“Pulse is slippery,”
woman in white coat declares
fingers warm, press soft
It’s entirely possible that I have been dissociated since the end of May last year, or possibly earlier, and/or that I am dissociated now. I am living in my head more and more, spinning out ideas and intentions that I am beginning to recognize are quickly forgotten, and are forgotten so thoroughly that they may as well have not existed. I am sitting alone on the front steps, contemplating my heartbeat – wondering if my pulse is faltering.
I am trying to changing my practice, or – rather – my practice is changing. My tendency is to start sentences with ‘I am trying to…’ or ‘I am going to…’ However, these linguistics of striving set me up to be in tension with my action, prepare me for a push, set my jaw and move me toward a course of action that I have decided is the correct path.
For me, there is so much error in that.
It is difficult to develop a practice of not doing, because the willful aspects of my personality tell me that practice is doing, that a practice is something that you do, that you hold yourself to doing.
Several months after the global pandemic made landfall in the U.S. and crept its way to the smaller cities of the east coast, I began to take longer and longer walks in the mornings, before my teenage kids got up to sign on to virtual school and before my first Zoom meeting of the day.
I’ve broken my year-long streak of 10 miles a day. After a week of waking up tired with my heart pounding and a dull headache, and getting out of bed anyway – pushing through, I thought: “This is beginning to feel a little stupid.”
Last Sunday morning, as I was running on the greenway, in mile 4 or 5, I stopped to take a picture of a goose on her nest built into the grass at the base of a tree by the river. Another runner paused as I put my phone away and picked my stride back up. “How far are you going?”
“I’m not sure,” I said, really not knowing. “I try to do some combination of walking and running 10 miles every day.”
“Wow. Are you training for something?”
“Just to stay sane.”
The question the runner asked me was a good one. Why – after all – was I running so fucking much? Was it actually keeping me sane?
I did not (and do not) feel especially sane. I’m not insane, but suspect that I am not entirely whatever sane might be.
I just accidentally deleted a lovely draft of a dream and I wonder if my subconscious did this for me, to keep me from sharing my dreams.
I sat down to draw a picture of a dream, or – rather – and image from a dream I had in which three GIANT feathers were hanging in the trees, not tied or suspended, but caught in the branches, loosely held by twigs. I couldn’t imagine how big the bird must have been, the bird that the feathers had fallen from. Could an albatross really be that big?
The feathers were the size of a child.
In the dream, I thought, and fell a sense of wonder, excitement, disbelief, and wanting.
I wanted the feathers.
The light was beautiful, a green springtime light coming down through the trees, filtered by leaves like beech trees and like chestnuts, hickories.
A feather fell, heavy and with little grace, a matter of fact falling.
There was a road, a forest service road, gravel and with small tufts of wild forest grass, low mounding, soft growing wild plants. Flea bane and dead nettle.
The feather that fell lay on the left side of the road, just a few feet to the right of where I stood.
I couldn’t believe my luck, and I was quick to grab the feather.
It is morning on the first day after the first full moon of spring, the full worm moon. Before the sun rose, the moon hung pale glowing in the early spring pastel dawn-palette of soft pinks and gentle blues, the brightness of new-growth green.
I woke up early, because sometimes I sleep less during full moon times and also because I knew that I would have a lot to do today, a knowing that showed up in my mind as the image of my calendar, the thin lines of blank white between blue and red blocks. A busy day. Meetings and conversations. An appointment at the YWCA in the afternoon with my daughter, masked movements on elliptical machines, miles counted in orange digital font, the suck of fabric against my mouth and sourness of my own breath breathed back.
There is this birdsong
The sun rises steadily
Morning air water
This morning, I went to a work meeting and realized that I have become almost completely disconnected from all that is happening there with this city money and the hotel rooms for the people who are being cleared out of ‘homeless camps.’
It was like I had become a different person over the past few days, with my hair pulled back from my face, sitting at my desk not even trying to pretend that I had been around. Over the past two months, the organization’s annual budget has ballooned by over 400,000. New ESG money, state money from the feds. A doubled grant, a new contract.
COVID has been a boon to the nonprofit industrial complex. The city can move people into motel rooms. Pay 3300.00 a day to keep them from camping on the greenway during tourist season, keep the homeless off the streets. Burn through the money allotted until winter, go back to business as usual. Code Purple shelters and not enough beds, probably.
There will always be people sleeping on the street, so long as there are people who can’t – or won’t – follow the rules put in place for them, people who miss the bus, people who can’t get in on time. People who would rather sleep outdoors than jump through the flaming hoops of paternalistic bureaucratic bullshit of most services – or who have no choice but to sleep outside because they are not able to navigate all the processes and procedures and communications and rules that come with shelter.
I went to another work meeting and had the experience of almost desperately wanting to be away from the work meeting, not wanting to listen to the people.
I am so exhausted.
(later) this small screen keeps snapping back to the beginning, but it doesn’t really matter, the sequence of words that tell stories in no sequence.
I don’t think I understood the depth of my fear before. I did not know it’s origins. “This is a problem with me, that I have this fear of being myself.”
I didn’t quite grasp that the fear was learned, taught by cruelty and reinforced by the quiet codes of normalcy.
How is it that some people don’t have this fear? People like Lady Gaga, or Little Nas X, people like…well, any real artist I could think to name.
These people didn’t waste their whole lives mentally wringing their hands in fits of social neuroticism and egg-walking. Did they?
I mean, for me, the social fear and fear of judgement+punishment runs so deep as to be woven into almost everything I do so far as it relates to other people.
I can recognize now that this is not a rational fear, that there are no people waiting to judge me, to have conversations about me, to talk behind my back about how I am this that way, and – besides – who cares?!
I just submitted a poem for a contest being held by the Fairview branch of the Buncombe County Library System. I worked pretty hard on it, really challenged myself to feel out the nuance and sounds of the words, read it outloud alone in my room and noted a change that needed to be made.
Today I have thought a lot about how there is this pressure to make a good product of yourself, and that – in the United States and westernized world – that means doing some slick thing that looks good and is technically complicated enough to be interesting and engaging in a media-saturated landscape of quick, bright images, pushing buttons of appeal.
That assumption – that in order to be seen as valid and not a sad loser, one has to put together some mediated self that is consumable in ways that make sense, that aren’t just you rambling about your life in a poorly lit room with crummy audio and weird facial expressions – is a huge barrier to me doing anything creative that is shown to other people. However, that assumption – which stems from a deep wrought belief that if I show my actual self – knowing that said self is likely to continue to evolve and that various aspects of said self may emerge in strange, inconsistent ways which obfuscate or contradict other aspects of said self, and that whatever might be most authentic is that there are mutable complexities that constitute this being a human being in society and that no matter what I bring of who I am, no matter what I show, as soon as said self is witnessed by an external entity, their perspectives becoming the dominant defining voice. Because I grew up female in the 1980s and 1990s in the American South, I have a tremendous amount of psycho emotional and relational baggage around physicality, desirability, and likability.
When I picture the vague person and/or people that some really immature and unconfident aspect of myself is terrified will make fun of me or create harm in my life if they know who I really am, or found out about this thing that I do, this writing and thinking about things like I do, they would make fun of me and create harm for me, these people show up in my head as a messy collage of faces and voices, sneering drawls and middle school cafeterias.
Is it really possible that I am stifling my inner drive to create and to speak, and to make art and share it with people to be able to say what I want to say because it’s not even that weird, and it’s definitely not (in the broad context of human experiences) crazy, because of worrying about what people from my dumb hometown would think?
I mean, I guess that sort of fear – the fear of social judgement – lives in a lot of people, shows up in a lot of ways.
That fear has no business in my life anymore. The fear of exhausting my life trying to make other people happy doing things that I’m just not that into anymore is greater than the fear of negative evaluations from people who don’t know that much about art, neurodiversity, and/or poetry to begin with. Even some experts are idiots.
If a person looks at what is favorably evaluated by haters, it doesn’t take much to realize that some opinions don’t matter at all anyway.
It’s a little heavy outside, muffled with clouds in the late-sunset time. Suddenly a new season, the dissociation from the wintertime.
Fall into sleep in the mid-morning
fuck it, doesn’t matter none
She knows she’s slipping, being birthed out of one life and into the next.
(This has happened before.)
