New Places

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New places. Intersecting the softened edges of my own difficulty, worn down by years of practice in new places. New places.

I have a little chair here, in this upstairs room I rent. It has been in my family for generations. The wood is carved and lovely, though it needs repair. And the upholstery my mother had redone when I was a child, too, is old now. I sit in it and drink tea. It faces a large window where I have a corner of sky to look out at over the 96 bridge. To the right is an old warehouse, it is busy and rehearsing its routine of noise. Out of view is the railroad track, so close that the sound is too loud to be comforting. Instead it wakes me in the dark. Beyond the tracks are three smokestacks. A trinity of thoroughfares: highway, train, work.

There were three smokestacks in Providence too, over the river. Iconic images of New England’s industrial past like an open wound and a badge of pride. Strangely, I miss that river and that place. I say strange because I fought New England for years. I turned my shoulder in futility against its grey winters and naked skies. I was so sure it was temporary. It was. Of course it was.

Tonight K calls on the phone from there. It’s been a painful, tear-filled week for both of us, one of breaking and loss. I can hear the sounds of her kitchen, and feel the sun in the windows and the air rising up from the still bay down the street in this early fall time. I know that air, and that light now and it has become a part of my vision. Her voice is comfort. The stories she tells are important. She puts the kids on the phone and they tell me all about their new lives, X in 1st grade, E is in kindergarten and tells me she is good at math and she is making sculptures. When we first met, E was a toddler who curled herself up in my arms and dried her tears on my shoulders. If it was another year of my life I would be in that kitchen and we’d have a glass of wine and talk over everything—our love and our worries.

Home is a word I think of a lot lately. The kind made of dust and sage and juniper I rub against myself in the Sangre de Cristos to know I am home. The ringing streets of my West End neighborhood, slick and imperfect. The joy and survival of walking Nia every season of the year, in light and in shadow.

And now, this place. The colors have only just begun to change. Out of the utility of saving money, getting a little exercise, not hunting for parking, I’ve been riding my bike every day to school. I listen to podcasts in my headphones and try to use that time to mentally prepare and unwind from my days on campus. My whole life has become about this program, precipitously, quickly. It’s a bit terrifying to have little sense of who I am outside of something I only recently entered into. There doesn’t feel like much space for much else. And even while it is a self-reflective process, I often feel flat and staid within it. I feel translucent.

But then, on maybe the 20th ride home on my little red bike, I see it all anew. Suddenly, I see the mirror reflections in the slow river, luminous red maples hanging in the late afternoon light, afire from within. I see channels of sun filtering down through dense trees. I ride by a park and smell the stands of goldenrod, and slow to watch a deer pausing in a meadow. I feel my body, and the sound of my bike as it rumbles over the small bridges I cross. I take that last turn and that last push up and over the bridge beside the highway, the hardest part of the journey and the moment I know I will be home soon. Home. A place. This place? But home is a feeling isn’t it? We have home by practicing it. The moment when something mundane becomes holy. Suddenly I don’t want this ride to end, but to go on and on into the dusk.

The truth is, my companion died this year. For the last decade, I practiced my home and my knowing by being with her, across states, and cities and years and losses and new beginnings. Her need for a walk was the thing that forced me out, into the world. I know I would have never done it on my own. She was ever cheerful and warm, bounding through snow up to her chest, chasing falling leaves in autumn. Now, I am not sure what to do. I don’t get up and walk with her first thing anymore. She is resting beneath the elm tree and under the lilacs, looking east forever.

But in the repetition of my 25-minute ride to school, beauty begins to open up again before me. It is how I am coming to know this new place, not through its words and gestures, but by its silences and repetitions. It is a place, in some ways that I do not want. Instead I want my sister and her babies in my arms, I want their endless laughter; I want huge skies; I want the big cold Atlantic ocean; I want my loved ones from all of the places: my western ones with their wide-open hearts and my eastern ones with their tight-willed loyalty and strength that held me up through every hard part of the last few years. I want their determined, sure grip on my life, the ones who know how to maneuver small boats in swift wind. The ones who held me in place. I want the tenderness of my family again. I want my lover, who is steadfast and adores me beyond my own conception of what love even means.

And also, I do want this. The growing, the deepening, the newness, the opening doors of what I can do and offer to the world. I want the ideas we share in these cold rooms. I want the magnificence of the brick and ivy of here and the glittering brilliance of the minds and bodies inside of this place. I want to come to know myself better through them, through this.

And so, I do my best to lift myself up out of the sorrow of new places.

I do it through practice, which as best as I know is repeating something until it becomes something else. I put K’s calendars on my wall—reminders of changing seasons, of the passage of time, of the turning of years across bodies, across my own body, across our voices, through our held hands and glances. I decorate my desk, with a picture of my grandfather with a huge kite on the shores of Lake Michigan, a painting of Taos in winter, a piece of art my mother made: blue, sharp, empty, Himalayan. I fill my eyes with you, my beloveds, who are so far away. I sit in my little chair to watch the leaves begin to fall, and wait for another winter to arrive.

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Friday Afternoon

Is it true for all of us, that even our mundane, daily activities seem a bit kinder when there is someone who loves us? I find myself, moving about my yard in the afternoon, the sweet smell of the flowers that are topping, what, honestly are lovely weeds. I almost regret pulling them. And I feel moments of overwhelm, that I won’t be able to ever transform this property, not without help, time, lots of money and man power. It’s still, after so many years, a blank slate in many ways. I put in the lilacs the year after my mom died and in this caliche clay, they are holding on but are not enormous, bloom filled creatures. I doubt they will ever be.

This year, there is green grass because of all the late spring snows which have still left the ground remarkably moist. I dig down to plant sunflowers and cosmos and just under the surface, the earth is cool and damp. Now Nia is buried beside the lilacs, under the elm tree. The tiny house where my mother lived in the last months of her life is whitewashed and feels almost symbolic in its transformation from slate grey concrete to the simplicity and antiqued quality given to it by the homemade paint. Magpies still live here, their blue-black feathers shining in the sun; grackles skirt their way through the small garden, mouths open, digging for things. It is difficult to imagine now, that these newly green leaves on the trees, sparse and puny as they look, will fill out and the shade will grow, enough to put a chair for sitting soon.

