Every morning, I go into the bathroom and with my makeup bag write the only fiction possible for me—my face—so when my iphone crashed the other day and in setting everything up again after it came back to life, I had to do another face scan password, I really had to contemplate. At the time, it was morning and I didn’t have my makeup on so I briefly thought that maybe scanning my makeup-less face to use as my password might make it more challenging for my phone to recognize me and use my face as my password once I had gotten the fiction published up there on my freckles (*cough “age spots”) and my eyebrows. But I proceeded with the makeupless scan and realized that I didn’t need to worry; I’m happy to report that my phone scan recognizes me either way—both with makeup and without—and opens right up at the sight of either face. And I think the moral of this story isn’t so much that I don’t look that different without make up as it is that basically anybody’s fucking face could probably open my phone at this point. Use it in good health, Anybody.
This particular picture was taken this morning in honor of the new lip balm I bought at Sprouts the other day. I don’t usually use the stuff—if your lips are dry, you’re dehydrated: drink water—but it’s nice to have so I grabbed some randomly and after applying it to see if I liked the texture (I didn’t) noticed it made my lips do this iridescent pink/white effect. And Back in the ‘80s I had this lip crayon that used to do the exact same thing; the ‘80s were a very iridescent time—chock full of a lot of face fiction plus some non-fiction, no makeup, etc—but I’d forgotten about it until seeing my face with this stuff on. Seeing it was a walk down an old and age-spot covered plus FiveGuysLastNight memory of my face and a surprising one; like who makes and sells iridescent pink/white lip balm at Sprouts? That’s not a thing now. How exactly does the company that makes it justify the hassle and expense of producing something that even the freaks of the free market like myself aren’t sure they can pull off? So I looked at the label. And that’s when I realized that my lip balm was sunscreen.
I’m in that losing point where I want people to see these videos because it could transform their life but where to put it? Who really and honestly wants to watch something that might change their life? And who really sees the things I post to FB (or my blog…) when on FB their entire schtick is to routinely separate the pic material from the words they’re to accompany because they know pics sells the “user experience” to where they’ve programmed their site with an algorithm that hides like the curtain of Oz. And then if someone does actually see something I post together with the words, who would bother to read and admit it? What does the reader really know of me beyond my face and love of animals since what does Oz let them see, and is it designed to make them feel ostracized? uncomfortable? We are a scrolling nation not touching awkward spaces because we’re all freaked out and traumatized then I log in and feel like a dead space; a space where I’m fully aware that an entity who recently rebranded itself—“Meta”—spends billions to figure out how to purposely separate us from one another. How to make us all feel just dissatisfied enough to keep us addicted to coming back for reassurance. They have researched us all to the level of psychological warfare in the name of almighty capitalism and so if I share this there who would they let see it, and what version of discomfort would they find appropriate for us to experience to advance their user machine, and are these questions the end game of what I want for myself or the people I love or the planet? Its no longer the issue that people are complacent: the issue is that we are being led into this experience and into particular motivations/perceptions skewed towards mindfucking us just enough.
If I’m gone soon from FB and IG (EDIT: I will be), know it’s not because I’m pissed or unstable (ahem; correction: I am) or flouncing: it’s that this machine has changed the way human beings think and the way human beings feel and connect; it has kept us from knowing and understanding one another, and it’s a constant stress made more traumatizing every single time I delete or deactivate and become hooked on it again anyways.
My mom had done her part to keep me off psychedelics by repeatedly relaying the story about the time that guy spiked her Coca Cola. She didn’t know what was happening while she slowly devolved into psychosis and, as her friends looked on, attempted to escape the chemical mind trap of LSD by clawing her way out of a Studebaker via the tiny rear triangle window. The incident cemented for her that not only was she was not cut out for that specific size of window but that we kids probably weren’t either, and henceforth advocated strictly for the madness brand known as “reefer.”
Naturally, I didn’t even remember her acid story the first time I took it myself. Poised as I was to capture the event of my first experience of non-ordinary states— armed with a mini cassette recorder and list of questions I’d ask myself during—it never entered my mind that I could potentially be setting myself up for having to crawl out a window. Ends up, I just sat in my car overlooking the Pacific Ocean, recording my answers to the questions I’d written—the only answer that I remember was “you need to be there for your sister”. That was ‘87, pretty sure, in Santa Cruz, California.
Four years later, ‘91, I’d be high again—second and last time—in Virginia, and dancing to the “Touch of Gray” in the nosebleeds with three other people, one of whom was the boyfriend I’d met at a CA wedding then moved to Maryland to shack up with. Not there for the music necessarily but for the life of what Grateful Dead means.
The GD formed in ‘65–four years after this ‘91 concert, Jerry Garcia would pass away—and long time fans didn’t like this new “sellout” commercialized sound. For the free-flowing movement is the actual art of the Dead; Jerry describes that early in his life he’d viewed the Watts Towers—a huge metal art installation that took some artist 33 years complete—which had gotten scorched in a fire and slated by the city for demolition but then couldn’t be removed. A giant crane sent to do the deed even toppled over from the effort and eventually the city gave up, leaving this artist’s work intact. And Jerry said this saga inspired him, in that “It just goes to show if you dedicate your life to your art and work hard enough, you can make something huge and unchangeable that will last forever.” Which he was saying tongue in cheek since he already knew that was the complete opposite of what he felt he wanted to do and be. Jerry wanted to create something that could live inside only one moment then drift; he wanted his art to flow from person to person and change, to be “played in real time and then vanish.” And that is what I believed even then that all humans truly want; we are born, we are labeled, we desire love and validation and in all the mental froth, we forget to drift; forget how to be nothing except amazed at how profound it is that we are even alive. I wanted to invite that in; wanted to feel safe in the vanishing.
