The Wild Muse

wildness, wonder, and the spirit of place


2 Comments

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

hopires2

“Two or three things I know for sure, and one is that I’d rather go naked than wear the coat the world has made for me.”
― Dorothy Allison, Two or Three Things I Know for Sure

Over the course of my life, I have written extensively about my background. Candidly, unapologetically. Most of my readers know I am in recovery, grew up poor, and overcame a lot of trauma as a child…

I think the word we insist on using now is survivor.

And it is true; I am a survivor.

But here’s the thing, in an email conversation I was having recently with a wise woman, I discovered that this survivor label no longer serves me. In a way, it has limited me to always being the abused kid, the writer-alcoholic, the poor adult hopping from one near-miss tragedy to the next.

It seems that while survivor might be a badge of courage, it also assumes some basic things about a person, allocating him or her to a moment in time when surviving was the only goal.

And this isn’t even a post about thriving, although thriving is something most people aspire to, survivor or no. This is about the stories we tell ourselves, and in turn, the world.
Inadvertently, in all of my surviving, I forgot the other aspects of who I am and landed precisely in the middle of the narrative I created these last few years.

For example, how I ended up in Phoenix was not so surprising given the narrative of the life I was creating – preferring the wild fantasy to the facts. A survivor just goes with the pull of the tides, right? No. There was a deliberation of story, of belief.

But what would have happened had I done something else? Hmm.

What would have happened if the life I thought I loathed was just mirroring the story I kept creating rather than actual reality or what could have come to fruition?

I’d say any one of us is capable of re-writing a story in the moment – scrapping the old narrative when we find it going in a prescribed direction. Almost every decision we make is based on these stories, from work to romance; family to identity.

All of this has prompted me to JUST STOP TELLING THOSE DAMNED STORIES. Stop already.

Stop telling stories about being poor as shit, drunk as hell, and even…as much as it hurts me to leave her behind…lost and alone at age 10.

Because these stories aren’t where I live anymore, or what I live.

So expect something new from me in the coming months. Wildly, fervently, freeing-ly new… as I set pen to paper, and begin.

Advertisements


3 Comments

The Fields

557415_10151999634025114_589213301_n

* The Fields first appeared in the Winter 2014 issue of Plant Healer Magazine

“The morning air was like a new dress. That made her feel the apron tied around her waist. She untied it and flung it on a low bush beside the road and walked on, picking flowers and making a bouquet… From now on until death she was going to have flower dust and springtime sprinkled over everything.”

― Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

 

“Let your fiction grow out of the land beneath your feet.”

― Willa Cather

It’s early morning. The sun has not yet ascended. I am in the field – a field of my own imagination and freedom. The night has meaning that I am not obliged to compose. The night is a terrible myth only the healing fields can erase. My siblings are asleep. My mother is nowhere. I don’t know her and she left years ago. My father is at work. I am only 16, but I know how to run a house. I know how to evade misery and I know how to dream.

The horses in the field are aware of my escape. They are sleepy with my visions. I come here to talk to them, to tell them how a girl will one day live in France. I am a wanderer, but I am always married to these woods, to the pond, to the strange flight of swallows and the pervasive faces of Black-Eyed Susans that lean in and surround my victim heart. They tell me I can bend in this. They tell me that the harshness of being alive will scatter my song into fields I can never dream of knowing. The Queen Anne’s lace agrees. She knows I look west – how can I not? The setting sun means that this day is over, and I wanted only just to get through the day then. I wanted the pull of tides and the warmth of the dry earth to tell me that it will be over… soon.

At night the sound of bullfrogs in unison keep me company – the earth’s drums. Fireflies light their way through paths of dogwood, sassafras, and walnut trees. Black walnuts, I will learn, are bitter but make wonderful stain for the bodies of guns and the hair of bold girls who hate their golden locks. All autumn I will watch the men of my family bbeaversbluff3oil up the walnuts over an open fire, then use the stain on their muzzleloaders. It’s deer season. The trees are in full fall plumage and the odor of fireplaces and errant embers blankets the terrain. The fields are aglow with gold and bronze –between the black dots of cattle, the wheat and grasses burn across the landscape and rise into the outline of crows and trees, the somber shades of a darkening season.

