Dragonfly Hypothermia, Purgatory

Last August was hot.

My apartment on North Capitol Street was like a take-out box tucked in a refrigerator: a windowless, squashed box fermenting slowly in the artificial cold. Some days my patience with the sputtering wireless would expire and I would sling my messenger bag over my shoulder and toast lightly for six blocks as I walked to the local Starbucks. By then the bag had toasted in Bethlehem, Amman, Hong Kong, Davao and all the way back through Tel Aviv where its contents were the focus of meticulous, pensive searches. Yet no one cared what hung upon my shoulder in the coffee shop, anyway. My anonymity had returned.

Photo by Thomas Shahan of Hotspotmedia

Photo by Thomas Shahan of Hotspotmedia

I leeched coffee and wireless, browsing programs in Conflict Resolution. My feet were cold, in the sense of the worn, wedding cliché: fatigued from work in the mid-East, there was no way I would commit to a Masters’ Degree. I wanted to stay away from the heat, learn to imagine and write again. The word processor booted and I surveyed a blank page, an Antarctic continent unmarred by civilization where even God’s marks lay beneath a tranquil blanket of white-space. Some treasure waited for me, I gambled, in the glaciated spaces of MS Word if I could… just… focus… no:

Antarctica is Hell put in reverse. Hell in reverse is the freon balloon that bursts in one person’s heart when another boards a train, leaving a simple goodbye and a brief hug. It’s the feeling of January blooming from inside one’s veins while February precipitates around them. I wish I had the imagination to paint these images but I used snapshots: memories like 45mm frames digested into English. No premonitions of that feeling percolated into the fragrant purgatory of Starbucks in August, though. My gaze sailed to the picture window, un-mooring from the desolation of the blank page.

A dragon-fly rested in resplendent, fragile gravitas upon the sill as if in a museum display case. Her long waist boasted a glinting armor of iridescent azure and violet. Her eyes were like dark and finely, infinitely faceted jewels bending my reflection into a perfect rings as I approached. Her four wings suggested as much of sci-fi space-craft as they did of biplanes, simultaneously primeval and sophisticated. The Order Odonata: 300 million years of aerial majesty. But I fixated on her eyes: she hunted with loch-blue eyes. They were figuratively blue, too, pressed against the pane of her prison.

She was lethargic from the cold of the air-conditioned room and probably fatigued from flying against the glass. She shuffled to the side when I drummed my fingers next to her — still alive. No one else had known or cared to do the obvious: carry her outside. Days later, I shuddered to think of what else I might have done: toppled her into a to-go coffee cup and kept her corpse like a jewel, maybe pinned it. It would be no great crime, since her kind is not endangered; neither is mine. Golden rule edict, I swear to Jesus. It’s the same reason I chased spiders and cockroaches around my next apartment, loosening the bathroom screen so they could crawl to new life.

~before I return to this beautiful story, please picture me shooing plus-sized cockroaches into a salsa jar with an old greeting card~

I brushed her slender abdomen with my right middle-finger, coaxing her to amble into my left palm. Something tiny can still be ponderous, plodding along the creases of a sweaty hand. She needed some help; she was ‘not herself’. The star(bucks)-crossed little huntress turned and crawled away from her hypothermia, her dignified yet certain demise. I ‘bite’, at times: I wondered if she could bite, if she would bite the hand that warmed her. I squeezed past patrons filling from the row of pump-action carafes and pushed the front door open with my butt. We emerged, backwards but alive, into the August sunshine.

The next handful of minutes was a special time. A few minutes can be an entire era if their significance reaches full potency. My time with her felt like that. I wanted her to stay with me as long as possible. I knew that she was a dragon-fly and I was not; we were mismatched by type but not by season: we could overlap for a moment. A summer breeze seethed between the hastily rising buildings of “NoMa” in the District of Columbia but I saw no movement from the dragonfly. There was no knowing how much time she spent indoors. Beyond being cold, she could be mostly starved. “At least she can pass away warm and loved—” I murmured, “even if the latter is beyond her understanding.” She was relaxing. At the end of our epoch, she wiped those gorgeous eyes. Wings began to rustle at an accelerating pace until…

Buzz. Zoom! My writing has been unsteady but I can still ‘dragon-fly’. Someday, I will dragon-fly much better than I did tonight… I hunt by touch, so it is my hands that are figuratively blue.