When she recognizes that she is increasingly disjointed from the world of her co-workers and their lives, from her partner even, ending the relationship, re-committing her…
(Ugh) that is the sort of writing that comes from a tired mind, a mind tired of talking. I think it’s a matter of needing to diversify my modes of communication and the different parts of my brain activity. Like a lot of middle-class, educated white-identified people, I have become very rooted in text-based communication styles, and – notably – writing on my smartphone. This a certain mode of operation. I conceptualize and express things differently when I write by hand, or when I am painting, or playing music.
Some things she has thought about this morning:
– filling out the physician’s referral form to the Asheville TEACCH Center https://teacch.com/ because I want to have a conversation with an informed and ethical practitioner about the possibility that I may meet diagnostic criteria for an Autism Spectrum Disorder, or whether my neurodiversity factors may be the underlying ‘disorder’ in my ‘mental disorder.’ My bias in considering this is that I already believe, as an informed and ethical practitioner myself, that the way I process sensory and cognitive information and how these processes impact my nervous system and learning plays a HUGE part in whatever expressions, tendencies, and behaviors constitute my perceived mental disorder. We are not working with a clean slate. All of the experiences and micro-evolutions of being that make up my ‘life’ and ‘who I am’ have led to all sorts of interactive and reactive conundrums, compensatory measures, learning how to smile and make eye contact, learning to do whatever you need to do to put other people at ease and not give them any reason to think you’re weird or crazy 😑.
I mean, I have been doing this ‘social survival’ stuff for a long time, both consciously and unconsciously. I have never felt – to my recollection – a usual, everyday, impulse to be around people or to talk to people. I do not maintain friendships well, and relationship is completely fucking exhausting for me. It’s like whatever is happening with other people consumes my attention when I am around them, because you have to pay attention. I have happenstance friends, who I consider to be more allies and teachers, or someone that I am ‘supposed’ to be around for some reason known only to the divine workings of all things. Which is a hand-wavy way of saying God. Sometimes, the people I feel most a sense of friendship with are the people who I believe crossed my path for some purpose that is greater than me and my stupid will and intent.
This morning, ________ came to the house at 7:00 am. I was bustling around with a cup of dog food in my hand. The puppy was barking and bouncing around at the cat, who was enticing him by rolling on the floor and running around the rooms of the house, getting him to chase her and bark and make a big ruckus. I felt stressed, and didn’t want to see ________ at 7:00am.
“________, I’m feeling stressed.” The woman opened the gate, moving the old wire tray from a rabbit hutch, the split spike of an old fence picket that closed off the yard. She
watched the elder person’s slow climb up the stairs, noticed the dog calm down and stop the mischief business with the cat and say hello in his doggy way, sitting and standing, smiling, tail wagging. “Why you stress Miss Faith, what’s going on?”
It was a good question. Nothing bad was happening. The dog was barking, moving around in a way that was distracting. She worried what the neighbors would think about the barking so early in the morning. She wanted the puppy to be a good dog, not a barking dog. She was getting ready to take him out, put him in the car to go walk. He wouldn’t walk in the neighborhood, because he wants to stay home and play with the cat, go to the neighbor dog’s house. He won’t leave the proximity of home.
“I’m getting ready to go over to AHOPE and meet up with Ron to fill out the forms for the Asheville Housing, put me on the list for Lee Walker.”
(The new apartments on the hill across from the little store where ________ likes to get a Tahitian Treat and a scratch-off, talk to the countergirl for a while, used to be called Lee Walker, now they are called something else, but nobody remembers the name. They still call it Lee Walker, from the old apartments that they moved everyone out of, bulldozed.)
She is sitting on the porch smoking, thinking how it worked out fine to give ________ a ride, and how the elder person fell asleep in the car on the short trip to the homeless services day center which wouldn’t even be open for an hour, how she figured she ought to just take the dog down to walk by the river and let ________ sleep in the car for a while til the place opened.
She and the dog had a nice walk and even ran a little, her still wearing her house clogs that make her taller, a poppy red dress. She was happy to be out, happy with the way things we turning out, the chance to look around, notice the grasses in morning light, wind, the way the river looked green in reflections of trees.
________ getting to rest, small mercy.
Lately, I’ve been having re-experiences of the very best moments I have ever had. Laying on the pallet of blankets I’d made on the floor of the upstairs room at the house in Portland, 4317 NE 7th, baby blue and red trim around the windows, the paint thick and textured from a hundred years of simply covering the layers that were falling away, sealing them under new layers. Late afternoon after painting the walls in the near empty – the south-facing rooms lit up all day, the kitchen shady and moldering in the way of old houses, crummy sticky-gloss white cabinets, thin sheets of wood with handles screwed on, hinges gummy and painted. She loved the house, the way it looked a little like a children’s book illustration, even with the old burgundy carpet stapled a million times to the paint-splattered hardwood floors she was trying to uncover without having to call anyone. Pulling away the stained disintegrating carpet, it’s fibers joining the dust of the place. Prying out the staples one by one, wondering whether methamphetamine was involved in the carpets installation. There were thousands of staples jammed into the floor. She became a strange machine, hunched in a crawling child’s pose, moving along the haphazard staple lines, a screwdriver and a pair of needlenose pliers, her eyes trained on staples and the details of the floor of the house she had persuaded her mother to help her to buy, in lieu of going to Australia with a backpack to ride a bike to Adelaide because she liked the sound of the word, it’s blue green feel, like wind coming off the ocean, a graceful turn there on the coast. She had planned the trip impulsively, used her credit card to buy a ticket, filed the Visa request, got a passport, and then – while briefly residing in the stifling hot back room of a house she’d shared with the roommates who still lived there, on NE 17th Ave, she began to forget why she wanted to go to Australia. Two black and white kittens were found in the dumpster of a produce market managed by her former roommate. She adopted the kittens. Got birds tattooed on her feet, the words hope and courage in her own handwriting. Saw the house on the downhill slope toward Fremont for sale. The slope of its roof like a wave, square windows on their side as diamonds set into the walls of what she would discover were closets the size of small rooms themselves. She didn’t want to go to Australia anymore. She paid 75.00 to cancel her flight, and began the campaign to buy the house in Portland, to fix it up. To move back to the Pacific Northwest, away from Georgia, where she had returned the year prior to attend graduate school in Athens. She moved back home to St. Mary’s after a legitimately dangerous suicide attempt after dropping out of graduate school because she just couldn’t make her brain do the tedious work of research and citation, the expectations of consistent participation when there was a hurricane (Floyd, I believe) threatening the coast she still – at that time – thought of as home and which she had psychologically and emotionally problematic attachments to in that she felt grievously sad and longing to go home and yet felt grievously sad and longing even when she was at home, as she’d been the previous summer before moving to Athens, after moving from Portland, driving crosscountry with her mother in a full Honda Accord, her hair short and wearing the nerdy glasses of the PNW to pose for a picture at Arches, slim black pants in the desert. Will Oldham was playing the 40 Watt the day she got to Athens with her mother, rented a room on the far side of town, tired of eachother after the last leg of the drive, Jawbreaker’s eye 5 playing too loud through the arteries of traffic in Atlanta.
Her mother seemed confused about the certainty that it was a good sign, to find Will Oldham playing the day she got to town, and she went to the club and stood by the wall and smoked cigarettes, felt her heart big with some of the songs, dislocated and flat in being there, knowing no one and not seeing anyone she especially wanted to talk to. She spoke to no one. That felt appropriate.
(Later still) it is almost 4:00 pm. Today, I have taken the dog for a walk up the street with the cat, gone to visit my mom, taken my daughter to work, repaired and improved the front gate, cut back some sprawling hedge branches. Painted a little – noticing that I am immediately – lately – dropping into hyper focus on the fine lines and layers. It’s only been the past few years that I have emerged with a style of painting that is my own, washing thin, watery layers over one another again and again, so that everything appears as water, sinew, or wood.
My children seem to have this idea that moms cannot be artists and that it is irresponsible for moms to want to quit their jobs and devote time and energy to developing a different career that is more in alignment with values, motivations, and sustainable skills and which – truth be told – would probably be way more lucrative than the current situation. It’s not as though this artist thing is coming out of nowhere – as evidenced by this record. It’s not like I’ve been working in accounting forever and have a good salary and a 401k and insurance that I can actually afford to use. A 7,000.00 deductible. Give me a break.
It’s not as though I have zero talent and haven’t put in the time to try to spend time developing my art, my voice, my purpose as a artist. It’s not as though I haven’t been making sacrifices for years to be able to do art, or have not compromised my participation in other aspects of my life for the sake of an art project.