The family, the home, doesn’t control everything that happens in childhood. I, being the oldest of so many children, never felt contained by the rooms and routines of the domestic life. I felt alone among my childhood walls. In the fields, I was with the world. The sun’s gracious warmth and the nocturnal ballads of screech owls and cicadas filled my young life with a social song of otherworldly friendship – of love that would not come with high price and cold reality.

During the summer months, I would climb over limestone boulders to swim in abandoned quarries filled with years of rain. There was a danger in those stones I knew in every step – the boys who would circle around us girls, staring at our breasts, groping for pleasure in the moonlight of expectation and longing. A fox sprite, I would scramble across each boulder, half-clothed, ignoring the admonitions of danger – the very real causalities of abandoned places where several wanton youth perished or injured themselves with a false step or an ill calculated dive. Still, I would not fear stone as I would fear the circling of humans, the risk of love.

Summers were spent on horseback, exploring the woods that surrounded the 40 acres of farmland I grew up within. My friends and I would spend hours lounging on the mossy earth, making pinwheels from the flowers of the giant tulip trees that lined the yard. Abandoned houses stood exposed in their brick and stone secrets where we found incredible gifts of the past: old school books, clothes, rotting trunks, fabric, discarded chairs…. Climbing the rotten steps and inching our way between holes in floorboards, we asked the Ouija board about our future. Would there be love? Would there be children? Even in asking, I knew I did not belong to the stories of these girls, my then friends. I knew the woods spoke to me of something else – and named me what I could not name myself.

Like a bell jar over these scenes, I uncover the sensory memory – this place belongs to me just as I remain there. I have trouble remembering the names of schools, teachers, and old friends. I cannot tell you one fond memory of high school, but I can walk you through every branch, every cornfield, and every sinkhole with its murky mystery with impeccable clarity – the use of every sense, the body-knowledge of a wolf.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As a child, I waited in fields for some salvation from the human world. As a child, I thought little of erroneous pop culture myths and urban pressures. I knew only these fields that carried a song across veins of stream beds. I collected arrowheads among clay and sandstone alcoves, high above rivers. There were ancient others who understood the seasons and gave voice to the living world. I longed to know these people. I dreamed they would come and find me, waiting there among the eroding banks.

There is something innately spiritual and mythical about land and water, plant and sky. The earth asks us to both dig deep into our roots and find peace but also to explore the limits of life on the surface – to know that life is harsh and lovely, unfair yet fully present. There is very little within me that did not directly grow from the pleasure of place. As the fog of violence entered in, I managed to remain truly connected to hope. Survival was all around me. The young of other species were not spared. They adapted or died. I took this lesson in and held on, used my wits, and stayed rooted in the brutal beauty of life.

I was a girl of fields. I was a girl forced to become a woman too soon. Yet I remember being in those apple orchards with the bees looming between my footsteps. I remember picking rhubarb for cobblers; hiding between grapevines to jump out and scare my brother… these were the memories that formed my identity.

If my writing has some greater purpose or some message to share, I want it to be with the desperate child who has no wild ally, the lost one who has no land to adore. This is one who – unless artificially protected – will not adapt and therefore stands a greater chance of passing tPicture 270he violent lineage on through commerce, procreation, and self-abasement. This is the dominance of a hopeless world of acquisition and subterfuge. This is the one who comes to a visual feast of delight with no eyes.

The last time I visited the hillsides and fields of Southern Indiana, I spent some time at the grave sites of my ancestors. The church cemetery, I couldn’t even begin to show you where it is on a map. I only know how to get there by the blood pulse of who I am, instinct. This is a resting place of farm families and Depression era babies, of Welsh and French miners. The place is thick with ferns and Virginia pines. Everything is tinged with moisture and I am still in love with the smell of damp earth, something my Southwestern home has never been able to provide.

