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!

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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

A Hard Day for the Heart

This morning Aaron went off to play a show fairly early. I was tooling around on the internet, not doing anything much. Saw an article about Sufis, an article about a mosque bombing. Clicked, began to read it and when the fact melted into my brain that three hundred Egyptian Sufis had been killed, my body started to rock back and forth. I cried. No, no, no, over and over I whispered it as I rocked and cried.

I called my mother and my brother but neither answered their phones. I read the articles and cried.

My family is Sufi. They run a center in Minneapolis. Our order is based out of New York. I know not all Sufis around the world practice in the same way or share the same kind of character, but the ones I know are gentle. They are kind. A good portion of them are feckless. They see a world of chaos and madness coming at them full tilt and they open their arms and as it hits them it turns to flowers.

I got ahold of my Dad and talked to him and my Mom. We prayed for the dead, and for those left behind, and for the ones who are so distant and wrapped in their own separation that they could do this.

I went out into the garden, covered my head, wept and did zikr for the dead. Zikr means remembrance.

I came back inside and charted a new song. I put on hijab and walked to the coffee shop. I’m cautious about wearing hijab, nervous of being called a hypocrite, running into friends who might not understand, or harassment by strangers. There was no harassment. Only shy smiles. And I did run into a friend, now working at the coffee shop, who has changed their name and gender identity as they needed to. There was no strangeness, or no more than is normal between friends who don’t see each other as often as they might. We make room for each other’s multitudes.

I wore hijab today to mourn those who have gone. And to say that though I am afraid to be known as a Sufi, for whatever my fearful ego thinks the consequences might be, I must do better. I am afraid of aggressive secularism and fearful patriotism and I am afraid of the wounded beast that believes it polices true Islam. All these things seek to damage. All these things seek uniformity. My existence puts the lie to them. And so does yours.

A Hard Day for the Heart

Excelsior

I’m back in New Orleans. I have bad habits. Bad habits are often linked to place and company. I had good habits on my trip because I was with a judgemental teenager. I have lost my judgemental teenager and now must fend for myself in this jungle.

Things that mitigate back-sliding.

Singing. I haven’t smoked cigarettes for a week and when I went out to busk last night I was so happy to see how much breath I had. How much control and strength. Happy isn’t quite the word for the sensation. It was a kind of calm pleasure, as of receiving a thing that you know belongs to you.

Absence of misery. I’m not quite at this one because I’ve just started a ketogenic diet at the recommendation of a friend with similar brain-being-pulled-into-vortex-of-death mental health symptoms. She has had wild success with not feeling like she’s going to die all the time and not waking up with shock, fear and baseless dread. I am excited for these things, but currently my body is on an intermittent We Need Sugar campaign.

Driving back from North Carolina to New Orleans, I didn’t have any media playing for most of it. It takes me about an hour to calm down into quiet enough to start watching what’s happening inside me without constant, desperate little thoughts trying to seize on some distraction and pull me back. I worry for those thoughts. They are so afraid, and once you settle down past them they have so little power and so little purpose. Why do they even exist?

Turns out, I am addicted to everything. Hyperbole. But kind of. I behave like an addict with everything. Not drugs, I could never fit them into my narrative in a way that let me think I was still in control of myself. But alcohol, cigarettes, food, entertainment, sleep, music, and male attention. Some of those things you can stop completely, but you can’t stop food. You can’t cut out sleep. Male attention, with it’s bizarre power stripping/power enhancing combo, is also very hard to eschew unless you are going to a nunnery. Spending a lot of time with women helps with that one, gives you a clean contrast so you can tell what feels healthy and what feels gross and it’s not all just undifferentiated mush with some endorphins in the middle.

I’m kind of addicted to Aaron, which is off putting for both of us. I love him and want to spend time with him and I want to spend time with him even when I really really don’t. Even when I want to go do something by myself. Even when he wants to go do something by himself. There is a clutching and a desperation that has no relation to him as a person, that I am identifying now as the exact same response to bagels. He is not a fucking bagel. It is destructive to our actual relationship to relate to him as if he were a bagel.

