A Letter to the Rider’s Conference

I read this tonight at an artist’s gathering. My thanks to Karen Kunkel and all the other performers.

 

 

My dearest,

I have chosen to write this in epistolary form to you, my best beloved, flower of my heart. Perhaps you are thinking to yourself, “She does not mean me. Not me, here, on this chair, on this couch, hiding in the shadows, light strong on my face. She means some vague and amorphous you.” No. I mean you. You with your skin mites and bacterial suites and arrogance and anxiety. All your organs burbling away. All your desires and problems rattling around in your brain. Because you are specific. We are all made after a template, yes, but you are unique. You complete the universe. Not solely, but uniquely. This isn’t one of those secondhand Goodwill universes with bits missing so you can never build the mousetrap without the whole thing falling to pieces.

If this idea is to hold, then that means that I, too, am integral to existence. And this is where I struggle. Not with the idea that I have value, I was too fortunate in parents for that, but in what my role is. What my place is. If it’s even true that I have one, or that one is necessary.

I grew up with King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table. I grew up with many stories of different sorts of knights, be they men or women or dragonish, canny children or tired old ladies, they were bound into one form by the transforming nature of The Quest. Indeed, there were so many of these stories that I quite naturally assumed that this was the order of things and that in my due time I would receive my own quest, set off into the world with sword and self, and life would unfold pleasantly and easily in prescribed story format. I waited. For many many years, I waited for my quest to make itself known. I egged it along where I could, climbing out of my window at night all through my adolescence and walking to the wildest places I could find in urban Minneapolis to stare, frustrated, at the sky, waiting for something supernatural to snatch me. I did homemade spells with spit and hair and blood under the swings by the soccer field after dark, trying to bring my will to bear on destiny. I tailed strangers, other night people, for as many blocks as I could, testing, waiting, maybe this one, maybe this one, maybe this one will start it, will spark the story. What I got were some freaked out dog walkers, a lot of colds and a taste for being alone. Well, what I got was bitterness and deep betrayal. Life was not as I had been lead to believe. There was no cohesion, no unifying principle. There were no proper monsters, only people so cold and dull and unimaginative that they became evil for money. My heart broke, quietly, over a period of years.

Well, if life would not hand me an adventure, I would manufacture one. When I was sixteen, I went to live in France as an exchange student for a year. All my fierceness and watchfulness brought to bear on a new situation, a foreign country, surely stuffed with surprise and wonder, magic and danger. Alas. I learned, more than I had ever wanted to, about what petty power does to decent people. I learned that middle class values are surely based on fear whatever country you end up in. I learned that the heat and energy I felt in my blood and my breath back home, that I had climbed out my window all those nights to find an answer to, only wanted an outlet. That the night walks met and soothed those feelings on their own terms, without squishing them or judging them. But night walks are not permitted to decent people. I learned that quiet plain folks do not want surprise and glory disrupting their tidy lives. I broke in several more places. 

I had wanted this thing so badly, you see. I was embarrassed once, or perhaps I was so intensely private that to speak of my desire was to hurt myself, which is almost the same thing as embarrassment. I wanted beautiful strangers to come to me and say, we need you. You are the hero. You must help us. You must save us. We will bring you to our faerie country, where rules are upside down, and the wonder of it will feel like fire and you’ll win the day and we’ll have a feast and it will all work out perfectly because you’re Elizabeth and that is your destiny.

It was the demise of this dream that dropped me on the shores of adulthood, alongside a brand new panic disorder and the onset of mental illness.

When you are a teenager becoming an adult and suddenly everything feels different, dull and spiky at once, it does not occur to you that it might be mental illness. You just think this is what adulthood feels like. You think all adults feel this and that is why the world is as it is, that is why everyone is so sad and bad and wicked. You begin to understand brawlers and alcoholics and serial killers, because who would not do any mad thing they can think of to get a rest from this feeling.

I spent eight years in that place. I drank a lot. I meditated a lot. I prayed a lot. I learned slowly that, though they were beneficial, the meditation and praying were being used by a hard faced little ringmaster in my head. I had obsessive compulsive disorder and that was why sometimes praying could lead to starving, or sleeplessness, or nesting in a cliffside motel room with my two cats and no money and pacing and pacing. I learned that drinking was a not unreasonable response to this cycle. If the only way that you can switch your hyperaware binary moral sense of your self from 0(BAD) to 1(GOOD) is by blindly following a vaguely felt path of perfect choices, and that same broken sense resets you to 0(BAD) after each one of these choices, why then drinking seems downright sunny in comparison.

