DSC_0384I was listening to radiolab‘s podcast on memory. Thinking about memories as neural constructions, as bridges. In my case, most often, fragments of bridges.

Or hand-me-down bridges, with their romantic patinas.

When not left to our own imaginations, our stories are told to us. Bit by bit, angle by angle. Point of views, like dreams, blending into one another. We piece details together to create our single narrative, but can never be certain of whose truths we are repeating.

I jumped up and down on the concrete steps of my grandparent’s house, to make the frogs jump out from under them. I was three. I was wearing a white romper. What little hair I had was curled at the ends. The world was black and white then.

I remember a broom. But no one ever contextualised that part of the story for me: the broom is like a random illustration tucked into a children’s book. There is a possibility that only the broom is my own memory. There is also a possibility that the broom is some kind of emotional symbolism that I put there because I saw Cinderella years later, and fantasised about chores and fairy god mothers, while sweeping concrete steps. The broom may have come from the photo, corners tucked into place, beside that photo in an album somewhere: my grandfather sweeping the drive.

Rebuilding bridges with what material is at hand. We are resourceful engineers. We create what is useful, and what is necessary.


I was thirty the first time I went to Rome. I cried when I saw The Sistine Chapel. An acquaintance thought I has having a religious experience. It was so much more complicated than that.

There was the fact that I was there. A bit of trailer park trash whose greatest ambition was to get to New York City someday. I had something akin to survivor’s guilt.

And there was the fact of the chapel itself. Not the one I’d seen in photographs and documentaries. But here, just following the Nippon restoration, was a Sistine Chapel in Marvel Colors.: royal blues and stop-sign reds. It was a metaphor for expectations. An example borrowed nostalgia versus the garishness of reality. Garish because reality can be defined as a bombardment of the senses. The loudness of being in the world.


In Vermont there are covered bridges. When I went there for the first time, in my early forties, I recognised the landscape. I walked through the Children’s Home, where my grandmother grew up. The soft green walls. The now-empty halls. There is a bridge we had built together, between the neurons in my grandmother’s brain, and the neurons in mine. Even now, a bridge that stretches outward from my mind to wherever matter becomes energy.


DSC_0540-2A not-so-random fact: some of the bridges in Paris are collapsing under the weight of expectations.

IMG_20150721_173959When I exhale pain radiates down the length of my arms.
It’s stress.
And it’s comforting in a way, to feel it like this.
Concretely.
I almost believe I could grab hold of it, and pull it out my fingertips.
Strands of sharp tinsel.


When I posted that on Facebook, a friend expressed concern, reminded me that women’s heart attack symptoms are different from men’s. And since there is always, in the back of my mind, a concern about inflammation and the damage done over the years, I went to the doctor. But the EKG was fine.

For all the meditation and relaxation techniques I know and use and teach, I am still completely out of touch with the way my body deals with stress. My mind still checks out of the situation, but the rest of my body takes it on. In January, with a mysterious spots all over my body, the doctor asked, “Are you under stress?”

“Not really.” I’d said without giving it any thought. Without giving the three mortgages and impending bankruptcy a thought. Without considering the other things in my life, which I won’t write about here.

“I’m fine.”

Someone commented recently that I seem happiest out in nature. Maybe it’s the distraction. The aches from the backpack, the sting from blisters, maybe they give my body something else to dwell on. The electric pain down my arms stops. Yes. It’s all in my head: the head bone (dis)connected to the neck bone, as the song goes. I need to take another look at the way I’m meditating. The way I am disassociating mind from body. It’s dishonest.

Ruth Stone said something to the effect that finding the poem is sometimes catching it by the tail as it passes by. (Elisabeth Gilbert, TEDtalk)

Before it moves on, through the landscape.

DSC_0065And this is familiar to me.
I recognise the existence of these creatures. I’ve heard them. Felt them brush against me. I’ve sensed them, teasing and wanting to be caught.

But they can be intimidating. Like dragons.
Sometimes speaking languages I don’t know. Or
demanding specific words, like knives, that I’m afraid to touch.

And during those times when I am not writing – the weeks
or years – I watch their shimmering from a distance

with an increasing balm of solitude.