I get up in the morning and open all the windows for the first time, and I know today I will close the shades in the afternoon rather than leaving them open to catch all the solar gain possible. I fill buckets with soil—a mix of clay and manure, hoping it will be a better growing environment in the absence of my ability to have compost trucked in here, or time to plant cover that will break it up, add nitrogen. I plant marigolds, a symbolic flower for many cultures—of remembrance. I stack the woodpile, in disarray from winter and my hunting and pecking through it for the best pieces. How quickly the cheat grass has turned to seed. Such a short season of softness. The sun is warm on my back. Perfect clouds, puffy and white, rush across the sky and by afternoon, the wind has picked up. I come back inside and sit in the window to survey the whole scene. I think, as I often do here, I could spend a lifetime making this place into something, making it into a better place.

When I woke up this morning, in a nest of pillows and blankets I’d somehow made in my sleep like a coyote, I had such a sense of missing my mother in a way that I have not felt in years. It was the physical, deep, visceral longing for actual contact. I thought how if she was around, we would talk every day and I wondered what our conversations would be like this year, amidst another round of radical changes in my location, perspective and experiences. And, of course, I know, if she was here I would likely be elsewhere or at the very least, everything would be different than it is now. Now, it’s all up to me on this strip of ground, the steward of a vision she had that I no longer know. I can do my best to guess but there are so many things I hadn’t learned from her yet, so many things I didn’t know I would need to know. It strikes me that the voice of someone in our heads just simply is not the same as their actual voice, of the vibrations it makes as it crosses air, as it stirs inside our hearts.

I find myself imagining my last spring in New England as well, how dry it was for there, but how green even a drought is by the ocean. How it’s Friday and I’d be meeting Kris and her kiddos and we’d drink wine and eat dinner, put them to bed and talk about all the most important things we know. A friend calls from Providence, we breathe through some of her sorrow together. The refrigerator whirs in the other room, I listen to birds. I listen to music. I am filled with memories. None of this is out of the ordinary, just a day here, but I think of this someone who loves me and somehow, the day feels a little different, a bit transformed, perhaps even, a bit sweeter.

My Little Love

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I turn on the drier. Close the door to the bathroom, so the sound of the failing bearing won’t bother you. It’s morning and I hear you stirring, head up on the bed, time for a walk. I open the back door, and I am careful to not throw the bottle to the recycling too loudly and to keep the door closed enough to not encourage you to run out. I take a bath, put my hand over the side of the tub to touch your face. You lick water off my hand. I close the curtains to the bedroom at night, no rabbits will distract you in the moonlight.

I fill the sink with hot water, I turn to watch you turn a couple circles and make your body a perfect round shape on the floor beside the kitchen island like you were arranging tall grasses around you. I wake in the night, your breathing is the calming sound. I am out somewhere, and while I turn to my friends, I think of your face, I wonder if you’re hungry or lonely and I head home to satisfy your heart. I drive down the road, I glance in my rearview for your reflection. When we drive down the canyon I open the rear window and you take big gulps of air with a smile. I throw away compost, and make sure you don’t dart out. I put on my slippers and look around for you, to reassure you I’m not leaving. I walk through the house and never turn suddenly because in all likelihood, you are following me like a shadow. I come home at night, we greet each other—you with a wagging tail, me with my voice. I have so many words of love for you. I leave you reluctantly in the morning, tell you to be good. You look at me longingly. This is our dance. A dance of a thousand movements, of a million breaths. I put food in your dish, every morning and every evening for 10 years. I learn how to train you…sort of. Really, we move more like two sides of something. I give you treats and you take them gingerly and delicately, not like the others. I walk with you, nearly every single morning through any possible weather conditions because I have committed to this, to you, to your well-being and mine. There are so many mornings when it is just us two, alone in the world of seasons. We’ve seen the blizzards and ice of New England, we’ve seen the perfect silence of changing autumn maples, we’ve seen downpours in northern California, we’ve seen the mountains of Colorado and played in the rivers of New Mexico. We’ve seen the dust storms and hard frosts of the desert. We’ve felt them on our skin together. You frolick across parks, through sagebrush, down city streets with the same joy. With no resistance at all. You taught me joy.

I plan a trip, I immediately run through in my mind, who will care for you in my absence, who I can trust because I know to you, one human is not like another and you will suffer if it is the wrong one. I learned this the hard way and I could still weep over it. I sit in the sunny corner in the morning and wait for you to come nudge me with your nose, to get as close to me as you can. I drive the country alone, and I am not afraid. I go backpacking by myself, but it’s never really by myself with you and I am not as terrified of bears because you are there. I become the woman I am, with you beside me. I choose landlords based on how they treat you. I test out new men based on how they treat you. You can tell if someone likes you that way and when they are faking that they like dogs just to impress you. You smile regardless; you are always kind. You win them over every time, even if I do not. I wake in the dark of the night, at the end of this road and know I am safe because, though you are kind, your deep growl would scare away someone at the door, alert me to it. There was a man who came into my life once, by rescuing you and I knew I’d love him forever for it. My friends ask about you like a family member. My bed is dirty with your hair. I hate it, and sigh about it daily. I clean up your clouds of fur from floor and couch and gauge when it is time to clean my house based on the amount accumulated. I tell myself I’d have a cleaner life without you but know it wouldn’t be as happy.

In the last days, we sleep together like best friends. I make room for you; you curl your back up against me and your breathing is no longer easy. But still, there is only love. And duty. Sometimes love is duty. You taught me that too. And what pleasure comes from taking care of another being.