Across from the cemetery, there is a field that has been used by farmers for several generations. Not one building has stood on that soil. I have my sleeping bag and a telescope. Under the barbed wire I slip and find a good place to bed down for the night. Already, the cold has settled in and the cicadas have descended. Grasshoppers share the warmth of my bag – the sky above: blackness and stars. Who can say what home truly is, what defines the domestic? Is it the family, children? Is it a house we work hard to buy? Or a lover to bring us into our own senses through touch and giving?

In these fields I was alone, but I was home. I did not care to run or spoil the moment with worries about my life. It did not occur to me to want to be protected, or in dreams of France or some other country. I nestled into my bag – where the girl met the hold of the earth – and slept like someone who has found genuine belonging.


Leave a comment

Making Work a Conscious Act

elite-daily-stripper-pole-girl

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.


2 Comments

Healthcare, the Poor and the High Cost of Fear: A Very Personal Essay

 Image

Author’s warning: this post contains no statistics, data or maps.

Sometime in the early 1980s I was outside with my brother, who was around six years of age. As with many young boys, something in him beckoned a challenge, so he decided to ride his tricycle with his eyes closed. Three steps and one emergency room trip later, my family was back at home, sitting around the kitchen table discussing how they were going to pay for the hospital visit, stitches and return doctor’s office trip to remove those stitches. This was my first recollection of the US healthcare system and the problems the uninsured face.

You see, both of my parents worked. Both worked a lot of long hours, but they didn’t make enough to support the five children they had. Some will immediately find fault in the quantity of children. In our lofty, problem-solving middle-class minds, we like to determine how many kids the poor are allowed to have, how many snack foods they are allowed to purchase, or whether or not they should buy any form of entertainment. We quickly find fault in the decisions of the poor because we are conditioned to believe that the poor somehow made bad choices to end up with such a fate. On the flip side, we are conditioned to believe that the wealthy worked very hard and deserve everything they have. I know firsthand it isn’t that simple.

As a child, I can remember going to the doctor only in the most severe of cases (after all of the obligatory vaccination years, of course). I went to the dentist two-three times in 18 years. My friends, on the other hand, who were lucky enough to come from families whose employers provided insurance, seemed to be chronically ill, always on one antibiotic or another, allergic to a myriad of things I didn’t even know grew in the area and pathologically addicted to the indoors. My brothers and sisters and I, growing up in the country, spent all our time outside, usually building forts, skinning knees, camping with our tick-laden basset hounds, swimming in dirty ponds and absorbing bacteria by the tons. Somehow, we escaped these strange plagues our wealthier friends continually battled. We were lucky to have fresh air and forests as good medicine, because I later learned that most of our childhood was spent without any form of medical insurance.

As I grew up, went to school and eventually joined the workforce, I was careful to select jobs that provided insurance. I did all of the right things – or so I thought. Yet, up until about three years ago, I was still paying off a ten year old hospital bill from a procedure that * check the fine print * wasn’t entirely covered by my Aetna policy. Percentage becomes extremely important when dealing with price tags in the thousands. And, no, this was not some cosmetic job – it was surgery to remove growing, painful fibroids.

Not long after the surgery, I moved to Canada. Like most programmed Americans, I was suspicious of free healthcare. First, because it isn’t free – not really. Canadian income taxes are higher in order to provide healthcare for all. Second, I was taught to believe that “you get what you pay for”, as if that’s a healthy concept. I expected outrageous waiting times, grossly unequipped hospitals and negligent doctors (since, naturally, all of the good doctors would have left for the States). I ate some serious crow the first year. My eyes were opened. So THIS is what it is like to not have to worry about fine print, employers without insurance options and preexisting condition loopholes?!  Even my experience with minor surgery there was incredibly uncomplicated, my surgeon – top notch, and aftercare, thorough. Yes, my income tax was higher during those years, but I had the satisfaction of knowing – if seriously ill – I wouldn’t need to worry about getting the treatment I needed or a huge bill waiting in my mailbox. Even better, I had a clear conscience knowing even the poorest person would get the treatment they need. Now, of course some of you are screaming out, “But the rich get better medical treatment there, too!” Well, yes. Such is the world – the rich do have access to more and better. But the key difference in Canada (and in most developed countries) is this: all are cared for.

