Whale Guts on Monday

I hurtled a fallen tree trunk. Last I passed that way, I only vaulted the trunk but the crispness of the morning lashed at the feelings I was trying to tread– I wanted to leap. Whatever internal obstacles I milled on the loop of trail beyond escapes my memory, and I imagine myself hurtling the trunk again; later I juked around a puddle, going momentarily weightless. Far from a premier athlete (or model *scoff*) as I am, these moments emphasize the preciousness of my body, the vehicle. “I’m young and spry,” I thought. An iPod playlist of songs with strong drum-lines whispers of the recent “Black Panther” film soundtrack– a connection I welcome. Yet no run can last; I opened my car-door, lifted and slung a messenger bag over my shoulder. This is the first day in what I hope becomes a new pattern: returning to the pile of rocks overlooking the stream to engage in Silent Reflection. The weather in Maryland is indicative of how I am rather than how I want to be; the clouds are pewter sacks of frozen dead-weight invading April and leaking snow flurries. Each uplifting milestone of the past six months seems undone as Spring repeatedly approaches and flees. My thoughts darkened. Then, a flag of black and white waved, fluttered. I sat-up and watched for the red-cap and riveting bill: a pileated woodpecker. S/he flashed me again with a pair of checkered wings and perched on another trunk; s/he works; s/he probes; s/he chips; s/he continues. Shivers rocked my body: not enough outer clothes. An idea dawns in the lingering winter; I often bring my problems with me into the woods and seek resolution, restoration, yet it is also valuable and restorative to seek the woods — in running, in sitting, and watching for messengers. ‘Twas a miracle I awoke and went outdoors, even if I felt like a frozen microwave-shit-burrito.

Often, I maintain that being a musician is what keeps me alive. That is basically-true without being exclusively-true; I think that having a writer’s mind is the final safety net. This comes as a surprise for several reasons. My musicianship is more consistent and the feedback is both instantaneous and dramatic: I love to hear myself on a good day, which is stiff competition for even the peace of death. Then, my lips get tired. My skills on guitar and piano feel rudimentary; words can interfere with singing, likewise. If I did not play trumpet, I might have flicked the existential “off-switch” before now, though I really want a “reset-button”. Remember those? I would have jammed the point of a pen into a tiny hole in my skull to depress the red-button beneath and be reincarnated. …if I had a reset button. Instead, I am like a book partially read. All of my speculations about suicide ring pyrrhic; a good ending for my story seems many pages away. This is disappointing for an author wanting denouement– I got sick of myself as a protagonist. It is strange to refer to myself as “the author” when so much that is terrible in my story is not what I wanted to create but the antithesis. My agency feels meaningless. With even a moment of readers’ perspective, though, I can see that compelling narratives are marked by wonderful and terrible plot-points– my story is interesting. I felt a moment of curiosity about what happens to me next– paradoxically pesky and miraculous. The peace of final resolution was usurped when I wrested from the chrysalis of bed –instantly complained in my journal– and began a (procrastinated) e-mail to my ex. With so many plot-lines at play, so many loose-ends to be tied, no resonant ending is at hand.

The suggestion of agency (as I reread last night’s paragraph, after today’s run) reconnects me to an article I thought was irrelevant. The water is on and getting hot for a shower. The author describes how childhood trauma causes a “misfire” that hangs-over as depression in adulthood. Victims of abuse may find themselves at fault for horrors during childhood, believing they had agency; the alternative is to accept horrible moments happen at any time. As adults they assume a tint of blame, not relinquishing the sense of agency over pain. Articles like these can lead to isolation and confusion: I was not abused. My childhood environment was relatively stable; I “feel bad about feeling bad”. Yet as I climbed into the shower I lamented the dissolution of my relationship and the bad timing that caused its failure— there, something in my brain misfired and said “but it’s because of my inability to–“. Just as I lathered, I made the connection. My childhood home was stable but my parents did not love each other. I neither was– nor wanted to be– the child who “blamed” himself, yet I tried at many points to take responsibility for making things right. At age ten, I suggested a family game night that never got traction. At age twenty-two, I tried to share scholarship from the field of interpersonal communication. When things go wrong, I do hold myself responsible because I have not wanted to accept that bad things will continue to happen despite noble intentions and better execution. Realizing that I am not completely responsible is terrifying. I am not T’challa, with the position and power (agency!) to ensure. My mind drifted to experiences and analogies gained in Palestine but I reeled-it-in: my need to feel expert stems from assuming responsibility, clinging to a tainted agency. I needed to rinse-off. Epiphanies fix nothing but perhaps I won’t be prevented from uncovering tools I need to heal.

My ponderings need punctuated by noticing. Sitting across the table from a friend, I listened as she spoke words of reassurance that weren’t especially illuminating; yet I knew she cared and was sincere by noticing her eyes and smile. The woods was bristling with messengers as we took a walk through a park: a fox, a hawk, some deer I didn’t find special significance in, and a lucky clump of greenery growing in a stream. My childhood friend, who is far away in Montana, spoke words of reassurance and laughed heartily into the phone– I laughed with him. He said there were just too many good things to experience in this world and I accepted it because his unfailing levity and his oddball jokes are pieces of a ‘home’.

My major problem while attempting to write this is having too many touchstone moments I want to share, not overwhelming futility or a lack of ‘characters’ to mention. Futility hangs around my neck but my natural tendency is to swim seas of meaning– life from a writer’s eyes. Last Tuesday I arrived early for the 9 o’clock freebie-show at Washington Improvised Theater and, ambling leisurely from an upstairs bathroom toward a doorway, I met eyes with a man named Sebastian. We were both looking and open. That vulnerable moment of eye-contact turned into a deep conversation, from which I wish I could recall more details. He said he wants to reduce suffering, in life, first for himself and then for others. He wants to get into real-estate (and doesn’t like working regular hours) since spending a week in the Brazilian jungle that affected him significantly. He mentioned something about Paolo Coelho’s “The Alchemist”– once, a stranger gave me a copy of the book because they “sensed” I should read it. Sebastian said he’d seen my show the previous week, confusing me with a regular Harold performer–  the troupe “Commonwealth” welcomed players from the audience a week before, so he had seen me on stage indeed. Later, a friend from an improv-class I attended years ago checked on me– he’d seen some prior posts. That night I wanted to write something like this just to show progress… I felt significant… I glimpsed hope… it fades and returns like the teasing Spring…

Out of silence and fevered journaling, during Quaker Meeting, I arrived at an important realization: doing versus being is a false dichotomy. I might need to give that idea its own piece. All of the Internet gurus of mindfulness can take a seat– the tension is between accomplishing and engaging, nor is their relationship precisely antagonistic. Do we orient our attention to what we expect to accomplish or emphasize opportunities to engage, to connect to a process of living (whether doing or being) and keep that attention piqued? That is a whale of a thought to explore… I cannot accomplish ‘it’ in the space provided but I can begin. That raises this question: what do you readers think? Your engagement could fuel future reflections. Think about it.

