Perhaps this will become
A petition to discharge debt
incurred in the process of trying to prove myself in the form of academic accomplishments and the possibility of potential to create some great change
that may save the world
by quietly naming the fact
that we don’t know how to see things
that our names are all wrong
She is a woman sitting on the front steps of a house that is not immediately crumbling, but that shows – on closer inspection – paint peeling from the eaves in sheets like birch, worn by the air if nothing else for years and years
(a place impossible to reach)
(can ladders rest on steps? Seems risky?)
She went to get her bag of pencils and wires and books – near blank journal and planner with the squares almost empty. Couldn’t find it, and felt – immediately crumbling – the vision of her drawing a picture of herself, knees up and glasses on. Hair a collapsing bun and wild tossed strands like marsh after a flood.
(Who am I to name my despair a hurricane?)
A petition to discharge my debt, with a letter from my very first psychiatrist, and interviews with former employers. “She did a good job, but wasn’t quite well.” “She struggled to be consistent.” There is the image of a woman on a wall phone, a nondescript hall, short by the nurses desk.
The profundity of the fact that she remembers the phones in clear visual – every phone in every hospital she’d ever been in. Calling the plumber Tammy who worked at the hardware store. Listening. “I knew you’d cut yourself. That it wasn’t an accident.”
“Can you bring my bear?”
Slamming the phone down, the short breathless walk to her room, you have to go out the same way you came in. There is no other way. The windows do not open.
The woman gets up again. Realizing that she may have found a thread, the sense of a line she can run with, a fragile constellation comprised of the thoughts and images of the morning, a press of not wanting to work, the morning thoughts of absenteeism, of calling out, not showing up. The contemplations of disability that have been with her for years.
I AM A DIFFERENTLY ABLED PERSON.
All the hundreds of essays on that topic of ability and aptitude and tolerance or lack there of.
The twisted cord of solidarity with all the people who are differently abled and yet show up to work anyway because they have no choice and who die inside to feed their children and keep a roof of some sort over there heads and all the brightness in them dies under fluorescents and they can’t smell flowers for the oily scent of blood and sweat and chemical concrete dust recycled air and not a single shaft of sunlight the endless beeping beeping beep beep beeping clawing clanging, boring ass days that bring no joy but release the brief journey home…some sneering internal voice that tells me I need to get over myself and stop complaining, to go to work, to get my act together.
Get. My Act. Together.
And how much I hate that shaming voice, and how it has been spoken by people I love and who I want to love me, which means to see me, and to understand that I am trying my best, but cannot help who I am and what I am.
“You are not disabled.”
“You are a bad mom.”
The voices coalesce, become an amalgamated blur of scorn and dismissal, pity and disgust.
Something about the Protestant Work Ethic and the leveraging of shame to compel participation in an economy that does not benefit you or your family or your community, an economy that uses our vital labor – our time and energies and talents, our lifeblood – to produce billions of dollars of profit for a very few people at the expense of global wellbeing on this planet. The terrible and withering shame that has been enacted to force us to compromise our instincts, to drag ourselves from bed with the noise from the day before still clanging in our heads, and our teeth worn down from grinding, keeping our mouths shut about how much we hate our fucking jobs…
I am lucky that I don’t hate my job.
I am so endlessly compelled to name how lucky I am and to then explicitly say that luck has nothing to do with it, that I am privileged. That it is the privilege of my father’s people that have put me in a position to have a job that I don’t hate, but also my differences in ability, also handed down to me from my father’s people, and my mother’s people, good people who want a just world, good people with unblemished and determined hearts, hard working people who give up themselves to show up for their family.
My mother. It occurs to the woman, still sitting on the steps in the cold air of a late April morning, sun rising and world coming alive in bird song and green light through new leaves.
[She takes a quick video. Noticing the way the cars go by, but that she can still hear the birds. Persistent birds. An entire history of a race called ornithological. The miracle of birds. The truck approaches and she imagines the smell of vinyl and carpet on metal floorboards, the dull stink of heat from the vents. The beginning of a workday.]
[imagined conversations with her children, now almost adults, about her smoking cigarettes again. ‘People use drugs and do dangerous things all the time.’ Considering the ways that her heart began to hurt when running, the shortness of breath and bounding pulse in the sweaty dark of early morning.
The reality of what she needs to do has been clear to her for a long time, and becomes clearer as she understands, with the beat of her heart, that she will not live forever, and that she will not be able to construct the artwork that is hers to construct – which is not one artwork, but many – all tumbling into one another over time and across subject – if she continues to give herself over to the needs of affairs that are not hers to tend to, the affairs of organizations, and of people who want to use her energies for their own gain and satisfaction.
Her head hurts. She called out sick from work this morning after a wave of light-headed nausea hit her at the gym. She walked into the bathroom, thrusting her bag at her daughter as the girl complained to her to come on, come on. There were things to do, get over it.
“No, really,” the woman said. “I feel sick.”
Her pulse had been up all morning, the machine telling her to slow down to reduce her heart rate, even though she was going slow. The machine had taught her to pay attention, and had given her a metric, a reading that – while it may be inaccurate – was consistently inaccurate.
She would spend the day trying to hold onto the thread she had found, would weave enough to know that she could come back to it, continuing working and building, find the voice again, the language that is hers to speak, the words that are hers to say, the stories only she can tell about who she is and why she is the way she is.
Yesterday, she spend 4 hours on Zoom, an Alternatives to Suicide facilitators training. “What is the name for your despair in your own language?”
“What is the path you found back from your despair?”
The facilitator had show slides telling how indigenous youth who know their language are less likely to commit suicide.
The woman wondered if maybe there was a new way of seeing white, a way that erased white and gave people back the best of their ancestors – not the twisted teachings of the industrial western world about who we are and what we are, but the best of how people understood themselves and understood others, the languages that were spoken long before America existed as a warped concept, culture, and economy wrought upon a place and upon all people.
“He was devastated,” my father spoke. “When the Consolidated Timber Company failed, he was just devastated. He had worked so hard to try to set things up so that my mother would be able to take care of herself.”
“When all that collapsed, he was just devastated.”
