The following piece is from an old journal entry written when I was practicing the free-form writing advised in such books as Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, which I have referred to with appreciation before. While this method has been helpful at times, I share here my reflection on the changing of my mind in the creative process. It has been too easy for me to have anxiety in my writing induced by my own “monkey mind”, the racing thoughts that arise when a writer practices free-form writing without self-editing along the way. I am now at a stage where I am no longer doing unedited journaling, because I have come to realize it is ultimately not the constructive mindset I want to cultivate. Ironically, the value of a constructive and sane mind in writing is taught by Goldberg in her book, so I continue to have a great appreciation for this part of it. While free-form journaling does produce some scattered gems, these gems are still emphatically scattered. This causes clutter in my writing archives that I don’t currently have the solution to editing. It leads to more somewhat anxiety-inducing primal chaos to wade through when going back to edit. It is paradoxical that by practicing a form of journaling which is beneficial to some people, in learning to let out their thoughts unrestrained, this method has become to me more of a burden than a help. But I would not have known this had I not experimented with it… and I am admittedly cheered to rediscover this journaling piece.
Don’t try to watch or only look from the sides just reporting what you see because you’ll never be there, really telling exactly what is. Be standing in the light and speaking from the inside of the dream where the power and love spirals. Be standing and writing from in the inside of the holy waters, holy rivers who flow down without giving up through the desert valley. Desert valley’s still loved and don’t you forget that. Mother waters mountain to the east have work to be done. It’s coming from the chaos that life happens. The earth was formed by magma. By fire and thunder, how frail we are here below. Plate tectonics cray insane volcanos roaring into life as fire make energy, this is how the earth was formed, and from this heat all life has come into being. Get out of its way. Beautiful! And what a tragedy especially when the feminine won’t by lava create.
See the magic here is too much, maybe like monk sitting in snow, a lot of distraction but keep quiet mind in the midst. Yes you want not too much of one way and a balance with the other. No rules, just energy. This way when you write with the truth, the truth doesn’t have to sit tucked up inside you threatening you. You get to look forward to all of life, ever in the in-between moments of everybody because it’s there that the power lives and you live with it, you conduct it in conversation with it, you begin to see that the raw pieces of another wise disoriented or disconnected or unfulfilled life actually do make sense after all. You begin to see you live in sacredness, you walk in communion with a tribe of the sacred and even a strip mall will not hurt you, or sap your vital energy. The power is sneaking in around everywhere and it’s the in-between moments between one place and another that she comes to you and whispers “I am here” and you are not alone. Your own small life is in her. You live in praise. The call to give praise in the core of our beings is the call of the bright mind, the writer’s mind who doesn’t know one holy place from another. To return here yet with the eloquence we have learned later on the journey is the task of the monk in the snow.
Sometimes the mind goes very fast. Thought becomes enormous and many splintering visitor-spirits in a modest country hut where you live can’t contain them, unaccustomed to such a commotion. They knock on the door of the back of the head at the base of the skull, at the top of the neck and say “enter”, for a human mind lives here. Traveling down your arm, first thoughts, the many spirit ideas get bottlenecked somewhere between your shoulder and palm. It’s what happens when you don’t know what to say next because you have so many visitors and this is why you’re never bored. “That’s exactly what it is,” said a fellow creature I met on a hot afternoon. She was an artist of pictures, this fellow creature, but it is no different. There’s a traffic jam getting stuck somewhere south of my elbow and that’s why I get a numbness sometimes north of the place where I figure out how to say what I need to say. I got to shake out my hand to get the traffic of word magic spelling its spells again.
Last night I woke up at 3:30am with a feeling pulling me to go sit outside for a little while. I call this a sit-spot, coming from my time as a student at Wilderness Awareness School where this tradition of sitting, quietly, in the natural world is practiced. It is near-constantly rainy in the Pacific Northwest this time of year, but last night the sky was perfectly clear, and I could see every star not obscured by the city lights, and the air was a cool but pleasant temperature.
I sat on our gravel driveway where we never park our cars, the place where, for three years, I have neglected to make a fire though I have lived here with my partner who owns the land and would happily allow me to do so. Why have I not made a fire? This is an important question to me: being near a real fire has been a sacred practice in my life. I still loathe fake gas fires with a deep repulsion unknown to most of my modern peers. Fires must be made by friction, or by a simple lighter with a hand-assembled tinder bundle at most. We all need to have our ritual ways.
When I woke up this morning, the stomach ache from eating three spoon-fulls of delicious bee pollen at 3:30am before going outside was still gnawing at me, but I slept really well. I usually sleep like a rock, regardless of almost anything, and I count this a lucky blessing. But upon waking, I got word that there will be an elder fire tonight, where the older folks of the community come together to share minds with the younger ones at a place we call home, and I should go to this. Tomorrow I will hear stories around a fire with new friends, too. Maybe the fire is coming back to me, but it is a calming fire, now, not the fervent, uncontrollable feeling of my youth.
The stars were beautiful last night. I noticed that the Big Dipper was positioned differently than how I am used to seeing it. That is to be expected, but it matters to notice these things with our own eyes.
