The Wild Muse

wildness, wonder, and the spirit of place


4 Comments

Unbound: A Modern Exile

16. aloneswing

When the child was a child,
it awoke once in a strange bed,
and now does so again and again.
Many people, then, seemed beautiful,
and now only a few do, by sheer luck.

It had clearly imagined Paradise,
and now can at most guess,
could not conceive of nothingness,
and shudders today at the thought.
― Song of Childhood, Peter Handke

And for the first time, he wished he were far away. Lost in a deep, vast country where nobody knew him. Somewhere without language, or streets.
― Paris, Texas, screenplay by Sam Shepard

On October 1st, I will be forty years old. The imaginings of a linear life have left me disappointed… the hands, the work, the “deal” – none of it mattered to me. I wandered through a variety of lifestyles, always feeling empty and restless. Restlessness seemed to be the precursor to my entire life – nothing can compare to the daydreams of a ten year old. There would be no sultry saviors, no absolution and no erasing the names. There would be a tapestry of longing and a growing compassion for process.

red-lipstick-fearRecently, I made the decision to be truly honest in my decisions. I have written extensively on the subject of work, place and self-awareness. I have a fascination with those whose approach to life smashes barriers. In my twenties, I revolted against femininity and modern capitalism. I squatted in abandoned homes, I jumped tracks and I traveled with an unabashed, caustic personality that drove me to places I never thought I would see. I didn’t participate in the traditional life. I hoofed it with fellow wanderers and freaks. I saw to it that I would never, ever be owned or trapped.

During this time, I explored the trends of body and spirit dualism, eating disorders and body image. I exploited every revolting aspect of the flesh in hopes of making them beautiful. I danced and tripped on mushrooms. I would go without bathing or combing my hair. I pushed for a love of flesh – in its complete glory and eventual decay – because I did not know how to love my own mortal shell. I thought that salvation, or revolution, was found in the intersection of love and physicality. I wanted to be in my skin – lovely and horrible, yet completely body-authentic.

Throughout my thirties, I developed an interest in authenticity as commodity and trend. Authenticity became the battle cry of marketing firms and big brands. The migration from body wisdom to authentic identity of personhood was troubling; mainly because of the way the mainstream embraced the concept. The collective consciousness of Gen X was quickly and quietly overtaken by a new promise of being both successful and authentic. More people, particularly young people, embraced their weird uniqueness and eccentricities, and that was wonderful in many regards. However, this co-opted form of authenticity remained sophomoric and typically American. “I have a right to be me” became the empty shell of egocentric pursuits and isolation. More niche and fringe groups formed based on limited cogent forces – the individual became a composite of type. When a question was posed, the individual could simply fall back on adolescence, “You just don’t understand me!” Me went off the charts. Me denominated the market and continues to do so.

“Remember the quiet wonders. The world has more need of them than it has for warriors.”
― Moonheart, Charles de Lint

What would it be like to lose one’s identity? The movie Paris, Texas (screenplay by Sam Shepard) illustrates the need for an endless terrain and a loss of identity. The main character, Travis Henderson, becomes drawn to “forgetting” and being unknown in an unknown land, simply slipping the realities of tragedy, loss and addiction, TravisimagesCAX2CIXT makes his way home only to choose to return to the land of unknown – the power of movement, following the crack-snap song of power lines that cut through otherwise desolate country.

Tragedy, however, need not be the only impetus for losing oneself to the world. Shamans, prophets and wisdom keepers tread the path of the unknown, the lost one. In shedding former identity, an understanding of place can be attained. One can transcend human boundaries, hearing the songs of crickets and owls and wearing the night like a coat that cannot be slipped. The wanderer becomes small yet great in smallness, silenced yet wise in the vacuum.

Personas can be shifted. Over the past few months, I have considered the random and unsuitable personas I have worn over the years. My general dissatisfaction with a monetary based system has also been a pinnacle factor in my desire to shift from laborer to vagabond. Perhaps persona is a modern development, a modern affliction. Did early man consider his uniqueness? Did he cultivate a collection of property or skills that helped him become alpha, popular and accepted?

There is a connection to the dog-order of humans and other pack animals. Somewhere along the evolutionary process, this aberration of self was developed in order to secure … well, security. With exaggerated limbs and features, bigger-faster-smarter, we rose and challenged. We amended. We edited. We made over and dominated in a pernicious quest for immortality.

Troubling Uniqueness

You may ask yourself, what is that beautiful house?
You may ask yourself, where does that highway lead to?
You may ask yourself, am I right, am I wrong?
You may say to yourself, my god, what have I done?

― Once in a Lifetime, Talking Heads

shaman0011

The paradox of the fascination with uniqueness is that it is made moot by context. How are we unique if not in the reflection of a communal norm? There would be no uniqueness without a benchmark. We are never separate, individual. There would be no concept of identity if we had no place within a larger social order. That is why the most isolated of tribes or individuals have a rich dreamscape that has not been eradicated by comparison.  In these worlds, plants become as alive as humans. Stones tell stories. Garbage is sacred. It is a mad world that invites weeds to the storyline.

Since the original concepts of loss of identity and regaining of self have nothing to do with pandering to a value based system, we as a culture have little regard for or understanding of those who move beyond what is acceptable. For example, the unique worldview of a person deeply entrenched in paranoid schizophrenia – without being medicated – perhaps represents the purest form of authenticity. The mentally ill and their schematics and dreamlands create fear and order in a tunnel almost devoid of common experience.

There has been much research on the subject of self and mental illness as well as self and shamanism. In this paradigm, there is room for all forms of perception and reality.

To jump off into cholla with dreams of remaining unharmed…

To climb the slick rock and see antelopes dancing in the shadows of light descending…

To know the names of every plant and rock… to call them when you are alone and need life to follow.

My life is changing. Nothing seems fixed as such – and in this shape-shifting, fluid state, I worry less about my life and my purpose. There is a dignity of ignorance I seek. You see, the unchanged world of beliefs and personas is an unforgiving one. In this static state, you are sick or well, pure or rotten. There is a collective desire to find Elysium in the status quo and the illusion of authenticity.

I don’t want to be clear; I want to be knee-deep and murky. I want to wade out when the songs of the sirens bellow across the turquoise. There is beauty in dissolution and chaos. Nature adores the ever-changing and amorphous. There is no regret in simply living without having one solid version of life and the beyond. Perhaps it is not for us to know. Perhaps being an animal among field songs and flight is a very good life, indeed.


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.