This is practice, as best I understand it–what all those spiritual traditions are talking about. Turn your attention constantly to something, right? What other thing in my life have I constantly turned my attention to, in a literally hundreds of moments each day, in every space I move into, or out of, in my thoughts always returning to your needs, your position, your place, my place with you? You were the only one I’ve been able to truly be with each day, as my best and deepest self. Ours was the relationship that taught me how to practice and do my life of duty willingly and joyfully, my highest aspiration. You showed me that it’s not that far out of reach, that Buddha nature is inherent and ever present.

You have been a part of each beginning and ending for all the important years of my adult life. My companion across the uneven edges and dances of my journey. I am beyond grateful. I am still surprised you are gone. And, even more, I am surprised at the realization of just how physical love is, how embodied and simple it can be. I’m learning how much it is about our two bodies together. How every way that I move through my space is somehow connected to your body, your breathing, your presence. Is love always surprising like this? Do we always know it best when it changes or disintegrates?

My heart has been filled and emptied and filled again. The house is so quiet now, and vacant in some way. This is a new kind of silence. I find myself doing this: listening for your breath in the night and waiting for you when I open the door coming home, turning to you a hundred times a day. I find myself in the simplicity of missing you and loving you forever.

Medicine Words

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I’m sitting in the afternoon sun now, eating, inhaling. Mouthfuls of wild mushroom and dark broth—rosemary, shallots, thyme, cod. I dip the dense bread in, that the man who made the soup, brought to go with it. It tastes like medicine. I’m listening to the new Ryan Adams album—a change from the Janelle Monae, Alicia Keys and Beyoncé I’ve been consuming regularly. And that too feels like medicine, a soft male voice amidst the angry ones shouting out everywhere. My body is aching from last night’s wine, used to cover something else inside that I have no name for but which makes me want to cry, what feels like, all the moments of the day. But, the wine isn’t working and the tears won’t come. It’s late winter and too warm, too still, too empty. I’m looking for medicine of some kind. I’m waiting for snow medicine or spring medicine; I’m waiting for a lover to hold me somehow in a way that goes beyond my body.

Just that word even, feels like something I may only understand a little. Feels like a word that likely doesn’t belong to me. In the sweat lodges I’ve been in, they talk about medicine and they pray for it, offer it, to each other and each body offers healing as it opens and begins to contain the heat. I like the lodge as hot as I can stand. I feel this way about baths, about tea. It’s as if I want all the heat of the universe inside me, every morning and night. I want my skin to burn. A few weeks ago, up in the forest with some friends, we had a wassail. A wassail is an ancient tradition, though I’m not sure where it comes from exactly. You heat some of last year’s cider from the trees and you go out to bless them, to cry out to them, to wake them midwinter, to ask them for another bountiful harvest for next year. And you sing. We raised our voices in blessing and asking, together in the deep snow and it was beautiful. And at the place where the wassail happens, there is a sauna as well. There were nine of us in there that night.

And much like lodge, I watched our bodies open up to the night, and to the sound of each other’s voices and the heat. Though many people walk in and out, jump in the ice-cold pond, roll in the snow or pour cold water over one another, for some reason, I do not. I never do anymore. I’d like to say it’s because I don’t want the shock or the cold. But really, it’s that I want only heat. I want, almost, to burn myself up to ashes, or maybe, it is more like a melting, a dissolving, a disintegrating away from who I know myself to be now and to be re-formed as something I might someday become. The crackling of the wood, the red-hot stove, the steam, it makes me feel like I am going home, like I am home.

I felt my breasts changed with age, and my skin still soft, I felt my body across the cedar seat. Maybe this is medicine? Even if I don’t know, I want to begin to know. I want to begin by simply naming the things, I now, in these last weeks, think might be it. A car ride with Suki, and our laughter and her bright eyes, the quiet at the end of the road, my sister’s babies in my arms, where Gisselle says before sleep “Auntie, tell me a story out of your head,” the sound of that perfect breath beside me in the knells of sleep. All this, medicine against the tyrant at the door and his hideous minions, medicine against our fears, medicine against our loss, against our uncertainty, my own trepidation at keeping my heart open, my imperfections and those of everyone else, because, let’s be real, if perfection is a requirement for love, for solidarity, for action, we’re all gonna fail every time. At least, I will. Because I do not have a perfect heart. I try to remember that too, every day.

A Series Of Metaphors

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Have you ever been in a car wreck? Or fallen hard at something? For me, it first came in a mosh pit at 15 when suddenly an elbow made direct contact with my face and I went down, sweaty and stunned, with pieces of my teeth falling to the floor. Next, it came skiing in my early 20s, when my fear got the best of me on a steep face I shouldn’t have been on and I slid, unable to stop, down the side of a mountain towards rocks, breathing like someone drowning. The feeling is almost like shame, the way it changes your inhale and exhale. I think it’s amazing how little our bodies are truly out of control and yet, how there are so many opportunities for the slide, for the impact. Mostly, we don’t. Mostly we keep our feet on the ground and when the slip, the fall, the skid happens, a body doesn’t know how to respond. But, also, it does. I think they call this shock and it happens instantaneously. Only now, what’s happening, is that I feel as if some part of my body has just struck that horizon, has just felt the impact where there is none. I catch it when I get in the car and pull out of the drive and feel as if a car is always oncoming and time slows, I brace for the contact. I brace for the disaster. But then, I turn left, and right and the road is clear and my heart flip-flops back into place and I press the accelerator onto an empty road.

So much is empty now. Where my life for half a decade has been filled to brimming with noise—with the sounds of sirens and wailing, the sound of wind in icy dark branches, with the smiles of my neighbors and their small dog in the morning, with the nearness of their love and beauty. With the static of junkies in the park, staring and keeping their distance but turning inside themselves to get close sometimes. With the scratching sounds of my neighbor’s lives all around me in their late-night waking. Noise and everywhere noise and then, tiny snatches of quiet that I lived for.