What I thinking most about last night was my own ability to logic my way out of depression, which I’ve had a perpetual case of to varying severities since adolescence. While sitting remarkably peacefully under the stars (“remarkably”, because I have often felt self-conscious, monkey-minded and unworthy while sit-spotting) then subsequently breathing myself into a restful sleep back in bed despite my foolish overconsumption of bee pollen causing a tummy ache, I was continuing to consider the wisdom that I truly do have the ability to change my mindset at any moment. I am on antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication, and I do think they work to a possibly life-saving degree. But good scientific medication is only half the effort (don’t talk to me about woo woo “naturopath” medicine, please), where the other half of thriving is the far harder effort of changing one’s own mind.
But is it effort, exactly, with such strenuousness? Or is it simply being, that delivers us into the peace of “no-thought“? I’m thinking back to Natalie Goldberg’s wonderful book, Writing Down the Bones, where she refers to the power of writing in the right mindset that she learned through her Buddhist study with Shunryu Suzuki, author of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. Zen Buddhism is infamously easy and difficult all-in-one, and I’m no practicing expert, but the sense I got from the teachings in these books were what I like to call “matter over mind“. (Isn’t that fun? I thought of that. Probably someone else has, too, just like eyes evolved in the animal kingdom separately in various complex species.)
And here I am, on this clear morning, with a clearer mind, finally writing and thinking fluidly with the lighter breath I was looking for. Here is how I can describe this “matter over mind”.
The human mind, and all it produces, are phantoms. The brain is its own constant enemy, or friend, depending on its untamed impulses. I think that this is the image of the untamed horse and rider that Tibetan Buddhists talk about: the mind is the horse, the person is the rider. The human brain is crazy. Even typically healthy brains with no signs of depression or any worse mental illness are just crazy deep down in there. But what a light-hearted relief, what soothing valve for mental pressure it is to acknowledge this. It’s crazy being human!
Speaking from my own depressed brain in its gravest dips into pain, this human brain produces longings and memories and fear and intense feelings that serve no purpose but to cause anguish, now. This is progress from my former way of valuing these emotional depths as something spiritual I wanted to protect, even if they pained me greatly. Now, I don’t want to pin my spirituality on these emotional weights, even if they do produce some great art and passionate spiritual feeling. I’d now rather be calm and utterly mature, like an unshakable old Sequoia tree, unbothered by and calmly accepting of the insanity of life. Big change in perspective.
The minds of other animals do not appear to be nearly as harried by this human craziness. Animals must be completely grounded in the reality of the physical world around them. Matter over mind. The world of what is profoundly real, this physical world exterior of the brain’s torturous phantoms, is the anchor of sanity, to a very serious point. Those who are clinically insane are diagnosed as such precisely because they have lost contact with blessed physical reality. And physical reality is blessed, because it is the foundation of everything and so is infinitely valuable though sometimes sadly disregarded and overlooked for its goodness. The constant ground of matter –the literal ground of the world holding us securely in gravity, covered by a blanket of sky– shall always exist independent of the brain’s self-cycling drama.
Matter over mind. Constantly looking inward is the source of a lot of suffering. Looking outward, instead, brings relief. The mind will always be crazy inside, but when anchored in the physical matter of the world, it is calm.
The brain does not change its neural pathways by wishing, or by praying, but by doing. The will to change one’s actions doesn’t even come from the inner mind, but instead comes from a grounded awareness in the reality of the real exterior world. Matter over mind.
I focus here not on the “action” of social political agitation, which I am mortally tired of. I mean the action of physical movement and awareness: breathing, walking, focus on the movement of a leaf on a tree, the presence of an animal.
What should be made of the inner sanctum of the mind? It is this place of refuge from the harsher parts of the exterior world that I have cultivated for so long, guarding its impulses even in the anguish it causes. I am not alone in having wanted to retreat from the glaring, unnatural clatter of urban life. Coming to terms with the atonal disharmony of our current times is also an act of kindness to ourselves, forgiveness for the environmental stress we feel, in that we should not expect ourselves to be perfectly at peace all the time. We are fervently trying to adapt to a changing landscape. But this effort at adaptation puts us in good company with all our plant and animal relatives of evolution, who themselves have survived all environments, peaceful and hostile, to get us here. We can feel less alone when we realize that, by our experience of environmental disharmony and subsequent behavioral adaptation to adjust to or even influence our environment, we are participating in the long and beautiful life of evolution itself. This mental inner sanctum of refuge from harsh environmental exteriors should then be a temporary refuge, and not an addictive escape from reality. This is a critical distinction. There is too much attempting to escape reality, now, at the cost of losing that shimmering image of beauty which we seek in our escape, for only The World itself truly offers this relief. The effort of the wise is to find this shining world open its way to us, even among the grit of inquietude. In every city there are the laws of physics, still: the pull of gravity never leaves us, and the air is present, and even animals and plants are to be found slowly and surely repopulating their habitats. Most significantly, should I give in to the temptation to view the creatures of nature as in a war against the structures of human design? I should not, for then I would see myself as an enemy to my anchoring world of matter, when I am no less a native animal here than the nearest little creature who scuttles or flies. Nothing can truly be ever outside of nature. That is, by definition, impossible. Nature is the sum total of all that is real. Ultimately, all our human designs are within this force as much as any other assembly of atoms. Matter over mind. The inner sanctum of the human mind needs constant fortifying by the solidity of the great exterior world of matter, which is the very definition of solidity itself. Then, we carry the world of matter within us, and it is a constant source of peace.
