Deer in the Desert: Scenes from the Sonoran and Beyond

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In the desert, everything awakens in autumn. I, too, feel my senses sharpen, my desire to leave the people world for the world of bewilderment. I am not to be found in the city on any given weekend, but prefer to spend my time traversing washes and slopes in search of new adventure. I become the kit fox that circles your campfire. I have a mind to run and roam, to kick up the dirt and steal some of your sanity, to lose my heart. Everything – from thistle to peak – burgeons, including my imagination and hunger for exploration and observation across the cooked basalt pavement and saguaro-laden ridges of my desert home.  This is a time of silence and recollection. There is something immensely sensual about the desert light in winter – the blues of a lover’s eyes and the painted doors of adobes – the pink hum of the mouth and tongue – the reds of embers and cool tiles – and the violets bursting through the robes of royals and the tapestries of a woman’s innermost thoughts. These colors keep me reeling in the beauty of what some people who have not experienced this home call stark. Austerity is a white walled room with no windows. Austerity is a false freedom we gobble up. There is nothing austere or dull about the desert… everything is in some form of changing light and shadow. Movement is slow but ever-present, and the landscape itself, comprised of grains and dispersed cholla, is alive with its shifting and yawning.

Lately, I have been perusing my photos from the past six years of living here in the Southwest. I feel compelled to share a sort of word journal and collage of imagination, of sites and sensual feasts, a poem to the land. Just by recollecting the moment my boots hit the entry point to a special wash or a hidden valley of water, I return. Perhaps this endeavor is also to share an intimacy of place with the reader who may never see or exist within the boundaries of this fevered land.

These are favorite moments, small time capsules and episodes of beauty that leave me forever related to this wild, immense dreamscape.

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Sunset on Babbitt Ranch, a place called Little Wild Bill… the air is starting to cool as I squint in the sun through the branches of alligator junipers. I look down to find a serrated projectile point, possibly archaic… antelopes run into my periphery, then into the horizon where something I want, an ache, awaits.

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A man walks out onto a granite lookout above Tonto Creek, near the Mogollon Rim. The black outline of rock and impending snow brings out the intensity of dark green and the hunger of deer. Who says Arizona is nothing but sand has never walked this place or seen the way a man’s shadow can look like a bird’s, like verdant hope.

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It’s July and the heat has settled into the concrete and breath of everything. I step outside to the perfume of queen of the night, those heavy moon-worshipers, illuminating asphalt, conversation and secrets. My collection of bones line the side of the house, a lovesong to death and the promise of something beyond this city, something creeping under highway metal and running towards home.

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Perry Mesa volunteer project … and down we go to the promise of an afternoon swim in the Verde River… the basalt boulders make for a wild ride as we ascend and descend, ridge after ridge. Beyond the clouds, the Mazatzals rise as stained purple tablecloths against this table of sand and time.

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Sometimes I need to drive. When everything collapses, there is the road and bad coffee, crows and absolution. Every night there are shots of whiskey and motels. What destination can find you when everything else has fallen into the sky?

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Recognition happens in a moment. I stand on an old tree stump, a cut for the coming tourist season. I look out at the river below and the climbing sacrosanct peaks of the La Platas. Snow still covers the northern slopes. The aspens are thick with their desire – those pale women stand together, afraid of being alone. I am only five minutes from my home, a little strawbale, but here is eternity and I want to become this place, these cold drifts and promises.

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This is a bad sign and I am an intruder… there are hexes and omens I ignore for a peek down into the trail. The turquoise water snakes its course, one thousand feet below. I could jump. I could be nothing. I leave but tempt the night with a quick look back, over my shoulder, to where people left for the journey of salt.

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There are times when the wild doesn’t want you. I arrive with my head full of questions, hellbent or perhaps just bent by the disease of being too much with the cacophony of hell. I did not leave it. I brought it to the top. I wave my arms and scream out from the gang of pines. There is no song for the impatient. I am a closed coffin of betrayal. The wild wants an opening.

