Smashed Pear (entry fragment)

He left when he heard I was graduating. I wanted to follow him into the hallway and plead that I could drop my capstone class and hang around for another year but too many pieces of me were invested in matriculating. I wished him a good day and listened to the door shut behind him. A voice from the front of my brain, sitting on the tip of some pessimistic wrinkle, volunteered that he wanted eighteen months to get me into shape. Yet somewhere deeper inside the skull, buried between my hemispheres, I knew that he thought I was ready to play. Another musician — the director of jazz-bands — had affirmed that I was worthy of joining. But it all happened a year too late.

In my chest I felt something like a smashed pear. My heart felt cold, bathed in a cool ooze as if it had been dropped on the floor of that practice room. Everything seemed perfectly normal in the wake of his leaving, as if my life were wrapped in a plastic bag. A layer remained between me and the possibility of being recognized and developed as a jazz musician but the impact, the thrust of falling, could not be stopped. I wanted to lay on the floor, smashed. My heart was still beating but its skin was broken and it dripped cool sweetness into my chest, pumping it out into my extremities. I put my instrument to my mouth as if I were pressing it to the abrasion on my bruised heart, sealing the wound with a quick lip of my lips and the long buzzing kiss against cold metal. I played something familiar — “Love Gets Old” — but much bluer, with some new twists. The music and the motif met: a real musician with real blues.

Mega Man X Complex: The Shield

As Mega Man X enters Sigma’s fortress, Vile is still yet to be defeated. In game-play, I always assumed that Vile had no particular weakness and so spent time maneuvering, picking him apart with X-buster blasts when the solution was already with me: The Shield. Vile’s weakness, all along, was a weapon called ‘Rolling Shield’ that X acquires in battle with another maverick robot. It makes a florescent bolus that rolls along the floor and bounces off walls— very useful in vertical shafts.

X looks good in pink -- receiving 'Rolling-Shield'.

X looks good in pink — receiving ‘Rolling-Shield’.

The apostle Paul alluded to a ‘Shield of Faith’ in his letter to the Ephesians, though I lack the education to know which Greek word corresponds to ‘Faith’ in this instance. Faith’s multiplicity of shades and convergences with spiritual life are far too complex for blogging, more suitable to extended study. For the record, when ‘Rolling Shield’ is fully charged it envelopes X with an energy that makes him impervious to small opponents. My Faith must not be fully charged, yet…

Though Dr. Light hoped X could choose a more sedate path, he created* X with an operating system compatible with the upgrades X needs to pursue Justice. That resilient operating system endows him with the special ability to take a new weapon from each maverick he defeats. My original plan for this entry was to inventory the Fruits of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22/23 and draw metaphor to each of the eight maverick bosses and their corresponding weapon upgrades. I included a highlight reel at the bottom of this entry, just for laughs. What I really needed, from the beginning, was some self-bolstering. I need to identify my own maverick moments and claim the character enhancements that came to me at each juncture. Indeed, I might need to do it more than once.

One ‘shield of faith’ came to me at the Chinese Restaurant in Bethlehem (there is only one), on Land Day in 2012. That was also the morning when Palestine changed to “daylight savings time”, swinging an hour ahead for the summer. The planned, peaceful demonstration was delayed 90 minutes due to time-shift confusion. The ‘real’ demonstration came an hour after that, when shabaab arrived with kefias around their faces and pummeled the floodlights and security cameras on every guard turret with stones, concrete chunks, and more stones. Several internationals and I retreated to the Chinese restaurant for lunch, which was a foolish mistake. The excited teenagers in the guard tower shot their tear-gas and the excited teenagers on the ground, in turn, pummeled their windows with stones – some of which missed and smashed through the windows of the restaurant instead. I finished eating – no good could come of being shaken.

Something comes loose and it is difficult to know whether it is an ability or a disability. The moment I keep coming back to, during my quiet anxious moments, is the day at Sheikh Hussein bridge and looking an Israeli guard directly in her eyes while I lied about where my work was taking place—I told them Haifa, consistent with my letter of recommendation. She said “we know you’re lying – just tell us the truth,” which seemed, to me, to confirm that they did not have enough evidence to turn me away and wanted me to crack and vacillate. I held integrity with my mission, not the reverse, but I always return to heaviness I felt when I willfully distrusted someone and, instead of being edified, was uncomfortably vindicated by their obvious interrogatory ploys and my extended detention. I regret nothing but I lament all of it.