I do not know what that devastation meant to my my great-grandfather, a man I’ve never met and who is rarely spoken about. His name was Clarence, I believe. Clarence Moeckel, who everyone called Meck. His wife was my great-grandmother Rachel Beck, who wrote to her brother, Marcus Jr., that Meck was getting nervous again, after he ran away to something that was later called a circus. His letters named it otherwise, a swift retreat, a longing to be free, a turning from what was wanted of him by his father who – ten years after the death of his namesake son in the First World War, accepted – on behalf of the South – the monument to the Confederacy that was carved into the rock face at Stone Mountain, Georgia.
My great-great Grandfather was Judge Marcus W. Beck. Georgia State Supreme Court.
His sister was Leonora.
_______ came by, and I was glad to see them. I wrote them a note this morning explaining I was tired and resting, saying I’d check in with them later. I ended up being happy to see them at the gate, dapper in a tucked in blue plain twill and matching navy pants, a glowing white sweater and their No Hate In This State hat. The letters bright with the sweater.
I was happy to see them. My little dog, who I haven’t written about, because I have been busy and not well, disconnected from my voice, full of stresses and distractions, frontal lobe a cluttered mess of other people’s business.
She walked into the kitchen to find it dark and stinking of a hot oven. A plastic husk from a three pack of chocolate lay on the floor, dishes still in the sink. There he was in his mark-down sneakers, glaring white soles. “Hi,” he looked sideways at her. She set the brown bags from the grocery store down on the washer in the corner, head still pulsing a little, smell of something burning thick and acrid in the kitchen. As soon as she saw him she had felt herself clamp down inside, steel her face against his voice and plastered-on persistent ventriloquist smile. “Lurking,” the chorus of herself spit out, “lurking around in my house.”
“How are you?”
______ was friendly enough, blameless in his delivery.
“I’m well.” She felt her face dour and stern, unbecoming with her hair pulled back, the grey wires at her temples, the thin mouth set against anything that may be interpreted as a smile. Mustered a neutral assertive voice. “I am trying to keep my focus centered.”
______ looked at her. “So, if I seem rude, if I don’t say anything, it’s because I am trying to keep my focus, and that means not saying anything to anyone.”
(Ironically, he has just walked up the gate from the front steps where she is sitting in a white rocker carried down from the porch. She is not surprised to notice that she is unhappy to see him, but then he is carrying boxes for storage and 1/2 empty jars of Tibetan incense, a brass bell made of a fish.)
She was happy to see _______ She ended up being happy to see the person she had been in love with, and who she still loves, but who she no longer wants to be in a romantic relationship with and who she no longer wants to live with.
It’s a long story, like most love stories. In order to tell a love story, she’d have to name and describe all the small marriages and small divorces that shaped the time they’d spent as lovers.
She doesn’t need to do that now.
She would never have another lover – never be anyone’s girlfriend or wife. Never again.
She felt completely at peace in that, excited even, to have finally put all that behind her, to have finally learned enough about love to know that it is marred by words like girlfriend, marred by words like wife. Words like mother.
I only want to be people’s friends, and only in ways that do not ever preclude me from spending time with other friends, which include birds, trees, wind, my dog, and myself, and drawing, and reading. It is not that I don’t value my human walking-talking friends, the people I’ve met with whom I have shared some connection and who I have endeavored to maintain contact with and to continue to have experiences with. Let’s face it though, the wind is much simpler. Dogs are much more straight-forward in what they want and how they see you. There are the tricks of identity and learning, the ghosts a d shadows of people as they play out what they know of love, of friendship.
Only people can break my heart in certain ways, and I am tired of having my heart broken.
Let me clarify what I mean by my heart:
I. My physical heart, the organ that pumps my blood through my body, and which I rely upon to continue living as an animate being. My physical heart is structured in the ways of my ancestors hearts and has been further formed by the experiences that I have had which have either strengthened the fibers that – held together and moving in rhythm – keep me alive, or have damaged them in either acute or chronic ways due to exposure to certain biological chemicals and the processes that they catalyze (a constriction of blood vessels, a hardening of arteries, an accumulation of fat and cholesterol, a rush of fluttering beating, a pounding due to lack of oxygen, the lungs compressed, unable to hold air.
As she writes this, she remembers – her heart beating fast – the exact feeling of laying on the couch in the dome, warm sun of Christmas Day and the creek glittering brightly through the plexiglass triangles that made up the walls of the room. Oak trees blew in wind from the ocean, from the swamp, east to west, from the south, the big warm ocean, the north, the big cold ocean. She lay their with her wrist on fire, the air still knocked out of her, still gasping and then breathing as deep as she could, breathing harder, trying to take in air, and not getting enough air, the sun hot and bright on her face as she tried to make a voice from the small push she had in her as her lungs were compressed from inside, some unseen force inside, the dull ache that had become her body, not even attached, where were her legs, where was her arm, there was only the pressing of her lungs and the tightness of her thin breathing trying to call her mother.
“Help…I can’t…I can’t breathe.”
She remembers trying to walk into the hospital, oddly dark, near night. Her father carrying her. She doesn’t remember anything else for a long time. Weeks maybe.
Because it was Christmas Day, and a fog had rolled in somewhere beyond the glittering creek, they took her to the hospital in an ambulance, crossing the St Mary’s River to get to Jacksonville, where a child who can’t breathe after falling from a bag swing and flying across a pasture might be properly cared for.
“I thought you would die. They told me you would die.”
This is what my mother tells me of that day, when I broke my spleen and filled up with blood.
I was too young – only 6 – to operate on, and perhaps there was no operation to fix a busted spleen, a spleen that had ruptured after the girl’s young body flew out into the open air and landed with a skidding thud onto the thin grass ground.
They must have had to keep me still. Must have had to keep me sedated.
The only three memories I have of the hospital are waking up terrified and crying for my mother, laying flat and trying to be still, but crying, and somehow knowing my mother wasn’t there, and crying for that, a keen panic in me.