There is always the promise of
the winter shore, the tiny
individual bubbles rising from the sand as the tide pulls out
desperate and hopeful
elusive, while unquestionably present
in whispers, soft with sighs.

A., at 12 months, doesn’t know he is standing. His weight is rocking on roundish soles, in a constant momentum, around a shifting center, while his conscious thoughts appear to be focused exclusively on the wrapping paper in his hands.

Maybe we aren’t meant to think about our feet. Not meant to flatten them against the earth, making conscious contact with the ground. The weight, and the sinking into our bodies, into the earth in Mountain Pose…

Maybe the gurus have it all wrong.

Maybe it is also about getting to know the wrapping paper and letting the rest go with the momentum.

A Freedom is a freedom is a free DOM

Ren Powell (an essay for the now defunct VIDA project Lady in the House).

 

A diary means yes indeed.” – Gertrude Stein

  

Sixteen months ago, the man who abused me for a decade, and who robbed me of my extended family in the almost thirty years since, committed suicide. He drove his car into a semi. I watched a stream of coverage from the local news station, in what was once my hometown, just to reassure myself that it was true.

At that moment, watching the computer screen, I anticipated relief. I expected some part of me to be reborn like a phoenix from the wreckage strewn across the highway, half a world away. Or at least some spell would break, like at the end of a fairy tale. Ding Dong, the witch is dead.

I thought I would finally have my freedom. 

*

In my first semester of college I managed to wriggle my way into an advanced special topics course in Philosophy: Technology & Human Values, 4-oh-something. It was a course that put ethics into praxis through thought experiments. I loved it. All the thinking. Imagining. Writing.

Second semester, I took two big steps back – trying to catch up – and I took an introduction class that covered everything from Plato through Arne Næss at breakneck speed.

I got sick around Being and Nothingness.

And I got married.

And I wrote my first play.

And I burned my first manuscript.

And I got divorced.

And I started taking lithium.

*

In 2005, I was one of three European women to attend a women writers’ conference in Kyrgyzstan. The writers in Bishkek told us a story about a poet who published a book of sensual poems that her in-laws interpreted as evidence of her infidelity. Her husband left her. The translator tried to paraphrase: She says that, if she had lived in Europe, it wouldn’t have been a problem. 

*

Freedom is a fluid and free signifier. Context is everything.

*

Last winter I took an improvisation workshop with my colleagues from the high school. We were partnered and told to give each other small tasks to mime. “Say the first thing that pops into your mind. Don’t censor yourself!”

The first thing that popped into my mind? Masturbate.

* 

Last Friday I saw a performance work that featured an actress with Down syndrome. “Anti-abortion themed Agit prop theater,” I complained. “Not my thing.”

My colleague said, “But she is free to express her opinion.”

When I worked for PEN I came to realize that there is a sea dividing the right to free speech, and the privilege of being heard.

And that no one is free from consequences:

  • I know a writer from Eastern Europe who is living in New York and teaching at a reputable university. He has dinner parties with his respected colleagues, but is not able to return to his homeland to work. Because he exercised his freedom of speech.

And his government didn’t like it.

  • I know of a once-respected writer from Kyrgyzstan. Her colleagues don’t know where she is living today.
    Because she exercised her freedom of speech.

And her relatives didn’t like it.

*

When I was an undergraduate, one of my professors invited me to stage three of my own performance pieces within the larger context of a series of storytelling projects that he was working on for the autumn production. About a week before the premiere, I heard rumors that there was trouble. Another professor in the theater department had asked the dean to stop my work from being produced.

It wasn’t the word fuck that was the problem. It wasn’t the subject matter of sexual abuse. Or even the blasphemous texts. The professor was concerned about the work being too personal. He wanted the university to protect me from myself.

This was the same professor who, in playwrighting class, would raise his voice and gesticulate like a Shakespearean actor, declaiming his slogans: “Write to the Pain”, “Never Censor Yourself”.

*

In 1933, Gertrude Stein published someone else’s autobiography.

*

I have written things.
I have written things that I have lived.

I have written things that I have lived to regret.
My chronology is never explicit.

*

Ask me, while I am staring at a blank page, and I will tell you that freedom is a value-neutral state.