After the concert, we went to check out the deadhead tour camp. The parking lot had buses made into homes, vans made into food trucks and family-made tie dye shirts for sale. People were playing guitar, and dancing, and shooting the shit—both stoned and not—in a community designed to earn the gas money to drive to the show in the next town. Just hanging out, being their own rabbit hole. Flowing and drifting, like following the heady freedom of nothing all the way to the end.
And as we walked around in the alternative reality of both the camp and ourselves—me and this guy I’d go on in a years time to break an engagement to a month before the wedding—periodic smoke made patterns in the air, as if shadows had gotten all dressed up just for us to play a part in the performance of impermanence.
And by the ‘90s, GD fans felt they were becoming what Jerry had said he hated; that fame and lifestyles and mortgages had compromised the music and made it as solidified and immovable as the Watt’s Towers. And maybe they’re partly right; but that’s because part of drifting and being permanently unlabeled and free is you don’t attach to “not being that thing.” You do your own thing, absent froth and adherence.
I never got to listen to that mini-cassette recorder tape. A month or so after the experience, it proceeded to plunge into the sea of “letting go” when my purse with the cassette inside it was stolen during a family friend’s graduation party (in which so many people showed up we had to call the cops on ourselves). I don’t remember much else from that first time overlooking the ocean except what a beautiful day it was, and that the water sparkled like lights blinking at me in the afternoon sun.
EDIT: for the record, I have always been a teetotaler. For me, the journey into sidestepping this normal consciousness and going into the feelings this lady describes is sun, nature, quiet, poverty, stress, humility, surrender, and empathy.
And I didn’t know the earwig was alive until I squeezed the mop out in the sink for the second time.
It had been floating in a dirty bowl when I’d done the dishes. And I’d thought “what a terrible way to go.” Drowning. In the panic of not having air, the one thing capable of easing said panic. Monks on mountains using only breath to reach states of mind that overcome the deep miseries.
And it had seemed too late until the mop ran clean and I saw it wiggling its legs trying to get away. But seeing the hope, I scooped it up and laid it gently onto a torn piece of paper bag so that it might recover itself.
And this lady I sit for—AZ— is mostly likely in the process of OD’ing. And the worry she’s dead—or worse, not yet dead, still savable with no one knowing—is with me as I clean the floor. Waiting for some sign she’s alive. Waiting until I see some mountain zone daylight before texting her CA mom, not knowing if I even should. Saw AZ so “asleep” yesterday I almost called an ambulance. She wasn’t supposed to be there; asked me to care for her cats and I found her in her bedroom. Took care of her cats; texted her a cute video of them; texted her again later, no responses. Have been on this addiction journey for a few years with her and her wealthy California family, and Don’t know the entire story. She has a trust fund, no job, and a fraught relationship with her mom (has asked me not to contact her); three cats and a dog, a horse somewhere, copious ordered packages always piled feet high over her porch and expensive furniture tagged and still in bubble wrap in a house she never locks despite a previous break in. Goes Into rehab, comes home; relapses; attracts grifters; admitted to hospital, back home, paranoid; trust fund cut off. The last relapse I arrived to her house destroyed—to the point I couldn’t find her dog who was sitting in the mess—and writing on the walls in Sharpie asking people to find a home for a spider who’s sad and a manuscript on the south wall of her bedroom reaching up as far as her height could take it, saying “…and when I’m alive, I’m alone; and when I’m crazy, I get to be loved. But not really.”
And here, in my “own” life, I walked right into a stick with my right eye yesterday. I’m chronically sleep-deprived, fall asleep anywhere. I have no days off but still had to move residences four times in five years creating permanent residence in “lunatic fringe” and am forgetful and constantly swirling with things I have to do/finish/clean/write/tend to as I actively run in place inside the full catastrophe known as the “American Dream”. And Yet on this Sunday in August 2020 before I leave for work, I’m distracted with another’s life—could paramedics even help her when several bouts of expensive rehab couldn’t?—and Squeezing dirty water out of the strings of my mop, singing Sugar Magnolia softly to myself as I wash the house, knowing already that teams of people with love and money can’t save someone who doesn’t want it. “Sweet blossom come on under the willow,…” as I worry over who’ll take her cats (who hide for everyone but me) if she’s dead/incapacitated. Who will love the things she loved? Who will endure this burning to give some light? “Sugar magnolia, Ringin’ that blue bell…Come on out singing, I’ll walk you in the sunshine…” in this morning that is supposedly mine. “But not really.”
And I go to rinse the mop again and see that the earwig isn’t on the paper anymore. I don’t see it when I look around for it in the sink and on the floor. Did it move on its own and is alive or accidentally get knocked off?
And I don’t have any answers, though in some lights, everything that happens is an answer. We look at what feels like ours to claim and we do what we can. Which often looks like nothing except the artful arrangement of our feelings until the worry yields itself to become something else.
And my cats are in their enclosure in the cool of this early summer day. And Julia and Bug are coming over later. And Livy is sleeping a few feet away—her computer still open on the kitchen table just as it was last night when she turned in her essay for History—and as I mop, Kiki‘s shedded Siberian triple coat bunches up in little balls when the mop water hits it. The oil covering each strand repelling the water until each finds one another again like a dream come true.