A. Two years later when I was 8, a boy named Scott W. pushed me off a wood frame treehouse at the house near the corner of Osborne Rd and some street whose name I can’t remember but that Greys Gallery sits on the corner of, the place where
my mom’s friend Elizabeth taught me how to draw and paint a little, and where I later had my grandfather’s Lebanese hands cut off of a photo that I was having framed for my mother. Upon receiving this gift, she exclaimed, “His hands! Where are his hands?!”
She loved the way they looked on the mirror glass table at the Florida Milk Co office, where her father worked. I do not know if the office where the photo him, sitting while white men in 1950s business suits flank him standing was taken in Jacksonville, where he suddenly died of a heart attack when my mother was 10, leaving my grandmother (who I am named for) to care for her and her two older sisters, all young adolescents who adored their father, alone. She died of complications relating to emphysema and dementia. Her dementia was probably caused by emphysema, at least in part. The brain needs oxygen and the heart works hard to supply it.
My father has hypertension.
When I fell after being pushed off the tree house, I landed at an angle on a pogo stick laying on the ground. The pogo stick held one part of my arm up while the other part of my arm kept falling an inch further. The angle of the impact drove the joint that holds the radius and ulna to the humerus part and lodged bones that were intended to stay in the low structure of my arm up into the space that was only moments before my left elbow. I stood up gasping, my breath knocked out of me again, but determined to cross the yard to the plasticky round patio table where my mom was doing mom talk and not paying attention at all.
She crossed the yard dead-calm and not breathing, her broken elbow making her arm flop awkwardly and impossibly, her efforts to keep it from swinging, to hold it in place, to make it unbroken were mute flailing of muscle and bone that were all fucked up. “Mom,” she said. “I think I broke my arm,” holding up her arm from the shoulder, so that the limp sack of her unbound ulna and radius hung at 90 degrees from the arm that should have been outstretched.
She does not remember anything after that, though has a mental image of the inside of a helicopter, the sound and smell of the small space, the man to her left. She does not remember being in the hospital. The reason they had to life flight her was because she went into medical shock, meaning that her heart could not keep up with the demands of her body for oxygen, that something had flooded her and she wasn’t getting enough oxygen, even though her heart was trying to beat.
All of that is in my physical heart, as are all the times I got so upset, all the times I was scared and sad and angry. All those seering and tearing times.
All of those are in my heart, too, in the form of tendencies and scar tissues, adaptations to less than ideal conditions and disrupted normative operations.
(Memory: Visiting Dr. Buckingham, the brutalist orthopedic surgeon who removed the pins from my elbow with only local anesthesia, so that I could look down my arm and see the incision being made, see the pins being pulled from the bone, the dull pressure of my arm being held, the pulling of the pins, the way the skin poked and broke with the suturing needle. Dr. Buckingham gave me the pins and I later gave them to another art teacher who had been my mother’s student. Pam Johnson, who kept borzoi and horses.)
II. My emotional heart. See above re: ill-tendencies and scar tissues (literal in the physical heart, and also – here the in the figurative heart of feeling wounded in our heart due to the shock and grief of losing something or being very afraid to lose something that we feel like we need to survive, something we love.
(Note: there may be additional thoughts here, re the intertwining between dependency relationships, needs both real and perceived based on experiences within relationship and culture and economy, and the ways that people and places become things in our internal seeking to feel safe or to reconcile some deficit or disparity or dissonance. I do not like it when people love me for what I offer to them, and say that they love me – because if they loved me, they would leave me alone and not want me to be any way other than who I am when I am most myself, which is here, in writing and in art. The voice that I use to speak to the people in my life about who I am and all the daily trifles and arrangements, apportionments of energy and attention, the things and people external to oneself that need what they call love, but what might actually be closer to egoic demands for attention, validation, and connection. I have no problem loving people, and am happy to give love freely when my heart is nurtured and healthy, but if my heart is not nurtured and if a relationship actually causes damage to my heart in the form of stressful shenanigans of communication and things like food and going places and having conversations that are interesting and enjoyable to all parties…or wounded by people being dicks and actually not seeing me at all, and only seeing some mysogynist charicature of who I am based on some garbage that happened with their mother or their ex-girlfriend, and expecting me to just be what they want me to be, and scorning me when I can’t or won’t. Then, additionally shaming me because I get upset when someone is man-splaining me to myself and totally invalidating whatever it is I am telling him is my own motherfucking experience, and saying some bullshit like what I understand in that moment to be true of what I am experiencing – based in my own observation of what I am thinking and feeling and the images and sensations that are occuring in my body and conscious mind, which gets flooded with amplified trauma detritus files when dudes talk to me and look at me in certain ways that – let’s face it – are fucked up.
Unlearn the way they taught you to hold your face, dude. Unlearn your face, if you’re so smart. At least respect what I’m saying when I say that your smug smirk and flinty eyes and set jaw freak me out, because you are already invalidating whatever I might say before I even say it, so why say anything other than Fuck You.
This is what I know of friendship:
A true to friend to me is someone who recognizes me for both my strengths and limitations and understands that I am a person for whom the normative experience of being a human being in America has typically eluded me, in that I have no fucking idea what it is like to not think the way I do or remember the way I do or speak the way I do in my most true voices, I have no idea what it is like to not have a visual memory and a visual processing style.
Haha – autocorrect just changed style to “farts.”
Anyway, the normative experience of being a female human in America has – unfortunately – not eluded me, in that I have basically been seriously fucked up by the way that my physical body has been made into this thing that has to be a certain way in order not to be scorned or ridiculed or shamed, and that the person I am is a being that should primarily exist for the satisfaction and service of others which while this may not be true philosophically, on the basis of how utterly fucked up and dehumanizing (somehow I kept saying de-hymenizing, which is funny because just today I was thinking about how completely disgusting it was that my young male psychiatrist shitbag that I had only just met during an extremely traumatic conversation with my parents who were leaving me at the fucking hospital after this asshole asks me all kinds of personal questions about smoking weed (which at 13 I had never done) and having sex (which I also had never done), but which he accused me of, and then proceeds to do a vaginal exam which my impression was solely for the purpose of determining that I was lying about not having lost my virginity yet, and then acting smugly surprised when he learned, by putting his fingers into my vagina, that my hymen was intact.
Despite all my compassion and understanding of the ways people get fucked up in this culture and this economy, I seriously want to punch that smug look off that motherfucker’s face.