If music is on in order to avoid thinking and not in order to listen to it, it’s the same creature. And tv or movies or stupid internet stuff.

I’ll sleep in order to not be there with myself. I’ll read in order to not be there with myself, and that one is a crying shame because I love reading. It is one of the greatest pleasures I know. This approach to it, this addictive avoidant approach, cripples the pleasure in it because there is a tension that must be maintained the whole time. If you were to relax that tension, you would realise you didn’t want to be reading right now and have to put the book down and there you are again with you.

Sugar. Turns out I am crazy addicted to sugar, which is also wheat, which is also potatoes and other grains. These things turn into sugar in your body. I’m basically doing uppers and crashing three to five times every day. I’m not telling anybody else they should do this, I have no idea what’s happening in your body so please don’t take this as advice. Do some research if you want. Think about it for awhile. I’ve been thinking about it for about a year and a half and now I’m getting better at putting little markers on thoughts that feel like me and thoughts that feel like sugar addiction. Those thoughts will pretend to be you. You will think they are you. They surge up like a little firecracker, very bright and loud and inclining you to panic and take action. But if you can hold yourself still, or promise yourself that you’ll indulge that firecracker in, oh, half an hour or so, you get to see that the life span of these addict thoughts are tiny. As long as you don’t to indulge them right then, for me, they fade within about a minute. They are many, but on examination they are individuals, not just a wave. And their frequency decreases as you continue to delay them. More and more, you see that they have no roots within you. They are a rider on you, not inherent to you. They whisper that indulgence is self-care because it is what keeps them alive.

It’s been a long time coming that I could do something like this without violence towards myself, without trying to starve myself or hating myself. It has never worked from that foundation because the hate makes you so sad that the promise of comfort is even more alluring, even more effective. I just watch now. Neutral. Sorting the threads of the thoughts and tracing them back to their points of origin. Was that me? Did it sound like me? Did it feel like me? No, it’s a little goblin in a mental attic dangling bait. A scaredy little goblin. Poor goblin. All things strive towards life and propagation. Viruses. Thoughts. Cultures. I pity these thoughts that want to live but I will not be a host. I will not be a carrier for desires that are not mine.

After about two hours in silence in the car, as I was doing my prayers and feeling myself open and open and open, it came into my mind that it was an act of courage for a flower to bloom, to continue to open. Addictions are curtains. They are blankets that make us feel safe. And they do, for a time, make you feel safe. Then they rob you of peace and of sensation.

Physical relaxation is another component of this. It is another thing that feels very very dangerous. When I relax my neck and shoulders it makes me feel like I’m going to die. I’m trying to right now at this cafe and I am crying because it makes me feel like I’m going to die. But I will die, sometime. That’s okay. And look, now I’m not afraid anymore. How sweet. I can see leaves moving in the wind. So much space. So much light.

Excelsior

Back in Asheville

Hello.

Today was a very long day.

A very very long day.

I got up at eight and went to Target to get polaroid film. On the way there I saw a hawk clinging to the roof rack of an SUV. He was hawkhiking. Or hitchhawking. He flew off into a field. The Emperor Waltz was playing on the radio. It was the best thing that it could have been.

Got back to the hotel, Niece was awake. We assembled our goods, packed them away, got all ready. Ah, but I am a conscientious mama and decided to add oil to the tank (it was low.) There, alas, in a moment of absent mindedness (there is no more accurate phrase. It actually felt as if my mind were totally absent and my body functioning by itself) I began to pour the oil, not into the engine, but into the power steering fluid tank. It quickly overflowed at which point I snapped to and realised what I had done. I mostly didn’t panic, or get angry, or self abuse. I felt all those instincts well up one after another, like fireworks. Maybe more like fish rising up from a pond and presenting themselves for selection. Murkiness to clarity and back to murkiness. I called my Dad. These instincts die hard. And not without good reason. He told me to take it to a mechanic.

