Wrestling the Anchor: Adrift

[from “Strange Orbit”] “When my eyes opened, I was swimming in perfect silence. There was no sound of bubbles rushing over my ears or the distant rumble of outboard motors. No muted calls from birds above the surface or the low grating of water rushing over boulders … I swam through a translucent [ocean] of  [milky] red.”

Anchor on an embroidered backgroundStories are lenses. They speak to a sensibility of the Truth that creates channels for what is useful and healthy to us, more than to empirical facts that stand isolated. Stories serve the present — the man in Washington DC — at a cost to the past. I dove into my old blog (plugged my nose, put on my goggles) looking for “Strange Orbit”. I dropped some chunks of myself into that blog and promised to visit, though I rarely do. All which was adrift in me, then, has become a sunken wreck to me now…

[from “Send Revival”] “However, August 18th 2010 seems to have been a consecrated day from inception. Again, I want to stress who I have been. I have a gift of wisdom and knowledge, the sharp-edge of which is analysis and even skepticism. To be impressed with these phenomena, I have to be caught with my guard down … almost every morning I have awakened in this apartment since that first drab November day has been a chore … When I reached full consciousness today … I was dancing to “Go Go Go” by the Orange County Supertones, reminiscent of my days as a fifteen year-old … I knew right then that this day was going to be miraculous. You see, I also have the gift of miracles… it’s really hard to use with the gift of Wisdom because I’m skeptical. When I had begun to eat, I remembered that tonight was going to be the first Grand Rapids Christian Connect Worship Night. “Okay, God… you are definitely cross-referencing: I am made to worship. Let’s go…”‘

Even when I rehearse my story in mirrors for my own sake, naked, I prefer to start with “–and the Israeli guards detained me for an hour!“, bypassing that I landed in Tel Aviv with a history clinging to my chest. I wanted to over-write two years of ostensible waste. In People of the Book, Geraldine Brooks’ Viennese doctor sends a man with syphilis to a ‘malaria clinic’ because the parasite induces a fever that can eradicate bacterial infections — if the malaria itself doesn’t kill the patient. To explain the anchor, I believe I need to hint at ‘the syphilis’ so readers can understand why I would work in the fever of a conflict zone: Palestine. That is one way of telling this story. Another is a tale of supernatural nudges, of watchful hawks and tingles in my spine — of visionary impressions:

[from “Send Revial”] “For those of you who do not know, God likes to visit me in the form of hawks (if I had a ‘Spirit Animal’, it would be a bird of prey). I know, in my mind, that red-tail hawks frequent highways as a source of carrion. Yet, they time themselves so well that I cannot help but believe that they are driven there by that metanatural Hand. I attached a cheesy lesson to it: “I guess this was a God-ordained detour—if only this entire Grand Rapids trip could be so blessed. If only my NEXT adventure were so blessed. Where am I going?” –but I wrestled free from that reverie.”

After the worship service, I went forward to have hands laid upon me by an appropriately named ‘prophet’…

“He told me if I was faithful in the small things, God would show me a big-thing. Elijah said that God would “blow my mind.”… Instinctively, Elijah moved his hand off of my shoulder and onto my head … He started to pray about my doubts and skepticism—prayed for my sub-conscious mind to be healed. The exact words escape me because I cannot get past … the feeling of the Holy Spirit surging up my spine and literally touching my brain. The experience of joy during worship—that could have been emotional contagion. The tingling in my shoulder? Contact from another. But the sparks in my brain, the uncanny perceptions of my prayer partner, the prophesy about taking care of small things… that was a God thing. I had come believing in a God thing, doubted when the service seemed to long, and then found God again. I could have walked-out. Instead, I allowed that feeling to wash over me… to accept that everything that had happened this evening was just as God intended from Hawk to hand-on-shoulder.”