Why do my kids have this kind of harsh set of narrow expectations around what I am supposed to do and not supposed to do. The cult of White Middle Class American Motherhood and all its misogynistic trappings?
It doesn’t matter what they think so much as it did before. They are almost grown.
If they have a problem with the way I am living my life, well – that goes to show how little they know about just how crummy parenting can get, meaning that – for the most part – I am a really, really good mom, and – besides – the ‘mom’ role is shifting.
People always be thinking they can think something about other people’s life.
My kids both have really good boundaries around how much commentary and opinion I can have on matters that are really none of my business. However, they haven’t quite put it together that they have limited domain over the person that I am.
(this has looped back to the beginning again)
Note: Depression Spectrum image
Okay. So I am really fucking sick of computers. My phone is okay-ish. I can maintain a pretty well-segmented consciousness when I am writing on it – meaning I can write and still be sort of present in hearing the birds sing and noticing the world around me. Sometimes, when I write I can get into a semi-trance like state, where it’s like I’m suspended in this voice and there is a swirl of image and a sense of knowing behind the words that speak themselves through my voice. That is not all the time though. I don’t use my phone to write as much if I am feeling anxious about the small screen, or if I am feeling cognitively blah.
Omg. The spectrum of depression. I am finally figuring out how to manage my depression and I realize, as I feel better, that I have been seriously fucking depressed for a long time.
The morning was spent writing and spending time with the dog, the easy rhythm of feeding animals, brushing hair, putting on the red-orange dress again. I have three of the same red-orange dresses, and the same dress in multiples of black, multiples of pink, a single yellow, a sole light mint green. I’ve been wearing the same dress for months, despite having many clothes. I am comfortable in the dress and so I keep wearing it.
I have done this my whole life. Clothing jags, food jags, schedule jags that feel like compulsion. Last year was intense with the walking/running 10 miles a day, the routine of pre-dawn circles at the track, watching the clouds in the dark sky, seeing stars, the cloak of fog, veils of rain in the streetlights, trying to keep my heart alive and strong, to know what I want and don’t want early in the morning, to get clear on that.
I spent the last 5 hours painting. I think I really might be something like an outsider artist. Thank God I didn’t stop doing art or trying to write. I mean, I don’t think I could have given up this part of myself – the artist part of me, which is way bigger and more important to me than the working-in-a-non- profit part of me.
I mean, Jesus Christ, I lost legal custody of my kids because of an art project (which was significantly augmented by mental health challenged spurred on by traumatic grief and a possible spiritual awakening).
“Let’s not say possible. Let’s say definite.”
Really, though, it was the art project that really raised concerns, at least at first.
I don’t talk about any of this, but the reality is that for the past 10 freaking years, ever since I lost legal custody of my kids, I have been trying to be as normal as possible, and – if not normal – then at least some minimally achievable measure of responsible, meaning that I maintain employment with an external wage-paying entity for the purpose of meeting my kids’ needs and being a good example to them. I have kept myself shrouded in employment as a Certified Peer Support Specialist, surrounded by mental health professionals who – theoretically -could vouch for me not being crazy.
I am so sick of earning wages. Literally, mentally ill with wage earning work.
For the past week and a half, I have barely managed to work. Last week, I was almost certain that a heart attack was imminent.
Is it crazy to believe that if I don’t do art, I will die by some hand greater than me, the currents that fire my heart stymied, staggered bolts and flutters, my life seized by the hand that governs poets, the cost of my stubborn, fearful silence.
Gods laugh at me, “Lord, child, all you have to do is the thing that makes you joyful and everything will work out fine. All you have to do is let us guide your hand, speak through you. Do your job, the work that you were wrought to do.”
My ancestors, in concert, shake their heads patiently, wring their hands in the center of my anxiety – which goes away entirely when I am painting and writing – hoping that I will not let them down, weary of waiting for their will to be done.
Their disappointment is my depression.
Is it crazy to feel these beliefs with a sense that is like intuition, a deep clear knowing, the bell of myself ringing with something like akin to truth?
Delusions are disorders of belief, malfunctions of intuition, confusions of truth.
I don’t believe that it is crazy to believe that my ancestors are with me, or that something like God has a hand in my life. Many people believe these things.
My experience of believing in ancestors and God – how these beliefs show up in me through thought and impression, how these beliefs integrate into my meaning-making processes and lines of reasoning, my weighing out of what’s important, what feels important – may be different than how these beliefs show up for other people – like, maybe a person believes that their ancestors are with them only when they are struggling or on anniversary days, or when they see a butterfly, and that maybe someone believes that God wants them to buy a bunch of guns and kill innocent people because their skin is a different color, and maybe some other person believes that it is the Devil itself that drives the war machine, and maybe…
You get the point.
I don’t think that it is crazy to believe in my ancestors presence with me at all times or to believe in the infinite and stunningly beautiful complexities and mysteries surrounding this world and our collective sentience, the wisdom of the workings of all things, to want to understand how those workings work in my life and experience, or that I believe that it is supremely important for me to not sell myself in order to participate in an economy and lifestyle that doesn’t suit me well, that impairs my well-being and my relationships, that asks me to compromise my human right to be with my mother as she navigates an imminent death, to be present in the rituals and preparations of my children leaving home, to have the headspace to be a good steward to them, to be there for them during this time in their life. It is so fucked up that these human rights to participate in our own experiences of what it is to be human are undermined by the demands placed on us by our fucking jobs. I am super privileged in so many ways, especially when considered in relation to global measures of wealth, housing quality and stability, and access to health supporting resources – like food and clean water and clean air.
Dear Potential Ally,
My name is Faith. I am reaching out to you because I’ve found myself in a bit of a predicament.
I am seeking assistance from the community of my unknown peers.
She sits on the front steps, sunrise pink slipping toward the pale gold that ushers in a hot, clear day. The air is still cool, mid-Spring alive with birdsong melange and the rising buzz of one-season lives just beginning. Her hands are cold and she stumbles over what she is saying, what she might be able to say about the situation she has found herself in, the situation of her life and endeavors.
It’s unreasonable – and off-putting, she thinks – to just launch into a whole life story. What could she possibly say to even begin?
Would she sensationalize the high-drama of hospitalization?
Is there an emoji for that?
Exactly. The world is cluttered with people talking about themselves.
(The stories of our experience are sooooooo important. Really. They are.)
There is no precedent for the letter she is trying to write. (That is not true. For as long as there have been artists, there have been letters asking for help.*
*The image of a project, a collection of letters written by artists to people who they believe may be able to help them to be an artist. Efforts, antics, and earnest intent. A beautiful book. A collaboration. My need to learn – ah ha! – from the community of my unknown peers, who – as it turns out – may not be the poets and artists who have ‘made it’ – who are recognized for their work in the arts and who are uplifted in simply doing their art, who are not expected to be able to do anything other than their art and that which supports their art – whatever it’s process may be, whatever the peculiar requirements to achieve the consciousness of being a conduit for the workings of ones own subconscious, but also – perhaps – for the subtle (and not so subtle) voices, whispers and commandments, of the larger ecosystem of phenomenal experience, nuanced communications – such a fragile thread! – with ancestors, earth, the memory and knowing of all things coalesced.
Why even try to name the gracious state of existing a little closer to the world where everything is sentiently alive and God is real?
(That is what humans have been trying to do for as long as we have had the consciousness to try to explain our experience in the world to ourselves? To name and describe the experience of being uniquely attuned to the mind-blowing matter-of-fact existence of oneself in the midst of the precise workings and beautiful relationships that create a simple blooming flower, the seeming miracle of breath and sight and thought itself, the sensations that tell us we are alive, we are dying?)
She has paused in her writing, walked around the yard with the dog, slants of sun illuminating the still-tender green of new growth so that the air around her is a wash of green, a watercolor blue in the lightening sky behind the trees. There were no trees 11 years ago. She used to be able to see the sky more; She could watch clouds. The bricks had grown into the soil in some places, laid like teeth to make beds that have since settled and sprawled toward indeterminate tangles of violet, wild rose, the English Ivy (curious. auto-correct will not let me uncalitalize those words) that is strangely thriving this year, choking out the (scientific name for poison Ivy). She had made a small pile of loose bricks the day before, right at the base of the curly willow, to the southeast of the grave of the dog under the small path bracketed by a volunteer hibiscus, a sky-stretching peach tree that had grown up from the small fallen fruit of a peach tree planted for her by the father of her children. The year the marriage ended, the peach tree took blight, thick black-orange fungus around the trunk, seeping down into the roots. The tree didn’t live through summer, but somehow small peach trees sprung up around that corner of the yard every year. She didn’t tend them or coax them in any way. They are not there anymore except for the one very tall peach tree that somehow, despite disregard, took hold to bloom pink every year, the first sign of spring, well before the lilacs, right after the single orange crocus that holds a space for itself in the winter-cleared yard.