The entire exile into Jordan should count for some kind of special ability. It was in Jordan that I really knew what it meant to live as a foreigner in a large city and cemented my ‘transactional Arabic’. Far from being perfect, there were too many days where I laid in bed and waited for news about my return but, at my best, I was walking the bending lanes of ‘Al-Ballad’ and learning the dark fissures that formed alleys between its building encrusted hillsides. I befriended the juice-man, the bread vendors, and the Iraqi restaurant owner who served me the best chicken dinners of my life. In Amman, I negotiated with cab-drivers and embassy curriers. In that city, I survived bed-bugs, high-fever, long-waits at the Israeli embassy, and long hours in the Roman gardens watching cargo-planes doing maneuvers. I wondered, sometimes, if my life was beginning there in the shadow of those ancient pillars.

These are the instances I often talk about, separately, but friends are encouraging me to put them together. As I recite, I remember even more lessons; Drew from Alabama helped me face my callousness last fall when he joined us as a new volunteer. I felt irritated by his learning process. The disturbance was intrinsic to me: the exile and return from Asia had changed me in ways that I still do not understand, typing in a Washington DC Starbucks. Drew and I had an uncanny moment when, best I could, I apologized for being so curt with him. He said, “I think God is telling me to tell you that you have been counted faithful.” As he shared that with me, I could see him getting misty and I wanted to soften and cry but I felt calcified. I am indebted to Drew for that tender moment.

I could do myself a great favor by remembering some other pieces I brought home from the middle-East. I developed a greater sense of others’ needs, an ability I call the ‘bottomless tea-kettle of hospitality’. That sense of togetherness was necessarily beyond words because we do not all share the same words. Yet, I felt connected. That gift began to hurt, in time. Months later, I felt continents away from my counterparts in Geneva. At Wi’am in Bethlehem we all could take care of ourselves but we chose to take care of each other whereas my two American colleagues were both so… individual. Perhaps I was waiting for teleonomic cues that were not coming – the tea-kettle within me felt very heavy in Europe.

Since I write so seldom on these topics, then it is not really boasting to share – though if there are half a dozen examples then there might as well be two-dozen because every experience is a chance to learn or unlearn. After six months in Bethlehem, I learned that I was fairly savvy about the conflict. Then I visited Ni’ilin village and promptly unlearned that because, of course, the context was too fragmented for a foreigner to be so savvy. I reinforced the value of my solidarity on that trip, still. After I ‘did’ something –planting olive trees– I watched a video of farmers being mercilessly abused while sitting next to the very same farmers. Just an hour ago I told my friend over the phone “if I were planning a trip, it would be advocacy focused…”

If my enhancements were instant, videogame-quality upgrades, then I would not have to go through a dark period, filled with artistic blocks, self-deprecation, compulsive behavior, and feelings of isolation. This is real life. That is good news; I may have already done most of the work. Results are delayed. Vile is still alive in me but I’ve recovered significantly since February’s slide. There is a subtle relief to embracing the strength I actually find from difficult memories rather than trying to suddenly change the timbre of my script or, as happens too often, trying to deepen the suffering to profoundest woe. Mine is a story of being bent but not broken. I remember long ago, when I finally capitulated and spent eight consecutive weeks seeing a therapist, the doctor and I had a discussion about my efforts. I said I was not seeming to get anywhere and he observed that I had not relented. Again, I capitulated and saw a therapist. This time, I visited once and have not heard back from him. He asked me “what makes you think you can stand-up to the challenges in your life?”
“—because I’ve stood-up before. I’m going to keep standing-up until I’m too dead.”

Where is the Faith in that? I think there is Faith throughout that — the string-like roots of that Faith are something I could spend a life-time examining.

* * * Maverick-Fruits Gag-Reel * * *

“Plus, gleefully torching Maverick bosses on their last health-bar is delicious.”

“… if I were not agile enough, I might be swept into his vortex and have my energy sucked out of my body. Yeah—it’s a nasty long battle.”

“Arguably, kindness is like the Boomerangs won from Boomer Kawanger (I’m not making these names up), that comes back to the user.”

