I have written about this “mental illness” phrase before, but when I saw the Daily Post prompt on “morphing” language, I couldn’t resist revisiting the problematic semantics of this popular concept related to human distress and/or anomaly in experience.
Words are most useful when they accurately describe what they are referring to, when their meaning actually reflects something that is seemingly true about the world. The phrase “mental illness” is a tricky one, because at this point it is a concept that affects one in four Americans and has been accepted into our common collective rhetoric as being a real thing.
Yet, the phrase “mental illness” does not describe any sort of actual or scientific disease process. This is not to say that people don’t struggle with difficult experiences. However, the difficulties that people may have are not necessarily due to an “illness” that affects the “mental,” whatever that may be.
Recently, the National Institute of Mental Health made an announcement that the NIMH will move away from funding based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the DSM. The NIMH, instead, is hoping to focus research on biological and neurological testing that may identify specific imbalances or attributes that may be correlated with experiences that manifest as what we consider to be “mental illnesses.”
In July of 2012, the American Psychiatric Association released a report on biomarkers which clearly states that they have found no biomarkers indicating features that may contribute to anything remotely resembling an actual disease process. There are no lesions, no protuberances, no void grey areas of neurological scarring.
Our brains are, by and large, perfectly fine. Thus, the language of “brain diseases” that is currently used by organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness is inaccurate and misleading as to what the causes of our unique human trials and tribulations may be. It is unfounded, not real.
For some, there is appeal in the concept, in the thought that our troubles can be blamed on damned heredity, some tangled tragedy in the pathways between chemical, feeling, action and memory…dream, body, heart, mind, Self, World. Yet even for those who identify with the concept of having a “mental illness,” it only takes about a moment of reasonable thought to know that our lives and experiences are more complex than the outcomes of our neural circuitry.
Of course, there are some instances that neurological duress or wounding can be implicated in human struggle. The effects of lead, for example, can wreak havoc on the functions of our brains, as can diseases like syphillis and all sorts of drugs affect the functioning of our brains and our subjective experience. People do get “brain damage” if their brains are hurt. It’d probably be safe to assume that, at this point in our industrial history, we are all a little brain damaged. Similarly, we can all – to some extent – heal or adapt.
A disease affects living things. Metal does not get diseases. It can corrode, but that is not a disease, it is a natural chemical process, with variables that can speed it up or slow it down, prevent it or even stop it. Some artisans find corrosion to be lovely and interesting, the edges of rust so delicate like lace, where metal has somehow been erased, turned into air and element.
The word “illness” implies the existence of a “healthy” state. Yet, is it healthy to not feel sad in a sad situation. Is it healthy to not be who you are? When we have stress reactions to stressful circumstances and events, is that not healthy?
What exactly is the “illness” that afflicts over a quarter of the US population?
If our brains are not ill, what is? This brings us back to our “mental” – which is itself a murky term. Operationally, it could be considered some conglomerate concept comprised of thought, emotion, and significance. Which is not that much different than what we seem to be talking about when we talk about “consciousness.”
So, what exactly is being “treated” by drugs used to treat “mental illness”? Many of these drugs actually seem to cause neurological damage, in the form of tardive dyskinesia, akathisia, and wild imbalances/dysfunction in neural networks. So, how does that work, if there is no “illness” and the “treatments” often cause harm? (Note: Some people do choose to use pharmaceuticals in their approach to dealing with their unique human condition and find medication to be helpful.)
You cannot treat a broken heart with chemicals. For a moment, you might feel better, or feel nothing at all, but your heart will still be broken. You can change the way you think and see and feel by taking any number of chemical compounds, from adderall, to cocaine to klonopin to morphine. However, you will still be who you are.
Is who we are and what has happened to us a disease? What is the prognostic trajectory of a disease like this? Can we heal? Can we change? Can we grow? Can we, even wounded, perhaps thrive?
You bet your ass we can.
I mourn a little everyday for the hundreds of thousands of young vibrant people who were lost because they thought they had a mental illness, who were told they had a mental illness and who were forced, often brutally, into lives that left them drugged, destroyed, and isolated. I mourn for their families and for the sadness of it all.
…and then I get angry, that people do not get what they need, and that they are punished for the effects and the process of what they live through.
“Mental illness” is a phrase that is changing, becoming more clear, transparent in it errors.
Fortunately, it is a phrase that is, in the minds of real scientists, this phrase will slowly but surely and thoroughly die under the weight of the multiple incommensurabilities between ethics and evidence that will ultimately shape any true science of the human condition.
American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., text rev.). Washington, DC: Author.
…is not so important anymore. It is already antiquated.
I’m not sure when it occurred to me that I wasn’t drawing alone, that some strange grace was moving my hand, making the lines exceptionally fine.
“Oh, so this is what it means to be an artist.”
Everything becomes close to everything else, and somehow closer to itself.
My hand is not only my hand. It is a tool, a communicative device. I talk with myself and am spoken to, without a word or sound.
This dialogue, this transmission, began to happen very early in my process of drawing a picture every day for a year. I remembered the feeling from times I had drawn in the past. I knew it was the reason I had decided to draw again.
I studied the way figures bloomed on blank sheets and tried to lay down the landscapes that grew in my mind.
The past couple of months I’ve been drawing again, after a long hiatus that was cluttered with scheme and text. Sometimes the forms come more easily than others.
Last night, I felt the familiar comfort of drawing with the universe.
There is a certain calm; There is a certain confidence.
My hands buzz from within. My belly feels full, there is a holding in my chest…not as if I am holding something, but as if I am being held.
If one questions the source, or tries to take control, the lines falter.
Yesterday, however, was a good day and I rendered an elephant free and with ease.
There is something about drawing that teaches me about listening, about seeing,
about trust and interpretation.
There has been recent publication of a study on the link between creativity and “mental illness“, which indicates that those in creative professions and those who identify as artists and other makers were more likely to have a “mental illness” such as bipolar disorder or major depression. Writers, most notably, are far more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia than are non-writerly sorts.
What gives anyone the right to parse communicative inspiration and faceted worldview into an element of pathology? Is it possible that what has been considered to be mental illness is really just the manifestation of brilliant, myriad minds and sensitive hearts struggling to make sense of the conflicted and wounding normative world?
I don’t like the idea that my creativity could be seen as a symptom or a by-product of some murky supposed brain disease. In fact, that’s insulting.
Yesterday, I was facilitating a class on the topic of gratitude. “Is gratitude an idea or a feeling?” We all agreed that it was a feeling, a feeling among the best feelings.
“You cannot have happiness if you do not have gratitude.”
I found myself thinking about how I had learned to recognize happiness, how I had learned to practice gratitude.
“There were times, you know, in the midst of a lot of really questioning despair, that everything was very clear and meaningful. I’d be inspired and at ease, amazed by how beautiful the world is and, you know…really engaged.”
I went on, “I always thought those times and those feelings were a symptom of mental illness.”
The realization stuck with me through the afternoon and I woke up with it this morning.
How was it that I had learned to not trust that which is most real? How was it that I had learned to second guess the source of my own joy, woefully attributing it to “imbalanced chemicals” and associating it with the fear of losing control. I’d feel happiness and I’d think, “Oh, no! It’s coming back.”
In my mind, that imposed second guess is one of the most grievous injustices put upon people in a pathologized view of self.
In class yesterday, a man said, “I’ve been thinking a lot about my schizo…affective disorder.” His voice stumbled through tardive dyskinesia. “I’ve been thinking about all the good things it has brought into my life. It’s almost like a…like a gift.”
I smiled, knowing exactly what he meant, “It wasn’t until I completely lost my mind that I learned just how truly amazing the world really is. I learned gratitude through madness. I’m happy to be alive.”
One of the things I am most grateful for is that the artist in me didn’t die, wouldn’t stay on the shelf I tried to put it on. Apparently, I see and feel the world differently, and for that I am filled with a gratitude that knows no bounds. For me, grace lives in the space between my heart and my hand, my mind and the sky.
To ask me to turn from that is akin to asking me to deny God. It’s offensive to suggest that my experience of grace and inspiration in the creative/expressive process is a symptom of an “illness.”
It is no great revelation that the words we use to describe things have a lot to do with what those things become in our mind. Language shapes experience and defines the parameters of our understanding. Most people, even those with only minimal education in critical thought, can come to understand this very simple human truth. However, many people assume the meanings of our words to be fixed and accurate – especially if those words are issued by perceived authorities, such as popular culture and government, or any entity that may have an ample marketing budget.
The danger of this tendency to accept erroneous words as being apt is well-captured by the term “mental illness.”
This term was introduced in the age-old tradition of establishing formal pathologies for things which fall outside of the statistical norm or which appear to function in a way that is deemed useless or undesirable. There is little difference between early 20th century thinking about mental illness and the modern constructs of biopsychiatry. While the technologies of medical “study” and “intervention” may have become a bit more “sophisticated.” The basic premise is the same: human struggle is due to a flaw in the individual human structure.
By defining people who experience the world differently or who struggle within their experience “mentally ill,” medicine assumed the right to meddle with people’s brains, to tamper with the meaning and outcome of people’s lives. In many ways, in the context of the mechanized age of exploitation and production, raw humanity itself has been pathologized.
Mental illness doesn’t even exist in the way that it is purported to exist. This is not to say that people do not have difficult times, and this is not to say that some people experience the world in ways that can be very challenging and, at times, odd for them. This is not to say, even, that some people’s brains work differently than others. In fact, no two people experience the world in the same way.
However, the construct of “mental illness” tells us that some of these differences are more concerning than others. By and large, the dangers of mental illness are closely related to being treated as if one is mentally ill, from the self-destroying social and emotional abuses, to the hopelessness of believing that one has an intrinsic flaw in one’s brain that will never allow them to stray too far from being sick and caught in struggle. Further, the “treatment” of “mental illness” itself is damaging, as evidenced by the many deaths and disabilities caused by psychiatric treatment.
The idea of mental illness creates and sustains stigma, by informing us that people who struggle with their humanity in ways outside of the acceptable range of normality are inherently flawed, inherently sick, and that, worse, that “people with a mental illness” do not even know what is going on. The mere idea of anogsonosia broad-handedly invalidates any efforts made by a person to define their own experience. If family members are informed that their loved one may not realize that they are mentally ill, the “person with a mental illness” is viewed as one who has little grasp on reality and any assertion otherwise is met with doubt and dismissal.
The effect of this is that those who are deemed to be mentally ill are stripped of the human right of self-determination. Their experiences are made to be symptoms of nothing more than a dysfunction of chemical landscape, an imbalance that must be “treated.”
Some individuals make use of the term “mental illness” because they feel that it adequately describes the difficulty of their experience.
What are the costs and benefits of investing in a pathologized view of self?
We now know that even people who have been diagnosed with “severe, persistent mental illnesses” can and do recover. We know, also, that many people live in the world in ways that are outside the boundaries of normative function but which suit them just fine.
There is more and more evidence that trauma and abuse contribute mightily to people’s experiences of distress. However, the use of the term “mental illness” informs us that human difficulty is due to a brain disease and that those who have brain diseases must have these diseases “treated,” even if that treatment must be forced and even if it seems to do more harm than good.
People are beginning to realize that the “progressive” nature of many mental illnesses, the tendency for people to get worse rather than better, is very likely due to the damage caused by pharmaceutical therapies and profound psychosocial abuses. The voices of the people harmed by medical model interventions are largely disregarded by the biopsychiatric industry, as are the voices of the people who’ve recovered from difficulties that they were once told they could not recover from, that the best they could hope for was to “stabilize” and to “manage.”
Use of the term mental illness to describe human struggle is misleading in ways that distort people’s view of self and potential. Mental illness itself is a flawed construct, based on the assumption of dysfunctions that don’t actually exist in the way we are told that they do.
Is it mentally ill to believe in the strange magic of the world? To feel it deeply and to try to figure it out? To question what is assumed to be real and experiment with other ways of seeing things, to trust ways of knowing that have nothing to do with television or mass media, popular consensus? Is it ill to talk about these things?
Is it ill to become overwhelmed by these processes? Is it ill to feel confusion, to feel pain, to not be able to fake it? Is it ill to cry? To weep? Is it ill to go through terribly difficult times, in which ones mind and heart are muddled and staticky, despairing or alight, on fire?
What exactly makes us sick? A disease or the idea of a disease?
Does the treatment make us ill and if it helps us, are we really being helped…or are we being quieted?
Re: “I just don’t think that very many modern science guys are going to read past the first paragraph.”
It is a problem that modern science guys aren’t going to read the last paragraph, or these next few.
Why is it that we can handle going from no cars a hundred years ago to a world absolutely choked with cars or that we can unquestioningly write these comments onto little screens invented within the last 30 years, and yet we scoff and sneer about how “naive and unrealistic” some people are to think that the world may need to change significantly…?
How is it that the (relatively recent in the broad scheme of things) biomedical model is so sanctified in spite of the fact that it clearly has no basis in any reality that is good for humans or the world?
(I think we could all probably answer that pretty easily.)
I appreciate your acknowledgment that human experience exists on a multifaceted spectrum, with various strengths and attributes, some of which are, apparently, more valued than others.
Most everyone can agree that the world is, in fact, “crazy.” (per the language of The Icarus Project) However, the craziness of the world and all its dysfunctions is usually only tangentially identified as being related to “disordered” experiences. Meaning that we seem to be doing well to identify the role of societal stressors and cultural/emotional/physical/etc. trauma as being contributing factors in our difficulty within experience, but I’ve not yet seen a lot of common dialogue that captures the distinct possibility that societal dysfunction may actually be causing experiences that are painful, alienating, and socially traumatic.
I agree, of course, that the term “mental illness” is, for all practical purposes, utterly useless and, further, is actually harmful. Still, people do have a hard time in this world and those difficulties are expressed in all sorts of ways, depending on a person and their unique human struggle.
It has been my observation that much of the cultural realities of the “modern world,” as it has arisen on the foundation of terribly(dangerously)flawed ideologies and economies, actually do really hurt people.
For so many, and increasingly so, there simply is no place to be ourselves and live within (or even develop awareness of) our strengths…because, as ordinary people, our strengths are not valued within exclusionary cultures and economies. For many, when the self is expressed in ways that conflict with normative rigidity of function and expectation the person is actually punished, through bullying, exclusion from the economy, violence and pathology.
Our access to a dynamic experience of humanity in learning and work and family and community has been severely limited by the structure of our ideas, roles, economies and cultures.
I suppose that some would say that this is a gratuitous point and a moot one at that because, well, what can ya do?
As much as I am committed (in my work and in my own life) to nurturing true recovery at the individual+community level, I am really invested in figuring out what will support an empowered macrolevel recovery from the unfortunate events and habits of the 20th century.
I know that seems lofty, but the alternative is some sort of hopeless complacency and an acceptance of things that really are, in my mind, pretty unacceptable.
What sort of world is it when people are systemically denied viable opportunities/ideas/language to express their unique experience of self and interest and to be respected and loved simply for who they are? That, to me, is bigger than “mental illness.”
Can you imagine a world in which people are wrought into narrow modes of existence, function, and meaning…diminished and confused in a tragic state of disconnection from themselves and unable to look one another in the eye for more than a moment or two, slowly destroying themselves with sweet and salty distractions and jokes they know they shouldn’t laugh at?
“Oh, man, that is so wrong!”
…and then when our minds/hearts/brains struggle to make sense of why it all seems so tragic and empty and frightening and difficult and pointless to the extent that we get all sorts of turned around and twisted up and stuck…well, somehow it is an “illness” that we have? It is our problem? That is a classic example of shifting blame. That sort of thing is seen at the microlevel in emotionally and psychologically abusive relationships.
It is so overwhelming to think about, how one deeply erroneous phrase (“mentally ill”) can indicate a problem that is much more far reaching and which, ultimately, affects us all.
The other night, at a baseball game, I was looking around the crowd and I was wondering what the people might be like if they weren’t 21st century Americans wearing jeans and t-shirts and eating chili fries, watching a field. A lot of people didn’t seem to be having much fun. They were just there. By my estimation, many of them were on psychiatric medication.
These shifts in language and practice are so important to the world.
Brief note: The world is a vibrant and beautiful place…so long as you don’t think too hard at baseball games. I choose to imagine/know that inside all those tshirts and under all those ballcaps there are – of course – vastly reeling worlds of wonder, story, and heart, the vital human core.
In spite of the truth of a strange postmodern (and what is truth in postmodernism?) sci-fi/archaic conflict narrative telling tales of a vast multilateral abusive net of social control and exploitation…well, I’d much rather know that even in the most bleak of settings, somewhere someone is dancing and who the heck knows what might happen yet? Thanks for letting me work that out.
I’m hopeful. I have a lot of confidence in the vital human spirit…of course, its assertion under duress often makes people appear “psychotic”…but that’s another useless word it seems that folks are in the process of deconstructing to null.
July 26, 2012 at 11:54 pm said:I’ve noted and am consistently impressed with your ability to acknowledge the role of the human nervous system in its participation in our states of experience, without giving a slim ounce of credence to the biomedical model. I do not find mind-only explanations of human distress to be much more helpful than biomedical explanations, as I really do suspect that the human experience is affected by our physiological states in ways that we seem strangely reluctant to acknowledge. The aversion to biomedical explanations has put us in the position of avoiding a pretty big part of it all, which is not medical or ill in the slightest, but is simply the way that humans seem, in my mind, to work.(By the way, the vital and the spirit are a part of all this, too, but that’s another long comment on another thread.)I usually frame the struggling human experience (and also the non-struggling human experience, any human experience really) as a dance between mind/heart/brain and also the body that carries all of this around.
Stress is a powerful mechanism in shaping our experience. We probably need new words for stress, since people seem to think that it’s the idea of being late for work or a busy calendar. We’ve little collective awareness of the way that stress affects our experience. Stress hormones are no joke.
Because I tend to think associatively, I’ve made my own sort of sense out the idea that we feel certain things in response to certain staes/impressions/thoughts, and that certain thoughts/states/impressions arise in response to the way we feel…in cases of complex trauma, it seems that a strong, networked associations of image/sound/feeling/impression can be set in relation to specific stress reactions. Thus, whenever a certain characteristic landscape of stress hormones is activated, those networked associations become our dominant experience – due to the fact that stress strongly cues us to things that present threat (real or “imagined”/associated) the reaction becomes self-perpetuating, driving intense states of experienced disorder and manifesting all sorts of unpleasantness.
I have found that people are comforted with an understanding of the way that feelings/thoughts/images/sounds/smells/
states of being
…all exist in accordance with one another and can act in a rapid-fire sequence of reactions upon reactions that can, it’s true, become quite a frightening jangle.
In my experience, emotionally stimulated PTSD seems to be helped by emotional “regulation” skills (not to diminish emotionality, but to learn to navigate it in perspective and safely) + meditation to learn the paths to calm safe spaces and an informal process that I sort of think about as experience mapping…basically sorting out where the bells and whistles and alarms are all caught up together and figuring out what sets off the multiball.
(Yes, I do use pinball analogies in my work as Peer.)
“They’ll never change…” is a myth of the systems that want us to believe they’ll never change. These structures didn’t even exist! These ideas didn’t even exist!* Now they’ll never change? They’re here to stay!? They just get to keep doing what they’re doing? We just have to accept that?
I beg to differ.
*The basis for the ideas did exist…in every fascist and oppressive force in history that ever said a person can define the worth and potential of another person’s life.
I wish that NAMI would use its resources to push for more community respite, so that families and individuals in crisis could have clear accessible options other than hospitalization. The organization does promote force in many states, and if they don’t do it de jure (by policy) they do it de facto (by practice) in their everyday support of things like involuntary commitments. This has a lot to do with psychiatric drugging of children, as it contributes to a medical model of care that reinforces the stigma, causes harm, and promotes psychiatric abuse within the biomedical model of mental health.
If you’ve read my comments, you’ll see that I am in favor of the positive intentions set forth by NAMI and I am encouraging of change. However, the fact that the country’s largest “voice” for the “mentally ill” does things like support forced hospitalization is fairly contradictory to good intentions as such practice measurably harms people AND their families. Supporting families in “dealing with” their “mentally ill” family member by investing in ideas that tell them that it is okay to have their children handcuffed and taken to locked wards where they are given forced injections…well, it feeds into the core of the problem and it hurts everybody.
As for adolescents and bipolar disorder, is it concerning at all that millions of kids experiencing normal human struggle get pegged with a SPMI which puts them at risk for having to take drugs/get treatment that actually cause further disorder and harm?
There is increasing evidence that struggle and “symptoms” are caused by stress, trauma, and psychological distortions stemming directly from stigma. Further, it has been shown that dysfunction at the family level and psychosocial stress within families is a huge factor in people’s experience with disorder.
“Mental Illness” itself is an ugly myth and NAMI in part responsible for the perpetuation of that myth. I acknowledge their good intention in thinking that if they made human struggle into a brain disease, a “chemical imbalance” people would look at it more kindly.
It’s not like diabetes, because diabetes is real and it can be measured and they know precisely how the medicine works and the need for insulin is calculated on an individual basis in conjunction with support of general health practices. Mental Illness is an ugly, erroneous way of looking at struggle and pain. It is negligent of the actual causes of struggle, which are stress and trauma and bad ideas. The treatment of mental illness has been shown to be progressively damaging to people. I am not in support of diagnosis at any age.
Here’s a scenario: some particularly sensitive and brilliant college student ~ perhaps in the wake of exam week, when the body was flooded with stress hormones that made him (our generic brilliant and sensitive college student) more sensitive to stimuli, which then began to overwhelm him ~ he became scared and his mind, scrambling to make sense of his increasingly scattered and agitated state (caused by stress hormones reinforced by the psychological effects of fear and social trauma, because if one reacts to stress in a way that causes them to be nervous, isolative, emotional, or “erratic” your friends and family start looking at you funny.) This drives additional fear, and things begin to look very strange…which drives disorder by establishing a self-perpetuating stress cycle that is increasingly destructive. Stress>sensitivity>overload>fear>stress…and it just goes on and on.
Speaking of, after a huge family fight, the young man tears through his dorm and, of course, campus security is called and they are talking to him like he is “crazy.” Which is terrifying, to suddenly be “one of those people” ~ because the culture has told us some very bad things about “those people” ~ they are sick and dangerous people, they live small miserable and indignified lives and they die young. At the hospital, he is told he is a schizophrenic/bipolar (Pronomial shift here. It’s something I accidentally do.)
You begin to take the medicine because you have to. Terrible things happen at the hospital. The medication makes it so that you don’t feel anything, and that is okay because now living hurts because you are now one of those people and your life is a sad and dangerous place. Your mother doesn’t look at you the same way. Your father is embarrassed. You have to drop out of school and you try to move away and start over but you don’t take your meds and the effects of coming off of them make you a trainwreck. It’s true. You are a hopeless case. You decide to just take all the pills. After you get out of the hospital, you try to go home to your parents house, but you fight all the time and then you do something without thinking like break something because you’re just so damn sad and pissed off that this is your life and the next time you get out of the hospital, you get put in some horrible group home that is loud and cruel and smells bad.
Over the years, medication and forced traumatic treatment slowly erode the core of your being and damage your once-fine brain. You simply sit and stare and shake…all because you stayed up too late to study or you tried some drug or you got upset and had a few misunderstandings with yourself and the world.
There are reams and reams of evidence proving that people can and do recover from “schizophrenia” (and all the other SPMIs) and additional evidence that mental illness is, for all practical purposes, caused by bad ideas and toxic, paternalistic, stigma-driven practice that strips people of their humanity and actually damages them. Iatrogenic illness.