She pulled a few bricks up, and liked the cold familiar heft of them in her hand. There is nothing like a brick in the hand. In the year 2000, after she had dropped out of school, gone to the hospital, had her stomach pumped, and moved away from Athens, she and her father stacked bricks at the edge of the small clearing by Catfish Hole, the land she grew up on, where she was going to move back to, build a small house in the clearing, figure out something to do with her life since she hadn’t fucking died. “There are old those old bricks out there,” her father kept mentioning, intimating that any building of a house would be predicated by doing something about the two big mounds of bricks that had been taken from the falling chimneys of the long-gone Arnow house by the edge of the pasture. The bricks were heavy, covered in old lime-brittle cement, mossy and crumbling, damp. Others – the ones near the top, perhaps, in sun and in rain – were almost perfect. “We have to knock off this old cement.” Her father is holding a hammer and a chisel.
(note to self: find out names of all viney weeds.)
Hi, my name is Faith Rhyne and I am the great-great granddaughter of Judge Marcus W. Beck, who reportedly accepted the monument to the Confederacy at Stone Mountain on behalf of the South.
I have spent a great deal of my life in efforts to understand and reconcile what I know of the history of my family, the state I grew up in, and the country I live in.
I am deeply anti-racist and anti-colonialist, and yet am continually awed by how thoroughly white supremacy and capitalism have entrenched themselves in my most basic worldviews (to see a tree as ‘a thing,’ to think in terms of value/worth and productivity, to feel my own self-esteem wither in the culture I am immersed in, and even in the rate of my breath in response to certain news, certain figures).
All that is to say I am still unlearning and will continue to unlearn until I die this condition of being seen as a “white American female” in the 21st century.
Like many people in the South (and in the world), I would like to see the monument to the confederacy at Stone Mountain, Georgia removed by whatever means necessary, with respect to the earth form which that grievous memorialization of an American insult to humanity is carved upon.
I understand that many activists and legislative advocates have been working on creating a path to the removal of the Stone Mountain monument through legislature, grassroots campaigning, and tireless prayers for justice.
There are many ways that a person could help to support the work that is already being done, and I am reaching out to you to see if you might have any suggestions as to how I might best contribute to the efforts to remove the monument at Stone Mountain.
As the great-great granddaughter of the man who accepted the monument on behalf of the South, I would like to do my part (whatever that may be) to aid in the gathering of a resounding rejection of the monument by the people of the South.
I am not able to contribute more than a few dollars to campaigning. I am a person with a disability who works part time in the nonprofit industrial complex. However, if there are key ways that I might support monetary contributions, let me know.
Professionally, I have a background in community behavioral health and recovery support services. I could offer you more information about education and experience if you would like to consider ways that I specifically may be an asset to the effort to remove the Stone Mountain monument.
In any event, I have subscribed to your newsletter and am so supremely grateful that the Southern Vision Alliance exists to do the work in the world that you and all the many allied organizations and networks that are working with you do.
Please let me know if you have any idea how I might best fit into this.
I don’t want to do some rogue thing like make a long-winded YouTube about how my great-great granddaddy was a judge and in the Klan, etc. etc. where I look half-mad and don’t even know wtf is going on with all the work that has already been done.
I’d like to extend – humbly and graciously – the offer to help in the effort in whatever way might actually be helpful.
I want to see the monument come down, and to help use the opportunity of bringing it down to shape a new narrative of Southern History.
Let me know if/how I might help.
Thank you for all you do.
Street light silhouette, green glow
Arc of all movement
Yesterday was a wash. I couldn’t write for shit and my brain was a fuzzed out. I wanted to sleep, but couldn’t quite take a nap. The morning was rainy; there was a damp dog around the house for hours. The evening time was like an Easter egg – all soft and pastel blue, soft after-rain blue, very white clouds, gold light.
I didn’t go outside.
I was just wandering around the house and trying to figure out why I couldn’t make my brain fucking work.
“Just sit down and say the things. Do the things.”
I understood the sequence, and had a dim, forgetful awareness of what I needed to be getting done, but I felt seriously stymied in doing it.
“Is this just me being lazy? Just me procrastinating an unfun task?” Or is it a problem in the action-initiation process, the movement from intent to behavior, the doing of the thing. Am I stuck in thinking about doing?”
(Note to self: behavior can predicate the process, meaning if you engage in the actions of behavior without motivation to begin, one might then shift into the sequence of the behavior, the state of the behavior – meaning the parts of the brain and body and nervous system that are operating to create and sustain the behavior?) (so it goes both ways, a person can muster a behavior by will and intent or through simply doing the behavior. The same neural pathways become activated regardless of whether the initiatory impetus was will or action?)
Anyway, I need to open my computer and do the damn emails, communicate something to my employer about what the fuck is going on with me.
I actually spent a lot of the day yesterday considering and lightly researching the phenomenon called ‘autistic burnout’ – in which people with sensory, cognitive, and social differences which impact their ability to comfortably function in and participate in a world built for people who are fundamentally not like them and who have very little awareness or shared experience with them (them, here, is people who are differently abled in such a way as to be diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum. I think that the phenomenon of burnout as it intersects with mental health tendencies and vulnerabilities – regardless of diagnosis – is definitely worth contemplating. It’s basically the stress vulnerability model, huh? I guess what’s missing in the stress vulnerability model – and most models of ‘mental health’ and ‘mental illness’ – is the reality that some people are discluded from full (safe) inclusion and participation as who they are in social and economic structures that are designed around the abilities and preferences of people who are not like them in areas of mobility, sensory processing, social and communicative abilities, and other access factors.
Access doesn’t just mean getting in the door, it means being welcome in the room and being able to stay in the fucking room long enough to be a part of whatever it is that is happening in there with all these conversations at the same time, and people moving around and saying things and touching my arm, and omg, there is a radio and a television on and I hate this fucking song, and holy shit, what is anyone even saying, I’m sitting here smiling and feeling numb and my mind is blank and what the fuck am I even doing here, I fidget with something, maybe stand up and stretch, try to see if I can help with something, seem happy and well-adjusted, laid back, cheerful and smart or something, don’t over-disclose, don’t over-disclosed, connect, but don’t be intense, try to connect, try to connect, where do I need to be here, there is no place for me here. I am wearing clothes that look like pajamas, I don’t want any of this fucking food, I hate Walmart, I am about to jump out of my fucking skin with all the noise and movement.
I feel a longing – an actual, sickening, swooning longing – to be at home, in my car, outside, away.
Jesus Christ, it’s almost 9:00.
Yesterday, I went to a meeting on zoom and the rest of the day was for shit. I couldn’t write. I didn’t paint. I drew a burdock in the work meeting, and that was the only thing that made it bearable. Burdock protects against the evil eye and I have a ton of it growing in front of my house. I think I will leave it.
I did a couple of work related emails – which I now am having trouble remembering, though they seemed to take a whirl. Oh, yeah. Reading the documents, saying the words. Making the commitments to continue showing up, though not indiscriminately and not for everything and not forever because this is the year that is mine to emerge within, festooned as I may be with 12 years of problematic and occasionally beautiful bloggage in my wake. It can take a long time for a person to find their voice, a long time to find the line.
This morning I messaged a person that I knew through the radical mental health movement – a person who is a mentor and an inspiration to me because they seem to understand what it is to be deeply post-modern without trying to unbelieve, and they are a fucking genius.
Which brings me back to the unknown community of my peers and who those people might be. When I was losing my mind and had a sense of great certainty that I was somehow connected to a tremendous undoing of ideas and illumination of the human condition for the purpose of contributing to the salvation of the history of the future vis a vis proving God with pictures of clouds on the internet and realizing the extent to which I, personally, was seen and ‘understood’ in ways that were totally idiotic, diminishing, and ill-informed, not to mention cruel and insulting not only to my ego, but to the person I am in my most raw humanity – who is a person that does not want there to be any more avoidable suffering in the world because there are ways to do anything that reduce suffering and we should not be doing things that create or necessitate the suffering and harm of sentient beings or earth forms older than we can even fucking imagine, or the waters of the earth itself – also eternal – and I am mostly just trying to be a good person in a world that I only feel safe alone in.