I am convinced now that this is how animal minds endure the hardships of their own lives. They cannot afford to be distracted by fantasies. Their lives and entire mental wellbeing depend on their constantly being centered in the physical world itself, and in the wild they show no trace of boredom. It is possible that the “domestication” of modern humans contributes greatly to the mental suffering of our time. If this is so, and the environment is unlikely to spontaneously change for us, then it is all the more important that we creatively adapt to and influence our environment not by escaping from it, but by going into it in sensory awareness.
This sensory awareness practice is what I was being taught at Anake Outdoor School at Wilderness Awareness School. I was not ready to understand it until now. But, like all great and complicated human communities that impart wisdom, they taught this wisdom alongside what felt like a contradictory practice. In my words, I’d call it too much navel-gazing, too much self-examining of so many emotions. It’s possible it only felt like too much to me, because I had done it already for so long and to a pointless, depressive degree, whereas such self-examination is new and useful to others.
From the beginning, animals accept this Dark Mother that is present in the beauty and violence of natural life. This Dark Mother is an archetypal rendering of the simultaneously nurturing and brutal aspects of Great Nature, as Shinto beautifully and simply names it. Nature is the mother who gives birth in one breath, then impersonally strangles the helpless infant in the next (countless babies in have died in childbirth from umbilical cords wrapped around their necks). Great Nature brings us abundant food and the right amount of sun and rain, then is unrestrained in famine. She allows a creature to escape from certain agony by the fortune of its genes for swiftness or camouflage, while another is crushed by an amoral falling tree. Evil exists, but it is a construct only of human social life, and is natural only insofar as the human brain with its demons is natural, though we have every justification to expect our humanity to behave morally. Evil is not a component of all the rest of Nature. This does not mean it is less of a serious thing: we use the word “evil” to rightly describe extreme and unjustified suffering, such as torture or rape, caused upon one social, sentient being by another. The amorality of scientifically-revealed “Great Nature” is, then, all the more a relief to the human brain which tires in these maturing centuries of distinguishing the phantom agents of evil and good beyond the human sphere, once attributed to gods. A tsunami is devastating, but it can never be called “evil”.
Today is a beautiful, rare sunny day in a Seattle winter. I want to get out and enjoy it, but with humor I am realizing that I won’t enjoy it if I follow my typical pattern of anxious thinking by worry about not enjoying it enough. That’s a non-helpful thought pattern of seeing this bright day as something I need to “measure up” to. Instead, there is no pressure of measuring up to this day by showing it how much I appreciate it by going snowshoeing for fifteen miles and wiping myself out. If I merely go out into it and don’t even think about being “happy” or “sad”, then the calm of a deeper happiness comes.
What this comes back to, in my original point about calming the crazy human brain through sensory awareness, is the value of not extending moral judgments further than they need to be applied. I am prone to feeling unreasonable guilt, even for such ridiculously common reasons as being depressed in itself. You can see how this becomes a depressive cycle. That is an overuse of the human need to name “good” and “evil” actions. It is easy for depressed brains to turn this thinking on themselves, and fall into a cycle of feeling a lack of worth or ability to be “good” again. But when we see that this depression is only the result of a brain being a brain, merely in need of getting outside of itself and into amoral Nature, relief is found. A brain is not committing a wrong just by being depressed, but it is doing a right action by putting matter over mind.
Here you go, World, here’s some happies. I’m cleaning out the depths of my computer in preparation to retire it unto the Great Reset Button, now that I have a new computer that is better functioning. I’m a stickler about it: I need to move all my files manually, meticulously, or else I’ll just feel cluttered with all those sneaky unnecessary junk files sneaking into the database on my fresh, sparkly new compy. Cleaning out one’s computer files is therapeutic much in the same way as is cleaning one’s house.
I’m using my blog as one method of storing information to save. The information that I’m alright sharing with the public is being cheerfully piled here. Hence, the stream of new and mostly brief writings, posted in daily backlogged order, just because I do it that way. Most of these posts are compiled form my notes that have been threatening anarchy to get out onto The Leafy Paw anyhow, so there’s no time like now.
Right now I’m feeling tired and only half-awake from all this winter low light, so I’m having some wine and half-listening to Richard Dawkin’s Science in the Soul, and it’s making me feel a sorta love and appreciation for the guy. Non sequitur? I think not. Because Lalla Ward’s Fancy British Accent only makes Dawkins’ same accent, in his petulant masculine way, really kind of endearing, even though I normally am annoyed by those airs. We can all be “sapiosexual” for Richard Dawkins, lol. As a former church-goer, I never thought I’d smile about that. :D
It’s not just me with the winter sleepies. My cat, Ivra, has colonized my American Girl doll bed for his adorable furry uses. He fits perfectly. The little guy.