NAMI invests in some terrible ideas – like “the hopeless schizophrenic” – and supports families in their belief that their child is doomed to be a danger to self or others if they don’t take the medication which kills the light in their eyes and makes them sleep all day. Because nobody likes to be seen as a loser by their family, because nobody likes to be hauled off to awful places after a stupid argument, because nobody likes to have take shots that make them bloated and impotent and dull…well, yeah…the relationships in families can get a little strained. Which further drives disorder…
So, while I support the best possible thing that NAMI could be, I fail to see how that best possible thing could arise in a climate of ideas that are based on poor science and which are reinforced by harm-for-profit entities like BigPharma and hospitals and E. FullerTorrey ~ who NAMI DC should probably comment on next Wednesday at his talk about re-institutionalization and “dangerous mentally ill people” (since NAMI directly or indirectly contributed to the myth, they need to clean it up).
I fail to see how the idea of “mental illness” supports the “mentally ill” ~ it gives them an illness and it sustains the illness and then the illness does become real, it does become lasting.
That hurts people. It does not help them.
We become what we are made to be and what we are seen as being.
NAMI thought it would diminish stigma to call human struggle a “mental illness” but there is research that shows that it actually increased stigma by making people believe that the mentally ill are afflicted with some mysterious brain disorder that they have to take medication for or they’ll “go crazy” ~ which is a very useful myth for drug companies and those who profit – economically or psychologically – from turning our human existence into sick and confused misery.
Oh, the “chemical imbalance” ~ it’s called stress.
Sorry this was long…I do that sometimes.
Thanks for commenting, All. I love it when I get a chance to challenge bad ideas first thing in the morning.
This is less a poem and more a few notes on something I want to remember, a few minutes from earlier.I was driving and listening to the radio
pulled up to a stop light
with the Dow Jones scrolling across the street
red at midnight
on all countsI heard him before I saw him
recognized the bellows
just up the road
coming south on Biltmore
with a companion fellow
who walked a few steps ahead
looked back with annoyance,
like someone was watching
like he was embarrassed
I didn’t want to look up
I looked up,
and watched the soldier weave
toward the car
and wasn’t scared
even though his eyes were drunk
and his hair was in tufts
sticking out from his ballcap
at the longest red light
in the history of red lights
and he leaned toward the open window and said
“Hey, you got a cigarette?”
I held out my hand, gave him the one I was smoking
“Sure, take this one.”
It was almost brand new.
He mumbled something, held up his necklace,
some wadded up thing
a symbol like an opening
What did he say?
I only felt scared for a flash,
as he leaned into the car
and kissed the top of my head
a little string of numbers across the empty street,
the sudden quiet.
“I’m only letting you do this because I know who you are.”
He stood up, “I know you know.”
“Be careful in the road,” I said. “People get run down here.”
I remembered that other person, his parents asking around.
“What happened? What happened?”
He mumbled something about the Grateful Dead, and the light turned
and he walked on
and I drove away.
I thought about how I knew him,
the night that he had laid his drunken head on my lap and sobbed on the curb in front of City Hall, weeping and raging about the war he had fought in
and how the cops had been in Oakland
and I held his hand and he said
thank you a few years back.
I wonder what people would think, if they saw such an interaction, the stumbling loud man walking up to the car in the nighttime, leaning into the window.
I started this as a post to maybe go up on Mad In America, because I haven’t posted there in a long time, or rather they haven’t posted the things I have submitted for posting in a long time. Oh, well…probably ’cause I go on and on.
I figured I’d just skip the step of submitting for posting and then dumping it here, and just go ahead and dump it:
In my last few posts on Mad In America, I was at the point on the patient-survivor-peer-recovery-advocate-artist-activist-what-the-hell-do-I-want-to-do trajectory where I was dabbling in naive collaborative multisectoral organizing and talking a lot about fine lines in what we advocate for and to whom, with whom.
The work of changing systems from the inside out, presenting and implementing new ways, inspiring and compelling change by virtue of the work that one does within the structures of dominant public systems is important and it seems like a good enough idea to learn the ways of what one wants to defeat, to learn how what one wants to deconstruct is put together, what rules and laws and persuasions and norms and…ideas…hold these assemblages of human services together.
I’ve spent months thinking about blog posts about the myriad motivators and barriers to advocacy and activism among folks who identify as survivors of the systems they are seeking to change. I’ve had too many emails to really spend much time on writing.
I hope that I will start writing here again. I’ve sent in some essays, but they were long and inspecific ramblings on things like madness as a complex system and a partial personal history of mental health crises that occured in relation to clumsy, desperate, and ill-informed efforts to simply change my life.
Things being what they are in the world of email glut and preferred-length-of-blog-entries, they never went up.
I posted most of those writings, or versions thereof, on my personal site: http:/proofofgodandothertragedies.net – a blog I started about five years ago, right when I started to lose my mind in that way that I did.
The fact that I have this record floating out there in the ethers, well – I am beginning to understand that it’s a sort of glass ceiling in the sanist world of high-stakes mental health advocacy.
I can’t tell you how many times I have laughed at the thought that when being vetted for things like speaking at NAMI meetings, a google search of my name pulls up personal blog posts about being a spy.
I have known that, if I ever really wanted to be a mental health advocate that people took seriously, I would have to clean up my digital footprint, take down my blog, where I post whatever I want to, saying whatever I want to say, where I sometimes try to prove God with clouds and throw syntax to the wind.
May the opinions of mental health bureaucrats be damned.
I’ve had to think a lot about what my own motivations in wanting to be a “mental health advocate” were, and why it was so damn hard to go and be in those meetings sometimes, to figure out who was an ally and who thought I was crazy, to wade through the hundred different felt realities that come up in rooms where people are talking about things like mental health service delivery and people with mental illness.
I wrote pages upon pages of forced, stilted language, concisely outlining this strategy and that strategy in the hopes that people might be persuaded to help to do something that might actually change things. I stayed up late, trying to find the language to rally enthusiasm, exhausting my energy in efforts to inspire other people to gather up and make something happen. I agonized over emails, reading them over and over again, missing typos, hitting send and feeling the swift rush of not being good enough.
Every day, I was aware of the pernicious irony that – in my process of recovering from psychiatry – I had structured a life that still held mental health at its core, though the relationship had changed, this matter of “mental health and what to do about it” is still a central theme in my thinking about what defines my life and purpose.
When I was speaking to my supervisor at the state-funded mental health organization that I do part-time work for, about my recent clarity around the thought that, “Hey, maybe it isn’t such a great thing for me to be in positions where I have to appeal to mental health program managers and policy makers and where I am required to seek their approval?” I brought up the very real, and very deep-felt sense of what I called, in the moment, ‘moral obligation’ to do this work, to be a part of the change I want to see and to use my experience in ways that helps other people.
I told my supervisor that sometimes I have the problematic thought that I am fated somehow, bound and beholden to universal forces, to do this work. I think that might be true, but it may not be healthy for me – that’s what I said, healthy for me – to be thinking that there is some universal plan that involves me working tirelessly for this one specific organization, or that some godforce is requiring me to put on nice shoes and lip gloss to smile earnestly at mental health bureaucrats, speaking in pleasant, measured tones while my own voice screams in the back of my head:
“How are you so calm, so slouching in your chair while people are getting held down and drugged in your program? Why are you smiling at me so smug like that? You don’t even know what I’ve lived through! You don’t even know how my story. You don’t even know how smart I am, how brave I am.”
I could tell when people were thinking about me as “a peer,” or as “a person with a mental illness.” I went into their meetings with my tattoos covered up as best they could be and my hair smoothed down. I sat up straight and listened politely. I felt odd about myself, ashamed at feeling proud that I could do those things, that I could be an ‘effective advocate.’
Here’s the rub:
I couldn’t help but to be aware that it was only because of sheer luck and privilege that I was able to pull off getting past a couple of gates. People who hold power, people who hold meetings, they will let you come, but they may not listen to you, not unless you play by their rules and talk in their talk and appeal to their interests, be they profit or ego. I was able to figure out how to use social entrepreneurialistic tactics and my social oddball survival skills of observation, analysis, and self-modulation for the sake of social safety to make myself reasonably socially acceptable within the context of mental health planning and strategy meetings with lots of white people.
The rub continues:
In trying to figure out how to socially and occupationally navigate participation in the mental health system as a survivor-advocate and peer support specialist, I had to learn how to modulate my absolute outrage at the absurd insult to humanity that modern human services represent. I was able to use some of the skills I learned through psychosis – holding multiple realities, compassion, the ability to take other perspectives, resilience in the face of daunting adversity – to keep myself in a mindset of learning, of inquiry, of cautious exploration.
I was able to go to college, and am comfortable with reading and have gotten to spend time with people who will talk with me about things like social theory and power. I understood the concepts of historical context and evolution. I also understood how to interact with white middle class Americans, because I have had cultural privileges that had afforded me the opportunities to learn how to appeal to some segments of the powerholder population.
In spite of the personal skills, attributes, and characteristics that eased the gates open, it was still tremendously hard to imagine what it would require for me to actually be “an effective advocate.” My personal glass ceiling in that world reflects sanism and patriarchy. I refuse to edit, amend, or censor myself in my personal life or to compromise my art forms or the truth of my story.
I have tattoos on my palms that I cannot hide. I am an “impetuous woman” with a scar on her arm and scuffed shoes.
This is a thought that blows my mind:
If mental health advocacy is this hard for me, if it is this triggering, this futile-feeling, this conflicting and baffling, even with my years of experience in non-profit and community work, even with my developing grounding in organizing theory and practice, even with my “pretty” lip-glossed smile and “nice” Southern manners, my privileged knowledge of language and persuasion…if, with all my privilege, it is still this hard, how hard is it for other survivors to get involved in systems advocacy?
Furthermore, why would they? Is it a matter of having no choice other than to try to change the systems that are controlling and harming one’s life, family and community? Does it matter to powerholders that people take buses across towns and swallow their outrage to sit in chairs and listen to tedious agendas detailing how thoroughly and completely fucked up the processes and practices of systems of entrenched power truly are? Does it matter to them that people are showing up with pictures of their dead children in their hands? Does it matter to them that people who don’t know how to write sit down and take the time to try to write, to tell them, please do something?
…and all for free, at cost even, with time and travel and paper and shoes…to be “allowed” to do work to support new program development or community building, to be “invited” to speak “for a few minutes,” to be “welcome” at meetings where hardly anyone deigns to ask you why you came or to care that you are there, to stay up late and read legislation and try to try to be excited about webinars on beautiful afternoons…and all for free?
For months, I’ve been living in multireality where I am simultaneously a mad artist mother and activist, working on mutual aid organizing with The Icarus Project and brainstorming collective liberation, and
also a pleasant and interesting peer advocate in the mental health system, who is trying to determine what it might take to actually be “an effective advocate.”
Last week, I was lucky enough to find myself floating in the ocean, and as I lay there in the water, thinking about mental health system transformation, I realized that I did not want to be thinking about mental health system transformation.
There are a hundred different ways to do most anything and I have begun to finally figure out that maybe I would be more effective dismantling the constructs and foundations of the mental health system through art, through community, through keeping it fucking real and not hedging my words or my wisdom to appeal to the current powerholders.
I understand that it may be true that I am destined, in the simple mechanics of the age old story of living and learning and growing and changing, to take what I learned as a teenage genius-turned-psychiatric patient, as a suicide-attempt survivor, and as a person who has lost custody of her children due to mental health concerns, and to do something with the knowledge gained in those gauntlets to somehow address the reasons that such realities arose in my life to begin, the forces that create scenarios in which people are harmed and desperate and terrified.
However, there are lots of ways to do this work. Realistically, I cannot – because of my personal issues with fluorescents, linear process and bureaucratic structures – do the work of “effective mental health advocate” without significantly compromising and/or modifying the integrity of my self and whatever might be considered my wellness.
I’m going to an art show in Vancouver for International Mad Pride day, and am working with a researcher from the Institute of Medical Humanities on ethnographic research on radical mental health mutual aid culture and practice. I am learning to play ghost music on the baritone ukulele and going to swordfighting battles with the Asheville Medieval Collective almost every Sunday. A few of the amazing folks I know who also identify as mad mothers are talking about ways we might collectively offer more resources of support and community to mothers and families who might be struggling. I might try to start a letter writing service to answer mail sent to visionary indie rock musicians by people who feel like it’s important to reach out to the people whose songs saved their lives and explained something really important about things like ghosts and beauty and wanting to die but staying alive anyway. I’m spending some time here with folks interested in mutual aid in more broad public spaces, like housing complexes and parks and markets.
In any event, it is my great hope that the mental health system will – indeed – transform, in such a way that every vestige of exploitative medical model abuse is remedied and removed, replaced with justice and healing.
In the meantime, I will be working on justice and healing in other ways.
This morning I woke up and went through the motions of preparing to go to work at the state-funded REC like I do every Thursday. I washed my hair, got dressed. I put food into a bag and checked the time, walked the dogs. Then, about 10 minutes before I left, I found myself immersed in the strongest feeling of not wanting to go, a resolute wanting to stay home. I continued to make gestures toward preparing to go to work, went upstairs, brushed my teeth. Then, went back downstairs and opened a window to put a lightning bug outside. “Hmmm, if I were going to work, I wouldn’t have opened that window.”
I felt incredibly calm as I noticed that it was time for me to leave if I was going to get there on time. I considered the drive, listening to the radio going into the curve at Mills River. The certain spans of southeastern, and then southwestern sky that I am familiar with, the forest, the stoplight in town, the twinge of anxiety as I pull into the parking lot, knowing that I’ll have to be there all.day.long.
I didn’t want to go to work.
A few days ago, I sent a message suggesting that I may not be “in a place” where “it is healthy” for me to be working in the mental health system in the capacity that I am. I sent it to both my supervisors, as I have two jobs within the organization, and heard back from neither.
I sat on the porch, aware that time seemed to be passing very quickly and yet still feeling very at ease with the possibility that, fuck it, I might just not go to work.
“What would that be like?”
I wrote a message. Hit send and thought, “Wow. So, I did that. What should I do now?”
Given that this is a position that I have tried to leave on and off for a solid year, putting in notice multiple times and then staying, because it is not an easy job to leave, I felt as if I had – finally – done something decisive.
Historically, my crises have always had something to do with quitting something – school, a job.
A half hour after I sent to message, my co-workers replied:
So, as I do most every Thursday, at 9:30, I was starting Creative Writing class and then the day went on as days do there, with a hundred million beautiful and tragic things unfolding under fluorescent lights, in the air-conditioning. My supervisors wanted to talk with me and at one point, I found myself explaining that the sense of moral obligation/vocational calling that I feel to somehow contribute to mental health system transformation is powerful and, yet, I also don’t know if this is the time in my life where I oughta be doing that sort of work in any sort of usual way, with the meetings and the emails and the strategy and planning meetings and the policy analysis and trainings, conferences, etc.
Gah, when I think about it – even now – I feel a distinct tightening in my chest.
This is how I practice discernment.
“I have a hard time quitting jobs, especially jobs I love.”
“You can always come back or do something different within the organization.”
What is it about being able to leave that makes the thought of staying easier?
I really think it’s time for me to go, at least for a while. I have, after all, other jobs – though not quite so many as I had last week. On the day that I wrote my supervisors an email about possibly stepping back from my positions, I had already quit one job, a very interesting resource development project regarding self-disclosure practices in therapeutic roles that I absolutely did not have time to commit to.
While I was on vacation, floating in the water and strategizing mental health system transformation, I realized that my life might be very different if I did not have a significant portion of my mind enmeshed at all times with matters related to mental health culture, practice, and policy as these things pertain to broad trajectories of collective liberation.
I mean, what would that even be like?
Next week, I am going to Vancouver for an art show associated with International Mad Pride day, which is July 12th.
I have some art in a gallery show.
This evening, after an especially jubilant swordtraining, complete with perfect summer storm wind and laughter, I talked with a friend for an hour about mad parenting and various projects we are geeking out about. At one point, I mentioned how, over the past weeks, I have been really grateful for all the amazing people I have in my life. We mutually expressed appreciation for just how brilliant, raw, badass, and brave our friends are…and then I said,
“You know, it’s not so much that they are amazing people, doing totally rad work, it’s that…they’re my friends. I have sort of walked around with this thought that, ‘I meet people, we form a tentative friendship, then I fuck up and they aren’t my friend anymore or they don’t know how to be friends with me and then, blip, gone. At this point, I’ve known some of you for a few years, and we’ve flaked out and communicated poorly and had misunderstandings and bailed on projects, but these people are still in my life, because they’re my friends and…dang, I have some amazing fucking friends. That’s such a good feeling, like, unbelievable, unreal…how did this realness happen?”
When I got off the phone, I thought about this space, as I often do…just floating around out here…
I read parts of my last post in Creative Writing today, as an example of a form of creative writing in which one uses language as a vehicle for emptying one’s momentary head and heart, memorializing or noting important things that nobody else but you might care about, and playing with how we might tell the story of a day.
I wonder sometimes about the representation here. It’s awfully h-e-a-v-y sometimes, chaotic, dark in places.
In my walking talking life, the things that end up here are undercurrents, shadows, fleeting snarls that catch my mind. I have never had much use for therapists.
I just email myself.
What’s the point of posting one’s personal notes on observation, experience, and process on a public site as some sort of self-documentary art project and act of sheer defiance?
Well, I think we’ve answered that, at this point.
I have never been keen on the idea that what we show the public must be palatable to the public, that it must make sense and be of an accessible length. I do not exist to make sense to the public, at least not here I don’t.
This is my space.
There are not many spaces in my life where I can talk really openly and easily about the sort of things that end up here. People have neither time nor interest. Well, most people anyway.
I have a few friends who have, on occasion, been happy to talk about clouds, geometry, language, and ecosystemic forces of consciousness with me.
You know what’s super great about this record? It is a paper trail of a thousand plus pages, leading back to the days when I.had.nobody. except the radio and kind strangers and my own version of imagined angels, ghosts.
In any sort of “sane” world, I would put all of this away, tidy up and move on. I do not live in a “sane” world. I live in a world where lyrics and wind and birds and shadows and sense and clouds and insects and homeless people saved.my.life. and I will never.ever turn from the realness of that and the sanctity of the truths that time imparted to me.
So, any job I have must understand this, any true friend I have must understand this:
I still believe that something that loves me deeply plays me songs on the radio sometimes and some certain cloudforms will always take my breath away. I find kinship with strangers, and genuinely believe in the best, most simple sort of ghosts.
I like who I am, and I like the world I live in, these different worlds.
Note on Longform: A barrier to my participation in certain modes of media and social communication is that I like to write in Longform. I am not a 400-600 word type of person, not when I have something important to work out. I understand the value of being concise and to the point, linear and accessible, to write for the reader. I also understand that my word-mind leads me to go on and on sometimes. It’s a complicated world and my experience, as a mad person who actively occupies multiple realities, with each reality having multiple realities, well…sometimes it takes a while to work out. I have spent the vast majority of my life trying to make myself accessible to other people and I feel like, at this point, I am inclined to just be myself and I write in longform and mash up emails with essays and poetry. That’s just how it is right now.
Several years ago, I didn’t know if I could write ever again, my mind was so bludgeoned by trauma and psychiatric drugs. It felt like a washed-out landscape, a library flooded. I have been open about the fact that I have been working on regaining my language, and learning how to express things again in the way that I feel is most proficient and optimal. People say, “Oh, no, you seem to be writing quite well.” They do not know that I have my own criteria for being well in writing, the feeling of smooth transcription from thought to word, the joy of deftly stringing words and the glee in the sense of having an abundance of words for weaving.
Other people do not know when I write well.
I know when I write well and, right now, I feel I write well in longform, because I feel joy and clarity when writing in longform.
Since writing down some thoughts on the topic of activism and radical mental health, I’ve thought a considerable amount about the words we use to discuss the liberation of the human heart and mind.
The word “decolonization” has come up in essays about what, specifically, is being attempted when we seek to redefine our selves and lives on the basis of our own inclination and our own meaning. Decolonization is an apt term, in that it speaks to the process of abandoning external impositions and dismantling the oppressive frameworks of idea, symbol, and action that place us in particular roles and strata as determined those who’ve assumed (by force or coercion) the right to tell us who we are, what we are worth, what we need and where we might best belong.
Though colonization is often thought of as imperialistic actions, the usurping of habitat, resource, and humanity for the purpose of profit, power, and influence, it is accurate to say (as Fanon and others have) that colonization is a state of mind and heart, as well, extending beyond the building of ports, the mechanics of abusive exchange and the economies of active exploitation.
History tells us that in order for a people to be widely and effectively colonized they must be frightened and threatened into a submissive and compliant state. They must turn from their own best interests of life and liberty and devote their energies toward maintaining their own submissive role in the brutal world bestowed upon them. They must heed their oppressors, their rapists, the killers of their land and the takers of their past and futures.
Often, this compliance is achieved through sheer ultraviolence and the manipulation of fear and meaning.
I’m lucky to have not known violence as many people in the world have known it. I’ve never watched my village burn. I’ve never seen bombs fall or my loved ones in front of a firing squad.
Still, I have known violence in my life. I have seen it and I have been hurt by it. I have watched things get destroyed and seen people bleed. I’ve seen sacred land destroyed.
Nonetheless, it is, I must say, very easy for me – in my relatively safe and privileged life – to sit here and write about things such as colonization and liberation, never having been a part of a people that were…
…wait a second. That’s not exactly true. I am a woman. I survived the psychiatric system. I am an American.
The colonizers become colonized themselves. In fact, in many ways – depending on what we invest our belief and energies into – we colonize ourselves, turning our humanity into the hands of systems and cultures that deny humanity, so that those systems may thrive while we, in heart and mind, wither, loving the approval, trinkets and enticements of our colonizers more than we love one another and our shared home.
More even, than we love ourselves.
It is no wonder that so many people are experiencing mental disorders, particularly depression and anxiety, which are disorders of the heart as well as of the mind. Fear and grief, hopelessness and worry. These are side effects of colonization.
Thus, in my thinking about mental health and activism, I think that there must be some clarification of what exactly I’m speaking of. Am I discussing the “safe and effective” “management” of “mental disorders”…?
In my mind, “mental health” is rapidly, as so many words have, becoming a useless phrase. It means less and less. In the language of the people that seek to define what mental health is and isn’t, and who’ve assumed the authority to do so, it often means “the presence of a mental disorder.”
Mental health is only something that people who might have mental disorders have to think about.
Further, “mental health” indicates a “health” concern only pertaining to one’s “mental” – it says nothing of one’s heart, or one’s spirit, or one’s story.
I am more interested in words that capture what it is we are really talking about here. Words like humanity.
When I speak about recovery lately I say a lot about regaining and a great deal about healing. I use words like liberation and re-framing. I talk about reclamation.
I say quite a bit about ideas.
Such as, for example, the idea that a person who experiences the world in a way that is challenging for the status quo to understand, appreciate, or make use of is somehow “ill.” Or the idea that those who fail to achieve normalcy by a particular age must be “modified” or “treated” in order to diminish their appearance of difference. If the difference is severe and persistent, it must be monitored and intervened upon at regular intervals.
If the person fights back, or grieves their state of difference, if the person reacts to harm done to them, they are forced to comply. In fact, compliance becomes more important than life itself.
Which brings us back to colonization and decolonization. When systems of power use force, coercion, manipulation, intimidation and technology to control a person or population, when they tell you what you are and what you are not worth, when they punish you if you fail to meet their expectations or abide by their rules, those systems are engaging in colonialism of the heart, mind, and body.
Sadly, they profit from such endeavors and thus our pain becomes their gain. In fact, their gain relies upon our pain. The systems cannot survive without us and so they must lead us to believe that we cannot survive without them…that we will perish without them, that we might die. If we do not believe them, or if we resist, they ensure our compliance with restraints and if we continue to struggle, we are maimed. This goes on until we die or they kill us.
Keep in mind that death is figurative as well as actual. We can die inside. It happens everyday. We also can be made to become functionally dead, obsolete and excluded from culture, economy, relegated to the role of unfortunate extra in the scenes of collective public.
Outcasting is an old trick in social control. They’ve been doing it for years to those who might make the edges a little messy.