“Sunshine daydream,…Going where the wind goes, Blooming like a red rose”
And I know as I sing that I can offer my worry and my time and still not help any of us arrive at a better end.
Then back at the sink once more, I rinse the mop one final time and happen to look down at the floor. And there is the earwig. As I watch, it waddles capably along the wall and suddenly veers and tucks itself beneath the fridge.
And I’m surprised and I smile, nodding my head in approval. “Holy shit. Look at you.” [Everything that happens is an answer].
And then, a bit later, I text her mom and go to work, leaving my house, and feeling better knowing there’s that earwig now safe and sound underneath the fridge.
It’s like the entire world right now is a confrontation, for which within varying degrees of connection we’re all coming to see one another’s deepest vulnerabilities and sadness. And I’m trying to get ahead of it for my kids’ sake. Because I’ve worked hard to process my personal grief into the productivity of seeing the purity of love it (can) hold and I know from our life together that I can’t shield my children from this sadness. Shared with Livy about Wyatt—the Oregon boy who died by fire huddled with his dog—(then immediately doubted myself!) for it is too much; it IS too sad but grief is deceptive like that, and therein resides the fallibility of the human condition.
And yesterday I’d met Mercy the therapy dog (see pic) in anticipation of watching her in October. Before COVID, her jobs were within psychiatric units of VA hospitals and the Women and Children’s homeless shelter. She’s like what you’d imagine a therapy dog would be—quiet, observant, soothing; a wagging caretaker—so when she gave two little barks while her human and I were in conversation, and stood up in protective mode—body facing her driveway—immediately looking short glances at me as she did so, I knew she was assessing me to figure out if I could really see and listen. And as I rose—apologizing/explaining why to the owner—and joined Mercy at the head of the path near the driveway, it came up inside me that this moment of talking without words is as pure as it gets. This dog who transforms the grief of humanity is communicating with me and to step outside human-typicality to invest in that is the moment it all comes together. To be able to pause whatever is happening and say, “I can see and listen, Mercy; thank you for helping me. I’m trying to be real. I truly am” is the silence welcoming us all.
Then hours after that– last night–in the dark of I 15 going north (taking her to her dad’s in Layton) my youngest and I hit upon the subject of “the world” in its current state. Replete with pregnant pauses when neither of us could use words to clarify and tidy it all.
“Whatever happens, the planet will survive. She’ll be okay. It’s just hard to know what it will look like.”
“Yeah, like maybe the trees will…… Actually, I wonder if there’ll even be trees….”
Two Communicators under the forever of the universe ingesting the complexity and uncertainty. Livy taking time from history essays and her new French bob to respect herself enough to accept the limitations of what any human can truly know right now. Veering at one point into the recent discovery of life “on” Venus, and how comical it is that phosphine in the Venetian clouds was probably there all along but Earth-centric humans were instead looking for water. Looking for themselves, over and over. Carl Sagan suggesting 50 years ago there might be life in the clouds but the idea was too fringy. But there it was the whole time.
And Visiting with Mercy’s owner yesterday afternoon, I had told her about working in the elementary schools, with kids who are hungry (but don’t complain about it) from families who’ve endured/are enduring severe loss, and she speaks about how Mercy goes into her interactions understanding the person from the clarity of unusual sight.
”I don’t know how she knows but she can sense what their story is.”
Me, knowing what she means: “And does so from the dignity of non-judgment.”
“Yes, exactly. Without evaluation. As if Mercy is offering them the chance to understand what they are from a completely different vantage.”
Me: “Mirroring unconditional love. Letting the person see themselves inside it perhaps for the first time….”
“Yes. It’s been hard on her not to be working.”
Then Mercy—near her feet—looks up at the tree canopy overhead as if it is her first moment seeing the sun parade through the leaves. And it is. Animals being like the clouds of Venus; miraculous life forms continually hiding something which humans can’t yet see simply because we are always looking for our own selves. And whatever the future holds for any of us, I’m so grateful to know that teachers are here for us, everywhere. Designed into this planet with feet, and fur, in the clouds and in short little barks.
And fast-forward, later, French bob was dropped off, and I’m alone in the car barreling south down I-15 back where I came from, and Rocket Man comes on and things shift and I start to sing. For in reflecting upon it all, it seems like the great mysteries are timeless once they’re revealed to us, and that with each “aha” of knowing Life isn’t just water, we can metamorphose. And unrolling my window, I marvel at being part of this excruciating event known as earth, and from the cooling air rushing along beside me, am somehow comforted to better feel myself as part of.
I was kept up all night by Julia’s new dog whining and feel spit out so when the young man at Jiffy Lube in the greasy jacket with no nametag gazes up at the TV while casually sipping coffee and says “Kelly Ripa looks so good for her age. What is she, like, 50?”, my irritation is a toxic brew of exhaustion and 50 year old defensiveness. Like, what exactly qualifies you, Mr. 20 Year Old Ballsac Express, to opine on the pleasing nuances of feminine aging when obviously I usually look better than this. Obviously. I was just, like, kept up all night and don’t even want to be here but my oil’s overdue and I’ve never even had a personal trainer/dietitian.