“…and has a chain-like tongue that he uses to whip X…”

“…the storm-blast was excellent for clearing stationary turrets; like self-control, storm-blast…”

“With a limited number of both weapons and fruits, that means Goodness is like ‘Shot-gun Ice’, courtesy of Chill Penguin.”

“I am having trouble equating Peace with ‘Electric Spark’ but I am sure you all can help me by using your imaginations…”

~ can you see why I abandoned that draft?

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.

Mega Man X Complex: Vile

Airplanes are the space-age cask for fermenting questions about memory and emotion. Jorge Luis Borges was a frequent ‘companion’ of mine on transcontinental flights but, as I returned from Iowa, I wanted only to gaze from the window. I was looking into the distance– imagining myself squeezing out the portal and running into the sun flooded expanses of grass—bypassing my reflection. I saw him  staring back at me, inviting me to recharge my aura, but I decided I wanted to write something ironic instead. ‘The Mega Man X obsession was a defense mechanism;’ I decided I ‘should disassemble my personal myths’. I sketched an outline, titled it “The Mega Man Complex”, and forgot about it.

vile_carrier

‘Vile’ in his armor

I had something more iconic in mind on February 15th, 2012 via “In Rainbow Colors”:

Playing from the beginning, I ran into that city over a hundred times, through the gauntlet, to challenge a foe in a reinforced metal-suit.

In the old SNES video game, one plays as a robot-turned-righteous. X obliterates a slew of unremarkable

‘maverick’ robots and stands before the bay door of an enormous air-ship. Vile emerges from a bomb-bay door. Like Sigma, Vile is a powerful and corrupt robot. There is something Jungian—shadowlike—in them because they were once ‘Maverick Hunters’: keepers of order. Vile is drunk on supremacy and nearly destroys X:

megaman_blue

X, without upgrades

The game is designed in such a way that X cannot possibly win without being rescued…”

Vile stuns the anemic hero, then holds him aloft and helpless. He gloats openly — calls X a “worthless piece of scrap metal”. Perched atop his armored hydraulic-carrier, Vile commands the fate of the battle. From my perch in the airplane, I saw some ‘Vile’ in myself. I had always seen vile things of a lesser nature in myself, like being intentionally abrasive, but this quality was quintessentially Vile (a capital ‘V’) because of my metaphorical armored-carrier. Sometimes it was manifest in surging anger but more often in a stun gun: every time a challenging memory surfaced, I paralyzed it. Maybe the Vile character sees his own vulnerability in ‘X’ –and is all the more merciless because of it.

Yet, he has no doubt about his mission, except for the doubts he has about himself. He is inadequate.

Vile flees the scene when Zero arrives but he’s waiting at Sigma’s fortress for a rematch; the Vile elements in our lives and selves return, still mounted on vehicles of control. The X in me has begun to doubt even Mission, in light of my self. Perhaps it is because I convinced myself I was a bad, ironic missionary: an ‘infiltrator’. When I was with coworkers at Wi’am I was nourished by our spirit de corps but alone in Amman (Jordan) I was fueled by challenging Israeli border control to one more contest of wills. The battle restored me to my post but the feeling of being impervious flowed into my veins like a warm drug.

Mega Man is neutral on issues of pride because his unprecedented power and skill is not for the sake of prowess or accolades but to respond to the increasing level of difficulty.

Really, Xavier? Stressors ferment into strength or else they desiccate us. I can hold back my shivers, under pressure, but it takes me far too long to weep again and release the poison. Stress can teach us both: abilities ajust_vilend disabilities. I wish only my ‘new’ struggle lingered with me—shades of preexisting darkness taint my ability to digest my ‘nobler’ flaws. A particular addiction comes to mind.  I’ve almost confessed the habit several times but backed-off because I couldn’t “explain” it sufficiently to make torching my reputation worth the confession. No one wants to read details of what I watched, how often, or how it’s “not as bad” as the things I refused to watch, and other qualifications, nor does anyone want to see me piously condemning myself (much less back-tracking).It is less a matter of filth than of weakness. The armored-carrier is a justice-missionary: why unshell the Vile character inside?  The only reason I hint at confession is…

Mega Man is emblematic of a new self-concept, for me, because of his dynamic growth and intrinsic goals. There is no princess or treasure waiting for him in Sigma’s fortress.