Here the road is dry. Rains sometimes come and briefly there is mud, then ruts, then dust again. I walk it every morning, a dusty little corridor past ten barking dogs and up to a plateau where I wander through sage before making a loop home. On the road, doors are closed; I see no faces. The sky, enormous again. I climb through tendrils of sagebrush, watch rabbit footprints appear in the snow, feel my face turn red and chill, feel my solo breath. I don’t know anyone around me on this street and I sit for hours alone in the window of my house just watching clouds. It is all I’ve wanted and now, again, I am a foreigner inside of it. I am pushed up against nothing, suddenly. And so, perhaps now it is why my body imagines the fall, the impending doom, the break, the slide, the moment when all this stillness ends and begins again.

Coming home hasn’t been easy, as it turns out. It has been beautiful, but not easy. People change, I’ve changed. I only know how much now in the faces of my loved ones here. On a cold afternoon, Suki and I sip chocolate and as I look in her inexplicably steady eyes, I tell her I can’t trust my mind. She laughs. She knows. She fearlessly tracks me, loves me. “Our threads together grow stronger,” she reminds me. I tell her I feel so many breaking around me though and how it seems that so many have been cut since I arrived back here. At first it was with my father, when I thought I needed him most. Then my sister, when I too thought I needed her most. But family is family and like bubbles rising to the surface, a teapot appears and tea and a welcome home. In a warm room, our arms go back around each other and as it turns out, you cannot ever stop loving your family, with all their imperfections and with your own. You may not be quite as close as you’d imagined but those threads are made of a thing that repairs itself over and over again, no matter.

With other things, other places, it is much harder and the hurt lasts longer. After five years away I see some things more clearly and the town feels small. I feel tight and uncomfortable inside of it. I don’t go to town much or really, go out much at all. I am too busy feeling the quiet. When I do go out, I feel even more empty and unsatisfied. A friend and I sip manhattans and talk about Buddhism, that feels good. In that I feel the whirling of love well up but mostly, it is silent. I am silent too. I know it is time to let go of some hands, some embraces, some stories, some places. But they are all around me like ghost towns. I feel like a ghost myself. I bake bread late into the night and let me whole body move with the dough. I cut vegetables, I salt them and ferment them; I melt chocolate and make a cake; I make a pie; I pick grapes and cook them down to nothing and keep them in jars, for sweetness later. I do all these things to remind me that I am here. I try to bring my body back here, over and over again, before the sky carries me away again.

Voices that have shaped me, need to cease and fall silent. I didn’t expect any of this. I expected it only to feel like my body was butter, being saturated in the pan, turning to liquid, wrapping itself around the things added in as everything is turned warm.

I know why people leave home. And I know how that too begins empty and slowly, fills. And I know why we come back and how that is a wholly different kind of draining, of emptying and refilling. I know the quiet and the noise. I love both. I miss Kristina and her kids, Ben and the fireflies, the ocean, Alison, Lucas, the park, Anupama and her husband who felt like home and fed me everything I needed to eat, Susan who keeps me strong, Nancy who always keeps going on and taught me too, to keep going, Louise who was just, my person, Meg, so many. I name them again and again in my mind. I memorize their voices. I keep them, like words on a page. I miss a life I was so happy to leave. I am so happy I am here, even with the emptiness. This too, is a part of the mystery.

This morning as I walked, the sky was blown around in the wind. I too, move like currents of air. A dark wall of cloud covered the mountains but sun shone on me and everything felt rushing. As I got to the little rise, with Nia out in front of me, I saw a tiny flock of mountain blue birds. We have jays here; I’ve seen a lot in the lowlands where the juniper grows but these were different, actual, tiny bluebirds. I maybe have never seen them here and yet I didn’t not imagine them. They lifted their wings in the wind, I breathed as they took off, from the wire of fence and glided through the sky above me. A boon, a thing out of place, beautiful nonetheless.

Meat on the Bones

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There’s a lot of meat on a chicken if you’re willing. Willing to plunge your fingers into a cold body after its been sitting a few days, and tear the flesh away from the bones, willing to again burn the meat of your own hands after you’ve boiled it down for stock and a mash you’ll give the dog, of the sinewy parts.

It begins this way: a meal, on a Sunday night, the skin all crispy, salty perfection, the wine buttery, the lineage of this cooking coming down from a Jewish Auntie and a friend’s husband who also was instructed in the art of roast chicken by the Yiddish people that took him in after school while his mom worked and which he made for you on a birthday he knew you felt alone on. The reminders come, of how this is your favorite meal because of the times you’ve shared it. How your mom used to make a chicken every Sunday, mashed potatoes with real milk and butter, salt and pepper, a respite from the blocks of government cheese, the only day in the week you ate meat as a child, both out of principle and necessity, how Sunday was then somehow better than the other days.

This night, the conversation is sweet; the man you are feeding knows how to carve the bird and does this wordlessly for you. The meat is not overcooked as is so easy to do; instead it is tender and juicy, so much so that you think about all the finicky people it would make nervous and you chuckle together. You wonder about the different roads that have brought you two here, to this, with simple appreciation.

A day of leftovers, serving as a reminder of the fact that it just might be possible to love yourself again, to take joy from food, instead of carving out the pieces of your own heart for a dwindling sustenance as you have for nearly two years now. You remind yourself that life isn’t just a tearing down; it is a building up, sometimes.

Days later, you pull the cold meat from the bones, feeling your hands stiffen as you work. You cut onion and carrot, denude cloves of garlic and fill the pot with water, boiling it slowly, letting the scent fill your house a second time. You pull and twist and cajole and unfold what is left out of crevices and bone clefts, learning this body further, and it seems there is so much left, from the heat, working as quickly as you can. You realize you will never get it all. You imagine all the women before you who have stretched and pulled and you wonder if they were as grateful as you are, for how much the life of this feathered thing has provided you. You think about how the little dog by your side will enjoy these last parts, her expectancy as she watches you. You contemplate what it is that humans want, and what it is that they do not. You imagine the soup you will make, months from now with the stock, how proud you will feel. You wonder what the air will feel like that day.