The reason I was thinking about that guy, who I believe is still in practice, if he hasn’t died in the past couple of years, is cause I need to request that he write me a letter regarding my treatment with him throughout my adolescence, from ages 13-17, which includes two hospitalizations at the now defunct due to Medicaid fraud and other disgustingness involving the unlawful hospitalization of elderly people and kids with problems because they’d been through some awful shit in their families or towns, all to be diagnosed as having a mental illness, a chemical imbalance.
I know my records do not exist, due to the dissolution of Charter Hospitals as an entity, and the fact that the receptionist at Dr. Martelli’s office told me they are no longer available. I have written about that conversation somewhere.
I need to call him and ask him to write me a letter to try to flesh out my mental health history for the possibility that I may need to apply for disability, depending on what happens over the next year or so, and whether or not my perimenopausal process and the imminent death of my mother while my children are in the process of leaving the home we’ve shared, signalling the end of an era that has been extremely difficult and beautiful and fucked up, like most families.
I have had an amazing day. I called out sick to work and spent the whole day writing and thinking about ideas. I added some to a drawing I had done the day after Lisa Montgomery was executed and felt good about revisiting this image. I considered last words and the significance of them, and wanted to study all of the last words of people killed by the state, wondered what art exists of those utterances.
Driving to pick up her daughter, little dog in the back seat and on time so far, she considered the conversation she’d had with her mother on speaker phone while she brushed her hair. “I feel better, had the nicest day. I just wrote all day and thought about ideas and spent time with the dog.”
There was a walk-with to the corner and back. Training sits at the edges of streets, hurry-hurry at the crossing. When the little dog pulls, she stops. He is learning to sit patiently, and likes the pauses, the time to look around.
“I want to talk to dad about Meck. I am curious about that, and want to hear more about him. That whole part of the family.”
I can tell I am getting tired because my writing is lagging and undetailed. The bigger sense around the subjects shown is muted. There is no mentioned of the internal questions that rise around my great-grandfather, who he was, why he was nervous, what that meant and what happened to him.
“Also,” I mentioned, “I was trying to find information about Judge Beck’s role in the dedication of the Monument to the Confederacy at Stone Mountain, and I found in a newsletter archived by the Sons of Confederate Veterans that he – Judge Marcus Wayland Beck was a primary speaker at the event and that he – my great great-grandfather – accepted the monument to the confederacy at Stone Mountain, Georgia on behalf of the South, and that – well, that is interesting to me.”
She walked into her room, laid her brush down. “There is an organization called ——— that is working with communities to take down these monuments, and well…”
Her mother shifted into the detached conversational tone of politic-talk. I think they just just take down the signs and put a new sign that says “Never Again,” and just all keep working toward…”
She can’t remember the phrasing of her mother’s watery wish for equality, for unity.
“I cannot say anything about,” she found herself saying. “I have no idea how it feels to be a person who is the descendant of slaves, whose ancestors were brought here as enslaved people and to see a monument to the structures and systems that has harmed their families for generations right there in the middle of the town I am trying to call home. I don’t know how that feels and so I can only say that I can imagine that I wouldn’t much like it.”
“I mean,” she continued as she pulled a pair of socks with deer who had flowers in their antlers standing amongst trees, a bright blue background. Perfect socks for Earth Day and the day she’d had considering who she was and what she needed to do to take care of herself.
“That monument is a blasphemy in stone,” she felt a thought rise as she left the house, and drove north to pick up her daughter. Her great-great Uncle Marcus, the Judge’s son would agree, and she felt something like his dark-eyed spirit flood quietly into her, smiled to feel him close, and understood that this idea was a part of what she needed to do to take care of herself, which was to make some acknowledgement that though her family, the blood that made her blood, were good people, wise people, they were a part of something treacherous and ugly, and that needs to be spoken and – more more importantly – that fucking monument must be returned to the stone that it was, though it will never be that stone again, because that stone took thousands – millions – of years to carve as it was and will never be again, carved in tribute to brutal lunacy of America and the lust for property, the lust for power, the lust for pride and a personhood above other persons, the idiocy of the trick that had been played on the poor men and sons who died in the Confederacy fighting for the rights of so-called white property holders to continue their supremacy not only above the African people and the indigenous masses on colonized lands, but their supremacy over the worker and the farmer, the poor sons and daughters of immigrants who themselves had fled. The masses, the masses, the masses. The insidious tricks and lies that had been told about the chance to rise above someone, to have your own place, a fence, a pantry, land to work, safety and belonging. The myth of the American Good Life, dangled like candy as an enticement to turn from injustice and support a system of economy that only works for a select few, and was designed as such, while the masses do the work, all the drudgery of production and consumption in a supply chain of enforced dependency and debt.
God, America is a crying, bloody Shame.
In some hearts, shame becomes hatred.
Trygve Gulbrannson Beyond Sing the Woods
The original quote says that in some “mean hearts, shame becomes hatred.”
There may be mean hearts.
Some places make mean hearts.
America makes mean hearts…and so many other sorts of hearts…brave hearts and wild hearts and sad hearts and broken hearts…and joyous hearts, too.
It’s possible that joy is not made, but simply allowed for in the spaces between fear and anger and grief, the lifting awe of looking around at the world, of being alive.
I want to write an email to ——— and share an idea to ———- by ———— a ———— (haha, don’t worry, surveil, it’s just a survey. 😂🤦🏻♀️)
If it were up to me, I’d sandblast the motherfucker back to smooth stone, and do nothing else. Let it be an erasure, and then leave it alone, let the water flow down it in rains and the sun beat down all summer. Let tiny pools form between the latticework of stone, to freeze and refreeze, small particles lifted away like dust year after year, knowing that nobody alive today will see the stone face that once held a monument to the confederacy be anything other than a sanded smooth surface, with – perhaps – a small engraving at its base that simply reads NEVER AGAIN.
If it were up to me, that’s what I would have done to the monument accepted on behalf of the South by my great-great grandfather, Judge Marcus W. Beck, father of his namesake son, the bright eyed boy who died trying to make his father proud in a grueling made-up world of races and wars.
