The Wild Muse

wildness, wonder, and the spirit of place


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Beasts we Know

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“Even if she be not harmed, her heart may fail her in so much and so many horrors; and hereafter she may suffer–both in waking, from her nerves, and in sleep, from her dreams.”
― Bram Stoker, Dracula

“The beast in me
Is caged by frail and fragile bars
Restless by day
And by night rants and rages at the stars
God help the beast in me”
― Johnny Cash

In the story, the girl with blue eyes saves the terrible beast with love. The two are separate: the beauty and the beast, lightness and darkness. On polar ends we place them. We grow up believing this pair of opposites exists outside – we paint ourselves with those blue eyes, with that saving, sacrificing heart…

And watch those other beasts, and wait for love…

Both men and women grow up believing in the myth of the good rescuer: the one to subterfuge, to tame the mean beasts of the world. From the time we are able to understand words, the concept of “good” and “bad” – “yes” and “no” – are firmly reinforced through language and consequential behavior. Sometimes we ascribe the light and dark to genders, particularly when we are raised in a family where strict gender roles are performed – mommy is good and daddy is bad, for example, or where parents refrain from sharing the role of disciplinarian.

For those of us who grew up on farms or in very rural environments, nature provided more of a balance between a life of two extremes – in the wild, joy and pain intermingle. Animals are born and die. The spring brings new growth and winter brings closure. The injured and sick suffer, yet they continue to struggle to live and to heal. There is no such thing as mercy, or mercy killing. Death doesn’t always come swiftly or easily. Predators sometimes make it quick – sometimes drag out the suffering. Our humanity wants to intervene of course, label life with all sorts of adjectives. But it is only in us that these two separate entities: good and bad, grapple. Fundamentally, life is at work – opening and closing; opening and closing. There is an incredible teacher in this – beyond the use of words or written curricula.

For many of us, and especially as we become more and more urban, those original teachers become human and manmade. And, as we know, people experience the world through the lens of perceived reason, categorizing experience and inviting pleasure/avoiding pain. Our images of Self and Other are wrought with positive and negative narratives where the internal, or the core, is frightening, devouring… we avoid the internal discomfort of our realities, the multilayers of happenings and stimuli that cannot be understood but through the poorly formed, receptive external Self. When we cannot bear to even look at our external Self, we focus on others.

When pain comes to us, do we meet it? Or, do we chase it away and hope to deceive others or ourselves?

I’m okay, we say… while in the dark, in our hearts, we are not. We continue our hard bargains and distance from anyone and anything that might know or expose these deceits.

I have noticed the most critical among us will neurotically focus on the shortcomings (hypercriticism) and victories (envy) of those around them. Their beast becomes the external world. His or her “faults” are always theOld Woman_jpg result of what is wrong with someone else or the world. They cannot love and accept what they see in the mirror, and do not even know the core Self.

There are those, too, whose sense of self becomes so integrated in saving the beast, they no longer exist except within the boundaries of the beast and his/her recovery. They are the pop-psych co-dependents. They love the prisoners, the addicts, the abusers… they hang on the dear thread of hope until there is no fiber of happiness. And yet, they would be… so happy, so happy… if they could only get the other to be free….

Then there are the submerged – the ones who dance with the inner beast and rarely come up to surface. They are the true loners, the shape shifters, the shamans. They are the rare. Even when we believe ourselves to be them, we are likely but a glimpse. The submerged are antithetical to humanity and are but a minute percentage of those who walk between the veil of here and elsewhere.

In the end story, the girl with the hopeful hold … and beast with the seething ache…

One of the preeminent challenges we face is self-awareness. Beyond present moment awareness, true self-awareness is perhaps more important. Self awareness doesn’t just end with the touchy-feely aspects of our current state, but reaches into our ugliest selves, the pimpled, scarred, wounded, raging, abusive aspects of us and says, “Yes, there you are.” If done with humility,this exploration may even inspire change, but only when these aspects are truly acknowledged and welcomed.

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There is a monologue I return to in a movie called The Big Kahuna (screenplay by Roger Rueff), when Phil Cooper, played by Danny DeVito, has a candid conversation with another up-and-coming, ambitious sales rep about facing oneself, totally….

“I’m saying you’ve already done plenty of things to regret, you just don’t know what they are. It’s when you discover them, when you see the folly in something you’ve done and you wish that you had it to do over, but it’s too late. So you pick that thing up and carry it with you to remind you that life goes on, the world will spin without you, you really don’t matter in the end. Then you will gain character because honesty will reach out from inside and tattoo itself across your face.”

The reality is, the process of facing our “beast” is lifelong. Each time we believe we have etched his face in our mirror, new images manifest in the fog. Truth telling is a lifelong endeavor. It does not end with one story, one beast saved. It reaches into us, again and again, and calls out yet another monster until we learn that both beasts and beauties make good and necessary bedfellows.

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Returning

… listening to the wild song

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Each year, I notice the lines on my hands grow more visible – those blue veins that mapped me, the hands of my mother. I notice maps, the places I have been: the named and unnamed. My body bears imprints of towns. My mind holds each of you: the dirt roads so full of summer storms, the canyons where water mapped its own survival, and the mountains whose heart I have yet to near, the pulsing of hawksong and blizzard.

I edge my way across the granite ledge and watch a hawk groom himself atop a saguaro. The sun warms my face. Quails zigzag under creosote. I pause and find a boulder to perch on, where I can see ridges dressed in monochrome. Beyond those ridges, more outline the horizon. There is the overwhelming sense of endlessness. Here, I am about as happy as I can ever imagine being.

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I traveled through small towns and cornfields. I rode through this life with a burning desire for movement. I found a home and watched it burn with the matches, this time, in the hands of another. There were runaways, lyrics, and trains pulsing through terrifying silence with only the reverberation of metal to sing the night. There were coyotes dancing shadows against boulders and sand. Lovers in bars spilled their guts to get warm, to be friendly… Friendships were forged in desperation and ended in desperation.
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From the canyon, I watch families hiking, young couples arm-in-arm. I wonder when the tapestry of story will tear and the threadbare and stark necessities will surround me, make me nothing more than lined hands, wrinkles, a body meant to create and then perish.

Neither young nor old, I am in the in-between. While others curl up with their mate, I stay awake battling horrors – both real and imagined – coaxing stray hopes back into the pen of never. It isn’t that I feel lonely; I simply love a love that never arrived. I loved a motherhood that was never meant for me. There is ritual in regret. When you know your scars, hurt dissipates and the world opens up to tender possibilities.

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I have my ordinary rituals: coffee in the morning by the Palo Verde, a walk with my dog after work, peppermint tea before bed. There are times I would give anything to have someone next to me, an arm over my side… that comfort of quiet breathing between us. Realistically, I am a red fox newly released from a leg snare. I am distrustful. I bare teeth. I must run and exhaust that part of me too shy for any intimate hold. I prefer trees and moss. It is my nature.

I am recovering from immense change and terror for what the future holds. I am willing to look it in the eye now. Many nights before I came to this willingness, I would wake in a cold sweat. Demons chased me in dreams and corpses haunted my writing. I tried drinking it away. I tried ignoring it. Running wasn’t an option. I was in a trap. I tried reaching for others, but no one could take the unbearable from me.

Wise friends remind me that only by getting to know this death will I be able to truly live, free from the hold. I am a woman of spark and fire. My red tail flicks in the bonfire. I will not fear risk. I will tell these stories.

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