I’d like to take a moment and let you know how disappointed I was that you chose to bring the phrase ‘mental illness’ into a discussion on gun control. The following statement is rampantly irresponsible and contributes mightily to the culture of intolerance that ultimately feeds all violence:
“So my belief is that, (A), we have to enforce the laws we’ve already got, make sure that we’re keeping guns out of the hands of criminals, those who are mentally ill. We’ve done a much better job in terms of background checks, but we’ve got more to do when it comes to enforcement.”
By making statements such as this you are perpetuating a very ugly myth, that those who have mental health difficulties are somehow dangerous, perhaps even prone to criminal or violent acts. It is unfortunate that legal loopholes such as the “insanity plea” have contributed to a distortion of what it means to struggle with one’s human experience. It does not mean that one is dangerous or out of control. In fact, statistically, as I’m sure has been made abundantly clear to you, people with mental health diagnoses are far more likely to be the victims of violent crime than they are to be the perpetrators of such crimes.
By making statements such as the ones you made in last night’s debate, which will be unfortunately recorded in this country’s history, you have contributed mightily to the stigma and misunderstanding that afflicts the lives of millions of Americans.
In addition to educating yourself on the reality of mental health disorder in this country, it is imperative that you not only apologize, but that you speak with leaders in the conscientious mental health movement about other ways that struggle with one’s human condition may be considered and healed.
[Please note that there are contained within this post sentences that do not end correctly, that drop off after sprawling. This is due to the fact that I write – mostly – on my phone, mostly on the porch, and that the dog – bless him – sometimes barks at something on the street, and I have to get up suddenly to quiet him so as not to be a nuisance, and not to draw attention, and – also – so that I might focus on whatever it was that I was saying. I minimally edit these assemblages of emails to myself that accumulate over the course of a month, sometimes a season, and so there are many, many imperfections – which I am okay with. Occasionally, I will clean up an old post, but this project <here> is…hmmm, I was going to say that it is not a product, but it is – just like emails are a product and thoughts are a product and language itself is a product. This is not a product that is designed to be in line with the aesthetic slickness and flashofdrollcoolandsunnydayselfcaresuninhairmeditationinternet of a properly engaging website in the year 2021. Here’s the thing: when everything is slick and designed and perfectly hi-def, nothing stands out and there is too much of it all, though we are gluttons for smooth images on screens, moving pictures in scroll, the intrigue of what comes next, what answers may be found, what stories told, who to listen to, what to watch and read to satisfying the gnawing need to look at something, to play, to explore, to watch…it all starts to look the same. When everyone is clamoring to be heard and seen, liked and followed, listened to, appreciated, paid by price, power, or ego satisfaction, who does a person listen to? What is deserving of attention when everyone is trying so dang hard to get it? I am not intentionally ‘doing something different’ – I am different, and I don’t know how to do many things, and thus can’t do a lot of things that might be good to know how to do. I am okay with that. I am doing my best.]
July 30 2021 5:11pm
My current thinking, as I sit here is “Holy Mother of God, I have got to tell someone about this.” My mind quick-spools through the carousel of possibilities, degrees of separation between myself and someone I could actually trust to help me with this.
Then I remind myself that the vast majority of the world 99.999999999(…)% of people do not have any idea what I have been doing or saying, and that even those who may have a dim awareness of this project’s existence…well, they really don’t have any idea what it is actually about – a longitudinal study of form and experience and meaning, of curiosity and the impact on paying attention.
Internal voice is telling me to shut up, get to the point about what do you do?
You will not feel safe when people know about this and know you are connected to this, because people are crazy and you just might be right, there really might be something weird going on with the clouds. I mean, I dunno, I could even see that the dozens and probably hundreds of super strong examples of what I have referred to as atypical and repeating patterns in cloudforms, well…that might just be called cherry-picking the best examples of unusual phenomena that – while strange and rare – are not technically impossible, just highly unlikely. An explanation could be given that selective attention coupled with strong skills in pattern recognition and picture completion led me to ‘cue in’ to clouds that met general criteria for being similar to the ones I had believed – and still do believe, actually, even in light of my scientific grounding, or – perhaps – because of it…represented an ancient sentient Godforce that arose in the subtle pulse and patterns of all things living over 4.5 Billion Years.
I can’t stand that anything remotely resembling an ecosystemic God or Gods is popularly relegated to the bubbly sphere of the New Age, or that elements of useful information about the nature of living things in a multidimensionally* interconnected and underaccounted for real world.
Multidimensional meaning across multiple domains, as in areas of connection – food, proximity, DNA, electrical fields, air, bacteria, etc. (not necessarily dimensions across the continuums of space and time, though that would be super interesting, and doesn’t seem entirely unlikely since we as humans have arisen as a species over hundreds of thousands of years in direct and intimate contact with the earth and the species that share our habitats with us. It’s only within the past few hundred years, maybe the past few thousand in the ‘seats of civilization’ – that our cosmologies (at least in the Western mind and experience) have been bifurcated, segmented into God and us, nature and us, humans a thing apart and a thing above, above nature and – in their actions – above God. Splitting atoms. Making new species in labs. Killing people. Mechanizing slaughter. Desecrating sacred places, holy places. Etc, etc.
We didn’t used to have time. We had rhythms and signs. Now we have numbers and measures. Commitments made well in advance, non-negotiable meetings, binding reservations. The time maps of our days, weeks, seasons…what we are to do and when…creating the territory we move through in our lives, where we place ourselves and for what purpose.
Anyway, it doesn’t seem that weird to me that an ecosystemic force would a) exist and b) muster its oldest instincts and speak up in the ways it can about what is happening and – perhaps – what may well happen.
It doesn’t take a prophecy to know that by virtue of the existence of nuclear weapons in a world that is war-oriented, we are at risk of nuclear annihilation, which will decimate the genetic information of all creation and basically create a world of horrible things worse than any hell one might imagine.
So, here I am. The past two months of clouds are a data set in and of themselves, as I’ve taken probably a thousand pictures. My camera roll is – as my project summary for the Proving God w/ Clouds thing states, ‘a blur of blue.’ But, also near black and bright gold. All the forms I identified in 2010 as being awfully peculiar for a cloud are represented in the June-July data set. There are plenty of examples of what I am talking about with the triangles, the 3, the eyes – and then some, so much more. The look of entire stories rolling and jumbling, yawning into profound detail, moving cleanly, decisively. An eye opening with such a human gesture that I exclaimed, ‘Oh!’ and my body jumped back a little, surprised – still – to see a perfect eye in the sky opening in such a human way.
July 31st 9:44pm
It really is very difficult to hold this possible reality in which I am going to sit down and calmly, effectively introduce the cloudform documentation project, hypotheses, and possible problematic or potentially world changing aspects of the project as I see it, and to see – ultimately – what someone else (whose perspective I trust) may see in it, without any attachment to their perspective being one thing or another, and with full intent to move on to the next potential source of assistance in both decision making as to what one ought to do with a project like this, especially when there is an undeniable sense of unfounded belief around the occurrence of ‘radiation’ symbols in recent cloudforms echoing around her extant fear, her child-fear, of nuclear war and nuclear anything because she grew up by one of the largest nuclear submarine facilities on the east coast, heard people say how her hometown would be a target, the town that wasn’t on the map before the base came, the town that became a target, because of the base. The speculative conversations of middle school students, their fathers, men at gas stations: “If there were ever a war, an attack on American soil, this place would be a target.”
She needs to come up with another descriptor for the sensation of her ‘mind unspooling’ – because she has over-used that concept, tho’ it is fitting
August 1, 7:25am
The morning is soft, sleepy. The sense of much to do, tho’ – not a cognitive sense, a body sense, something that feels like intuitive urgency, but that may just be my imagination.
In light of the recent set of data that has emerged unanticipated, events in nature sometimes do, depending on how well one understands the indicators of an event, the ways that complex events such as animal migrations, species adaptation, or simply the event of seeing a thing, if it is known that the event is likely to take place at a specific time under specific conditions, the prodrome of events, early signifiers and causal relationships.
While I did not exactly anticipate that I would spend quite a bit of time gathering, contemplating, and organizing new cloud data over the past couple months, and have been genuinely surprised by how rich a showing the skies have offered on recent evenings, it would be a lie to say that I entirely did not anticipate the event of a particularly strong opportunity to gather additional evidence of the phenomena I am investigating both cloudform phenomena and experiential phenomena, phenomena of belief.
This project summary was compiled to serve as a framing context to support the assemblage and publications of prior inquiry relating to the structure of cloud formations and experiences of religious and/or spiritual association, meaning, and belief. Because I have gathered many examples of the forms that I find to be so curious, so auspicious, I intended to only periodically document additional clouds. ‘Periodically’ would mean simply maintaining my regular life practice of paying attention to what the sky and world around me is doing and taking pictures of things I find interesting, so ‘periodically’ would mean everyday probably, but not everyday definitely and not everyday for a couple of hours. A few minutes here and there.
Additional to the data set of cloudform documentation from the last two months is the data of experience in the process of documenting the shapes and movement of clouds while trying to be aware of my automatic interpretations, to allow for them without holding tightly to them. To observe what sense occurs in relation to the clouds, what knowing might arise, whether it is a comfortable knowing or an uncomfortable knowing, trusting neither comfort or discomfort to be anything other than the whispers of hopes or fears, misunderstandings of the mind and heart of the observer.
Aug 1, 6:22pm
The overwhelming impression that I get is that I need to show this work to someone. It comes down to a matter of faith, whether I trust that people will see. Whether they do or don’t, now or never, is not up to me. It is not my job to make a person see anything. My job is show what I see, and to try my best to show other people what I see, because it is beautiful and powerful and important, our human birthright to stand outside and watch the clouds spell out exactly what we are.
The cloud roll has been – again – tremendous today. Many candles. Many, many candles. I guess I can take a hint. Though I don’t know if my interpretation of ‘times a’runnin’ out fer ya. Runnin’ out for us all.’
I first saw the fire form a few days ago. Tiny fire form on a lit match held between two fingers. Very distinct, at least to me. It might look like a dozen other things to someone else, or like nothing at all.
Here’s a draft letter:
Hello. My name is ——— and I am reaching out to you because I believe that a longitudinal art and observation project that I have been engaged with for 11 years has come to a sudden point of phase-fruition that calls for me to seek advice as to what I might need to do next, given that there is a slim but charismatic chance that observations I have made of observable atypical/unlikely micro and macro patterns in cloudforms correspond to distinct spiritual or symbolic associations and experiences.
When this project started in 2010, I lost my mind – to much personal and familial detriment, it’s worth noting, from which we have all blessedly recovered – when I started seeing icons and language in cloudforms.
At the time, I believed that what I was seeing was the most important thing in the world, because that is what a person – or at least this person – feels when they see something that looks and feels like a God you could never quite imagine is showing itself in the sky, forming and unforming, transforming in all the strange holy glories of everything that ever mattered in this brief world we know.
Aug 3 5:17am There was a bank of clouds somewhere to the west. She knew it was cloudy across the river, over railroad tracks, out toward the taller mountains because sun seemed to have been going down for hours, too early for the season. The afternoon felt like Fall, maybe late September, early October, still two months off, and she savored the anachronism of a cool grey day in August, especially after the heat and glare at the end of July, the everyday sweat and squint.
They sat on the porch, a small tidy porch, clean and swept, enough room for the two rocking chairs and a tiny round-topped table, inlaid mosaic and thin spindly legs, curved metal like a helix, easy to knock over. Her porch at home was large and not clean, stretching across the whole front of the house. There were two rockers on her front porch, too – the ubiquitous two rockers of the southern home. The rockers on her porch needing to be painted, white finish gone grey at the spindles joining the seat, paint worn off the armrests, a million gestures of standing up, unthinking grasps of the chair. Her elbow resting on the right arm had worn a special spot that marked the years of sitting and smoking, writing emails to herself on her phone, her great-grandmother’s heavy gardening table set against the dust-filmed white wood of the house itself. Everyday she thinks about washing the house, but she hasn’t washed it yet. She waits until the warmest day, but then is tired when it is house, not wanting to be wet, to be moving, scrubbing and lunging, watching the water run black-grey, the dust of roads clinging to whatever it touches. On the hottest days, she only wants to lay still, though washing the house would – if she were to do it – likely be more fun, and would, she knows it, ‘feel good’ – which means that this action of cleaning her home would temporarily assuage the dull and constant inner sense that she is a lazy slob, which she knows isn’t true, but that still makes her feel self-conscious and like she has a secret as she sits on the small porch, the tidy porch with a delicate table.
“Well, good,” the man said as an a-ha, “you’ve already said one word, and that is ‘book’ – which is good because that’s what I know and what I can help you with. All the art stuff, I don’t know about anything with the photography and art, but I can talk with you about a book.”
“Don’t you think that, in today’s publishing market, there is room for multi-media projects? Especially with digital publishing, you can have books that employ things like non-traditional formatting, lots of pictures, interesting layouts of text.”
‘Book’ can mean a lot of different things. It can mean a wall of words between two covers, a world that is bound by text, open only to those who can read in the language the book is printed in. What if she wants to ‘write’ a story that a refugee could ‘read’?
There are a lot of stories she wants to tell, and many people she wants to tell them to.
What would be the story she would write to the refugee, imagined person, hands like ropes, hot air, the single phone passed round a canvas-walled room, a story that could be told in only one moment, only one image, only one word, a word that tells of the great power in the very air we breathe, the miracle of our breath, that tells a person that their suffering is seen, and that they are not alone, and that all the forces of good and graciousness in the world are relentlessly fighting for mercy to be upon them?
What if I wanted to write a book for a child, or for a politician?
What if I wanted to write a book for everyone?
What could I say that would matter, that would help turn the tide of so much suffering, so many different sufferings?
She sits in the dark of the early morning, and considers the feel of her body held by the rocker, wood hard against the bones of her form, insects pulsing out their brief life in a rubbing of wings and legs that seems impossibly loud in the trees, the air all around, as birds begin their very first songs of the day, saying “I am here. It is day. Where are you? Where are you? Where are you? I am here. It is day. Where are you? Oh, what will we eat this morning?”
There are no words, no words for the simplicity and wisdom of the birds’ waking hour, the pull to fly, to eat, to find one’s friends, to wait for the warmth, to keep living.
“You’ll need to make a proposal, and I can show you some really good examples of what that might look like.”
Aug 4 6:53am
I am careful with the extent to which I share experiences of awe and belief, what runs through my mind and heart as I am watching the sky contort into stories and figures, a simultaneous disbelief and depth of belief as straight-forward and simple as the existence of my own right hand, my own left hand, the ground I stand on, which I understand to be billions of years old and teeming with entire worlds we cannot see.
I understand the sky, also, to be billions of years old and teeming with entire worlds we cannot see.
The need for assistance in this is profound.
I have mustered myself to show this project to a couple of people, but it hasn’t quite worked out, though I have an appt with a friend on the 11th, to zoom and screenshare. I should probably make a presentation, because that would be helpful.
Yes. That is a good idea.
I have a lot of good ideas. I’m a good-idea kind of person.
Having spent the majority of my consciously and experientially recalled life as the person I am, ever since I began to learn about the world outside of my small home-world of woods and family, dirt roads and old traditions I didn’t yet know to be strange, speaking in a way that I could never have known wasn’t entirely normal until I went to school, crossed the railroad tracks, went into town, and nobody could understand me when I told them my name.
I had a severe speech impediment until I was 9. My mouth simply would not form the sound of R, tooth the tooth and edge and growl out of every word. Turned word into wood, bird into bud, my last name into wine.
Aug 5 5:26am
She noticed that the day had turned dark in the afternoon again, hinting at the season to come, reminding of the impermanence of summer. Why, she wondered, did she persist in doing things that she recognized were not ‘what I am supposed to be doing’? The question scaffolding her wondering is ‘why do I feel like I should be doing a certain thing, and not doing another’?
The answers are intertwined in her skepticism of what feels like intuition, and the necessity of balancing reason with feels and being diplomatic, patient, not jumping to conclusions, or acting in a hasty or irrational way.
Yesterday, like the day before and like every day she had stepped out of her ceilinged home, she had bet herself that there would be nothing there if she looked up, that the sky would be the same old sky that meant nothing.
She could barely remember the sky that means nothing, the sky that is just a happenstance pretty thing, the bearer of circumstantial rain and wind, simple science of water and air.
She hasn’t seen that sky, that simple sky, for a long time. She doesn’t know if she misses it or not, or if she will ever see it again. If she were to see it again, what will she have lost?
Within moments of her looking at the sky, she recognizes the beginnings of form, the glint of an eye, the hint of a line. Yesterday, as she stepped out onto her street to walk the dog in the strange cool-dark of the mid-summer early morning, the street still quiet, even the birds hushed in a way that made the world seem paused somehow, holding its breath. She liked the quiet, but likes birds more, the aliveness and singing, feathers in flight, perfection of beak.
How many birds has she seen in the sky here of late? As many cloudbirds as real birds flying?
The clouds that made her lose her mind in 2010 were nothing compared to the clouds that she sees lately, but she is not losing her mind.
There really is something weird about the clouds.
Aug 5, 6:05am
Yesterday, she was relieved that she hadn’t contacted the FBI. That would have been a bad decision, and may have significantly undermined the progress of this project. The only reason I considered contacting the FBI is because of the fear-knowing feels that I get when I see symbols that could be called holy and clouds that look like mushrooms, the sad-eyed faces of animals, rictus of horror on some white man’s face, graven stare of birds, all these freakin’ clouds, man. Does this qualify as aerial phenomena? Is the sense of fear that I – as an individual with a longstanding fear of nuclear war and nuclear anything – have when I watch the clouds and the shapes they make spell out a story to me of doom, a doom like I’ve never imagined, could never imagine, shudder to even think to imagine, shake as I see the disambiguation of all sacred form, the roll of life and death stretched out over me at sunset time.
I mean, my personal feelings about and interpretations of clouds do not constitute a national emergency.
“Yeah, but Faith, what if they do? What if some weird shit is happening where there really are ancient omniscient sentient and all powerful forces that exist inseparably from us and from everything alive, the earth itself, the smallest forms, and what if people used to be able to see evidence of these forces in nature and circumstance – and still can, and still do, all over the world – but, the connection was disrupted by history and by design (long story, save for later), and maybe cause I am some weirdo who has long been geeked out about patterns in nature and who has had an unusual set of lived experiences, and has an atypical strength in pattern recognition and picture completion tasks of ‘intelligence’ I noticed something that is happening, because it is interesting and beautiful to me, and – lo and behold – it actually is really strange and I actually cannot explain it, and I actually do need help understanding why I see what I do and what it means, if anything. The sky is public domain. If I – as an intelligent, observant, and concern citizen of this planet, ensconced in sky as it is – see something that is concerning, shouldn’t I say something?
This is what I have learned about saying anything about clouds:
People think you are weird if you talk about clouds, and think you are crazy if you talk about God and clouds, and they definitely think you’re crazy if you say you see things in clouds.
Even if you have pictures of what you see and can explain why you see the lines clearly (because they are right there!) and are genuinely curious from an environmental sciences standpoint, as well as an anthropological standpoint, and have taken the time to think this through (for 11 years!) and have demonstrated an awareness of one’s capacity for objectivity and are not trying to do some wild media thing or freak anyone out or anything like that at all, and just really, really, really want to know why the clouds look like they do and why I am so compelled to watch them, and why I feel the way I do when I see them – do some psychoanalysis around all that, but not seek to unsee the sky, never, to never unsee the sky and to defend my right to see and observe the sky in whatever way is innate to my evolving nature as my human right.
The only reason I talk about rights is because I am a person who has been court-ordered to take whatever psychiatric medication I am prescribed, and I am a person who has been forcibly injected with haloperidol and who has been held in restraints, despite my sitting still and trying to explain, only standing to ask for my bra back, to not want to be naked under that thin cloth in that cold room. Restrained only to keep me from getting up to ask questions, being as cautious as I could, because I understood the situation I was in and what people thought was happening with me, which was – to a certain extent, yes – actually happening, the psychosis, the delusions, but it really wasn’t so bad, and there were lots of chaos factors in the complex events that led to my being in the hospital. Those events, those complex events, were singularly attributed to me being crazy and weird.
Aug 5 4:08pm
What am I hoping to accomplish here, with these pictures, this name[Proof of God!…]? Do I really want to prove God? Do I think I am proving God with clouds? What do I want to do? What do I want the outcomes to be? What do I expect the outcomes to be? Do I really want to prove God?
No. Not especially. I don’t even know if proving God is possible, given that we don’t know what God is, and even if we discover something that could be like God, even if it tells us that it is God, well – I don’t know if even that would be proof of anything other than something that appears to possess the attributes of what we humans imagine God to possess, and identifies itself as God. Who knows, could be the Devil in disguise?
Do I think I am proving God with clouds?
Well, not exactly, but I do think that some of the forms that are observable in cloud structure somewhat resemble symbols associated with various religious traditions within human cultures, and somewhat resemble what I as an artist observe to be faces and eyes, animal shapes and strange geometries, plays with light. However, I do understand that what I see is simply what I see, and that one person seeing a thing proves very little other than their individual capacity for pareidolia.
Nonetheless, many of the features that I find to be unusual are distinct and obvious enough – in my opinion – as to meet criteria for being able to be seen with the naked eye by most people, or so I would imagine.
Those criteria are:
clarity/accuracy of form
completeness of form
quality of form documentation
I just made those criteria up, and will need to further define them, but what I’m getting at is that some of the features of the clouds I observe are not difficult to discern from other aspects of the sky’s composition at that moment.
It’s like, yeah, people should be able to see this really beautiful and detailed face that is hanging in the north/northwestern sky, or the equally, singularly irreplicable wonder of eyes set in the eastern sky, or a dolphin swimming in the waters of the southern sky.
Shouldn’t they? Is it really just me?
That is information I need to have, if it’s just me, if I am the only one who sees this stuff, meaning that I have taken thousands of pictures of perfectly normal everyday clouds that don’t look like anything else at all.
I need to know if that is the case, and the only way to find out is to show people.
I’ve already addressed the inherent challenges of saying anything beyond a passing commentary on weather or prettiness about clouds in general, and saying anything at all about God and clouds, or what that whole situation is. Most people seem to have 0 interest in discussing such things and appear to consider a person strange or unseemly if God and clouds are brought into any sort of everyday conversation. The people who do want to talk about God and the clouds want to talk about such things in a way that I don’t always find especially helpful, as far as my need to figure out what in the actual is going on with all these triangles.
While I find it interesting to hear about the crazy ass cloud that someone and their cousin saw in Florida when they were tripping on acid, or the way they like to find animals, pointing to a run-of-the-mill cumulous that isn’t doing or being anything at all, saying: “See, it’s like a bunny.”I find most things interesting though, and at this point in my inquiry, I really need to focus on my questions and finding answers to them, not going down the rabbit hole of cloud trips with a random person at a bus stop.
So, no. I do not think I am proving God (or gods) or anything other than that there is some weird stuff that goes on with clouds, man, and that there are cloud-distinct micro-pattern phenomena that show up again and again, like that 3, and the Y. I find this interesting enough to warrant further investigation as to what atmospheric phenomena produce the conditions that create these forms. I don’t really have a good excuse for why I haven’t earnestly begun to research this prior to now, but I have good reasons, reasons that make sense to me.
I have a bit of trauma experience around this project and doing anything with it that may result in me having to admit that I am ‘doing the cloud thing’ again – which means prioritizing my interest and curiosity about cloudforms over other important human relational and economic endeavors. That sort of behavior, the cloud thing in preference to other behaviors and activities, is not something that I am supposed to be doing. This is what I have learned from external feedback ranging from dismissal to criticism to ostracization and ridicule, paternalistic smarminess about how it is interesting, isn’t it?
