The past few weeks have provided further confirmation – a grounded, deep-seated confirmation (as opposed to a panicked and delusional, thin-walled conviction) – of the necessity and purpose of me emerging as a writer and as a person who pays attention to things, makes note of them, a person who watches the world, and who watches herself watching, tries to capture and articulate what she sees when she looks around and within.
An artist. I AM AN ARTIST.
I mean, duh, that’s what I have been saying for years.
However, for a long time, I was also trying to be a lot of other things. A wage worker. A person in service. A mother-steward. A girlfriend, of all things.
I will still, and will always, be a mother-steward, and will still, always, be a person who lives in service to the suffering.
I am NEVER going to sell my time and energy and heart to anyone or anything again. Not for nothin’, man. Definitely not for 19.00/hour and no health insurance and no voice.
As I put together my summary-of-work site, I am struck by how much I have done over the past 11 years, over the course of it all.
It’s like I am seeing myself for the first time, and some of the work I have done is worth having done.
Some of it, of course, is terrible, but there is enough that is not terrible to instill a genuine confidence that I can now move forward in making my way by simply being who I am and following my instinct about what I need to be doing with my time. I have enormous faith that this is what the ‘forces’ at work in the multiverse – or whatever one may want to call this vast and interconnected world we live in out here in space – ‘want’ me to be doing, leaning into myself, not being afraid.
While it’s true that I am currently medicated, taking not one, but two antidepressants, I feel like something that had me in its grips for a long time has let me loose. I don’t think it’s just the medication, because I was depressed af for a long time, on medication and off medication.
You know what I think it is? I think I am now doing what I am ‘supposed’ to be doing, as odd as it may seem to someone external to me, someone who perhaps finds their sense of deeply satisfying congruence with purpose in selling patio furniture or being a sports fan or any number of other things that are totally acceptable and even admirable, laudable, as a way to live out one’s life.
I feel happy and motivated. Untroubled in my mind and comfortable in being who I am.
It’s probably important for me to define this matter of ‘forces’ in the world. I am talking about what people might call God, and I am talking about what people might understand as ancestors, and maybe I am even talking about the forces of the earth itself, all the ways that living things work in the world.
I am moving in the right direction, that the pervasive and terrible sense of not doing what I need to be doing, of being on the wrong path, trying to build the wrong sort of life, has all but disappeared.
I am so grateful that I never let myself drift entirely away from writing and paying attention. I mean, I really had no choice, because the thought – and the experience – of a life without time spent with this voice in me, this voice of myself, is akin to that self dying, and I truly believe that there were many times that I was, in fact, dying.
At least my spirit was dying, maybe something like a soul. I felt that, many times, and living with that sense of death inside of me is not an option.
I believe that – at this point in my development as an artist and as a human being who is participating in the world – I have done the due diligence of waiting, and of failing, of enduring humiliations, and of working along nonetheless, trying to keep tethered to what is alive in me.
It’s funny, because in the narratives of family I’m kind of this fuck-up person who has never gotten my life together. Maybe that’s because it wasn’t my life?
I have so much to do to make this thing fly, and to fly well, to not just be a chaotic and impulsive mess, because I believe my work is important and it needs to be taken seriously.
Why is my work important?
The scope of importance has yet to be determined, but if nothing else I am a person who was diagnosed with a Severe and Persistent Mental Illness and…
Oh my God. That reminds me of the brief thought I had a little bit ago, after coming up from the sidewalk where I cleared away the burdock and poison Ivy and where I will put rocks and ferns and maybe a native azalea.
What if there is nothing visibly weird about the photos of clouds I have taken? What if even in pointing out the clearly strange formations that look to me like something – a 3, a triangle, a Y, shapes like a chromosome, eyes, x’s, arrows, figures, snakes, etc. – aren’t even in the photographs?!
Like, what if someone looks at them and is sees just a totally normal puffy white cloud, a cumulus, or a simple everyday stratus, nothing other than the supposed chaos of vapor formation and dissipation in the wind?
What if all this weird stuff is only stuff I can see, like a photographic hallucination?