I had lost my wildness in madness. I was afraid now all the time. Afraid of making the wrong choice. Afraid of going right when I should be going left, literally. I flipped coins while I was driving so the onus of the next wrong decision (it was impossible that they not be wrong) would land on the coin and be diverted from me. Fear will pull you inside out. Or maybe not. Maybe fear makes caves in you, pits, that you fill up with everything bad or unexpected that might happen. You crawl in after them, huddle up to them. They keep you warm, don’t they.

That driving fear left me in a lot of weird places. A lot of motels. A lot of parking lots. Beaches. Driveways. Rest stops. Circling cities, afraid to roost anywhere. Throwing the I Ching in truck stop bathrooms. Crying in Applebees. Ahh, Applebees. In a way, this period was an antidote to my early desperate rejection of bourgeois life. When you are coming from a technicolor hell of self abuse, Applebees seems like paradise. An oasis of order and kindness and maternal ladies bringing you coffee and asking you if you’re okay. I had to stop hating under the onslaught of casual, effortless love from these women, almost always women, who might not even name what they were doing as love, just keeping their body and soul together and by unthinking generosity with their hands and eyes and time, mine too. Diners are still my refuge.

I’ve been coming out of those pits for a while now. The last couple of years. Popping my head out like a gopher and staring around suspiciously, but all I see is sky. Spending more time under that sky. I’m some better. I am not compelled with as much strength or as much frequency. I know now that you do not give an inch to those thoughts or they flood you, they own you. I do not drink myself to sleep. I rarely pray until I choke. But I am perplexed by the same problem of my childhood. The problem of my story.

I have told you a story of my life. I have pummeled chaotic chronological events into a narrative. But it irks me, it IRKS ME I TELL YOU, that I have to be the one to do that. That I cannot float down the concrete lined lazy river of an external narrative delivered to my address for me expressly. O no, o no. I just realised that’s what country music is about. That’s an attainable narrative. Having a truck and marrying someone from your high school, they just took the thing that was already there and poured syrup and arpeggios over it. Ah God. Huh. I wonder if the Knights of the Round Table were a boring/horrible narrative that was already there that got syrup poured over it. Dang. Conned by history.

So maybe there was never that kind of a path laid out for me. Or if there is and I’m on it, I won’t be able to see its shape until it’s over, like any proper story. Am I acquiring skills right now? Have the last thirty years just been a training montage? No. I won’t collapse myself into that format, because it robs me. Trying to tell myself to you as a story robs both of us. Because what I am, and what I think most of us are, is a flavour. Or a tint, if you’re more visually minded. There are so many things in our lives that try and get us to conform, to consolidate, to make our flavour be just salty or just sweet, to make our tint be just blue or just yellow. But we aren’t. We are complex. We’re massive. We are unending. We have motifs, to be sure, but our whole life is an evolution of our flavour, not a repetition. There’s an incredible density to every moment, that wants to be experienced by us, in all our variety. From this perspective, trying to induce a particular event chain is, well, it’s not silly exactly but it’s not really necessary. Because each event, whether we want it to or not, solidifies us. Makes us more ourselves. People fight against that, for popularity? Or something? For fear of who they are, maybe. Systems try to prevent it, because systems want interchangeable pieces. You are not interchangeable. You are only you. And I pray you become as rich and as vivid and as uncompromisingly yourself as you can possibly be. I pray that for myself. I pray that for all of us.

I hope it’s warm where you are. I hope you’re okay, or wonderful, or miserable but in an interesting way. I hope we see each other soon. Take care.

Sincerely

Elizabeth

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A Letter to the Rider’s Conference

New Year’s Recollections

I don’t think I believe in New Year’s resolutions. Intentions, maybe. Or remembrances. Surely all resolution must come from memories of failure and success. There is something so unyielding, so inhuman about the word. I do not like it. It’s a word that does not admit to failure, and so failure becomes inevitable.