It takes a minute to get warm. A minute is an epoch like a page is a continent. In an epoch a continent can change. Now I have come to the difficult part of the entry, where I might to tie the Starbucks-purgatory to an episode from the winter that followed. I wanted to do that when I revived this draft in February. Through words, I might make partings beautiful. I still could. Today, August links to August. The hand that warms me could be a church or a theater — perhaps a library at American University. After that hot August I reaped many friendships and this August yielded a new living situation with a beloved colleague and a different graduate program, filled with people to meet. The meetings make purgatory not all too unpleasant — and reunions are Heaven.

Dark DC-Metro

“Less-than-nothing” is not the end. It’s temporary.




Trying to Get Pregnant

I am trying to get pregnant; one way or another, I have wanted to get pregnant for a long time. After my last relationship ended, I had plenty of solitude in which to get pregnant with inspiration for a novel. I had privacy, candles, and bathtub sessions on a regular basis.

–call me a click-whore: trying to boost my views–

JD GoreI thought leaving the country was sure to do the job: bless me with the inspiration. Somehow, it did not occur to me that I already had the inspiration to write several books. I have motivational problems. On a subconscious level all of my stories inhabit a chilly place, a padlocked freezer of creativity sitting atop the refrigerator of my blogging-life. As anyone can see, the fridge is virtually empty. I have not posted as much as one entry since March. Unexpectedly, I find myself at a different kind of rock-bottom.

It was one kind of rock-bottom, post-college, when deaths and divorces wracked my family and I entered a state of unemployment: time, time everywhere but not a word to write. It was quite another rock-bottom when I reached the final months of my service in Palestine and none of us could go to the office without the threat of being tear-gassed, then still another when I returned to the United States and started living in a giant take-out box on North Capitol Street with no windows and reduced ceilings. All the while, I kept insisting “this is not as bad as other things that have happened.” Last year, I was still quaking from traumas past.

Now, I am accepted to American University’s MA in International Training and Education Program (ITEP). The news came to me while I was at West Michigan Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, the same event at which I took the floor in 2011 and called for divestment from companies that profit from apartheid infrastructure in Palestine. Unable to reach the floor for this year’s debate, I dropped to my knees with my al-khalili prayer beads and begged God that the conference would just consider divestment. With no input from me, they promised to do so. Since then, the entire Presbyterian Church (USA) has divested and the UMC seems not far behind. I’ve enrolled for 9 graduate credits with the abundant help of staff at AU. The path toward peace-of-mind is still not complete nor success assured but I have reasons to pat myself on the back. My supervisor said that my greatest accomplishment was realizing “—that failure is okay—”

Lindsey StirlingA different relationship with failure would have changed the course of my life significantly; I might be a musician or actor instead of drifting toward being an educator. I recently attended a Lindsey Stirling concert (I’ll keep my gushing to a minimum); looking back on the course of her career, it seems that even her rise to “America’s Got Talent” didn’t cement her place in that industry. She needed the help of some other gifted friends, especially a videographer and other musicians and vloggers with whom she collaborated, before the art she believed in from the beginning reached fertile ground. Sometimes I say things to myself like…
“…if I had been the same way about trumpet, maybe I wouldn’t be just a sometimes hack… I would have reached the promised-land…”
“…it’s too bad I was from a small-town and didn’t know I needed more connections. I guess I just bloomed too late…”
“…I’m probably just psychologically incapable…”
John Green—like everyone else? I also follow author John Green from time to time. Just once, I heard him talk about the period of soul-sucking depression that preceded his first book. He needed help far beyond what I have been willing to seek and yet, somehow, he became best-selling author John Green. I haven’t read his books yet but he’s known for writing accessible, teen-beloved fiction that is also meaningfully realistic.

I am indicting myself just a little, here. I didn’t grow-up to be the next Freddie Hubbard; I feared being a failure and so failed to love the music more than I loved my need to feel significant. I have often thought about writing an entry on my struggle with “significance.” Despite being single, indebted, and PTSD-ridden, I still find significance in having accepted my mission to Palestine. The quest for significance may not ever be enhanced by fame, after all.

Also, I cannot ignore that the reason I flunked first-year math was not that I was under the bridge playing my trumpet. I was writing: journaling. As much as I want to kick myself for not writing more fiction or poetry, I was always writing something — and afterward felt better. Now that I have ‘significant things’, I seem to be faltering in the most basic way: I am not even pontificating on WordPress!

Can I make the transition to loving my art more than my significance, even as I pursue the call to international education?

The answer has to be “YES” because of the literature that always resonated the most with me, which is the kind of writing I want to do. I have an interesting handicap in that I ADORE anti-colonial storylines that subvert domination… but I’m from a historically dominant group. More accurately, we were subsumed by that group (whites) as German & Irish immigrants in order to win the ethnic politics of North America. As I’m writing this, I’m processing these thoughts — I sometimes think about my one indigenous ancestor, of how distant I feel from her (I don’t know her name, nor for sure to what tribe she belongs). Perhaps I am not so far from her heart, after all.

