On the Tiger’s Back: Addiction, Society, and Uncertainty

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** An excerpt

 

The alarm goes off. How many days have I missed work now? My blue room has shadows and in the shadows, I see the summer sun waiting for me. I have been in this room for several days. I don’t sleep, only suffer with my eyes closed. My pets draw in closer to me. Their looks of wonder and perhaps sadness reflect the reality of my life. I cling to them, these innocent fur-bearers, as if they were my very life.

And they were.

Their need kept me alive.

Rolling out of bed was like moving stones. One leg over the side – then the other. Dead tree limbs for arms, winter in my eyes. I make my way to the bathroom to vomit again, wash my face, feed the cats and the dog. Life just keeps tunneling into this darkness, blaring its ugly horn in my silence. I pour a drink and lie down on the carpet, wondering if I have lost my mind finally; wondering what life can allow, what edges I can push against until the sharpness bleeds me entirely.

*******

Throughout my life, I have dealt with alcoholism. From the first drink, it was everything to me. I couldn’t believe how easy it was to be courageous, brave… comfortable. You see, I was never comfortable. I was the girl who tried but never succeeded, the one who barely touched the center of any group. I was always out coaxing wild creatures from hiding or creating fantasylands where I was someone else. There was music, art, and the beasts of the forests. These kept me, held me. In poems, I was the caustic blaze of a city on fire. I was a queen to the tapestry of unicorns and other mythic beasts. I was the mad gin-drinking wanton with a revolver strapped to her thigh. I was many things. I was so many, in fact, I drifted far away from the girl who tried.

There are many theories and opinions about addiction, addiction treatment or recovery philosophies. I do know that no animal willingly chooses annihilation without being completely insane or seeing annihilation as something other than death. For the mad, life is worse than death. Addiction is the antithesis of life. Addiction is a rabid animal set loose in the mind, body, and spirit that convinces itself that annihilation can be life.

Like creativity or genius, we tend to view the realm of addiction as fantastic, extraordinary. We make shows about it. We spend billions of dollars on it in jails, courts, institutions, and treatment centers. We have “programs” and pathways out for those “willing” enough to accept the rainbow at the end of the clouds. We have so many portraits of addiction, we have lost sight of the complexity of its enormity, its anonymity. I have friends who – despite everything I have lost or done over the years – continue to deny my addiction. It would be painful to accept. It would prompt them to ask their own hard, troubling questions – to view behaviors better kept locked behind closed doors, in cars, in the mind.

In my pursuit of sobriety, I have come to realize that there’s really no way for me to speak about my own experiences without weaving in a societal portrait of recovery. Likewise, I cannot write about recovery without relying on my intuition and perception, having been in rehabs and “holistic” treatment centers and having participated as a Kool-Aid drinking member of AA and other programs.

When you ask most clinicians about treatment options for addiction, twelve-step programs are the go-to suggestion. Not that their rates of success are particularly good – they just propagandize society’s agenda of compliance, lack of personal power, group buy-in, reliance on outside forces, and a steady push to return the individual to “normality.” And while AA and these programs work for some people  – and I do not wish to diminish their effectiveness with those who benefit – I know twelve-step programs don’t work for all. I certainly don’t believe that those who deviate from this model of recovery are doomed.

I have lost friends to this disease. Friends who did all the right recovery things – some of them in programs for years, only to fall into severe and ultimately fatal relapse. I have grown all too tired of hearing, “Oh, if they only didn’t stop doing their program,” or “If only they had gotten a program,” etc. When I suggest that perhaps the program alone wasn’t enough or perhaps it was a combination of events that kept the person sober and a combination of events that led them to the end, I am usually ignored or seen as pugilistic, rather than as someone who sincerely wants to understand this disease. To this I ask, why not question our options?

