inside, and thought about how I am able to see a remarkable thing and look at it, appreciate it, and consider it…and I can stay calm, not run away in my thinking.

I didn’t used to be able to do that.

Note: Later, I looked at the picture that I thought I saw the wolf in, but I could not find it, did not see it so easily. I saw the panther though, a cougar’s coloration in cloud density…the little punched out figure, the crossed line.

 

Patient Belongings

I always forget that I will feel good again
When I feel bad
It seems unlikely that my mind will be untroubled
It seems impossible that I will feel at ease

 

I saw the moon cover the sun

And my daughter thought it was cool

And that was good

because I don’t want my kids to lose their sense of wonder

I really felt poorly about my job these past few weeks and I think I understand why. It’s like I adjust and them readjust and flex and compromise and in between the flexing and compromising, during the transitional periods when I am getting used to some new stressor in the occupational role, some new scarcity of time and faltering of purpose, I am bitter and confused and exhausted, knowing that the thing I am doing with so much of my time is not the thing I set out to do, and wondering if I really want to continue to do the thing I am doing, if it is worth it…and I sit with the dissatisfaction, and weigh it out…and it settles in me, fouls me…

I started feeling better last week. I went for a run up a big hill in the forest and I celebrated my daughter’s birthday, hung balloons in the trees in the early morning, stayed up late wrapping gifts and was not tired, just like I was not tired during the afternoon of the eclipse …like sleep was not even an option and today I was not tired and I feel excited to make flyers for events at work, excited to fold and photograph more paper cranes made out of cloud photos. Excited to plan an event to say thanks to the people who provide services to folks in the county I work in.

Excited to tell my kids that I ran up that same big hill tonight, and – again – it wasn’t even hard and I ran even faster on the way down through the tall tree forests than I did last week