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I am a little like coyote in my stone house with my curious eyes and smile that conceals. I am the dirt bath and the morning run through washes, behind carbon copied homes, threatening the babies of suburbia. I am not a friend. I may eat at your table and shit on your bed.

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Making fry bread and speaking of horses near Narbona Pass – this is the way to learn. There is always something to do or fix, but afternoons under the trees with my friends, laughing and preparing dinner… this is the work of women, the skirt of chance.

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There is fire. There is the immolation of this destiny. The woods will soon be gone. The animals have fled. I cannot help but stay with the anger until the ashes fall.

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I came here to know a peace. I came here to write the names of those who have come before, to gather or to bleed. I came to write poems but have been silenced many times. Already, the ravens are waiting, singing.

Reframing Belief and Prosperity

 

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I am standing on a rhyolite cliff looking at a fresh pile of bear dung. Not a pretty way to start a story, I know, but this is where it begins. It’s 8am and the sun has started to burn away the clouds that line the canyons and valleys below. A lone Steller’s Jay decides to announce his presence, then his displeasure with mine. His streak of black-tipped feathers against a strikingly cobalt body remind me of clubs in Toronto where hair and body never quite took on the proper colors and textures. I bend down to survey the pile before me… the bear must have been here within the last hour. It’s not that ominous a scene, however. The Sierra Ancha mountain range is full of black bears, deer, mountain lions and other woodland mammals. Although I have never actually seen a bear here, I have seen their tracks, their scat and their tell-tale scratch marks. It’s an honest place to be.

For three hours, I sat in my tent looking at a deluge that washed over the ridge. There wasn’t much to do in those moments but kick back, read or think. In this case, I opted for the latter. Looking out on damp pine needles, my mind wandered to the themes that are most pressing in my life. Those themes that keep me up at night in the city, but are soon diminished in the cold, damp and windy confines of these high cliffs. It isn’t like they disappear entirely… no, but they don’t suffocate me. They are like the damp pine needles. I just see them and notice their presence. For the past two years, I have felt a building ache in my heart. It started as a married woman. I had dreams of escaping the city with my partner, reluctant dreams. Now, as I am – alone and in flux – I want to do things that I have never before attempted to do.

For one, I am done trying to live my life by anyone’s measuring stick – friend, companion or otherwise. I am also done carrying secrets – mine or any else’s. I do not wish to control or judge; I simply want to be free to live as honestly as I can. I understand that I will lose friends over this. I know it will be uncomfortable for some to accept what I am about to embark upon. Frankly, I am old enough to know it isn’t passive-aggression or rebellious behavior. I just decided I am tired of being a part of an assembly line lifestyle I don’t and never did want.

None of these statements are particularly revolutionary. Many more choose the off grid or simple life: activists, Buddhists, seekers, iconoclasts, etc.. For some reason, though, I have found it difficult to find those who relate to my vision. I meet many people who are on a spiritual path or a path to recovery or healing, yet they still seek the same societal end-means that the rest seek. I am not a believer in the Promise. I do believe that our thoughts impact our perceptions and experiences, and possibly even our outcomes, if external factors align and we are blessed to reside in a country and time that upholds these principles. I still believe in work, direction, movement and animal truth.

This brings me to prosperity. One of the pinnacle reasons I avoid “abundance” as a movement is that it is rooted in the outward rather than how one feels and the quality of experience and character. Plenty of people buy into the idea that if they “positive think” everything, they will be gifted material rewards – usually in the form of entrepreneurial endeavors or independence from wage slavery. The focus is on the monetary compensation that will arrive if they magic-think it so. Abundance thinking has never been outlaw thinking. If anything, it upholds the systems that demand us to believe poor people or those who have experienced hardship haven’t opened up to the power of the universe or simply have a bad attitude. It does not question why some people acquire yet abuse their possessions and power. It also is nation-centric in that the basic premise is that an individual naturally is equipped with a wide variety of choices. It ignores famine, captivity, disease, oppression, slavery and war. By logical deduction, if blessings are created by positive thoughts than hardships must be equated with negative thoughts. If one has control over prosperity than one must also have mastery over poverty. Hmm… sounds like familiar rhetoric, doesn’t it?