Outside, the sun has come out. Your hands are wet with fat and lessons. The wind blows April into your life, still cold. You imagine spring, as you’ve known it before, when it brought love with it, out of the snows of February. You think about the words, and that man and the snow. And you make chicken salad, by again cutting onion and carrot, tossing in salt, sesame, and rice vinegar, something spicy. You commit to a week of sandwiches feeling the utility of that, the inherent tedium of repeated meals. You think again, about the words, about how you throw yourself into them, how love is utility and not, how you loved that man so deeply it nearly drowned you. How that was not so long ago.

You think about the way out, which is really the way in, and that this digging, this gift of a bird’s body, guides you through some places you still fear in your own heart, how it brings you tenderly face to face with them. How you arrive and return again and again at the miracle of sustenance. You wonder if it is the same for others, whether by heartbreak or time or nature. You imagine yourself this way, as if it were your body, as if you could give every ounce of yourself, willingly or not, to the service of sustenance. You whisper to the flesh itself, faceless as it is, but not unknown, and to your own hands, grateful that you are able to not turn away, grateful that she gave herself, not wanting that to go unrecognized as it so often is with women, and you whisper your prayer to this, the intersection of love and sacrifice.

You think about the things your mother gave you—the first person to roast a chicken for you, to show you how delicious the hot, salty outer layer is, how she taught you and loved you, how she couldn’t save you from your own broken way of love, of how many forms love takes, from its first warm perfection, to the unrecognizable parts that have been cooked down to nothing, but which have become a part of the next story you will tell.

Hunger

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It is always the same.

I am waiting, waiting for you.

My life is shaped by hunger.

But, it isn’t just my hunger for you, for your mouth, like some part of me will cease to exist if I don’t have it, a part I spend hours obsessing about, about how much I need this part of me, to live, the part that hungers for you. It is also a hunger for other physical experiences like food, which I consume without thinking and quickly, trying to fill a space, and for things beyond the body—hunger for ease, hunger for solutions to the world that looks like a problem, everywhere I turn. It is a hunger to be freed from the world of dissatisfaction, from the world of the busy, imperial mind.

And then, I begin again.

I wake up early, and it is winter so the world is dark. I think to myself, what if it was always like this? And how would I live in a world of actual darkness? I walk the dog, watching the trees turn to skeletons with the season’s change. Then I come home and sit on my purple meditation cushion and try to watch my brain without trying to change it, for as long as I can stand. I watch the waves of sensation, the waves of clinging, of grasping, the moments of gratitude, and finally, feel the relief of stillness.

Weeks later, I come to my actual home where the discomfort and hunger continues for days. I run from friend to friend, conversation to conversation. Even the big sky cannot calm me. My family rubs me wrong, I am irritable and don’t know why, uncomfortable and I can’t rest.

Finally, it is the Monday before Christmas and I set out for my morning walk around the golf course by my dad’s house. And finally, after more than an hour, I find that still place of ease, the part that wants tea and quiet and not piles of food and unfulfilled longing. It takes this long, of body and breath and step after step to find it. My family brings me back to life. These moments feel something like gratitude, for the big sky, for the bright light of the solstice, for the way New Mexico moves more slowly than New England.

On Christmas Eve, I make my way to the Pueblo with an old friend. We follow the crowds to the center where bodies pack in tight and the air swirls with fire, falling snow, smoke and flames, the air punctuated by our greetings, bells clanging and the procession of the Virgin, with its shotgun announcement. I find myself in the center of this chaos, I find myself not alone, but held by my loved ones, in the winter dark.

And so, I don’t want to blame the world for my mind. But I keep asking questions about my own brokenness and I keep coming back to the world. It has left something inside of me, crying and shattered, raw. And hunger seems like a way I can prove that I want to live, even if the grief of this planet is too much for me. For both the pain of the personal and the pain of the universal, for what is far from me and for what is close.

Recently my sister freed herself from a terrible relationship with the father of her children, a man who was twisted by his own family and in turn became a man who revels in the breaking of women. After years of suffering, she was finally ready to leave. He has made this as difficult as possible for her, threatening her, stalking her, causing her to live for months in fear. She fought, and fought hard. She will always have to live with him as a part of her but she has begun the process of moving back into her own self, her own life. I am proud of her. And I too have spent months, waking in the night in fear, telling myself that she will make it, that most men don’t kill their exes when they try to leave, even though I know that many of them do. I know that women, most of us, also fear the man we love.

When I tell friends this they justify it for me, and like all good friends, they try to make it better. They say that she made decisions to be there, true. They say that I can’t take care of her, or save her, true. They say that she will be just fine, probably true. They don’t want to see me hurt and afraid, grieving. Everyone except one, who simply answered the phone one night and let me weep and weep, who let me say how angry I am that men get to do this to women, how there is just a big, gaping hole in my life and heart because I can’t protect my baby sister, because I haven’t let go of my own hunger for a dangerous man. He was the only one who told me to not turn away. Because in some ways, what everyone else was saying is, go ahead, close your heart a little.

Now that I’m home, my sister and I are running errands, driving to Taos together, telling stories, laughing. She is exhausted but still so funny. She loves her kids. She tells me how much she feels about Syria, how she sees her own children in their faces and how she can’t understand how now, we are distracted by politicians and aren’t even talking about this much, though it was only a few weeks ago that it was the big story.

I don’t have the answers about how this all works, how we keep moving like hungry birds from one place to the next, in our minds, in our hearts, from tragedy to tragedy, seemingly with ease. How we get fixated on the things we have lost. I don’t know why we are so afraid to look into the dark.

Late in the night on my birthday, Johnny and I sit and sip one last drink and talk about this, about how we are always looking for the pleasure or the pain, seeking one, avoiding the other. How very busy this keeps us. We imagine together, an open space without this kind of thinking and it feels like magic, as if we have taken hands in the dark and begun to glide across the ice, fireflies rising out of the emptiness between us.