I’d have the monument sand-blasted.
In between the bracken and the stream, under rocks and water-slick stones, there is a poem about what happened the year the willow tree fell and the cherry tree died and my mother was diagnosed with cancer.
In whispers it came, a hush and slow-spread
not wriggling or slithering, or crashing
just drifting, hanging in the air, caught in the pearls of breath
sparkling over everything we sigh about
replicating in the darkest creases
deep in our heads and chests
just a few days left in winter
as the news turned to silent city streets
ships made into hospitals
close down the schools,
we have to learn this now.
as rains poured down the runnel streams
the folding of the mountains, fog gathering
the ghosts of the girdled giants
the echo of their fallings in the forest
no more coffin wood, big bright spaces where once there was shade
and the animals all scurried,
digging in the leaves
forget the leaves, their hunger said,
Now we are learning this
In the summer, grass grows
up through the pavement
empty school lot
There is no going back
To the world we knew
though the spring will come
again and again
and the small shoots of new growth will push up through the soil
made of the dust
that was once a mighty American Chestnut, small trees
not yet girdled by blight,
growing, seeking the light
because that is all there is to do
until you die.
Now we are learning this.
Yes. That’s 6001 words in a day of writing that also included going to the gym with my daughter, taking care of animal family needs, giving my daughter a ride to work, taking a nap, visiting with ____ and taking a brief walk, and going to pick my daughter up and going into two grocery stores, and making dinner and watching an episode of superstore, and taking a shower – not all in that order. I also cleaned up the yard some, not much but a little, and worked on that drawing of Lisa Montgomery descending into something like heaven.
And a few other things…
It was a good writing day. I could really build on some of this, or use some of it. I have no idea why the formatting split the words and left last letters as straggler first letters, compressed all the lines into single spacing – which is not at all how it was written. I did not “paste without formatting.”
I don’t mind the errors in layout. This is not that kind of blog and – somehow – the wall of words is appropriate.
Some things I have thought about over the past couple of days during which I have taken a hiatus from the usual rhythm of work emails and dissociated zoom meetings and being out walking, and have mostly spent my time resting and writing and considering the flow of my life and activities are:
– that it would be a lot simpler if people just used they/them pronouns unless a person they know explicitly asks them to use other pronouns. The idea of defaulting to a person’s perceived gender is problematic for really obvious reasons – misgendering and the implicit assumption of the right to externally label another person as being what you perceive them as. They/them should be the default pronouns. I am using they/them pronouns because I do not believe in or trust the constructs of binary gender and feel that the trappings of a she/her pronoun are fraught with bias, erroneous assignments of character traits and tendencies and deep-rooted shadows of role expectations. I want nothing to do with being seen as a woman in America. I want to wear my hair long and appreciate the feminine aesthetic, and I wasn’t born with a penis (nor do I especially want one).
However, I am not a she/her.
In the plurality of who I understand myself to be, I have attributes of many things and may inhabit those attributes in fluid and unspecific ways. Sometimes I might be more like a “man,” and sometimes more feminine.
Sometimes, I feel more like wind, and the parts of me that are truest and most stable over time *have zero interest* in being named by concepts formulated by the systems of idea and belief that create stratification and delineation based on observable perceived physical characteristics.
The energy of writing again, of finding a thread and following it, honing in on the voice in me that doesn’t struggle to know what to say, that simply speaks and being able to hold the attention to the secondary and tertiary details of what comes up for me as I consider ideas and images, experiences and concepts…it’s such a fragile, beautiful state – like being suspended between where I am sitting and everywhere I’ve ever been.
A lot of day, I don’t remember who I am. Literally, I forget what I care about, and the whispering impetus of action and intent from the core of me becomes so faint as to be undetectable.
I will literally forget that the most alive and purpose-driven I have felt in a long time was when I remembered that my great-great grandfather accepted the monument to the confederacy at Stone Mountain, GA and that the greatest art project that I might be involved in is creating a critical mass of public buy-in for the sandblasting and restoration to a smooth, unmarried surface on the face of Stone Mountain.
The only thing to do is to set into motion a series of actions and discussions that may catalyze a potential set of phenomena that may result in the eventual sandblasting of Stone Mountain.
[there are pocket-typos in the text below]
I am so sick of poverty systems. Literally, as a person who has a cognitive sensitivity to what is right and wrong and downright dysfunctionally stupid and toxic, I feel sick when I think about the economy of the United States of America. On one hand the economy is functioning just fine for the handful of people who benefit from exploitative capitalism and conscripted oppression of working people. If the country is kept in a state of dull desperation and anxiety, people will just keep doing what they are doing to survive. If you only offer them shit, if you make shit convenient and leverage the influence of our animal tendencies toward sex and hunger and violence and basically enact a normalcy that compels people to grueling, tedious, completely pointless labor in industries that probably don’t even need to exist and eat toxic chemical death because they are addicted to it because you sold it to them and they couldn’t resist. You spent billions of dollars on advertising campaigns designed Ev-to to wear people’s resistance down, to tell them again and again – you can’t resist, :|?an’t resist.
…you wonder why there is a substance use crisis in this country?
I s the 2
I can no longer work in human services that aren’t explicitly and constantly and actively integrating awareness W sscof the relationship between exploitative s and multiple injustices:s 2and qs2 and wqeee in weed :very aspect of behavioral health services.
Fuck an intervention that tells people how to cope and lies to them about why they are struggling.
(The next day)
She crawled into bed tired, and /w w BBC 1.2pulled the young dog close beside her, a warm body, the blurred the se 2 them blurred so that the rise and fall of his breath may as well been her own/ . He is a good dog, and she is convinced that maybe God had a hand in bringingw him to her.