One of the reasons I love being in wild places is how it brings me down to the most basic element of being alive: I want to bJuly13dump 319e alive. If I believe I am the most powerful animal in the forest and go about my delusion foolishly, I may get injured or die. It doesn’t matter how much I believe I am the master of my universe, or that Christ or some other deity will protect me; life soon finds a way to subterfuge my beliefs with a mortality wheel I have no means of stopping. In this state of utter surrender, one can be truly prosperous and totally authentic. By understanding the limits of my beliefs and ideas, feelings and thoughts, I can work within a larger framework that includes everything around me: other life, stone, earth, stories. In including everything around me as abundance, I also embrace death and disease, the occasional let-down, loss and missed opportunity.

One of the most fundamental ways of cultivating abundance is through connection. My desire to disengage in the “game of getting ahead” is largely informed by a very human desire to connect. Being a part of a career puts me in isolated odds, whereas serving the community relates to the larger whole. Abundance, ultimately, is rooted in contentment and happiness, comfort and safety. False ideologies will have us believe these can be attained through competition and cultivating our authentic selves. But what are we without others?

Whether we shroud ourselves in an illusion of isolation and self-sufficiency or we desperately seek validation from others, we are still suffering from the same malady to validate our time here on earth. But the most basic beauty is that we all are alive and a part of this life. Just by going outside and noticing the plants and animals in our yard, we can understand that our goals are just as basic as the those of birds and the plants. We are a part of the whole of this dying process, despite our thinking lives, and are here for a very short time. It really doesn’t matter what we believe. The reality is, we are not that unique. Our creature sense wants the same basic things: warmth, food, shelter, the softness of other animals.

What is comes down to is making peace with a lack of control and uniqueness. Imagine the possibilities of being with rather than against. What would our lives feel like if we were more communal than opposing? If we walked among the trees and moss and felt no need to stand apart.

Life is fragile; our own lives are rife with threat and potential. Maybe there is less to do than we think. Maybe sitting on the edge of a cliff and watching the sun rise is a fine way to live. Let us embrace our commonalities and know abundance lives in the place where understanding meets fearlessness, where enough is good, really good.

Returning II

the way the crow fliesReverie and Acceptance

“To lose one’s self in reverie, one must be either very happy, or very unhappy. Reverie is the child of extremes.” ~ Antoine Rivarol

There is room in me now. Anything can take root. My life on the surface is as wide as a mesa, as empty as a forgotten cave, beneath debris and branches. Nature abhors a vacuum. Something must enter in. Where there was a home, a man – I fill these places with memories as verdant as leaves in a wet summer. There are moments I crave in my bones. Those moments I see behind your eyes – laughing on a blanket, the polished cow skulls and hot red dust.  Moments that comfort me – nestled under a metal roof as the storms of the summer rolled over us and the fire of our beginning was consuming, promising.

But I am just the red flame of wish now.

I see trains – I long for their miles of going everywhere and nowhere in particular. I read of the wilderness I have yet to visit and plan my exodus into a world that neither welcomes nor opposes my presence. I simply become a part of that world. Truthfully, that realization scares me. The wilderness cares little for my memories.

So I walk with them for now. The taste of coffee – the snowdrifts and my grandfather’s plaid jacket, where he stashed a day’s supply of tobacco. Stories told between the dusk and dawn by people with hushed voices and warm laps. I will never know them, just as they will never know me. My life is an amalgam of place and the senses. It is less purposeful than it is full of feeling. I want to rise to the surface of all of the things, these illusions. I want to wrap myself in the warmth of their promise, because it was in that promise, I felt most wanted. The future place was where I belonged, never quite fixed in the now.