He reminds me that in the Tibetan tradition, essentially all spiritual work prepares you to come to terms with death. That in this, this looking, you will have more awareness of the sweetness of life itself. Solstice, Christmas, the New Year, all seem like a perfect time to think about this intersection, the dark and the light, the sweetness and the seeking, the hunger and the satisfaction, the endings. Our indiscretions and our joys, lie side by side. It seems like the perfect time to not turn away.

So, I wake in the night, so lonely without your body beside me, a physical hunger. I fling myself into the cold winter river laughing, naked, and come alive again. I cannot undo the well of tears holding court inside me for the children across the world, without home, living in fear. Then my sister turns to me and laughs, and dries the flood of sorrows, for a sweet moment. Then, I find the morning sun; then I encounter coyotes on the trail, then I inhale the sweetness of winter. In my experience, always, life is all of these things. I am hungry and I am full. Held and held at a distance. I will not turn away.

 

 

 

West Side, Wednesday, Rain, Pain. An Invitation.

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I wake in the night, as the rain starts. Staring into the dark, consumed with the rushing sound of tree leaves rustling and responding to the water pouring forth. I feel like the only person alive, awake. In this tree house, on the second floor of an old building, huge birches and oaks surround my windows. They speak and respond and hold my living space like sentries. It’s been raining for 10 hours now. I can do little more than wander around my house, and sit quietly listening to the sound, thoughts flowing along with the lulls and roars like water on waves.

I imagine my friend Mike or Ben who sail and what their eyes see in the rainy times on a boat. How water from the sky changes everything. I hear the sound of a distant train and the muted sirens. I walk Nia in the park and the ground is mostly standing water, no one else enters our territory of deluge.

It’s a good thing, the rain. I’m churning inside and reaching for every peaceful moment. The rain helps. The sound. I sit in meditation and my thoughts go something like this: I need to be working. I should apply for that MFA program. Am I good enough? What will I write about? Am I ready to be a writer? My ideas are dumb and simple. I should publish more. When does that article come out? I should call Mike and Kristina, I miss them. I miss my friend Karen, if she still is my friend. I don’t think she is. She’s never gonna tell me why. Maybe I’m imagining it. I will be ok. Why are things so fickle in life? Does she not love me anymore? Does anyone? Broken heart. You’re being a victim, stop it. Breakfast? New England. I live here. It feels so different here. Nia. I’m lucky. I want to be quiet all day. I wish Heather was here. Be quiet now. Be in the now. Rain, leaves, rustling, listen, just listen. The sound is so good. Come back to your body, just listen. Oh, there is your breath. Oh your breath. Oh. Your body. So much joy to be in one. So good.

At some point I vow to just watch the litany, reminding myself that is my only job, to be a witness. I think about these words and how I’ll write them. I go back to my breath. I feel no small amount of pain and anguish today and I can’t pinpoint it. I’m not afraid, just noticing. I’m trying to get better at noticing things before I act on them. Memory floods me. I’m thinking about memory because I’m reading my friend Lucas’s book about it, about loss, about family, about himself. About love.

It’s my first semester of school. I’m a kindergartener. I go to the public elementary down the road where the mascot is a cowboy and where everyone believes they are one. Cowboys ride the range; they are tough. They do not complain. They hate outsiders. And I ride the school bus. I am the hippie kid, not an Indian but still. More than that, I am odd. I stare at people with my blue eyes. I stare into them. This has not changed. It also helps me recognize my friends, instantly. Cammie is a beautiful, big, strong blond girl, the eldest of a group of girls. Everyone in her family is obese but she is beautiful. And she is mean. Her cousin Inga, is tiny and dark and even more beautiful, but she is kind. I like Inga and she likes me. She tries to be my friend. Cammie hates that. First, on the bus, she asks me to sit with her in the back. She asks me about the bracelet I am wearing, a silver and turquoise band that is from my mother. It is special to me. I feel beautiful in it. I am only 5 after all. She asks me if she can see it and unsuspecting, I offer it to her. Just as we slide over the cattle guard, she tosses it out the window so that it will not be found later.

After I have been punished for losing it, and my mother finally understands what happened, my grandfather takes me in the old blue truck and we look. It is gone. It is public and humiliating. I wonder if I imagined it, if I made it up. I question myself completely. This is one of the first moments I come to know hatred, what it’s like to be hated, and injustice. It is a moment I begin to understand who I am in relationship to others. I am an outsider, she has marked me as such and this never changes much for the rest of my life. Or if it has, I mostly never know. Later at school, she threatens to kill me if I speak to Inga. Inga and I never become friends.

Even my best friend, takes me down to the ditch one day and tells me to take off my special dress, and then throws it into the water so that it is lost. I was too trusting. She was toughening me. I still to this day love her. I know if I ever needed her, she’d be there. Even if it came with pain, her loyalty is unwavering. But she too taught me that the ones who love you can also hurt you. I have come to expect this. It has mostly proven true.

I later came to know that Cammie’s father beat her, beat her sisters, beat her mother. They lived in a dark, rundown house where things were pretty bad. I have compassion now I think. In fact, I never really hated her at all. I know my best friend didn’t mean to hurt me either. She was a child and was jealous, it happens. I’m a grown up and it happens to me. It is human, a part of our tapestry. Kids can be mean. I see there is a bigger story. I wasn’t the victim: life wasn’t perfect; love isn’t perfect. I survived all of this and more. In fact, in many ways, I did so beautifully. It was when I started to write.

But that doesn’t change how it shaped my story, shaped me. It doesn’t change those dark, beast voices in my head when a friendship fades away. I feel the very same: anguished, frightened, and certain that it was my doing some how. Some how, who I am is reason for this, for the hurting. And that there is nothing I can say or do to change it. I am at the mercy of wanting to love people and wanting them to love me back. The truth is, we all are. Every one of our hearts has been shattered by loss. I know this too.