Skimming over the hundreds and hundreds of words (holy shit!) in “Send Revival”, I see a mind embracing digression; at times, writers craft to process. I hurried to dispatch my failures with hypergraphia and constructed the scaffolds of a familiar  capital-C-Christian worldview. Writers process but fail to craft stories, at times. Grand Rapids was steeped in a self-referential conflation of political and religious conservatism; this was a place that elected Justin Amash to congress but scarcely knew his origins. Simultaneously, I plunged into angry day-dreams about work and family, escaping into illicit videos by night. My life was in twain: The Dragon was nascent. Yet in the midst of that, my encounter with Elijah remains at face-value — ‘tingles’ too. His message speaks to the present: “Take care of the small things; something big is coming, something mind-blowing…”

But forget all of that, for now. ‘Revival’ is not in the formula. The distinction between decay and ferment rots and yields a distillation. I said to my grandmother on her 80th birthday, “I’m keeping too close of company with death, Grams — Aunt Martha is probably next; the tumor is inoperable…”  She replied with reassurances that I would adjust. Hers was such a peaceful, Earthly comfort to contrast with fervent talk of Heaven; nothing need be obtained because everything I needed was already within, waiting to germinate. That was September 5th of 2010.

A week later…

[from “Strange Orbit”] In every direction I turned there was the same rusted crimson. I knew where I was, though I do not know quite how. Looking into the distance, I could just barely see her silhouette. She did not paddle. She soared ahead of me…

I pulled-up, knowing that the haze below me must be at least a mile thick… [w]ith a click of my heels, I triggered the tiny jets in my space-boots and ascended. I was much deeper into this cloud than I had imagined: the layers began to get thinner and thinner but I wondered if there ever would be a true surface. As my suit lifted out of the fog, I saw the outline before me doing the same, leaving a trail in her wake like a sky-liner. Behind her … Saturn came into focus. I noted how much brighter it seemed from this distance: …[figuratively], I think that Saturn was the Sun—if the Sun had a smoky, glass-globe … like the lamp in my bedroom. Suddenly, I breached the surface of the cloud ring like a humpback whale.

At this point, the silhouette of the lady I followed disappeared into Saturn’s buttery glow; she was always accelerating faster than I could close the distance between us…

In the next moment, panic ensued—now, I was on the edge, trying to rest on the surface without sinking back into obscurity. Instead, the momentum from my boots set me adrift: losing the surface and drifting into void.

At this point, I encountered my mortality. Saturn was indifferent. No stars shined in the distance; I drifted further into a dimension of endless black: I would die slowly in the nothingness of space…

Then, I turned around… It was a bed; a cross between the biggest king-size you can imagine, a set of 1960’s retro rockets and a magic carpet. I say so because it had a head-board and footboard, about eight blue flames emanating from its stern and an abundance of Middle-eastern designs. On this most mystical craft, my beloved sister Molly was lying in the arms of a woman. The woman appeared to be comforting my sister. She impressed me as the most maternal woman I had ever seen—she was breathtaking yet warm. I knew that she was one and the same with the figure I was chasing in the red-cloud …

I climbed onto the bed, suddenly … in my pajamas. I crawled toward my sister and rested with her—cuddling her like I never could in real-life. I thought “Now I don’t have to be alone any more… we don’t have to be alone…”

…[the woman] was God. God is our Mother~ every good characteristic of motherhood ought to be something that God has … the God portrayed in the Old Testament does not always seem so maternal. I think (these are my personal feelings, not a Biblical argument) that they got Her all wrong… that She/He has to be more like the image Jesus conjured just before he entered Jerusalem to be arrested:

“Jerusalem! Jerusalem! How I long to gather you under me like a mother hen gathers her chicks…”.

I needed to be plucked from outer space, like a lost sheep/coin/son… but didn’t know why yet…

I awoke with a profound sense of being loved. That was my first and only vision. The vividness of that dream was so great that I both knew it was a dream and believed that it was real. Yet I chose to keep believing that because I recognized my psychological health improved. Mother God emerged from the blackness within but was one with the silhouette I lost in the The Light. Everything I needed, what I truly needed, came unbidden to rescue me.

Later that day, at 4PM, Molly telephoned. Between sobs, she explained that our grandmother had died.

To be continued…


The Phoenix in the Olive Tree

The phoenix of popular imagination does not belong flat on his back, atop a broken couch and cuddled with his trumpet, in the cave beneath the(A dark phoenix -- Moltres) Zoughbi house. I was sore from the previous night’s stress-release workout. Still, by the time Rajaee found me in my hiding place, my brain was busy piecing apart the possibility of getting a PhD in Peace & Conflict Studies.