At this point in my life, I don’t want to deal with any of those things – but, I also don’t care if I have to in order to move this work forward, because – in all honesty – that’s really what I need to do and what I need to be doing right now, because whatever the origins of the belief – narrative, delusion, misread intuition all bungled with the static of my insecurities and unmet childhood needs to be seen and understood – I hold a belief that if I willfully and out of social cowardice deny the impetus to do this work, this work that I love and that I find purpose in, this work that challenges me and mentors me in how it must done, stretches me – for better or for worse – to the ends of my imagination as entire possible worlds are transformed each day, from living to death, to the life of new things…
If I deny the impetus to do this work, to pour all of the energy I give to things I don’t really care that much about to earn wages or to appease perceived social pressures or out of simply getting swept up in the charisma of a bad idea that sparkles nonetheless, then I will regret it every day, multiple times a day, until I die, and it will be like a curse, this not having done the work that I understand to be my life’s work, the thing that is mine to do in the ways that I might do it.
I have no idea how I am going to earn a living exploring patterns in cloudforms and the anthropology of patterns in nature and religious cultural symbols and icons, especially since I am neither a) cloud physicist or a b) anthropologist.
I have noted that as I have been writing there have been no clouds – the sky is totally blue. God, I love that. It is actually not entirely easy to watch clouds closely for a couple of hours straight. It is easy only in that it produces a sort of flow state and a suspended state of sharp focus and so I am not consciously aware of the fact that I am tired, or hungry, or that my shoulder aches, my neck hurts, my eyes are sore. I am sweaty and overwhelmed and yet totally calm, studying the clouds because that – in those moments that stretch into afternoons – is my work and I am working.
This website (note: refers to http://www.imfinethankyou.net) is an experiment that provides summaries of other experiments across multiple media. The primary researcher in this work is Faith R.R. – a differently-abled self-taught artist and healing justice worker who is formally educated in sociology and psychology, with specialized focus in social justice and transformative social change studies, including an undergraduate minor in Black Studies.
This site is a living space, which means that projects are always in development and that content is likely to be added, removed, or edited as methods are refined and inquiries evolve.
Any experiment has a driving question: “What will happen if…”
The motivating curiosity driving the creation and sharing of this site is: “What will happen if I show people my artwork and share the things I actually think about and care about?”
‘…if I show people how weird I really am…if I show people who I really am…if I tell people what I notice and experience…’
As a differently-abled person that has extensive experience of mental health challenges that impact social and occupational health, Faith has learned that it is typically not okay to be herself, that it is not socially safe or socially advantageous to show what she cares about or to talk about what she thinks about.
She is unlearning that fear of being herself and – in the process – learning quite a bit about what actually matters to her.
Despite trying very hard for many years to successfully make her way through the typical economic activities of education and employment, and despite working in professional roles that dealt in the business of people’s lives and deaths and suffering, and despite being exceptionally skilled in many areas, a MA’ed utility player, very good worker, etc. Faith has never earned more than 27,000 a year and generally earns less, some years much less, due to simply not being able to work a typical 40-hour work week doing whatever it is that she is being paid to do. The sensory stress, social and communicative complexities, and schedule/time logistics are overwhelming (not to mention the executive function challenges involved in doing the work itself) to the point of creating a state of burnout that is not just being ‘tired of working’ or ‘burnt out’ – but, is probably more akin to the phenomenon of autistic burnout, wherein people lose skills and function in multiple areas is impaired, as well as there being physical indicators of burnout like exhaustion or somatic manifestations of distress.
I often begin from a place of doubt, such as here on a rain-drizzled Sunday morning, unseasonably cool, more like early October, insects singing the question of their lifespan, the only song they know. I did not wake up at 3:30 in the morning full of vigor and ideas, a deep-grinning enthusiasm in my belly, my mind sharp and dancing with the imagined future, feeling it and seeing it so thoroughly as to make it real. A man from Alabama once informed her that the middle of the night is when the spirits rise, and she wondered what he really knew about el duende, which is what she had been mentioning to him, this learning about the spirit of art and creation, beings in protection of the forest. They exist in all the stories, is what she was going to say, but by then the man was going on about something Jungian, his own experience of dreaming.
She did not wake up at 3:30 in the morning, but slept through and through the cool damp of night still summer warm in her bed, under her heavy blankets, her weighted cave for sleeping, always sweating through her sleep in the summer as a fact of the necessity of being covered heavily as a condition of her sleeping at all
Some mornings, there is no doubt. Today, there is doubt – or, rather, there was. She begins from a place of doubt because she knows that is she begins to name what she notices as a discouraged uncertainty, a lack of confidence, bungled sense of one’s own efficacy in being a person who does anything other than be a lazy fuck who lets their life and potential and brightness slip into dying without ever really trying, really trying to do this thing they long to do.
At this point in my life, I really just want to be able to be myself, and to be able to be open about what I think about and what I care about, to be known for those things and visible in being who I am – which, of course, is changing all the time.
Note a chorus of white men rising up to tell me about how there is no self and this I that I imagine myself to be does not exist and that the things that I care about are ego attachments and the mind must be silenced of what it thinks about, become nothingness.
And, really, it’s like – “Okay, got it, yeah, and shut the fuck up please because the planet is on fire and flooding and animals are dying and there is some truly horrible shit happening on the daily everywhere and I care about that. This is the world I live in and I care about that. I care about my art and my process, the fiber of my spirituality – which is not some imbecilic idea of the ego or identity, but the very substance of my existences as a brief phenomena of blood, gristle, and experience, of witness and walking-talking participant, on this earth, the very substance of what connects me to everything else that is alive and dying in the world as some dude drones on and on about his theories on the theories of other men…”
Why this work is important and not something I need to ‘let go of’ or ‘get over’ so that I can ‘focus on what I need to be doing’ – earning wages in a professional/semi-professional occupational role and not thinking too much about things like post-modernism and peri-apocalypse, definitely not thinking about trying to save the world because even though our culture in the Western world is completely saturated with heroic narratives on unlikely high-stakes missions to prevent some global calamity or another, it is not actually okay for everyday people to be thinking about what they personally might be able to do to save the world.
We can think about ‘being the change we want to see’ and ‘doing our small part’ and ‘helping just one person’ or ‘planting just one tree.’
However, if everyday people start thinking too much about what is actually creating the situations the world (people, planet, animals, ocean, forests, children, future, etc.) needs saving from, and if people actually start considering what they may be able to do to try to contribute to greater change, they are seen as…
Hmmm…I feel a research question coming on.
What are people’s experiences of ambitions to create significant change in social/economic/environmental justice areas?
Are there people who daydream about saving the world?
Are there people who want to try to save the world?
Are there people who are engaged in activities that are motivated by a belief that these activities may ‘save the world’?
This is interesting to me, and reminds me of my idea to develop myself as an artist-researcher that does projects in the public sphere about topics I am interested in, particularly those related to transformative social change processes, and the phenomenology of individual experience in the context of larger social, economic, and cultural spheres. “Individual experience in the context of larger social, economic, and cultural spheres? Gee, Faith, that sounds like a pretty big scope of interest.”
Speaking of which, I sat down to write out a few ideas about why this is work and why this work is important. This is work because – for example – I personally do not necessarily want to always be noticing the clouds or documenting the clouds as a matter of methodology in my inquiry about rudimentary patterns in nature that are related to the development of human language and distinct cultural/mythological/religious beliefs may inform us of how our ancestors may have seen and experienced spirituality in relation to the natural world.
As a side note, although I’ve said it before, I have no idea where I said it or if I said it well – it makes no sense to me why ancient humans would go to incredible lengths to inscribe stones and build temples – massive monuments – if what they believed was God/gods were not actually really, really important. I wonder if the motivation was for rulers to be seen as God/gods, to position themselves as God/gods.
Jesus Christ, humans are so freaking confused. I’m confused. I mean, really, what in the actual…?
Yesterday, 08/08, I did not especially intend to take over 2,000 pictures of clouds. My camera roll tells me that the first image of a cloud was not captured until 4:22pm, a whole day of skies undocumented and largely unseen save for dog walks and brief glances from the hall window, more habit than anything, checking the blue that remained mostly unbroken for much of the day. The last cloud picture was taken at 8:38pm. I intended to write more yesterday, and thought some about drawing, about painting. My daughter is on leave from work as the school year begins, her senior year. My son leaves for college this morning, traveling from his father’s house across town. Yesterday, he came by to pick up some new socks I got him, say goodbye to the dog and the kitten. I’ve not mentioned the kitten. There is a kitten.
I will send my son a text message here in a few as I get ready to walk the dog and go get a new toilet because the tank on the one upstairs got a strange hairline crack, slow seeping water like tears gathering. The ignition element for the old gas stove’s pilot light broke last week and I’ve not yet repaired it, going back and forth between calling Arnie the kindly and fastidious repair man or ordering the part online and attempting the seemingly simple repair herself.
Most things that seem simple are not, but sometimes they are. She is glad she knows how to replace a toilet.
Despite her current hiatus from wage-earning, she has been thinking a lot about work and the necessity of earning money, trying to figure out just how precisely she is going to do that and reminding herself that while it is very good to exist in the stress-free mirage of optimism and strong faith that she is not blithely tumbling toward irresponsibility, slow ruin.
It won’t take long for her to set up her ‘professional website’ and she can create the content needed for her ‘art website’ so long as she actually opens the computer and begins to write, to copy/paste from old writings, refined drafts and culled emails to herself for an ‘ABOUT’ page.
The difficulty of existing as someone who is deeply engaged in an observational and contemplative art project on the topic of patterns in nature and experiential perception of the numinous – i.e. Proving God w/ Clouds: An Emergent Scientific Inquiry – and living with one foot very much planted in a speculative future which finds me cleverly and strategically connecting with ‘experts’ who can help me to either contribute to a new area of study in the micro-pattern formations of cloud structures and the origins of human mythology and spirituality, or simply help me to understand why I am seeing all of this and to determine – once and for all – whether it is important for me to continue to observe and contemplate the ongoing presentation of the clouds or whether there is actually nothing weird at all about the skyscapes and I can work on organizing my documentation up to this point and identifying which cloud photos I would like to begin painting. I need to be drawing and painting what I see in the clouds because – regardless of ‘meaning’ and ‘importance’ outside of my own experience, the forms of clouds are the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, again and again. As I assess the matrices of my strengths, interests, and limitations, I recognize that – if nothing else – I can probably build a happy, sustainable, and fruitful career as a strange surrealist, a futurist. An artist.
However, my ability to take the steps necessary to create that reality (such as, um, establishing a regular practice of drawing, painting, and sharing work, finding ways to sell work or to support my work) is being undermined by the continued feeling that I ought to document the clouds I notice because – dang – sometimes they really do look important, though I can’t say why. They are beautiful, yes, and even if/when I get the information needed to make an informed decision about the time I invest in cloudform documentation, I will likely still look at clouds everywhere I go and I will still – I’m sure – take pictures of the sky because that is where some of my gods live. However, the gods I believe in – nameless gods by many names, I’m sure – also live in water, in trees, in animals, in people, out in the world.
I don’t want to spend my whole life looking at clouds. This is not my only project.
Aug 11 5:32pm
Well, here I am again, trying to “prove God on the Internet with pictures of clouds.” It really was necessary for me to have this immersive re-experience, re-iteration of the summer of 2010, when I lost my mind in part because the clouds looked weird. When I first started noticing the clouds, I wasn’t actually that crazy. Circumstances, however, soon aligned to create a unique set of stressors and complexly coalescing impossible situations that exceeded my capacity to cope and engaged a somewhat hyperattentive problem solving state as I tried to reconcile my little world of work and family and routines wavering toward chaos, collapse.
I still believe that my seeing strange formations in the clouds was not a matter of mental illness, a hallucination. There is, after all, photographic evidence of the phenomena of form that created such a strong impression on me, a person who – it’s worth noting – is generally very impressionable. The shapes in the clouds are a neutral objective observation of a phenomenon in the natural, physical, material world. The meaning I attributed to them and the ways that I responded and reacted to that meaning are where I got a little crazy.
When I first started noticing the clouds, I tried to talk to people about them because I thought – as an artist and a person who was pretty geeked out about patterns in nature during that particular season and who had been drawing a lot and indulging in the richness of the visual sense in the way that only a person who once had been near blind can indulge, every detail and nuance of light a small miracle.
Nobody would have a normal, curious conversation with me about any of it, and began to develop concerns about my mental health which – as such concerns often do – expressed themselves as a general doubt of the validity or rationality of anything I might say or do, watching me with a slightly stern mouth, a guarded, skeptical, impatient eye.
Here at 5:50 am on 08/20/2021, sun still down, earth still turning, insect symphony in the dark, always the word pulsing in the song they sing without knowing anything else to do, it’s probably a good idea to take some notes, as I have reached a turning point with this project. My intent in June was to begin what I expected to be the long process of refining my telling and showing of the ‘time I lost my mind trying to prove God with pictures of clouds on the Internet.’
The framing of the story was one of creative non-fiction, literary non-fiction…magically real first person account of neurodiversity, spirituality, and psychosis told in mixed-tense utilizing elements of autoethnography and employing a third person narrative voice to situate the subject (me) in the broad context of the world I live in as it is constructed of vast phenomena, both material and conceptual, atrociously tragic and stunningly beautiful, etc. etc.
I was approaching this project as a person who had been through something (my life as a person who had a non-ordinary childhood – what is ordinary? – and who had been impacted by a confluence of beauty, loss, alienation, fear, and life-threatening injury as a child growing up in a sacred, ancient place – all places are sacred and ancient. I was telling the story I have been trying to tell ever since it began in 2010 – tho’ really, what is the beginning of any story? I was telling from the position of a person who had stanced themself apart from the events, the experience, but who still had a need for deeper resolution, who still had significant questions about what had happened in her life that year she began seeing something that felt like God in the clouds, what had happened in her life to even situate her to have such an experience, the factors that contributed to the formation of perception, meaning-making, and the chaotic interplay of internal and external realities that ultimately led to her being involuntarily committed, forcibly treated with psychiatric medication and held against her will for – How many days? She doesn’t remember, but could look back at notes, look back at records. Medical and handwritten in her same pressured scrawl, letters in blocks set sideways and up, filling the pages – and ultimately losing legal custody of her children not because she was really a terrible mom, as she was definitely not a terrible mom, but because there were concerns about her ability to ‘make good decisions due to her mental and emotional health’ as a result of impressions that were formed in response to early cloud documentation and inquiry in a somewhat hostile relational environment characterized by negative bias, invalidation of strengths (and – in the course of some conversations – worth as a human being in general) and mental health stigma. She conceded legal custody for the purpose of neutralizing any further divorce drama as it was not productive nor healthy for anyone involved, least of all her two kids. The neutralization of conflict through accepting surrender allowed her to retain partial physical custody of her kids and begin the process of restoring some form of stability and security in their small lives. She had not imagined, when she began watching the clouds out of a pre-existing and long-standing interest in patterns in nature and a happenstance spiritual practice that she stumbled into, so to speak, as she sat on her porch alone, heart-wrenched and grieving, feeling profoundly alone.
She began this project summary portfolio from the perspective of someone who was ready to begin researching all the different ways of seeing and understanding the madness that had changed her life so thoroughly, that had changed her. In many ways, perhaps entirely – yes, actually, entirely – she is profoundly grateful to have experienced everything she has experienced and is grateful even to have lost what she has lost, as those tragedies small and large have taught her heart what matters and what it feels like when something beautiful is wrecked because of bad decisions and distorted priorities.
At 6:25am, after sending the writing as a first installment of notes saved to multiple mailboxes via email, getting up to get some coffee and noticing the pleasant, grainy feel of being awake with unbrushed hair as the sky lightens slowly, bringing day, with a brief reeling recall of early morning travel, being awake all night – which, it’s worth noting, she was not. She sleeps for 5-6 hours and then wakes up to work, sleeps for 1.5 hours in the late-morning or early afternoon, wakes up and continues on.
Lately, her work has been toggling between setting up her professional LLC to offer specialized consultancy for wellness, growth, and transformation – or something like that – a hybrid of individual and family coaching for people exploring intersectional and integrative wellness as part of the journey of understanding and developing strategies to responding to mental health challenges and disruptive distress that acknowledge the complex adaptive nature of structural and systemic factors that impact our experiences as humans and the resources available to us in our individual healing journeys, and working with community initiatives and nonprofits working with vulnerable and complex trauma impacted communities to build informed, functional infrastructure around models of collaborative, dynamic, and inclusive leadership and methods of participatory action research in public health efforts to address mental health and substance use in relation to poverty and trauma.
I already have my fall consulting contracts lining up and I am excited about the work I will be doing with a few different projects. Leaving my work as a wage-earner was the best thing I could have done. Not that I had a choice.
In any event, there has been that work. Meetings and emails. Documents. All good though, interspersed with the work of home – animal family, old dusty house, non-driving teenager who works and goes to school, needs a ride here, a ride there, dishes and laundry, repairs and maintenance, walks with the dog, exercise, hygiene, etc.
The rest of her time lately is spent watching clouds, taking pictures of clouds, thinking about clouds, and pondering what in the world she ought to do about the fact that she began to create this summary of an experience and then began noticing – actively noticing, really paying attention to, the clouds again, and the clouds – almost seemingly in turn – began to become completely amazing and holy beyond belief.
If she had seen some of the things she has seen lately back in 2010, she would have lost her mind so hard. The clouds she saw then were probably 25% as profound and persistent as they are now. She can no longer see ‘regular clouds’ anymore, except for the towers of cumulous far off in the mountains, their details blurred by distance. As soon as she looks at the sky, she can see the suggestion of a shape or a clearly wrought face and the forms spring into their slow shifting movement, twist and flux of vapor and light, rising and dissipating to create the most remarkable forms.
She recognizes that her pareidolia is out of control, sees elements of the same forms in the silhouettes of branches, the drift of sandy gravel in rain-washed gutters, the light through the trees glowing gold on the wall, salt gathered and sculpted on the surface of water not quite boiling.
It’s not that big of a problem, as far as her functionality. Seeing things is no big deal. She has non-ordinary perception. No biggie. Makes total sense to her given the development of her sense-sight as a child with uncorrected near-sightedness that grew up straining to see in a world full of blurs, the relief of details seen up close. She has an atypical strength in processes of pattern detection and picture completion, and is an artist. She has a refined sense of vision, despite only being able to see in the blurred perfect circles of pointillism without her glasses on. It makes sense to her that she would have a tendency toward pareidolia, and that she would integrate this into her artwork in some way.
However, even the most severe apophenia cannot explain the objectively observable forms of a human face in detailed composition, the head of a bird, the measurable angles of an equilateral triangle, the repeating form of 3. She wants to know why these things are showing up in the sky so clearly, and what – if anything other than her subjective sense of meaning, which she experiences as being rooted in the profoundly numinous, holy, and sacred – these forms mean, what these faces mean, what these figures and this light means?
Surprisingly, she isn’t losing her mind and trying to prove God on the Internet through chaotic and bound-to-be-ineffective tactics guided by no clear design or strategy. She is asking questions and holding herself in the dialectical space between profound belief that the ancestors and spirits of all that is living and has lived are rising to say stop, are rising to say please, are begging – actually – for mercy and warning of the consequences of war, the rising death tolls, the rising waters, radioactive seas, etc. I wouldn’t say these impressions of meaning are like doomsday prophecies, because I don’t really know anything about that and am not a prophet. I do know that we are in a global pandemic in the midst of a climate emergency and that by the sheer existence of nuclear weapons the history of the future is in peril because people – human beings – have apparently lost their fucking minds and are freaking out even though we need to be checking ourselves and our realities and our values and staying calm and remembering that nobody is supposed to be killing anyone and that humans – so far as I understand it – are supposed to be stewards.
This is just a content analysis of the impressions I get when I watch the clouds, when I let myself really see them.
So, as a note in process, the matter of this project has somewhat changed over the past two months, during which I have taken thousands of pictures of clouds and studied them intently. I have decided, based on both logical determination of potential importance given what I perceive as evidence that the clouds are weird in that they are making clearly discernible pictures of people and animals and symbols to the extent that the clouds don’t even look like clouds anymore, and the deep-felt intuitive sense of profound urgency to seek assistance in this and – much more importantly – to show people, and – most importantly – to show people who can advise her as to whether or not this sort of cloud activity is unusual and – if so – what, if anything, she should do, because her gut instinct tells her that she needs to tell someone that she sees radiation symbols and that she sees mushrooms clouds and that this scares her because she has been terrified of nuclear anything ever since she saw her first reactor tower by Savannah and her belly went to ice and she felt sick without knowing why. She grew up in the era of Chernobyl. She lived by the east coast home of nuclear submarines, Kings Bay. She grew up three miles from the base.
She acknowledges that her personal psychology creates her perception and understanding and that it is entirely possible, likely even, that she is seeing this stuff and interpreting it as having specific intuitive meaning due to her being under duress because of the pandemic and her mom having been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer over a year ago, right after George Floyd was murdered, and as the big nonprofit pandemic hustle began as her relationship with the person who was her best friend began to end and her elder orange cat slow-died of cancer while her mom was in the hospital after the big surgery that removed her belly button, among other things.
You know, it’s crazy, but I seriously was almost at the point of feeling like I really was severely and persistently mentally ill, mostly in the form of what had been an increasingly intransigent depression and emotional blunting that made life feel like a series of chores to get through, but not even because you couldn’t even feel that anymore, you just did the things and said the stuff and smiled the smiles but you knew you were dying, possibly already dead, except for when you would come alive again, just a little, out walking alone, running in circles in the dark at the track, the year a strange suspended state that – looking back – doesn’t seem quite real and yet you know it was, because you remember so much of the detail of days and conversations, all of it close-pressed and living. Writhing and flashing as dying cats and hospital halls, the silver shine of a rain-puddled track in the dark of morning under metal halide, the learning to breathe – to breathe in and breathe out, keep your mouth closed, keep your mind clear, focus on the details until they blur into a million sweet savorings of star and footfall, the lungs and heart, gravity and gentle swirling whisper of fallen leaves in the slipstream of your movement.
I wonder if all that trance-running in the dark did something to my brain, augmented my visual acuity in – I just had the interesting experience of scrolling through this week’s edition of Aeon/Psyche and being interested in most of the articles, appreciative of the range and facets and approach to reporting taken by the online publication, and yet aware of a definite resistance to reading the articles now, watching the 7 minute improvised animation that is an absurdly delightful something-or-other on creativity.
I am trying so, so hard to stay focused and to remain unbiased.
It’s a delicate thing, this getting clear on one’s ‘own ideas’ – which is a ham-handed way of saying allowing for the intrinsic synthesis of knowledge derived from direct individual observation and experience, taking into account that no individual lives in a vacuum and that the space between individual learning and external teaching is extremely porous, reflexive and complex – in an environment that is full of ideas and expressions of ideas, theories and paradigms and philosophies. I am not entirely sure if my resistance – at this point in my development as an artist-researcher – to devoting large chunks of my time and headspace to the canon of interdisciplinary literature on: God; atmospheric sciences; cloud physics; early language development; cross-cultural myth and religious studies; various philosophies pertaining to the construction and deconstruction of ideas, perception, meaning, etc., as well as work exploring the mathematical relationships in patterns of nature as they may be reflected in iconographic representations and the elements of rudimentary and refined symbols which are observable in the forms of clouds, as well as in other arrangements of living things…is rooted as much in a commitment to being primarily world-taught rather than ego-auto-educated, pursuing the attainment of certain knowledge because I think I want to or should learn it, and being open to the lessons that circumstances, situations, opportunities, and seemingly happenstance information might have to teach me. Life, for me, is much, much more interesting and – besides – although there are many, many people’s work I want to learn about and from and, as evidenced by the list of intersecting interests relating to just the clouds project (not to mention the adjunct, affiliate, secondary, tertiary, associative, or entirely out of left field interests relating to other projects I am engaged in both personally and professionally.
