Mind-Trip: Visiting Past Selves

The morning after my graduate coursework was complete, and with no more school assignments to write, I sat in dim quiet. A restlessness stirred in my core but fatigue lingered-on. I decided to try a self-compassion exercise I found on the Internet. It told me to think of an uncomplicated love and I tried to remember my grandparents. I could send those ‘warm fuzzy feelings’ to the leftover parts of me inside, supposedly, by visiting my memories.

The next part of the exercise asked me to send compassion to past versions of myself. At first I pictured myself in the seventh grade, walking down the hallway with a large piece of cardboard that read “I love [girl’s name]”, with a pink heart (like one does). Picturing the scene elicited an uncomfortable mixture of stale teenage hopelessness and amused retrospection. “Maybe I’m too old to connect—” I muttered to myself, “I am nearly two-and-a-half times as old as I was then.”

lucky_Kristen-Brown-took-itWithout realizing what I was doing, I started to rub the prayer beads I bought in al-khalil. I might have an easier time connecting to myself in Jordan, I mused. Around this time four years ago I passed through Amman twice while waiting for Israeli immigration services to process my volunteer visa so I could return to Bethlehem. After a brief sojourn in Southeast Asia I settled for a few weeks in the Canary Hotel in ‘jebel weibdeh’ near a glorious mosque with a blue dome. I soon fell ill with some pathogen that stowed away in my body from either Hong Kong or Davao City. I pictured myself wrapped in sweat soaked sheets at the Canary hotel, then sitting patiently for over six hours at an Israeli embassy, and finally sipping Arabic coffee and preparing for the now-infamous border-crossing into the West Bank. I saw myself, shaggy hair, bearded chin, and a face that is a little more pink than brown both because and despite of the sun. My eyes are too blue but I — this ‘younger me’ is gun-ho to return to Palestine. Even if I’d had the power, I doubted he would join me for a ‘jaunt’ through time. Once he left his sick-bed, I did not know how to send him compassion — there was little to pity in a version of myself so genuinely brave. At that moment, I was not mentally prepared to follow him to the crossing at ‘beit shaan’ and I opened my eyes. My room in Northeast Washington, DC flashed back into existence and I exhaled, sharply. I closed my eyes again.

Still rubbing the beads I went deeper into my trance, in search of a past version of myself to which I could send compassion. I remembered Geneva; I’ve had writers’ block about my brief time in the French and Swiss countryside, there, for a long time. Preparing to cross at ‘beit shaan’ is one matter: the pressure from Israeli border control was expected. Nine months later, the counselor at the debrief center West of Geneva caught me off-guard. I wanted to just be authentic in my feelings and be affirmed, feel normal. Instead, the therapist made little room for ISM politics or even Palestinian Liberation Theology; I felt judged for my frustration. I watch myself going silent in her office, then praying with a candle in the same office later that night, then wandering across a snowy canvass amid the breath-taking scenery. I took long walks that week, trying to follow the sight and sound of hawks. I hoped for guiding signs, to help me adjust in the sudden cold and emptiness — literally, relationally. Now I am following the twenty-six-year-old version of me back into Geneva, onto a train leaving for Zurich and places beyond. My two Never seen a pale-face in a kefia? Get used to it.former co-workers, R2 and Debz, are there but I swiftly recalled that 26 (this version of me) felt distant from them. He seemed almost real. He wore one of those hats that is a cross between a billed-cap and a beret that is solid black, always turned backward; he still has the black-and-white kefia purchased in a Bethlehem market, wrapped loosely around his neck, partly draping down his chest and tucked into Buck’s* olivey-brown sport-jacket. One one lapel are two pins, a Palestinian flag and a key symbolizing the return of refugees. Dressed to be a bona fide ISM-activist, surrounded by the glory of mountains, mere feet away from wonderful colleagues, he sat in perplexity and despair on a cushy train-seat. I imagined him rubbing…

Prayer beads. He looked-up at me, suddenly awake. Realizing he could see me, realizing I was on the train over three years ago, I gasped and crouched to the floor in a muted panic.

“Get over here,” he commanded in a harsh whisper, “you’re just as conspicuous like that. Walk over here, calmly, and pretend to be my twin before Debz or R2 see you.”

“I’m sorry, I thought you might be lonely— actually, I knew, but I didn’t… um… wait! You know that I am a future version of you? That seems too convenient.”

“Just now, I wished someone who truly understood would appear. Again, it seems too convenient—who else, ever, could understand?

“Right.”

“How did I learn to do this time-warp thing? Or I shouldn’t ask, I guess. Nevermind. Don’t tell me the future. Just…” He leaned against the window, sapped of vim.

“Sit with you? I can do that.” He reached-out and held my hand. I had not realized how much I wanted my hand held and I gave 26’s hand a squeeze. He quickly let go and I never quite asked ‘why’. By this time the train was moving and vivid images from my past mesmerized me, the alps scrolling by through the abundant windows while we remained nestled in the luxurious train-cabin.

“Life is good, then? You don’t have to give details.”

I hesitated. Did I really believe my life was better than his? The answer was ‘yes’, mostly, because I knew his world had spun upside-down in a week whereas mine was just turning, slowly, on its side. “I just finished graduate school; you knew you would do that. I’m going to be thirty.”

“Peace and conflict at American University? I see your AU t-shirt.” I just smiled at him. The answer is ‘no, not P & C’ but it was not worth explaining ITEP.

“We all need to be rescued, sometimes,” I said with a wink. He smirked and started gazing out of the window again. I read that as assent but it was not.

“If you could come here, does that mean we both could return to somewhere else?” This time, I was careful not to hesitate for fear he would doubt my expertise — of which I had none, of course.

“Well… the prayer breads brought me here… it seems… so maybe if we agree where to go next and both rub our beads we can… yeah. I should mention, this is part of an exercise in self-compassion that went magically wrong. I should have said that right away.”

“Self-compassion can go magically wrong? And I thought you said you were here to ‘rescue me’? Well, it’s worth a try. I just want to get out of here.”

Something about the way he said ‘rescue me’ touched my heart in a strange way. One of those uncanny feelings that there is not language to describe surfaced and I let it slide by, or linger, or whatever near-subliminal emotions do. I wondered if he would take us to al-khalil where the beads had come from or another place I was not mentally prepared to go. “Can you do me a favor? Can we go somewhere in Michigan?”

He continued to stare out of the window. God only knows where he wanted to go, in the first place. Then he nodded. “There are other versions of us to be rescued, right?” He slowly looked at me and the sensation was wonderful and terrible, far beyond seeing oneself in the mirror for the first time. This version of myself that I had come to console was, despite my intentions to comfort him, the epitome of the rescuer in me — and he had just concluded his mission. 26 was looking for ACTION at a time when reflection gave him no solace. I glanced instinctively over my shoulder and thought that Debz and R2 were looking at us.