I may more often ask myself “am I doing this to engage or to disengage?”, as well as wonder “has accomplishing something become more important than staying engaged?”, since engaged people do accomplish things and derive benefit from asking “what might I accomplish while engaged?”

There are characters and wisdom, yet, in the cluttered front room of the nominal barbershop where I jam with other blues people on Saturdays. Someone asked Skip “how are you?” and he replied, “In some aspects, I’m doing great,” and proceeded to cherry-pick aspects in which he’s doing well. It seemed credible because he’s incredible on mandolin and guitar; I’ve already started recycling his answer, naming music as a positive aspect. When I reflected on my trajectory with trumpet I discovered, indeed, I became more oriented to engaging than accomplishing. That enabled me to practice in ways that (so gradually) improved me. I rediscovered a Miles Davis songbook yesterday– I purchased it in college before my shift. Depression gnawed on me sometimes but I didn’t recognize it, back then, so I constantly attempted feats to “break the spell”. Playing Miles Davis melodies note-for-note would be quite an accomplishment. I never got past the first line of the first song; I buried the book in a folder and tried to forget. Looking at it yesterday I thought, “well, the first song was over-my-head– and what did I want from it, anyway?” I thumbed through until I saw a piece called “Tune-up”, in an easier range. I just sight-read straight through it, doubling back on mistakes without pausing to judge myself. It was like the woods and I was running through it. I tried to notice how Miles phrased the solo. What I wanted was to become a more flexible soloist via his influence, not prove I could play like Miles Davis. Importantly, I put the song away after I finished sight-reading it because that was enough for one day. ‘This music’ or ‘that music’ is something to chew and digest, to engage. There must be a similar piece of wisdom regarding books and writing, right? And improv. And… and…

A while ago I read a book about engaging with spiritual darkness. I only retain one, glittering shard of insight: there is meaning and value in engaging our darkness, not only for ourselves but the communities we will touch. I felt a descent happening as last Autumn decayed but I did not fathom it would cause so much loss: my finances, my apartment, my partner, my mother, and (now) nearly forfeiting my life. There is more to my backstory than “1562 Pennies Later…” and even “The Great Fortune Cookie Spiral” can possibly represent. My car crash in Michigan became a symbol of the beginning of whatever phenomenon is currently unfinished, demanding to be engaged (I only wished it could be the beginning of endings). Talking about the abject depths of my mental health ebbs slightly, now, because I suspect its depths are bounded by limitations of breadth. Joy is always at risk of calamity so misery, I hope, is vulnerable to strokes of luck– if I stay engaged. After all, I hadn’t stumbled upon SIGNIFICANT happiness I wouldn’t be hurting to such an extreme.

A harmonica and bones player at jam told me, “–if a whale has swallowed you up, don’t worry about it for too long. It’s going to spit you up somewhere better eventually.” The Biblical referent is the prophet Jonah but I think the allusion distracts rather than adds. Another referent might be the story of Pinnochio (think of the Disney movie– and “Finding Nemo” too?). Pinnochio does reach his goal of being ‘real’ but not without going through a whale’s guts. He gets lost on his way to something noble– unlike Jonah, who tries fleeing to an easier destination and is caught. Either way, it is a dark and putrid stage. I fear that some of our lives are just chucked from one whale’s guts to another’s; to plumb the depths of that, read “Turtles all the Way Down” by John Green. I think John would agree, nevertheless, that we keep living to appreciate the time we spend regurgitated… on a beach, somewhere, happy to be out of the dark for however long we can be.

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Red Car versus Cold Blues

“This is it,” I whispered as my 2005 Pontiac Sunfire lost traction, sledding past the edge of the sloping curve, down a snow-swamped bank, and into an inescapable pocket next to a stump. My luck made itself known immediately: an officer from the county jail found me and let my chat with him in his truck. I was one county away from home after a half-day’s drive from Washington DC, I explained, and once I got into South-west Michigan I decided to take country roads so I could be in from the blizzard faster. Officer John and I discussed life transitions and my employment situation; I accepted what had happened, waiting there for my stepfather and trusting that all would be well. I was impressed with my own calm. The journey had already changed my perspective in small ways — listening to pop music, realizing what was important to me back in Maryland, convincing myself that my time in Michigan would be formative. It is becoming formative but, believe me, losing my car off the side of the road has not been the greatest challenge. The tow-truck driver treated us terribly the next morning, due to a miscommunication between county and state police about the status of the vehicle, but even that seems like a funny anecdote now.

Unemployed and in debt, I returned at the suggestion of my mother and stepfather, for no more than eight weeks, to help them with my grandmother and earn some money to pay my back-rent. I thought it might be a simple respite from feeling stuck. I did not realize how deep my rut in Maryland has really been… nor did I fully appreciate how it was affecting someone else until… …mind if I skip around a little? This is going to be gloriously POORLY written because I just need to—

* * *

Fiona at camp, 2009

I named her Fiona Sunfire. One day in April my paternal grandparents shocked me with the gift of a key-fob… with a key in it. They walked me, in a half-stunned state, into the driveway to meet a red compact with gorgeous lines (I don’t care what anyone else thinks about Pontiacs or Sunfires– I was elated). Fiona didn’t make my life instantly better; I was finishing my undergraduate studies and unsure how to find employment. A then-girlfriend (AC) invited me to work with her at the summer camp where we had met– by awful coincidence my parents split-up and my maternal grandfather died in the same weekend. Just like that, I was climbing into Fiona Sunfire to find a space of peace, a space I could control, and a means of going forward. Undercurrents of emotion that had laid dormant or else stifled during college came to the surface like geysers. One relationship ended while another began; my circle for friends became different, smaller; I was angry at my father for initiating the divorce and as for my mother– nothing I said seemed to make a difference to her but… …gradually, I found an abandoned cabin on camp grounds where I could scream, sing, pray. All of the nameless angst seemed to suddenly have labels. Two years later, I changed all the labels and moved out of the country. While Fiona sat in a garage on the farm in Michigan, I was angry with the apartheid regime in Israel. In Washington, the feelings followed even as the attached issues continued to change. I notice, as I reflect, the anger faded into irritability, that into anxiety, and sometimes that would wear away to reveal… …nope. For a long time I went to therapy and kept-up the story: there were irritations, injustices, and worries. I gave all of my feelings the same level of dignity, assigning them real-life causes and explanations. I was tentative to suspect what I suspect, now… …or perhaps I suspected but refused to indict. Is the effect the same?