…the only reason I confess at all is because I already know there is no princess or treasure waiting for me. No max-tomato will restore my health in an instance, no dancing stars pop from the stonework and make me impervious—no magic mushrooms. Anyone who played this first game in the X series (the only Mega Man game I played, incidentally) knows that X’s strength comes piece by piece as he overcomes other bosses and finds upgrade pods. No equipment or even so much as a spare energy capsule comes to X without a fire-fight. I am in a campaign to reclaim my mind, from many things, yet Vile remains…

zero

Zero: an ally.

It is Zero that chases him away in the initial stage of the game—and X kneels in a state of utter exhaustion:

Yet, he has no doubt about his mission, except for the doubts he has about himself. He is inadequate. Zero leans over and says to him… well, I scoured the internet and could not find it…

I succeeded where I had failed before: I found Zero’s words of encouragement to X after their first encounter with Vile: “X, you should not expect to defeat him; he is designed to be a war machine. Remember, 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.” During his second encounter with Vile, X is nearly bested (again!) but Zero sacrifices himself to destroy the carrier.

It is not because our programming was fail-safe but because our paths have shaped our potential. Only the blue, self-doubting X from the first stage could have become the imposing X who eventually bests his opponent from earlier in the game.

Who is my Zero? The “right” answer would be to say Jesus, though I had not intended that. I am reluctant to assert that, not wanting to mock the idea. The deification of Jesus that so many Christians make central can distract from his example. I had a fruitful moment of meditation; I conceived of sin as real hurt circulating in our relationships, not as a supernatural stain. More than atoning, we have to remedy secondary-effects: the insidious interest on our debt of transgressions. Jesus is not a ‘sacrificial lamb’ who makes everything better instantly (a max tomato, a magic mushroom). If we understand him as a leader, through whose example we can stand on level ground with all that is Vile, then the crucifixion really did destroy the metaphorical armored-carrier. Unfortunately, that means we have to go beyond building strength to using it. We must fight to rectify accounts, even if we did not cause the imbalances. And I must unshell the Vile in myself so I can be salvaged, too.

Playing from the beginning, I ran into that city over a hundred times, through the gauntlet, to challenge a foe in a reinforced metal-suit.

Upgraded and looking dapper

Upgraded and looking dapper

Mission is continuing the struggle against the hurt already caused and the “sin” still compounding the damage. ‘X’ goes on the offensive and takes responsibility for crimes he is not perpetrating. His sense of collective responsibility is impressive, for a machine, and I think he aspired to be more humane as much as I did to be made of steel. Human or machine, our compassion and our selves are brought to full expression in adversity but not strictly from the trials themselves. There are specific pieces to be discovered and mastered together. As Zero said, “If you use all the abilities you were designed with, you should become stronger. You may even become as powerful as I am.” It is time to reclaim and charge my aura.

—with enhancements: put on the full armor.

As for Vile, he is defeated but never truly dead. The game’s overall storyline would lose X’s best foil if Vile were not reincarnated to be struggled with, on screen in every sequel, adding the thread of a long-term grudge to otherwise fresh casts of ‘mavericks’. In short, he makes the game more human by being SO stubborn.

On that note, part 2 ends.

Kirby things you deserve a max tomato for reading all 1400 words!

Kirby thinks you deserve a max tomato for reading all 1400 words!

 

*By tools I mean weapons. Its a video-game but I want to keep the violent metaphors muted.

Out of the Hobbit Hutch

I just spent a week living in a Hobbit Hutch. For those who prefer an equine image, I am a Belgian in a Halflingers’ stall; canine: a Great Dane in a Dachshund kennel. I moved into a reduced height bedroom, the product of a frugal renovation that turned a townhouse with high ceilings into multi-occupancy apartments. My roommates consist of one absentee, a buff and fun-loving guy from Georgia, a tan and very deaf guy from Iowa, and a petite Egyptian who (somehow?) works for the Republican party. She is always amused and amusing. All of what I tell you is true.

 

Objects overhead may be closer than they appear.

