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.

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Finding Balls on my Walk (another fragment)

Credit: Angela Johnson, wizzley.com

Photo-Credit: Angela Johnson, wizzley.com

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

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

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

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

lost again, I’m screaming your name/

[Chorus]

Come close come close and call my name/

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

Stay close, stay close; light up the night/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Wrestling the Anchor: Dredging for Treasure

“What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have never been discovered.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

the-past-visits1

This is so weird to see: Omitted-ex & I

In 2010, I bought a journal at a store in Grand Rapids Michigan with that quotation on the cover. Yesterday I read and annotated those hand-written reflections from five years ago. My brief but sweet romance dissolved, a week ago; it was an amicable split that left me both deeply ‘blue’ and hopeful for new opportunities. That is all I need to say of my “Fli” (my so-fly “former love interest”; “ex-girlfriend” sounds negative); the break with “Fli-girl” left me on a higher level than when we met in February, much unlike the scuttled commitment with “Omitted-ex” that burned and sank in 2010. This seems like the perfect chance to understand my ‘story-arc’ better through intentional reflection.

For my sake, take a few steps back to an earlier point in the causal chain, readers; allow me to look more closely at this period to understand the subsequent stages. The journal begins with an unironic “Dear Jesus,” –an earnest salutation that heads all of its entries, starting on April 25th 2010. “I want desperately to shed my skin right now.” it reads, “I think I am still learning it is okay to be inconsistent that way, so long as I draw closer to our Father. […] My own feelings have been hard to reign in. I feel that I have been put back up against familiar struggles in an unfamiliar stage. [Omitted-ex]’s initiation of this stage has put me on a continual defensive. But the point of this journal is to buck-off the past a little and get focused on the building…”

My first sticky-note annotation notes that, “[f]rom the beginning, reigning-in his emotions and defensive” referring to my younger self in the third person.  Near the end of April, the comments begin to get tart. “My prose, here, relies on a Western Christian idiom even though I am talking to myself…” Here is the 29 year old man, the man whose lived between Jerusalem and Washington’s orbit for an accumulation of four years, dissecting a former-self that had not left Michigan. “Where is all the fucking profanity? He was hurting but he won’t say shit.” Rather than following the annotations’ course I decided to focus on unpacking my reading of this old journal.

My five-years-aged emotions were impossible to connect with because the prose was a continual swirl of self-deprecations, as well as generic frustration, coated in this alien phraseology. Especially between mid-May and mid-June of that year, I wrote permutations of the same, impotent ideas — I said little about friends, my job, or events happening in the world. Everything revolves around the grinding de-escalation of this one romance and my corresponding attempt to rewire my spirituality (my ways of thinking and feeling at the intersection of ontology and epistemology). Omitted-ex and I became entangled pursuing a narrow vision of mutuality. There was an idea of “we” whose parameters came from conservative ‘Christian’ authors that she read rather than from improvising together — in absence of an “us-groove”, there was this misfit-chart for securing love. “The haptics do seem to be indicative,” I annotate, referencing how she stopped touching me, “I can see [Omitted-ex] hanging-on when she shoulda’ known it was over.”

May 15th, 2010 marked a critical down-turn. The entry begins with some sharp relational analysis: I speculate that she is chasing an abstract sold to her by publishers, that there could be months of “toil” punctuated by an ultimate rejection or, worse, a miserable courtship leading to “an emotionally abusive relationship of withholding”. This slice of sophisticated pessimism appears like an anachronism but it is the rest of the journal that is out of place. Things I knew before and have known since about Life, The Divine, and relationships were inaccessible to my mind that spring. I start building a wall over my common-sense in the next paragraph, brick-by-brick using the ideas of ‘Faith’ gleaned from those toxic books she wanted me to read. That Faith was made from inertia and introspection, which explains my over-correction a year later: I built a Faith on perpetual activism.

عدالة!

Sticky-note annotations.

Sticky-note annotations.