* * *

My friend Megan poses in Charlotte, NC

I once loaded Fiona and drove overnight to visit my friends in Charlotte. I knew my mood was slipping and I believed that seeing friendly faces in a different climate would make the difference; I wanted a quick fix. Quickly, I hustled through the snowy night, across the plains of Ohio, and into the mountains of West Virginia. Then, Fiona had siped tires (tiny grooves cut into the treads for better ice-traction). Despite the falling snow, I sped through the mountains and into Virginia and North Carolina at speeds in excess of 70 mph, passing other cars with confidence and glee. The snowy weather moved even faster. A few friends makes some difference but the glum pall lingered even there. It seemed vanquished in the Palestinian summer, six months later, but at a year-to-date from my Charlotte trip it was raining in Bethlehem, and in Ireland, and it might as well have been dark in Amman by the time I was there… alone with no orders to busy myself with nor means of going forward…

* * *

It gets worse, first. Last May I had a terribly job and a wonderful girlfriend. I lost the former. My car became my greatest financial asset, something assured and safe. It was the vehicle of our vacation, my means of shuttling back and forth to her home, to Quaker meetings, and would-be interviews — there were few. The labels and explanations became her stalker, her ex, my former supervisor, our current president, myself… …this part is hard to explain. I thought I had outrun decline, at last. Fiona carried me out of the house where my room was too small into a beautiful apartment that cost much more. Fiona carried me back to somewhere every day/night I wanted. The apartment became the symbol of my tunnel-vision for the past several months. As long as I could stay there, I thought everything would be okay. Even as the spaces of that apartment became haunted with — intrusive thoughts. The disappointment seemed to ferment and distill into bitter thoughts. To go into detail is painful. A steady trickle of intrusive, bitter ideas had followed me since I first packed Fiona for camp, they born from tensions in college that, themselves, I had always found ways to catalog and explain. My trickle became a stream, then a river. It overflowed its banks — I stayed two months extra in my apartment without paying, convinced that a job break-through would become the dam. Becoming displaced seemed like the worst possible thing. At the same time, I was apprehensive to share how dire my situation was becoming — except with my girlfriend. I would explain further but I think I should just repeat: my girlfriend was fully aware of the state I was gradually working myself into but the rest of my network remained largely un-activated — I imagined waiting until my breakthrough, to break the good news that I was going to be okay, that I had overcome the adversity of my own power, that I had worth, that I should be loved by… … …me? Meanwhile, she has way too much on her plate already…

* * *

The 1970 Stingray I got to TOUCH under the hood.

When we finally got her away from the tow-truck driver, Fiona had a bad case of the shakes. I recognized the end of an era creeping upon me. I was ready to accept. Yet what I surmised and what I felt were not the same. Soon, Fiona was in the auto and boat shop with my stepfather and his cohorts. We gleaned the snow and grit out of her undercarriage and the shaking ceased. I learned to change the oil and the oil filter, watched a broken headlight repaired, and worked with Mike and Paul to secure my loosened muffler. Fiona was going to be okay but I was not.

For a while, the carpenter with whom I was supposed to work was out of contact — but he called and I worked with him this week. That was not the problem. In the mean time I spent some time looking after my 94 year old grandmother; she is increasingly frail and confused– but that is not the problem, either. I went to work with my stepfather in the car and boat shop many of these days but that is definitely not the problem. His coworkers have been downright sweet and supportive to me; Paul let me help him check fluids on a 1970 Corvette Stingray. For just a moment I sat in the driver’s seat to pop the hood… but that doesn’t make it all better.

The sinking feelings became heavier and heavier — I am having some right now. I felt the cold, the distance. Text messages are not enough. Sitting next the lamp, reading to distract myself, I couldn’t stop checking. Most days are overcast like dull nickel and just as dark, the temperatures often below… below…
I imagine myself walking down the beach at lake Michigan. I imagine myself walking onto the pier. I imagine the end is icy, that there might be ice going out for yards, that there is a lapping edge… “If THAT happens, then…” and etc. and etc. I know it’s toxic but. I know but what will I do? I don’t know what to do. It’s dark. If something good happens, then. Is she…? We’re okay? I know I should be doing. Which? I can’t decide. I just want. If THAT happens. What’s? Is something wrong over there? What’s wrong with? Me? The Lake. That would work. Every thing, all of it, would finally.
These thoughts hearken-back to others had throughout the Autumn.  I said to her once “I wish I was dead,” and I’ve regretted it ever since. That should have been when I called the therapist but I was habituated to the morbidity in my thoughts.
“Maybe I’ll… maybe I’ll” “Staying the course, quit panicking…” “I need to check, I need to stay close with her…” “Maybe I’ll drive back, since Fio–” “The Lake, it’s cold enough, if THAT happens on top of everything else–” “Don’t let any of this show… you can’t show. Don’t talk about it. Just. I should be doing some–” “Maybe we’re okay–” “I’m not okay but–” “But the Lake is cold enough if–” “Don’t become a self-fulfilling prophesy–” “Why? Whywhywhywhywhywhywhy” “Don’t let anyone see…..”

One morning I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit washing over me like waves on a shore; I cried and understood it as a reassurance. I ought to know by now that God is the sort of parent that pats me most tenderly right before an even greater level of pain and difficulty. Don’t stop reading– come all the way to the end with me.

Finally, the power-cord to my computer died. Let me take a deep breath instead of explaining my luck with electronics. As soon as the power-cord died, I decided that what I was doing was not working. I decided I needed help. It was prescient of me. The next day I had a conversation I had been dreading and– it was private. Nothing is completely under water. There are reservations. There is the need for space. There is… more passive voice to describe without giving details. How much is too much to say? I understood; I found clarity. The anxiety issues are becoming more clear in hindsight. I feared to see them because the way forward is not … my apartment. I wish it were daylight when I am writing this. Where is daylight? How am I going to prove… What am I doing?  Not jumping into a cold lake. Never. That line of thinking and all similar are now flagged as invaders. They cannot be reconciled, or ‘solved’ — they must be dismissed. Not by ignoring. We’re going to. I promise there is hope. The cycle is going to end, even if THAT happens. If THAT happens, I’m still going to hang-in-there. I’m never going to threaten The Lake to try to prevent THAT; that’s not what I want! I want to LOVE! I want to be here to show support.

What am I doing?