Anyways, below you’ll find some “happies”. These are collections of Good Things I take delight in, and you might, too. These are gathered images, logs of naturalist scribbles, literary quotes, etc. More to come. Enjoy!
Plants of Hamlin Park in Shoreline, WA: Have you seen these species?
Fringecup – Tellima grandiflora
Vanilla Leaf – Achlys triphylla
Kinnickinick – Arctostaphylos uva-ursi
Inside-out Flower – Vancouveria hexandra
Woodsorrel – Oxalis oregana
Starflower – Trientalis latifolia
Deer Fern – Blechnum spicant
Sword Fern – Polystichum munitum
Orange Honeysuckle – Lonicera ciliosa
Evergreen Huckleberry – Vaccinium ovatum
Pacific Rhododendron (WA state flower) – Rhododendron macrophyllum
Salal – Gaultheria shallon
Low Oregon Grape – Mahonia nervosa
Beaked Hazlenut – Corylus cornuta
Indian Plum – Oemleria cerasiformis
Oceanspray – Holodiscus discolor
Snowberry – Symphoricarpus albus
Trailing Snowberry – Symphoricarpus hesperius
Western White Pine – Pinus monticola
Lodgepole Pine – Pinus contorta
Madrone – Arbutus menziesii
Pacific Dogwood – Cornus nutallii
Grand Fir – Abies grandis
Western Redcedar – Thuja plicata
Cascara – Frangula purshiana
Here’s my dear beloved 8 Shields wheel of the 8 directions and how they correspond to the days and the seasons, as laid out by Jon Young and Wilderness Awareness School. Though my feelings about the school have changed somewhat since graduating Anake in ’13, my love for these teaching has only deepened. If there is now a symbol of a religion –no, cosmology– closest to my heart, it would be the eight-pointed wheel, or the compass. This representation only scrapes the surface. In this heartful systemic philosophy, there are layers and layers of ecological significance (insects in the east, frogs in the southeast, print-tracking in the south, etc) as well as the stages of a human life, a year around the sun, a single day of natural magic, and so much more…
You might get a kitty at the door. This little guy, Jesse Wiggles, was everybody’s best friend in the neighborhood. We are sad to conclude that he may have passed away somewhere :,( or else got scooped up into someone’s house and never let out again, because we haven’t seen him around in a while. Did I mention I love cats? He came to “bonk” us when my kitty of twelve years, Rosie, died in 2015, and there was a painful kitty hole in our hearts. He was there.
“You can let me in and I’ll love you forever,” said every cutie.
Look at those love eyes from my baby Mawser! That’s goofball baby Ivra below. They came to us after Jesse Wiggles helped us out.
Hmmmm, this is turning into a cat post. Cats are important.
If you go to a kitten shelter, you might find a Little Guy Wantin’ Some Love.
That was at The Cat House on the Kings near Fresno, CA, where I’m from. I swear they make the cutest kitties down there!
This one above is my Simba, back when I was a teenager circa 2004.
Arguably, my sweet man, Tony, is also a cat. He is a Leo, after all. I drew this picture of him.
My baby Ivra!!! I can’t choose the one picture I love the post, but here he is using my arm as a pillow. What else are humans good for? Just look at those criminal little white paws.
Here’s the author. She likes her own face, but she doesn’t like posting selfies online.
My sweet baby Rosie, RIP little girl.
Tony and I made this in church when we were passing notes :D
I’d like to apply the following quote to my love of cats, and how much better their little lives are now in our time than in centuries past, more than ever before:
“How love fares against hate and indifference is the only reliable measure of historical progress that we have.” — Gil Bailie
My cats are relatives of lions! –of large and small wildcats, they are relatives to them all. My cats are “guardian spirits” to me, my “familiars”, with their bright yellow-green jewel eyes and same stripedy patterns of their wild cousins. It is a blessing and a delight they have come to settle in with us human domestics, to purr at our feet, begging kibbles and bonking our faces with their adorable ways. A story goes that cats became domesticated so that humankind would have the pleasure of snuggling the tiger. Actually, the truth is probably nearer to the opposite: humans became domesticated so that cats could have the pleasure of sitting on us!
Baby Mawser, at three months old, is Mr. Independent Bug Hunter who pounces and tumbles over the small woolen toy I made for him, practicing for prowling in the wilderness like a big tough kitty. He will not go into the wilderness, but he brings the vitality of his wildness home to us. His brother, Ivra, is my big goofy cuddle-baby-lion who doesn’t lose an opportunity to sit in my lap or on my back as I stretch out on the floor. His way of “hunting” is to be a lazy paw-swatter on his pack, like an over-confident comic male lion. I love these little cats more than I can put into words, so much it makes my heart hurt in that extraordinary way. House cats are hilariously wild and yet merely big kittens for life.
We humans used to know the names of all beasts and plants and called them our friends. Wandering out of Africa into deep green and dark northern forests we met our Neanderthal cousins, sharing their likeness. The world was endless then, when all hominids hunted their food and gathered from the plants. The world itself was sanctuary and home. I get the sense that, finally, I may be lucky to be living at a time when this way of loving The World as our permanent home is returning to us.
Little Kitten, descendant of great beasts, bless us with your wilderness condensed into your small body, the wilderness you carry within your snuggly, tiny self, little stripes and spots of the tiger, heart of the lion. Your energy is boundless and full of vitality in every muscle, paws eager to seek out the path of the jungle. Little Cat, remind us that we too are like you, The World within us, and that we have not “fallen” so far from your happiness. Give us persistence to find our way home in The World.
Little kitties, is this why you came to snuggle us in the Neolithic days? You could not have known the changes coming for our species, that we would come to love you so dearly. It is the Lifeworld we want, and this you greatly bring to us, The World that you live in, that you carry within yourself, pounces and bright eyes alert and at the ready to purrs. It is this vitality we long to be reborn to. We have loved you and called you friend, miniature Tiger, tiny Lion, herald of happiness. May happy landscapes await us where the night is more joyful, the dawn more delighting, and lively animal forms are pouncing unceasing in lovableness along the paths of our lives.
The origins of Robin Hood (or, “Robin Wood”) are buried in the imaginal of the medieval ancestors’ dreams. His colors are green and gold, the heraldry of the forest. Some have said that he is a collective memory of the The Green Man, or Pan, returning to the people in the midnight of the middle ages when they needed him most. His role was to be a Trickster for the beaten soul of England. Trickster is the archetype who mocks the King and gets away laughing. It’s a serious and necessary power in every culture that shows itself in various ways.
I’m especially fond of Robin Hood in T. H White’s The Sword in the Stone, the first volume of The Once and Future King. Young King Arthur, before he knows he is a king, goes pouncing out on adventures with Merlin, getting turned into the animal people, the better to get himself “eddicated” about humane lordship, by Merlin’s benevolent devising. One day he goes into the forest. He meets Little John, who is a giant, and Little John tells a tale about the Lord of the Forest…
“Aye, Robin ‘ood. What else should un be, seein’ as he rules ’em. They’m free pleaces, the ‘oods, and fine pleaces. Let thee sleep in ’em, come summer, come winter, and hunt in ’em for thy commons lest thee starve; and smell to ’em as they brings forward their comely bright leaves, according to order, or loses of ’em by the same order back’ards: let thee stand in ’em that thou be’st not seen, and move in “em that thou be’st not heard, and warm thee with ’em as thou fall’st on sleep—ah, they’m proper fine pleaces, the ‘oods, for a free man of hands and heart.”
Robin Hood was probably not a singular man, but a conglomeration of many medieval bandits, dissenters, peasants and folk at the age of society assuming the collective name in their adventures against authority. T.H White’s words ally Sir Robin with the soul of the forest itself, an embodied face of an older, unconquerable wildness. Regardless of whether Robin Hood ever literally existed, what matters is that the English-speaking world has so passionately claimed this figure as a deep mythological symbol of the untamed soul still present in the heart of Western art and mythology. That is what makes him emotionally and enduringly relevant.
White, T. H. The Once and Future King. New York: Putnam, 1958. Print.
A little while ago, I was speaking with a friend about the racial tension issues surrounding the 2016 election in my country, the United States of America. He reacted strongly to the national tension by veering further “left” politically than me, whereas I have become more cautiously moderate. In this conversation I expressed my anguish about becoming separated from beloved friends over these divided politics, especially friends like him. We were talking about the issue of perceived “whiteness” in America, and he felt strongly that White people might be historically redeemed by wiping away this stain of self-identified “whiteness” by no longer identifying as “white”, but instead by reclaiming their roots as ethnically Dutch, Irish, Norwegian, French, Russian, Italian, and so forth. I told him why I take issue with this: “Tell me,” I said, “which am I? Am I French or German or Danish? Am I Scottish or Swedish or English? I do not know which section of my DNA is more worthy of my recognition, in order to be pardoned from a cultural guilt which I have no responsibility in creating.” By trying to uplift the cultural experiences of non-white Americans, he was ignoring and devaluing his own simultaneous reality that White people in America tend to identity as White for a very good reason. They do not belong to only one of these disparate ethnic European groups, but an ancestral admixture of many of them. The story of gradually becoming White in America was not some sinisterly ordained plot worked out in advance from the Mayflower. It was a multi-century, organically evolving experience of blending into a new cultural group of pan-European American people, which eventually resulted in us having only one box to check on the census: “White/ Caucasian”. This blending of ancestries was not some malicious conspiracy to make all ancestrally European people immediately the top of the social hierarchy, though this happened for a multi-generational period due to being the majority population with its own set of complicated values and age-old human problems. This is a story of a people’s multi-generational diaspora, and it isn’t very remarkably different from every other migration story in the history of humanity.
I want to participate in my own ethnic European-American “tribe” the same way other tribes are openly permitted to do so in my country without all the shame and blame to follow. At the same time, I do not accept any supremacist attitudes from anyone, regardless of their “race”. I put the word “race” in scare quotes because I follow the scientific conclusion that there is no biological evidence for the distinct categories we call “races”. There are varying genetics, haplogroups, phenotypes, and distinctive cultures, all of which result in the many ethnic groups of the world, but there is no evidence in reality for such a thing as “race”. Looking at this desire to wholly belong to and participate in the communal life of a human tribe, I view my own need for this cultural identity and cohesion through the same evolutionary and anthropological lens that applies to all in our Human species. I place my own pan-European and American ancestry within that global, million-year-old Hominid story.
Part of the ongoing problem of colonialism’s legacy is that the “privileged” groups tend to unconsciously feel that they will only ever have their privilege to identity with, or else their utter shame and self-hatred in response to it. They forget their own normal humanity that holds the same needs for a semblance of peaceful cohesion as does any other ethnic group. A healthy ancestrally European identity could begin as one which does not assume the blank slate of normalcy for all that is culturally “white”, while marginalizing all non-white people as the Other. Instead, it would claim the beauty and humanity of its Western ancestry, influenced by many peoples over many centuries, while acknowledging the parallel normalcy of everyone else’s accomplishments and subsequent centrism in their own ancestry.
One of the ironies of the politically “progressive” White-guilt complex is the blindness to it’s own ability to be so deeply self-critical as a group of self-identified White people. If White people were so hopelessly irredeemable for the sins of history, we wouldn’t be repenting on our knees through the desert in sackcloth and ashes like we are. The alarming part of this is not a peoples’ willingness to be self-critical, but rather a peoples’ willingness to eagerly self-destruct their own culture in hopes of redeeming itself through a sacrificial offering. The sick religious connotations I draw are intentional. The proclamations on the part of white people who wish to culturally beat themselves and their progeny into submission in reparations to people with more melanin in their skin is sadistic, unacceptably emotionally self-mutilating and will never change the past. It will only put a stain on the wellness and relationships of the generations of the future, whatever their skin colors.
Some contemporary people of European ancestry are trying to creatively re-envision an ethnic identity not automatically tied up in the colonial slaughter of the past five hundred years as their founding mythology. It is appropriate to acknowledge the pain of the victims of colonial history without relegating our own European ethnic heritage to the two worst options: either crippling, self-hating ancestral guilt or inexcusable White supremacist ideology. Neither of these can ever be healthy and I look forward to the future demise of each.
We do damage to upcoming generations when we give them only the consistently despairing accounts of history, without pairing them with the equally true and powerful stories of inter-ethnic friendship, cooperation and acculturation to each other. To only speak exclusively of historical despair –hoping to heal the wounds of history by emotionally flogging the children of the future– only perpetuates conflicts that do not belong to the future. Each of us are born to be the living recipients of history, and so we are the ones qualified to talk back to it. The greatest wisdom of the elders should be to let their warfare die with them.
I dreamed last night that Tony and I were living in a totalitarian time, where it was outlawed for couples such as us, without a state marriage license, to lay together, in all meanings of the term. But this dream was not frightening. It was epic and beautiful in the magic that came to visit me.
We were laying together in a bed not our own: white sheets, sunlight streaming through the window. Tony had his head on the pillow, and my upper body and head was stretching pleasantly off the foot of the bed. Then we heard the knock on the door. It was time. They had come for us… for me.
I arose and put on the shapeshifters’ magic. I now wore the image of a man, though I myself did not change, but the good illusion was benevolent, strong and protective. If I was disguised as a man, they could not find me. Time to flee to a safe house.
Out the door I swept and onto the long path of leaves and greenery, which at once were my guides and protectors. These friends of the plant kingdom whispered to me, “If you see us, go through us. We will cover you.”
I made it to the house of my friend, Jess, but she was not home. I went inside and began to breathe a sigh of relief, when I heard the approaching catcher at the door. Had he followed me?
Cleverly, I let him in. There was no better option to thwart his suspicions. “Excuse me, sir,” he inquired of me, “but have you seen a fugitive young lady here? She is escaping the authorities and is wanted for laying with a man without a state license.”
In my best deep, male voice, I answered, “No, sir.” The magic was working. Before the catcher’s eyes stood a young man with a man’s voice, an image who did not betray any truth of my hidden self.
“I’ve heard that runaways from the law come here to this ‘safe house’,” he growled suspiciously. “So what’s your business here?”
Sorry, Jess, but I had to embarrass us both. “I’m a-courtin’ Jess,” I suavely fibbed. “She’ll be home soon.”
The catcher blushed. “Yes, of course.”
“Let me show you the garden,” I offered, and led the catcher out to the green beings, who were already whispering their plots against him, though he could not hear them in their rustling language of leaves.
“And here we have the pathway,” I announced of the bricks forming a small trail, “that leads away from the house. You can travel it on your search for the fugitive.” He thanked me and went on the way.
Turning back inside again, I knew it was time to go. It had been a close call. I wondered if my shapeshifter’s cover of the male image was fading, as I was feeling the need to cover my chest. I took my shirt off, and my chest and torso were those of an adult female, to my awareness, and I wasn’t sure if the cover was still holding up for others’ eyes. It was the precarious moment when I was not sure what the catchers could now see when they looked at me.
I continued on from the house, following the same brick pathway I sent the catcher on. At a fork, I took the true and less obvious pathway into the forest.
Emerging out of the trees, whose presence restored my shapeshifting magic significantly, I arrived at the home of another friend. She was a woman, like me, but was hidden in the form of a child. Her parents were sympathetic to the catchers, so she had to be very stealthy with her shapeshifting and hiding of fugitives. But I knew she was a true ally, because of the doll she perched at the entryway, and the particular way it was dressed.
“Come in!” she beckoned in hastened, whispering squeaks.
I went in, breathing comfort. She took the doll down from the entryway, now that I had arrived.
“I need to make it back to Tony,” I said. “They’ll come after him, too.”
And as I told her the story so far, I filled a glass jar with layers of colors, and every layer was a piece of the story, and every color was the color of liberty.
“I wish you could stay longer,” she sighed.
I could feel the skin and muscles of my own chest so sensitively, not in pain or worry, but in joy. And now there was nothing to cover or hide, no hunching of my back in shame or fear, only the breathing of my sunlit skin, and the love and valor of the inner chamber of the heart. I felt that this part of the mammalian creature carries great power, a presence of aching and thriving beauty reaching out in tender vines of connection to every other living, breathing chest akin to it. It reaches into the beating rib cage of each beloved creature who has gone on before us, whose bones now lay in graves or ashes and who, being born to another life, now breath through the wind of the skies encircling us to enter our own living lungs. Neither the presence nor lack of my female chest bothered me. Instead, it was the openness to the same breath of the same naked air that soothed me, feeling the breath of the world touch my bare skin in the same liberty as when I am a man. The same love and vitality, affection and virility, was with me and on me and in me, cloaking me wherever I go, without worry or sadness.
It is a risk to talk about the truth of personal experience because we are afraid others will think we are crazy or bad. But the truth is that most other people have quietly felt the same way, and by truth-telling you are liberating not only yourself, but the honesty of human experience.
I still pick at my skin as a coping mechanism in anxiety and grief. I have had hormonal issues since I was a teenager which have given me skin very short of flawless. I have had acne, scarring and male-pattern hair growth that have attacked my ability to feel normally female, much less attractive. This experience has given me great empathy with those who suffer other physical disorders. At age 26, I am starting to get the condition under control, and have had years of expensive and uncomfortable skin treatments administered by professionals that has, luckily, made leeway into solving the aesthetic remains of this pain. I used to pick at my skin constantly, because it helped me feel that I could do something about the feeling of ugliness and undesirability that weighed on me. I still do this to comfort myself. I see that this method of coping is not unlike an alcoholic’s, but is less disruptive to functioning in life. It is a compulsive behavior of self-soothing.
One time, when I was a kid, my mom told me to wear a headband, to get my hair out of my face, to pull it back so other people could see my face. So that I could be a thing being looked at instead of doing the looking. It’s a fucked up thing to tell a kid to do to her hair what will please others, do to her body what will please others, but not herself, don’t please herself because what good is that for a woman, and don’t you want to keep your hair long so you can be pretty for boys? I didn’t want the headband. Later, she told me that men don’t like girls with scraped knees. I thought, Grown men aren’t supposed to like girls at all. I’m still a child! Leave me alone! And even if she had said “boys”, and not “men”, I would’ve said “fuck you”.
I never had a problem with alcohol. Not because I’m good, but because I’m lucky. I’m oriented to cope in other ways, like picking my skin or dancing alone to my own music. I don’t pick my face as much now as I used to. But when I did pick at the skin of my face, it was not only to cope with anxiety and grief, but so that others couldn’t have my face, so that I could keep it for me. I hated the pressure of doing to my face what pleased others without also pleasing myself. Because I am not and have never been the people-pleaser sort, it has never been so for me that what pleases others necessarily brings me pleasure in turn. The two are not intrinsically connected. Now, I don’t pick as much. I was looking for catharsis when I cut my hair three inches long at age twelve. By fourteen, it was shaved. I’d never felt better at that time, because that Borderline wraith who used to be my parent couldn’t control it as an extension of her hyper-sexualized self. I made sure those knees were scraped, too.
My desire and instinct is to do the active looking at males. Beautiful androphilia.
Humans in general have a real problem with controlling people’s bodies for the benefit of the powerful without regard to the lives and experiences of the people living in those bodies. Here, a possible relationship is cut down, where real love and mutual affection could have flourished between humans. This is the foundation of all movements for equality. In anger at the breadth of injustice, it is easy to think that to reach equality there must always be some struggle, but struggle alone only breeds sour animosity. If we pull back the layers we see that anger is a response to a severed relationship, as a teacher of mine once said. Anger is the wrapping for grief in response to human beings not in right relationship with one another as they should. It even goes for two strangers. If somebody cusses you out for accidentally bumping into them, and you feel angry, it is because you rightly expected they treat you with respect, at minimum. Respect and courtesy would have been the right relationship, if even a brief one, passing on the sidewalk. When right relationships become severed, connection is not speedily repaired.
Sometimes I still feel agonized in frustration when the stray hairs fall in my face. So I wear bandanas. My mom didn’t wear them. She always wore piles of makeup, which I never do, and it was her shield against all vulnerability which she volleyed on others, on I who was trapped and could not get away because she was looking at me like somebody who wouldn’t or couldn’t stare back with ferocious knowing in my own sight, seeing her horrible, abusive personality disorder. She told me things I shouldn’t have heard at a young age, completely inappropriate things about her stupid personal life and what she thought about men, at a time when female children are in need of joyful empowerment, not stories of predation and victimization. She spoke un-lovingly even of herself, not thinking how parents pass these beliefs onto their children, whether they consciously intend to or not. And she never once apologized, sincerely, without angry blame in her next breath. To this day, she lacks all serious self-awareness. I saw her six months ago and I don’t miss her. I told her by the shape of my back that I do not miss her. I always saw that white wine glass on her nightstand when she lay in bed, complaining before me that TV was her only joy. I remember asking her, when I was a child, if she loves me. She said she loves me but she doesn’t like me, with biting spite in her voice. What the hell is a kid supposed to think when a parent answers that way? She watched Lifetime misogynist terror, mistaking victimizing sensationalism for a worthy use of her spare time. Dante said the gates to hell are locked from the inside. Often, she locked her bedroom door against, and I couldn’t get in to comfort her, not realizing I was trying to be her parent, because I thought it was my job to save her and help her.
Sometimes I dream of female demons, soulless and angry and covered in sharp long nails and makeup, and I never want to wear makeup or fake nails in my life. In my dreams they come to corner me, but I fight them by songs and invocations to Joan of Arc and Artemis, who came to me in my Queer teenage years with their short hair and muscles to defend me and teach me to fight. When I was young they would show me the way through mazes to women who I wanted to be like, who weren’t horrible excuses for empty, angry, promiscuous, addicted, emotionally reckless, abusive, un-nurturing, terrifying self-absorbed moms.
I talked to my counselor; She says that once couples are together for a while, you feel more secure that you can sleep-in without thinking the other person will be too lonely. But she herself has been divorced. I don’t take my relationship with Tony for granted. Instead I say to him, if its my insecurity that keeps me so devoted to caring about our relationship, then so be it! Maybe there’s good in it. He says he agrees, this is the best possible expression of insecurity, which makes me care more about every precious moment together. “Every moment is precious,” he says, one night when I decide to go with him to fencing practice instead of staying home alone to write. We both feel the same way. Now, when I need to sleep-in, I have him tuck me in lovingly, saying “tuck tuck” with a kiss, that way I know he is alright, and won’t be too lonely.
“Maybe, whatever you’re doing right now is the right thing to do,” says Tony. To sleep well and long enough, or tend a space or finish a hand-crafting project is a fine way to be together in domestic love.
Grandma dreamed of Great Grandpa. He had Bipolar, what they used to call Manic Depression. I was told that he was put in a hospital for this in the days before better compassion. I wonder what it must have been like for Great Grandma, to see her husband who she loved so much suffer this way. Was she the rock of the family? I have no records from Grandma about it, only that it happened, long ago.
In Grandma’s dream, dreamt in her old age long after her father’s death, she revisited her father. It was his brain she remembers: lit, with electricity, gold-sparkling yellow in coursing beads of dendrite flames in the night of the mind. The current of his brain appeared to her as sparklers traveling in the black of midnight from the base of his cerebellum, back of the neck, top of the spine where the nob of reptilian green evolution wells up in bone-memory of scales turning into to feathers, to fur, and finally to skin, tightened over the rare dome of the prefrontal cortex. Through these places the night-sparkler traveled up around his right ear, a railroad of electric-lit wires between one thought and another. Somebody said they cut the two sides of his brain, left divided from right side to save him. Who did this to him? Why did they think it was right? I only know of the story she told me: it was a breakdown. A loss of stability, while the two watery balancing boards of each inner ear tipped in slow-time, then suddenly spilling into the sea of Psyche. The ship of sanity surrendered, sending its planks overboard into the black waters below. I do not know where the sparkler stopped, but I remember that he was wide-eyed and strange when I, as a small child, met him in his ailing years. But my Great Grandmother still loved him completely.
Walking an hour to a cafe this morning in the clear light of day, sunscreen and hat applied, I realized I was going along without so much pain or heavy depression. I pick a spot in the shade under a tree when I arrive, not minding the faint smell of the garbage cans nearby. So it is. The smell goes away in the breeze. The air is cool to perfection on my skin, life in the sensory world. Wisdom comes from the life of the land and of animal bodies, who do not worry about the past or the future or the endless ghosts which plague the minds of humans. Our human heads are too easily filled with ghosts. I put them aside. It is said to us that we must right down these moments of insight before losing them, but I now know the other side to this fear of forgetting. We humans do not want to lose a part of ourselves, even it is better to keep it no more. Animals do not worry about always remembering. I want to remember their wisdom. They will remember what they need to, and not solely the aversion to trauma. To be happy is good because we hold something worthy inside. I want to always be an animal. The earth will remember the rest, remembering all.