I think there’s always more to the story…

I do not believe in an addictive type or personality. I believe addiction is cultural, a societal make-up easing us into carefully formed facades that serve the root of addiction. Secrets are titillating. We grow up with a predilection for lying. We assume roles – encouraged roles – and play out our secret lives and desires in ways that often lead to addiction or self-destructive or abusive behaviors. I do not believe in a defective individual; I believe we are made to believe that lies and hidden desires are better options than self-awareness, courage, and bold honesty.

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We humans like a tidy explanation. Empires and religions are built upon this internal compulsion for reason and logic. And when these fail us, we fall back on the particular recipe of faith we were given. Those who walk outside of these lines and live a little too fully or differently are dangerous – not just to society but to self. Arguably, the alcoholic/addict is a pariah not unlike criminals and madmen. Recovery – the industry of – does little to move away from this otherness.

Recovery-based paradigms encourage the “strange terrain” that embodies addiction, the fatal flaw, for example, that set some up for a life of addiction and do little to critique a culture that encourages the formula for this pathology. Otherness is irrational. Otherness is dangerous. Recovery paradigms have less to do with morality and more to do with conformity. Case in point: it is more socially acceptable to be a corporate thief than it is to be a black dealer. Take a look at any prison and one cannot deny this truth. If society truly cared for morality, and not simply “falling into one’s place,” the spectrum of justice would reflect this.

Recovery – if it is to be effective, meaningful, and lasting – must include this dialogue.

 

The last night
with him, lying down,
he places his hand
on the space
where my ribs furl
back like wings.

To steady
me, to keep me
from rising.
– Nancy Mitchell, The Leaving

 

From the top of the slick rock, I hear the last song cascade down through the stadium, echoing off of the canyon rocks. I have been drinking since noon. The wind whips my hair and dress as I walk along, between couples, between vendors selling t-shirts and other merchandise. Some are packing up. I watch the skyline dim – the corners of the night have become an indigo stain, a broken pen. No stars pierce the clouds. 

*******

As to my own journey, healing and recovery must involve purging habits and rituals, illusions and expectations. In a broader, more effective discourse, we must understand the concepts of recovery that society wants us to purchase. We must understand the touch we thought would bring salvation or balm. We must understand and embrace the ache that demands something to be filled, attained. Burning the desire itself for normal responses to abnormal society is catharsis. To question whether being found or walking a certain path is what is intuitively right for oneself is essential. Recovery must involve honoring one’s deep feeling ways or views, sensitivities and persuasions.

Recovery or healing is borne from realizing that the flame that shines so luminously in what we want – the fairytale or medicine – exists within. It is in knowing that the answers cannot be constricted to one path, but in many roads of exploration, questioning, and wise uncertainty.

 

** This is an excerpt from a complete article to be published in July 2014.

 

 

The Camouflaged Woman: Celebrating Irreverent Beauty & Natural Expression

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** Re-blogged from Juniper & Crow, my SageWoman channel.

For me, a landscape does not exist in its own right, since its appearance changes at every moment; but the surrounding atmosphere brings it to life – the light and the air which vary continually. For me, it is only the surrounding atmosphere which gives subjects their true value. ~ Claude Monet

I recently made the decision to reduce or eliminate most of the items in my make-up bag and medicine cabinet, and return to my nature girl status – using make-up and other such products minimally. The list of synthetic and chemically derived ingredients in many of the products I was using was astounding and contributing to consumer/identity guilt as well as dry skin. In this process, I explored more natural product lines – especially lipstick, not wanting to give up the occasional sensuality of a raspberry stained pout. In choosing to purge these products, I have considered the myriad reasons women elect to go “au naturel” – to discard products and opt for the glow of a face that is exposed to fresh air, sunlight and heart-pounding rock scrambles. Going through my wardrobe, I noticed how many clothes I never wear – shirts, skirts, dresses, suits… items that were acceptable for the office, but not at all my style or expression.