It happens all the time – me seeing things in the clouds. The more I pay attention, the more I see. What if I am hallucinating, and somehow that hallucination transposes to the photos I take?
A clue that this may not be the case is that the photos stay the same. Aside from the slow digital deterioration of .jpeg files, there are many, many photos in my archives that I have studied specifically, and I recognize them and know the details of their forms.
If I were hallucinating photo content, wouldn’t the false perception get all jumbled across photos, imprecise and messy?
Obviously, I am reality testing here, because that is what a person must do when they believe that they may have noticed something more important than they ever even imagined was possible.
I have done a lot of reality testing over the past 11 years, and a lot of reality testing in the years prior.
Reality and I have had a complex relationship.
In writing things down, I make sure they become real. It is too easy for me to sit here in the dark musing about notes on how, in the few months since my departure from the way things were – with the depleting and corrosive position earning wages in the chaos hustle survival game of the lower echelons of the nonprofit industrial complex, all its emails and urgencies, deadlines and meetings, documents and scrambles while people o.d. behind dumpsters a block away – I have been through the strange process of reconfiguring my time and energies, the landscape of my purpose.
Just now, as I was writing a sentence referencing my former employment, I could feel a mute grinding anxiety rise up the column of me, the sharp-edged tangles of my left-brain springing to life as my amygdala throws up arms.
The other day, I went to a meeting with a start-up run by a person whose company I enjoy, whose intent in work I appreciate, and a potential funder, the director of the org I worked for…and, ugh, really, even writing about the impact of inhabiting that space – that world – makes me feel blunted and disconnected, tired, and whirring overwhelm coiling right around my ears, making my eyes close, the deep breath becomes a tool of defense, rather than simply the act of breathing sitting here on my porch in the dark of early morning, with birds singing waiting for sun and chirping along in their patient code, night insects buzzing and humming so thoroughly as to be the sound of sound itself.
I should take notes on the process of reconfiguring my life and energies as I continue the small navigations that create the course of the day, the rhythm and feel of it, the outcomes.
I like how I feel in the world where my development and emergence as an artist is real. I like thinking about clouds, and feeling deeply the immediacy of the dying oceans, the incomparable joy of considering possible futures in which the world will itself have reconfigured its complex adaptive multiplicities of life and energies, and sitting here – in this moment – recognizing how much could be said about what – actually – I really mean when I talk about the world, these lives, this energy, and how – really – only poems suffice to tell about such changes, their reasons and details, the death of war machines and the re-seeing of everything and everyone as holding God.
I think about how much has been said of such things, how many possible worlds have been prayed for over the millenia of our recorded existence, how many prayers for peace…
Yesterday, I did not watch the clouds for long, save for the very end of the sunlit day, photos blurry, nautical twilight, that blessed kudzu bobbing like a cobra, twisted wire, small bird on the pole sings bright out of frame, not existing in any captured image, which cannot possibly depict what the picture is actually of: a woman seeing God, small bird on the pole and the air cooling with the slipping sun, the coming night.
She considers the fact that she spent the vast majority of the day looking at pictures of clouds from the past 2 months, since she began documenting again more earnestly, began to allow herself to re-inhabit the world of believing that the look of the clouds means something and that what it means is probably important and that she oughta tell someone, because even if what it means is that she has a raging case of pareidolia, apophenia, well…that would be important information to have.
She, herself, does not believe that what she sees is only a matter of seeing things as forms representative and depicting of other things, faces in the clouds, etc.
The incidence of peculiar clouds is too great to credit to apophenia, pareidolia alone. Her attributions are as much about interpretative seeing as they are about measuring form, and considering the observable structure of material features, how they are shaped like other things, have the same lines, the same dimensions.
The classical arch of an angels back in flight, the uplift, the outstretch. The triangle of eyes and nose, space between edge of iris and tiny spot of pupil. All those perfect, beautifully perfect, equilateral triangles. My God. So perfect. It is easy to see why Egyptians built pyramids.
InboxYesterdayStar messageTo:Me, email@example.com
Can I remember what I’d written, edging into poetry. Draft deleted because I had pocket Cc’ed an accidental forward to poemaday —— and thought that I had already sent the message to myself, and – oh, better not send it to them! That‘d be so random… – and I quick deleted the draft and then *gone* whatever I had said that made my heart uplift, that way of speaking, of telling, deleted.