* * *

I have been taking action ever since. It’s mostly because I love her, I can’t lie; I couldn’t get started down this path any other way– not with my history. Someone had to love me as the adult I am, not get hungover on loving me for the child I was. As the support network comes alive, they say the things they should say, things that are correct but not resonant. I am supposed to focus on taking care of myself. Something people have difficulty understanding is that my self-respect and self-love are not the same; that conceptual difference escapes most people. Someone said “but they go hand-in-hand” to which I said “yes, and one of them is limping.” My self-respect is what I believe about my capabilities and the ideals I should represent– it’s high. Self-love is more nuanced. For the first time, I am willing to entertain that getting treatment is not a temporary course to correct something detrimental in my experience but a life-long course to do whatever it takes to be functional — to love myself and others as best as I can. In the former case, medicine seems like something to be avoided because it introduces variables that could prolong. The latter accepts that this struggle is already prolonged –it denies the narrative I’ve told myself: that I have successive, separate struggles. All struggles are one because she loved me for as long as she did– because she said she still does, despite reservations. Inherent is a threatening uncertainty but a basic truth remains: somebody loved me, finally! Wonderful! Terrible! Wonderful because this cycle of labels and escapes and and and would continue but now it is going to end. Terrible because I might have come to this point too late to save the love that made it possible? Too late to become strong and return that love twelve-fold? It would be such a shame and I won’t let that happen without putting forth the best effort…

I am doing things…but I will not do them alone. This is the time to contact everyone I was shy to ask for assistance. I’m trying not to judge myself anymore as I spit all of this out. I was so afraid to discover that there wasn’t any hope at all and boxed myself into that apartment. Yet. Yet there was always this will to go forward, ever since I first put Fiona into gear. I remember a counselor I saw for just eight weeks, named Lennox Forester; he had the aura of a church-uncle but I’ll never forget his answer to my assertion that ‘nothing had worked yet’ — “you haven’t given-up yet, though…” he said, smiling at me. Some might call my elevated self-respect ‘pride’ but it also does not allow me to ever fully despair. When my thoughts about Lake Michigan became a near-plan for suicide, I made even more explicit plans to see my cousin in North Carolina if “THAT” happened… even if I had to repeat my feat with Fiona, driving 70+ through the mountains in the winter. A major source of hope is actually tangled-up in my bad behavior. All of my coping mechanisms, misleading categorizations, and other not-quite-enough efforts… all of that is evidence of my determination to overcome, even when my understanding of “what will I do?” was less clear. I am actually just as strong as I always wanted to be– I just have a greater handicap than I ever wanted to realize. I can be worthy of love (of self-love?)… I can get where I need to be, I’ve always had the WILL. I need help with direction and, yes, there is help…

I called my old therapist and set an appointment for two weeks from now. Fiona and I are running into the sunrise together — we’re stopping to see good friends in Pennsylvania (arranged). My Quaker Meeting is creating a support committee that will help me discern what my next steps should be. When I lost my apartment, I was welcomed into the home of a former classmate… who works in my career field. He told me to “hang-in-there”. A friend from college: “hang-in-there”. A close mutual friend of my girlfriend and I: “hang-in-there”. Mike and Paul in the auto-garage: “hang-in-there”. Old friends on the telephone, with whom I haven’t spoken in months, say “hang-in-there”. I got notification about a possible interview, I told myself “hang-in-there”.

Pessimistic thoughts. Impatient thoughts. Angry thoughts. Fatal thoughts. Jealous thoughts. Prejudiced thoughts. Self-righteous thoughts. Tired and discouraged thoughts, panicked thoughts: I told them all “Well, that’s not helping.” I’m talking back to them — like they are coming from somewhere else. They are not coming from my core-intentions. They were never coming from my core intentions. That’s why I was always of ‘two-minds’ about my girlfriend’s children or her ex or whatever thing… this anxious streak has trouble with uncertainty but I, me, myself, JD, am a loving person. I intend love, strength, and support. I’m going to talk back to these errant thoughts with a new confidence. I used to discuss with them as if they were part of me but not I am going to shout-them-down because they are not ‘me’. They are gliches, bad-wiring. I am a noble machine with a few cross-threads and crossed-wires… I’m not going to the junkyard, I’m a classic. I need T L C from my communities…

 

This turned from a story into a long vent. A vent that I needed. There is so much more……….

This piece ought to end with some neat piece of information. Over two years ago my sister met a man at a costume party in Fort Wayne, IN hosted by mutual friends. They dated long-distance. I met the guy several times and thought he was okay — yet I was reluctant to put much ‘heart’ into getting to know him. I knew my sister loved him but the distance in their relationship made me wonder if they would last. He and I finally talked… about relationships, anxiety, depression, and the processes involved. He talked about feeling like he was ‘smart’ and supposed to “think his way out of it” — Me Too. He shared about his reluctance to talk about it or get any attention for his struggles because… people would laugh? He didn’t deserve the attention? — Me Too. We both took years. Both of us, each of us, sunk years into trying to attach whatever-it-is to outside reasons, to circumstances or other people. Though I’ve spoken with many people since THAT-almost-happened, this conversation was the most comforting of all. He understood so well — and he could be my brother-in-law. It was uncanny how relieved it felt to finally connect to him; I felt a little pang of resistance at the beginning but I let it go. That little pang of resistance is something I’m learning to let go, even though it didn’t appear to be related to the BIG aches. There are many small appendages to ‘this’ … and none of them quite belong but all of them require more patience, more love, from me. Love for me from myself for the sake of addressing these ‘impulses’ that are not welcome in myself. Not anymore. Even if THAT happens and no one loves me again, I’m not letting the love I experienced go entirely to waste.

Even if Fiona breaks-down (she will)… I suppose I don’t need her to run forever because I have stopped running forever.

Laura Returns Again

Laura on the Lake

She is happy, now,

in my dream by the lake.

I see her cascading chocolate

hair and citrine eyes set

deeply in grinning cheeks,

soft cheeks I don’t quite

kiss. I don’t quite embrace

her; she plays in the shallows

with my Aunt’s granddaughters—

who did not exist, then—

near what was Grams’ house before

she became only impressions too.

 

The sun doesn’t need to shine

because light comes from every cloud:

a day overcast with contentment

bottled in a night’s fitful reverie.

I cut my finger. I go inside the

labyrinthine house, corrupted by

my dreaming mind. Grams’ living

room, family room, dining room

are (“Grams?”)

all lost in a knot of hallways

leading to bathroom cupboards bereft

of bandages. Gauzy visions are,

ironically, (“Grams?”)

sans gauze: nothing to wrap around

my unconscious wound. Winding back

out of the ruins, I look for her

again. Laura is gone. She evaporated

when the sense-making of my brain

found the classic error. The class

error I made in high school: putting

her where I wanted her to belong,

at my grandmother’s house with my Dad’s

family. She only smiles in my dreams,

(she only smiled thusly in my dreams?)

then obliterates as my back turns.