This is just my own picture of healthcare in Canada versus the States. When I returned in 2008, I was met with the same old dilemma of finding a job with good insurance and attempting to understand jargon designed to confuse a person right out of coverage, and when they need it most. My venom-spitting, anti-universal healthcare colleagues were still at it – still maligning countries they have never visited much less received treatment in. 

I have many friends whose situations have been far grimmer than my own. One friend of mine, who is dealing with a serious illness, has been in tremendous peril as the drugs that keep him alive have been delayed or caught in some bureaucratic loophole. Any time he moves out of state, he has to reapply to even get into the system in order to – again – prove a need for assistance. Each state has its own system and set of requirements (often exceptionally hard to navigate) for those who qualify for assistance out of financial need. These programs are the very ones some wealth-pandering politicos would love to axe. Those who are ill and low income are under constant and pervading stress simply trying to access social / health services – and we know what stress does to an already compromised immune system.

Other friends have refused lifesaving cancer treatments – if they were even offered them – because, if they succumbed to the disease, their family would be left with the debt. These are real decisions… Do I allow myself to die in order to save my family from medical debt? How many of us have opted not to check off the insurance form box to pay more, in the event of a serious illness, such as cancer, for better treatment that otherwise wouldn’t be covered? WAIT A MINUTE… I won’t get the best treatment unless I pay additional money to the insurance company that is already getting a big portion of my annual income!

Why aren’t we outraged?

Now – thanks to our current climate of extreme conservatism – poor women are being forced to undergo violations of body and mind simply to get on the pill to prevent pregnancies! The pregnancies the wealthy accuse the poor of having too many of! Irony? And, community health centers continue to close their doors as state funding for low-income clinics are slashed.

What I hear from those opposed to universal healthcare – other than ignorant misconceptions about “lack of choice” and fear mongering around socialism – is that they do not want government to handle what should be a free market matter. But whom is this supposed free market serving? There are numerous middle- and upper-middle class individuals who go through their savings paying for overpriced pharmaceuticals and pricey treatments for the increasing number of cancers and “lifestyle” diseases debilitating this country.

Perhaps there are some things that the market cannot and should not have domain over. Perhaps there are some things – so precious and important – that a bottom line driven sector should never be in control. Air quality, water quality, food, natural resources… all have been nefariously misused by the great free market. That’s precisely why we have federal regulations. Healthcare should be no different. It isn’t a luxury.

The poor should not be denied a life because they are poor. The poor should not have to justify their existence. I believe there are things no human should be denied – no matter what their situation – and these things are clean water, clean air, open spaces to play and move in, food that is not laden with toxins, affordable housing and access to healthcare. Are these extreme demands?

What I would like to see is a new set of questions developed, when arguing the case for universal healthcare, that take the focus off of why poor people are sick or poor or have kids … I want to know why such a small number of people are so incredibly wealthy when such a high percentage of individuals are facing poverty in this country? I want to know why some people feel they work harder than the working class because they’ve made more money? I’d like to know why we call ourselves a great nation when we are so willing to sacrifice many of our citizens? And, why we are so fearful of providing basic healthcare to everyone but rejoice at going into trillion dollar debt over wars that have NO positive results (other than making a few men rich)?

Our healthcare system is slave to a corrupt and criminal insurance industry and a government that serves them. We live in terrible fear that poor people are somehow the cause of our worries. Look around. Think it through. How much have we lost over the past 50 years and to what? How much have you lost over the past few years and to whom? Trace it back.

A compassionate, strong and truly great nation takes care of its people. Until we stop serving the few, we will remain but a mirage dissipating with time.