Not far up the hill on the gravel road is an old local living in a trailer singing Hallelujah with a Confederate flag tacked prominently to a tree.
Let it be on earth, as it is in heaven.
(Apparently in heaven they only like white folks)
I’m not sure why, but the cow across the way has been mooing since yesterday. It is as if he is calling to someone. I slept long and late with dreams of water races, foreign people, Irish tattoos. Some themes of hidden resentments among close friends were on my mind as I came to.
Listening to angelic wind chimes, walking past old oaks covered in green moss. I have entered fairyland. By now the fairies have taught me how to identify the perfect blackberry. It need not only be a deep shade of black-blue, but it must also be bulging with juice. After some time one begins to see the difference. It is as if someone has blow them up like little balloons. The other trick is they must come off the vine nearly without effort. If you need to pull them off the bush with force, you are guaranteed a sour smile.
This morning the air quality has dropped. Instead of being in the green, or even yellow, we are in the orange approaching red. People seem to be used to this around here, but I still find it startling, the smell of wood fire coming in the open windows. Some part of me feels inclined to stay inside today, close to home.
When I check the news the Honorable Governor does not seem to be so honorable anymore. His fall from grace appears more like a plummet. With breaking news all the media channels report his resignation. Part of me yearns for more evolution in this case. It would be more interesting, give me more to write about. A true acknowledgment of ignorance requires first of all confronting personal delusion, but it appears the Governor hasn’t broken through that glass yet. He says the allegations of sexual assault and misconduct are a distraction for government, which they are, but he did not seem to go so far as to acknowledge their reality. That is the troubling part. But it is his trouble. He will vacate the Governor’s mansion in Albany where he grew up in two weeks. It will be taken from him, the home that was never really his even though he might have claimed it as such. The reporters speak of arrogance, and ruthless grabs for power. Makes me think of the French philosopher Simone Weil, and what she said once about man mistaking power as an ends, rather than a means — “[Power] is to politics what a piano is to musical composition. Fools that we are, we confused the manufacture of a piano with the composition of a sonata.”
Once we have identified the desire for power, then what? Take piano lessons? How interesting it is that when we see longing in another creature’s eyes we so often interpret our own desires. You want, and I think you want what I want, but all we really have in common is that we want. In a way it shows how beautifully arbitrary narrative can be. Which characters present themselves as enduring hardwoods, and which others burn hot and bright and extinguish quickly.
Last night my Grandmother came to me in my dreams. Her name is Katharine. Katharine the Capricorn from Canada who would have turned 100 this year. Katharine was also a black sheep, and even though she had a mostly white sheep family, she could respect those who took the road less traveled. Katharine told me in this dream that I should get the vaccine. She told me the family needs its black sheep, and the wedding that is happening in DC this fall which is requiring vaccines will not be the same without me. I know this is true. It just gets tiring being seen as a novelty all the time. But I suppose that’s what cocktail attire and open bars are for, right? Set the mood right for your perfect soundbite.
I consider making pie but most of the blackberries get eaten by the fairies.
There is a fountain in Lisbon called the Fonte Luminosa. We are not there yet, but that is where this story is going. Our grand tour around the world will come full circle, and whatever normalcy that is not normal will have to continue changing on its own.
In my memory there is a man standing there, who shows us all what it means to be a man, good and bad. All the weight of gravity. All the testosterone. The arrogance. The energy. He is waiting, and he doesn’t like to wait. He is a Cuomo kind of man, even if he doesn’t want to admit it. The kind of man people might turn to in a crisis. Someone who likes being in charge and doesn’t like compromise. He is good with the ladies and they like him. But he is also broken somewhere on the inside, shattered pieces which are being glued slowly back together over time. He is a two-in-one man: a warrior, and a refuge. Usually the broken parts are hidden behind the armor of a massive ego. Though not always.
What does it mean to be a broken man? What does it take to get back up after a perilous fall besides fortitude, and humility?
Somewhere in California a crazy man is screaming in the street. The screams sound guttural, consistent. Like he is purging an entire childhood of trauma. Or else maybe just what happened last week. He will return to his shopping cart, to his home, to his memories.
We are going back in time, checking out the scenery. Finding parallels between now and then. Connecting threads. Right now it is the haze of heat. Yellow light suffusing everything. A heat that feels like a heavy body lying on top of you. It can even feel comforting, as long as you can still breathe.
As I last recall, we had just landed in Portugal. We were standing in front of the fountain. This white shining city is white for a reason. That reason is called Summer. Reflect what heat you can, while you can. Don’t come out until sunset, then keep your fingers crossed for sangria.