By ‘out of left field’ I mean my interest in the craft of millinery as an art form, as well as various branches of metaphysics and practices that are lumped together under the umbrella label of ‘occultism’ and ‘paranormal’ or ‘supernatural’ phenomena. I neglect studies in those areas as much or more so than my inquiries into religion and the origins of ancient languages, for much the same reason – in terms of wanting to allow for knowledge synthesis through open experience (this does not mean going and ‘doing a thing’ for the sake of having an ‘open experience’ – this means engaging in an everyday way of learning from the world and paying attention to what crosses my path, what associations and impressions are part of the encounter or experience, and how all that situates in the larger context of my pre-existing so-called knowledge, or synthesized understanding that – misguided, misinformed, misinterpreted or not – seems to help me feel like I can make sense of some small or constant working in the world of and in and surrounding whatever might constitute my ‘self’ – a construct that I am increasingly certain is comprised of light and sound, a pattern all my own.
08/22/2021 7:47pm For the sake of reflection, I will say that I have talked with a couple of trusted and informed friends about this project, and they have offered good feedback, though not in a conclusive direction.
“Isn’t there a hotline or something? Like you call and someone listens to what’s going on and takes you seriously and looks into the situation?”
In 2010, I tried to email the Vatican by way of a VaticanTV contact email, and also tried to contact St. Paul’s-Outside-the-Walls ‘cause, well, Paul wrote a lot of letters and I figured the place was at least in the neighborhood of people who consider themselves to be authorities on things like holy visions. Not that I was/or am claiming to have had a holy vision, but it’s hard not to imagine that at some point in history in some place on this planet, some of what I have been seeing may be similar to cloud configurations that were seen as God and or gods, stories and figures, characters and creatures.
There is no way to conclusively prove anything at all about what ancient people saw or did not see in the sky. They didn’t have photography or materials other than sand or fire charcoal and stone to sketch quickly.
The only evidence we have of what people saw and experienced as powerful and important in the ways of a god are the stories and symbols left as records of what these early civilizations deemed important enough to carve into stone and build monuments to, create icons of.
If one considers the record of artifacts spanning thousands of years and geographies all over the planet, it would be quite the undertaking to examine similarities across and between different icons, early languages, and mythic figures to identify elements that may be represented in the forms of clouds.
At this point in my observations, there are a handful of auspicious figures and forms that I see often in the clouds that I may be able to survey various cultural icons and symbols to investigate the presence of similarities. However, even similarities between weird clouds and ancient language does not prove anything other than the appearance of similarity. Similarity does not equate relation, just as correlation does not indicate causation.
I continue to vacillate back and forth between non-belief and belief. When I am not looking at the clouds or studying pictures of clouds, indulging in my new play with settings called ‘shadow’ and ‘brilliance’ to see what forms might be seen if some layers or tones are emphasized or de-emphasized. There is so much I can’t explain, and – personally – I don’t have a need to explain it. I am happy with not conclusively knowing.
In the dubious impression of the shapes in the clouds possibly being important or relevant in some way that extends beyond my immediate, individual experience of finding beauty, awe, and a reverent fascination that humbles me in the way that something holy might humble a person in watching and contemplating the light and movement held by water and dust in the sky, I have developed a nagging need to confirm/disconfirm the cultural or scientific value of my observations of this phenomena.
What if something like God/gods really is presenting itself boldly in natural forms because something like God/gods is real and is alarmed at something that would be deeply evident to an omniscient, or at least sensitive, ecosystem force of knowing – like the fact that humans are destroying the planet, committing mass atrocities against humanity, and fucking around with nuclear weapons that could wreck large segments of the genetic material that creates what we understand to be life on earth?
What if something like God/gods is trying to tell us something by drawing angels and birds and all the old holy signs that people used to know and watch for and pay attention to, but people don’t notice because this something like God/gods doesn’t show up in the way it’s expected to, or because we simply aren’t paying attention despite the fact that we all know that times are troubled and pray for mercy all the time?
What if something really important is happening or about to begin happening and only a few weirdos with atypical visual processing styles, a nerdy preoccupation with patterns in nature, and a high tolerance for ‘boring’ activities like watching clouds are noticing and wondering why the clouds look so strange while the rest of the world goes on as it does, suffering and forgetting and waiting for the rapture?
I have been asking the same questions for years.
I have been living in these questions.
Setting: 4:40am front porch, cool air, amicable cat, slightly restless dog energy, neighborhood and town sounds muffled to a hum behind the usual insect noises, never the same, the tone of summer waning and the full moon setting has particular urgent sweetness, the pulses quick and longing, clamoring and dancing tucked into the trees all around. God, I love insects.
Note that a man on a bike rides down the hill, up the hill, yodeling softly in a way that sounds like the screech owls she hasn’t heard this season, maybe in the fall, maybe in the winter.
There is so, so much we/I take for granted.
Sometimes, I feel a bit of sickness in me, a sad heavy nausea, sea sick, just a little, when I think about how incredibly fucking beautiful the world is and how dumb humans (myself included, of course) are.
What are the ways I’ve been dumb?
Well, yesterday I was considering the actual potential reality that I – as a person who had a long-standing preoccupation with patterns and form in nature and a quiet, everyday grievous concern, anticipatory sorrow and immediate lament for all the completely brutal things that go down in the world all the time everyday, with a simultaneous awe and gratitude and joy in simply being alive to see any of it, to be able to smell sweetness and to notice what I can of the vastly interlocking worlds that are living and dying all around me, to remember to say: “I see you.” – this life that I am living, this person that I am here in the anthropocene, this possible reality in which my penchant for patterns and pictures and my fascination with the beauty of light and the eternally sovereign patience of the sky, really am noticing something that is important, because the sky did not look like this before 2010, and I did not feel the way I do when I look at the sky before…well, that’s not true…there have been many, many times that I sat and looked at the sky and felt the shift of aperture, an expansion and pull-toward focus, a sudden situating in the middle of something amazing and delicate, some fleeting scene of a woman on a beach, sitting with legs pulled to chest, staring at ocean, considering family walking back to the house, the sun going down, all the lights in all the houses coming on, a running dog at water’s edge, moon rising late summer, the roads to get to where she is, rolling a shell on the sand with feet damp and skin sticky with salt, the heaviness of humid linen, the sharpening sandy wind, water sounds wind sounds voices clipped and boomeranged like ghost calls as the grasses bend toward the land, dry roots exposed, eroded sand, the scar of a small fire, upturned pink flip-flop bleaching in the sun, cooling in the night as the fish rise and the turtles swim, and the shrimp boats make their way home in the channels mapped by sonar – has led me to learn to notice a particular function of the sky and clouds (and leaves and trees, and silt on sidewalks, the patterns that gather in water-based atmospheric media, the porous watery world that moves in ways that perhaps everything moves toward, the shapes of ourselves and everything, in everything, as slowly and quickly as our rigidities allow.
These same patterns may be in rocks? Yes, probably. Certainly igneous rock, rock created by flowing lava.
(Oh my God, the earth is so fucking old.)
…so, yes, I’ve felt the deep presence of a fleeting sort of grace and maybe sometimes I felt the flicker of connection, like whatever thin barrier between me and the sky opened just a little and I could feel myself there, out over the ocean, but – by and large – I was separate, and so why now do I feel like the sky is alive, and that I am somehow connected to it, or that it is connected to me?
Why do I observe that the sky seems to respond to my watching it, seems – actually – to rapidly, almost desperately, begin to shift into form, as if saying, “Look, look, we’re still here. Not going away. Not your imagination. We are right here. Go ahead, take a picture. Prove it to yourself. Again. Do you really have to prove it everyday, Faith? Do you not have enough evidence that the clouds are peculiar? Enough proof to persuade someone to help you to understand why the sky seems so alive, so communicative?”
In considering the – at this point – actual possibility that, yup, there’s something weird about the clouds, and reflecting on my conscious reluctance to all but demand that people look at what I’m seeing and help me figure out what’s going on because this could (or could not) be important in ways that I am not qualified to determine.
If you see something, say something? Right?
If this does turn out to be a matter, ahem, of significance and I am questioned as to why it took me 11 years to finally get up the gumption to make sure that the right people were informed of this phenomena and could thus respond in a way that is appropriate to the situation, learn more about it, determine its salience, etc., why did I bide my time and sit on my hands and literally, actively procrastinate the decisions and actions required to make this inquiry project real, why did it take so damn long for me to get strategic and grounded in this endeavor, for me to be effective?
All I can say was that I, in the context of the world I live in, was dumb. Most human dumbness is caused by lack of information and ill-preparedness to handle complex situations in a way that isn’t just an emotional trainwreck or act of affront against oneself or someone else.
I don’t know.
Twelve years ago, in the middle of what would become a very difficult year, I decided to draw a picture every day for a year. The intent of that initial project was to re-engage with my creativity, to give my badly atrophied artist-self a space to come alive in, and come alive it did. The daily practice of drawing and reflecting, in whatever little segment of time and setting I could – at work, while I watched the Berenstain Bears with my elementary-school-age kids, late at night or early in the morning before anyone woke up, sitting out on the porch in the late afternoon when the house was peaceful, halcyon, kids playing, doing something they were engaged in, a happy relaxed energy – quickly revived the workings of a younger self, a woman with short bleachy hair, drawing and concentrating on a bedroom floor in a shared house in Portland, the same bassline again and again coming up through the house from the basement, band practice all the time. From the time she was 15 to the time she was 23, she lived in houses and hung out in houses where bands practiced, where people made zines and masks and letterpress covers for 7” records.
When she drew, she felt the same as she did when she was 19, which felt the same as drawing when she was 9.
The aspect of her that has been most constant throughout her life has been that she is an artist.
It’s 6:30 am and the dog has been needing a lot of interaction. I may take him for a walk in this pale blue grey light that is the same color as the silk jacket I wore to my courthouse wedding on a rainy day in Portland, c. 2000. It’s weird to think that for a few years now I have been separated from that arrangement – somewhat – longer than I had been in it, and that the arrangement I have been in – that of the disgraced mother who is a screw-up and is irresponsible and who doesn’t fit in with other moms and who is just strange, she’s just strange, the way she walks around the neighborhood looking at the sky, wearing the same dress again and again, talking openly about social anxiety as a means of making conversation, not cutting her hair, why does she keep it so long, thin rope down her back. Cords like the narrow vertebrate of a rattlesnake?
Why does she say things like that?
She recognizes that as the sun is rising, she is getting a little tired, her morning session drawing to a point of transitioning to the mindless drifting —
I was in conversation with someone I genuinely like and respect the other evening, volleying a sort of state-of-the-world commentary as the state-of-the-world —
Here is how I am doing my work currently, the imperfect-and-still-refining method of my life as an artist-researcher-catalyst- healer which – it’s worth noting – is a designation that I just added the words ‘catalyst’ and ‘healer’ to…
I had been calling myself an artist-researcher in regard to my art practice, and a specialized consultant (a rather bland nomination, in my opinion) in reference to my professional career in the nonprofit public health and recovery sector, and considering ways to be both things > an artist-researcher (catalyst) and a specialized consultant, as one thing somewhat cancels the other in ways. Maintaining a professional outward facing self that is appropriate to the work of the —
Aug 24, 3:24pm
This project is a tactic in a larger strategy to disrupt perceptions of reality by telling the truth of what one experiences and sees in the world for the purpose of creating opportunities for the exposure of unseen and unspoken assumptions about what is real and valid and what is not. This work inverts power structures and casts a critical light on the institutions and perspectives of what we understand to be modern western civilization, revealing them to be stubborn ideas, problematic systems, nothing that can’t be undone.
A lot of we assumed would last forever is already gone.
For the sake of notes, I spoke confidently and connectedly to someone about this project today, an artist. The experience was overwhelmingly positive and I would like to speak to more artists. However, I think it’s important for me to be realistic with myself about my social limitations and the unlikeliness that I am going to find my people by casting a broad attempt at social media friendly charisma out into the hashtagged ethers. I don’t have social media hustle, it becomes a job, another artwork in itself, a perplexing striving for a balance between authenticity and appeal. I don’t even know. I feel neurotic just thinking about it, and so I don’t think about it.
08/27/2021 5:44am For the sake of reflecting, here at 5:04 in the morning, let me say that there are prompts in this way of telling of her sitting on the porch as always in the morning, still sleep-sour-sweet with a pleasant fuzziness around the eyes, loose clothes and the season’s forecast against the bare skin of her arm in late-August, that cool and slowing sound of insects dying as she sits and considers – as she does – this matter of experience and conundrum, tells herself not to think too deeply about it. Nothing can be definitive and even if it could – so what? >
She employs a prompt, a sequence of opening statements that elicit a telling without trying, simply taking notes of what she observes, has observed, of the world and of herself from her limited perspective, her fractionated view. “It’s been a while since I’ve written…”; “For the sake of taking notes,…”; “I should probably spend a little time reflecting.”; “For the sake of reflection,…”, etc. – an assortment of initiatory statements, openings to whatever she might end up saying, which usually has more to do with the act and process of telling, those aforementioned conundrums of self-situation and the difficulty, really, to tell about anything with words, as communication inherently mediates experience, absorbs, interprets, tells, is seen/unseen, understood or not, maybe simply null in the space outside of the communicator, the source of expressed experience, a failed conveyance that nonetheless took action and created impact if only in the scope of the individual and their experience of telling, of trying to say something of themselves and the world they see, the world they inhabit.
She considers this, 5:29am, as she suddenly remembers – a little jarring but not so much that her expression changed as she sits in the dark with the dog and the cat and the dark pocked with streetlights through the trees. Sounds from highways, crashing sounds from buildings being built, heavy and booming up from down by the river, up the steep slope of the thin tendril of remaining woods that presides over the train tracks and the curious north-flowing waters. Ah, yes, she remembered, sudden and jarring – like an out of place image in a lulling scene, the insertion of the fact that her mother has cancer and the ca # is ‘creeping up’ – ‘creeping up’ being a euphemism for two fold exponentiality that she now recognizes creates a severe and sudden anxiety in her to even think about, to do the math back to the number before, when her mom was so sick, before she was – for a time – better, so much better that she, and everyone, almost seemed to forget that – [she does not write the words, those words that define and stage the aberrant cellular phenomena that will end her mother’s life in this iteration of existence. “I like being here,” her mother had said on the phone as she walked the dog up the hill, slow and smelling his way along as the mother and daughter discussed [what? She cannot remember as she writes, and recognizes this as a sort of dissociative compartmentalizing of experience that is just too fucking much, really. “Well, you’ll like being wherever you end up after you’re here, too. If you let yourself, which is probably important to do.”
She scrolls back up the screen, the words precarious in an unsent, unaddressed unsaved email draft that could disappear into digital erasure if she is not careful.
She addresses the email to herself, and sends the message to be resumed here a few lines down the screen at 5:47 pm because there was brushing-the-dog-in-the-dark-with-long-handled-deck-brush and fumbling around in something like a fog following the remembering of the adjunct life, the very real life, of herself as daughter, as mother, as person with a name that walks around and is seen and is loved, etc. – not just this thin silverine thread of narrative from the glinting shifting space of herself in reflection, white screen black text, mediated twice or thrice or as many times as there are readings and tellings, each only grasping at and maybe glimpsing some view of what is being conveyed, which – even in the recognition of something to tell – is distorted in interpretation by the consciousness of the teller, and then – of course – further transmutated and twisted in meaning or representation in the ways conveyance is received.
How can one tell of experience in a way that is representational, but not explanatory, the showing not telling, when what there is to show encompasses so much, the flashes of what’s important or interesting or horrible or simply there, drifting like a shipwreck, floating like a lotus, some random scrap of seeing that is there and then gone, a near constant churning and the absurd effort to tell about what’s right now right this very moment, when the cat is sitting on the cypress bench and the dog lays on the porch and she is thinking about what there is to do during the day, but not thinking about it at all as she considers cloud forms and the documentation project and – oh, yeah – this little opening of time during which she might have a chance of connecting with a potential future that may only be possible during this window of time, as a defining feature of all potential futures is that they are only possible in the specific sets of circumstances that create events and directions, that shape perception and choices, responses and reactions, energy and engagement, resources and access to resources across domains of life and health, vulnerabilities and assets, a constant collider of possibilities that are there and then gone…there and then gone…? As she writes, the dog is getting restless, wanting food at 6:03. The cat is sitting patient, looking around, waiting as cats do.
08/28/2021 7:23am It’s the next day, 5:40am. She has done this for as long as she can remember, this early rising. The hour between 4:00 and 5:00, 5:00 and 6:00 – such a sacred time, slouching and waiting for the caffeine to kick in, that sudden shift into awakeness and delight in being awake while so much of the human world in immediate proximity seems still, to be sleeping. The world is awake like the dog gnawing a stick on the porch, the rattling sounds and clattering sounds bright like cool wood in the cymatic hum of insect sound in damp air. >
There was the usual getting up to hush the dog as the sky lightened toward hints of a bright, warm day. A day of doing things. A wakeful day.
She feels like this every morning, steeped in potential, like anything is possible. It is difficult to connect this state to the person who was severely depressed, tormentedly depressed, the person who – even on good days- would wake up with a paralyzing anxiety, a lattice-work fear tightly wove up through the center of her, making it hard to breathe in the dark, head blaring with all sorts of dreadful and discouraging messages, thoughts and images, body remembering, heart pounding and clenched in numb morning, too warm under blankets, too cold, bleary and hating the fact of the body, the fact of the bed, the need to rise and to speak and to move about, doing all the things that the person with your name and your face and the life you’ve supposedly built but actually more like fumbled your way into and now must live with integrity despite the criteria for integrity in this life that is presumed to be your life, this person you are seen as being and the person who you are in context, at work, in family, in community, do not always line up well with the principles and values and actualities of who you actually are, the person you are that you don’t completely show anyone because, well, that could be dangerous. So, you move about in the life that is yours as the person you are supposed to be, knowing that nobody is ever anyone or anything in a way that is eternal and fixed, not subject to the absurd chaos odds of falling apart in some major way that redefines everything. Never anybody or anything, except maybe the fact of our aliveness and existence in a world that is older than we can begin to really wrap our heads around.
She needs to make a list, an outline, the most crucial things:
First and foremost, though not necessarily first in terms of order in which to be completed is to create (in a process-manner that is efficient and focused, intent-full and not her going down the rabbit hole of overwhelm, ideas, and a suspended sort of reverie, down on fascination street, which is – truth be told – very much her favorite part about engaging in art, in play and illumination, exploration and questioning, showing something that is hard to show either through object/action of interpretative representation or via the function of receiving the work, seeing the work as a relay to the actual art, which is showing a person something about themselves or the world that they did not quite see before, a brief pulling into focus or shifting into frame some phenomena of experiencing one’s beingness as a person considering a ‘work of art’ or an ‘art installation’…or a picture of a cloud on the Internet.
I am passive in my showing and sharing and promoting of this work, in large part due to the reality that a self-led showing/sharing/promoting this work in anyway other than posting content to my – ahem – research notes, which are in many ways central to the art of this project, the practice of observing oneself as a phenomenon (or set of phenomena) in broad context, an intentional practice of not taking for granted the vastly complex conditions that have led one to the divinely singular moment that one may find oneself in at any given time, pulses and points of light across the span of our lives and the lives connected to our small worlds, the entirety of everyone, all places, through all time…and, yet, here we are…not amazed at all. Anti-amazed, as a matter of fact.
Hello. My name is FaithRR (Faith Rachel Rhyne) and I am an artist-researcher and healing justice/systems transformation worker in Western North Carolina. I am also a person who is differently-abled in ways that have created significant barriers to my participation in the normative economy. Nonetheless, I have worked for nonprofits and community initiatives for 25 years, and have a MA in psychology, with a specialization in Transformative Social Change, which is the study of how ideas, movements, and cultural/economic institutions develop and – ultimately – shift in some way or another. I am a high-school drop out from South Georgia who has a BA in Sociology with a minor in Black Studies from Portland State University. My first college classes were held in a meeting room in a building that required special security clearance in the form of being checked in and scanned for weapons, briefly questioned in the wide windowed entryway of the Trident Training Facility at the Kings Bay Nuclear Submarine Base as a student of a Georgia Military College satellite campus in the town I grew up in, where I was raised in a geodesic plexiglass dome house my father built in the woods on the land he had grown up visiting, the ‘family land,’ only ours by deed for a few generations, ancestral lands of the Utina, oyster shells still thick in the receding banks of the river, bones long turned to dust, returned to the earth, to the flow from dark water to open ocean.
She watched land that she loved and was deeply connected to be destroyed and paved over for a subdivision that was the result of real estate bullying and increased housing market pressures due to the establishment of the largest nuclear submarine facility on the east coast being opened three miles from her father-built house out on the point of land that would, with time and ride, become nubbed down, worn away like the edge of a stone, the tip of a pencil. When she was growing up, she thought it would all last forever. For her, that childhood limitation in cognitive ability to conceptualize the world one lives in being something radically different than what it is in your perspective was a lovely thing, a magical thing, a world all hers and the woods and her family, the seemingly eternal dirt road that led home.
Despite having gone to pull-out special education classes for a speech impediment until the fourth grade, I was not identified as having significant learning and processing differences until I was in middle school, at a psychologist’s office where I’d been brought to be evaluated because I was ‘so angry.’
I was watching places I loved be destroyed, literally scraped away, burnt away. Paved over so thoroughly as to have never been there at all. I did not have a framework for understanding that I was grieving the land, or that – perhaps – the land was grieving through me, howling as roots pulled away from the earth, the deep wince at screaming saw bite. I was angry. My entire world was changing as my hometown became a military town, a base town, where protestors from far away places sometimes laid down on the spur line railroad tracks leading out to the base, trying to stop the trains carrying materials to support the operations of a nuclear weapons facility.
Although the psychologist who evaluated me knew about my learning and processing differences, even reported on them briefly, in the preamble leading to my diagnosis of depression caused by a chemical imbalance for which I may need to take medication for over the course of my entire life, but that I may be able to live comfortably enough, work, have a family.
Nobody talked about the ways that learning and processing differences and circumstantial factors such as traumatic loss and grief re: the land might be connected to my depression. Nobody, in fact, ever talked about me even having learning and processing differences, except to say that I was smart, and had so much potential, etc. – a statement that, to me, only meant that I was doubly and maybe even triply a fuck up because I should be smart enough to be able to go to school without crying, smart enough to not waste my potential.
I ended up dropping out of high school after a couple of years of filling the school years with enrollments and unenrollments, transfers and delays and lengthy absences caused by mysterious severe migraines that I now believe I may have learned to give myself out of an all consuming desperation to avoid the sensory, social, and psychological agony of going to school.
I left home early, returned a lot. Left again.
From the time I was 13 to the time I was 23, I was hospitalized in a locked psychiatric facility 4 times, and spent most of my adolescence on and off different combinations of psychiatric medication in the early boom of adolescent psychiatry, the 1990s. I experienced lithium toxicity at age 16, and by the time I was 23, had attempted to end my life/inflict serious harm upon myself twice and was on multiple medications.
What I need to be clear about is why I am pursuing the path I am pursuing, which is to become a niche phenom in the new media arts/outsider arts scene and creative nonfiction world while concurrently catalyzing a global conversation about cloud physics and human perception of God, gods, etc. through strategic positioning of myself as a lone-wolf artist that is experimenting using an iPhone and Kinemaster to ‘prove something about something like God/gods, etc. on the internet with pictures of clouds.’
I go for the language of proving because I think humans – probably myself included as evidenced by my lightly-held obsession with this question of whether or not clouds can prove anything at all –
On Sep 1, 2021, at 4:13 AM:
Now that my circadian rhythms have been able to ease back towards whatever my body’s natural and evolving circadian sleep/wake cycles might be, I’ve been waking up happy in the middle of the night. I have stopped setting my alarm because I realized that I was waking up 2 hours before the alarm everyday, would be walking around the house as the sky lightened, feeding the dog and cats, beginning to feel a little tired after being up at 4:30 and writing, editing whatever I’ve been working on, uploading pictures, taking notes, scrolling horoscopes sometimes, reading news sometimes, but not often, just the article titles in her inbox, Kabul, Ida, fires, rural overdose deaths, the Poor People’s Campaign, voter suppression, covid, anti-vaxxers, Q-Anon – those haplessly deranged people, addicted to self-righteous indignity, the need to be right against a horrific wrong, privy to a secret world…so, so confused about what to believe.