All I remember is this, the question of pareidolia, apophenia, the repetition of these words in a statement that, yes, knowing would be important, it’d be an important thing to know, if all of this is just a raging case.
There was the satisfaction of that phrase in the dark of morning with the birds chirping out their patient code, yes, their patient code, that is what I said, and the night insects buzzing and humming so thoroughly as to become the sound of sound itself, and nothing else I really said – actually – yes, there was some of that, the play between – actually – and – really – the dashes of emphasis, satisfying – again – satisfying.
Ah, she had said that the thought of writing down notes about the process by which she is currently reconfiguring her life and energies after leaving her wage-earning position in the chaos hustle of survival nonprofit work, the urgency, the deadlines, the emails, flat-eyed meetings, tangle of synapses in her left brain sputtering and firing, short-lived sparkle, while amygdala throws up arms, a cold brittle creeping up the column of me, frost from the ground, think of the trees, Faith. Think of the trees.
She did not say any of this, but she is saying it now, as she tries to remember. The point she made about the clouds. Oh, yes. The clouds. “She doesn’t believe that her perception of peculiar clouds is only a matter of pareidolia, apophenia. Her seeing of forms in the sky is not only a matter of interpretation, but of comparison. The classical arch of an angels back in flight, the uplift of the arms, the outstretch.”
Yes. She said that. Something like that. The triangle of eyes and nose, the ways that animals become humans and humans become animals, all the merge and swirl at the edges. Ah, yes. The triangle. All those perfect, perfect, perfect equilateral triangles. My, God. It’s easy to see why the Egyptians went to all that toil and trouble to build pyramids. Shame about the slave labor as a way to build an edifice, a tool, to honor gods? God, humans are idiots.
What did she say? Oh, she didn’t watch the clouds much yesterday, save for the very last moments of the sunlit day.
Yes, the sunlit day. She said the sunlit day.
Sometimes, she writes out letters to suss out how a possible reality of communicating something may feel.
Usually, these draft letter experiments are related to asking for help, or trying to explain something.
What would I say?
What do I need to consider of another person’s imagined perspective of what it is I am saying, how I am telling?
The sky is overcast with the far edges of a storm that will soon be soaking the crushed bodies in rubble a thousand miles to the southeast. The rescue crews are working hard to find remains as vultures begin to catch the hint of a scent that will rise thick over the beach with just a few more warm days. There will be no way to stop it, the smell of rotting bodies hidden by concrete, bodies exploded, crushed into forms that can be neither found nor moved.
The pale green sheets were damp in spots and blotches, dark twisting lines as the signature of a night that really wasn’t so hot. Though the day had been warm, at least for the mountains, the night was reasonably cool, and she turned the window fan off in the morning as she pulled a sweater over the still-moist tank top she had slept in.
It’s the caffeine and the nicotine that makes her sweat, the busy, urgent dreams that she has lately, unrememberable – except, aha, last she had been at her great-grandmother’s house, showing it to people, and there was a woman picnicking with a toddler on the small bluff by the fork in the road, people on the land, it no longer being a place that was her family’s. There were other people there on the land, in the dream, and she knew that she could not explain to any of them that the place used to be her home, a long time ago.
She was showing people – unremembered – how to get into her grandmother’s house from the back door, the kitchen door. There was the pride of knowing, of showing, of the sense that she had the right to enter because she knew to walk around to the back of the house, to go through the kitchen. The trees were dead and dying, hanging over the yard and yet she remained optimistic and dream-wondered if her father could use them for firewood, yet felt a doubt because the wood was so soft, so black and rotting where it stood. The kitchen was turquoise, dim lit, semi-gloss walls that held an additional sheen, decades of oily air settled on every surface it seemed, and the air thick with the smell of a place left behind.
The dining room, where the big table had sat under the cut-glass chandelier, was painted a bright green.