I emerge as the sun parts the clouds

and lucidity dawns. Looking in

all directions, I now see

only my Aunt and her family, only

the emotionally and financially secure.

 

I know I am dreaming; yet I try to

conjure her by calling and calling

her name at the growing light

at the end of the pier. I recall her

but she does not reappear, no matter

how I will it. I promised she would

belong with me forever. My promise

surfaces from the long-gone lake,

is shuttered in the long-gone rooms,

of houses sold to strangers, and never

regains the flavor of darkened backstage

lips nor of flesh parked on country-lanes.

 

Teenage sweetheart, tempestuous:

she loved boat-rides and singing but

also storms, werewolf stories, and

dark woods by her step-father’s modular

home. I dreamed escape, upward mobility,

and places where she and I belonged

together. There she is,

in dreams, stripped of her inherent potent-

tragedies, her rat-bite temper, the

geysers of frustration and vivid,

justified sadness: inherited despair.

 

Piers and tears both became rivers; Laura

reached the edge of youth and uncovered

the mouth of her chasm, her visage

a photo just before the fall into an abyss,

while I meandered, a decade later

into an ocean, and another ocean–

we are both long-gone from that lake…

but I kept beckoning

her until awakening.

* * *

In the latest dream, Laura and I enter our home together after an apparent lapse in our relationship. She and I started dating when we were each fifteen though a year apart in school; we stayed close for almost eighteen months, blew-apart just before my senior year, then relapsed just after I turned eighteen. Some limbic memory of mine retains the possibility that Laura and I are on hiatus. That degree of Romeo & Juliet Effect must carry such hidden properties, like elicit drugs leaching from fattened nooks in the body during a metabolic shift. My step-father asks me to help him move a Chevy Nova, Laura’s step-father drag-raced a Nova fifteen years ago, and so yesterday’s adventure hits my brain-nooks like a seismic wave. Laura and I are finally adults; other people’s fears and opinions are irrelevant. My belief and vision of this were so deeply and tightly held that impressions remain, like the impressions of glaciers remain as lakes to this day. Each of us was unhappy in Cassopolis, yet if we could just be anywhere else together, free of the aura of poverty that threatened my family and choked hers, then we might both be happy. In a quasi-paternalistic way, I held myself responsible for ensuring that her like would get better. I took it too much for granted that mine would be secured.

Of course, I wouldn’t be in Michigan helping my step-father move cars and boats if my future were secured. The only other woman I dream about is my current girlfriend: N. Interestingly, if someone had speculated what the love of my life might ‘be’ like when I was fourteen, before Laura, they might describe someone like N: a scientist (botanist) and biology teacher, who happens to be an older woman with two artistic daughters. Laura loved singing and the theater, like me, but she was dyslexic, emotionally erratic, and very into horror movies. I loved her with the heat of a brand-new furnace. Laura did love to hike with me, indeed, and N is quite the hiker herself. My longest love, AC, was an avid hiker but I must be at peace with her memory; two years together, in the afterglow of a camp-counselor romance, yet AC never revisits me in dreams. K hasn’t since we apologized to each other. A, not even when we were dating (sorry) and I laughed at Ashley E. in her last appearance. Naturally, N is in my dreams– shepherding her kids, removing her bra under her shirt, and even cavorting with another woman (an insecurity of mine that we are not going to explore) — she is current and complete: my present. For Laura to appear at intervals forever, but not other exes, is as intriguing as it is… beautiful. Why my first romance? Primacy Effect? Or something unresolved…

The last I heard about Laura, she was rumored to have checked into a psych ward — she had a young child by then. She sent me a message when we were both nineteen that she was engaged and already pregnant but reliable sources told me the man jilted her. By then, my rescue fantasies had lost all of their romance and become brotherly. Moreover, K and Ashley made better ‘villains’ to dwell upon in my lonely years (unfairly and fairly, respectively) — Laura became a fond remembrance coupled with a sigh: was she okay? Is she alive? I will never know. Awake, I am not certain I ever want to know.

Yet, as I said, the Romeo & Juliet Effect was most powerful with her. I punched my father in the face when he forbid me to date her again. In hindsight, we should have JUST IGNORED each other but my teenage angst, the years of being infantilized, still clung to my eighteen-year-old ribs and my father mistook me for the still-green seventeen-year-old that had lived in his home earlier. I punched his left temple so hard it wrecked the frame of his glasses. Fully expecting a boxing match, I prepared the seeds of vicious jabs saved over years — and my superior footwork— for fertile testing grounds*. I digress: I went to greater lengths for her. Far from the relaxed hours spent drinking wine and watching bad television with AC, Laura and I were always fighting for pockets where we could express our passion. I caused controversy with my Aunt when I brought Laura to a family gathering without asking. School administrators were hot-and-bothered by our displays of affection. Even my band-director chaffed me about rubbing against my girlfriend while in uniform. From every angle, someone older was trying to pry us apart while I gradually steeled my resolve to be committed, to rescue her and empower myself. The skeleton of Romeo & Juliet Effect is psychological reactance, which is people’s resistance to being commanded. Its flesh is passion, our unrequited. She and I had a romance filled with longing, without consummation. The final step was always in the future, unrealized but expected as if inevitable, ultimately right. Seriously.

This morning I discerned that this all comes from my vision, not my memories. Laura is a maraschino-cherry version of herself in dreams, drained of all the tart notes that made her distinct and replaced with only syrup. She always appears as her best self– unlike N, who can appear as any of her facets. Laura is always fully clothed, never raises her voice, and she loves me with a steady calm. Inside of our home together, I started to wonder how we were going to pay our rent. I knew I needed to get a job. I started to think about my Masters degree, then anachronistically about when Laura and I should wed: at twenty or twenty-one? Neurons short-circuited. I am thirty-one; I’ve already been away to East Lansing, later to Washington–
–now my brain flies me to Maryland–

–then I am awaking in Michigan, alone–

The rest only matters in poetry.