Man, anything that involves beliefs that inspire a person to kill or violently humiliate and dehumanize people is a bad idea.
Not the truth.
I can’t believe someone killed their kids over that rubbish. I used the word rubbish to denote garbage ideas, shitty ideas that aren’t even functional anymore, that do nothing good but take up space and create harm. Bad ideas as pestilence. Scourge of the earth. (I have, it’s worth noting, looped back to this segment of writing to clarify the usage of the word rubbish, and am now noticing that it is 4:30 in the morning and because I got up very, very early and have been happily working at uploading and writing just for the sake of writing because it is fun today and I feel hopeful and awake.
(Hidden factor: I will be submitting to an opportunity later this morning, and another one later this month, and I am excited about what might happen next, whatever it is.
>It is for that reason, among about a million others, that I have come to believe that it is – if not important, then at least interesting in a timely way – that I devise a strategy and some actionable, efficient tactics to share the collected body <note: a sense of double entendre in the phrase ‘collected body’ in that I was referring to the albatross of this work, all of here, not just this project, but allll the projects, the aria of them, and yet what came to mind as I wrote the phrase was the thought a physical body, perhaps my body, being collected, as in retrieved, a package picked up, garbage, debt, something ominous, and it reminded me to make a note of the fact that a courage barrier in this work is the concern that some deranged Q-Anon person will decide I have serpent DNA or something completely bizarre like that, because of course I have serpent DNA and so do they! We have DNA shared in some way or another with everything alive. Don’t we?
Serpent DNA would be badass.*
I have a whole little set of rattlesnake vertebrae that I got in a shop in SE Portland and always thought that I’d feel much closer to the bones if I’d found them, but now – 21 years after I went into that store smelling like lavender and rain and cigarettes smoked in the car during that strange winter of returning to Portland to play gin rummy & performance suspension & iv-drug-user/hardware-store-employee with the haunted person that tattooed my palms and my back, the dots on the back of my ears, the heart within a heart formed by a set of inverted f’s. That person died because their heart stopped in the middle of the night. My heart could stop in the middle of the night. My father’s friend’s heart stopped in the middle of the night following a brain aneurysm. Age 14, I answered the phone call from his wife, who was crying and telling me the news of the man I hardly new having died in the night, and having to go tell my dad, who was watching television. I don’t remember why I didn’t just go get him to take the call, the woman just started talking, and I didn’t know what to do, but felt very present, listening, hearing myself tell her how sorry I was, etc. how I would remember the time we had a fire..
Carolyn Wright, elliptical poet, died in the night, too.
I could die in the night.
*See, it’s saying things like that that undermine my potential to be taken seriously. But, let me remind myself, at this point the only thing that I desire to be taken seriously as is a person who has questions – serious questions and absurd questions, and a person who is seriously curious, and – in my way – seriously spiritual, tho’ my experience and orientation to spirituality is always evolving, shifting in some way, which is okay with me and even desirable to me because it allows me to stay open to new experience and perspectives and doesn’t have me into any particular doctrine or ritual practice, tho’ I totally get and deeply respect that that is some people‘s way of being in connection to Holy Spirit (God, gods, Jesus, angels, ancestors, all the sacred names, all the sentience, etc.) I’m am in no way saying that my perception and various interpretations of perception through the kaleidoscopic lens of human experience in a singular moment of time during which the specific configurations of thought, sensation/feeling, visual memory, visual thought, external stimuli and circumstance lead me to come to certain knee jerk conclusions about how the cloud look and how that makes me feel, the looping back and forth of feeling and perception, an amplification of seeing in the space between me and the sky…I am not saying that the way I see things is the ‘right way,’ or even what a right way might be, and – if such a thing as a right way to see a thing like a cloud or anything else does exist, who is the arbiter of that way, who determines what is ‘right’ (read:true)?
If anything, I am saying that I know that I am not seeing things clearly, because no person has the capacity to see clearly, really. I don’t think we do. We are too limited and bound in our frameworks of defined reality and emotionally charged opinions to be able to have any neutrality or objectivity. However, we can at least get clear on that, and learn a little bit about the ways that we are uniquely distorted in our seeing.
Revenge is a distortion, I think? But, that is not the point I am trying to get to, which is that there is no point. Nothing I am trying to prove anymore, other than maybe my own sheer relentlessness, which – come to think of it – doesn’t need proving because it was proven a long time ago.
It is fascinating to me that I have so, so much internalized stigma and shame and fear tethered to writing and to art. This is because I am, likely by nature and certainly by nurture, a surrealist, a magical realist. For some reason, people in my family think that it was totally cool for Salvador Dali to be a surrealist, but when you talk about anything you are interested in or prod at some subtle absurdity, want to dress like the Little Prince, or have deep and meaningful relationships with objects and spaces, blur the lines, live in a magically real world where everything is alive and connected in ways that we might only be at the outer edge of understanding and that maybe it would be better if we stopped trying to understand so much in a fact-based and researched way, a substantiated way, and just experience the phenomena we study?
This is a loop-around I am employing to ease the fact of me being a shitty researcher in traditional methods of research, due to both lack of experience and lack of innate and active aptitude for the coherent documentation and consistent analysis and reporting style that constitutes quality research. I am skilled at sussing out whether something is research of integrity, just by reviewing the methodology used and finding the holes in it, and I am good at finding the connections between different areas of research across disciplines, and synthesizing relationships between existing knowledge and new information or perspectives.
I am limited in my effectiveness and potential as a researcher due to lack of experience and lack of desire to engage in what I understand to be the tasks that create the work of research. The computers. The talking to people. I like looking at data. Sometimes. For a minute.
I much prefer clouds, personally.
Additional limitations include difficulty with consistent ability to engage certain cognitive and communicative functions that are helpful if not required in most methodologies of research.
Methods of analysis I enjoy are content analysis and coding for content. I like listening to people talk and taking notes, pulling out the themes, l like designing surveys on platforms that provide reports in clear visual formats. I do not like entering data into white spreadsheets, tho can do so for limited periods of time. I am able to enter data into databases fairly quickly, but do not especially love doing it.
There are HUGE gaping holes in my knowledge base as far as information about history, art, religion, math, basically everything. I mean, most people aren’t walking around with a specialized interdisciplinary knowledge of esoteric minutiae and scientific facts in mind at the ready. Considering that I basically dropped out of high school in the 9th grade in South Georgia, after being ‘educated’ in some really terrible school environments, it’s amazing that I even maintained my love of learning, my curiosity and concern for all the worlds I can’t see, that nagging knowing that I can’t unknow that tells me there is so much that I don’t see, so much that I am blind to.
I want to see the world, and – in my spirituality – I want that to be a moment of reverence. Every time I see the world, anything alive, everything alive. Everything. To see the world as sacred.
That is the change I want to be. I want to see.
Let me take a moment to reflect and, more importantly, develop+express a plan for the next ten days, of which today is the first. 09/04.
In ten days, it will be September 13th, and – as I consider the span of significant dates during that time, I recognize that the 20th anniversary of 09/11 is two days prior.
09/11: Essay and compilation of media re: why I quit watching television after 09/11+ways that disengaging from that form of constant media exposure has – to my knowledge & through my assessment at time of essaying and that…
09/09 – 5 days from now – is a nice number and on that day, 09/09, I ought to write an account of the 9 dots I have tattooed on the back of each ear, because the different arithmetics that the numbers hold together is deeply satisfying to me.
In the meantime, I would like to try to capture a coherent synopsis of the focus-plan for the next 10 days, which could be pivotal or inertic. I don’t know if inertic is a word, but it is meant to convey the state of being characterized by inertia.
I’d opt for pivotal, though pivotal in way that is intentional+strategic, tactically sound, with concrete actions and clear objectives, restricting room for chaos shenanigans by design and anticipating…
——^ at which point these notes to myself ended in the early morning and did not resume until 24 hours later, the full first day of the 10 day plan gone by without the creation of the 10 day plan.
It is going to be important that I document in a way that is consistent over the next week and a half and that I stay focused on my measurable objectives and daily to-do lists if I am going to maximize the potential of this small window of time, characterized by confluence of cultural phenomena and a point of maturation in this work, an organic emergence into play with new media that – like all things – could be explored and nurtured, expanded…or could briefly flash and then atrophy, neglected in the strain-economy of keeping up with a daily life that is not structured around ones art, a daily life that – for the most part – involves activities that try as one may to bring art into the progression of movement and orientation through the tasks of the day just really don’t have much directly to do with developing ones art and research projects other than offering an exercise in participant observation and reality orientation as part and process of going to the grocery store and being a figure walking a dog up a hill, a woman in a car driving out to see her sick mother and bewildered father, delaying the work on art, the actions of using media documentation and artifacts of experience synthesizing experience into a format that is an accessible & engaging summary of my work, experience, & interests in different areas, and that also serves as an art piece in and of itself, a little internet island of one person’s experience and what they chose or were able to show of that in the telling of the time. Her work is beginning to cohere, new practices are forming up, ways to manage my energies and attentions to maintain an orientation to and engagement with the processes of art, which means creating the opportunity for ones art work —
It is now 09/06, and although I purchased a planner yesterday – (mid-Sunday morning almost empty parking lot, almost empty office supply store, music playing loudly like a party nobody is coming to, a lone middle-aged woman testing office chairs alone, moving from one to another, half spin, lean back, move on.
I wake up early naturally, have done this my whole life, save for a few dragging slurred years of late-sleeping adolescence and hung-over early adulthood, depressed and avoidant little periods of time when the solace of sleep was much preferable to the anxiety of being awake.
For a very long time, I woke up with fairly hideous morning anxiety, immobilizing dread. I don’t have that anymore, because – over time – I extinguished those synapses, quieted the expectation of and searching for the maw of blaring angst that I used to be consumed by almost every —
–waking moment. Learned, first, to understand that my ‘anxiety’ was connected to stress and trauma, to experiences that correspond to the neurobiochemical state of elevated cortisol, which tends to rise in the early morning as a process of our waking. I learned, slowly, to shift the vigilant attention I would reflexively give to my dread – a function of negativity bias and the human tendency to look for what presents a threat and to orient to it, generating a psychological and sensational experience that is primed to think about, visualize, and anticipate all of the terrible things that might come about from being awake. By developing a perspective of my experience that buffered me from full immersion into what I was conceptualizing and reacting to in the first conscious moments of wakefulness, the narrative of what was happening to me and why, the amount to which I was invested in believing that I was doomed and the cost of that belief in light of the much stronger likelihood that, really, was a person who had had a lot of hard days, a lot of stress-producing experiences in the early light of dawn, getting ready to go to school, go to work, find something to fill the seemingly endless hours stretching out in a way that you understand could theoretically be filled with the possibility of wonderful things, but instead felt more like an inventory of nearly insurmountable challenges, the first of which was the rising from bed despite shaking in your chest and metallic ringing in your ears, weird wooden feeling feet, what the fuck is this body, this heavy tired body that cannot rest, that feels like a cord of electricity all frayed in the wires, thick on the floor and all that terrible shit in your head, the cold numb fluttering thud of your heart in the dark again?
Reading over this writing, she finds herself taking a deep breath, because it is easy to conjure that space, that state. She has the memory-images of those times and she can see how severing they can be, how persuasively seizing they can be, those now-imagined scenes of times and places, rough mornings that she never wants to experience again, and perhaps never will, unless she gets dementia and the part of her brain that is able to recognize that the the ‘anxiety’ is a product of — her nervous systems response-effect of stress will forget that and she will think the horrible dread is how she really feels, what she actually believes. Secq I AQqqqqqqQqqq a q a a qqq q a qaaaqXX [pocket-typing] Vqqqqaqqqq was q(Later)
This project is a culminating experimentyes in love cfsdwcc V ngitudinal research building since 2009s — [pocket typing ^]
I’ve been making these short layered-still videos lately. There is something about the rhythm of the shifting images that reminds me of the slide of water against a bank, subtly arrhythmic, small shifts in timing, tiny slapping wavelets, a breath draw in, held, released.
I have many, many multi-photo capturings of various sky-moment phenomena, dozens of almost the same image, but not quite.
The videos make me feel a little seasick, which – while an undesirable effect, experientially – is interesting, that visual/spatial/sensational outcome of watching the dance of blurred trees at dawn.
The eye tries to find images, patterns. I can feel it searching, even when I try not to look. It’s always scanning, not even knowing what it is looking for, anything familiar, anything to make meaning. The silhouettes of trees become a text, become a slurring story told not in words but in the drift from one layering to another, a visual conveyance of the perceptual process, that effort to see what it is we are looking at, a suggestion of some form we can recognize even as we know it’s only trees we are seeing, only clouds.
I have to remind myself to see a tree as it is, not as a tool or a representation, a ‘tree’ or the ‘shapes’ that it holds, but to fold into my seeing a recognition of bark, the details of lichen and unseen colony, the coolness at the crown, right at the soil itself, breath of earth seeping up and drawing down in the rise and fall of water, wind of billion stomas opening, closing, trembling to life, wood like living bone.
This project is a culminating experiment in one branch of longitudinal experiential research that has developed through emergent process and autoethnographic methodology over the past 12 years.
By design, the work of faithrr as an artist-researcher is virtually unknown.
As a self-taught differently-abled with polymathic tendencies who was not identified as having the learning and processing differences that profoundly shape perception and conception of meaning, faithrr has spent most of her adult life in a state of multiplicities – a worker, a mother, a community member, a person sitting alone on her porch emailing herself notes about the experience of watching clouds, ideas for the latest strategy and analysis of the motivations of that strategy, a play with possible futures, an indulgence in a secret secret, a bold-speaking self, the creator of a massive archive of story, reflection, and image, a bricolage of prose, poems, drawings, excerpted emails, and photographs spanning 12 years in the life of the great-great granddaughter of Georgia State Supreme Court Chief Justice Marcus W. Beck (1905 – ), the man who accepted – on behalf of the South – the as yet unfinished monument to Robert E Lee that was being carved on the face of Stone Mountain, Georgia as part of what would become the largest monument to the Confederacy in the United States.
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, firstname.lastname@example.org
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. “
It’s been a few days since I wrote anything at all, other than a couple brief beginnings of things that I did not finish. My avoidance (of being awake in general and basically everything I ‘need’ to do, but like actually need to do, in order to both keep my daily life going, and also to move forward and not just continue this slump toward yet-another so-called failure, a failure that actually is a failure) has been noticeable, acute anxiety that doesn’t even surface to my knowing, but quickly and effectively, calmly and thoroughly shuts my mind down, like I can’t even form a sentence, subtle waves of utter humiliation lap at the edges of this silence, a confirmation of my inefficacy – a fact I don’t believe, but still feel.
I understand that the only real way to counter this state of immobility (like srsly, I find myself at least 10 times a day frozen in a semi-catatonia except who really knows what catatonia feels like from the inside, whether or not me forgetting I even have a body and just being stuck watching the leaves on the trees without seeing much, transfixed by the unspooling of disparate thoughts and images that burst and puddle and pool in mind, sensations of near breathlessness, breath shallow, hypoxic because I forget I have a body and so forget to breathe) is to move around, do the things, begin the doing, and yet it is like a massive weight – no, not a weight – almost an absence of a weight, an immateriality in my existence as a creature of will and agency, a lack of substance in the strength of my hands and in the damp firing of synapses, no snap, no crackle, no pop…maybe I should start eating breakfast? Maybe I should start running again. Probably.
Here’s the thing: everything changed. Not true, Faith – not everything, not you. You haven’t changed at all. How many times have you done this, let a perfectly good life go to rubbish out of awkward, exhausting avoidance?
If you are going to make this time different, go ahead and do it. Defy the odds set by yourself in all your failures, and get shit done.
That’s the funny thing about this sense of anxiety/avoidance – it’s like not even directed at any particular thing. It’s a globalized sense of dread and overwhelm that muddies what exactly I have to do.
It’s really foolish that I don’t make to-do lists.
Wouldn’t a person who knows they have a very difficult time, ahem, managing their time make a fucking list, keep moving, not just fritter away the days in doing the bare minimum to show up, interspersed with the sweet refuge of naps, a different consciousness entirely.
Maybe today I will do things differently, as an experiment. It’s really very difficult inside my headspace, like a big sprawling tangle. It’s entirely possible that my brain needs rehabilitation, rest, reset.
That wouldn’t surprise me, after the prolonged acrobatics and coping and forcing of this past year.
How many times can a person recover and reset before the basic function is impaired, irreparably bungled?
I don’t think anyone is irreparably bungled, as even profoundly brain damaged people can be rehabilitated to some extent, though I suppose there are accumulating limitations and intransigent damage.
It’s probably important to remind myself that I am a person who – many times over – was diagnosed and treated as having a severe persistent mental illness and whether or not I agree the etiology ascribed to my struggles with the human experience in America in the 20th/21st century, its true that I have had a hard time and that – logically enough – the fact of my hard times and the ways that I have had a hard time do probably make me more vulnerable to impairment, as well as to a death that may come 10-25 years earlier than it perhaps would have had I not had such a hard time, so many times.
So, I was saying something about a to-do list and then remembered, speaking of dying young, that my friend Hoffman died young on May 8th, tho I didn’t know about it until the end of May, an email from his mother, brief and apologetic tho it was her that had lost her second son to some variant of madness. “The medication didn’t work anymore.” This was all she said, and I don’t understand what she meant. I need to write her back. I might have done that already.
Example A of why I ‘can’t get anything done’:
(Factors that contribute to the narrative of inefficacy and its functional outcomes)
I was thinking I need to pull together the documentation of my friendship with Hoffman – which is vast (the documentation and possibly the friendship) – an add it to my autoethnographic projects on the website that I have only worked on minimally – uploaded photos, created galleries. It’s a lot of uploading, a lot of going through old content. So, I was thinking about the to-do list and about Hoffman and autoethnography, and went inside briefly to get an energy drink because I seem to need about 700mg of caffeine – okay, fine – 1,000 probably, with the 2 pills of 200, the coffees and energy drink…hahahaha, no wonder I’m anxious, but srsly, I have no trouble sleeping at all and can fall asleep right after I drink a Red Bull, go back to bed after I take a caffeine pill and feel just as relieved to ‘succumb to sleep.’ I went inside and immediately forgot I was getting a drink, and paused to tell my 18 year old that I was going to make a to-do list, to which he looked amused because how many times has he heard that? Then my mom called and I wandered upstairs to talk on the phone and take a roll of toilet paper to the bathroom, and Bandit the cat was at the foot of the bed, cleaning herself before she sleeps all day, and she let me play with the paws of her feet, some pink and some black, some a mottled blend. She licked my hand and looked drowsy while I told my mom about the dinner I have eaten most every night for two weeks, the only meal I want to eat, supplemented with popcorn, smoothies, and occasional granola, some nuts. Kale and peppers and onion and garlic, black and green olives in abundance, vegan sausage and wide pasta fried in olive oil, vegan cheese melted throughout.
For a month after I moved out of the house on NE 19th, and into the Mitchell Apartments on SE 7th, c. 1997, I ate no meal other than angelhair pasta with stewed tomatoes, mozzarella, bleached white bread that I got from the small grocery store up the street from the Sassy’s strip club, pink lights on rainy streets, early dark, crossing the parking lot on foot to get more bread, more pasta. The comforts of the same thing again and again.
Interestingly, I’m seeing that the brief account above connects to my friend Hoffman because he also lived at the Mitchell, tho several years after I had and in a different apartment. He had Lemeirre’s when he lived there, a sustained high fever, an unidentified illness, a near-death. Also, he left Asheville after living in my spare room for a few months, four or five, when a police officer stopped him as he crossed a parking lot and accused him of stealing a jacket, brought him back to the house, at which point I decided it was probably better for him to return to California, and he did almost immediately, without argument or debate. He had become the strange-thin of people who are not inherently thin and then lose weight suddenly. He slept most of the day and had become accusing and paranoid, obsessed with the potential of lead poisoning as a causative factor in why the world is insane and radiation as a predictive factor in why the world is doomed, both points that I understood and also yet I also understood that I had to pick up the kids from school and not be fucking around with any madness in my house, any ink thrown cross the bed like a curse to which I did not react, because what could I say when my friend who’d been a saving Grace in the spring following the worst winter of my life began to lose his mind even though we were determined to help keep one another well, to be artists or something, except I was working as a peer at the recovery education center and trying to be a normal mom and not get into trouble or create problems or stress or drama for my kids.
The to-do list:
Ah, yes – the example…the dog, with wet paws and a wild morning smile climbs onto the bed and paws at the cat, who stops licking my hand and looks pissed, and my mom is still on the phone as my daughter walks in and there is some mediated hellos, me the proxy, and then I am getting off the phone because there is too much happening with the dog and the cat that I have lifted onto the top bunk of the bed fort I sleep in even though I am supposed to be a fucking adult, and it is time to feed the one-eyed small cat that lives in my daughter’s room because she (the cat, not my daughter) was feral at a house with over 10 cats and even though she is tiny and was born with only 1 eye and only 4 teeth, she had somehow survived to be an adult cat that weighs 4 pounds and so she is special and doesn’t need to deal with any bullshit from any other living thing. She deserves peace and security and knowing her food comes everyday and she gets picked up and held and melts into the hug, merges with me as I cradle her and scratch her chin and I can feel the oxytocin and the easing of my nervous system and she can, too – I’m convinced – because it feels like we are feeling the same thing, tho I can’t be sure.
My son says I need to ignore everything else to make my to-do list, to “treat it like it is work.” I think I should schedule my to-do list time to not be in the morning when things are happening.
Speaking of work, I am supposed to go to a staff meeting that is mandatory as a prn staff for the organization I was working for in a high-responsibility role and from which I have not spoken to anyone in a couple of weeks. Weird.
I woke up this morning not thinking about much, other than the usual assortment of ideas and intentions mumbling in the muted humidity of June dawn. It was easy to ignore, the morning thoughts, impressions just after waking from a too-warm night during which the dog barked and then wouldn’t pee outside and instead laid down like he was going to sleep in the mulch. I think it’s dumb to gender animals. I will just call the dog Nash, that’s the preferred pronoun – his name. Dog. Gendering runs so deep, such a habit in our language and the resultant frameworks of how we see the world. It’s easy to understand why some people geek out about linguistics the interplay of language and culture and meaning, how words begat reality and yet are also reflective of how we wish to understand things or how we simply do understand, whether we wish to or not. It’s a fascinating reflexive relationship. The words we use reinforce reality and Vice verse. ‘Dog’ is a container for the creatures we call dog and how we see them.
I think ‘my dog’ might be ‘an angel.’
There is so much meaning in that sentence.
It is full of assumptions of ownership that are defined by both law and relationship, and images of floaty beings, winged beings, a certain spirit.
Nash’s fur looks like angel wings, golden and pale and with a warm reddish that looks almost pink, and is the color of sun on dried grasses at the beginning or end of a day.
I woke up thinking about two things:
The work I need to do on the website/s.
The need to reach out for support from an author with whom I have a secondary acquaintanceship with, that has created a career in reflecting on their relationship with race and identity and family history in the South, and also about the use of psychiatry as a tool of racism at the Georgia State Hospital in Milledgeville.
Psychiatry and psychiatrists going on TikTok and the need to write a letter to Dr. Martelli to be forwarded to him in his retirement, requesting a summary of my treatment between the years of 1989 and, what, 1992, 1993?
I don’t know, it just went on and on.
The weekly appointments, paid for out of pocket by my family. The two inpatient stays at Charter By The Sea, a facility later closed due to allegations of Medicaid and Medicare fraud by the corporation that operated the private in-patient facilities.
I need to explain to him that it is possible that I may need to file for disability as I enter my mid-forties after a few decades of psychiatric struggles and the resultant impact on my capacities to cope with and tolerate and – more importantly, do – work that is commonly available in the existing job market. My cognition is all fucked up in regard to some things, a lot of things actually, and I have serious challenges with stress-vulnerability factors. I should have gotten on disability in 2000, 2001, and then maybe again in 2010. I could never do the paperwork though, and – besides – still very much wanted to work and tried to work, and yet could never work full-time with much success and the times I tried I ended up in the hospital. So, I have never had much economic success, tho’ have had relative security (pun possibly intended) at least as far as keeping a roof over my head and food, basic and additional resources for the two young people that I had a part in creating and raising.