We went olive picking the very next day, strained calf-muscle or not. Last year’s olive harvest made an arboreal man of me. This year I felt just as lithe, though not as daring as the Swede since he had a way of getting into the highest branches. As usual, I was looking for things to write about: the teenage hired-helpers and their father, hanging our arms out the side of the car to carry long ladders, plump orbs of green and purple, or the cactus patch –bare of fruit but still menacing. Aloft in the oldest tree, I conceived of myself, as I had in a line from a poem I wrote long ago, as a phoenix alight in an olive tree. ‘I really am a phoenix on an olive branch– a fiery person reborn in the movement for peace.’ The olive tree is made of sleeping fire: when the fruit is squeezed it produces a flammable oil.

…as I was plucking olives from the tree, my mind went back to a discussion I had with a friend about altruism (useful concept?) and the nature of collective responsibility (more useful, I believe…). Writing and peace are where my inner nerd marries my inner geek.

I fell asleep early last night, in the drowse from a beer shared with the Swede, our colleague from Alabama, and Zoughbi (who preferred ginger-ale). I excused myself to bed and slept until six in the morning, rolled out of bed to turn the alarm off, and rolled in again under the weight of my aching body. The weight never quite left me when I rose, hopeful about drafting my vision for life but overwhelmed by the gravity of doing something like that. Tea is often my solution for moments of inertia but I didn’t expect that the next ‘big move’ would strike me as the tea was steeping.

“I need to be reconciled with my ex-girlfriend… I’ve become genuinely thankful that she left me.” I drafted an e-mail, thanking her for making that decision and for the way that she chose to do that. Understand, friends, I had once taken back my sense of pride by criticizing her. Today, I took back my honor by seeing the good in what she had done and appreciating her for it. I want to show respect to my colleagues, and my future, by choosing the restorative way.

My visionary break-through was not waiting for me in Microsoft Word. I dragged my heels and fussed with iTunes but only came-up with this meager skeleton:

Vision Statement:


My Biography (free-write)

-Starting in Mindanao, reminded of who I am. Go into flashbacks to tell the story

My Main Interests (free-write)

How Peace is Composed (free-write)

My Related Interests (free-write)

The social media vortex grabbed my attention, as I struggled to be articulate, and I had to thrust myself away from the computer. My hand-written journal was laying open on the couch, book-marked to an entry in July where I write about “recoil effects” from my solitary confinement in Jordan. I know too well that I have had too much solitary dwelling in my history. I fought hard to stay engaged with what I had written weeks ago, to keep from medicating my sense of emptiness with more browsing. I know too well I have too much self-medicating in my history. As I read yesterday’s entry, this passage came into sharp focus:

“Five minutes after I awoke the second time, I was laying flat on my back with my face buried under my hands. At the turning-point of my life, I’m still wondering about bread, vegetables, changing money… [spiritual-director] ‘kicked’ me hard last night, urging me to begin the process of applying to graduate programs and reminding me, again, that I think I don’t deserve it—don’t deserve to go by the seat of my pants, don’t deserve to be a talented writer after my squandered years online, don’t deserve… khalas. I have a number of ‘blocking’ feelings I can’t name and don’t understand…”

Putting aside the hard-back journal, I immediately fell into a fitful sleep on the couch. (Moltres outline) I woke in Palestine, realizing my laundry was dry and that I should probably remove the multiple shirts hanging in crucifix- position on my clothes-line. A little morbid humor was good medicine, just then. A suppressed memory of my dead grandmother emerged, as she seemed to pin my grandfather’s shirts against Michiganian, lake-effect winds and, concurrently, hand me the shirt I took from his closet after he died.

I descended to the cave to try to play away some of that tension but the Swede intercepted me with an offer to help at the office. A half-hour later I was shelling-out pomegranate kernels and listening to my co-worker talk to our Mennonite friend about Israeli assassination conspiracy. I scooted my chair closer. It was my pleasure to join the dinner discussion about a culture of acceptance and the complex prospect of mosques in Germany. This is the essence of the life I found by accident—my greatest challenge and greatest gift—because my commitments in Michigan walked away from me. I gambled with the extra space in my life, hoping to fill it with stories worth telling, writing, or even melting into the fabric of my being. Not one step has been easy yet all have been fruitful, somehow. Now, I live in the bigger-version of our world.