Convinced that the jig was up, I approached: “Ladies it is truly a gift to see you again; as you can see, I am John Daniel’s doppelganger—from the future, not a precise doppelganger. Before you say anything, I need to get some things off our chest, 26 and me (I’m 30 but that’s not important)~ number one, he is very confused right now. It’s true that he’s attracted to both of you but that’s NOT what is on his mind right now. He just lost an office of beloved, Arab, co-workers and he’s feeling disconnected…”

“John Daniel…”

“—I understand that the both of you are enjoying your independence, especially Debz, and that he might seem like a little bit of a drag. I apologize on his behalf— he just needs some more perspective. Plus, the therapist at the retreat center actually treated him like SHIT but he doesn’t want to burden either of you with that…”

“EARTH TO THIRTY! THEY CANNOT SEE OR HEAR YOU… oh damn, did they hear me?”

A pregnant pause filled the cabin as I waddled a retreat. “I guess not.”

“I’m still not even sure if I’m conscious—I must be asleep on the train. Although this episode is certainly telling me something about how I feel about myself…”

“Let’s make the best of your dream, then?” I asked, hopefully.

“Let’s go rescue 19,” he said. The flush returned to his face.

“When you say it like that, it’s really infantilizing. He is technically a grown-man.”

“Technically,” scoffed 26. Not surprisingly, as my younger self’s vigor flowed so did his penchant for ‘assbad’ comments. It was so good to see him smile, I decided to play-along.

“Let’s go lift his pitiful ass out of bed!” I said with some gusto.

We rubbed on our beads for a while. “Maybe we need something else— something that you and he share—”

“—like our entire bodies? Or is it true that all the cells in our bodies change in seven years?”

“…rub your stitch: I bet the surgery is on his mind…” I said it with some gravitas, hoping he would take the bait.

“…rub YOUR stitch, wanker! I’m not rubbing my stitch on a Swiss train…”

“…it has to be you. Trust me. It has to be the person who is physically visible in the environment from which the teleportation is taking-place,” I lied. I wanted to see him do it. “And you won’t see these people again. R2 is not even looking—”

“—screw you—”

“screw yourself: just do it (and you’re the wanker)”. He glanced around, then furtively shoved his hand down his pants. I put my hand down my pants for good measure, since I was invisible anyway. “…just to show you how it’s done, of course.”

“Wanker… now it looks like—”

dorm-desk-and-bunkBut suddenly we were in a dormitory room on the campus of Michigan State University, sitting next to each other on the bottom bunk. A slush-laden pine tree was visible through a window.

Naturally, 19 was in the top-bunk sulking about his surgery and the complications that followed. Granted, bed was probably a good place for him: he had a severe respiratory infection. The surgical sight itself was free of infection but he was on a medication to reduce swelling at, shall we say, ‘critical junctures’. We could not see his hands but we both knew where they were.

“Be gentle with that stitch, boy,” I said playfully as we stood and looked at him.

“AHH! WHO THERE? BAH! DIE!”

“Dude, 30,” 26 said calmly, “have you forgotten our tendency to startle when our bedroom is invaded? Hey 19…” he said turning to him.

[”We got nothing in common…” I crooned]

“We are the 30 year old and 26 year old versions of yourself, here to ‘rescue you’…”

[”No we can’t talk at all…”]

“This is part of an exercise in self-compassion and rescue…”

[”PLEASE TAKE ME ALONG— don’t either of you remember that Steely Dan song?”]

“…we are here to rescue you — older, wiser — to lift your ass from bed—”

“Whoa,” I said, “this is overwhelming. He has not said anything. Aren’t you overwhelmed?”

“It just figures,” said 19, closing his eyes and starting to cry, “that I would be psychotic in addition to everything else.”

“It’s going to be okay,” said 26 reassuringly. “We’re going to get you THE FUCK OUT OF HERE. So get dressed…”

“…whoa. What is the hurry?” I protested. “As a matter of fact, I am cold. I came here straight from… a place.” I balked. Neither of us wanted to explain to 19 how he came to leave his home state. “Can I crawl into bed with you? That guy over there is dressed for—umm…”

“MICHIGAN. See? I’m wearing a scarf.” He fumbled his kefia tassels awkwardly. I was still wearing my American University t-shirt.

“Forget what we’re wearing,” I said. As I sprung into the top-bunk, 19 recoiled and turned his front-side toward the wall. “We came here to talk to you. Maybe not so much to ‘rescue’ you; maybe that was not the right word.”

“—that was sure as hell the word you used for me, as if I hadn’t gone… places that required… self-sufficiency.” This game of hiding 19’s future was quickly turning into a comedy routine. “But hey 19, my man, we know you’re having a rough time,” said 26 recovering his assuaging tones.

“Yeah, buddy,” I said starting to spoon the younger version of myself. He was still wrapped like a burrito and I was worried that he was not wearing very much underneath. His face looked oddly pale when I remembered, distinctly, being feverish and on the edge of death. I expected him to be ruddier.

“What is there left to say?” he mumbled to the wall. “I’m sick and frustrated all the time. I never get across campus to see Kim…” 26 rolled his eyes. “And I’m just afraid I’m going to blow-it. I’m so… conflicted. I want to be with her and yet I don’t want to burden her. At the same time…”

“Forget about her!” said 26 emphatically, “you’ll do all kinds of things that she wished she had done!”

“26,” I said sternly, “we’re not talking about the f-u-t-u-r-e, here.”

“30…” said 19, “I am an English-major. I get it.

“—you’re going to be a writing tutor!” volunteered 26.

“Shut-up!” I said, surprised by my own frustration.

“He’s already in the writing-center rhetoric class, so he knows anyway,” sassed 26.

“Anyway…” he continued without making eye-contact, “maybe I do need to go on anti-depressants.”

“DON’T”

“Dammit, 26! Shut. UP.”

“Not that there’s shame in it but your chemistry will get—” I threw a pillow as hard as I could at 26.

“Go take a walk! Go see if you can find someone to — but you’re invisible —bah, I don’t care…”

“Fine,” he said, releasing a deep breath, “I’ll just sit on the floor and listen.”

“You were saying, John? Try to look at my eyes while you talk. Pretend I’m just a funky mirror that… that can hug back.”

At first he was a little reluctant but after a while he let me under the covers with him and we talked for a long while. 26 seemed to lose his stomach for all of the talk about our ex-girlfriend and decided to ghost-walk around MSU’s campus. I quickly became jealous of him, as the charm of cuddling a younger version of myself went stale. No doubt, I felt some sympathy for 19 but he seemed to be churning the same set of problems into a thick, milky paste of anxious feelings. On the other hand, I could not judge him because there was not much he could do about it and, really, that was what I understood the best. His want to take action, the bitter feelings of helplessness, and wanting to be completely loved, even coddled, the moment he (we, I) relinquished being strictly self-sufficient — the chasm between independently-strong and totally-supported is cold, horrifying, and wide. What I understood that 19 did not was that his social networks were filled not with great people who shunned him, nor with bad people per se, but with normal people who were also still growing — still young.