Recently, I have been imagining that someday I will return home to New Mexico. I don’t know what that will be like or what kind of living I’ll be making but I can feel the truth of it starting and gaining momentum. The man who loved me most so far in this life, said to me recently that he knew he’d never have my whole heart because I loved that place, more than anything. He explained this was a part of why he chose someone else. His words made me feel like I had failed, like maybe there was finally a person who would say yes to me, every day and not just for a while, and that I had thrown it away, that because I am who I am, I missed this crucial detail, and that again, this hurting was entirely my fault. This is, of course, a very narrow slice of the truth. There are many others that go along with the story. But it fits conveniently into how I see my own flaws and my own history. I can admit it’s narrow but I still feel it viscerally.

And then I remembered Gillian’s wedding last month. As we were rolling out wedding cookies around the kitchen table I looked around at her bridesmaids and wondered, what is it that joins us all, why are all these very different women so familiar and comfortable? Then, I whispered to her, Oh, I think I get it. All of us are people who have always felt we didn’t belong. She laughed, asked, Are you surprised? No. Not really.

Every time I meditate lately, it’s like coming home. It’s like coming back to myself and I feel a huge relief in that quiet, even with the rustling thoughts. I have to believe, that there are others out there like me and as we come back to ourselves, maybe we can also come together somehow. So, if you’re out there…

Meet me at the edge of the fence; where the gate leads out to the pasture, where the water meets the land, where the rain touches the ground. Meet me where the sky starts to get huge. Meet me where the words are quiet ones, where the exchanges are simple, honest, where I can look deep into your eyes, don’t look away. I’m waiting for you. Let’s wander together maybe. Let’s have a party under the stars.

The Love Left Behind

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A few seasons ago on Christmas Eve after a night drinking wine with some close friends, and admittedly all being a little silly and nostalgic, our host, my closest friend for nearly 20 years now, pulled out her box of photographs. This box contained important moments from the last 15 years or so and we proceeded to all spend a half an hour passing them around for a look. Commentary and laughter ensued. A sweet end to a sweet night. And at the time it seemed like a simple, familiar activity, though I think I may be in the last generation where we still pass around physical objects of photography instead of passing the iPhone to the left hand side as it were. Nonetheless, it got me thinking about what is contained in that very simple, act of sharing a physical cache of memory and experience, one that we could all engage in, together for a moment with our hands. It is connected to something deep for me, that I keep pondering as the years go by, one that has probably caused my deep love for Barthes, spurred my undergraduate studies in photography. What is it, when we touch a thing, an object that contains our collective or personal memory that is so powerful?

So, as I write this, I need to be clear that I’m not interested in naysaying or debating the current technological iterations of photographic expression, I have a degree in the subject after all, or decrying a current generation for their lack of imagistic memory or longevity, but rather, I want to talk about specific, private/ shared moments and their power, without comparison. Because what I realized was that our host’s self-curated chronicle, through these objects of importance in photographic form, connected to my own chronicle too. It is a shared history via shared experience and commemorated by the very act of saving and relishing particular moments of celluloid film, in physical form. Our stories are all different, we saw the events differently, remember them differently, but the image, becomes a touchstone around which we can all see something familiar and from there, access our own experience.

And so, she was speaking to us, her “audience” if you will, about private, beautiful moments that she holds dear, that hold meaning for her. They connect to my moments, my own memory of that time and because she holds the images, I am a guest in her house of memory. And I don’t have prints of any of this. For me, until this moment, they existed as fragments only. Suddenly, her archive made my own experience (re)manifest.

This all seems abstract. But here is an example: there were pictures of a river trip we all took together one summer and several featured images of me and my sinewy, handsome rock climber boyfriend of the time. We are all beaming and in our early 20s, laughing into the camera, hot in the sun. And it was as if, I could love him all over again. It was as if, the physical object of the photograph conjured that love. And suddenly, that affection was shared by everyone in the room. We all laughed at how handsome he was and how proud I was of his good looks, nearly forgotten a decade later, as he is out of all of our lives, an image only in that moment. We marveled at how young we all were, we remembered those fragments—the heat of the Moab sun, the coolness of the deep and muddy Colorado river, the coffee shop where we ate breakfast, our river guide friend, leaping off the back of the boat, the summertime, the adventure, the movement over highways and through landscapes and across rivers, our collective freedom. Waking up at sunrise under willows. Nostalgia at its best, encapsulated in physical form. A thing that has passed on, able to remain again.

And so, I guess, after I said I wouldn’t, I would argue that all of us, huddling around a screen, or individually staring into each other’s iPhones, doesn’t hold the same power as passing a photo around a room. Perhaps there is as much meaning in the constant stream of our experiences on a screen (a medium which I also love) as there is in the lasting, physical form of a printed photograph. But for me, it is a different. Those images don’t stand, they move in a stream and are easily discarded, easily made, easily manipulated, easily gone. Again, there is surely a value there as well.

But there is something I like about that physicality. When I was an undergraduate, my photographs all took on a physical form. I would adhere them to sculptural pieces that I’d create to accompany them. I wanted image and experience, the visual and the physical sensation of that experience to be concomitant to one another, to be inextricable. I wanted an image to be more than an image, a piece of information. I wanted it to be sensory, to be an object as well. I wanted to make it hard to dismiss; I wanted to be able to hold a memory in the hand, to touch it, to kiss it even. I think I still want that.

You see, I don’t have any physical photographs of that handsome boy. Somewhere, there are love notes we wrote, but that box is so long gone, it might as well be forgotten by now. I wouldn’t think to conjure him through email or some other medium for the exclusive purposes of transporting myself back to that time viscerally. He exists as a fragment in my story, beautiful, it is true, but with each passing year, more and more lost. Until. Until a midwinter gathering with posole, tamales, a small box of photographs and suddenly I remember him again. Suddenly, he is indelible, performing his humor and rehearsed detachment before the camera, all the while, wrapping his arms around my thin, young waist. I remember me, suddenly, that way, all the worry of adult responsibility suspended. I remember each of us this way, in full color. It is again, Utah, late June, a caravan of Toyotas and Subarus careening through a sweltering desert. Each day spread out before us like wonder.