In memory, there are copper bells hanging from an ocotillo. I catch lizards in the Sonoran Desert. Here, there is another new city – its Chinatown chatter and rumbling streetcars. There is the first time making love to him, and the ones to follow. There is the sound of teenagers smashing thin bodies onto still water, boulders of limestone enclosing us. And here, a young self holds a cat in her arms, dreaming of anything to take her away from home, from suffering.

These internal journeys take me away from the intense cravings for liquor, the stress of bills that continue to pile up, the death all around as age comes to friends and family. These journeys are my church of lessons, symbols of my prayers to the holy hereafter. The hawks and ravens show up just as I look to the pines. I watch the fearlessness of the lion and the freedom of wolves; the adaptability of the coyote running through alleyways into the ‘burbs.

I watch the acceptance of wild things, the deep integration into the land and life itself. I wish I could be so accepting. My resistance to accept that there are disappointments and horrors nestled and entwined in the beauty of those memories fuels my reverie. I cut out the weeds. I pick apart the skeletons and keep only what I want, the polished bones I can adorn with jewels. I can keep them as treasures.  My reverie is my way of being on the horizon of the next day. Never here. Never now.steps

Alcoholism crippled my ability to handle life in the present. Growing up in poverty and secrets, I learned to keep my eyes fixed on the West. I knew something wonderful was out there, just beyond what I could grasp… but soon life would be better, safer. In the midst of my disease, I learned to create my own secrets and covet memory. It was safer to believe that I had things under control, that there was love, there was magic. But, truthfully, it was a fragile illusion waiting for anything to splinter the image. Through my drinking years, I married twice. I traveled often. I lived in multiple cities, still holding on to that child-thought that I could be something else, somewhere else. 

No place changed me. I just continued to spiral downward into the grip of my dreams. I wanted to just wake up on the mesa and become a part of what I believed was soul-desolation. I saw myself being carried off on the back of a wild horse, the crescent moon cutting patterns into the indigo. I saw the man I loved – rooted into juniper branches, becoming the breath coming into my lungs – the long exhalation of everything I held on to in my stomach. The tiring ache of years spent hoping for happiness.

Part of coming into truth required me to lift the lace that was draped over the lens. I had to come to know how I ended up here, what I lived through, what disasters were of my own making. I had to let go of the child who waited for something to come and rescue her.

Arriving to self… There is pain and promise in this process of releasing memory to reality. It is a dangerous game to play with life and madness – to hold up one’s cup to be filled by anything and anyone. Some die. Some never return from the other side of reality. Learning to live with acceptance requires leaving a life of memory and reverie in search of today. Meaning takes on the full expression of what needs to be done now. One learns to kiss those darlings of the past goodbye and welcome in a new day.

There is room in me now. I want to be careful about what takes root. In allowing everything to be as it is, I am not denying that young self’s daydreams of wonder, adventure, happiness… I am simply acknowledging that not all of it will be beautiful. I am learning to be with the pain, too. I am learning to love the balance of chaos and contentment. I don’t need to be anywhere else but here.

Making Work a Conscious Act

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I have had many jobs in my life. I have scrubbed toilets, bussed tables, sold trinkets, stripped and posed for an 80 year old sculptor. I have been a business owner; I have been a corporate drone. Perhaps my most important role, however, has been as a nonprofit professional, raising money for a myriad of good missions over the years. Still, looking back, I do not associate any of these roles with who I am as a human, nor would I have passed up the chance to quit any given job to pursue a life of exploration, learning and spiritual growth.

There is no job or career I have taken on that supplants my desire to run, to move, to wander this world with an inexhaustible curiosity no career could ever sate. I simply do not believe in career or job as being something natural to us. Work is of course a part of being alive. We work to eat, keep warm, find a mate and gain security… but work was never meant to consume us in such a structured manner of identity and value. The need to work would often arise with the need for outcome. Spontaneity, chance and flexibility revolved around the perils and payoffs of work – reward or lack thereof. As we formed community, roles were assigned, but again, work was the basis of an outcome and not a descriptor with false value and meaning assigned per se, until we began to move into such a context.