In the past I have vehemently defended any woman’s choice to call herself a feminist or independent spirit AND wear make-up, shave her legs and change her appearance as often as she pleased to complement certain situations – or, dare I say, to attract a mate. While I was going through the process of discarding those precious and coveted brands: MAC, Mary Kay, Sephora, etc.. I considered the rigid perspective I have held on natural beauty as being, well, natural. Just as natural as appearing bare-faced as I was born, is this urge to be incognito, to use the body and face as an artistic palette – a landscape of one’s deepest beliefs, dreams, culture, age and life changes. Being natural is being in a state of flux, adapting to change. Beauty and self-expression – beyond the scheme of vanity – are indeed statements of being “seen” by one’s community, one’s peers.

To simplify beauty into two fixed categories where one side exalts heavy-blossomed fashionable ladies, dripping cosmetic dew, while the other side is stripped like a winter branch, a very austere interpretation of liberated womanhood, neglects the metaphor, pleasure and ritual alive in adornment. I believe many of the women I admire – the chosen iconoclasts – do not toe the line of beauty standards and definitions. Rather, their beauty rituals are rooted in themes of metamorphosis, camouflage and art. Beauty is found in change. Beauty is transformative, unruly, hidden or explicit… In other words, true self-expression lies in whatever the creator desires.

While there are many examples of cultural beauty rites and practices and articles on such a topic, my focus is on the types of expression not typically found in Revlon ads or feminist journals or anthropological studies. This essay does not seek to illustrate the cultural, societal, religious or commercial standards and challenge these from a political or social platform. What I am interested in, through my own stumbles of interpretation and myth, is the sublime force of physical adornment as ritual, the surreal elements of style and beauty, the wyrd and wonderful archetypes and manifestations.  I hope  all goddess- and empowered women explore their own ecstatic personas: lovely, horrible and unknown.

ImageThe Horned Woman is a persona that resonates deeply with me. I have a secret bond with deer, reindeer and antelope folk. I believe my heart is partially composed of the blood of a doe. Consider, for example, a woman’s response to danger, that alarming moment of stillness and bloodpulse. Imagine your life among a blaze of new prairie grass where you walk into the morning, quietly grazing and nudging the soft tip of your fawn’s nose. Inching into the cobalt horizon, the sun rises with the arc of this dream. Suddenly there is movement. The forest woman becomes the yellow lines, the still brook – her young blends with the creeping wind of grass and snow.  The horned woman’s style is that of hidden danger, of morning – the grey dress made of wool spun in Wales, the shawl of soft ewe wool spun in Lukachukai. The horned woman’s eyes are pools of almond light. She moves unheard in the soft soil – moccasins along sandy washes. Deer women have an aversion to chatter and prefer the silence of the woods. She is used to being uprooted. She will walk away when things get used up, spent.

Horned women are not so unlike reptiles: they are stone observers warmed by the sun.  They are misunderstood arrows soaring across dunes, plains and prairies. The song of the horned woman is the song of the whippoorwill, the song of the rifle. Her hair is often tangled, long and filled with dried leaves. Her dress hems are threadbare. She leaves trails that disappear with thImagee new snow, or with the shifting of sand. She is comfortable with her scars and does not suppose what others make of them. Her breath always shows in the air and her cheeks are ruddy with the autumn wind.

I am heartened
in this vast lonely land
by the room for affection.
~ Harney County Lessons, Angela AllenImage

Deer women adorn their bodies not with the palette of cosmetics, but the moss and hanging gardens of the forest and the gauze and cotton of sunbaked sand. She dreams her surroundings. If you personify the beauty of the deer, you are drawn to muted tones that allow you to dream and dance unencumbered. The musky smells of sex and earth are your perfumes. You stay close to the fire and polish your rifle. You don’t mess with the naïve love of starlets and do not comprehend being unprepared. Your expression is the bucolic longing of a country home in the moors, or a teepee in snow, or simply moving. You have the sharp gaze of a thorn in skin.

The horned lady loves changing in subtle and calculated ways. She is the mysterious portrait of trees and a beating heart no one can see or pierce.