She doesn’t remember the rest of the dream, except for the feel of being transitory, and trying to solve some problem with strangers, trying to hide, to not be seen, as she is in almost all of her dreams, never at home and with the sense of there being no home, always going somewhere in the surreal flooded and ruined worlds she moves in at night. She remembers roads and features from dream to dream; the landscapes are familiar, but never anywhere she has been, anywhere that is real.
The dog woke up barking at 12:35. She ate dry cereal from a paper cup and smoked a cigarette. Woke up again at 2:35, but didn’t know why. Ate more cereal, and when she got up at 6:07, she saw the frosted wheat biscuits she had spilled on the counter, fumbling the box and bag and contents into the small mouth of the cup in the dark, no glasses, using only her hands to see.
There was another frosted wheat biscuit on the porch, dropped in the nighttime movements from kitchen to bed to porch, ’round and round.
She realizes that she doesn’t dream of places that are real, that she dreams of this house she lives in and sleeps in, the house next door, the street in front of the houses, but they are never like they really are and the neighborhood is a different place, with odd houses new and old. Always some bizarre situation unfolding, a group of people on the porch, strangers in the rooms, long walks and cutting through yards, again trying not to be seen.
Did she ever write of the places on the coast that she dreams about, those flat roads and pressed down skies and the steps that lead up to a deep green pool of the ocean itself, instead of to dry land, the waves and heat of dunes blown to expose sharp-stalked mounds, roots of the grasses that held the mounds of sand together, the sand pushed and piled and swept for years and years and years, rising to catch the wind that created them?
She feels like she is able to remember a lot this morning, sitting on the porch and smoking with the day a blessed grey. No clouds. The dog was barking and there was a headache-y, tired feeling to the morning. Next door, the neighbor dog, a slick-bodied country mix with narrow paws, two round testicles still intact, barked on his tie-out, came over to the gate and tussled with the dog she is steward of, her angel dog, who is – alas – very much a dog.
She keeps looking at the pictures she took yesterday, which – to her – are just as mind-blowing as the pictures she took the day before yesterday. There is a definite avoidance, however, of writing about the experiences of seeing what appear to be holy forms and figures in the sky, because she can still remember when even the idea of it seemed absolutely crazy to her, and she understands that most people cannot see what she sees, because you have to look closely and follow the lines, fill in the small spaces left by dissipate vapors, like finding pictures hidden in clouds.
She can’t quite shake the tremorous feel seeded in her belly yesterday by the thought that maybe there really is nothing there, or that people will begrudgingly acknowledge that there are shapes that look like something, but that looking like something does not equate being something. A cloud that looks like an angel wearing a crown is not necessarily an angel. It is a cloud that my human perception – forged by the beliefs and images I have been immersed in ever since the day I opened my eyes, and which my ancestors were – –
|— shaping their views of angels and God. |
The way that ideas show up in my head is sometimes like a hint of question at the very edge of all the things I think I know.
I might give the impression of being cavalier in my talking about all of this, or irreverent.
It feels very important for me to stay grounded and rational around the topic of seemingly portent clouds. It is easier – and safer – for me to hold a stance of outward skepticism, keep the clouds at arms length, study them as I might study something that didn’t have the potential to change the way I see and understand the world.
It may be worth questioning why would I want to study anything that didn’t have the potential to change the way I see and understand the world?
Easier, I said. Safer. Safer than what?
The kitchen was grimy-seeming in the bare-bulb light, green gloss around the windows like something mossy. Spots of dust gone black that she swears isn’t mildew have settled onto the small interior lip of the window itself. Standing at the stove, turning the greens and the olives and the pasta shaped like butterflies that she knows will nonetheless taste macaroni, she can’t see the lattice-work of tiny webs that coats the exterior of the screen of the window facing what she and the neighbors and her children, almost-grown, call “the alley,” the slope of breaking concrete between her house and the house next door, a sober house where people smoke cigarettes on the porch almost as much as she does.
She is already thinking, standing at the stove and making one of the two or three dinners she rotates through eating a few times a week – the greens with the olives, pasta fried in olive oil, some kind of fake meat, some kind of fake cheese, bread – about when she will get to smoke again, puts a lid on the pan and goes outside to smoke as the sun goes fully down.