From industrial perils to blue collar masses to college-fresh degree holders entering into the career world, we have replaced the elements of work that make it work with fantasies of identity, power and prestige. Work no longer produced only results = i.e. food, house, car; work became our pinnacle form of identity and pride. Academic institutions pushed the new “educated worker” with the mantra of a more enlightened nation and a workforce of specialists, making higher wages. In fact, the past 80 years have funneled us into believing that we can earn our worth. This philosophy assumes that our worth is based on monetary gain, academic success, or – in the case of many conditioned women – our ability to work someone else’s gain.

The problems inherent in this phony empire of career pomp are becoming more apparent as the disparity of classes and make-believe markets are creating deeper gouges in the fabric of this economic dreamscape. But I am not writing about the current fiscal crisis and profound inequity between classes. Ultimately, what I argue is why must we even subject ourselves to this?

As someone who grew up in rural lower middle class/poverty Americana, I was – despite being a bright and relatively good student – encouraged to find a job at one of the local factories in our mid-sized community. On a positive day, my guidance counselor might have suggested community college. You see, poor, rural folks were to be tailored for industry. This was the early 90s – not the early 1900s.

Thankfully, my stubborn gene kept me from succumbing to limited suggestions, and I left the small town and traveled throughout North America, working various odd jobs to support me as I wrote and experienced a multitude of places I thought I might need to see: Seattle, Boston, New York, LA… and the plethora of tiny burgs full of artists and writers, weirdoes and geeks. My life living paycheck to paycheck felt normal – I existed day-to-day and actually don’t recall worrying about the next source of income, whether I’d have a savings account or if I could afford to fly back to Indiana when my 1980 Honda hatchback (with its still working 8-track player) finally and stubbornly gave in to the auto graveyard.

Of course, this story does not serve to advocate the life of the young vagabond to those who want to have kids and settle in to some kind of community. Perhaps the sheer fact of youth and curiosity led to me to this pathway, but I am most certainly happy I took this course and started the ebb of wanderlust at a time most appropriate for passage into adulthood.cubicle

This story, however, is not a moral fable about lessons that lead one to buy that house, that car, that oceanfront property. This story is about someone who has decided to leave every myth behind entirely. For me, success comes through community, creativity and self-expression. I don’t care if I if I ever own the latest gizmo x, y or z. I want the kind of life that distinguishes perceived need versus impact. I want the kind of freedom that doesn’t require upgrading product every year.

Now, I can hear you screaming, “Luddite!” at the top of your lungs, but what I am advocating is not an elimination of technology, but rather a moderation of reliance upon such. There are always vast benefits in being able to communicate and learn globally, relate to new scientific advances and build social activism on a level never once achievable. However, just as with any other product or outlet, we can reduce  blind adherence to buying these tools when we view them as tools and not an extension of worth. Any time I have worked with teens and early adults, I have witnessed the incredible social impact of owning the latest tech toy or cell. It truly is brand talking and not necessarily need or advancement of intellect or action.

Getting back to work… there are many choices at hand for those seeking more fulfillment in life and moving away from the 8am-6pm dregs. Some suggestions to reduce economic enslavement are as follows:

1. Outline what you want

As a survivor of domestic violence, this obvious fact-finding process was very arduous until I was able to honor the internal. Before any of us can begin to manifest work as an expression, we must know Self and our subsequent values, ethics and hopes. Make a list of your deepest, most purposeful intentions to begin.

2. Adjust your habits

Ah, this is where action comes into play. Many of my dissociative habits – such as drinking and running – were counterproductive to the life I outlined and the beliefs I held close. What habits do you allow to run the show? How do your habits prevent you from engaging in your life and the life you desire?