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Water women choose their colors as the tides move under La Luna. There is an erratic and sometimes tsunami rhythm to what they wear and how they work the energy around them. The mermaid is the embodiment of a love that moves close and the enticing danger of a rocky island when she is adrift. She is Collette, the independent yet romantic women who raises the bar on sensuality. She is turquoise and azure, yes, but also fuchsia, hot pink, lime green lightning bolts across cheekbones. She holds prized dyed silk in one hand and ambrosia in the other.  In recent years, Disney has capitalized on the young girl’s fascination with color and water, of romance and the seashell-covered underwater princess. This is a diminishment of the oceanic force of the water woman’s abilities and intuition. The expression of this woman is psychic – sound is felt not heard. She is the first to dance in sequins and boa on the bar. She is the teal-draped siren of a Waterhouse painting.

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“I must be a mermaid, Rango. I have no fear of depths and a great fear of shallow living.”
~ Anaïs Nin

Rather than moor inland for her rescuer, fairytales and folklore paint this bejeweled woman as the enticer – the temptress to crash ships and lure men away from safe harbor – hardly the innocent sea nymph. Still, the water woman is no shallow girl to be labeled meek or cruel. To embody the ocean, a woman must be able to walk along the shore with the haunting shipwrecks and cliff-thrown bodies, with the whalesongs of dying sea life.

For the love of all sea creatures, the water woman is an advocate, a protector – and often her love of environmental activism defines her. She is frequently seen in t-shirts with statements that exemplify her beliefs, or in waders collecting samples of water. She is the soft-eyed seal and the mother orca.

Her expression of style is never mired in trends and never limited by ready-made fashions. She is often creative and makes her own garments. Gold is her metal and she forges the tides with orange and teal locks curled around her waist.  She is at home in her skin. Nude is her favorite state with the occasional coat of moonlight as she strolls among the lilies and beaver ponds, along the basalt cliffs of the Atlantic.

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“The Mountain teaches the dreaming…” Unknown

The Sorceress, The Steppe Witch – I have met very few women who embody the nebulous and sometimes frightening qualities of these mistresses of mountains, caves and mazes. What is most lovely about this woman is perhaps her rare character, her ability to be a map of storylines and ancestry. She is unafraid to be fierce. She is the Voodoo Priestess, Kali Ma, Oya – keeper of the cemetery.  In her, the sands shift as she wanders the dreamtime in search of lizards, spirals, dance. Hers is the darkness. Her color is yellow – the bee mistress concealed in the bud. Her stone is obsidian with which she cuts the patterns of her skin, strips the hides for her dress.
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Because of her fearless and healing abilities, her focus on dress and appearance is limited to the truest expression of magic and ritual. She is the La Loba on the bajadas. She is the thousand stars shining for spells and mirrors.

yes sir friends
sour is sweet things break
the yearning returns home
and abroad hungry is hungry.
~ Gary Gildner

The steppe witch is a spell caster, a bone reader. Her home is filled with mirrors and roots, black lace and red light. She is the one you see after taking a long journey, and in her courtyard she invites you in to be among her chickens and goats, to wait beneath a gnarled old tree for her clients to leave. She always seems older than her age, although she retains a youthful vibrancy in her smile. She is the song of a New Orleans jazz band and the funeral mass. More than her appearance, you will never forget the perfume of her – something like lingering smImageoke and rum.

“Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
~ Thomas Hardy, Tess of the d’Urbervilles

The mistress of mountains is gauze – white knuckle, brilliant in the glow of a candle. She is always hungry and makes no shame in this. She wears aprons and collects a chicken for the pot. The stones that line her path and her pocket tell stories. She is perhaps less interested in attracting a mate with her physical attire because she has come to rely on the pulse of sensuality in her power.