*To my surprise, he wrestled me to the ground. To this day, he may mistakenly believe that he over-powered me but that was actually my golden opportunity. His arms were too high, protecting his face. That was the moment for body-shots. I took a deep breath and readied. I knew what came next: addle his soft mid-drift. I was going to pummel his viscera and show him how strong I was, strong enough to hurt him. I was grown! I could force my will upon his body! My will faltered when I recognized: Dad hadn’t thrown a punch. He made no additional moves, nothing to indicate that he wanted anything other than to stop me from punching his face again. The prospect of body-shots reeked of something malignant, something alien and evil, when I sensed that my father hoped the physical part was already over. The element of surprise dissolved and what surfaced instead surprised me: we started to talk. I wrote a whole piece on it which was never ready to be posted…

Bog Flowers, Nut Armor, and the Paradox of Precocity

Cattail in swamp foregroundSeeds germinated. Burial makes life possible two-thousand years later: bogged-resurrection, the wait that moves life forward. Ending and beginning are impossible as opposites before they have fused together in one moment. Something is dissolving in me: let me set the scene…

My dearest is a botany teacher; I will call her Apricot from now on. She suggested we go to the Kennilworth Aquatic Gardens, here in Washington, DC. Look East of the Anacostia on a map to find them, nowhere near the National Mall nor the affluence of the Northwest quadrant. Tucked near marshes that bear a vague sheen of pollution is a series of submerged beds brimming with exotic plants. We have a quirky, sweet love — nerdy, too. She peers knowingly into the pores and gills of capsized mushrooms. We share a compulsive curiosity for the aboriginal world and the interwoven ribbon of human culture. She relishes books but her PhD is in Plant Pathology. I hungrily read pop-science articles but my BA is in English, my MA in International Education. Accidentally, we studied to be partners: the consummate biologist and the nascent intellectual — the writer to be.

Sacred Lotuses, dozens of themApricot and I prowled from the garden gate to the marsh boardwalks behind, among hundreds of ‘sacred lotuses’. They might have seemed common to me by morning’s end if not for their enormous, pale-green leaves and quinceañera-pink blossoms. Yet as we prepared to leave we noticed an ancient jewel in a murky bathtub. An unburied treasure resides in the concrete basin behind the green-house: lotuses cultivated from seeds that were 2000 years old. The revelation surprised me less than it impressed me but, that morning, I had not fathomed the depths of its significance.

An opening blossom next to a seasoned seed podShe read an autobiography by respected female scientist Hope Jahren, a fellow plant-lover. It is called “Lab Girl” and Apricot regaled me of a part from the middle, one long weekend. I considered the book ‘spoiled’ but more than a month later she insisted I should read it. I am simultaneously nibbling the posthumously published “Letters from the Earth (Mark Twain writing in the voice of Satan), taking regular doses of “Plain Living: A Quaker Path to Simplicity”, and big gulps from a book of Thomas Merton excerpts (”Echoing Silence”). Each is thought-provoking but, one long weekend, I started Jahren’s book in hungry need of a story to follow.

Lotus seed-podsWhen I told Apricot excitedly about the third chapter — the one about seeds — it was elementary to her. She is a plant scientist: she enjoyed connecting to the author in the discipline they both love. She knew seeds were alive all along… all along. I cried, of course, because I connected to the stories of seeds! The idea that an embryo was already alive, already waiting, waiting for just one chance to grow, still alive when the muck rises (the decades too), ready to split safety asunder and begin when the conditions are right — it all seemed an epiphany to me. The lotus pods sank into Chinese peat bogs and neither died nor flourished for millennia: they waited. It should not have been surprising yet I was deeply impressed. I thought about armor-clad black walnuts — and the jacket of bitter green material around their nuts, too. Miraculously, the walnut embryo can stay alive and suspend its arboreal ambitions until that thick, pungent ball of impossibility finally wears away. Apricot nodded and smiled over her tea, adding, “it can travel a long way, too.”

A large, glistening dew-drop on a leaf“This tiny seed had stubbornly kept up the hope of its own future while entire human civilizations rose and fell. …I wonder where it is right now,” Jahren muses. I saw its contemporaries well into their growth, their glorious residency in the concrete basin at the Kennilworth Gardens. “Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.”

Giant amazonian lily-padsI told Apricot, “whatever it is I’ve been desiring, I’m going to have to let it go,” in so many words, to favor germinating as myself — primarily a writer. My seed-coat could be made of precocity. As a child I was possessed with not only curiosity and originality but a pernicious precocity. I really thought my place at the front of the parade was assured and I would adapt and excel quickly at each juncture of my vocation. Instead of accepting short-falls as lessons from experiment and exercise, I felt them as holes missing from my self. Precocity’s opioid is the delusion of an instant opus, a redeeming work with no basis in trial. In lieu of excellence I dreamed of significance, a budding desire to play my role in global society. I attempted to cultivate bulbs of justice or else gild my own suffering, trying to hammer the shape of my own significance onto the surface of the pervading Internet. As I scrolled I became both partner and thrall to the addictive tapestries of “new media” and cocooned myself there, with the masses. I could not forge myself faster into something greater (precocious) but I ache to create meaning, still. Still, I am alive inside. The shells of my dissatisfied adolescence are not predictive of my deeper essence; the inner-child and the nascent elder are continuous (weirdly eternal!) and tend to muse rather than accomplish, to complicate as much as resolve — qualities that create existential drag but also eddies of provocative writing. I can accept the long processes of growth and discovery, if my protective coat of precocity dissolves in the promise of generative praxis.

'Impressionist' photo of a lily-pondMillions perish in a season, yet thousands of embryos retain viability, waiting for the right conditions to make one (only one) attempt to grow or perish. The paradox of the seed-coat holds me in suspense. Seeds get kicked to sunnier places, survive being eaten, float from coast to island — or wait on their parent tree until a raging fire melts the seal on their cone. The lotus’ coat entombed them in the bog — intact. Yet a seed might lose viability before its chance: split open on pavement, shat into a sewer, sunken in sediment to be fossilized, or imprisoned in cones on Mackinac Island where brush-fires are quenched by human authorities. So goes, also, my viability as an artist. Just over a year ago, a gardener about sixteen years older than me invited me to the U.S. Botanic Gardens to check-out an enormous corpse flower. To love and be loved mutually is a liberating condition. All of my gushing is distilled to one sentence: my ‘sweet apricot’ is the fire that opens my cone and, after this love, the cone cannot be resealed. Rather than patching the holes in myself, I sense they are necessary for my destiny to unfurl. My pungent, overwrought shell is cracking and the loam enveloping me is warm and wet. This soil is acceptable and my shoots and roots declare that emergence is NOW.

“Yes, we have to learn to write disciplined prose. We have to write poems that are “Poems”. But that is a relatively unprofitable and secondary concern compared with the duty of first writing nonsense. We have to learn the knack of free-association, to let loose what is hidden in our depths, to expand rather than to condense prematurely. Rather than making an intellectual point and then devising a form to express it, we need rather to release the face that is sweating under the mask and let it sweat out in the open for a change, even though nobody else gives it a prize for special beauty or significance.”