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Netflix, Caffeine, Naps: In Praise of Students.

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A lot happens in the springtime. For example, the twisting, sweet perfection of wisteria blossoms along exactly four fence lines in various places in a square block around where I live. I stop, to gleefully put my whole face in each one. The best example is on Sycamore Street where someone has trained it into a near wall just down from the tumble of a community garden. This is its time to shine; a few brief days where it nonchalantly announces a perfect presence of perfume and undulating crème and lavender color draped over an earthen spinal structure. And don’t get me started on the lilacs, and the apple blossoms. This neighborhood is a riot of color and scent and things coming alive after a winter that lasted too long to seem fair. February was despair; May is perfection. So it goes. Now, that we are in the perfection part, I’d have it no other way.

And I have been closing shop on a long, frankly horrific year at work and in my personal life. However, I have in the last two weeks, had moments of real happiness. You know, the kind that comes out of nowhere and leaves you smiling, feeling like this is your true self. What a long time it’s been. And I LOVE my new apartment. This place is a perfection too—one of asylum, and of sunny corners and of new beginnings. I often sit in the west windows in the afternoon and watch clouds smooth themselves over the horizon and the outline of the house next door and just, marvel. After three years in a cold, somewhat dark little house on Willow Street, where I found love, and then was devastated, I’m finally happy with my home. It’s warm, and spacious, and simple and as one friend said to me, “it’s the right size for you.” I languor in my bathtub and examine my own shape in long mirrors and walk its hardwood floors in the dark, becoming familiar with myself again. This is all unexpected and ready for my embrace.

And, I’m saying goodbye to another round of students. I’ve had some of the best classes this semester. It wasn’t their brilliance per se, but the way we all became a part of one another by the end, the way they owned the classroom. There is something magical about the way that strangers become important pieces of your existence that I think only teaching offers in particular ways. A classroom is a space with potential for anything and being an agent of that possibility is intoxicating, it does not, in fact, seem to wane measurably with the years, though it changes always. At the end of this term I asked my students as I always do, to reflect on their progress through freshman year and through the class. And then I ask them to transform that reflection in some way. This hopefully is one more attempt at getting them to become rhetorically flexible and aware and perhaps even have some (gasp) fun in the process. The parameters are pretty open, though they must keep an eye on meaning even when it changes form. What I ask is this: they write a reflective essay and then they “intervene” in the text or translate it in some way. Every semester, students choose inventive ways to translate content in a new form. This time I had a few groups write songs and perform them, some enacted skits that showcased their knowledge of the classroom content, several students wrote poems, some enacted Socratic dialogues, one translated a portion of her work into another language, one composed a montage of snap chats of her day-to-day life.

Their responses, though wide in variety, yielded some common threads this time that really stood out. And if I had to write my own summary comment about them, this is what I would offer: Netflix, caffeine, naps. My students work so hard. They want to have fun; they are tired; they need a break. Nearly every group expressed a need for balance between school and social life, hence Netflix, and parties. They laughingly joke about how partying is both a distraction and a saving grace, how social media both deters them from their work and keeps them connected to who they really feel they are. They procrastinate and procrastinate and then, they submit and end up spending hours and hours in the library, jacked on caffeine, or caffeine pills, or Adderall in order to get their work done. They mostly never sleep before 1AM or through the night, hence, naps. They are earnest and constantly adjusting to a new environment and looking for routine. They all talk about how their families are the reason they are here, how they want to make them proud. They make me proud, even the slackers. It’s a good thing even they don’t know how much they are constantly accomplishing and overcoming just to get to class and get the work done because if they did, they would likely throw their hands up in protest. They have classes that are nearly impossible to pass, reams of information to memorize, problems like the ones in my class that take their best risk-taking and leaping away from a focus on “fixing” sentence level errors and into self-reflection, inquiry and analysis. The world of ideas.

Being so far out of your comfort zone, where no one can really, exactly tell you how to succeed is taxing work. And it is exciting. I have quietly watched so many of them flail over the semester and watched many of them eventually find trajectories that work for them. They are minnows weaving in and out of sleep or sleeplessness, figuring out how to survive on terrible food and sustaining the expansion of their own brains. And it is their earnestness to that process that always lights my heart up. I try my best to return it with my own honest, supportive, engagement with them. I try, and don’t always manage to not take them for granted. I want them feel seen and known and challenged and believed in. I don’t always succeed. As any teacher will tell you, you can’t win them all. But I will say that in reading their reflections this time, I was taken off guard by a few students in particular. One was a returning veteran student who spent the entire semester making sure I knew how he didn’t like the work, didn’t see the value and was pretty sure he couldn’t do it. He hinted that he actually hated college and that he didn’t know if he’d stay. The other was a student whose attendance was, let’s say, intermittent. And he didn’t even do a final project because he was so painfully shy that he likely couldn’t bring himself to ever stand there in front of the whole class to talk about anything. But, in their reflections both students talked about how much they felt they gained from their own work and from their peers during the semester. They clearly expressed knowledge of their own growth in specific ways. One ended his letter by saying, “me and my family are so grateful.” Yes, I cried a little. I had no idea, truly, no idea.

This is the magic, like springtime. It is unexpected; it comes from so many directions; it is a gift. It is right on time. Is there still more to come? Yes. Does my own heart still ache after this year? Of course. Will my students forget much of what they’ve built? Probably. Nothing, no one, is perfect. Winter will come again. There will be moments of sleeplessness, and despair. There will be Netflix, and caffeine and naps to get us all through. But for now: wisteria, lilacs, perfect clouds.

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