Objects overhead may be closer than they appear. (Not my photo of a Wizard in a Hobbit House, just to be clear)

Metaphor is incarnate in reality because people have the ability to create meaning. In other words, my over-stuffed roost is a symbol for my writers’ block. My mental space contains ample material but I could not thresh anything of worth from it between Christmas and my first day of work in Washington DC. Like my writers’ block, the bedroom consists of many artifacts that, in that figurative way that writers love, enable it to tell stories about itself. For instance, the futon by the wall was a brand new floor model my Dad and I found by the counter at “Baer’s Mattress Den” in Fredericksburg Maryland; we had tugged a small U-haul trailer through the rain-soaked parking lots of the usual suspect-establishments: Sears, Denver Mattress, JCPenny’s, Mattress Discounters. This place had only one futon and, no kidding, receipts with bears on them.

The dresser, desk, and stereo cabinet tell the heroic tale of how an underweight missionary (me) and his aging father moved oak furniture up two narrow staircases without dying only to discover, tragically, that there was no power-cable for the stereo. I was pitching a fit right until the moment I rammed my head against the ceiling and had to lay down –not because I was dizzy but because I was too angry to function. In less than a week, I have filled this room with new stories rooted in lasting memories: my desk drawer was filled with leftover detritus from my days of unemployment in Michigan. At an all time low, I cowered indoors last Wednesday and ate nothing but shrimp flavored ramen and Valentine’s Day nerds candy. Figuratively, I was in the fetal position.

My writers’ block is filled with bigger artifacts, still, like the security counter at theTel Aviv airport on that final day; after my mostly-naked-pat-down, I returned to find the two lady guards giggling triumphantly over my luggage, bragging: “we made all your things fit!” From my writers’ block pours the snowy Alps as they creep past windows on expansive Swiss trains;  my morale cascaded into a deep, cozy depression as I sat across from my colleagues, saying nothing. My writers’ block is layered with New York City buildings frosted with the Hudson River, with lake effect snow topping and Boeing 747 sprinkles. Yet in my writers’ block, there was still room to walk down a Michigan road bereft of traffic to a frozen lake – no noise except the eager snuffling of my dog’s nose as he poked through snow-drifts for chipmunks. I wrote none of it.

There were – there are—overwhelming possibilities inside of me. We do, as Nelson Mandela suggested, fear the enormity of such greatness and the prodigious responsibility of living and often failing in it. I dissolved the craft into my deepest substrates, emulsified them with the fallow pleasures of being at the farm-house with Ma and Grandma: nutty bars, episodes of “Big Bang Theory” on TBS, a soft kitty to pet… going to the cinema with my sister. We watched a movie where zombies gradually regain their humanity by learning to love again. It wasn’t supposed to be a serious film. To keep the zombies away the humans constructed a high wall, covered in graffiti and scorch marks, with dystopian guard turrets. In the final scene, they implode the wall together. I wept for the first time in months. My sister kept asking me, “what’s the matter? What happened?” while I tried to hide my face from the befuddled patrons. The metaphor of that crumbling wall could have been the end of a post about taking down the walls inside myself or the beginning of a post about how things did not magically click after that day in the movie theater. I stayed frozen.

In Michigan, I was confident I had burst my chains when I went to the movies with my sister. Yet everything inside my mind, like my room, was too much to pitch into the open even with clear topics available. I was frozen solid at my keyboard.

What makes this apartment a hutch and not a catacomb, though, is that I ventured out into Washington DC. I could not beat my demons, alone in my cell, so I climbed aboard the DC metro, bought a cell phone, and eventually found my way to the new job that is already reminding me who I am.

My new mission: “Associate for Movement Building” at Methodist Federation for Social Action.

–but look what pretentious neighbors we have down the street!

capitolhttp://dkphotocoop.smugmug.com/USA/Northeast/Washington-DC/i-MTgNBPp/1/L/US_Capitol_Dome_East_midday-L.jpg
Photo does not belong to me in any way: this is the internet. God bless America — we need it dearly.

Epiphany & Beyond

firespell-red-candleI must be still, if I am to enter the chrysalis. In order to slough the thick skin that has retained my guts, along with all my potential, I have to allow my eyes to glaze over and the chill hunger of winter engulf me…

Fireworks pierced the air above manger square, buzzing a passing recon drone. The lights of the new Manger Square Christmas tree glowed like thousands of festive lightning beetles in heat. Light spread across wires above our heads, coiled around palm trees, and exploded from fireworks exploding. All of that joyful exploding cracked my stern expression. I saw something new was happening in Palestine, with a female mayor in Bethlehem and a statehood bid. I put aside the hot issue, and my contentious views, for another day. “No one cares what I think – I should take advantage rather than being resentful! I should disappear and find contentment in deficit—maybe find God there.”