(Weird sentence – figure out some other way to say In this world, I only feel safe when I am alone. But also when I am with children, dogs, and trees. Birds, too. Once other people get to be a certain age, they start to see me differently, in ways that are bizarre and inaccurate and partial. In their perspective, I am not who I am to myself and this creates enormous confusion, because as they are interacting with me, they are interacting with their idea of me and who I am and what – based on that idea – I should be doing. Mothering, daughtering, friending, meeting, etc.)
Today has been slightly less mind-blitzed. It might srsly be the zoom meetings and the need to attend visually and auditorily and be conscious of what my face is fucking doing because my face does peculiar things at times. I had one zoom meeting today and it was only with one person, but still I was struggling to attend to what he was saying, and distracted by the space behind him and the look of his face moving and my face there being tiny and yet knowing it was huge on his screen. Aye. So unnerving. I started externally processing my thinking and had a couple of collisions of visual thinking narrative and concrete actionable steps in linear progression, kept repeating to myself what I was committing to doing – making a flyer, setting up a Google form. Those things wouldn’t be hard, right?
Now, hours later, I am noticing that the process of doing these things – these relatively simple tasks which actually have a few different tasks nested into them – is looming, feels daunting.
I need to balance my writing and observation of primary thought line on various topics with observation of secondary and tertiary thought lines, somatic and visual impressions associated with the thought expressed. Also notes on the external, a woman sitting on her porch, face cool and clean from washing with water from the kitchen sink, a day during which a dog was walked, a meal was prepped, conversations were had with the eldest child, the younger one. A silly song was sung. Someone was taken to work. ________ walked by the house in the rain, but didn’t come up, and I didn’t call them up to the porch. Wondered if maybe my recognizing the warding off properties of burdock and arranging the bricks in a square form that could approximate the same general dynamics of the Turkish kilim for burdock might be keeping at bay the troublesome aspects of the person. The person is not all trouble, but has some trouble. They are welcome here. I am sure they will be back when their check runs out in a couple of days. That’s a crummy thing to say, but it is within the realm of possibility given previous behaviors.
I will see.
They may not show up when their money runs out, or they may show up with a winning scratch off. Who knows?
Anyway, I feel reasonably at peace in my response to the situations that showed up at my door and the efforts I have made to be a friend and to balance the complex needs of multiple parties myself and the primary inhabitants of this privilege-gained house included. There is a part of me that thinks it would be totally reasonable to invite the person to stay here, to have a room until their housing works out. My son said he would move out. My daughter does not come downstairs with ease when the person is here, rummaging through their box of belongings on the porch, using the bathroom, sometimes resting in the living room. Part of me thinks it would be equitable and entirely fair to let the person stay here and part of me believes that maybe God wants me to let them stay here and that by not letting them stay here, I am committing a sin of some sort. It’s that old belief I have that if I see a way to help and do not help, I will be disappointing some great higher good that works in the world. I am constantly trying to figure out what God wants me to do. There are so many ways to help so many people. How can I know what I am supposed to do, what God wants me to do? I have been caught up in some really bad situations because of poor discernment about moral obligation and the potential judgement of an omniscient force or set of sentient forces in the universe. There is such a thing as trickery, I believe. Fuckery. Ego and misleadings, warped intentions. Then, there are also a lot of fuckin’ hustlers and predators and chaos-makers in the world. I have no innate sense of suspicion about anyone. It does not occur to me that someone could be awful to another person, could take advantage of them or hurt them. I have only been instinctively leery of people a few times in my life. My instinct is not strong about not entirely good people, but is strong about very good people. I tend to pick up on the good in people – even people who have learned to be bad or who have gotten caught up in some bad business with the living and dying world. I have been taken advantage of many, many times.
It wasn’t really a conscious choice, like “My marriage was a disaster. There are two people in the world that call me Mom. I am my parent’s daughter, my brother’s sister. I know what my name is and where I grew up. I have a general sense of what my values are, but – really – what the fuck is going on in my life and relationships that people seem to just expect me to work and be and mom and…just be okay and pleasant all the time…be able to do “fun” things like go out to street festivals with small children, and be “normal” in their elementary school worlds even though I became a mother already bearing a tattoo on my hand and a scar on my arm from the year after I dropped out of graduate school and tried to die.
The scar wasn’t from the time I tried to die. That was from a different time, later in that same year, when after working full time at the hardware store for two seasons, I became increasingly depressed and anxious and closed off in myself, wooden feeling. I lived in Portland then, and the tattoo artist who had tattooed the palms of my hands in Athens was living in my house as my boyfriend or something like that. He was an amazing artist, and taught me about Nick Cave and “glow lines” in graphite drawings. He taught me how to draw a sacrum and brought artist’s anatomy books into the house. He also taught me about shooting up cocaine, and for a period of time we performed together in a small troupe of suspensionists called Trancesend or something like that. He and I would be woven together by hooks at our chests and arms laced through with parachute cord and in that way we would dance a peculiar push-pull marionette with one another. I tried to dread my hair and cut the word BURDEN into my leg, carved and angular heart shape.
It was winter in the Pacific Northwest and the parking lot of the Fred Meyer’s was always black and slick with rain.
“What should I say?”
“Tell them your aunt is diabetic.”
One morning, I woke up and couldn’t imagine myself going to work, pictured the hardware store and its classic rock and paint spattered patrons, the bell over the door and the expectation that I would smile, that I wouldn’t break into tears…it all seemed totally impossible.
The only thing I could think to do at the time – in state of desperate anxiety and panic – was create an injury that would necessitate me staying home, so I cut my arm open in the single bare bulb light of the bathroom in the very early morning.
It wasn’t until much later in the day, in the blue of late-afternoon night, that I went to the behavioral health triage center at the hospital. I didn’t go about my arm. I went about my mental health, the feeling that maybe I should go to the hospital or talk to someone or something. After several hours of waiting, I talked with a nice therapist who gave me a referral for low cost counseling at a graduate program, and encouraged me to explore getting back on medication.
Right before I left, referral papers in hand, the therapist asked if there was anything else I needed help with. I calmly pulled up the loose sleeve of my sweater to show her the paper towels wrapped around my arm, blood seeping through them.
“I think this might need stitches,” I said as though the four inch slice through the soft skin on my wrist, right through the tattoo of blue roses like an open mouth, was not that big a deal at all.
I did not get to go home that night, and rode to the emergency room in the back of a police car.
The year before, when the long-ending of my marriage began in earnest, I had started drawing a picture every day, with the goal of maintaining this practice for a year. I – like a lot of parents – wanted to “reclaim my creativity.” For years, I had brought creativity into almost everything I did, just because of the person I am and how I think about and interact with projects and processes. I made gardens and games and a birthday cake shaped like a 3-D wave, gummy sharks emerging from the icing on the crest. I drew pictures with my kids, and built awesome marble runs, and took them on ambitious day trips. I filled the house with helium balloons that I was able to bring home from work almost every Saturday, left over from the birthday parties that were hosted in the classrooms on the weekends.
I liked working at the museum. I knew what to say and how to relate to people in that environment. I could play and be silly and say peculiar things and be friendly with all sorts of people who are out visiting the kids museum with their families, or bringing their second grade class to learn about dental hygiene from a musical stage show about a candy-loving dinosaur that didn’t brush his teeth and was at risk of losing his tooth.
Sometimes, I got to play the Mom Dinosaur.
In another stage show, with dancing fruits singing about the dangers of watching too much television, I was a Sexy Banana. It was an alright job. My kids could come with me sometimes, and I got all those free balloons, brought home presents from the gift store, stopped for ice cream right next door to the museum courtyard. Nonetheless, about 6 months into working full time at the museum, I began to get fragmented at the edges. I lost weight. I cried and got angry. I only wanted to be alone, drawing.
Due to a funding debacle created by costly traveling exhibits, the museum began to downsize in preparation for moving to a smaller space. I had started to cry every morning before work, and was pretty-occupied with the threats my kids’ father was making about getting a “divorce lawyer who specializes in mood disorders.”
I got a psychological evaluation with all the diagnostic questioning and intelligence testing in preparation for the possibility that I would need to make a case that I might have had a pretty gnarly mental health history, but I was generally functional and okay and even great at being a mom and not being fucked up in ways that created harm or neglect for my young kids. Of course, in actuality, my mental health challenges did create harm for my kids. I never hit them, but I would get overwhelmed and yell, start crying, slam doors and occasionally kick a wall.