The fluorescent lights that hang a from the ceiling of the YWCA are a sharp contrast to the still-dark outside. Her daughter insists that they ride bikes first, and so they sit beside one another and peWqd/al, not looking at their phone so //s//awww
The phone rang with a number from Raleigh, and she figured it might be _______, and so she answered. _______ said that they’d been back and forth to the emergency room and got papers both time, and that ____ has to see a ob-gyn and that they think _____ might have uterine cancer. _____ tells me that they are in the car of a friend of _____, who is a young shiny-haired person who drives a huge old gas-hungry van that has been converted for sleeping. _____ and a loose network of other young people – some with dread-locked hair and so with shaved heads, and some with still-shiny hair, their clothing a scrawl of dingy monochromatic earth palettes and a red patch, a bright purple hat, loose pants the color of saffron – fed people and gave out clothing and small plastic bottles of Dr. Bronner’s soap, always lavender. _______ brought her plastic bags filled with soap, and the woman gave her 20 dollars, 12 dollars. “I’d be buying it anyway,” the woman figured, slowly filling a brown paper grocery bag with tiny bottles of soap that she used for dishes, laundry, the dog, the floors. Damp lavender and sharp clean.
The kid that is giving _____ a ride today is named _____, or _______, pronoun unknown, but sounds masculine. _______ explains something about a prescription, and that _______ wants to come by the house before going to the Discount Pharmacy downtown, where she is having the prescription transferred from Walgreen’s. ____ almost got into a fight last time _____ was at the Walgreen’s out on Patton, because ____was in pain and felt hurried, was told that _____prescription would be ready and it wasn’t there at all.
As the woman moves through her house after receiving the phone call from _____ getting ready to take her daughter to work, reading part of an old New Yorker article on police unions in a print magazine, briefly now recalling holding the 1/2 sheet flyer for the Poetry Contest at the Fairview Library in her hand that morning. “It’s due on the 30th,” she said, talking on the phone while she stood by the fire. “I will print it out and bring it to you and you can drop it off at the library,” she explained how she planned to submit a poem, liking the idea that her mother would drop it off, not even caring if she won, but satisfied with the intent to enter and with the possibility of winning, the pleasing then-imagined weight of an envelope with a poem in it.
“Things have felt so immaterial. I used to write by hand. I used to write letters.”
In her head, not spoken, was a sudden unspooling of how utterly ludicrous it was that her life had changed so much.
“Now I go to digital meetings, to talk about digital documents, and I’m…”
She senses her mother on the other end of a line that doesn’t exist, a vaporous invisible wave of signals that somehow carries her voice across a mountain,
“…kinda disconnected from it all.”
As she got ready to take her daughter to work, she considered her mother’s experience with gynecological cancer, the fact that her mother has the extraordinary insurance of baby boomers from middle-class families in the economic downturn of their golden years, and still did not receive entirely excellent care. Moderately excellent, and stellar in the commitment of the Christian surgeon to work diligently for over 7 hours to remove what amounted to a 6 page single spaced pathology report’s worth of cancer from her mother’s abdominal cavity and proximal lymphatic systems, but not entirely excellent. There were communication snafus, scheduling glitches, a chilly bedside manner, shitty decorating in the halls and exam rooms. No magazines at all, a long wait, no good answers, no real good news. All masked, and with no family for the first few appointments, the back and forth between the possibility of a bowel cancer origin that needed to be ruled out to determine the best chemical treatment. The meetings with a hospice social worker who explained that there was no team, no nurse currently working, positions to be filled, etc.
It’s later in the day now, and Faith is sitting in front of the fire and thinking about heuristics and what she has been trying to do all this time, what she will continue to try to do, because it’s what she does, which is make sense, and remember, and hold onto just some small fragments of the lives she inhabits, try to figure out what she is supposed to do before she dies, what – finally – will give her a sense of peace, a sort of simpatico between who she is and the world she inhabits.
The other day, when she’d called out sick from work – her heart feeling strained and weary, blood pressure up, pulse high, woozy feeling and with the sort of headache she remembered from pregnancy induced hypertension, the edge of pre-eclampsia – her cognition muddled by a tense swirl of things she was supposed to be doing, and the increasing resignation to the impossibility of doing the things she was supposed to be doing. She couldn’t make her brain write a grant when her heart wasn’t beating right and her head was pounding. Thinking about work made her feel sick, and she didn’t even care that she couldn’t go, just texted out and took the day, and then the next day, and had thought at some point after sitting in the sun and writing and feeling more thoroughly alive, affirmed, and actually present in who she was than she had in a very, very long time, that it would be a shame to have not written what she wrote that day, which she ceases to remember in detail, because she wrote quite a bit, but that if she hadn’t stayed home from work, if she hadn’t just said, “Fuck it, you know what, I just literally cannot do this today. I cannot force my brain to write another fucking email, and if I look at anything about substance use, my spirit is just gonna shrivel right the fuck up, and – you know what – I might die. Yup, I seriously might die. I might drop dead of a motherfucking heart attack any old day. I have no idea. I could have a stroke. My cells could be mutating as I speak. My mother is dying, my children are leaving home. The planet is in climate emergency and we are in the midst of a massively complex racial justice process. The industries that we had become dependent on are not sustainable. Honey is radioactive. So, what the fuck? Really. What am I going to spend my time doing?”
She thinks about her reasoning, arguing with herself, getting into her own corner, convincing herself that she was not crazy to be considering stepping thoroughly back from the work she had been doing for 10 years, taking a hiatus from the nonprofit industrial complex, the world of human services and the edges of grassroots efforts, and throwing herself whole-heartedly into the life she knew she could create for herself if she diverted the energy from the work she did for wages to work she does because it is spirit-driven and rewarding beyond a paycheck and a lesson learned, a service performed. The thing is that I do care about the stuff my work has been focused on – the design, delivery, and funding of recovery support services and resources for people struggling with mental health and substance use challenges. That’s all really important and is a huge fucking deal as far as health justice and collective healing is concerned.
Here’s the rub though, there is a lot that I care about that, while directly related to substance use and mental health challenges, is not addressed at all or only minimally in the sort of structures of organizations, theories, and practices that I have been working within. While it is increasingly – thank fucking God, finally – acknowledged that intersections of poverty, trauma, and insidious systemic post-colonial American racism, coupled with normative post-Biblical sexism and viciously stupid nationalism for a nation that is essentially a corporate collusion, create all manner of tragic health inequities that had seriously impacted this country’s well-being and ability to be competitive in innovative international markets beyond holding its people economically captive in the role of consumers for a bunch of bullshit made by children in other countries.