My prayer under the stars, tonight, became a long journey into places I have not seen in months, years. I used to become a black-hole every time I prayed—collapsing inward, looking for my ‘flaw’. What is the opposite of a black-hole? A disco-ball—it’s reflective on all sides, yes, but it’s also a great deal more fun than having your atoms pulled apart. Disco-balls are for dances… for weddings… for hanging in miniature-form on my rear-view mirror. Living through the computer-screen, it’s easy to forget the breadth of visions contained in my brain– begging to be visited, ordered, and reinterpreted. My thoughts careened through the inner-space of night: church hay-rides, a snow-filled college-campus, boat-lights on lakes, camp-fires in the woods, holding my mother’s hand as we leave my aunt’s house on Thanksgiving… Palestinian barbeques. I miss all those places with a hurt that scares me. I want it back.

Inside again, I struggled to sketch what I wanted from my adventures:

I want to explore the way that narratives interface with collective identity

                the way the colonized critique the colonizers; the way traditions critique themselves and each other and the overall goals of culture.

I want to create enriched narratives from my encounters with peace-builders

I wonder how acts of creativity manifest resistance

                mediate the process of building trust or reimagining narratives

I would like to do an ethnographic study of grassroots peace-builders and their stories, perhaps passed through literary/artistic lenses.

                sociological lenses/mass media lenses/IPC lenses

                pertaining to particular biases, synthesized together in restorative ways

Concerned with building a safe-space for story-telling, toward creating common narratives.

                toward a ‘culture of acceptance’ where trust provides a foundation for dialogue

                with acknowledgement to the ‘metaphorical engineer’: friction is always there…

I would like to improve the art of story-telling in myself, using that as a way to create dialogue

                to dissolve the usual power-dynamics.

Ways of fragmentation versus ways of emulsification…

Nobody here but us trouble-makers...

Nobody here but us trouble-makers…


An e-mail quietly appeared. It was my ex, the one who turned her back on me in 2010. The precise contents of that message are private but she was appropriately gracious. She wished me luck during the next phase of my life, let me know she was happily married and tending the house, etc. I learned she had left church-work as a career– a beautiful irony that the ‘broken’ person became the missionary and the very religious person found tranquility at home. At the end, she said she had no intention of being friends nor of staying in-contact, which is what I expected since she tended to keep her circle small. Oddly, instead of thinking “Fine: she doesn’t appreciate my friendship—screw-it” I thought, “it would probably confuse her too deeply to try—I’ll let her know I’m removing her from my address book and that I appreciate her reply.” There’s nothing wrong with being happily married and tending house, nothing to hold in contempt. Every woman should have that right – in every place.

My heart ached for just a moment, just a flutter of leftover sadness, but I looked at the other pane on my screen:

The place of peace and conflict studies in my life is to provide foci and goals for diverse interests: writing & literature, history & sociology, consciousness & communication. Still, this field of study is inseparable from a personal commitment to mitigating social disharmony. Without this love, the labor is too difficult to sustain.

She said she knew in her heart I couldn’t be the partner she needed. God bless that guy, her husband. On the other hand, God bless me for being a Phoenix—for blazing brightly, sometimes volcanically. The love I know now was unintelligible then, living with so much hurt in a culture where anguish is taboo. I mistook my codependency for commitment, years ago, but now I can see what real commitment looks like—looking back at me while I shave. The tattoo over my heart reads “to seek justice and resist evil”: resisting it in the world and in myself. It would collapse her world to understand that; it’s better that she remembers me slumped on an old couch, with a potted plant on my lap (because I had to cuddle something to stay composed). Not everyone is willing to see me differently – but I do now. I also want to see myself be vulnerable like that again; I want to merge selves.

 * * *

Moltres, of Pokemon fame.

Moltres, of Pokemon fame.

Xavier Phoenix is barely aflame again, in the ashes of foiled wishes. What fire-bird

A Foil to Moltres: Articuno

Articuno, also of Pokemon fame.

would NOT want to find someone with whom he can dash into trouble—another fire-bird? I could not try hard enough to find her but I hope to cross her smoke-trail.

On the other hand, maybe precisely what I need is a woman who leaves flurries of snow in her wake – someone so cool that she tempers me.

Tonight, though, I feel like I am courting my fate in a different way. As my friend said, “graduate education is not a matter to consider lightly.”

“Of course. I was upset with myself for not taking the step forward earlier, until I realized that peace-studies and I have only been dating since I came to Palestine… relationships take time.”