When I was young, a teenager, I used to punch myself in the face and bite my hand when I got frustrated or emotionally overwhelmed, which was a lot of the time.
I am a person who was diagnosed as having a “Severe and Persistent Mental Illness” at a young age – 13. I am a differently-abled person who learns, processes, experiences, and expressed themself in ways that are outside of what is considered to be “normal,” both statistically and – in some settings – culturally.
When I got the results from the psychological evaluation and read through the information about how I learn and how I process information differently, how that can impact emotional processing, and how only 2.6 % of the tested population processes in a way that might be similar to mine, with high levels of capability in some areas and thoroughly average ability in other areas of so-called intelligence, it was like a question I had long forgotten that I was asking was answered.
“What the fuck was wrong with me?!”
That question, which I had asked in ways both quiet and screaming, and which had been answered in mysterious and disparaging phrases about brain diseases and chemical imbalances and severe, persistent character flaws, had a new possible answer.
Maybe the way I processed information and emotions had something to do with why I got so tired and depressed and overwhelmed and upset and rage-full and impossible to have a calm conversation with?
Maybe I wasn’t exactly mentally ill, but mentally different in a way that made me vulnerable to certain struggles, or to struggling in certain ways, but – as the little double lines of test results showed me – I also had gifts. I was, in fact, really smart in some ways.
Right before I became a CPSS, I had been hospitalized involuntarily and court-ordered to attend intensive outpatient treatment and to take any psychiatric medication I was prescribed. After a year of profound mental health challenges – which edged into a glorious and then chaotic state of wonder and divine possibility that was clinically described as “psychosis,” I was in the process of losing legal custody of my children, who were 6 and 8 at the time, due to concerns about my mental health and my ability to make good parenting decisions.
I had been with my children every day of their lives. For months, I was only permitted to see them during supervised visits. I cannot quite name the heartbreak and wrenching, gasping frustration, outrage, and grief that resides in a mother who cannot see her children, who is being kept from her children. There is some twisted cruelty in telling a mother that she must remain calm as her children are led away from her crying.
In order to be able to have shared physical custody of my kids, I had to follow court orders and DSS recommendations. I had to, first and foremost, get a job to prove that I was “emotionally stable” enough to have my kids in my life – and for me to be in their lives – on a regular, unsupervised basis, to live with me part-time and their dad part-time.
In a swooning, numbed-out neuroleptic fog, wearing an old brown sweater and driving around on grey days, I applied for whatever job I thought I might be able to a) get, and b) actually show up for without falling apart. I had worked for nonprofits for a long time, but I had never done well working full time. Everytime I worked full time, I ended up in the hospital after about a year, unable to show up for work without crying, trying to commit suicide because I couldn’t figure out a way to be in the world without causing either myself or someone else pain and disappointment. After an adolescence of psychiatric drugs and hospitalization and social victimization, I was pretty fucked up, and lived with a lot of emotional agony and existential uncertainty for many years. I wasn’t kidding myself about being able to jump into some full time job where the long, same days under fluorescent lights and the empty tasks and small talk and forced smiles and everyday noises would slowly wear down my resilience, where I would begin to waver at the edges, cry in the bathroom, in front of customers or clients or students, say inappropriate things in an over-intense way, not be able to think straight, begin to forget how to do the simplest things, to make a phone call, to say hello. I would freeze and panic, try to bite back the deep, animal urge to leave the building, to walk out into the day, to go home and be alone. I wasn’t going to be getting any full time job. I couldn’t even go in the store and see a mother with her kids without crying, having to turn around and leave. I slept as much as I possibly could and when I couldn’t sleep anymore, I prayed to get some disease that would kill me in a way that would let my kids remember me graciously and with kindness. The medication gave me vertigo and I would lay in the bed and watch the tilt of the walls and ceiling, stunned and unable to move, imagining myself attending my son’s high school graduation in a wheelchair, catatonic. Whatever might be called my “mental health” – at that point – was absolutely decimated. I was absolutely decimated, a washed-out shell, the worst possible failure. A bad mother.
That winter, it was only the kindness of a handful of people that kept me from slipping down into the void of speech and action that I could feel inside of me, a black hole. The first person I ever wrote a poem for, a boy whose heart I later broke, reached out to me, and gave me small jobs for a business that – now – I wonder if he had made up just to give me something to do. Talked to me about his life and his family, his work as an engineer, how hard it had been to go through his first divorce. Told me to keep going. Wrote back.
Downtown playing banjo, I met an old man who sold tomatoes at the Farmer’s Market. His name was Peter and he was staunchly Catholic. He talked to me about saints and had me drive him all the way to the next county over to eat at a Bojangles one particularly cold and rainy night. He came over and let me record him talking about his life for a couple of hours, showed me the rows of chrysanthemums that were starting to come in. Talked about his bad leg.
A 15 year old kid in Serbia who I met through an Illuminati forum on Yahoo wrote to me about his church and the weather and his parents and whether or not he wanted to join the Illuminati. Talked about New World Order like it might be a good thing. Told me about his girlfriend and going for walks in the snow. Told me to “get back on horse.”
A scammer from somewhere who crafted beautifully composed stories of tragedy and funds that needed to be claimed didn’t seem to mind when I wrote back to them about how my life was falling apart.
I started posting to the forums at The Icarus Project (now Fireweed Collective) about the egoic and philosophical outrage that had spurred my psychosis and created a disjuncture between my reality and my reality of self and the reality of my family and how they were seeing me, how they were understanding what I was going through, how they had understood what I went through, what they had put me through, what they were putting me through, with all that mental illness, chemical imbalance stuff. I mean, c’mon – I was an artist and a mother and a hard-worker museum educator that had been laid off during the dissolution of a marriage that had been really terrible and difficult for a long time, and I had just seen my beloved dog get hit by a car, and I was having to force my kids screaming to go to their dad’s new house, which was in line-of-sight with the house I’d shared with my husband and kids and which I now lived in alone with them. I mean, of course I was going to need some time alone to paint and draw and cry, figure out who the heck I even was after being told so many different things about myself and my motivations, my intent, my character, my mood disorder, etc.
The irony of it all was that I wasn’t crazy at first. I was actually doing pretty well after the divorce, still working, keeping up a rhythm of activity in the home. I was stressed af, but I was okay-ish. It wasn’t until people started to ask me if I was okay that I became not-so-okay. To me, it made perfect sense to want to be alone and draw, to write and take pictures of clouds. I didn’t understand why people who said they loved me wouldn’t leave me alone and stop expecting me to be okay when I was clearly “going through some things” during a really intense transition year.
I had started a weblog on Blogger the year before, when I started my draw a picture every day for a year project. To be honest, my drawings were strange from the get-go. It was as though the artist part of me came out all in a jumble of image, figure, and myth-feels.
[Draft email to employer, written last week…]
Hi you all – to get right to the point, I am not doing well. My brain is just totally blown-out as far as being able to formulate professional sentences in a consistent tone, or hold technical information in my head for more than three seconds, or to figure out what to say. I am isolating socially (which I am fine with), because I am so socially and politically fatigued by everything that goes on with people and relationships and collaborations. Emotionally, I feel numb and shut down, and am noticing that I am unable to care about or be inspired by things that I recognized I used to care about and be inspired by.
I am beyond burnt out.
It makes a lot of sense to me that – at this point in my so-called recovery, which really has been a process of exploring and experimenting with my personal wellness, which led me – necessarily – to consider all the factors which are at play in creating my experience of living and my participation in my life, what I do and don’t do and what happens to me and around me and what any of it and all of it means at any given moment, both in my own perspective and in relation to the larger world – that I would feel I may need to step back from the world of nonprofit services to vulnerable community members, the grassroots recovery complex, funded by HUD, FEMA, and SAMHSA, the US Department of Labor – which recognizes that an opioid addicted workforce that is committing suicide after beating their kids because of their own multigenerational PTSD is not good for business.
Bounding, fractioned, prismatic
illustrative early morning feels
hue of rod and cone
explosions in range
the bright shine of rain
caught in sun
illuminating the simple intake breath
of witnessing the morning
slick plastic packaging
the youth we remember
Clorox mold smell, broke linoleum
scuffed out at the counter
soft bills in hand
light blaze through plate glass
hum of stubborn coolers
ice cream sandwiches
wax paper bricks
Clerk says nothing,
doesn’t look up
Extends the hand, takes the bills
It is happening again. The forgetting.