Something I want to remember from this past year, well mostly just the last bit of it, well mostly just today when I was wandering through my house like a three day old party balloon. Ahem. IS. This.  You know the recent wave of heart warming text boxes on the internet that remind you that no one person can be your everything. And you know why those became popular. Because they’re right. Because it doesn’t work. We aren’t built for that. You have to have a whole structure, big or small but supported, built like a fire where each stick is a different person serving different needs, letting the oxygen in onto your own sweet heart. New Orleans is a sort of disorderly bonfire, masses and masses of sticks all burning together and getting crunched and shifting around and meeting new sticks to burn with and this metaphor is getting cumbersome but we are not here to be tidy, after all. If we were, we would not have been given these troublesome mucous sacks to get through the world.

So, this is my thought. You have to do the same thing with your own self, but spaced out across time rather than people. I get badly stuck in contradictory ideas of what I ought to be doing. God, and as soon as that word shows up, I should know to watch it. Ooh, and there’s should slipping after it. Aren’t they sneaky?

There are ideas of what you should be from advertising. From your parents. From your social circle. From that one really really painfully cool girl you saw and imprinted on when you were seven. From your own true and shining centre. And, it is not necessary, nor is it fucking possible, that you be all those people at the same time. I don’t know about you, but it is exhausting for me to maintain my pure and undiluted self in our funny world. I think it’ll be easier as I age. I just have a whisper of that yet, but I think it will prove to be so. And it’s not always the right thing for the day, or the weather, or the company. Sometimes I want to be the vision that others have for me. Sometimes I have multiple simultaneous visions of what I may be and then I have to take a bath and reread high fantasy until it goes away. Sometimes, ooh, and the lofty smug spiritual part of me does not like admitting this even though it is a daily truth, I just want to drink and be pretty and yell on a porch with my women.  There are too many things to be in one time and in trying to be all of them at once, I fail to be any just one of them well. There is time. I don’t know how much, but I know that time is better spent in knowing, feeling, being one thing thoroughly for however long its life cycle (rarely longer than three days, in my experience) than in scrabbling after an ever renewing failure in pursuit of ”well roundedness.”

The problem is not in being any one of these things, or not being any of the others. The problem is letting something extend beyond its natural time. If I am patient, and watchful, and ready, I can let things go as they age out. I can be not afraid to move from stillness to motion, motion to apogee, apogee to retreat, retreat to stillness. In whatever order, because my self was never so orderly as the seasons. But as I am so ready to lash myself for indolence or anything left incomplete that it freezes me, so I hurry through times that I know are crying for quiet that I fill with tasks. Tasks that mostly do need to be done, but maybe not now. Maybe tomorrow. When we’ve grown out into the space that makes that task easy. When hands and purpose line up.

Maybe I don’t need to do

everything I’ll ever do

today.

 

 

 

P. Motherflippin. S.

I hate fleecebook and will be moving more to this, my personal webbuhsite, for interaction. Please bookmark or follow me and comment, I’ll bookmark your personal website if ya got one and we can unchain ourselves from that blue bordered lunacy.

New Year’s Recollections

Loss

I sit on my bed and sob. My new cat, Bara, has not come home for a day. It is likely that she will come back, but I have been tense and worrying all day, trying not to let it show, trying to be an accepting person who is not feeling this feeling, this wish to control what I love, the wish to lock them all in a room where I can see them and they can’t get hurt.

I was not really expecting to cry. I was expecting some storm, though. That dense nasty gathering feeling has been with me. I cry so hard the muscles of my eyebrows hurt. I am buckled over. And then I say aloud, “You didn’t bring him home. You didn’t bring him home.” I am in grief for Buddy Cat, probably one of a few more episodes that still catch me unprepared every time. God did not bring Buddy home. I prayed and I prayed. I was a good girl. Mostly. But God did not bring Buddy home.

I walk through the hall, crying and crying. It flashes on me and I say, aloud again, “Is this what you feel?” Is this the awful trick of free will? That exquisite humanity must be allowed to walk in danger or else they are not themselves? I can’t keep a cat inside. I can’t keep anything that wants to run in a box. A big nice comfy box, but still a box. I tried that. Once. There was a fire. They died. There is no safety. Now I am crying for them, as I write.

I cannot imagine having a child. I cannot imagine this feeling with a human life. I can stand it, barely, with the adults that I love. I do not know that I could bear to let my baby walk in this place. How do you do it? Mothers and fathers, how do you bear it?