The scarved-ghost returned. All at once, I saw him for what he was: the culmination of 19’s plan-B wishes. 19’s hope in Love would burn-down several times and from the ashes would rise 26: assbad-tastic. Unconsciously, I had put myself in the company of the most vulnerable, dependent version of myself and the most hardened incarnation… but they both needed compassion. They both were severely lonely and wishing for connection. They both needed to be accompanied…

“Hey 19: we’ve actually got more in-common than I initially realized…” said 26.

I accepted this insight with credulity: “I was just thinking the same thing.”

“Oh were you, old man? Well, I was thinking about our favorite bouncing ball. Come-on out of bed, with me, and show me where the ball is.” 19 obliged him, unsmiling. He tumbled from the bunk, to the floor, and then rose to his desk and opened a small drawer. He held-up a rubber-ball filled with swirls of blue, white, and peachy-pink.

“Bounce it, for us.” He did: it rebounded from the ceiling and off of walls back into his hand. “You’re not doing so bad, eh?”

“I guess not but I can never seem to hold onto this feeling that, you know, things are going to be okay.”

“It can be a challenge—it’s a challenge for me right now,” I said, mimicking 26’s tone. The walk seemed to be good for the renegade missionary; maybe I needed a nice, brisk stroll through the pines.

“I think you remember,” said 26 to 19, “the day after Laura broke-up with you?” This allusion bothered me but I could not think of any better examples that were not deep, deep into the future.

“Yeah?” answered 19, his eye still on the ball. “I guess that whole relationship was, I don’t know…”

“—remember that you tried to mow and you had to stop the John Deere lawn-tractor because you started weeping? Remember the scent of cut grass? The whisps of exhaust?”

“I remember, too…” I said, closing my eyes. I should have realized what 26 was doing.

“—I was crying pretty hard. I felt so ridiculous, dressed-up so… masculine?… but crying harder than I had in years. Plaid, paint-stained jeans… but tears running down my cheeks,” said 19. I kept imagining his shaven, sweaty, acne-spotted, face:

“—and no beard—” I added with a wince.

“—then you went up on the deck, that connected to the dining-room through a pair of double-doors, and sat on one of those black, metal gliders. The sky was so blue, dotted with cottony clouds, and the buzz of insects~ can you hear how alive that day was?”

“—today seems so… dead…”

“—but you were alive and it was the summer of 2003 and what did you do?”

“I bounced the ball…”

“—and rubbed it—”

“Now I can hear the insects! And I feel hot—am I halucinating?”

“Oh shit…” I said, jolting awake.

“This is not an illusion; this is an exercise in compassion going magically wrong,” said 26.

“This is not a delusion but 26 might be deluded,” I said, taking a wide look.

“Did I just do the time-warp with you two? This ball has never done that before… I’m not sure I want to talk to the seventeen-year-old me. I’ve changed a lot.”

I started laughing. 26 was more focused: “Don’t you want to rescue him? Wouldn’t that be empowering? Or should we rescue him?”

“Does we imply 26 & 30? Because this wasn’t 30’s idea. Also, referring to myself as 30 with three younger versions of myself staring back is surreal… it’s giving me heebie-jeebies.”

“Are you sure this isn’t your idea? You climbed onto a train leaving Geneva to rescue me…”

“I said rescue ONCE; I said ‘everyone needs to be rescued sometimes. Haha… you’re a missionary, let’s hold-hands and pretend not to feel lonely’ or something like that.”

“Did I cry so hard that I passed-out?” said 17. He had gone from hysterical to high-as-a-kite in the space of a few minutes.

“You’re okay said 19,” then started coughing, “but maybe I could sit down? I’m, uhm, a 19 year-old version of you. I guess this is some kind of spell…”

“A spell implies it was intentional,” I spat.

“Wasn’t it?” asked 26, “wasn’t this your idea?”

“To find you on the train not to haul 19’s ass out of bed — though I might have said those exact words, yes. Okay, that was half my idea but this,” I protested, spinning around and pointing at my childhood home, a beloved tree, Mom’s intact flower garden, the garage overfilled with memories, the sound of dribbled basketballs filtering through the trees separating us from a nearby park, “—this wasn’t my idea but it was a WONDERFUL idea!” I turned and jumped off the side of the deck, laughing. A muffled jingling sound rang from further away, then the clear tinkle of dog tags: Buster was awake. My now-deceased dog emerged from his little brown house, panting, and wagging his tail.

“Aren’t you paying attention?” called-out 26, “Your past-selves need to be rescued, here on the deck, and you’re going to… wow, Buster looks much younger! Look at him jump! I haven’t seen him look that lean or jump that high in… years…” He must have peeled his jacket off because the next I heard from him he was unwinding the kefia from his neck, shouting “—I’m coming too.”

When I glanced back I saw that 17 was bringing 19 a glass of water and a picnic blanket— the guy was in his pajamas, after all.

“17 is bringing 19 an inhaler, ironically,” said 26. “I think the rescuer dynamic is playing in reverse.”

“For a moment, I was getting ready to chew you out but I think you were amping yourself to chafe me, too. For my word choice.”

“To tell you the truth, I’m having a love-hate relationship with this idea of being a rescuer. You probably have a love-hate relationship with the idea of me, too?”

“Mostly love,” I said, scratching the dog behind his floppy ear, then prying him off of my sleeve. In his elder years he had stopped playing tug-of-war with people’s clothes but this Buster was only 3 years old. “I wonder if this is right before or right after Buster learned to unlatch the pen with his nose. It crossed my mind to take him for a walk but I was afraid to let all of you out of my sight. Not that you need me.”

“Not really. You seemed more eager to hold my hand and watch the alps pass by than lend me any wisdom you picked-up in Washington, DC.”

“Not all emotional support is advise or even instrumental. Sometimes it is just presence, just accompanying someone.”

“—you needed to be in-mission with yourself? This is about accompaniment? I definitely didn’t need that from you.”

“Maybe not while you were in Bethlehem and you had Zoughbi and the others to look-up-to but… let’s not say ‘you’. Let’s say that ‘I’ lost the spirit of accompaniment and became even more social-justice-ramrod from a distance than I was up close. I let the retreat-center therapist get in my head in just the opposite way when what I needed —what you need to do is find some compassion for her because she was going to drop the ball. You shook-up her theology and world-view in the space of one session. Can you muster some compassion?”

“I’m not sure I can,” he said, half-chuckling.

“That’s alright; the only reason that I can is because I found some supportive people in Washington. But it’s going to take a long time. Don’t chain yourself to the White House fence or something. Live to meet your people.”

“That sounds a lot like advice that I don’t need. I feel like what I need is to have a squirt-gun fight. Do you have any, uh, special intelligence about what happened to the Supersoakers in the garage? Are they/were they still there in ‘03?”

“Let’s go ask 17. He seems to be good for more than I thought.”

“Oh crap. Mom & Dad are down there. He looks like a zombie…”

“It makes me uncomfortable to see them together. Even now. Or perhaps more now than ever.”

“I don’t even want to know. I just can’t go down there.”

We had a squirt-gun fight. Then we turned our mouths purple eating wild-raspberries. Then we paced around the other side of the house talking about childhood and almost went into the house through another door. Yet when we heard 19 call for us, breathlessly, both us old farts raced to the deck and scaled its highest part. My shoes were better and I won.

17 was standing there, still half-way shocked but not so dazed that he could not launch into a series of questions about the future, aimed mostly at me. 19 kept adding obscure details from his cocoon on a glider, poorly camouflaged with inexpertly cryptic phrasings. I allowed it, since I felt most of what happened between 17 and 19 didn’t matter that much. At first I was surprised to see 26 lay serenely on the other glider but, of course, he had been through most of what I had. ‘Social process time’ moves faster when relatives start dying and you go through several different ‘homes’. More than the tendency to minimize his youthful ‘romantic’ sufferings, it seemed like 26 was really happy to be ‘home’ in the Michigan summer. I smirked at him when I caught his eye.

“—so you’re not going to say anything to me? Why did either of you bother coming here— just to bring me him?” he said, pointing at 19 “when you knew he was sick, anyway?”

“My bad,” said 26, “feed him some raspberries.”

“I’ve learned my lesson. I need to stop trying to ‘rescue’ my former selves. I should learn to be present with all the pieces of myself.” I put my hand on my heart and said, ‘you each are an important and cherished part of me—” trying to make eye-contact with each of them.

“Good. Tell me what I can do to be the best version of myself.”

“Shut the fuck up and be cute,” said 26, snickering.

“Twenty-six,” I said sternly but I could not keep a straight face: “—he’s right. Although I noticed that you… your skin looks terrible.” I laughed audibly. “It’s kinda’ painful and hilarious at the same time, especially when he told you to be cute… but you ARE cute!”

In hindsight, I don’t think 17 believed me. He walked off the deck, turned on the hose and drenched himself. That seemed like the right time to leave — before something funky happened to space-time. As tempting as it was to change the course of history, possibly preventing 19 from becoming so SO pitiful, I could not bear sending my teenage self on any trajectory that would not produce 26 exactly as he was. 17 went back to his tractor to finish mowing, probably eager to dismiss us as mirages.

“Let’s grab 19 and get out of here before we rip-up our timelines and disappear like an alternate ending of Back to the Future.”

“Great idea; just tell me what I need to do,” retorted 26, without moving.

“Yeah. Okay. Remember when you were bothering me about it being my idea to come ‘rescue’.”

“I’m still wondering about all of that,” said 19. I patted him on the head. “And quit kiddifying me.”

“You mean infantilizing you?” said 26, this time with his hat drawn over his eyes to keep-out a dappling of sunshine straying through the leaves above. 19 curled into a tighter ball. “…so, chief. 30. How do we reverse this ‘exercise in compassion gone magically wrong’?”

“Technically, I’m not 30 for another month. Also, it wasn’t my idea. It all just kinda’ happened when I rubbed the prayer beads.” 19 squirmed.

“Well, fuck it anyway?” said 26.

“Maybe you’re ready to hit the fuck-it button but I want to get back to DC and graduate! I’m going to have a life!”

“You had a life— he’s in the Spartan Brass (even if he’s too sick to play right now— okay, I take it back he doesn’t have a life) and I should be going with my two awesome co-workers from Geneva to New York City. Doesn’t that count?”

“I should ask you— doesn’t that count? I know you feel a lot better zoning-out in this memory but we’re… wraiths…”

“—we already were—” replied 26 moodily, now staring off into the trees. I stared with him for a while, in a spirit of accompaniment.

“I’m right here with you, both of you. I have warm, fuzzy feelings for you. The two of you. You’re so cute. You’re so much cuter than 17, 26, with your kefia and tough-guy routine!” I poked him on the cheek. He didn’t seem to like it. “Go poke your brother.”

We both poked 19 but he was unresponsive: still breathing, eyes still open, but empty-headed. We continued poking him all over until finally he jolted into action.

“Balls!”

We both cracked-up laughing at him. “Balls, chief?”

“We bounced and rubbed the rubber-ball to get here; we need to do it again.”

“Uhhh… you sorta’ missed this earlier in the conversation but I actually rubbed some prayer beads to flash-back to 26, here. I’m not sure how the jump forward works.”

“Does it work?” asked 26, “or aren’t we fated to keep repeating the same patterns?”

“If that is the case, I need to find a way to accompany myself. I was the one who needed rescuing from my own rescuing. You all are cherished pieces of me—I have warm fuzzy feelings for all of you.”

“You already said that, though I don’t know if I believe it,” said 19. “You two have made fun of me this entire trip. Hell, even the 17 year old version of me was more sympathetic and he hasn’t even gone through all the things I already have!” 26 sighed heavily and I wasn’t sure if it was remorse or exasperation.

“—you’re right!” I said before 26 could say anything more. “We’ve been minimizing your hurt all day— nay, for years and years! We even brought you to this spot so you could minimize 17 and instead you found his primordial kindness intact! We need your powers to take us forward!”

“Primordial kindness? Please don’t ask him to rub his stitch, 30…”

“No no, I’m telling him something from the future to jolt him ahead—”

“Well,” said 26, “stranger things have already happened in our life.”

maria's“I need your help, 26. I need you to remember with me the first time we went to play trumpet under the Bogue Street bridge AFTER the bronchitis subsided. 19, hold our hands. Imagine its late April and all of us are walking toward the Red Cedar River. It’s a little humid but much cooler than this or the train. In the shadowed alcoves beneath the bridge it is cooler still and you wonder if you’ll ever be able to play again. Imagine yourself silhouetted against a canvas of bright greens, standing between a camera lens and the river. Now remember the song that you composed for yourself. Hear it in your mind. What is it called?”

“Underbridge Blues” we all say.

19 shivered and crawled back into his bunk. “I wonder if I’ll even remember this dream.”

“I hope you don’t—” said 26, “so that the day under the bridge is a great surprise.”

“As for you, habeeb,” I said, patting him on the shoulder. He gave my hand a squeeze then let it go again. I almost asked him about the time we touched-hands before but I was in mid-sentence: “—Geneva is not going to be a total waste. There is no good falafel and sharing a room with Debz is going to continue being awkward. Try not to worry about that. When you return to New York City—grab my other hand while I tell you this— when you return to New York City you are going to take a long walk with Alex and Clifford; Clifford swears that he knows a great bar on the other side of Manhattan. You will be colder than you can remember being in your life and on the verge of turning back. But you find it! It’s ancient, the walls are covered in memorabilia from over a century of young men, coming and going. Imagine wish-bones thrown into a chandelier. Everything inside the bar is warm, despite the frigid city blocks all around, and those two guys… those two guys? They are still your friends in distant places. They still send you messages. 19 breathed deeply again and you… you? You will be close to other people again. It will take even longer but it’s happening. Your train will come…”

“—I’m on it; I’m awake,” he said. A lady in a uniform spoke to him in broken English and he pulled francs from his pocket to purchase some canned orange-juice.

“Nothing like a woman in uniform to get the blood flowing,” I said and tried to squeeze his hand. He was like a shadow: I couldn’t touch him. The sound of train cars, clacking against their tracks, got fainter and fainter as the windows shrank and the cabin around me became smaller. A matching oak desk and dresser materialized, then the rest of my room in Washington…

from-nas“I wonder if I’ll even remember this dream,” I said. A freight train passing under South Dakota Avenue moaned. I shivered and started to crawl back into bed… but I brought my rubber bouncing-ball with me. “Balls,” I mumbled and giggled quietly to myself as I fell back to sleep.

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Finding Balls on my Walk (another fragment)

Credit: Angela Johnson, wizzley.com

Photo-Credit: Angela Johnson, wizzley.com

I needed to go walking. How I knew I needed to walk can be the subject of a longer reflection, some other time. I varied my pace as I meandered through my Northeast D.C. neighborhood casting glances into obscure alleys or across the surface of familiar houses in order to hook something new with my eyes. I plugged my ears with the sounds of a band I liked before I left Michigan; I plugged into the lyrics of a song by Fireflight:

[Verse] “I want to know you/
There’s so much at stake/
Can’t face the memories/
They bend me till I break/
Hiding from the past/
But it’s eating me alive/
Can’t block it out/
When it’s coming from inside”

“Precious denial, a stone to break my back/
The chains I carry won’t cut me any slack/
Imprisoned by fear with no room for my heart/
My only hope, only you can heal the scars…”

“Every turn leads me to a new dead-end/

lost again, I’m screaming your name/

[Chorus]

Come close come close and call my name/

How can you turn your back on me when you know my pain?/

Stay close, stay close; light up the night/

Save me from the part of me that’s begging to die”

‘John Daniel’ used to mean something but I prefer to be called ‘JD’ most of the time. I closed my eyes for a few seconds and started to turn my palms upward. Quickly, I opened one eye and started to look around: was someone watching? Instead, I kicked a chunk of concrete up the street, up the route I had almost traveled, and took a sharp left toward home, toward the prospect of continuing a project for graduate school. The way downhill to the bridge that spans the train-tracks was punctuated with patches of asphalt, as out of place as tuxedo jackets laid over potholes, and buckled sidewalks like broken saltine crackers. A little rivulet ran along one edge. I weighed staying in D.C. versus looking for adventure abroad. Then, I thought of a friend who said she was moving to Iowa (with a boyfriend) and what a dismal idea that is if she wants to work in our field (International Education). There are solid reasons I might voice my dissent to her but sometimes I varnish better motives with my own vocational tensions — and I know it. These are both the sheen and the stain on my opinions. I stay silent, supportive.

I noticed the rivulet again: its speed, the way it carried debris, the volume of water moving down this little side-street to a storm grate by Vista street. For a second I imagined a capsized pot, the size of a car, spilling an endless supply of water onto the street from its absurd depths. I wondered from where the stream flowed, whether from a broken water-main or an unseen mountain of snow. Only a week ago I meandered through a groove in the snow piled on both sides of every road. A week ago I inhabited, I wandered, I explored a different scene in the same place.

Kirby's Dreamland Villain (cute, stationary)The water disappeared into the curb inlet and I went left, again, along Vista. On Vista my hooking eyes caught dozens of visions. Dropped from some unknown tree were a multitude of… spikey-balls? A fruit or nut of an unknown species, they looked all at once like giant cockle-burs or wilted, alien flowers. They reminded me of cartoon maces or generic, stationary foes from NES video games: “Kirby’s Dreamland” and its ilk.

Mines at sea.Before I could unhook them, they all turned into choices. I could step on them intentionally, with glee or curiosity or even sadness or, rather, I could fix my gaze on the distance and allow myself to trample them like wine-grapes. I could have embraced them, could have allowed them to happen, but I avoided them. Which choice of hundreds could be best? What if they really belonged to someone else and I ruined them? What if they made a mess on my shoes? These multitude futures, I decided, need to be left as they are until I could be certain. I want to come back with a machine, like the ones at the Bethlehem co-op, and pour all of them down its diesel-scented gullet and turn them into oil: dream-oil. Like olives, that cannot be eaten unless they have cured or are processed, I left them all alone. I did not pick one up, because I could not be sure that one of them was not my dream, or a dream I might regret, or…

Each spine became a button, a trigger-ball floating in the stream of my life. No, I did not touch all of those choices and their multitude of futures. They could be mines! Am I ready to explode? Am I fully qualified as the bomb? Have I practiced blowing-up enough? Can I find the time for combustion? What if my explosion isn’t as good as someone else’s… no…

A block further and many sidewalk-cracks later, I stepped in some dog-shit that I had not expected. That was probably gushing with symbolism, too, but I wish it had not gushed into the sole of my shoe. The copious, cleansing snow-piles that covered the sidewalks just a week ago succumbed to time. So I walked back to the minefield on my way to the stream. I wanted to stomp on one of those choices and see what future was inside but it was too late. Going backward, they had all turned into memories. They were all the past, now. Now, my dreams were flowing through the past. I stood on one leg, almost ready to reminisce — but how could I be sure that… how could I be… could I… how?

As I washed the dog-shit off my shoes, I wondered what what secrets bathed and clung to my shoes, what came next, and why this walk made me feel like writing…

Chirp Chirp Chirp

Old Punching-BagMy keyboard chirps at me. It does NOT ‘cheep cheep’ endearingly like a goldfinch. If I bang very hard on my oak desk, defiant ‘twerk’ noises spit at me. I want to tomahawk my keyboard with a meat-cleaver.

It may annoy my musical sensibilities because the chirp comes too late, not in tempo with my key-strokes or on the off-beat like peck-horns answering a tuba during a polka. A tiny disk-jockey with bad rhythm is rubbing his scratch-plates a quarter-count behind the beat, somewhere between the mid-nineties and the jungle of circuits in my laptop. I wondered what it would be like to use a typewriter, to feel the levers beneath the keys delivering the force of my reflections. My words would literally have impact, the pace of my ideas would become the cadence of my practice.

Then I hit the back-space key and rephrased; I moved a sentence up and corrected a misspelling. The creaking idiosyncrasies of those protruding letters were crickets from hell, to writers typing their way out of purgatory decades ago. Each manual carriage return must have felt like cocking an antiquated rifle. Twick twick twick twick twick BANG: ka-chink. Twick twick twick twick twick BANG:

Twerk. Wicky-wicky-wicka-TWERK. Check my e-mail. I’m procrastinating.

Even when I do my homework I am procrastinating. Ever since I decided to start a Masters’ Degree in International Education and Training here in Washington DC instead of a Masters’ of Fine Arts in Poetics in Washington State I have been procrastinating an important project: my career as an author. This is not to say that I do not procrastinate my ITEP work too. Naturally, I do. Five or six weeks ago, maybe more, I pinned an article to my bookmarks tool-bar. I read it yesterday (“Why Wait? The Science Behind Procrastination”). These words in particular continue to chirp in my ear…

“The chronic procrastinator, the person who does this as a lifestyle, would rather have other people think that they lack effort than lacking ability,” says Ferrari. “It’s a maladaptive lifestyle.”

People do not judge me when I procrastinate, we judge my behavior. We laugh about it. To know that I was a bad writer would destroy my entire sense of self. Day after day passed, four years ago in Grand Rapids, and the words would not come. Regardless of why, I never wrote a book. The prospect of being a ‘bad’ missionary, even of dying in on a great adventure, seemed far less dire. Dying for something suited me more than living as nothing. For better or worse, when I got to Palestine Zoughbi convinced me that my living would accomplish more. He was right, as as he often is. However, the gamble that I took in 2011 did not pay as I had planned; I have checked all my levers and the words do not pour like a flood of quarters onto the casino floor. There is more to write about but no jackpot, just the same fear: if I start writing, it will be a long time before someone appreciates it — especially if that someone is ME.

But excellence is a lie. As Jane Vella said, and my training design instructors were fond of quoting, “the excellent is the enemy of the good”. There is no escape from the chirp of the keyboard, from the crickets of hell and the clunk of imperfect tools, except to turn them into punching bags. Around the time I confessed to Zoughbi that I wanted to stand in front of a bulldozer, I started using the boys’ punching bag. It hung from a sturdy green railing above the irregular limestone court next to the chicken-alcove — a little cave where the Zoughbis kept five hens. I was pissed about many things. The point is not that it felt good to be mad so much as that it felt right to feel the anger fully in the “thwack” of knuckles hitting canvas. I am trying to get the chirp to work like that, pretending that I can feel my knuckles splitting against the side of that bag each time my computer makes an unsettling noise…

—I can almost hear the chickens clucking, irregularly—

…it’s more of a ‘cluck’ than a ‘chirp’, anyway…

Pentagon City Mall: Craziness Dawns!

http://www.amazon.co.uk/LG-DM2350D-Widescreen-1080p-Monitor/dp/B005K71BI8We are still at the damn mall. I am going to stay at the mall until I can get the hell out of it — do you understand me?

Nonfiction reflection is my native genre, my homeland in the world of writing. I started my musings in LiveJournal as a place to collect my teenage thoughts and give them significance. By the time I began “Reverse Exiled”, the impulse to journal was part of my mental machinery. Yet, I never intended for it to be that way. At an early stage, I contemplated leaving my own plot behind. Why I never made the jump is of great import, for me, but probably not of great interest to my audience. What you all need to know is that we are at the fucking mall. Right-the-fuck-now. You can smell pleather at the overpriced belt and hat stand in the middle of the Pentagon City Mall food court. There is actually a stand that sells sports-team themed spatulas but those are hard to smell so it became a belt & hat stand for the sake of your nostrils.

I needed to find a thin place in the universe: a singularly, an anomalous zone where the autobiographical and fictitious dimensions could be close enough to wade from one to the other rather than needing to build a ‘ship’. I never had the rocket-power I needed to reach escape velocity, in Grand Rapids, and jettison from the heavy places I reached (not entirely of my own volition). I wanted an escape: there may be some cold, surreal portal through inter-stellar space hidden in the deep vacuum between galaxies but I turned toward the whirling bulge in the middle and… that is where the singularity is: the black-hole, the rip in space. Not on the whispering shores of Lake Michigan where I long to be but at the damn mall where people rush around the food court, swung to-and-fro by something infinitesimally small and equally massive. I bet it was under that cracked tile next to the Starbucks island — the orbits were most intense in its vicinity.

Making astronomical metaphors is one thing but actually kneading those powerful images into scene takes a higher level of prowess. My Creative Writing classes brought me closer but I was missing a key component: insistence. More than persistence, insistence is the ability to continue producing coarse content with the trust that quality material can be produced. I never gave myself the space, especially emotionally, to do all the bad writing I needed to do in order to produce fiction and poetry — to be a story-teller. I wanted to be a prodigy: accolades on the first attempt.

As I’ll pick-up in later journal entry, I wanted success. I have clung to my technical ability to produce grants, prayers, newsletters, and other defined-products. When I walked into the mall I expected to see a clear picture of rampant materialism that I could deconstruct and critique using experiential lenses. That was the case at first. Then I became uncomfortable: I was losing the mental strength to hold all the stimuli steady — I wanted out but I resisted and started journaling instead. The volatile corners of that world creased and collapsed upon themselves.

Suddenly, I knew how Neil might be feeling. From time to time, over the past few months, I try to think about what Neil is going through right now. Neil spent three months in the West Bank. He’s from the DC-area but he studied civil engineering at a Big-Ten school — imagine trying to make sense of the separation barrier with his background. He is someone who believes that infrastructure should make commerce — and life — better for communities, coming into contact with (as I called it in my New World Outlook article) a ‘titanic millipede chewing through the countryside’. All of that is packed away, though, along with many other emotions. Our minds, Neil’s and mine, are like the neighborhoods and villages we knew, where it took much longer to get from one place to another — from one thought to another, one memory to another — because of physical obstructions, dangerous passages, roads in shambles, and points of unpredictability and/or hassle (check-points).

Having undergone that kind of fragmentation, Neil emerged from a fog in the Pentagon City Mall, just before Christmas. The holiday season was in full tilt and the Starbucks smells like artificial-peppermint-syrup. The mall was built as several white tiers where every floor was a little narrower than the one below it, like a wedding-cake turned inside-out. Neil sweeps his gaze across the spacious atrium, noticing bedazzled teddies in the Victoria’s Secret display window on the second-floor but quickly fixing his eyes on the apple store. From that distance, the panels of animated LED lights looked like fairies — no, they looked like they could be a cybernetic race of lightning-beetles, flying in formation of their own accord to form a reindeer, then an iPod.

hallmark_logo_2515He is supposed to be meeting some friends [what are their names? He used to know their names…] but they aren’t where they said they were. They said they were going to be on ground level, beneath an overhang, next to the window-display at a Hallmark store (is there even a Hallmark there? I guess there is…] one floor higher than subway level. Squeezing through the swarms buying their holiday cards, Neil realized that he was critically late to their meeting point. He knew they would not have waited: the search began. He drifted with the flow of the crowd for a minute.

As he turned to walk away, a television monitor glided from the wall and settled on his shoulder.

“The you take the Neil and just give’m a chop chop chop…”

“Oh Holy Fuck!” he gasped, spinning around. By that time, it was almost back to its perch over the door. That really happened. The television speaker was right in our ears, whispering our names. A fit woman is smiling and explaining how to make a ‘delicious’ salad to restore the body after an exercise routine. Obviously, a pitch for overpriced knives being sold in the home-furnishings store below but Neil was impressed. He knew the Mall would be confusing, like the directory where the label for a store would move when he tried to slide his glasses up on the bridge of his nose. The fact that surreal shit would actually begin to happen, really, was something I had not anticipated either. In my case, the television was only a ventriloquist. It never moved, it made my shirt-collar start talking: “…then add some tomatoes to your kale…” He misheard. Kale, not Neil. “—next on our count-down—” chimes the neighboring monitor, “is someone we have not heart from in a few years—”

“Seems like a couple months ago, to me…”

http://www.bluesci.org/?p=6752Neil makes his way onto the escalator and notices a short lady with long, wavy hair carrying a zebra-striped purse. He knows he has seen her before but, because he cannot think of her name, he cannot say anything. Will not, really. She is already walking briskly from the top of the escalator toward another corridor, sometimes flickering. You know? A person can flicker a little, as their image passes through so much tumult. It must be true because I just ‘remembered’ it and put it here, without even modifying it. It is an idea. The zebra-purse helped, you know. Zebras flicker a little to make it harder for the lions to track them visually. As long as he was searching for friends, he could be searching for anyone or anything. The woman never appeared again but he was already going down that corridor, fascinated: a tourist, a pilgrim in his own city.

* * *

I don’t truly want to stop before I tell you what happened when he went into Nordstrom. The department stores are a fresh dose of ergot. Eventually, he finds two more Hallmark stores but his friends are actually at… well, I’ll tell you in the book if it ever gets written.

I cannot stress enough how relieved I was to freak-out. All of this time, I thought I might feel ridiculous when I visited the mall and learned that it was composed sensibly and populated by well-adjusted folks but I found none of that. Some people were bound to be well-adjusted, of course, but the mall is an actual hot-bed of para-normality. It was both vindicating and freeing because I did not feel as if I needed to critique the mall and add artificial tints to enhance its features — to fictionalize it. The mall was already so close to being fiction that all I needed to do was not allow myself to become grounded. I refused to change my reference points to adjust to that kind of insanity: I allowed the craziness to dawn on me.

Pentagon City Mall: Contrapuntal Imagery

Lough Tay Wicklow, brought to you by explorelight.com via a quick google search. Go gaze on their brilliant photographs of Ireland!

Lough Tay Wicklow, brought to you by explorelight.com via a quick google search. Go gaze on their brilliant photographs of Ireland!

An image surfaced as I journaled two days ago, neck-deep in the food- court. I was surprised that any peace of mind — that any piece of my mind — could be floating in the swamp at the bottom of the mall. I dove into the middle to prove I could, to make friends with the absurdity rather than pace endlessly outside until it was time to board the train again. As I suspected, the insanity of the mall would not subside, yet some current running through that loony place stirred me. I needed to be dredged.

It is not a poem yet. In fact, I did not have much luck wrestling with the images on lined paper last night. A tower keeps vigil over a treeless sea-coast. There is a bushy beard of mosses and algae clinging to the outcrops and the low-rumpled skies are the slightly purple gray of an expiring rainstorm in late afternoon. The storm has stripped the tower’s facade like old wrapping paper, leaving tatters stapled to the cross-beams around its waist: a ruined tutu. It may be in shambles but not from neglect: it’s not old enough for that. Though the very base is made of field-stone, most of its height is stitched together from long steel beams that stretch skyward, like a giant inverted and funnel-web, frozen brittle, pulling away from the luxurious coast toward an unseen heaven. When my vocabulary and my muse return to me, I want to stand on the highest ledge and swing a grappling hook at a passing comet… when my muse comes alive and I have the words with me, like arrows in a quiver…

—no, like a magazine clicking into the stock of a semi-automatic rifle and (maybe not that either)—

The metaphor, here, is that my desire for success is like that tower. The material is excellent but the structure is poorly wrought. Like the tower of Babel, this spire of success is actually reverse engineered from my failure to reach the heavens. The Bible tells the story precisely backward, as if God must have foiled our plans. Human Beings are arrogant and we needed a sound explanation for why we could not unite for a greater good but, instead, chose to stay fragmented once some of us left Africa. Likewise, I always envisioned myself as Cassopolis’s greatest progeny but after a few decades I was “just a guy at college” (my aunt’s words, taken out of context), just an unemployed graduate, and then just an ironic missionary who fought hard for good, with my bad attitude. Soon… a guy with a notebook. I need an explanation for why I never lassoed that comet, anything other than “comets cannot be lassoed”.

Music videos from the nineties played in the food-court: Pearl Jam, No Doubt, Smashing Pumpkins. Aromas crawl from under the tables of a nearby Starbucks, other scents whisper of greasy meats from a 1950’s themed diner beyond…

…but I smell damp air rising from behind the boulder that sits by the foundations of my tower. A fissure appeared where the steely buttresses of that failed edifice drive their stiff fingers into the stone like freshly kneaded bread. As the tower leans flaccidly to one side in the driving wind, the Earth beneath it is pried wide. The trickles of water snaking along the beams coalesce and tunnel there way into that opening. How long does it take to make a cavern from rain-water? How long did I hang far above, fussing with rivets and cursing the sky, while a passage grew organically beneath my gaze?

—how long have I been in the damn mall, again?—

I read that poets should write not as themselves but as if they are the person who knows them best: JD gets lower than he ever imagined, further from the stars and away from the rain. I finally see him entering the cave. His hands are rusty brown with the soggy grit of its opening maw. Protected from the wind, the atmosphere congeals; it swallows him one tentative foot-plant at a time until he is subdued by the cool, heavy aura wrapping around his chest. The shivering subsides and his eyes come to the verge of adjusting. No, he grows whiskers. This is magical realism so I want whiskers coming from my face, elbows, and knees like an otter plumbing along the bottom of a river.

You all can imagine: it’s a work of contrasts. Here I want the readers to feel the burgeoning closeness as I descend. They should feel the walls constricting like veins and hear the muffled churning of distant calderas beneath extinct or infant volcanoes (the difference is only in whether the eruptions are past or future). I wanted to write two contrapuntal litanies of oblivion. In the first, I could be swept away into the most exhilarating, yet final, act of my life as I make a desperate leap for a wispy, gambling miracle to consummate my career as writeractivistmusicianperson. I imagine JD swept into the wind yelling “I always Loved You!”, while I watch myself from the ground, asking “what!? Who in the world am I talking about?” In the second, I could be rendered functionally dead at any moment. A heavy stone might slide into the tunnel behind me and force me to write myself deeper and deeper into the cave — maybe into a submerged chamber. Maybe eat some mysterious fungus and grow gills— no! JD dies a boring death, whispering in vain “did you love me, [ ]? How about you, [ ]? Or you… or you… or me? I wish I’d brought an instrument to play…” In the cave, he resigns to obscurity. He can do anything he wants until decay sets in and concludes his eccentric metaphor for thwarted self-actualization.

An alternative ending is that my friend Cliff crawls in behind me and says, “Dude, what are you doing down here? We’re having a barbecue. There’s going to be kabobs and fruit-salad– probably some hard-boiled eggs—”

“—the fertilized duck-eggs you ate in the Philippines?”

“Sure. It’s pretend. You can even have a gorgeous wife, if you want.”

“I want to try one of those — I mean a duck-egg. I also… okay nevermind: let’s just go. I don’t care if you’re in Los Angeles & I’m hallucinating in a D.C. mall. Yulla & bye-bye, hole-in-the-ground…”

I didn’t come to this point — to tolerating the mall — via tower or tunnel. I came via barbecue: people have crawled in behind me and said “Uh… we like you; do you want some food? You obviously have places you would rather be…” This ties in closely with themes of acceptance I can explore another time — where success is a river and (no: another time… I promise we will get there).

I shut my notebook and opened my eyes: the entire mall was at my disposal.

Mega Man X Complex: Armor

zeroRemember, you have not reached full power yet. If you use all the abilities you were designed with, you should become stronger. You may even become as powerful as I am.

 ‘Zero’

X_piecesTherefore, take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand, therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breast-plate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all these, take the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

 The Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, 6:13-17

Zero alludes to the upgrade capsules left to [Mega Man] X by Dr. Light, his creator, which together form the armor that equips X for his quest. I am not certain what that means to me. I read Paul, contextually, as speaking to a community with an unpopular ideology and bolstering their resolve with reinforced images, stripping the essence from Roman Imperial gear to equip the Ephesians with powerful abstracts. When I approached security at Tel Aviv airport, especially when I was hiding literature, the sound of electricity rushing from my core into my extremities filled my ears, as if they could see filaments of charged particles dancing all over my body.  If I were armed (literally) with a plasma-canon, I could wash the machines from the airport — from existence! — in a torrent of light and rush … rush onward instead of submitting to strip-searches…

I distilled X’s weapon as Determination but there is no satisfying release for the charge I carry, still.

Mega-Man X symbolizes my impossible wish to materialize and dematerialize in zaps of energy, without any history, constituted for a specific purpose. Behind my aliases, there was always a real person with a record of missteps – career and interpersonal. For over a decade I’ve been looking for the crucial piece that would launch me from my seeming stasis and satisfy my impatience to reclaim my identity as—valid? “Excellent” rings tinny. “Worthy”: if not superior, then loved. I wove a narrative for myself, fittingly, of being salvaged from the proverbial scrap-heap. Fussing with this piece over a week, it dawned on me that it was Vile (not Zero or Dr. Light) who called X a worthless piece of scrap.

helmet_salvNow, I will retrieve a treasure from Christian cliché: the Helmet of Salvation. X’s helmet is a less than perfect example; its only use seems to breaking walls to find other components: its a necessity for the sake of what it obtains. The blurred generalities of Salvation inhere in us as “church-speak” before we know the uncanny fibers within. Only yesterday, I realized Salvation was bigger than theology, that it has a power in secular life that exists mostly unnoted. Whenever the worth of a person seems irretrievable but resurfaces, astoundingly, then Salvation has been at work. The Gospel was decidedly about works of Salvation – unmistakably in the story of the ‘Good Samaritan’, who stops to help an injured man when priests (fearing the touch of a dead-body) bypassed him. It was no accident that Jesus’ example character came from a different background (Samaritan) – we should not skate lightly over that. We are salvaged because whatever shapes us should not mitigate our worth in one-anothers’ eyes (let alone in our Deity’s); it’s necessary for what could be obtained, together.

My writers’ block would not break until I had accepted that Salvation mattered and that I deserved it. It can never be earned but it is always deserved, for everyone rendered ‘untouchable’ and for me, too. This is no sermon on Salvation but I can appreciate that the cycle of doubt and self-deprecation cannot end without saying “I’m worthy”, putting on the helmet,boots_peace and head-busting some blocks on my way to the rest of my armor. The ‘dash boots’ were always my favorite, as X jumped and skidded through virtual dangers on the television screen. As shoes for my feet, I put on whatever will make me ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. Not of perfection. Everything, in the service of peace. This peace cannot be the passive tranquility we associate with ‘pax’. This abstract is the extract of those boots, the essence of a nimbler but braver pursuit of nonviolent struggle. Early in the game, X clings to walls for safety but later he slides past heavily encumbered foes. That forward-leaning confidence in justice makes the shoes of peace. I laced my boots long ago…

breast_rightThe breast-place gives me pause. X’s armor makes him 50% less vulnerable but this capsule is not merely hidden: he must have a long, tedious battle with a heavily armored robot before Dr Light’s hologram message appears. Whatever righteousness is, it takes practice— but the word itself reveals even less than ‘Salvation’. On my chest I have a tattoo of an anchor, next to which is inscribed “…to seek justice and resist evil.” Those words bubbled to my lips that day, maybe from the vague memory of my commissioning. I rediscovered them in a baptismal liturgy… the words etched on my chest, lodged in my heart, came from somewhere and I admit that  I cannot find a better definition of righteousness than “to seek justice and resist evil,” consistent with a well-known passage from Micah…

God has told you, O mortal, what is good: and what does God require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8

The context of that passage has little to do with personal holiness; Micah is calling his society to rid itself of corruption. When I look at the mirror, I see a farce of a missionary and an insult to self-control but when I look back at my body of work, I submit to you, Micah’s words have fueled me from August 15th, 2011 up until the present day. Cross-my-heart: I have fastened the Belt of Truth around my waist, to the best of my understanding.

The Sword of the Spirit, or Plasma Cannon of Determination, is something more elusive than problematic. If I were a literalist, the answer would be staring me in the face: Paul said it was ‘the Word of God’. Texts can inspire but translations are problematic and eisegesis is inevitable. This time, I am departing from the common interpretation: I think we are talking about a quality of the Divine, the ‘Logos’*. Unfortunately, my inability to tap it precisely in writing is a reflection of my inability to tap that purposeful energy, that truly inspired and creative energy, in an instant or at will. Right now, I am still shedding the tiredness of changing homes so often. I am not a machine. What I said on February 15th, 2012, is worth repeating:

plasma_blaster_determinationThe key to X’s weapon-enhancer is that it must charge to full power – it is a waiting weapon. Speaking to groups [at Wi’am], I closed my eyes and remembered the sound of [him] powering-up that weapon. I used to charge it before I faced a boss, whether I needed it or not, to put myself at ease. “I’ve got this—thanks for the power-up, Spirit.” Discharged at the right time, it is super effective.

When I worry whether or not I will ever reach full power, I remind myself that I am still in a disorganized phase. It feels like I will never master that blend of waiting and pushing forward but that is an illusion. The seed of Fear is inconsistent with my experiences of rare, but real, Spirit-charged moments in my life. At just the right time, that uncanny, reinvigorating power sublimates upon me.  With time and determination, I will wash away all obstacles in torrents of energy and acquire a battery of tools with which to use that enhanced capacity.

—and now let us talk about The Shield, among other devices—

Part 4 is in the making.