And I haven’t dreamt about mom and her husband in a long time but last night I found myself in a recurring one. In this particular one, I’m in a house with my girls and our pets and we’re moving and–standing around this almost-empty house–I suddenly knew my stepdad was coming. And like my previous recurrences of this dream, realizing he was coming brought on panic and fear, for in all iterations of this recurring dream, I’m grabbing my kids and my pets (and sometimes our foster kittens) to get out of wherever we are because my stepdad is coming there to hurt us. And in these unconscious spheres, it’s a horrible, helpless feeling, a feeling of being hunted by a foe large in size and rage, where I’m thrust into battle and being called to save from viciousness all the things I love most in this world.
And, as dreams usually work, the fear in this recurring one is based on reality. Mom got with my stepdad in ‘90–not fully divorced from dad–and not too long after (‘92) I was told I could either accept him or stop being part of her life. And during that time, I thought he was a chaotic post-divorce event as she rebuilt herself; he was an ex-con (sex offender), didnt have a job, a decorated cowboy on the rodeo circuit—a 180 from my dad who she’d been with for 20 years—so I thought he was her experimentation of self after my parents called it quits. But this was not the case and in the intervening decades, there’d been rages, screaming, silent anger– which if it wasn’t acknowledged would turn 2/…very dark–and a drastic moodiness covered up by pandering to keep him stable leading to events a la “I pushed him too far and that’s why he choked me,” punches to horses faces, convincing mom shooting my two dachshunds–and her dog Malone, among others–was an appropriate way to end their lives, etc.
And across my life cycle, I accepted, swallowed, became the powerless observer until blending together across time was the nonchalant creation of cruelty it was implied I’d just ignore. A cruelty which—after I became a single mother—loomed like PTSD to become—last night—the theatrical version. The version wherein he isn’t just coming for my mom, and me, and our former pets; he’s coming for my kids, the cat that purred on my lap this morning, and the neurologically impaired kitten I took care of yesterday. The version Wherein—in all iterations and settings of this dream— I’m doing all I can to escape but I can’t, and right up until I accept this unfortunate fact, I feel helpless and trapped then in the very next second, I’m calm and strategic and looking for the weapon I’ll use to kill him.
And at Jiffy Lube, waiting for my car—exhausted, old, and reliving— I can only just vaguely see the real emotion behind my nightscapes. The devastation and the tears I felt and shed are memories, and shadowy things I’ve since left behind to better embody love as a force for proactive helping and healing. Bad things do happen and people hurt vulnerable and precious things but I can’t live there; I live my days loving and protecting those same things.
Yet sitting under the TV, surrounded by greasy clothes, I relive shooting my stepdad in the chest, gasping as his flesh and bone exploded and splattered my face. And last night, finding an ax and strategizing how best to wield its weight so as to kill him with one strike.
What does it mean that erupting out of the spaces of my heartsickness has come not healing or love but the accepted solemnity of extreme violence?
A couple of years ago a friend sent me an mp3 file containing the testimony of a former gang member and ex-con. The young-ish man had gone before a panel of Utah politicians to try to inform them of how his life became that of a criminal, to dissect the trajectory so as to prevent other young men from following suit.
During his testimony, he talked about how he’d grown up in a violent home. His stepdad was psychologically wired to exact abuse of maximum potency and the young man detailed that this meant his stepdad learned not to spend the effort at beating the young man but rather to spend it torturing the things yge young man loved. So he’d make the boy listen while he beat the boy’s dog. Bringing the dog close enough to ensure the boy could hear, then abuse it, forcing the boy to listen as the dog yelped and cried and whimpered in fear and pain.
We start off in this world tender; as hearts that want to love and be loved, and which trust implicitly that the world wants the same. We aren’t born knowing what to do with cruelty and violence; aren’t emotionally inclined to the skill set of adapting to someone clearly lost inside themselves. So we spin events into alt-facts and create a means of empowerment to protect ourselves so that it doesn’t hurt us anymore.
We ourselves place on the menu a way to make peace with our helplessness.
That very first dream (circa 2010-2011?) is the one where I shot him in the chest. In it, my step dad wasn’t just coming for me and my girls and my animals: he was also coming for my mom. In waking life, I wanted her to get out of her situation but so many years and events had gone by that I didn’t have much hope. I’d learned you can’t make someone leave. You can’t make someone stop being cruel, you can’t make someone stop beating a helpless dog; you can’t take the rage inside someone else and nullify it without their permission.
And he was at least 7 or 8 feet away from me when I shot him. But his tissues exploded and—whether from the force of them landing on my face or from my shock and attempt to keep it from hitting me (I don’t remember)—my head was pushed backward as my mouth vocalized the gasp. I hadn’t wanted to shoot him but he’d left me no choice; and I had to kill him with the first shot because if I just hurt him he’d get up and we’d be in more danger. Sometimes when I’m alone, in my car, thinking about it, I reenact the gasp and my head flinging back. I wish I could reproduce for you what it felt like.
And this morning, in and out of my exhaustion—head resting into a Jiffy Lube window—I fell again into that dream, not fully knowing why I had it.
I stood—and stand, in all these dreams—to kill something because I want to. I create dreams in which I give myself permission to do so. And while I don’t necessarily know why and may never know, as I sat there, eyes closed, I gave all vulnerable and precious things the opportunity to feel safe and loved, slaying cruelty with an ax while waiting for my car and coming to terms with my place in the order of a gentle world.