Because you must. Because it’s more damaging to keep a life caged than it is to expose it to all the neutral violence and active malevolence that exists. In doing so, you unmake them. You stop them from being fully. You must.

Loss

On Being With People

SPIRITUAL SPACES ARE SO HARD. We need them to keep our shit together, we need that community for support in pursuit of the Divine and for connection with Divine in one another, but for some reason it gives everybody ego flares. Myself totally included. I sit there switching eyeblink quick between being smug because of how holy I am and then stricken about how smug I am and then sullen because I feel stricken and then total encompassing love and back up to smug.

It’s hard! And the people who seek it out are broad and difficult personalities to engage with. I remember this from my childhood and adolescence. I’ll scoop everyone into two large groups because we all love a reductionist organisation of humanity. There’s the wild ones. People who often don’t know how to fit into socially accepted parameters, either because they don’t read cues or because they’ve chosen to throw that off. They can make you very uncomfortable and they are where ecstasy is rooted. Then there are rule followers. Rule followers (me) can resent the wild ones because they’re having a good time and they’re fucking with the flow, plan, structure of the gathering. Sometimes that chaotic person is following a golden thread to where you should actually be and sometimes they’re just bringing chaos. They cause stress to the rule followers, who have internalised that if they’re good and do what they’re told, they will get the cookie of enlightenment (or what have you.)

My mom is a wild one. My dad is a rule follower. My brother is becoming more balanced as he ages. I would like to think I am too, but I ain’t. I love me some rules. I want to yank on the reins until everyone is doing what I say and we are all marching apace to God. I’ve tried to throw that off in a variety of unhealthy and extreme fashions, deprivation, immersion, isolation, to name a few. It led to me living in a motel with my cats and muttering to myself. It didn’t work. We must be balanced. If we can’t be balanced in ourselves, we must find it in our community. I need these staggerers, these holy fools, these wanderers into traffic. It’s my job to protect them. It’s my job to remind them. It’s my job to care for them and let them lead me down a weird and lighted road.

But it’s soooo hard. I can’t relax and feel holy. Maybe that’s the point. Maybe feeling like you’re a good person isn’t being a good person. Maybe feeling exquisite impatience and being kind through it is the training ground. I don’t have to like it. I often don’t like true lessons. But I’m here for it.

On Being With People

Ranch Stressing

My and Aaron’s band, The Big Dixie Swingers, just dropped our brand new album (titled, duh, Ranch Stressing.) Despite the classic and too-boring-to-recount musician hysterics about not always being perfectly in tune and on time, we’re pretty gosh darn happy with it and I’m sharing it to bejeezus. If you have opinions about it, well. That’s nice. I love you and am going to start writing more on tour, I promise promise.

 

Ranch Stressing!

Ranch Stressing

Wedding Vows

This is a transcript of my most recent wedding vows. I’ll put up Aaron’s when I get them written out.

 

Dear heart

More and more I trust my weight to our shared life. I don’t anymore much spend time planning the shape of my life for once you’ve left me, once I’ve left you, once bitch Fate has taken this too good thing from me in an unanticipated water park accident. Well. It’s anticipated now, so that one’s off the table.

I love you so much. So appallingly much. I’ve gone through periods of not loving you, periods of feeling you as a weight around my neck. In those times, I cried, I boiled inside my body, I consulted oracles over and over and refused to leave no matter if they said yes or no. I crushed myself against my own will and I’m still not sure who won but I am standing here with you now so I think we all did. The shape of my love for you has changed too many times to count. Always it becomes something new and surprising. Sometimes disturbing. Sometimes heavier than I wished or expected. Sometimes as cheerful and delightful as anything born. And now, on this day of our third wedding, I am beginning to benefit from time. I am beginning to see longer patterns emerge and they say, stay. Stay here and find out how this kaleidoscope will change, how this moment of pain will become part of a pattern of beauty. 

I have a poor memory and besides it would be tedious to list your virtues. Nothing makes a person despised faster than someone else praising them at length. But I will mention two things. You get my jokes. This continues to surprise me as the most enduring of virtues. And, you are tender. Sometimes your tenderness hurts you but you never let it make you hard and you are bigger and deeper and more alive for it.