This morning I woke up and had some work to do for wages and to uphold commitments I’d made before my brain started to go all slippery with poetry and painting, before I got so tired for those few days. I had poetry – just a little feel of it, a taste prompted by the challenge of naming color (haha – autocorrect just changed naming to manic. Um, not hardly…) and then a flash of plastic yellow wrapped, and remembering the Swanee (sic) Swifty convenience store, the Mom and Pop’s. Candy of my youth, then cigarettes, fountain drinks in styrofoam cups that still linger in the soil, the smell of gasoline and Georgia asphalt. Blaze of sun, hot white glare, the sudden cold of the store, the blare of summer insects upon exit.
…back into the living world.
“Everything will be okay.”
“It was a difficult year.”
Wild rose climbs the curly willow, fragile – almost unoticeable blooms up through the branches. Wind turns the leaves of the maple, showing the silvery undersides. The movement of trees in wind. May 5th.
I was saying that, again, I am forgetting myself – who I am and what matters most during this brief time.
Each day, I am awash in ideas. Small unfurlings of possible endeavors, art projects and banjo music, my collection of hats, a finished painting, a story written. Conversations with friends I haven’t seen in years. The potential for new friends, a peer group who actually knows me for what is most lasting of myself, and that actually sees me a little closer to the way I really am, to who I really am, and to what I’m really about.
I don’t really care – anymore – about having friends. I have come to thoroughly accept – and even breathe a sigh of relief in – the risk I run of being alone for most of the rest of my life.
Acknowledging that this is being stated during a time in which I have hardly been alone at all – meaning always someone else in the house – someone around at some point in the day, some time spent in relationship with people external to me – I can say that it is possible that I will experience great loneliness when my children move away and my mother dies, my father grows old and we walk around the yard together, quietly caught in a mourning all our own. It might be cavalier to say that I think I will be okay. That I think I can stand and even transcend and even love even savor whatever loneliness might come.
It is sad that my relationships have been such that the only solution to the problem of me needing a lot of time alone is to not be in deep present relationship with another person external to me, to not have those sorts of sustained contact every day lives intertwined kind of arrangements with people. This doesn’t mean I will be alone. I will always have someone to connect with, so long as there are people, and then – in their absence – trees, and animals, and even the wind itself, my own memory and imagination, my sense of ghosts and ancestors, the quiet pulse of the earth itself and everything that has ever lived, that vast almost unimaginable that I can feel at the edges of everything.
I am never alone.
All of that is well and good, very stoic, etc. Let it be known though that I am in the final few days of a long process of uncoupling from my bound-to-be eternal love, or – rather – dramatically changing the system of relations that constitutes our knowing of one another. Un-girlfriending.
The enormity of that reality – that yet another person is about to exit my life because I simply can’t deal with the constant social pressure of contemporary normative relationship assumptions – offers me a hint of the loneliness that I might feel in the coming seasons.
My hope is that by positioning myself to experience a desperate revival of the faculties of so-called madness and an immersive inhabiting of my right sided brain and sensory self, by using my hands again and by creating space for my voice and expressions in inspired modes, I will be able to potentially find a few members of the unknown community of my peers – people who might be more like me as artists and in process, people who might appreciate who I am exactly as I am and not expect me – without even knowing they do – to contort and mitigate myself so as to be palatable and functional in popular settings of work and socializing. Even people who think I’m wonderful just the way I am don’t really know anything about the way I am, and only see me in small segments.
Many people who know me do not know that I am into writing poetry, or that I am an artist.
They know me only because of my peer work or my mental health history. That makes me feel reduced and isolated in my experience, fragmented and confused in my Self.
(Later) back to what I was saying at the beginning of this: I had some work to do despite having woken up with poetry, and I did the work – some of it – and the poetry left me, and my mindspace felt dull and clanging, digital font.)
I think I only have some measure of attention for computer-based tasks and for the past couple of years I have used the vast majority of that capacity – or perhaps I have gone beyond capacity – for work tasks. It’s not surprising to me that I haven’t made a beautiful website.
A person only has so much bandwidth in a day, and only the lucky few are able to pivot back and forth between the suspended and meandering consciousness of art and poems and the concrete linearity of certain work tasks?
I keep going over made up FB posts in which I concisely and eloquent state that I am leaving peer support work for a undetermined period of time, and that I intend to throw myself wholly into art and formulating a niche for myself as a voice in the world of madness studies and creative nonfiction, experimental autoethnography and – perhaps – poetry? Maybe painting, maybe consciousness studies, maybe large-scale conceptual art actions, or portraiture of plants, bones?
Writing can – itself – become problematic, because I use a lot of my time writing, and less time painting, and less time writing by hand, and less time playing music or moving the bricks around in the yard.
What I need to be doing, rather than writing all this stuff about things that happened years ago, is write about what’s happening <right now> – during this small window of time in early May, leading up to the one year anniversary of George Floyd’s death and the day my mom called and told me she had cancer, the afternoon I yelled at the person who I was partnered with, the person who was supposed to be my so-called best friend, that I couldn’t be in a relationship with anyone who didn’t understand, recognize, and support my profound need to be quiet and be alone and to not have to have someone else around, interacting with me.
In the oxytocin, dopamine, and adrenaline flushed early months of our relationship, I appreciated that we could walk alone together, that we did not have to always be speaking.
I did not detect the silent pressure exerted when someone is restless with silence, the creep of anxiety and flee of ease that doesn’t let my mind wander and demands my attention.
The person who was my best friend – and who might still be my best friend, because sometimes best friends go through times when they rupture their friendship, then repair it – had begin asking me, as a conversation starter:
“Have you had an interesting thoughts lately?”
For me, this question was a terrible inquiry – full of value uncertainty about what constitutes interesting, how to express what I experience as interesting thoughts in a way that would be coherent, appealing, and consumable to someone external to me, and – more and more – the sneaking suspicion that the conversation or the interests in the my thoughts had very little to do with me at all – that I was a person doing people things, walking and having a conversation about interesting thoughts, that I was in the role of a person who was supposed to be interesting to the person I was walking with.
Anyway, that is not what I wanted or needed to be reflecting at the moment. My friend moved their stuff into storage today, returned the truck. Has a job in Maine later this month.
I spent a lot of the time these past couple of years being sad and confused about the friendship, about the relationship. I am not sad and confused right now. Right now, I am doing pretty freaking well – despite the fact that I am smoking again, and that I seem to have found myself almost entirely unable to the work I do to earn wages. It’s like my mind just goes blank and my voice won’t work at all. Everything I do to earn wages feels separate from me, disconnected. It is not something I am doing for myself. It is something I am doing for someone else, so that they will pay me.
“Yes, Faith. That is called working.”
Is it though?
(“Yes. That is working.”)
I was lucky (privileged) to be able to earn wages doing work that somewhat mattered to me in a way that wasn’t entirely corrosive to my soul/humanity. However, for a long time, I have thought that maybe my work -the way I spent my time in interaction with the world around me to earn my way or fulfill my purpose or make my contribution has been changing, or – rather – I have conceived of more effective and efficient ways to do my work – which is to leverage my unique lived experience and atypical skills to create catalytic media that explores and destabilizes personal narratives through autoethnographic inquiry and shares the process of seeing the world differently.
Chromocytes know nothing.
Heart race red pigment,
low iron from the summer
I started wearing a t-shirt
oversized to hide bones
that aren’t bleached
trying to be pale blond
reading: “Love Animals,
Don’t eat Them.”
Doe-eyed cattle in brown and white,
ducks always like a nursery rhyme,
always in a row,
under lights that have no hue at all
flicker blanch and sickly sweat,
smell of cafeteria,
veins as ribbons of twilight sky under skin.
They say it’s different when you bleed.
They say it’s all the same.
Only my blood knew
the rush of capillary
standing to speak
correctly at last
under static lights
with the day bright and thriving outside,
pulsing in shadow and sun,
spectrum of lifeways
pushing through single windows.
I did not know
that not everybody
considered the ethics
of a rainbow
the simple fact
of blurred lines
water caught in air
none of the trouble
of human rights,
and human wrongs.
I thought everybody knew.
your “Nothingness” fills
you blather your zen
Warm day, gas shortage
parking lot shimmers in waves
“…this is so stupid.”