I mean people are at least beginning to acknowledge the intersection of poverty and oppression in creating disadvantageous health outcomes, and are integrating more “trauma-informed” practices into behavioral health ‘treatment’ – but, fucking c’mon, can we talk about the well-documented role that exploitative capitalism and structural/systemic oppression plays in creating substance use epidemics and mental health crises?
Can we talk about the planet and the military industrial complex, about the fact that we’re scared and angry and confused about who we even are and what the fuck we are supposed to believe in?
I mean, oh my God…
On Apr 24, 2021, at 11:20 PM, Faith Rhyne wrote:
I am sitting in the dark and thinking about how immersed in writing the past couple of days have been and how deeply like some closer, or more familiar, version of myself I have felt.
The thing that always happens has begun to happen. I am finding myself a little overwhelmed, and a little like I’ve been dislocated from my life as I knew it, which was a tenuous construction at best – the loose held and non-committal position in the nonprofit, the relationship that had emerged several years ago and had slowly eclipsed her other endeavors because she is watery in nature and finds her form in relation to those around her, rising to meet expectations, bending boundaries, amplifying and reflecting certain aspects while eroding others, becoming whomever seems to get along best with whatever situation without totally compromising her values or authentic character attributes – which is probably a person that is alternately very very excitable and then who wants to be left alone to think and to look around for long periods of time. She enjoys words, and thinks in pictures. She is peculiar no matter where she is. She never fits in anywhere for too long. Her severe persistent awkwardness and inconsistent stamina in being a human being edge her out of most everything she is a part of, eventually. This is not true in nature, of course, or when she is by herself. Awkwardness, at least as we conceive of it in social, mechanical, or operational senses, basically means that something or some part of something is off, doesn’t quite fit. Might almost fit sometimes, and for brief moments may seem to fit tremendously, making some momentary configuration boom, an amplifying connector, a catalyst. However, in almost no time at all, the runnings of the usual and the parasympathetic backlash against the rush of dopamine and oxytocin and adrenaline that comes of human simpatico quiet down the space between people and everyone moves along with their day and maybe something comes of it, or maybe it doesn’t.
She no longer likes to jam about ideas. She wants to get things done, the things that are meaningful to her. Blah, blah, blah. She has said it all before. 1/2 of this project is comprised of her circuitous analysis of how totally fucking crucial it is that she spend time writing and doing artwork, and how determinedly she wants to do something different with her life and time, wants her work to matter more because she fought hard to be here and to learn all the crap she has learned about how to figure out what the hell is going on with her human experience in the world, and who even is she anyway? What informs and molds who she imagines herself to be, how other people see her?
How can she do the most good with what she has to work with in herself and her story and her way of being in the world and seeing the world?
She finds that she is drifting back into analysis. The thing is that each time she writes about who she is and what matters to her, this conundrum of being eases a just little. Each time, she carves a little closer to (the marrow of her) the words that can name the parts of her that exist beyond the identities and motivations she was taught, to something like the true nature of what she is, what she might be no matter where she lived, no matter the segment of history or the trappings of circumstance.
No matter where she is, or what is happening, no matter what they tell her she is, she is an artist and a person of spirit.
These are the things that she is and that she believes would shine forth in her no matter what.
All of her work has been motivated by art that is motivated by a singular desire to reduce unnecessary and atrocious suffering in the world and to do whatever is in her power to do to right the wrongs that are destroying both the planet and humanity.
She does not believe that this is an audacious purpose. I mean, what else is she supposed to do, being the person she is, being from where she is from, having experienced and learned the things that she has?
When her heartbeat was faltering and her head was pounding, she could not help but believe – just a little – that if she does not heed the call of her purpose, that some contract will be broken, and she will die, perhaps miserably, or simply sadly, a crazy lady alone, her poems unwritten and her books unfinished. No song ever sung. No peace made with her ancestors, who she imagines she feels, sometimes with a rush of prickly skin and a solemn knowing not quite her own of what she must do, a feeling – sometimes – of relief and excitement, an almost giddy conspiratorial joy with her dead great-great uncle, who spoke against his father’s laws, and whose death is mourned still. I feel them urging me, their patience waning.
“Hello, my name is Faith Rachel Rhyne and I am the great-great granddaughter of Judge Marcus W. Beck, father of my great-grandmother at whose knee I was raised and by whom I was loved dearly. In 1928, my great-great grandfather, Judge Marcus Wayland Beck, accepted – on behalf of the South – the Monument to the confederacy that had been created on the rock face at Stone Mountain, Georgia.
I want to contribute to the development of a campaign to enact legislation to sandblast the monument to the confederacy that is carved into the rock face at Stone Mountain. I want the monument erased. If there shall be any carving at all, it will simply be the words NEVER AGAIN.
My great-grandfather accepted the monument on behalf of the South, and now I want to call upon the People of the South to reject the monument on the grounds that it commemorates not only the great atrocity of American slave-labor economies and the brutalities wrought upon brutally kidnapped Africans and their ancestors, but also the atrocity of the campaign of divisive lies that turned the sons of brave and desperate immigrants against one another and against the Black American and sent these pale boys and dark eyed boys to fight a war that served no purpose but to protect the interests of the wealthy class, while the poor “White” man worked for next to nothing and died defending an idea designed to dupe them into being little more than slaves themselves, with the knowledge that if the poor whites and poor Blacks rose up together, there would be no workers and there would be no law that could hold the people back from their efforts to take the freedom and happiness that was promised them.
The monument to the confederacy is a monument not to a valorous war fought by brave men of heritage, but a monument to the brutality of sociopathic economies and the distortions of humanity and reality required to enforce the operations of a world that was not designed to foster peace or provide plenty, but to favor the wealthy and keep working people uncertain, dependent, stressed and disconnected, with no power to change the systems they are caught within.
My name is Faith, and my great-great granddaddy – who I’m told was a very good man, a man who read the Bible nightly and recited Dickens to his wife – well, he was a Judge, a respected man. I’m sure to be a respected man in the American South during the post-reconstruction era meant that he was required to be racist, and was expected to be racist, because he was a man of influence and – at that time, and perhaps at this time, in some circles – men of influence must uphold white supremacy.