So, what do I vow? What can a person vow in a crumbling empire? I cannot vow forever. I’ve been too many people in too short a time to have the arrogance to use that word. I cannot even really vow love, as I’m still confused about what that word means from the inside. It is a paltry word, made poorer in its prostitute career to sell fake happiness, and I dismiss it. I vow clearness. I vow that no matter how ugly or manic or prideful or strong or bitter or glorious I find myself, I will strive to share it with you, to show you plainly the breadth of myself. I vow to strive always to look at you with the same clearness and to allow you that same breadth. This is a hard vow and a heavy one and I do not make it lightly. You have championed every trial, the ones I made on purpose and the ones the world presented us with, and you have won the right to this. 

So, it is yours, if you want it, as am I.

 

 

 

 

If you have the urge to comment, it does help me to keep doing this and not just feel like I’m screaming into the void. Be the void, scream back. 

Wedding Vows

Promise

I promised two different people I would write a post while I am in Minneapolis. I am keeping it by the skin of my teeth, sitting in the airport on the way back to New Orleans as I type. 

Many things happened while I was here. I went to visit my grandmother (who is, as she herself well knows, very slowly dying in a not-too-horrible nursing home) and for the first time heard my grandfather say aloud that she’ll die. I’m sure he’s said it before from how matter of fact he was, but it was a first for me. I’ve been worried about him maybe being in denial about that but I suppose when your spouse goes into hospice care, that’s a truth that’s hard to avoid. He is very sensible. They both are. Some of the most sensible people I have ever met. 15 years ago I found a book in their house called Dying Well. With the kind of love that they have though, have had for 50 some years, one could be forgiven for being a little less sensible around the subject of the loss (however temporary) of the beloved. So I worried. But he’s fine and she’s, well, she’s on huge amounts of fentanyl and mostly asleep, but by God she can still make a pun when I show up, so she’s fine. 

I do not live in a time and place where death is always around. We hide death and dying for the most part. The elderly are secreted away from the young people who need to understand what will happen to their own bodies. It does not matter how beautiful and shiny you are now, we all sort of look like potatoes if we’re lucky enough to last. I got a jump on this by being born looking like a potato. My hair hides it right now, but one day you will all see my true potato-nature. 

I was already thinking about ageing and dying and then I learned that a member of my community had killed themselves. I saw them quite recently and it is very odd to think that they’re not just as they were when I left. But they aren’t. My grandparents won’t be. My parents. Myself. None of us remain in the body. I spend so much time trying to create a sense of solidity for myself, so that I won’t be afraid. But I have no control. And how foolish to spend all my work and love on building a hallucination, an idea of a ground that I know, even as I’m shoring it up, is not real. I have not accepted my own death. I’m not sure how to believe in it. When I run up against the death of others, I am not more afraid, but relieved. Physically relieved. My shoulders relax and the skin of my scalp eases. For a moment, until I forget again, I stop pretending that I won’t die. I see clearly that others die. And this is painful but it is less painful than willful, energy-intensive blindness.

I miss the winter, living in Louisiana. When I was a child, I would walk almost every day to the creek and back, more in winter than in summer. I was in love with leafless trees and cold skin and snow smell. It made me feel very clean, but not in the way I get now, where I make believe that a disinfected house or a thin body or a right angle is a clean thing. These are lessons I’ve taken on that I act out even while I don’t believe them. They are what took me in a kind of storm when I would kill the invasion of flying ants in our kitchen, when I did dishes even while poison ivy covered my fingers and my eyelids and virginia creeper came gently through the ceiling. That sort of belief in cleanliness makes people live in the suburbs and buy white carpets and pretend they can’t be hurt.

I stand at the edge of a frozen lake. I gulp wind like a dog. My hood has fallen off. The wind gutters on my right side and I turn my face to bathe in it. My mouth and my chest and my eyes are wide and hollow feeling, like an empty church, like a high ceilinged room. I unzip the top of my coat and pull my scarf down with numbish fingers so the wind can get at my throat. There are brown black trees lining the other side of the lake and the sky is pearl and dove and pigeon. My sight pushes out. Winter is home, if winter is wildness, if wildness is home, if home is running.

Winter and death. Not so scary once you’re right up against them.

 

 

 

If you have the urge to comment, it does help me to keep doing this and not just feel like I’m screaming into the void. Be the void, scream back. 

Promise