She is smoking these days, but – she tells herself – it’s working for her. She is self-medicating and she knows it, but medicine is good when you need it, and so she smokes, sits on the porch, writes emails to herself, organizes her pictures into folders, looks around, considering. She is happier and more like herself than she has in a very long time, even is beginning to feel like cleaning the windows, not because she needs to – tho’ she does because the windows are disgusting – but, because she wants to. It is a wonderful feeling, the wanting to do some thing that probably needs to be done.
There is a lot that needs to be done, but it makes sense to her that there would be lots that persists in needing to be done, suspended and waiting, gathering the dust of the house very slowly falling apart. She had noticed that she was thinking, standing there by the stove in her grimy kitchen, her old appliances, the door to the freezer held shut by a construction of high-quality duct tape and Velcro, that she is embarrassed of her house, that she is house-proud and house-shamed.
It’s all bullshit, she knows. I mean, really, what would anyone expect? It makes total sense that her house would be dusty, in need of repair.
Sitting on the porch smoking, the first few fireflies lighting up around the hedge-trees, she remembers the firefly she had found earlier, laying prone on the floor right outside of her room, in the immediate process of dying, abdomen exposed and glowing as brightly as it might were it rising from the grasses. She picked it up, careful, and say that its abdomen had ruptured slightly, and its legs were pulled in, contracted so that the whole tiny structure of the firefly was smooth along the edges, a compacted and dying form.
Why, she wondered, was the thing still lighting so brightly? She understood that the firefly had no choice, and had no idea that it was lighting up with what seemed to be all its might, no idea that it was dying.
She tried to take a picture of it, a video of it in her hand against a white wall.
She didn’t understand how the glow was still so bright. It didn’t occur to her until the next day that it was likely the demolition of the lightning bugs fragile, tiny insides, damage to the small workings that make a firefly light up that had caused the persistence of glowing even as the rest of the insect’s body systems were immobilized and dying.
Glowing wasn’t a choice, she reminded herself, it was just something that was happening outside of any conscious will of the lightning bug. As she stood on the landing of the stairs, considering the matte-soft almost velvety glove of the fireflies abdomen, the wound that to her was the size of a pinprick, but to the lightning bug was a massive wound to its delicate body, injurious to the extent of death, a death, she understands, that was likely caused by her lightly stepping out of her room, on her way downstairs to get ready to go meet with the people she is getting to know and who she might end up working with, depending on how the next few weeks pan out.
She is, she tells herself, in an emergent process, a feel-it-out and wait-and-see period of time after she left her job in the culmination of a previous emergent process that had led her to spend a lot of energy in stressful situations. She is, at all costs, determined to avoid wasting her life and time doing things she doesn’t like to do and isn’t good at and if she is good at them, they exhaust her, these actions of being a walking-talking person, saying-stuff-and-doing-things while, really, she is thinking about and longing for other things. Not longing in an ungrateful, or attached, or stubborn way, but longing in the way of knowing that if you don’t move toward the direction of the longing, you will continue to die inside and you won’t be able to laugh or feel the feeling of beauty. Love and compassion. Presence.
The longing wasn’t to be doing any specific thing, or having some specific thing, arranging or controlling anything in a certain way, but was for the feelings of being at ease in who she is and what she is doing, the feeling of living a life that she doesn’t all but have to force herself to participate in because she simply is not comfortable.
She is tired of telling herself to suck it up and be comfortable, don’t be spoiled, she is lucky, no – not lucky – privileged. It doesn’t feel like a privilege to be under siege with a deadening anxiety everyday because you have to go to work to earn 19.00 an hour even though you should probably earn way more, but you’re lucky, no, not lucky, but more privileged than millions of other people so get comfortable and get to work.