My great-grandfather Judge Marcus Wayland Beck accepted the monument at Stone Mountain on behalf of the South.
I now want to encourage the people of the South to reject this monument on the grounds that it is not something to be proud of, but a thing of deep shame, a looming testament to the mean-hearted, blood-lusting power-hungry idiocy of relatively brief period of history.
The rock that the monument is carved on is older than most people can even imagine. The rock was there, in some form, during the ice age, and when there were Buffalo in the piedmont of the South. The rock was there when indigenous people had never dreamed their world would be seized and raped, burnt and slashed. Paved and brutalized.
Sandblast the monument.
Let it be a smooth surface for the water to run over.
And it’s like all the beautiful things get compressed into a nest of catbird song – no catbird sings the same song twice and from the beaked throats of grey-headed birds two notes may sound simultaneous, a trick that only jazz musicians know, and Dorothy ironing a perfect yellow fine wale corduroy in the dining room, a peach colored towel laid over a round table, the message in the VIP Wordfind’s unwinning nouns, verbs missing a T, a G, and the only word spelled is AIR.
These times when everything becomes poetry, the gilded simplicity of the everyday that glosses over a tumbling network of wonders and happenstance, the breeze that makes the catbird sing, the plans to look nice for church.
The upstairs bathroom was almost empty. Only a stiffening much-used and seldom washed towel hung over the hanging pill-shaped metal rods that were supposed to hold curtains around the old clawfoot tub, but empty hung like a messy-soldered halo in the shape of a track. There was no rug, and no brushes. An old medicine cabinet set into the wall above the sink, paint at the metal edges.
I forget the things that I wanted to give voice to, most of them. After a slew of parenting-relational activities (errands, a hike, all good things, pleasant enough on a beautiful spring day in the mountains, all the wildflowers blooming their hearts out for whatever pollinator might happen by, the complex designs of millennia – and she realized, as she was walking down a steep trail, that she didn’t remember the names of the flowers that look like tiny irises, but are not an iris, nor the names for the delicately nodding yellow bells, the five perfect petals of white. She didn’t remember any of their names, and was okay with that. The names were made up anyway, and – knowing the names – it is easy to glance away quickly, to not notice the flower itself.
How many times had I stood on this very precipice. One of two things could happen tomorrow – I could spend the morning making a video appealing to my intent to
While thousands have called for the monument’s removal, experts from the Atlanta Geological Society say, it would cost millions to obliterate the carving with explosives due to its size and location.
So, perhaps any movement I want to try to support would be campaigning for these bills to pass?
Good to know there is a groundswell…
After a few days of writing, it’s always a glut – my head, that is. Writing can be so immersive and transportive to me, it hard to hold a foot in both worlds. The fact that tomorrow is Monday and there is a Staff Connection Day that I am supposed to attend and that – so far as my employer knows – I am doing just fine after a sick day and…eh, they probably actually know that I’m not entirely well. My email responses have gotten inconsistently brief, long- winded, or absent altogether. I haven’t shown up to some pivotal events – a staff shopping day on Good Friday, at a discount surplus store in the next county over, then – a few days ago – a quick-organized move of the residents of large homeless camps to motel rooms. I just couldn’t do it that day, the people and movement and logistics and packages and bags, the feel of damp clothing through gloves.
(Later) it is almost time to go to sleep. I don’t want to have the experience tomorrow of waking up and drifting into a day during which I am largely performative at work, out of necessity, because my real self doesn’t fit there, at least not right now it doesn’t – maybe it did at some point, or did enough, but right now, I have a pressing instinct toward avoidance and – the phrase that comes to mind is escape, but it comes to mind in relation to art and I don’t think that art is an escape for me, or maybe it is – but, if so, it is an escape into a world where I can say what I actually think, and look at the world in ways I find interesting, and use whatever words I want, in whatever order.
The thing is I am scared. I am so scared. For years, I have schemed and plotted to find my way out of wage-earning in nonprofits and into a more authentic way of living my life.
And I tell myself and people tell me that it is possible to simultaneously develop ones creativity and make oneself know as an artist, and also hold down a day job and be a mother, and maybe be in a partnership.
I have tried partnership before and it is a disaster for me. I have no time to be by myself and there is always someone prying into my experience in ways that are distracting, cloying. In the United States partnership – especially heterosexual partnership – is a loaded configuration of role assumptions and insidious power differentials that defy good intentions and end up putting all parties through an almost absurd reenactment of unmet emotional needs in childhood, or something like that.
It’s nothing I want to have any part of until I am thoroughly solid in myself to such an extent that nobody can make me second guess my need to accommodate the tendencies of my neurodiversity and the value of doing the things I love.
It doesn’t seem like a lot – to need to be alone a fair amount in order to maintain orientation to oneself in the world, and to engage parts of the consciousness that human company tends to impair, to make space for my own voice and the utterances of the non-human and passerby world.
What I want to do is step back from my nonprofit work and focus my energy entirely on using this time of transition needs in my family to develop myself as an artist, and feel out the openings and congruences that new opportunities may arise within.
This is not – for the millionth time – some situation in which Faith is crazy and shirking her responsibilities (well, both those things are true, in context) or some person who is not inclined toward the arts or poetry decides to up and quit their job and be an artist.
This is not me 12 years ago, gearing up to draw a picture everyday for a year, or even me 5 years ago, thinking about memoir and autoethnography while I folded paper cranes out of square photos of clouds.
There really isn’t anything else for me to do, and perhaps I am crazy to believe that I have a higher purpose than to do mentally taxing drudge work toward little impact in the nonprofit industrial recovery complex – which is so ass-backward about mental health that I really can’t bear to sit in another meeting where people are using the language of SPMI and personality disorders while they talk about how important it is to be recovery-oriented and not call people addicts and how there is not space to name what those words and acronyms for the sort of person I am mean to me.
If I am going to work in an organization, I need to work in an organization that not only shares my values in theory – what sort of nonprofit wonk wouldn’t value equity and empowerment? – but, knows enough about how important those values really are to human dignity and knows how to put those values into practice.
(I am such a damn freak show in so many ways.)