Lebanon goes dark
bread cold in candlelight
stars look on, brightly
Yesterday and the day before were tired, tired days. Tired like the moon waning and the Spring striving and the year near 1/2 gone. I slept a lot – a stuporous dreamless dozing, dog at my feet and not caring at all that I was sleeping all day. I felt no motivation to do anything at all. My mind was a sludgy list of all the reasons I would fail, how much of a fool I’d make of myself – blah, blah, blah. It’s such a stupid headtrip – the way I move a little closer to stepping into some more bold way of being who I am. Not necessarily stylistically, though maybe red lipstick will be involved on some days, just as maybe haggard af and 1/2 crazy looking with weird expressions and twitchy eyes, an ugly uncertain mouth wearing red lipstick. More honest is what I mean to say when I say bold – less masked and postured and trying to fit in.
I read an article about avoidant personality disorder and how so little work has been done to learn about the internal experiences of people with APD. I don’t know if I have APD, but I was identified as having ‘traits’ – of the disorder in some psych eval where I was trying to make a good impression ‘cause of the accusations that I was crazy to the extent that my ability to parent was compromised.
At some points, I probably was crazy in ways that compromised my ability to be a good parent. However, in the family structure I was in, it was not okay to say, “you know, I’m stressed the fuck out and have been through a lot and for some reason I can’t stop fucking crying and feel so upset sometimes that I want to literally punch myself in the fucking face, and – you know what – I am not able to deal today and I need to rest and be quiet and not be momming for just a little while.”
I mean, a person could not say that. Anything remotely like that was responded to with derision and a stern imploring that one simply needed to get over themselves, stop acting like a baby, grow up, and deal because all the other people in the world deal.
Why couldn’t I?
Of course, they then called you crazy anyway.
So, it was a double cruelty of supreme invalidation and mental health stigma.
I think a lot of families are like that. It’s not like my family was this terrible family. It was a normal family. In normal families, it’s not okay to not be normal – at least in some key ways involving emotion regulation, tolerance for small talk and pleasantries and appropriate conversation topics, not being too much or too little, being – as it were – neurotypical, or – at the very least – trying very hard to pretend you are neurotypical because it is a learned fact of American life that one will be socially punished and ostracized for not being neurotypical. Or something like that…?
Anyway, I didn’t set out to write about that stuff – family and normative neuronormalcy. I set out to make note of the fact that I felt extremely low for a couple of days, almost to the extent that I wondered if I was under some kind of psychic attack by a malevolent force or family curse or…deep learned socialization that permeates my conscious and subconscious mind-experience states with extremely stifling (silencing) self-doubt and social trepidation.
(the next morning, cold like March in the mountains though it is May, serviceberries small beads of scarlet like a calendar leading to the end of the month, when it would be warmer and the berries would be full and dark, almondine seeds tucked inside. Last year, she had filled buckets and bowls and Tupperware tubs full of the perfectly free fruits that grew on the trees that seemed suddenly all over town, but had been there for years. “They have cyanide in them, and sugar, and the cancer cells eat the sugar and die from the cyanide.” She cites clumsy quasi-scientific explanations for her daily campaign to pick berries down by the river, over by the gas station across from the VA, in the park by the brewery, downtown near the courthouse, at the base of the bridge to the west side of town.
She found all the trees, spotting without looking the particular red green of a serviceberry tree in full fruit as she drove around town. Her eye had become quickly trained to spot them when she realized with a sort of childlike hope that maybe if her mom ate enough of the berries, that the cancer killing her via what she called her “lady parts” would begin to die.
She was very good at finding serviceberry trees. Once she learned to see a form, she could recognize it without trying, see it everywhere. She doesn’t think much about her brain and her eyes constantly scanning around her, picking up patterns and breaks in the pattern, the almost imperceptible slowing without braking and without signal that meant a car was about to change lanes, a vulture flying in high loops up at the edge of the sky, barely a spec in the otherwise blue and white. She was constantly looking around without even trying, without even knowing she was doing it.
She has meant to write down, these past couple of days, the experience of painting, and maybe she has written a few words, before the subject meandered into some wavery field of memory, perspective, idea and politic, all her internal voices clamoring for notice.
It’s easy for her to forget that anyone external to the creation of this narrative has no idea at all what she is thinking about as she writes, no idea other than what makes it to the page. She has – in an effort to not allow herself the privilege of forgetting about hate crimes against Asian women, the severe and persistent white supremacy woven through America, the names and stories that are testament to how brutally dumb and fucked up this country is. Sometimes she writes in simple, almost adolescent statements, because the enormity of American atrocities and the larger context of globalized exploitative capitalism, the ongoing end-results of grievous errors made in the course of the past two thousand years by powerful men with weaponry and resources, oceans filled with plastic, internet filled with complete and utter shit, tons of frozen fish, petro by-product mistakes, hungry children, burning forests…sometimes, it’s overwhelming.
As a person who was trained in social sciences, she cannot separate out the multitude of factors and realities that constitute the present moment of her sitting on the porch, trying to make her way around to writing about painting and reminding herself of the reality of people driving to work and workdays just beginning, the day rainy and cold like February now, workdays just ending, ugly apartments and bad relationships and all the grief behind closed doors, the comfort of her own children sleeping still, teenagers in their childhood rooms, the end of the school year. Maybe she would make pancakes this morning, before she makes herself sit down and file for unemployment, write some emails, remind herself of loose ends and potential new endeavors with the time she has now found in the wake of the past few weeks during which she has been calmly unable to perform the duties of her job because she can’t focus for shit on any of it and her brain just shuts down and her body freezes and she feels fuzzed out and anxious. Just thinking about the experience of trying to make her brain do the work, make her voice type messages in a professional, succinct and linear tone.
It’s a blessing in disguise, this failure, because she has no choice but to do the things she is able to do, which seem to be writing on her phone, taking pictures, painting, doing yard work and making food, studying Norwegian on Duolingo, hanging out with her kids and her still-dying mom, her aging father, her dog, going for walks, and thinking about things she wants to think about, making plans for the future that she is on the edge of, and trying to savor the curiosity that notices behind the weakening fear – which is a double entendre because the fear is both getting weaker and has a weakening effect on her.
Her son telling her, without cruelty, that he didn’t respect her, that in many ways her considered her to be a failure left a dim and unconvincing despair in her stomach, which she recognized as some egoic garbage left over from her socialization to care what her children think of her, when she has taught them not to care what she thinks of them, because their lives are their own and her opinion of their evolving choices, at this point, is null.
It is freeing. There is a satisfying sense of economy in recognizing that in already being proclaimed a failure, already having lost respect, she is given license to fail further, which means that she can try. She no longer has to compromise her deep, intrinsic motivation towards the arts trying to be some kind of successful wage-earning professional. She failed at that. She can let it go.
Without ceremony, the morning seeped toward full day, grass drying under sun and all the almost unnoticeable murmurings of the wild rose and clover rise to hover and drift in the also unoticeable breezes conjured by the Sunday walk down the hill, two men pausing under the weary limbs of spruce and sycamore pass a bag between them, such a small mercy on a warm day, the blue sky shaded and the street quiet like it is.
Of note: it is incredibly important, if one is going to be an artist, to claim oneself as such and to keep close to you people who see you and appreciate you as an artist, just as you are. This doesn’t mean that your art has to be amazing and impressive to everyone – it means it has to be your art and you need people who appreciate your art for what it is. Not to say that you have potential if you just did this or just did that, or maybe if you…but, to just love it for what it is and to see value in the fact that you created something and that you love to create.
Of note: the person who was my friend was a presence in my life that felt like both a gift and a test and – at times – a trick, a diversion, a detracting and confusing force. I guess love can be all those things. What I now know is that there is a peace in alone-ness that cannot consistently exist in being with another person. While it is true that in some friendships and in some loves, one can feel the peace of alone-ness in the company of sacred others, but eventually the logistics of daily living creep in. The meditation ends and someone has to pee. There is a tea pot to wash. Meals to be made. Budgets and transactions to agree on. There are egos and emotions, vestigial wounds. I suppose that maybe people living in a spiritually grounded communal or monastic structure might be able to – with practice – suspend all of these dithering distractions from our awareness of the miracle of existing at all and the wonder that nothing is the same moment to moment to moment, or they – again, with practice – find ways to integrate the state of deep everyday connection with going to the grocery store or talking with someone about the light bill. I guess maybe that’s the goal – to be able to feel that peace of alone-ness regardless of whatever one might be doing, regardless of the presence of others and their communications, their demands, their troubles.
The peace of aloneness is not the absence of human connection, but the presence of connection with everything and with oneself as a small phenomenal facet of aliveness in the midst of so much living and dying, breathe and wind.
Without ceremony, he left the house as she was laying in bed, awake in the mid-afternoon.