Let us cease in calling meek,
a young woman in a dress printed ladybug
black circles on red, or vice versa
corset strings cross chest brown boots on her feet,
accentuate the young man’s face,
three days growth,
high school football, not quite a star,
field filled with huge boys, too small for touchdowns and tackles
just the right size for the mat though,
you wonder, sitting beside the girl,
what in the fuck happened down there, side-steps of a church closed up
red glow inside the office door sanctuary light of the exit sign
above the locked door
candle on the table, restaurantwhite/red checks, a nice date
family dinner imagined in black/red dots,
they flitted and rolled,
whispered like ghost walks cross,
uncross the legs,
then jump and scatter, and – damn, girl! – who the fuck are you talking to over there in the bushes
walking in your circle, grass damp and dark, fireflies rising, yearning, fading fireworks,
as you hiss in your old voice, about gang rape and Rick Starr
and you speak back more than you say
spit back retorts, brief defenses, accusations
without a clear subject, a clear action,someone named Shannon, genderless, low-down, FEMA camp bots
motherfucker, looks at sky, exasperated, smooths the bugs down from the skirt
x ankles like a college girl
relaxing on the green, for only a moment.
“The color blue has…certain associations…”
Looks off, cryptic coffeeshop philosopher
blue line of something like ribbon
beside the left hand.
She gets up, brushes, spits, adjusts her bag, begins to walk,
“Hey, man,” the witness said, extends the blue line with an outstretched hand.
“Don’t forget your tourniquet.”
What I have come to understand over the past two days – and have come to understand with deep certainty – is that it doesn’t matter what I believe and that what I believe is not even the fucking point here. I clearly recognize that there is an auspicious preponderance of seeming-symbols and seeming-figures in seeming-interaction in the sky, and I recognize that in my direct individual experience, I find that beholding said seemings is the singular most profound moment of my entire life, again and again, day after day, if I watch long enough, if I stay focused and attentive to what the clouds are appearing as, which I understand is a matter of my perception and of my imagination, which has been shaped by the cultures I have been in proximity with and the media I have had access to.
For over ten years, almost entering a twelfth, I have agonized over what does it mean, what do I believe, am I crazy, are people going to think that I am crazy, blah blah blah.
Now, I understand that my role as an artist of this sort is not to understand, or to interpret, it is to show people what I am seeing, so that they may see it and experience it for themselves in whatever way they may experience it, drawing meaning or no meaning. It’s not my business or my job as an artist to tell people what to believe, though I can certainly share what I believe with people.
The past few days have been extremely intense, as far as cloud implications and my incremental movement toward strategically sharing this work. It doesn’t matter if I am scared, or if I am nervous. It is not about me.
As an artist, I can declare myself a vehicle for the expressions of the world that I bear witness to, but it is not about me at all.
It is about what is conveyed to me through my art process, which is – in the case of this project – me paying attention to the forms of clouds and noticing my reactions and assumptions to what I perceive.
What I have perceived in recent days appears – on the basis of objectively observable thematic content – to be, again and more persistently, about the ocean and about the animals, and God Damn IT – that wretched radiation sign that I have hoped and hoped is an emblem of pagans or something, and not the sign of an energetic cancer unleashed unto the Holy Spirit and all it touches.
As I have said recently, it is very important to stay grounded. I lost my mind with this before, and it is not going to happen again, because this time I am approaching this from a position of grounded and scientifically informed curiosity.
(Jesus Christ, Faith. There is some serious shit going on in the world if you’re seeing legit detailed dolphin faces and even a squid and – Oh, My God! – so many manta rays, so many rays, even a sea purse just to prove it, to prove it to you. You have seen the face of a Florida Panther fill the sky with clear bright eyes. You have seen humanity and angels in the clouds, so many beautiful animals. That little mouse. You know that you are loved and blessed and in favor when you see animals in the sky. Bullshit, Girl. You don’t know shit. How about the earth showing you everything that stands to be lost and you mooning around over the mouse. The planarium or tape worm or whatever it was. Did you see that motherfucking mushroom cloud? Did you see that submarine? The flag? Listen, you’re not going to sound fucking crazy. Okay, fine. Maybe a little crazy. YOU HAVE PICTURES. All you have to do is say, “Hey, this is what I saw and this is what it looked like to me.” Two sentences. My God, you are impossible. Just show the people. Don’t you have faith in the wisdom of such a profound force to trust the impetus to show what you see. Don’t explain it. Don’t interpret it. Just put it together in a way people can access and allow for the work to communicate what it may in the world. “
I mean, seriously…right?!