If I knew what that actually looked like, I would in essence not be doing it. I always try to imagine but this time I could really embrace nothing: deficits.

I started a blog called Reverse Exiled when I was stranded in Jordan, sweating through a high-fever I brought with me from regions Eastward, waiting for a visa. Now, I want to choose my own exile and reverse tack. Tomorrow, I talk with my new supervisor in Washington DC. It will be less than three months before we shake hands. As I brainstormed for our first meeting, I realized I have the potential to re-imagine myself. I wrote parameters and I deleted them: I can re-imagine. The persona I developed over the course of the past year will need to die.

A phoenix-effect—look at my url. I am Xavier Phoenix. My name was a prophesy even I could not fully intuit: X for variability and the phoenix for re-birth. My blog is reverse exiled: coming back and leaving and coming back and leaving. It was a re-imagining of “In Rainbow Colors”, which I want to retro-duce to you all someday. Then I can retro-duce “Quest in Cold Metal”. Maybe…

The trouble with being Phoenix is that I cannot burrow into my ashes until I have burned exhaustingly hot. Now I must cool. Today I managed to brush away my ideas about random and systemic violence and take a trip with a colleague into Jerusalem to the Scottish Memorial Church. I sang through a stuffy nose and drank too much coffee after the service. We walked into the old City to visit the jeweler who sold me my sister’s gift. He was thrilled to hear that she had graduated from college and would soon receive his special creation. We drank mint tea and he told us about a nun who was kind to him when he was a child, about the dinners she hosted and egg-hunts at Easter. He is Muslim. Everything was different before the first intifada… my colleague later commented that Muneer is someone who is very comfortable with who he is and, thus, able to relate to other people better because of it. He is also a smart businessman, an expert artisan, and a proud father. It seems as if Muneer started by being the best Muneer he could be. What did you all learn from your jeweler, today?

As I typed a vision of the best John Daniel, I saw that I was only mostly like him but that I could choose to be more like him. “I get the feeling, sometimes, that I am very forceful online…”

“Yes,” said my coworker, “but that is how you are working through these issues…”

On some level, I knew I was burning too hot. As my colleague and I walked away toward Damascus gate, she asked me what the peaks and valleys of my service in Palestine had been. My highlight day had been marching into Jerusalem with my boss on Palm Sunday. I finally experienced the city as alive with a soul. My most difficult time was not an event but the season of late winter in 2012, when I felt as if I could make more impact by standing in front of bulldozers at house demolitions, sacrificing myself to make bad press for Israel. My self seemed less important than my work rather than equal to it.

Eventually, I became comfortable with my small role at the Wi’am Center. I realized that I had co-workers who valued and nurtured me. My potential, even my skill-sets, have not grown much while I was in Palestine but I matured. After all, how do I profit from more knowledge and skill when I cannot get past hurting? Of self-centeredness? Or resentment? Now, I return with gifts and perspective, both. Perhaps I can start over as a writer.

At home this evening, I avoided social media faithfully for the first time this week. Dishes completely covered my counter but now they are stacked and drying. My cluttered desk remains for next weekend. Tired of cold showers, I learned I could pour a bucket of hot water for myself in the bathroom sink. I glanced at the mirror and noticed how happy this made me. It was the first time I have washed with warm water since I left Amman. Who could resist pouring a second bucket, just as a reward for being alive?

I think I will allow this entry to defy coherence because it is a breaking away, even if a small one. My essence has never been lost in twenty-six and a half years of being alive but there have been critical junctures. We always wish they were conversion events but most are periods that last more than a month but less than a year. Sometimes, they come stacked together. There was that time of uncertain solitude, then the zombie weeks between my return and olive season, and this latest period of intensity. Now, there is Advent and Epiphany beyond…

The Dome of the Rock, seen from a distance ~ as close as I could get.

The Dome of the Rock, seen from a distance ~ as close as I could get.