On October 17, 1989, I was riding my bike home from my Clinical Psychology class at UC Davis, looking forward to watching the Bay Bridge World Series Game 3—San Francisco Giants vs. Oakland A’s—on TV with my boyfriend, when the earthquake struck. The Loma Prieta earthquake. I didn’t even feel it.
The 5:35 game hadn’t started when the quake hit at 5:04, and so the many TV cameras recording pre-game excitement at Candlestick Park actually televised the earthquake to millions of people. It would, in fact, become the first large earthquake ever to be broadcast live.
Right after the shaking some fans assembled at Candlestick let out a cheer believing it was a sign that the series battle between two teams from the same metropolitan area was now christened by unseen forces but when power went out, murmurs of confusion rippled and within minutes, players were gathering their family from the stands as people were told to leave the park. Only about half the fans were in their seats at the time of the quake and had there been any more seated, their weight on the structure would have made the concrete less able to retain its integrity.
The earthquake hadn’t been centered in San Francisco though. It had been centered in the Santa Cruz mountains, where our home was. Or where our home HAD been, before my parents’ separation a few months before. During my first year at college—‘88-‘89–things had somehow crumbled and I’d come home on weekends over the course of the year to see dad crying in the living room and intervened on his behalf only to be informed that I wasn’t welcome to come home if I couldn’t support my mom’s decision to divorce. Then that summer—of ‘89, months before the quake—dad moved out, and my mom went a bit bananas—obsessively making my 13 year old sister do the Ouija board— until one day, shit exploded and my sister ran off to the neighbors house where dad came to get her from and we didn’t see or talk to her again for almost a year. In the interim, mom moved out of the dome on Hazel Dell Road—the last place we’d all live as an intact family—and I moved my stuff to Davis to live with Steve, while Dad and my sister (and brother, who was in and out) were living in the Hazel Dell dome.
When the 6.9 magnitude quake hit, my sister was in the house but my dad was up the road, at the well which was over a hill and not visible from the house. The earthquake rocked our geodesic dome so violently that it slid off it’s foundation and made the deck which encircled the entire span of the home’s exterior break away from the house. Once it was over, dad ran towards the house and screamed at seeing it, knowing my sister was inside but in trying to get in to find her, discovered he couldn’t because the back door we always went through wouldn’t open anymore. Everything had shifted, and was twisted in different directions, so the door was still a rectangle, but the door frame was a rhomboid, and wouldn’t budge. My sister was fine having found a doorway to get into but stuff was everywhere, windows broken, the house cracked and a complete wreck. Dad and Alex left—having to obv move out—and Jeff squatted near the dome for a few days but left to go somewhere and after that the house sat there alone, dark, broken and eerie.
The divorce wasn’t yet final so one weekend soon after the quake, my mom, my moms friend Mary, myself and my boyfriend Steve went to see it and retrieve things of ours that might have been left behind, one example of which was our family pictures and baby books, which were still in the ruined house inside the drawer they’d always been in when we lived together.
The smell of the house is what I would remember most for years after. The refrigerator had been slammed forward, and tipped and door open, was laying on the counter. The food that had been inside had been flung out of the fridge and lay rotting. The odor of this rotten food was mixed with the smell of my sister’s smashed fish tank—gravel, broken glass, Angel fish on the floor of her bedroom—and her broken bottles of perfume, creating an aroma of rot, and fish, and perfume that bled into the carpet and the walls.
The floors were sloping and rising, and almost spongey—clearly not on solid ground—and the house groaned and creaked.
One surreal thing I saw that day besides the physical destruction of a home I’d loved was a baby blue chest of drawers that my parents had put under the deck of the house to store. It had been my younger brother’s changing table and then his dresser but put under the deck of the house when it wasn’t needed anymore. The shifting of the house had caused the deck (still mostly attached to the house) to land on top of the dresser, and when I took a picture, one ten inch deck joist is visible and denotes just how heavy the entire deck itself was even while this baby blue dresser held steady as if in a strength beyond rationality. I’ve forgotten much of the intense/scarring feelings from that time but am glad I listened to the feelings that day because now I have this picture as both an emblem of our family history as well as evidence of the surprising resilience of forgotten ordinariness.
In the end, the insurance company (my parents somehow had earthquake insurance) eventually decided to lift the existing damaged structure back up and onto the foundation rather than demolish and rebuild. Geodesic domes are known for being earthquake resistant and in some ways, that was accurate. The home is still there—visible on Google—but they named the driveway/road something specific and when they did the address of the house changed too.
[On a side note, after the house was fixed and my dad and sister were moving back in, a tow truck driver bringing my dad‘s beloved ‘57 Chevy (that didn’t run but was his dream project that we’d moved around to all our various cities for 20 years) up the hill to the dome, ended up somehow not setting his emergency brake(?) and after he got to the top of the hill, the truck started rolling backwards with the Chevy still on it and flipping over in the field, destroying the Chevy.
I ended up with those family pictures, and still have them. Mom had them for many years after the day we saw the dome but when I moved to Virginia and James and I bought 6348 Tisbury Drive, she asked if I would take them because I was at that point pretty geographically settled and she wasn’t. Fast forward multiple decades—about three—and I’d (accidentally) find out that some came to believe I had the pictures for Different reasons which I won’t detail here but which is indicative of the misunderstandings that often accompany broken families. I’m certainly not hoarding these pictures; much of that life honestly feels like it didn’t even happen. It’s now just bits and pieces, enmeshed in a larger much-more complex experience]
And it’s morning, and I’m walking Kora in downtown Salt Lake City, close to the big temple. It’s the last two days I’m sitting for her family because they’re moving to Park City so I am feeling that—saying goodbye to Kora as well as their cats, Twix and Breezy—and confronting the dynamic nature of life and the beauty inherent in the savoring of something knowing in advance that it isn’t going to last.