When I started writing today, I decided two things: one was that I would not get much above 1000 words and the other was that I would just share my thoughts as they come out without a great deal of outlining and other kinds of ‘engineering’ — meticulous editing. I need to get my engine started again; regardless of my ‘marketability’, writing is my native language.

Epilogue: Reverend James Ritchie called-out “Brother Gore! When are you going to write that book?” For the next fifteen minutes, we talked about the possibilities of the book and how my education was going to make me so SO busy. He kept playfully batting me with a rolled-up conference bulletin:
“You’re the only one who can write YOUR story; it won’t happen in a week or even a month but if you let God work in your heart… it’s going to happen.”

Pentagon City Mall: a draft

Mall anticsThe black ones were from the ‘Payless Shoes’ store near the Tenley Town Metro station, purchased just as August began. I threw my pair of white tennis shoes into the garbage, right there, and walked away in the same pair of black walking-shoes I wore into the Pentagon City Mall — now heavily scuffed and crusted with road salt. I looked at the mall map for a puzzled minute, then rode the escalator to a ‘Walking Company’ ~ some kind of shoe store I had never heard of before. I’m from the ‘stix’ of Michigan… via occupied Bethlehem. Pentagon City Mall might be more exotic to me than some of my contemporaries.

I might as well start with the shoes, if I am showing the passage of time. I am trying to write this with a minimum amount of second-guessing and I chose shoes as my metaphor — the cross-trainers from Ireland were the shoes that walked three continents. The white shoes from Plainwell represent the period of more crippling disarray between the bombardment of Gaza — while I was still in the West Bank — and the US Campaign to End the Occupation Conference that help start me on the road to greater peace-of-mind without completely losing a grip on justice. Lately, I’ve been making even more allowances for myself since I know that my most volatile outrage, however just or rooted in hard facts, cannot inhere lasting peace; the way of wi’am (and salaam, by extension) must be patient and creative — and kinder than I was a year ago, after steeling myself for the final flight from Tel Aviv. The mall can be too much like an airport, perhaps, but I felt more comfortable in my skin as I interacted with the shoe-clerk — as I noticed myself functioning normally. She was there to help: size my feet, make suggestions, bring me nice shoes. “Well, I like the brown ones — in brown, actually. Thank you so much…”

The brown shoes were all I needed: a fresh start. I could put them on and flee the strangeness of shopping malls. Yet there was something else I knew I needed from Pentagon City: therapeutic reconnaissance. I am emerging from an uncertain incubation period, of sorts, since I decided that my future lies more in libraries and classrooms than at the negotiating table — I wanted nothing less than to be a mediator like my ex-supervisor (Zoughbi Zoughbi). I wanted to feel about myself the way that I feel about him. Supportive friends are helping me see that I have gifts of my own. Of course, this journal needs to cease being an outlet for self-administered therapy. There was a story taking place: a missionary on a domestic assignment descended into a mall food-court to transcend his reverse culture-shock —and tinge of PTSD?— by immersion. He (I) unsheathed a lined-notebook and began journaling… in pen, on a table in the mall food-court. I dared myself to soak it all in without dilution, sans critiques about materialism or augmented reminiscences about open-air markets.

As the hard-drive in my skull de-fragments, day by day, the paradox becomes more clear: all of the pieces I need to succeed, except for the hours of practice soon to come, have always been with me. There is continuity. Simultaneously, there is an irreversible discontinuity: I’ll never walk through the mall like I did as a teenager. So many adept attributes have fled me forever and I’ll always be stitched together rather than fully integrated — always a little bit absent-minded, always unable to fully digest the absurdities. I have lived in fear of the day I learned I would never be normal again…

But this is good! I can sense the absurdity. Though I have struggled desperately with a confluence of disappointments, those mental fractures healed by the Grace of The Divine and became my antennae — like a broken foot that aches when storms approach. My tolerance is rising rather than the mall’s ludicrousness diminishing.

—after I had finished sketching some thoughts, I decided to take a walk around the entire building. I wish I had all night to talk about it: the whole experience was surreal. The Mall is the closest I may ever get to absinthe — it’s like my first time in a haunted house or like walking into the Garden of Gethsemane and whispering “Jesus cried & bled here”. It’s so much weirder than most of you can know simply because you are accustomed. All the wonders of the ocean are a mystery to fish.

Ciao, friends.