I know I have said it before, and I will probably say it again. If not for my family’s resources, I would likely be dead or homeless. I might be happier homeless and with no expectations placed on me to be a productive member of a working world that was not built for the health and well-being of people such as myself, but the increased risk of trauma that comes with being a homeless female in a country with a strong rape culture would likely mean that I would not be happier, though I would technically be more free – or less impeded – to just be who I am without social punishment beyond the social punishment reserve for the homeless and the crazy…this line of thought is not panning out to make much sense. It would suck to be homeless. It also sucks to be in a long-standing financial codependency with ones family because you are differently-abled and have basically be left to figure all this crap out yourself because despite people (one’s family included) deciding that you have a mental illness, you are still expected to be able to do all the things that people of normative experience and ability are able to do.
There is some sneering dick in my head, that I’m sure I’ve identified before in response to me sharing my experiences of frustration re: social and economic expectations of normative participation in the working middle-class American lifestyles and activities – like, I’m, going to work everyday to a job I hate and doing it anyway at the expense of my ability to be present and happy in my life because I’m so tired and blitzed with dumb information and petty bs that doesn’t even matter because I have to earn wages to pay for a house and a car and all the fixin’s of a ‘normal American life’ – (which – increasingly – includes closeted alcoholism, conspiratorial delusions, quiet white supremacy, gluttonous destruction of the environment, and child suicide attempts).
Anyway, I was thinking about psychiatry and about even googled – not for the first time – my old psychiatrist’s image, and considered how important it is that I make a request to him for a summary of my diagnosis and treatment. Depression. Bipolar. Pamelor, Prozac, lithium. Lithium toxicity. Getting my blood drawn in the hall by the reception desk. Falling out with a wild metallic ringing in my ears at the reception desk of another doctor, my pediatrician who did not like me and who no longer wanted to treat me, which was fine because I was a teenager anyway, I could drive a car, was on birth control (because I had no sexual boundaries despite also having no real sex desire) – a terrible implant that made me bleed all the time and that I had removed.
I wondered if I should sue my old psychiatrist for malpractice, iatrogenic harm. He had access to the psych eval my parents had done when I was twelve, the year before I “got sent to Charter” (which was a phrase common in the dialect of my hometown and its many troubled teens, almost a rite of passage for bad kids and weird kids, kids whose Southern Baptist parents thought they were into devil worship because they listened to Slayer and smoked weed. I didn’t listen to Slayer, or smoke weed.
For the most part, I still listened to Poison and Bon Jovi and 95.1 WAPE, the top 40. Some Led Zeppelin, a Metallica tape, The Rolling Stones. I was upset a lot – ‘flying of the handle,’ and screaming about how I wished I’d never been born, slamming doors, biting my hands, punching myself occasionally when especially explosive in my adolescent rage and grief, the reasons for which were totally off my radar.
The transition from being ‘normal’ to being ‘a kid with problems’ happened all the sudden, one day they were at school, and then they’d be gone, ‘sent to Charter.’
There is probably a statute of limitations for pediatric psychiatry malpractice suits. Ah, yes, as I was saying – Dr. Martelli had access to the records from the psych eval that got me a diagnosis of depression, which was probably not inaccurate because I was in puberty and watching my hometown turn into a military town and my dad sold the land and I saw places I loved – even our very own dirt road home – get destroyed and paved over. Of course, nobody talked about any of that because my depression was ‘caused by a chemical imbalance. She may need to take medication, possibly for her whole life.’
The psych eval also said I was basically almost a genius, or something like that. An IQ of 151, learning and processing differences.
I guess the mental health professionals of the late 1980s just didn’t think that would matter much as far as mental health vulnerabilities. Idiots.
They just thought that because I was ‘smart,’ I should be able to figure out how not to be a fuck-up and that my being a fuck-up was somehow an insult to my smartness, a waste of it, a disappointment because I had ‘so much potential.’
I’ve said that before – made that point about the dark side of being seen as ‘smart’ by people who don’t know anything about intelligence or learning.
One thing that has occurred to me is that I could do a thematic analysis of all this writing and pull out the things I say over and over again, the stories I tell and retell or make reiterative allusion toward. This is a drawn out recursive process of figuring out what is important for me to tell.
So far, it’s taken 12 years and I’ve told about a lot of things that aren’t important, and maybe the things that I think are important really aren’t – except I know, I know in my bones and in my heart that they are, that there are kids out there right now who are literally dying because people don’t understand them and want them to just be normal.
I mean, seriously. There is all this dialogue about youth mental health and these seas of information about learning styles and trauma and mental health and yet the story that is told continues to be this reductionist tale of mental illness and it hurts people.
I wonder if it’s possible to sue the American Psychiatric Association?
By the time they met, she already believed in divine interventions – the way that the follies of circumstance sometimes align to create opportunities and barriers, sometimes just simple lessons that may seem like bad luck at the time.
She doesn’t realize that every topic she has selected represents a ton of work. Even for topics that she has a fair amount of content for, there is the process of editing and uploading, formatting and transcribing, re-naming and compiling. It is an enormous amount of work. She has spent hours fiddling with photo layouts that might not even load correctly and that may need to made into a different portfolio altogether, or even a video.
Fortunately, at least today and yesterday, she feels actually interested and excited in the process of putting together a semi-coherent and easily navigable website to showcase the accumulation of variably skilled artwork across several different media, and to create a space where she can continue to work on projects in process and have all the existing content in development in one place. I think a lot of artists keep their works in progress secret, and don’t show the mess that leads to the final presentation. As a person who has spent much of her life trying to figure out how to do things in a way that is efficient and yet authentic, focused and simultaneously open to things not going quite as planned, disciplined, but not perfunctory.
I just went on a little tangent of dialects relating to what I envision an optimal set of characteristics or attributes for self-directed work. Efficiency alone is a challenge – because some processes are not efficient by nature, nor should they be. Life and living is a complex and adaptive meandering across myriad factors, domains, pasts and potentials. It’s not efficient. Nonetheless, papers have to be written and household chores done, emails answered, a hundred little tasks that move us through our days. In art, I sacrifice a lot of efficiency, because I don’t like the feeling of having to finish something in a certain way, in a certain time frame. I am not a production artist beyond objects like paper cranes made out of cloud photos, wire birds twisted during meetings. Objects with mindless mechanics in their making, soothing to the hand, repetitive motions. Sometimes – okay, often – I don’t finish art projects, paintings or textiles, assemblage left on mantles, stored in boxes.
I really need to revisit my how to be an artist that changes the world series, which I recorded only one video for, that is kind of hokey and my hair looks bad and there is hideous lighting at the end. I seem to be procrastinating a follow up episode. It is probably important that I go ahead and make that happen, follow up. I have good ideas for episodes and ways to fold my otherwise-isolated and not-held-accountable completely inefficient process of accounting for my art and taking inventory of my art supplies, etc. discussing what it means to change the world and a couple of my potential projects which I believe have the capacity to change the world, both of which are exceptionally lofty and also possibly dangerous, but only because there are -ironically – a lot of crazy people out there. I say ironically because people will say I am crazy and have said I am crazy before. However, given some of the utterly atrocious madness that is unfolding across the world and the general anything-goes landscape of culture and economy that I find myself existing in, i am just really not that crazy and even if I am, it doesn’t matter and the nuances of my particular crazy may actually be important and relevant to lives beyond my own in that I am a person who was not identified as having profound learning and processing differences (we’re talking multiple standard deviations from the normative modes of interpretation and meaning making, a very different way of inhabiting the experiences of thought and idea and feeling, and yet I am not alone – there are other folks who are more like me than the vast majority of the population and who I am – perhaps – more like, with the clause of everyone being different and nobody being the same, etc.) and who instead was identified as having a manipulative personality and a severe persistent mental illness and whose ways of being differently abled were totally unseen and unrecognized. I also grew up in an interesting place, and my family history is full of mysteries and what may well be curses.
Anyway, I have to go pick my daughter up from work in 4 minutes.
It’s like over an hour later. Jeez.
I don’t understand how two nearly grown humans, a couple of cats, and one puppy can be so utterly time consuming. Who am I kidding?
No wonder I was so stressed out and exhausted when I was trying to show up to a bunch of zoom meetings and respond to a ton of emails about wildly different subjects and functions, anchored to waaaaay too many relationships and professional expectations.
From this point forward, I will cease in reiterating self-defeating barrier narratives and will no longer see myself as unseen. I will be seen. I am seen. I will be discovered. I am discovering myself and recognizing the value of my work. I have worked hard and deserve to be recognized for both my efforts and for my achievements. I recognize myself.
The tricky thing about naming what it is you are recovering from is that it is very easy to inadvertently reinforce the perception of oneself as a…victim, or as one who is powerless.
I do not want to be in any relationship – intimate, familial, or economic – that takes my power from me, or asks (as a condition of the relationship) that I compromise my power (to make choices in what I participate in and to define my own values and to not be complicit in things that are harmful to me or to others) in ways I am not comfortable with in warped and confusing tests of loyalty, obedience, kindness, humility, intelligence, or love.
It was a severance,
not-quite-clean splitting in the middle of April,
movement from one season
dripping and pooling and tearing
to be shaped by the absences
of so much that had seemed
like it might last forever
the heat came in saffron at dawn
already a haze
rain the sky will not let loose
no matter how hard we pray
I recall a haiku right before taking a nap yesterday, which was the day that I got the email that Hoffman had died. Passed away was what his mother said, poor woman with two dead sons, both victims of LA in their own way. Heroin and madness, respectively.
My ex-lover left for Maine in the morning.
My son came into the room grumbling about a 28mm socket. It was hot af and I was not asleep, but still thinking about the haiku, was certain that I’d remember it, but I don’t. Not at all.
Yesterday was difficult, a low energy and my head glutted with memory, dull grief in my chest, the pressure to travel to my parent’s house in the afternoon, to visit with my mom and her sister after they got back from the cancer doctor. A feeling of pure not-wanting-to-go.
How much of what is called anxiety is a not wanting to do a thing? Not wanting to perform, to show up and be engaging and pleasant, conversational in the right ways?
I went through the motions of getting ready to go, and then called my mom and told her that I wasn’t going to, that I just couldn’t. I told her Hoffman died, and —— went to Maine. I hadn’t slept the night before because it was hot and sweaty and full of dreams about flooding highways under construction and buses filling with water and that neighborhood on a hillside that sometimes I dream about, the twisting streets and potted plants in driveways, people in the houses, always a borrowed house, and my daughter was not my daughter, but had been born to someone else.
I didn’t feel well yesterday, but told my doctor I was fine in a chipper enough tone when they called to ask how the new prescription was going.
Can I be honest about something? Yes. Yes, you can. You are writing an email to yourself, Faith. Nobody is reading this. It doesn’t matter what you say here. Your headspace is a mess? Is that what you want to say. Well, duh. All morning you’ve been walking around with your brain in some sort of muddled, flooded overdrive, with gestalt knowings and entire narratives tumbling around over one another, a distinct sense of social anxiety that you recognize as having been with you almost forever, and you’re scrambling to figure out how to move forward and what to do, and all the possible things you might do are unfolding and retracting in your mind space as you stand in the yard with the dog and you through the ball with the sun coming up through the trees and you realize you seem totally ‘alright’ – you are dressed and you are not crying. You’re not doing some crazy shit. You’re throwing the ball for the dog and trying to focus on your deep breaths in and your deep breaths in through your nose as you consider an essay about how running taught you how to breath again, how to be in your body and – with that consideration, tossed up into the swirling mix of thoughts about how truly problematic it is to have everything all in a jumble in your head, and how you are supposed to have done a hundred things and none of them got done, which is not to say that you did nothing, but that you didn’t build a website or cut the dead wood out of the hedge trees or complete a content analysis of your great-great grandfather’s totally over-the-too Lost Cause glorification of Robert E. Lee and how you really need to say something about that today, and then there is the matter of being a mealy-mouthed apologist in your effort to not offend the Sons of Confederate Veterans or something like that – some vague and vehement irrational audience that you are speaking to, and holding the balloon of knowledge that your voice doesn’t really matter much in the sea of all the voices and that you really have no way of being effective in this dialogue of existing that requires a constant and engaging social media feed and the ability to talk to people consistently and it is with no small measure of silent internal alarm that you recognize how seriously and severely and persistently you are impaired in your capacities to say shit and do things and what the fuck are you going to do about that.
The thought of drawing and painting feels like an oasis, a thoughtless oasis, where you don’t have to do anything but focus on the pull of water and pigment across paper.
Your mother is going to the cancer doctor again today. It is the anniversary of George Floyd’s murder, and the person you love and who you lived with is getting onto a plane to Bangor, Maine. You’re supposed to have a meeting with the NAMI guy and the Operations Director and two other people at 9:00 and you almost shudder to think about actually showing up because you feel frozen in your voice and your executive function is fucked and you can’t stand to hear the talk of SPMI and the two-syllable softness of the NAMI word. As much as you can’t stand the thought, the NAMI guy is probably the only one at the meeting who would actually get any mention of impaired cognitive and executive function, social difficulties. These are SPMI issues.
She doesn’t think she has an SPMI, other than almost unrelenting depression and profoundly normative social anxiety and an inconsistent capacity to do effective work for other people because she is continually nagged by a sense of higher vocation that she is beholden to through ancestral debt and reconciliation responsibilities that are indicated to her through a sensation of knowing and idea and through small circumstances which are interpreted by her to mean that she is either in moving in the right direction or the wrong direction.
I have learning and sensory processing differences, and am perhaps on the autistic spectrum, just as two of my immediate family members are on the autistic spectrum, and also have learning and sensory processing differences. If I reflect on the experiences and circumstances that surround my episodes of ‘mental health crisis’ – those periods of time when I found myself increasingly unable to regulate stress responses, perform socially, and participate in work that requires complicated executive function tasks and social intricacies, and I began to find myself in a panic because I couldn’t make my brain work and I didn’t want to talk to anyone, but I had to keep showing up, and my mind went more and more blank as the things I needed to do piled up inside all jagged and echoing these whispers of what a lazy fuck up I am and how I really need to get my shit together and just figure it out and do the things. This is the messaging I have received my whole life and the messaging that I continue to receive from my family and from the world at large. I can feel in my chest a sense of frustrated sadness around the fact that nobody has ever said – “You know what, Faith? You are a differently-abled person. You have remarkable strengths and gifts and you have worked so hard to try to use your strengths to create something useful, or helpful, or beautiful in the world. You experience thinking and feeling and sensing in ways that less than 3% of the population does. YOU ARE DIFFERENT. This doesn’t mean you are better or worse than anyone else in the world. You are just different. Different is not special. Everyone is different. It is obvious that you have tried really hard to fit in and find a place for yourself in the world, and we know it has been difficult to do things like go to school and show up to a job when you are struggling in your experience and can’t think right and can’t calm down. It is amazing that you have learned so many skills to try to help yourself to do the things that are expected of you, and we’re sorry that sometimes it was so hard that you just couldn’t do it, and you hurt yourself because you didn’t know what else to do and felt so terrible about yourself. You are a really good person, with an amazing mind. Given who you are and your life experiences, it makes total sense that you would have a hard time earning money and being social in the ways that people expect you to. Why don’t you try to just be you, and we’ll trust that – with time – you will forge a way to live so that your life isn’t so hard for you to show up for?”
Today I went to a couple of meetings hosted online by the organization that I was employed by and where I thought I was still ‘PRN staff’. When I tried to clock in for the meeting, I was informed that nobody by my name was ‘Active Staff’ and that I should talk to my administrator. That means I was taken off the payroll. Aside from a brief conversation in a parking lot last month, where it was decided that I would remain PRN and yet also file for unemployment, I haven’t really talked with anyone from the organization. It’s the same sort of thing that happened with my longtime roommates in 1997, where I was just cut out of their lives with no real explanation after I moved out. I had expected to still be friends, but we weren’t and nobody told me why. Similarly, in my departure from the Icarus Project after they decided to hire someone else for my role without really telling me why, nobody ever explained to me what I’d done wrong, but I remember feeling like people had talked about me, and the question about what I had thought about my recent participation in meetings. I thought I had been doing fine, well even, especially given that other people were not always on their a-game and it seemed okay for them.
There is something about me that some people don’t like, something challenging or disconnecting, that minimizes me and files my efforts to contribute under ‘ignorable.’
I think that sometimes I can be too direct, and that other times I am passive aggressive and use long-winded rhetorical flair to make my points especially cutting in a way that is not technically impolite, but that probably makes people uncomfortable.
I only do this when I feel strongly about something and when I believe I am not being heard or being asked to compromise my values or when I see something happening that needs to be acknowledged and that nobody is acknowledging.
In any event, there was a feeling of relief as I sat in the work meeting and heard about the new rules they will have to be enforcing at the city’s hotel shelter project, and how something that was intended to create the dignity and safety of shelter has now become a little carceral in the restrictions being put forth because of some of the problems that have arisen from rapidly transitioning people who are in active addiction and who struggle with profound trauma and mental health difficulties and who were living outside into an EconoLodge and a Ramada Inn.
I have other things I need to be working on, my www.imfinethankyou.net site primary among them. I am redesigning that space to better serve my purposes as a not-yet-emerging-but-possibly-emergent artist and writer, as an experimental autoethnographer, and as a person who has zero interest in being complicit in systems and economies that I recognize as being harmful to living things and to the potential futures of the planet and its myriad inhabitants. That’s a fairly sweeping statement, I know. I should make a visual diagram of what that statement holds. Speaking of visual diagrams – I made a draft of an explanatory graphic re: why people kill themselves, in broad terms, and have thought some about how to use digital collage and text to refine the basic idea and design.
That would be something on the to-do list that I never made this morning.
The house beside the one she lives in is a sober living house with the exact same floor plan as her home, except mirrored so that the two bathrooms face one another, and sometimes when she is walking up the stairs she can see through the landing window that one of the “guys” is walking up the stairs indoors. Last night the dog was barking and barking and barking, looking out the landing window and watching as a former resident of the house next door entered the yard, leaving the gate open, and then went and knocked on the door. It was almost 4:00am. The dog barked and barked until she came downstairs and took him outside, and blurry-eyed saw the gate open, stopped the dog from running into the night after scent and curiosity with a sharp discouraging noise, the “EHHT!” that has been used to correct dogs in her family for decades, a reflex-friendly noise that means “No!”
Sitting in the dark with a light rain falling, not caring and wondering what the barking had been about, if the person who was keeping some of their clothing in a bin on the porch had come by in the middle of the night, and feeling a little perturbed at the thought of it, but too tired to really care or to deal with it at all, the coming by, the banging on the door. Even in the daylight, she didn’t like the feeling of being intruded on, and yet simultaneously was disgusted by her privilege in being a person that had the luxury of feeling intruded upon, the luxury of a door that locks, a porch to sit on, a choice in who she inhabits space with.
She watched as one of the neighbors parked across the street in the middle of the night, coming home. Petting the dog on the chest and whispering hush, trying to be quiet because she didn’t know what to say to her neighbor at 4am and felt awkward.
“Is that you, Faith?”
“Yeah, it’s me. Is everything okay?”
The neighbor explained that someone who had lived at the house, but not for a long time, had come by knocking, “tweaked out of his mind.”
“He paid me 60 bucks to take him to a hotel. Made me promise I wouldn’t call 911. Thought a bunch of people were after him or something. He kept saying he wasn’t high, but he obviously was.”
Haha – still in Gmail, I was talking to my son on the phone about mountain bike repair, proprietary tools, designed obsolescence, and financial security philosophy and practice. I face-dialed my name ( plus v_–_) and the above emoji sequence.
“I like things to be planned. I have to see the numbers before I am going to trust that resources I am not in control of are there before I make a purchase. We’re very different in that way. You think about it differently, probably because there always were resources.”
One afternoon about five years ago, after the sword fighting in the park, the day summer-hot, she sat in the car with her children before ordering pizza to pick up on the way home. Dialed the number and entered the last four digits, pressed 2, and learned that she only had 13.84 in her checking account, which was her only account, she had cut her hours back at work, needing to regroup and have a break from the hour commute in the morning after dropping her kids off, the anxious rush home on Mondays to pick them up. Blazing hot traffic jams. The lack of a single-day during which she did not have something important to show up for, so that she could show for other important things, like trying to be an artist and write a book.
These were mostly secret goals, down-low goals and she allowed people to think that she was like any of the millions of people who want to write books and be an artist and who probably never will, and who might not even be that good at writing or art by any measure, subjective and technical and ethical.
(Interesting these measures she identified, the subjective, technical, and ethical. She would like to expand on those terms, define them and explore her thoughts about how they are measures of quality in art and writing.)
Something shifted in her a little after the 12 year anniversary of her note-taking and paying attention to clouds and inhabiting the third person, a participant-observer of herself. Twelve years is a long time to do something in near-secret. Odds are that the longer a person does a thing, the more likely they are to be discovered to have been doing it. As I wrote out the above sentence, I wondered if it was true. I think in matters of Vice and art, it might be true, but not necessarily. What do I even mean, “discovered.” There – for me – is a sensation of being caught in the word, rather than a sensation of being recognized favorably for doing a thing. That makes sense to me, that I would feel a “getting caught” feeling around this ongoing project.
For years, she has periodically imagined the person who might be taken by a phrase or by the mere existence of this behemoth depository of email-saved drafts and unrefined poems* and who might be the sister of an editor or an agent, a person who sees books in big piles of story, a person who can see the diamond in the rough.
At this point, she is no longer looking for anyone to tell her whether or not her writing is any good. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. She can feel the difference, and notices when she is being dumb in her thinking or insufferable in tone. Even after sussing out the validity of the perceptions of ‘dumb’ and ‘insufferable’ by seeing what voices, experiences, and perspectives these assessments might be rooted in, she has to admit that some of her writing is simply bad.
Then she has to remind herself that not everybody likes “good writing.” The Average American only reads at a 5th grade level. Still, some ways of telling a story are better than others, and she has learned those ways only by instinct gleaned from the stories she has read, certain shine in certain phrases, a satisfying cadence and syllable sound.
She doesn’t know many literary terms beyond what might be taught in Comp 101, which she took in a meeting/presentation theater room at the Trident Training Facility at Kings Bay Nuclear Submarine Base, St. Mary’s, Georgia as a post-GED student at the satellite campus of the Georgia Military Academy, which was based in Milledgeville at the time. Milledgeville is also where the State Hospital used to be, and where her great-great grandfather (The Judge) may have died, but she isn’t sure.
There is so much to research.
The atmospheric qualities that shape clouds the look of ancient letters, the science behind what she sees as defying the typical currents of wind and air and water. Her great-great grandfather’s death. Her great-grandfather’s death. Her mother’s family. Lebanese names. Literary terms.
My phone is at 10%. Today I woke up feeling like maybe it would be a quiet day, a day during which I did not get much accomplished and possibly felt like crap because of hormones and the dog barking at the tweaky ex-neighbor in the middle of the night. However, that has not been the case. I got up and got dressed. Fed animals and loved on them to establish a fresh oxytocin bond for the day for the benefit of their health and mine. I let ________ use the phone because they got frustrated and smashed theirs, just like they got frustrated and smashed a car’s window with a rock, and told off a bus driver to the extent they were banned, and almost lost access to the FQHC, and got charges from telling off a landlord and…the list goes on. Somehow, it has not occurred to the system of care that this person (who has been homeless for over two years, almost three years, and who is over age 55 and who has a disability) might not be able to effectively self regulate their emotions and communication styles because they are sick and tired and have had a huge amount of trauma and poverty in their life and every freaking day. Someone just needs to get this person a damn apartment. Just give them the keys. Housing First is more like jump through flaming hoops of bullshit in uncoordinated systems of care and act grateful as fuck that someone is helping you fill out the forms even if they are a dick to you and even if they disrespect you don’t say anything or you won’t get your housing because you aren’t working hard enough or cooperating with the process or being patient even though you have to wait months or years to even get the housing that by law you are entitled to. First. All those things – the bullshit and the waiting and the forms and the rude, ineffective people who are burnt out because the systems they work in are broken – all of that comes first in Housing First.