And the trees are half-in and half-out of Fall—some with green foliage attached— and the leaves that are on the ground are not yet soggy. Their many hours in the dark of night being just a pause, the weather too warm for dew, too temperate for frost. The leaves–not yet raked and bagged–are thick and fluffy, falling every minute now onto ground from trees preparing to sleep it off for a few months.
And people are always friendly down here near the big temple. Just west of the conference center, there is a building where the out-of-town missionaries stay for their service work, and as they walk to their placements, they often exit the building wearing a solemnity that makes me not want to laugh until they catch sight of me. And then they’re jovial and extroverted, often saying “morning! cute dog!” as we pass.
And today, as I walk Kora, a couple emerge who are holding hands stiffly; in suit and dress and long, wool coats, with nametags, they pass by in unwavering focus and say nothing. No hearty good morning to a stranger. No unofficial proselytizing. Nothing off script. Just a business-like devotion to God; just the padded existence of a religion where nothing else exists except the seriousness of the quest. Or–my mind whirs–maybe, alternatively, a marriage so bad they have nothing left except stiff hands and Elder and Sister Smith nametags. Maybe just sadness, and role play; rayon dresses and averted eyes walking towards their promised salvation like paper dolls astride silence and vulnerable emotional spaces masked by small talk.
And as I walk Kora behind this couple, Kora sniffs while I delve inside what it looks like to be them. Are they in love? Is that what 30 years gets you? Stiff hands and seriousness all part of the package they drove off the lot with. They don’t even know to be dissatisfied? Or maybe their marriage is fine and this visage is what they were told finding God should be like. That it would appear as a piousness so serious their reverie marks them even to strangers walking Husky mixes (kicked out of day care for aggression) on a beautiful fall morning in Salt Lake City.
And inside my reflective mental space this morning I bounce around inside this few minutes sharing this couple’s life. And as I walk beside this sterile couple searching for an experience of God, I feel graced to on the outside wondering; feel graced with a deeper experience of what I am and what I value, as if watching them be who they are has helped me appreciate my self and my life. My easy laugh, my curiosity, that Kora sniffed that same rock yesterday (why?), and how the morning seems to be offering the experience of fall as if an off-Broadway production.
, as if there is no other way I could have been more content in my life at this moment without being able to witness this couple being something else. For just as summer gives itself constantly to Autumn, we journey through the seasons of humanity bearing leaves of different growth, marking the time with . That these religious people and my self and Kora are living a unified whole, helping each other . Fornot yet thick making a dent from their many hours spent in the dark and cold, and it’s almost as if the night too is still trying to hang on to summer.
Are they supposed to act so serious? Is that what finding God looks like to them? When do you know you’ve experienced God, or is walking together as a long-married couple in a nametag towards the temple to do their required service work enough?
And on this morning of balancing between seasons–as the leaves pull aside summer with such grace it becomes a seduction–we part, and it’s just Kora and I, and the awareness once again that it’s one of our last jaunts. Me snapping pics to remember her by; her looking proudly at the camera knowing that I was, while everything rests into an early morning inside a synchronicity in which we’re all just fragments of a larger creation breathing one another into being.
Today this group is headed to the Best Friends Adoption Center.
We ended up naming them Salzburg, Linz, Wels, Vienna and Austria. Picked up on May 8th, from Best Friends–described as “5 shy-ish kittens”–one of them got so upset on our way home, they pooped in the carrier. We never have any real idea when we get a group what it’ll be like. What their history in the world and with people is, how feral they are. But typically, even if they’re “shy-ish,” hissing and pooping the first day, by the second or third in the kitten room–with the furniture and the boxes and the quiet– they’ve decided they’re safe enough. Maybe will flee during transitions, loud noises, our movements, and toss a few side-eyes after quietly and slowly slinking up to the new canned food we’ve plopped down but will give noticeable evidence that they are relaxing and curious. Will gather excitedly when toys come out, skitter now and then just to remind themselves of their past, but dive back in soon after.
But not this group. The five kittens in this group were all petrified. And, for three of them, it actually got worse as the weeks wore on. In spite of our efforts to elicit trust and offer them an optimal environment, it got to where Julia confessed a few weeks into it that she’d feel so depressed by the sight of kittens still in such fear of people who’ve spent weeks hoping to help them feel safe that she’d often have a difficult time going in their room to see them. It was discouraging to confront the reality that for three of these kittens, the tricks that had always worked weren’t, and that the absolute purity of calm, and love and devotion wasn’t enough to overcome whatever embedded trauma and fear they had already established in their little bodies. When Julia admitted that, I confessed that I too had been surprised. Best outcomes is they get back to the Best Friends Adoption Center when they’re still little–and more adoptable–in case there is a kitten surplus and they have to wait there for weeks before their family finally finds them. Those outcomes are usually doable pretty easily but this group we just weren’t sure.
And I had a long work day in front of me–and was already exhausted from previous long days–so when I held formerly-fearful Linz to give her our pre-farewell “blessing of the fosters”—“we love you; if you need us, tell the universe to help you find us; may our love always serve to comfort you”—my tears started to flow.
Because in the short interim span between Julia’s confession and this morning came about the improbable growth that meant these kittens were ready for their new life. That they themselves were reshaped, reformed, and anew. And how does that happen? I don’t really know. I’m in this room saying goodbye and giving my blessing to kittens who a week before I knew at least three of them would be hiding behind the furniture at the adoption center to keep from being seen by potential adopters.
And last night, I’d spent some time falling into the experience of the 2018 Tony Awards. The students of Parkland high school performed “Seasons of Love” from Rent, just a few months after the Valentine’s Day massacre at their high school.
Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes…
How do you measure a year in a life?
How about love?
Measure in love.
Remember the love.
And in the room with me were the kids of this tragedy, together on a stage, bursting the hearts of those around them with this symbolic gesture of hope and harmony. Linz’s downy hair, and solid strong body relaxing into the trust we’ve built as I pick her up, and tenderly cradle her, telling me there is healing even when the world hurts us. Even when we are vulnerable and wronged–traumatized and justifiably hopeless–there can still exist the part of our story in which we find our way into an arc of redemptive luminescence. As if the universe sends us our very selves as a message of perseverance. Compelling us to join our fellow injured on a stage and in unison make a different world together inside melodies speaking of love.
And my eyes were dripping, from love and tears and I crawl slowly over to Wels. A fluffy little man–once most frightened of all of them, in almost constant terror for many weeks–who’d somehow, suddenly, one random day, got his light switched on. Trekked across the kitten room to Julia and rubbed his head against her fingers in affection. And I raise him slowly, and kiss him slowly, closing my eyes, as I give the blessing. I want him to know the singing.
Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes…
How do you measure a year in a life?
I want him to know that things are often hard, and moments filled with external love and safety will pass. Want him to know (want myself to know) that when the kitten room is empty and their little ghosts run around in my memories, that though the math adds up to all of us passing at some point again into trauma, fear, and darkness, we can never unsing this beautiful moment. Right this second is one we will always have when in the future dark times gather to make us doubt if that love was even real; when the singing to heal isn’t something we can muster, we can still never unhear being told how loved we are, or relaxing into the hands of a lady we came to trust for the quiet ways of patience, effort, concern and blessings.
Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes…
How do you measure a year in a life?
How about love?
Measure in love.
Remember the love.
And I finish, and close the door to head out for my workday, leaving the babies in their room for one last day. But with me–singing quietly to myself–I take the softness of their hair and the feeling of their relaxed bodies being held against mine, and the mysteries of healing, and the arc of an improbable story I have personally just been part of.
9/17/19: The dream was that [Someone I greatly respect and admire] and I were sitting at a rectangle outdoor table in a small private garden. A tree was to his left and he was across from me—sitting at the head of the table—and the sun was shining and everything was in bloom.
And as he sat there, he was kind of mumbling (or speaking in a language I couldn’t understand) almost as if talking to himself but I knew the gist of what he was saying and felt respectful but uncomfortable and embarrassed. Because what he was doing was describing—as if in the omniscience of “The Great Other”(God)— the things he knew I’d said and done over my earthly existence and tears were running down his cheeks for the joy and admiration of what he’d seen.
And I said nothing—was mortified/do not like praise at all in waking life—and he was in a zone where it didn’t matter anyways as he was overcome with emotion, red face, tears collecting in eyes and slowly streaming down.
And from either letting him live in the moment of his emotion or perhaps in deflection of/embarrassment of what was happening, I got distracted and looked down at the table to see little bits of light collecting right on the tabletop in front of me.
The lights were moving as in the manner of sun moving through leaves but suddenly I could see that the bits of light were actually teeny fish moving in a school that was part of the surface of the table. They were swimming in the solid surface of this table like the table was becoming water and as I was looking at them swim they began swaying in a collective wave of a school of fish swimming in unison. Moving together in varying patterns and shapes, back and forth and up and down across the table, like showing me with their light-bodies what liquidity can look like. Then suddenly the school of fish darted as one to the right edge of the table, and instead of turning back around to keep swimming on the table, they leapt off the tabletop of “water” and flew like a flock into the sky because each little fish had transformed to become a bird.
And I gasped in wonder. Was so alive in the magic of it all I wasn’t even self-conscious it might be disrespectful not to be actively listening to […….]—for I knew he’d feel the same way as I did—so just watched as out the edge of the table and around my chair, these tiny light birds took flight, twisting in my chair to marvel with body and words what had just occurred.
And in some part of my awareness, I wondered to myself if I’d actually made the fish turn into a flock of light birds. Did I do that? Can I do that?
Then I tilted a bit into wondering whether this magical world I’d just witnessed as observer was something that’s always right “there”, forever waiting for the ideal moment of a human’s soul to reveal the 100% potential of ourselves. Waiting for every condition to be met—waiting for the point where human sight has been appropriately unchained—before pulling off the disguise of normal consciousness to utter aloud the supernatural ways of the profound other world that’s always right here. The other world that acts as observer to one another before swimming in unison and heeding the call to transform and all together take to the air in flight.
On January 5th of this year, I woke up early to meditate.
I’ve been meditating with widely-varying dedication for 30 years and that morning in the predawn—legs crossed, earplugs in, making an event out of breathing—I attempted again to carve from “normalcy” the profound truth of the supernatural ways.