ImageThe most tender place in my heart is for strangers.
I know it’s unkind but my own love is much too dangerous…
~ Hold On, Hold On, Hold On, Neko Case

The Ethereal Woman – She is the temporary fix. She is the weekend in Miami, front row seats, pink bubblegum gloss. The ethereal woman makes you believe in her fairytales. She is the embroidered pillowcases of her farmland. She stands on porches and gazes Imageout at the places she might one day see. The ethereal woman is  the ticking grandfather clock. Her colors are baby blues and dewy mauves, peppermints, lemony yellows. She is the woman in a 1950’s Comet cruising Route 66. While she seeks independence, she always stops for love (at least, temporarily). She believes the stories told by the women in her family and looks like her mother.

She is Ferris wheels and lights blazing up, the stuffed animals on a young girl’s bed. She has dreams that include you – the man who would love her, but she is as light as a feather for your promise.

The ethereal is the dove, the bird girl. She is the cheerleader uniform and the prom dress, but only on the surface. Under her soft façade, there is the metallic composure of lessons learned.
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The ethereal woman wears chiffon and walks with her head tilted back in a permanent laugh. She is not the tomboy and doesn’t pretend to be, but her strength resides in the heritage of the needle dropping on old records and the tractor’s morning hum. She learns her grandmother’s recipes. She is the first crush, the last to leave.

Like this I love you,
as you dress
and how your hair lifts up
and how your mouth smiles,
light as the water
of the spring upon the pure stones,
Like this I love you, beloved.
~ And because love battles, Neruda

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The Heroine is essential to the story of womanhood. Who better to defeat the myth of girlishness?  I have included the heroine because – just as her male counterpart – the female overachiever appears more frequently in social roles and styles now than ever before.  She is the anime girl with a sword and wolf companion. She wears the stiletto heels of a financial district entrepreneur. She kills it. Everything is in her control. The heroine is not Mother Theresa or Florence Nightingale; she is the hit woman for justice. She Imagewon’t change or soften – don’t try. She is the calculation of prison girls who use the perfume of shadows to seduce cell mates – her cohorts. She can enlist troupes, lead nations. Her world is spinning between her fingers.  She is neither good nor bad but finds the dirty work of protection and rebellion necessary and within her domain of skill and talent.

The heroine will choose her work over everything. She has the searing insight and dedication to achieve more than most, and she is likely adept in metal crafts and other forms of visual arts. She is the eco warrior, the desert dweller. She gives up children in order to have her wild roaming and access to the road. She is leather and tobacco. She smokes, cusses, drinks and gambles. She is unafraid to run with the boys and takes the miles under her belt like a trucker. Under her prowess and tough exterior, she cares for her people, her community and her traditions. She will fight for her land. She is not afraid of death or displacement, but possession is her nemesis.
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I have ridden in your cart, driver,
waved my nude arms at villages going by,
learning the last bright routes, survivor
where your flames still bite my thigh
and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
A woman like that is not ashamed to die.
~ Her Kind, Anne Sexton

The modern heroine is incense and badger. Her sign is made of crossbones. She can be a trickster when she needs to be, but abhors false fronts and pretenses. She takes what she needs, but does not fall to trivialities and indulgences. She is latex and Outback. Tattoos are her make-up and she usually has several by the time she’s 21. Sharp-witted and skilled, be wary of challenging her. She will win.

These are but five examples of women and their mythologies. There are important rituals and practices that live through beauty and self-adornment. Modern cosmetics are but a trivial matter in the larger meaning of body worship and shapeshifting, of embodiment and metaphor. A woman will use the magic of her surroundings to express deep connection to the land, tradition, womanhood, heritage, motherhood and all other roles she chooses for herself. The masks we exhibit are not necessarily means of camouflaging our true natures but rather illustrate the complex and multifaceted personalities and idiosyncrasies alive in each of us. We are several composites of the roles we walk into and with during a lifetime. These are to be celebrated as the manifestations of our very nature, our stories as shown to the world within and without.

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

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.

Beasts we Know

beast

“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.

monster

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.