I could already sense The Dragon trying to cannibalize The Boy; I often refer to my hardened, social-justice-obsessed persona as The Dragon. His breath reeks of burning tires, his claws are like exposed re-bar, and he compares all previous suffering to the burn of tear-gas against the eyes. He emerged from the hot ashes of ‘her’ books when I burned them and fed on hookah smoke in the West Bank while Gaza burned in 2012. “Be compassionate to yourself,” I annotate. When I see things like “I am a very loved stupid person” it is tempting to separate myself from that by starting to mock. That affirms the label rather than recognizing the circumstances that tied my cognitions in a knot: deaths, unemployment, family tensions.  My sense of determination was like a dangling tentacle, eager to wrap itself around that romance because my parents had recently divorced. Perspective was missing, not intelligence– as is the case with many people.

Some paleogeologists postulate there was a period of total glaciation in Earth’s history — Snowball Earth — which delayed the onset of the ‘Cambrian Explosion’. The diversity of life’s forms accelerated rapidly in the Cambrian period and the phyla of animals we know today appeared. June 15th, 2010, three days after Omitted-ex and I split, the first signs of life appeared. “My thoughts stretch on. This growth cannot be about her now. It is quickly going to become about *page-break* vocation.” The word “vocation” slapped me awake as I wiped my brow, sitting on a patio in DC summer humidity. By July 1st, I start to write in ways that I recognize as my own voice. On the 7th, momentum is building: “Wow. My history is discouraging in this department. Yay? Yay for an excuse? No. Not yay or guilt. Move on.” That final imperative struck a bass-string in me, five years later: move-on.

Cross and maskJuly 30th shows me more about who I was, then, than any entry before. “Then I looked in the mirror and saw how odd I looked. I didn’t see a handsome guy with flaws. I saw an odd son-of-a-bitch but… I felt like I could like him. Maybe I want a friendship with myself. To put it through a Faith lens, I knew that your love was unconditional [to Jesus]. Your grace doesn’t un-kink my image or even my insides. You love each ugly bastard.” In that paragraph I see a fragment of myself. This idea of Grace has no Salvation in it. I was unable to see my beauty and felt as if I had to accept feeling ugly, as if there was nothing I could do. Quickly, I ran from the patio into the bathroom to look at myself in the mirror. I looked so good: a runner’s body, manicured soul-patch, grandma Gore’s eyes, grandpa Rice’s crooked smile, and an anchor tattoo. Where he saw a weed I saw a fragrant herb.

Dredged + Salvaged

To my mild surprise, the first mention of “mission” appears in the entry for September 8th, 2010. It is still partially lodged in the same, dislocated ‘Christianese’ scaffolds but it’s there: “My stumbling blocks seems easier to see and process. It is so strange to see the skeletal structure of hidden assumptions I have, even if it is such a mere glimpse. I have the basics of a spiritual plan and one for career (ish) ~ yet I find myself toying with the idea of a mission. What is your will? Am I ready to be sure?”

Reading later entries, I discovered an incarnation of myself with whom I wanted to connect. I remembered him reaching for a sense of balance, often handling things in his life with a basic sense of graciousness that shames my snarky ‘Dragon’ self. At times when I might be angry, he responds with a disciplined humility. At the same time, I see his damaged self-respect and his desire for something exterior to define him. The stage was set. Still, I find it comforting to know that I am returning to myself, again, with some perspective that he lacked. Endless hell will not claim me.

The anchor represents a sense of perspective. Now, I can start talking about my journey abroad. “Do you realize,” I whispered to my past self, “that you are two years away from swimming in a waterfall in Southeast Asia?” Then I realized that it had been three years since I swam in that waterfall — since losing my first anchor necklace. To think that I will probably never see that waterfall again makes me much sadder than the loss of Omitted-ex. The difference between depression and the life-giving blues is clear now: Fli-girl is like the waterfall and I wanted her to stay that way. I said goodbye. I said “move-on”.

To be continued…

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…

Chirp Chirp Chirp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—I can almost hear the chickens clucking, irregularly—

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