Gave them a ride to the arts district, went to get a different nose ring installed. A small pink gold band, tight fitting. Got some energy drinks for the afternoon at the house alone and the intent to get something done with her time as far as building the website/s logging her job searches so she can keep getting unemployment, use this time well, not fuck it up, etc.
*echoing iterations of the same handful of stories and topics that she has been trying to learn how to tell about and to figure out what she actually believes and doesn’t believe, and why.
I’ve been focusing (I initially wrote ‘trying to’ – but, caught myself in the habitual linguistics of falling short) on developing content for my arts-focused website and – to a lesser extent, as far as actual productive creation goes, my ‘professional’ site, for which I’ve not yet gotten an LLC, but will soon because I need to be able to write things like ring lights off of any future taxes.
It is so fucking hard for me to stay focused. Like, ridiculous.
Recognizing that I am a) coming out of a period of profound burnout that seriously strained some of my capacities to the point of loss of skill and ability and that b) I have not had the opportunity to develop a set of focus skills specific to the independent creation of media projects and media products that are oriented toward art and service, and c) the whole world is still reeling and scattered from the (ongoing) pandemic and total reality upheaval (thank god) that has thus far characterized this century, and d) my mom has cancer and I am a person who struggles with depression and anxiety, all of which can impact focus and task-orientation, I am not considering this difficulty in focus to be a fixed attribute of my cognition or executive function.
I get that I am able to focus sometimes and that there are internal and external factors that affect my focus. Right now, being at home with the youth and the young dog and my future (I almost wrote looming, but it’s not looming. It’s not uncertain. I am going to be an artist and a writer and a change-maker. I am going to share ideas and perspective and experience for the purpose of perhaps helping that anonymous kid in a basement that I always think about possibly stay alive.
I don’t know why it’s always a basement, like a rec room in a ranch house in the suburbs or something, some kid hating their life and their parents grieving and freaking out because their kid wants to commit suicide and has a mental illness, etc. It could be anyone, I guess – that maybe me sharing some of the key things I learned doing recovery education classes for eight years and staying alive myself through all kinds of grueling times might help. There might be someone who does not find anything that I have to say useful or relevant to their experience. That’s fine.
I am convinced that there is someone out there who might really need to hear me talk about mental health.
So, I need to help that person find my voice, and that means getting my voice out there, and that means videos and possibly podcasts, and indirect potential voice-amplification opportunity projects involving art and story.
I don’t need to write that my future is looming and uncertain. It isn’t.
I know what I want to do, and I know how to do it, and I am ready to do it. All of it. Bit by bit.
So, that is pretty awesome, huh?
I have chosen my path, or – rather – I have surrendered to the path that I’ve known is mine for a very long time.
I woke up wondering about the lunch meeting I had agreed to – ‘a brainstorming’ – with a person who I respect and appreciate and who therefore triggers both my social anxiety and my social/professional efforts to please and impress, which leads to masking and also to me doing things like suggesting a lunch restaurant that they might enjoy despite the fact that I don’t enjoy going out to lunch and I know the meeting will exhaust me – the movement and noise of cars and people, forks on plates, water glasses being refilled.
I already know I probably can’t work on their project unless by some miracle my brain becomes some other brain, some productive and focused brain that does not balk at the thought of a database.
Name me a steward. I’ll agree to nothing, but to witness, tend.
Ah. Yes. The cancer doctor appointment. That thing I did today without really thinking about it at all, without feeling it. May as well have been a trip to the grocery store with my mother, a routine check up.
I could tell the news wasn’t the greatest, because of how Raeleen was talking, chipper and seeming to draw out the small talk that has gotten more personal, more personable over the months and months my mother has had appointments at Hope. I focused on a mole that might be a sty in the corner of Raeleen’s left eye, and tried to imagine her riding a bike, having a life, as she and my mom talked about some weekend plans she’d had a month ago, when the cancer marker was at 86. An almost infinitesimal number compared to 3900, which is what the cancer marker was when she began treatment last summer, a year ago. The doctor took out most of the cancer marker making cancer cells in the fall, during the do-or-die surgery that removed my mother’s belly button, along with most of what had been contained within her abdominal cavity. My father recounts the conversation with the doctor after surgery, the doctor’s exclamation that “everything was fused together. I’d never seen anything like it.”
Raeleen asked my mom if her fatigue had gotten worse. “Well,” my mom explained, “it’s not terrible. I wake up and have a couple of good hours of energy in the morning and then I have to go to bed in the mid-afternoon, and maybe I can rally again in the late afternoon, but…”
“It’s a familial trait,” I broke into the narrative of my mother’s fatigue. “I’m the same way.”
Raeleen looked at me like I was not making sense. Was I really as fatigued as my mother who is slow-dying of cancer?
I shrugged. “We have the siesta gene,” making a joke of the our familial fatigue while explanations of melatonin levels and learned behavior flit through my mind and I wish I was taking a nap.
Raeleen cocked her head, made a noise that was not quite a laugh.
“It’d be nice to live somewhere where that was part of the day, wouldn’t it?”
I knew she’d be at work all day. All of the people in the building would be at work all day. I would not be at work all day, and had hardly ever been at work all day, in the same building all day long, indoors under fluorescent lights, sitting in the same chair, moving along the same halls, back and forth all day long.
She discovered that, on days when she really could not stand being at school, when 9:30am felt like staring down the barrel of a gun and she could feel herself walking away from the building, running inside as the plain-face of the clock bore a mocking witness to her sitting there in the desk in a room full of people – her peers – that she did not talk with, that she felt like she couldn’t connect with, didn’t want to connect with, had no interest in spending the day with. She wanted to be at home, alone in her room. She discovered, on days that the wanting to run was a blaring under her skin and her head felt like a lump of clay set atop her body, arms cold and prickled in the air that was not cool at all, an inner chill, she figured out that she could ask to be excused, say there was something wrong with her contact lens, go to the bathroom put water into her eye, let her contact fall into the sink. It didn’t matter. The brown paper towels pleated into the dull metal dispenser bolted into the cinder block wall – like a prison or a health department – were perfectly textured to irritate the eye, and when she scraped them – dry, but dampening, the sick-smell of wet paper all around her face – across the surface of her eye, she felt that it hurt, that her eye wanted to close, and she pressed harder, set-jaw and determined to inflict injury sufficient to silence any questions of whether or not she should be allowed to call home, to have her mom come pick her up. Only when her eye would not open after the scratching, when the right side of her face would scrunch with the look of the light blurred and fractured through the sticky feeling seep of tears that her eye would not stop crying, only then would she be satisfied, because she would get to leave school, go home again.
It is the day of the Strawberry Moon, a moment I missed in the driving around, the heat of the parking lot, air pump busted – again – tin foil somehow stretched and held over the hidden coin mouth, and so I drive away wondering what it is like to try to break through metal in the middle of the night for a handful of quarters, the desperately simple chaos of never having enough, only needing more…full moon rising in a blue-hued sky unnoticed, save for a brief span of feeling like I was home again, and happy.
I’ve been making draft videos about mental health. I say ‘you know’ and ‘like’ way too much and am sometimes circuitous in getting to the point. My levels of confidence are vacillating pretty significantly these days. Rapid cycling, haha. However, the sting of low confidence is not so bad as it was, and I have – I think – reached a point of healthy disregard for ideals of perfection and people pleasing. I will never say or do anything if I continue to be wary of what people will think. I know that – somewhere in here – I have written about how it makes a lot of sense that I would be nervous about offending people’s sensibilities about what is and is not okay for a person to say or do. Continuing to mediate who I am with precautionary edits of what is made visible to others keeps me the victim of snarky kids from my hometown, and mean, small-worlded people who don’t know anything about art.
My kids are almost 17 and 19 now. Nobody can take them away from me again, other than themselves of their own volition, their choice to be (or not to be) in relationship with me as a person who is their mother or as a person in general whose company and connection is valued.
I have little to lose at this point, and that is a very good position to be in. I do run the risk of not trying hard enough, of being sloppy or irreverent in the small window of opportunity that I have. I could waste time, or tumble right back into another job that usurps my headspace and energies, another set of social relationships that silence me and exhaust me, another muck of narrative around not having time.
I don’t want to do that.
This morning I researched the so-called Atlanta race riots of 1906, the year after my great-grandfather became a judge. I have been using most of my writing energy toward building and editing content for my art website, which – in ways – is a more organized extension of this space. A distilled version of what I have been doing here for all these years.
Everyday I am thankful that I did not stop making notes and paying attention and reflecting, that even during the times my voice was quiet, I wondered where it had gone and what I needed to do to bring it back.
Since leaving my job and ending my relationship, finally having some blessed time alone to be present with the existence of the world and to feel out what I need to pay attention to, what is important beyond an individual’s emotional and social needs, an organization’s ever-consuming to-do list, to prioritize my time to reflect what really matters to me, which right now is being present with and emotionally/socially available to my two almost-grown kids as they fledge out into the world, and being present with the slow-but-imminent death of my mother, and telling whatever story I might need to tell in my life to put my soul at peace and reconcile some long-standing dissonance in my spirit, appease some old ghosts, because I could die at any time – any of us could.
This morning I considered drawing a card to gauge my fortune, but I had no real need to. I know that if I continue to work toward showing who I am and what I have tried to express over the past 13 years, if I am brave in sharing of my experience and of my heart and of my hard-earned still-learning wisdom, then everything will work out fine. That I am and will be blessed, so long as I follow my heart.
I think I finally found faith.
A condo collapsed in Miami and an acquaintance reached out to me, saying they hadn’t seen me on social media. As I was walking the dog a bit later, I wondered if something had happened, if yet another person I knew had died, or was dying or something. If there was an event or occurrence that I ought to know about and do not know about.
Tomorrow my mother has a CT scan to see what is happening with her cancer, to inform possible treatment options that may stem the proliferation of damaged cells that just won’t die. Is there an exponentiality in the growth and replication of cancer cells, the more you have, the more you’ll get because they multiply fast and don’t die like they should? I notice, standing at the counter in the kitchen, cutting up garlic and onion and thinking about her mother making spaghetti, as she reported that she had today, after I mentioned her making lentils and rice in ratio with spaghetti dinners, that I am sad that my mother has to get the CT scan, that I do not want her to have to withhold food and water for 2 hours, to have to have her port accessed, to be thirsty and prodded at.
Yesterday, no – day before yesterday, I went to my mom’s cancer appointment with her and it is hard for me to acknowledge the reality of the situation. I find myself not thinking about it, and when I notice myself thinking about it, I feel a tired and dull, a sick weight in me. Somaticized grief? The fatigue of being awake to know all the things that one knows when awake?
I have been writing about cloud watching, and that whole period of time thinking about perceptions and experiences of God and gods as they may and may not relate to cloudforms.
That period of time has never really entirely stopped, since although there were spans of weeks and maybe even months when my thinking about God and clouds became very distant, something I almost forgot and then remembered, but didn’t hold tight to, didn’t give time to, except to sometimes notice a cloud that looked like a triangle, that looked like a letter, a bird in flight, a fox’s keen eyes, and to notice – sometimes – the feeling of a greater set of workings in my life, a peculiar sort of resonance in the crossing paths with strangers or the songs playing on the radio.
I have been writing about it some, as a summary, an introduction, a distillation of that ongoing endeavor which still holds so much wonder and so many questions for me. Because I have been writing about clouds and perceptions of God, interpretations of God, and because I am currently unemployed – again, just like 11 years ago, unemployed in the early summer, looking at the sky following a rough time of transition and loss – and have time to take walks and look at the sky, I am watching the clouds again, taking a few photographs here and there. Being that person standing on the side walk taking pictures of the sky. In many ways, the circumstances of eleven years ago are similar to some of the things happening in my life currently – tho, there are definite differences. No family conflict, and whole lot more skills around staying grounded and keeping my spirit oriented toward blessing and gratitude and graciousness, a far more certain sense of who I am.
Yesterday, I was walking up toward the intersection where the Varick Chapel sits quiet on the corner across from the bus stop. A woman was waiting for the bus, or was sitting on the bench, looking like she was waiting for the bus, like she had somewhere to go. She had a cough that I could hear all the way down the block. A smoker. COPD. I didn’t worry about coronavirus, but wondered if the woman would get the Delta variant, if she was vaccinated. As I approached, I could see that she was trying to make her hair look nice. A bad bleach job, a bad perm, waves like 1987 to her shoulder blades. She looked old in the way that people who have had very hard lives look, a slump in her posture.
I looked up at the sky. I have been doing that again, because – like I said – I’ve been writing some about the clouds, about what I saw and how I read it. There were some angular forms, and what looked like a figure, an lumpish angel or a manatee, a shape in the clouds with tendrils being pulled by the wind, making a new shape even as I walked toward the corner. Through a break between the street trees, I saw that there were numberish snakes of thin cloud that had settled out front of the mass that was breaking up, expanding and shifting above me and my dog, the woman on the bench. If I crossed the street to the steps of the Varick, I’d have a clear shot. I got my phone out of my pocket, and kept walking up toward the corner, staring hard at the trees above me, but also trying to seem like just a person walking a dog. A 12 lay on its side in the sky. I said hello to the woman at the bus stop and she was sweet like most broken women are to strangers, trying to be nice, to be pleasant. The dog smelled around the bench, and I tugged him a little, saying, “C’mon, leave it.” The 12 was gone when I got to the corner, and I took a picture anyway, took a few. Standing in the sun and staring hard as cars turned the corner. I was struck with a sense of knowing that I had failed, that there had been a brief thing shown to me and that I had not crossed the street to where I could get a clear view, a clear picture. I had chosen to not confuse or offend the woman at the bus stop by a sudden crossing, had chosen not to be a person taking pictures of the sky across the street on the sunlit steps of the Varick Chapel, had not wanted to seem weird or out of the ordinary. I felt a flicker of knowing that I had been tested, and that I had failed, choosing my vanity and social appearance over bearing witness to a 12 written in the sky with clouds. All the sudden, I remembered the reality of it, that whole period of time when I thought I was seeing something written by God, shown to me by God, in the sky, and the remembering of the reality of how desperate and pressured and consumingly strange those long days and months were, the determination to watch and document relentlessly, to the exclusion of everything I could put off or neglect, agonizingly distracted in my attentions to all that I could not put off or neglect, my children impatient in the car as I stopped in a parking lot to try to capture the living sky that nobody else seemed to notice. My mother going blank and awkward as she drove us to the home improvement store, a family outing to buy flowers, me leaning across her as she slowed to stop to turn, my voice flat and transfixed as I muttered something about, “…it’s everywhere, see, right there…there is this blue light around that cloud. I have to take a picture.”
The real world felt watery to me, just beyond a surface I could break, but that still separated me, muted the voices and movement of everything between me and the rest of the world.
I have a tendency to remember the awe, the roll of singular and encompassing beauty that unfurled every day beginning at dawn. I remember the delicious urgency of bearing witness to something that only lasts a moment and then is gone forever. The comfort of believing that even if I was seen as a crazy loser who needed to get their shit together by almost everyone in my walking and talking life, I was doing something beautiful and important, something that a force much bigger than me was asking me – (me, of all people?!) – to do, and…would know if I did not, and would be disappointed in me and would perhaps even punish me if I dismissed what was being shown to me in the sky, conveyed through clouds. I felt a distinct adrenaline in feeling like I was doing important work, work that made the rest of my life make sense, work that was mine to do, that I was chosen for. I wanted to believe, and I believed and so with every strange cloud, I was rewarded, flooded with the satisfaction of knowing that I was doing a good job, a job only I could do. Who else can watch the sky for hours and hours and hours each day, pay such close attention, for months and months, and think about what they saw, try to read what they saw, question their own readings, try to figure an explanation for all the triangles in the sky.
The dopamine was tremendous. The more I watched, the more I saw, and the stronger my conviction grew.
The dark side of awe is that it erases everything other than the feat and wonder beheld.
…to be beholden.
I notice as I write this that I have a sickish nervous feel at both the center and the edges of me.
Yesterday, I felt shivering as I walked down the sunny hill, contemplating my failure and the difficulty of not paying attention to – or, worse, willfully ignoring because you don’t want the random person at the bus stop to think you’re weird – the thoughts, perceptions, and experiences that attributed as being bestowed upon us by a power greater than we are.
I just went into the kitchen, did the dishes, swept the floor. Small daily rituals of sanity and presence in one’s life.
I really did lose my mind, but that’s not going to happen again.
I was silly to think that I could say anything about clouds that look like God after only studying them for a few weeks. I am a naive and excitable person in many ways. Foolish. I am okay with that because it is wonderful to believe in the impossible and it’s fun to try to figure out how to make the impossible possible, real.
I watched the clouds real hard on the rest of my walk, dog trundling along beside me, enjoying the pauses as extended opportunities to smell things at length, to sit, look around.
I am blessed to be the steward of a dog that likes to look around.
“There’s just too much. It is all happening all the time.”
I took a deep breath and asked forgiveness for missing so much.
For 13 years, I have felt watched, like everything I do and do not do, all of my thoughts and secrets and imaginings, all of who I am in my indulgences and short-comings and fears and devotions and gratitudes and ingratitudes. Truths of my heart that even I do not know. Everything is seen, all the time.
I am trying, always, to do the right thing to the best of my ability. I fail often.
There are slumps, of course – days when I am aware of a distinct paucity of thought and a melancholy orientation to…um, basically most things, but especially my own uselessness as a human being. I recognize this sense of being a supreme loser fuck-up as the dumb voice of a low-grade depression that settles in when I have been running around and doing errands and not having a sense of connection or purpose.
I had a work meeting today, with the employer that took me off the payroll and then didn’t say why, except today they said it was so I could get the unemployment, but the unemployment was for reduced hours due to coronavirus, which was true because coronavirus made the organization I worked for basically impossible to function within to the extent that my ability to literally even think straight was all fucked up.
This morning, before the work meeting, I got the notification that the SAMHSA grant was not awarded, largely due to the shenanigans of a grant writing wonk that was hired to write the grant, but that really didn’t do anything other than challenge and disregard the work that I did toward putting together a strong application and who then ended up submitting some piece of crap at the actual 11th hour, blowing up my phone while I was on a zoom with the third-party evaluator talking them through the completion of the two page evaluation protocol that they were contracted to complete, while my email was jammed up with stuff for the Emergency Solutions Grant.
It’s possible that my mood and cognition is all fucked up because of the work meeting this morning, as I notice that even briefly thinking about that whole scene makes me incredibly anxious.
When I am anxious, I am joyless and tense and can’t think because all my brain’s energy goes to my sympathetic nervous system and my pitiful little parasympathetic functions that are wheezing confused old person trying to lift their cane to shake it at a 225 lb thick muscled assailant that is trained in Jujitsu.
It took me 45 minutes at the gym to feel 1/2 way decent, and then I got anxious again as soon as I got home and then needed to go back out to get my daughter watermelon which she then said was disgusting. I felt optimistic about the walk with the dog being pleasant, but I had to call my mom to make sure my aunt got into town okay, because that is what I am supposed to do – want to talk to people and make chit-chat and be relational, regardless of whether or not I want to talk with anyone at all. This is what one has to do. The pressure is enormous. My social anxiety exists in correlation to social pressure. The more the perceived pressure, the higher the anxiety. Note the use of the word perceived. People say there is no pressure, but I have a hard time believing that if I neglected to call my mom and ask about my aunt’s arrival, it would be noticed with at least a twinge of disappointed wondering about why I hadn’t called.
I feel really ill about how utterly bad this writing is, and about how much I want to say that doesn’t need to be said, the voice of some wounded adolescent self that seriously just needs to get over herself and stop harping about blah blah blah, this whole thing.
I mean, I get that waaaaaaaay more people have waaaaaaaay more hideous situations than being a kid with learning differences and processing differences and social differences and a history of severe medical trauma, a kid in the midst of a grief that was not named, a grief that only people who watch places they love and are connected to get utterly destroyed, a grief that she did not even recognize as grief, because nobody suggested that she may be grieving, that perhaps it was difficult for her to watch a place that she knew intimately, a place that she had worlds within, a place that she was safe and at ease in, get completely raped, burnt, cut, re-named and paved over, a kid that was forced to go to a violent White supremacist high school and a bunch of other gross schools that only taught subordination and the social sexual meat market of secondary education.
There has been something that nags me about LinkedIn lately.
A lot of my social media connections are in the “recovery community” – people who have had their lives fall apart because of substance use, mental health challenges, incarceration, homelessness or some combination thereof, and then have been able to make positive changes and create a life of wellness, or something like that.
It is not uncommon to see posts about people who’ve turned their situations around to be able to get a job, work full-time, buy a home, get a degree.
The messaging is this commentary on people’s lives and the outcomes of their struggles and efforts to recover is that in order to be resilient you have to be able to rise to the goals of middle-class America, to get a job, buy a house, to – in short – “be a productive member of society.”
This is not to say that folks who find joy, meaning and vitality in recovery by achieving these economic milestones are not resilient or amazing or truly strong individuals. They are, I’m sure. Major props to each and every person who has transformed their lives in ways that are important to them.
What bothers me about measuring resilience as normative participation in the economy is that the coupling of recovery and resilience with economic success in the market place is the assumption that in order to be resilient, in order to recover, a person should be able to work a full-time job, earn a good wage, and make investments in the form of major purchases, etc.
That, to me, is an ableist definition of resilience and recovery.
There are many remarkable people who’ve been able to leverage their personal determination to gain economic success, professional esteem, and social standing in the recovery community. They absolutely deserve recognition and celebration for their accomplishments in turning their lives around.
However, limiting the label of “resilient” to people who’ve been successful in meeting the criteria of economic success and meaningful participation in society set forth by a capitalist economy which relies on workers in order to gain profit for corporations sends the message that people who are not able to participate in the economy in ways that generate success through earning wages from an external (often corporate) entity are somehow not resilient.
There are many reasons why people may not disability/difference-in-ability that prohibits or limits participation in the normative wage-earning economy, discrimination based on race, socioeconomic status, gender expression, or ability, or personal/political/ethical values which dictate a reluctance to earn money through being complicit in the work of corporations or institutions that one understands to be harmful to people and the environment –
If I was going to tell someone how they might see what I see in the sky, I would say that it is important to forget about the sky that means nothing, forget the flat plane sky, forget the clouds as puffy shapes, cotton balls or marshmallows or pillows stuffing. Do not think ‘cloud’ when you behold the forms etched and strewn and piled and cut of wind and water and heat and light, the dust from cities and the worlds of small drifting things that are alive in the sky.
See the sky in detail, the shapes in detail…study the edges and the depth of what might look like a simple cloud. Think about what sort of winds might be blowing to make the shapes you see. Consider the reality of vast currents flowing-always-flowing in the air above us, carrying the ocean and the sands of everywhere. Imagine the pull of the earth itself, the pressure of the atmosphere, the full extent of space beyond what we see as solid blue.
Watch the movement – expansion and dissolution, dissipation. The building of great towers out of what appears to be nothing, and yet there it is, the forms drawn forth from the air itself.
Remember, the sky has been doing this – has been being what it is – for as long as the earth has existed. Consider all the beings that have lived beneath the stars, all the people who have studied the sky through the ages. Imagine how an ancient person might see the sky you are studying, what they might see if they believed that the wisdom of the earth and heavens spoke to them through clouds and light and the wind in the trees, the movement of birds and the strangeness of circumstance. How would you look at the sky if you had never seen a television, if you had only the science of your experience and the stories of your ancestors?
What might you see?
How would you feel if you read the sky as the word of God, gods, the wisdom of the earth and heavens, hints at the eternal workings of all things arranged in certain figures, certain patterns, symbols and markers that tell you: