One of Those People

Early this fall, I ran across a clip from a DV8 production, and about two minutes into the scene I was slammed with a memory. The cutting edge of a memory – not of having seen the clip or the production, but of something from my childhood. One of those emotions without a name. No story, no features, but as vivid as the taste of something turned sour and effervescent. Something wrong. Dangerous.

I can’t place it. I don’t want to place it. And I know enough about memory to know there is really no point in trying. The imagination is powerful and will find reasons.

I used the clip then, and again since then, for teaching because it’s a good demonstration of dynamics and movement. And because, in some way, my allowing this in and holding it in my gut for those few minutes and in the echoing hours, I feel like I am paying some kind of tribute to that child I was. Respect for whatever she had that got her through.

Memory is weird, and it stitches things together in ways that make the world both more bearable and more complicated than it needs to be. I may be projecting the ambiance of a known event onto something else, following a trail of music. Footsteps on gravel. Or a gesture. A shadow. Because some hurts aren’t easily contained.

Early this morning I saw a brief film clip on Twitter and that same taste returned. That same fear. And again, it made no sense, since the film was made in the late 90s. But set in the 70s. Something in the music. Something in the angle of a jawbone. I have no idea. But I sit with it after the fact. I sit with a raw ache.

On this morning’s beach run, E. asks me if the memory writing is affecting me more than I know. And I deny it, and I talk a lot about who-remembers-what.

Then I realize that this is all about grief.

My trauma is not what you think it is. What I was told it was. What breaks “those people” is not always what we want to believe it is. We don’t want to look at the subtle and dangerous ways people move through the world. What they casually do to one another in the daylight. The real monsters are never what we expect.

Jimmy is dead. So is the father who was not my father, and the mother who chose not to mother. And I was and have been so many things along the way to now.

I am sharp as a bone knife. I am resonant as rosewood.

A loss will leave a hole. But a hole is not without purpose: a sound hole in a rosewood guitar will amplify a melody.

And forgive me if that metaphor is ridiculously strained. I need a nap.

In Our Hearts

Thursday already. A free week flying by – though in a witch on a broom kind of way despite the sunshine. I wake up every morning and wonder if I should check the news first thing. Before writing, before coffee, before anything else. And I do. And I am left with the same exact uncomfortable anticipation.

Wanting, hoping… that is not the same as anticipation. There’s a horrible, unspeakable desire for it to be “over” before it gets worse. It is what I want. But not what I anticipate will happen.

I was wondering when my social media feeds would return to normal and am disappointed to see how quickly they are. Sort of. And I am only sort of disappointed. I mean, this really isn’t something that will be solved or “over” quickly, and the days go on as they do where we are – yes, with a shadow over them – but there is still dinner to cook, and evenings to be filled with something other than a meditation on pain.

This whole thing makes me wish I were one to give blessings before dinner. I suddenly understand the whole purpose of such a beautiful ritual. I never imagined that “the starving children in China” blessings had any potential to be anything more than racist, guilt-inducing tactics to make children in privileged countries eat vegetables.

Only now am I understanding that gratitude can be disconnected from guilt. This is how we can experience the small, but significant moments of joy.

This disconnection (guilt from gratitude) is probably the only way that gratitude can ease the pain of living. And dying.

It’s not a new question: How much do we take on ourselves in terms of the world’s pain? In solidarity? In community? How much do we do so in self-preservation – out of fear – as performance – as opportunists?

How much of today’s private moments of ease do we turn our backs on in deference to future and potential troubles? How do we honor and acknowledge the suffering of so many, while authentically acknowledging our own ignorance, avoiding masquerading/appropriation… How do we unashamedly focus on gratitude rather than guilt?

Computer language is binary, but the real world isn’t either/or.

What can we hold in our arms? “This, too.”

“And also…”

Under one arm are my private sorrows: my own struggles and the pain belonging to people I love (and am losing right now). Under the other, the knowledge I have of all of the people who are (violently) losing their loved ones or facing the (violent) loss of their own lives.

Exactly how do we carry the joy?

I have never been an occasional poet.

I think that’s because at some point I realized that my best writing comes from the body.

Writing is difficult right now.

Seeing Myself Seeing

This morning I have been thinking about what I want out of life. Not in terms of a stockpile of accomplishments or acquisitions. But which moments do I want to squeeze from the days? What does a good day look like?

I haven’t really been taking photos since the end of summer. And it feels like I have lost that particular practice of meditation. The noticing. The meta-awareness of my own limited perspective through the lens.

This morning there is a cluster of snowbells sheltering under the dormant hedge in the front yard. A promise.

I took a picture.

I’m not sure why. I could have come back to the little library and written about it – as I am doing. But why that, then, too? What’s up with this need to see myself seeing? To document my perspective?

With all that I’m learning about this stage of life, sometimes second-hand, it seems like an obligation to notice the world while I’m still in it. It goes back to that perennial question: what am I doing here? Maybe all I owe the world is my gratitude to a cluster of snowbells on a morning after a storm.

And once again, I hold to my belief that we have the concept of metaphors entirely backward. Our experience is always the vehicle, and nature itself is the tenor. Our art is always in service to nature.

Insert a Venn diagram where we are a small circle in the larger circle of the natural world.

Maybe it is a pantheist idea to think our purpose is to be in service to the world? And maybe it’s self-serving to think that if I can be in harmony, it will contribute to a more harmonious world? To think that my perspective could serve to open other people’s perspectives?

But what if I’m an unwittingly altruist ant in a crowded nest, thinking I am working for myself? In which case, my (self-)perceived egoism is nothing to worry about.

When I think about perfect days, I think about all the things E. and I filled our days with when we were falling in love. Drinking hot chocolate in the dunes after dark. Finding silly things-we’ve-never done to do together: surfing, landscape-drawing courses, trekking the Hardanger plateau. The excuse about everyday obligations taking over doesn’t cover it. There were everyday obligations on those days as well. It may have felt like time out-of-time, but it wasn’t. And what if our idea of cause & effect here is all wrong? What if the feelings didn’t spark the experiences, but the experiences (the willingness to experience) sparked the feelings?

Once again, nothing new here. A cliché idea from any self-development course or marriage-counseling session. But once again, experience cannot be learned by rote.

So I keep writing it down.

And I will give myself permission to continue with this memoir project. Out of my comfort zone and crossing genres. So much to learn. So many ways to fail. So, like crossing the plateau: one careful step in front of another. Staying in the moment, which does mean to focus from one, specific perspective.

One at a time.

Opening Letters to the World

Dizzy this morning. Waking again in a shirt so damp it borders on wet. Oh, these growing pains. I remember when growing pains were the deep throbs behind a breast bud, an ache in the femur that felt like the sharp edge of cold.

Now there is the ache in the femur that is the sharp edge of cold, a deep throb likely a straining bubble of panic. A night sweat: a who-knows-what. Don’t google it.

I remember when taking a nap meant crying. And here we are again.

Since I have stopped worrying about the truth of the details and focused on letting the memories surface as they will (still half-submerged, like the Loch Ness monster, more suggestion than shape), my sleep has been crowded with sensual details. Mostly from the desert.

Cinder block, a metal slide at noon, a scraped and weeping knee – the wound full of sand. Dry heat filling the lungs. My lungs. My knee. My fingers running over the porous, snagging surface of the cinder block wall.

There are slots in the decorative blocks, like hotel key shelves – or like letterboxes – in an old movie, but there’s no one to slip a note to.

I got through my childhood not having been bit by a snake. Not having been stung by a wasp. Not having been thrown into the back of a windowless van and driven out of state. I’m thinking of childhood fears and how one of these things is not like the others.

The devil you know is always less frightening than the one you might conjure. What if someone did read a letter? Where would that lead?

A small desert spider scuttles back into her burrow. A blanket fort. A sliding, mirrored-door closet filled with unopened letters.

No Such Thing as a Memory

This morning I am moving so slowly I can see the minutes lining up behind me. And I think suddenly of standing in line for milk at some elementary school. I remember the texture of my dress. The smell of the dry air, and the sour, sick smell of leaked milk that sticks to the small cartons. It is a singular memory of a singular moment, but I can sense the edges of what is familiar here. When the memory jumps from my body to my mind and I know I would have had a turn at distributing milk to the students who all line up like the teacher’s ducks in a row.

If I try hard to remember that day – or one of those days – what are the odds that it is a construction not based in actual experience at all?

Maybe it is best not to think of memories as things. What if there is no such thing as a memory? Only a remembering, as ephemeral and myopic as any other lived experience. I like the idea that there is nothing but activity.

Remembering as the breathing of a shadow self, quantum constructions/constructing. What if trying to remember is a two-year-old thinking they’re steering the car with their toy steering wheel? Angry and perplexed when a hard left doesn’t result in a hard left.

I can’t remember.

I have a shadow self with her double DNA. All the damage done in the mitochondria: those absorbed creatures with their own maternal lineage. These energy powerhouses. This energy – the shadow quality that drives a body through the days. Moving fragments of experience around like a windstorm in late autumn. Or causing a single leaf to tremble, to spin on a spider’s web, like an early morning, summer breeze.