3. Resist fear

I recently heard from a wise female friend how she made a decision to stop the “scary movies” she was playing in her mind. I connected to this on an intuitive level – my life was almost held hostage by potential horrific scenes of future atrocities. In order to manifest something new, we can maintain a state of mind that receives the energy of the day and resists future posturizing.

4. Reach out and accept

Reaching out and forming community, as well as getting sage wisdom regarding our chosen paths, are essential elements to growth and moving into a work that truly meets our soul-needs.

Allow yourself the guidance to listen, learn and apply.

5. Pass it along

When the time is right, pay it forward! Think of the myriad ways you have been told, “no” and pass the gifts of independence to others.

When I think about the ongoing theme of dissuasion from my true talents and calling, I am even more motivated to help others cultivate a path that honors their values, beliefs and talents. Work – that is, the stuff we do to attain housing, food and security – need not become our primary purpose. Work can be supplemental, but our paths and expressions can be aligned with our life at large. Purpose is so different from work. Purpose transposes talents with communal benefits and blesses us beyond measure.

It is a true gift to begin to look at the quality of one’s life, even in dire economic or health circumstances. Open to the possibilities inherent in each day and remain a student – the world needs more iconoclasts, willing to bridge the pressures of society while supporting the ideologies related to independent thought, action and path.

Survival Games

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Last night, on my way across the concrete sprawl of Central Phoenix, I encountered a scene straight out of some 1940s dystopic novel. The sky lit into an orange-black mass where funnels of smoke formed and people wandered around bus stops in 115 degrees, waiting for the bus… maybe just waiting. Sirens and helicopters stabbed at any kind of silence and bled into white noise. The streets were dirty. It was a mess. I watched the slow motion surrealism at the intersection in my jeep – now without air conditioning – waiting (and sweating) for the light to change and I could once again be moving through.

For someone who loves being in the stillness and retreat of nature, this scene is jarring. It occurred to me, in the cacophony and chaos, that there are very few of us who are willing and able to leave the noise and crowds for an experience to know ourselves without familiar surroundings and many distractions. Babies scream. Dogs are left in backyards to bark through day and night. Traffic hums. The heat here even seems to make some kind of sound – the exhaustion of overworked air conditioners, the muted phone conversations of people hermetically sealed in their air-conditioned sedans.

The noise is almost like a cover for a deepen truth none of us are willing to face. Could it be we have lost our innate senses? Have we stopped listening to the wind? Do we know what our skin feels like in July or how certain places contain intense magic and mystery? Do we run from intuition?

At the office, fear dominates. We fear not getting enough or getting more than we can handle. We fear getting laid off – the next best employee scooping our promotion. This fear stays tantamount to our misery. It has its own sound: in rumbling, upset guts, in whispered gossip, in our hearts constricting under high blood pressure and lethargy-borne diseases.

At home, we talk on phones at imaginary connections. When not on our phones, we blast TVs from two rooms away, play music… distract ourselves online. Then we drop into bed with the weight of insomnia and too few hours of sleep to hit the repeat button the next day.

In love, we seek the tide of desire. We escape into the flower-blood romance – the pulsating glow of sighs and cars. We sell ourselves to marriage, to encounters, to sexual fears so spoiled in their claustrophobic expressions we do not even begin to know them.

“What do you want…really,” I ask.
Inside, I turn answers of my own around some imaginary playground where children, the children I – maybe – someday – want – sing their child songs.
I turn lovers into fables. I make myths of men – their diamond promises and vampire kiss.
In the heart of Phoenix, I believe I am always leaving on one of the planes flying in and out of here.

Outside, the lights of the city blot out the star-scape. I wish for one night of darkness. I watch my neighbors walk their dogs. It is late and the desperate voices talk over dinner… hushed, wondering….

Let’s get away, I whisper.