The last few weeks of 2019 into 2020 had ignited the tinder within me—the personalized points of insecurity; the places of archetypal inner gnawing; all the different ways I’ve disappointed myself and my kids; the separation I feel to humanity, who take frivolity very seriously as the world starves and burns—and I wanted to connect with the me who could look at those feelings. It was a slow work day—in a very slow January—and slow work days always bring on my darkness and the Jaws music called “lack.”
And typically in the random selection of thoughts/visions that meet me in such meditations is the sense of the blade. A sense of the events, the eruptions, the causes of my purposeful endeavor at finding calm. But not that morning.
That morning in my minds eye—amid what I assumed was all my worry and feeling—I saw a bird which right in front of my face, hovered as if in the flirtatious delight of its capabilities before suddenly jetting away, wings dramatically tilting as if it was showing off. And I giggled.
The sun was due to come up in Salt Lake City at 7:52 a.m. so at 7:30, I made tea and parked myself in the chair overlooking our backyard bird feeder. The first bird appeared at 8:06—its friends arriving soon after—and as my cat sat nearby and offered her little cackling mix of outrage and derangement, I realized that
the funny thing about life is that the same worry-themes will occur again and again, year upon year—shaking our combustibles—but then one day, one year—somehow, understood clearly during meditation—we’ll have changed. As if the tinder that we thought was still inside us waiting to burn had actually been tiptoeing around flipping lights on, patiently waiting for the sun to rise within ourselves.
And so as the birds stayed aloft—daring gravity to protest—reverberations of self replayed in muscles that just a short time before had giggled from joy. And in the simplicity of quiet, I watched animals not bound to earth flirt with the air as if in deference to my shift in perception.
I’m Walking. East to Canal, south to 5600, west to Redwood, then north and back around to 1601 Paradise—the last place I’d live with both of my girls; where I’ve lost my livelihood yet trying to keep hold of my mind—walking in the bleakness of April 2020 in a modified meditation. Terrain is flat, my hood is up, headphones in but not on; I focus on a point ahead and breathe. Processing the huge changes, wanting to hold on to what I know—not wanting to be destitute, not wanting to move, not wanting Julia to move out—yet also understanding that as an emotional being, this is how humans change. This is how things move us out of position so we can come to see things. For the only reality is growth and that growth is often first and foremost pain so unbearable you don’t want to go on. And Thirty years ago, I didn’t know the self I walked with—and certainly wouldn’t have aspired to the events that created her—yet as I walked, I felt being called to wake and be alive. To breathe into discomfort and unknowing and be okay.
So I walked. Breathing.
Late March, early April, late April. Walking. Observing the teetering. My worries of early January dialed up in decibels.
Walked/walking—every day, sometimes twice—breathing. And later under baseball cap and sunglasses, I’d drink a Bloody Mary sitting in those stadium chairs Laura gave me before she moved back to Chicago, and as classic rock boomed from the neighbors house, I’d sing the songs and cry on the back deck of 1601 Paradise in the afternoon sun of early spring.
I woke at 5:24 to meditate.
I could hear the guy peeing in the upstairs apartment (sounds like a heathy guy) because I moved in July. Again. That makes four moves in five years (all necessary; I didn’t want to) which is a special blend of crazy. Four moves in five years has made my girls and I the singular justification for why you always—ALWAYS. Okay, Julia?—tape the bottom of the goddammed cardboard box. (Don’t just close the flaps on themselves, man. Come on. That’s rookie moves; its all our shit in there).
And this particular move deserves an Oscar. Moving from a large abode to a tiny one in the middle of a pandemic will forever make this move the one where Scarlett O’ Hara is stepping over the bodies in the streets of Atlanta trying to get help only to get to the hospital just in time to hear the screams of a guy getting his leg sawed off. The girls and I Looking around going, “excuse me? I’m pretty and do not want to deal with this shit” while smelly, gangrened soldiers try to grab us and we motion in protest to No One Cares about the audacity of this unbelievable nightmare.
But chaos and I are old friends. We stroll side by side holding hands—as equals—and fall in love while the world goes to shit.
We meditate together in the stillness of an early morning and while the guy puts out a fire in his toilet microphone, she and I breathe as one.
And we’re now in the last few weeks of a year we’ll forever talk about. During which some of us had no choice but to look at our shadow because the only thing we could even afford was “growth.” So we walked—and walked and walked—and breathed, and gave space to what it is we were becoming.
And I’m still breathing, giving space; observing. My oldest bird has now flown; my income’s in half, every little thing is still uncertain; I’m yielding my moments to the Zen of someone’s leg getting sawed off.
Yet in delving into breath, quiet, (time, space, consciousness, love, pain, chaos, gangrene,…), I know I’m the creator of this dream. For one day, I sat down to face my worry and instead saw a covetous bird, as if Time itself had sent it for the longing to hear me giggle.
And from rising each morning solely with the goal to come meet my better self, I open the door to discover the infinity of Life inside me. Where the fish become birds and hover before me, telling me what I am and who I can be. Where I breathlessly ask [my most admired person……………], ‘what makes something real?’ before I fly off a table and into the air of every possible thing.
And to quiet the noise to witness the inner knowings, we begin to wonder ‘what does “perfect” feel like?’ Will I know it when it arrives? Will it make me giggle? And in longing to make sense of the stars inside us, we don’t always see that we’ve moved to the homes of our (as yet) most awake selves. But when the world spins violently, we can better understand the truth of what we are and, in discovering the life nestling within, can look around in admiration, gasping ever anew from the wonder of what we’ve seen.