-Thomas Merton, “Why Alienation is for Everyone”, 1968
(emphasis mine)

'Apricot' stands on the boardwalk

Love wears a purple rain-jacket and walks with me on misty mornings.

Like all towering trees, I will begin in near insignificance and make sugars in the shadows. The canopy is far away. As Hope Jahren indicates later in her book, some lucky little trees have the benefit of being in symbiosis (with fungi). Someone established is nestled close to me, sharing in the journey upward.

Wrestling the Anchor: Nautical Impressions

I wear an anchor pendant. Unhoused neighbors, in uncanny encounters, recognize it as a sign of faith, at times, and indicate it when they ask for donations. There is a subtle lift to being recognized for what I am despite not being sure what composes me, or how to express it — the nebulous, shifting bounds of this spirituality. When a classmate inquired about the anchor’s meaning, I knew it was time to revisit reflections from the first two summers after I graduated from Michigan State…

Anchor pendant & grandpa's locker

My anchor pendant pictured atop my grandfather’s army/air-force foot-locker.

My father had decamped. In the wake of my grandfather’s death, I rushed into his space to become man-of-the-house. I literally filled grandpa’s shoes: laced their tiny riggings, sailed through fields and woods of (now) grandma’s farm. I never ‘filled his shoes’ in the idiomatic sense because my mother needed none other than her departed father; a son was not enough. I could never channel grandpa’s voice but the impetus to speak his words hung limp on those shoes, while they dangled from my feet, as I swayed on the wooden seat of an old swing and looked into the sky: empty but for the merest wisps.

Green fields in summerThat day was so sunny, so filled with light, that shapes lingered on my retinas, like watercolor paintings on my closed eyelids. Faithful, faith-filled meditations tinted those weeks. To describe myself as strictly ‘Christian’ (now) would mislead readers but many ‘spiritual soundings’ in my life emerge from fragments embedded during my nominally Christian past. I had counseled at church camp, that summer, and afterward I meditated on a Pauline list of virtues called “fruits of the spirit”: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, & Self-Control. Far from sea, and an hour from a Great Lake, I shut my eyes and submerged in the trough of scents between gentle swells of hill. Love became the ubiquitous fragrance of sun-warmed hay, Joy the whiff of fabric softener from between the buttons of my shirt, and then Peace… (swaying…)

…like a pencil rubbing of a sunken ship’s bell, the archetype of an anchor bloomed in diffuse shades. I rubbed gently against ‘Peace’. Its impression came into focus and resolved into the hooking flukes, long shank, and cross-like stock of a sea-anchor. Swinging (swaying) at the ends two rusted chains, I closed my eyes and imagined sinking, sinking (swaying) to the sandy bottom: Peace. I was dating a lady who graduated from an obscure, Christian school called “Hope College” and their logo is an anchor. My youthful brain twisted the apparition into a kind of endorsement for that relationship, for an idea of ‘Hope’ that included her. It was more endearing than foolish: I wanted to build a foundation in Michigan with her. I wanted to be a man like my grandfather was or like I imagined my father should have been; swimming (swaying) between their dual-departures, I seized an idea of myself as strong.

Sun setting over a light-house on Lake MichiganI think too seldom about our red-flag ‘invitation’ from the Muskegon park authorities. She and I went to the beach, there, besieged by high-winds and semi-dangerous waves flung against the shore by Lake Michigan. In the chaos, once feeble eddies surged. Undercurrents, feelings, all manner of things that are stifled under the scrutiny of the sun were uncoiled like giant pythons. Despite more ‘suitable’ and dapper attempts to be attractive, when last I succeeded at romance it was as a half-naked, half-bearded outdoorsman following a woman into The Seething Lake. She wanted to swim. We were up to our wastes in cold, sloshing, foamy water as we laughed and charged through the surf. The rocking of the lake bent our knees, made us falter and fall — laughing. As we went deeper, she held onto me as the waves pawed at us (swaying) and I dug my feet into the sand, hard, to keep her from being washed away. I was an anchor. She held me tight. So tight.

The Lake, A field, A swing-setBut she was a fair-weather companion. Her behavior and god changed as the surf rose. Her Faith foundations were made from perfect, yet impossible, blocks. I am made of glacial till, myself, like the almost-round (but-never-quite-so) fieldstones unearthed by grandpa’s disc-plow each spring. I could not be so hewn, could not have perfect edges, and it did not matter to her the strength of my material, only that my life had shaped me imperfectly. Wave after wave filled my mental shadow-box with shards of calamity: another dying grandfather, a breached apartment, more family afflicted with cancer, and the unsteady employment many faced in the recession. In the midst of such frustration, Western Christian culture’s heavenward rhetoric could not buoy me, nor salvage our romance. The god I was trying so hard to love and trust became a nasty side-effect from a drug that never worked. This god was made of sugar-pill, cheap-ass, self-help books that my ex-girlfriend read — where was the real god? Was there ever one? The universe should have issued a recall.

I often remember the day she left my neighborhood for the last time, the scene so sublime. Her green Jeep crested my hill in Grand Rapids Michigan engulfed by the setting sun, like a canoe disappearing into a golden mist just before the waterfall; I never saw her again. I sprayed those books with old mosquito repellent and lit them like a ritual sacrifice. In the ashes of depression, I found a stillness.

Deep, dark, almost still waters... The anchor I saw was Peace, not Hope. Peace is meant to nestle into my hull — my deepest self — and be ballast against the gales, a rocking mantra in heavy seas. Peace can plunge deep into the unknown of my self, into my darkest depths, and find a foundation. It needs no buoy. Peace has never been an absence of conflict any more than an anchor is a charm against storms. Importantly, Peace and anchors require some degree of learning. I would do well to tie a line from my anchor to the next fruit in the series: patience.

It would be a year before I saw an anchor again. In the intervening months, however, I was visited by The Mystery.

To Be Continued…

Leading with my Body

My Classmate & ITuesday night she found me, nearly asleep, on the alphabet carpet beneath the paper-mache jellyfish. My classmates were perched on itty-bitty chairs examining a collection of sea-creature-themed mixed-media projects labeled in English and Spanish.
“I guess I shouldn’t be surprised to find someone passed-out in kindergarten — with or without booze— I’m Melanie, your new improv teacher.”

“I’m JD and I woke-up at 5 AM to try to outline my book about living in the middle-East. Next week, I’m sleeping-in.” I wasn’t kidding.