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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On Longing for Self & Other, Pt. 2: A Pathology

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“I’ve often thought that had I been compelled to live in the trunk of a dead tree, with nothing to do but gaze up at the patch of sky just overhead, I’d have got used to it by degrees.” Meursault

No man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks.
Mary Wollstonecraft

I write many poems out of longing. I have also struggled for years with the tendency to obsess. Some might ascribe this longing, or this tendency toward obsession as addiction. It is true – Longing seems to coexist where there is creativity (the positive) and addiction (the negative). And, many people I know who struggle with obsessive impulses also describe themselves as creative, romantic, a wanderer. There is the resistance to discussing longing in the context of addiction and other obsessive-compulsive disorders. Society likes a tidy explanation, and physiology becomes a good soldier to the war on addicts and addiction. Apparently, some of us were born with deficiencies of spirit, a biology set out to ensnare our mind, body, and spirit in a terrain of lifelong struggle. Our obsession, unless curbed by mantras and punishment, will consume us. Us. Those whose lives resonate with a consumption of spirit: the artist, the ill, the outsider, the magician.

I came into the world with an inextinguishable longing for reasons. I want to know why I have the story I have, this body, the people and places that have named me, the desire. I want to know why I am writing this; why I put my hand against a particular chest; why some walk away when I need them; why some stay when I do not. It is this constant desire that brings words to my heart, makes music out of a resonant sadness. I have loved dangerously. I have walked in pace with the many times I thought everything would stop. I have wished for time to stop.

Yet, I continue to wake with longing.
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For those lucky individuals who were born with a certain acceptance and peace about them, this predicament may seem self-imposed. The hardy stoics simply accept. There is willingness to subterfuge emotion in our easily explained culture. These souls live on crumbs of reason and go into the arms of predictable life stages. They go to college. They work. They marry. They buy a home, a few cars. Some have kids. Some don’t. Everything seems orchestrated. They have an ethical, good life. A good life believed to be gladly earned.

Do they, too, languish in a bastion of questions?
Perhaps.
But they don’t show it.
To speak of it would be even more dangerous, and besides, a pointless question would seem like a waste of their time, divided up into work units and schedules.

Maybe I have bitterness about those who find acceptance so easy. I do not deny this possibility. Like many I love, outsiders, weirdoes, addicts, socially inept neophytes, I do not understand how one can so willingly be here and not wonder why. We are not the predictably loveable sort. Our eyes shine with a light of tremendous love, but not for our kind, not for humanity. We love something that can best be described as ghostly because it cannot be seen, held, or proven to exist. We cherish the hypothetical. We want what cannot be obtained, or described.

In waking, we reach for a lover, a bottle, a pen, a tree branch. We speak half-animal language. Our tongues are composed of fire and birdsong. We split between a longing for life and a curiosity about death that is met in the unfathomable questions we cannot outlive.

Elizabeth Siegfried
Elizabeth Siegfried

I wish I had answers for this state of mind. If I could shine a light down this dark tunnel, I would. But we disperse with the harsh noise, the loud clap of life. I want to give us something to hold onto when things seem too much, or when we feel like we are alone. And, we do… feel alone. Always. Even with others.

I have a painting of a rabbit above my computer. I remember hearing rabbits at night, getting devoured – wild rabbits caught by feral cats and other animals. Their screams are palpable to me even now. We are like this, those who make their hearts open to anyone who will accept. We are easily devoured. I believe we, kind-hearted fools, want to be the prey, even when our teeth run red with the blood of others. We believe ourselves the victims of our tendency to desire.

Pathology is defined as πάθος, pathos, “feeling, suffering”. To suffer is to long for something other than that which we have and experience. This is the result of a life of longing: a carefully edited story where no harm is done. It is tidy. It leads us astray from truth.

It is our work, in this short life, to be led or to lead ourselves into acceptance. This work is perhaps the most important and difficult task we will ever undertake.

Let us cry out under tooth. Let us bring only the pulse of our vulnerability to light.