Fortunately there was one just across the parking lot from where we sat. I walked across and inside. Keep in my mind I am wearing a black pleather ankle length skirt, plaid button down, massive black wool coat and my hair in two tiny buns on either side of my head. I had not anticipated needing to look any particular way today. Nor being a representative of my sex to two chain-smoking Eastern Pennsylvania mechanics. I fear I did not raise the bar, but confirmed them in their low opinion. That’s alright though, because I had a low opinion of them as well. They laughed hollowly when I told them what I’d done and told me gossipy horror stories of seals swelling, brakes failing, the entire system needing to be replaced. They flushed it and put new fluid in, made me sign a waiver saying I was an idiot and wouldn’t sue them, and sent me to the dealership. The man at the dealership said I was fine, there was no way for it to get to any of the brake system, and that I should buy a bottle of steering fluid just in case and go home.

I did not enumerate the emotional ups and downs of the above paragraph because it would be repetitive. There were a bunch. Trying to plan. Knowing it was no good to plan until I understood what was going on. Being very suspicious towards God and critical of the lack of subtlety displayed in this interference. It worked out, as these twists often do. It broke my brain out of thinking I had any control over anything, including continuing to be alive, and I had a restful period of peace, expansion and pleasurable mischief. I think my mind is getting its ascendancy back now that I am safe, still, indoors, but I remember.

I thought I would be angrier at the first mechanics. I would have been in the past. It seems like an awful lot of work now.

We got on the road around two. It got dark at five thirty. It began to rain at six. We hit fog somewhere in Tennessee. I had to stop at a rest stop and drop kick some things and hug a tree and then I felt better.

My eyelids feel swollen. I told myself I wasn’t allowed to take off my bra until I wrote this. Bra beats prose. Good night, dears.

Back in Asheville

Writing is Boring

And I’m sleepy.

It’s not boring actually, it’s fun once I start, but I have a whole smear campaign against writing that my brain has down to a script by now. It starts with writing is boring, goes to you have nothing valuable to say, does a pirouette with that was too poetic, triple axel into aren’t you going to edit this and often sticks the landing with I’m too sleepy to finish this.

I am too sleepy. But if I make it very very short then I can finish it and damn the smear campaign.

Here is something I said earlier in a telephone call to my very smart husband.

America is like a teenager who got a job and just figured out he has money. He realises he can spend his money so he decides that he’s not going to let his mom dress him anymore, he’s going to go out and buy his OWN clothes. He goes to the mall and gets big striped sunglasses, a windbreaker with lurid blocks of colour on it, baseball cap and parachute pants. He has a bad haircut and a pimple creating a land bridge between his eyebrows. He might have pulled off looking cool in that outfit, but he is too young, too scared, too full of swagger and cheetos and very odd ideas about women to see himself clearly. To pause. To consider. Any interaction between him and another person even moderately at peace with themselves will probably not go well. He will be bumptious and pointlessly aggressive. They will be confused and bored. Any interaction between him and someone like him will lead to bellowing and the clashing of antlers in the parking lot outside Chili’s. (We’re still in the mall of analogy. It has both a Simile Central and a Comparison Cabana.)

Now we are leaving the mall of analogy. We are going through a brief wander in the woods of things that actually happened.

We got lost in Yonkers today. I’m told that’s a movie. Which is nice. But it wasn’t great in life. We ended up eating pickles in a Costco parking lot in the rain. We weren’t even trying to be in New York but it happened to us anyway. For verily, Fate has a big bum and may sit anywhere she pleases.

Now we are somewhere in Pennsylvania and I’m going to fall asleep doing my prayers in eight to thirty seven minutes.

I feel like I had some realisations today but I’ve forgotten what they were. Something about being lonely? I think it was realising that if you are alone more in your formative years than you are in groups (not you, family, don’t get in a huff), then as an adult you may be better at being alone than you are at being in a group. Not just enjoy it more but actually do it more skillfully.

That’s all the realisation I got, I need to fall over now. Good night, heroes, lovers, soldiers, swedes. Sleep tight.

Writing is Boring