I just graduated to level 1B in improvisational comedy; it was the third week of class but my first time meeting Melanie. I missed the first session to pledge my devotion to Lindsey Stirling (LIVE IN CONCERT) and Melanie missed the second week to take one last vacation with her partner before she gives birth. To review: I am learning better ways to play pretend, in a bilingual elementary school class, from a pregnant woman.

—and, wow, she’s just as good as previous teacher—

Dan-O is a teacher at-heart who is also a top-shelf improviser; when he subbed last week, he let us run each ‘game’ with relatively little interference, taking notes and giving blurts of encouragement. It was like old times for everyone who took 1A from Dan. He later guided everyone through his notes in a fire-side chat style, breaking-down the process. Melanie cannot wait to coach; she was pantomiming and calling-out suggestions from the wings (in this case, from behind a shelf of picture-books), often stopping the action to rewind us to an earlier point.

“Some ass-hat stole my slipper,” I said to Carlick walking with one, imaginary flipper across the imaginary stage careful not to topple any real tongue-depressor artwork.
“Stop,” said Melanie, “don’t make it about some mystery person off-stage. Carlick stole your flipper — do it again.”
“You ass-hat! You stole my flipper!”

–the scene took on a new energy. Melanie is an improviser at-heart who seems to be a top-shelf teacher, too. I would relish Dan teaching me any subject, honestly, but I am really excited to be learning to improvise from Melanie. I like the way she paced the initiation exercises, when we had to establish who, where, what and our emotions in smaller and smaller increments of time. As the alarm on her phone sounded sooner and sooner during each set, we threw ourselves into character with more and more velocity. Melanie will teach us how to create a show which is greater than ourselves, an organic entity greater than the sum of its parts.

Yet we have more confidence during exercises than during our montage sequences — our ‘mini-shows’; having more liberty sabotages our inner-freedom– the pressure mounts. Melanie’s advice is to know what our strength is and focus on using that to create who, where, what and especially our emotions. Earlier Tuesday night, I’d almost gone to floor to become a paranoid shut-in terrified of his mail-carrier; some classmates who were with me in 1A teased about my tendency to throw myself down on the floor to wrestle alligators, become a skunk, or swim across a radio-active pond.

“I don’t want to be defined by a gimic,” I told my therapist the next day, “—but I think that physicality might be my anti-freeze. Another classmate gave me the most outrageous compliment — he said I never freeze. Last night I started doing tai-chi in a set and I instantly felt more comfortable just moving my body rather than trying to compose interesting dialog…”

“How might this idea of physicality relate to your feelings about activism?” she asked. We paused.

IMG_4593Saturday’s demonstration played on a loop in my head for the next several days. Initially, I was afraid to go. Once we had all coalesced, it felt right and relieving to chant, march, and wave pro-Palestinian banners. Doing all of my advocacy online leaves me without satisfying outlets and, worse, skews my perspective by keeping me focused on Israeli suppression and violence rather than communities in historic Palestine. Of course, Israeli society deserves to be free of its addiction to segregation, free of its own inevitable demise, but there is a way of being in Palestine that is worth fighting to preserve, one I hope to capture in my developing book. Like dealing with trauma perpetrated against a loved-one, it is easy to get focused only on the trauma and forget what made us love the traumatized person.

IMG_4588Unfortunately, the impetus for this particular demonstration was a traumatized loved-one: Tareq Abu-Kheidr, a 15 year-old Palestinian-American raised in Baltimore and brutally beaten by Jerusalem police (ass-hats). I want to write about it but I am afraid I will not do the feeling justice in so few words. Tareq’s cousins were at the demonstration, which should be their right. What I hesitate to tell you all is that I was uncomfortable. Their behavior by itself did not bother me at all; I happily stood alongside their countrymen at a Land-Day Demonstration in March of 2012. I believe strongly in their right to be angry, to wear the kefia, even to shout in Arabic through the loud speakers. I wished I could join them, wished that my Arabic were not so dreadfully poor (I understood less than half of what they said), wished I had not lost my black-and-white kefia in the Amsterdam airport more than a year ago. Kefias are comfort items, to me: an everyday article of clothing that protects faces against cold rain or the prying eyes of cameras. Certainly, they wanted to safe-guard against being deported for any reason; growing-up in Israel’s shadow (unlike their little cousin) they learned to distrust government.

Yet I knew that the tourists on the sidewalk neither understand Arabic nor the legitimate frustration of Palestinian people — many of us never saw our family members so brutalized. Some Arab masculinities digest grief into righteous anger; I don’t find fault with that but I wish they had stayed home in Baltimore to grieve. The audience on the side-walk needs everything reduced to baby-food and fed to them with a spoon; they can’t chew it. They cannot be force-fed. Most Americans lack illuminating experiences in the mid-East — they don’t see Tareq’s family with the compassion I do. It drives me crazy that I cannot chant loud enough to overcome that deficit…

“—just like we discussed with your father, JD: sometimes the message gets lost in the way it is delivered.” Often, I want to argue with my therapist. Yet lately my sense of urgency is dulled by the realization that I used to have a grip, a sense of patience and proportion, but I lost it somewhere in France when a quack therapist tried to get me to “admit” to being anti-Semitic.
It would be simpler if I were just a rotten Jew-hater but instead I have a slew of pro-justice Jewish contacts who are also counting on me to remain engaged with the solidarity movement for the sake of their tradition’s integrity; Zionism pirated Judaism without their permission. I wanted to speak the Truth in all its bitterness in defiance of those insinuations on the part of that crack-pot in France. I remember nearly composing a piece about it on the train going through Switzerland… but I forgot.

My sense of intention began to get more and more ragged in 2013. Anyone who reads back into my archives knows I have a complex personal history with this topic that drove me into relative silence here in “Reverse Exiled”. I benefited from bringing the full breadth of myself with me wherever I went in Palestine, as Christian, musician, language-nerd, and goofy-guy. When I returned to the USA I slipped into my activists’ skin and never took it off in defiance of admonitions to calm-down. Outlining the book is reminding me not only of the rest of my life in Palestine but the ways that I ‘led with my body’ without realizing it. When I was able to use my physicality to process stressors — by playing soccer in the tiny court-yard of Beit Zoughbi or going with Rajaee and Zoughbi to pick, clean, and eat cactus fruit.

Still, I am not fully recovered from inertia.

Another outrageous compliment my classmate paid to me was ‘he does activism’. In the interest of being myself to the fullest, I think I need to get in contact with Dan-O again. He mentioned to me that there was a form of improv that incorporates free-style movement, almost like modern dance: Contact Improvisation. I have yet to research the idea fully. The idea of it intrigues and frightens me because if it is what I believe it is then it could offer me a healthy outlet. The problem is that I have never trained as a dancer…