Today in Oregon the heat blows in like a snow storm. There is a density to this air. A heaviness. We close all the doors and batten the hatches. Batten the hatches. Let us just say that phrase again, because it is probably an action that few of us have ever done, even we all know what we’re doing. What is a hatch? What does it mean to batten? But then one says, batten the hatches, and most of us speaking American English will understand what you mean. Buckle down, get ready, the enemy’s coming.
While we’re on this language thing, I’d like to identify another point of difference or perhaps just American ignorance, and that is the existence of more than one kind of English. The fact that America did not invent English. The valid right to exist of all these other Englishes. Of an English that is anything it wants to be. Like Britney. Like Michigan. Liberate English!
But this is just a silly side note. An ongoing list of obvious-from-the-outside character traits of the red-white-and-blue America. The anthropologist in me carrying out cross-cultural education. Trying to help out. Maybe you never thought of it that way, never had a chance to, never got out of the country because you only get two weeks of vacation a year and America is just so gosh darn big might as well start there first! Which of course adds a whole new layer to this English language thing. Or else just proves its point. Infinite difference co-existing under one beach umbrella. Sharing a cooler even.
(Things you said:
I feel stopped in my track to open up when I repeatedly feel the ways of connection are just being altered, limited, intensified on a moments notice.)
Now I ask you in retrospect, with my 50/50 vision, does it matter I didn’t mean to? That these limitations were inadvertent? That all our forms are fleeting anyway? I’m sorry you felt that way. I feel also, many ways. Maybe ask me about it some day.
We are beginning to acknowledge the chronic suppression mechanism. Trigger drills. Where is your access point — anger, sadness, humor — do you get giddy? The Hierophant, the Fool, and the Hermit. Three of the solitary majors. Solitary for a reason. Somewhere along the way there was a rupture of trust, and trust is not built upon “Let’s forget about the part where we hurt each other.”
I was yelling at a faceless man. He came roaring back.
The chief executive starts every morning with a mantra: “All people and all circumstances are my allies.”
Hope anxiety delusion gratitude. You know what a good thing is cause you’ve been through it all.
Put me in the dream state.
Humanity happens in unspoken moments
You get more powerful when your center is stronger
OH WOULD SHOW ME A SIGN THAT YOU LOVE ME? POR FAVOR, PRETTY PLEASE.
Dear Doctor Rosana, I’ve been feeling guilty about being happy. There is still love. And sometimes I am happy for reasons that have nothing to do with the past; sometimes I am happy when others are still suffering, and for this I feel guilty.
She looked eaten by love.
Someone recommended a podcast about Resource Installation. Got to fortify those inner resources just like you would the beams in your home. Time passes, things get worn down.
The Times reports that a construction site safety manager in Queens said that as a Black man, he was more worried about the prospect of being stopped by the police than he was about getting Covid-19. His mistrust of the government was inevitable. Lest we forget, Black Lives Matter was just last year. Last summer. In this same heat, a different year, full of protests. There is a legacy here, and they can take time to be broken. Some people just want us to forget. Move on, they say, let go of the past. “Some people” aka people who are accustomed to hurting other people unconsciously and indiscriminately and conveniently aren’t aware it ever happened. But here we are, still dealing with the scar, still trying to heal the tissue.
We have a flag problem in the US, says my mother. I agree. This American exceptionalism. All that latent power and precipice that lies in believing that one is the best at all times. The tragedy of narcissists.
I was attached to all of it. Both the ride and the crash and the trip to the hospital after.
(Something one of us said:
I believe that courage is upholding what you have once decided to do and enduring all troubles encountered along the way. To sustain and carry out that original intention — just this, in itself — is real courage.)
Sounds like a stubborn Taurus if you ask me. Life moves. Life is change. Why fight it?
Don’t kill the messenger. I’m just an American dreamer. Just a tree in a burning down forest. Great roots of belief, doubt, and determination. Something we call liberty. Freedom. Justice.
This American Dream. This thing that we all stopped talking about. That White Elephant left the room and Keats walked in.
At once it struck me what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in Literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously—I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason—Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half-knowledge. This pursued through volumes would perhaps take us no further than this, that with a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration. (Letters, 1817)
Verisimilitude: with the appearance of truth
Penetralium: the innermost sanctum of a building
How much difference can you hold in your two hands before you lose it? Keats had to invent words and concepts in order to express what he meant. Which is the admission of every great thinker in the world, the truth we cannot know, the contradictions of perspective that occur when we traverse a round earth with so many pairs of eyes seeing the same thing though only a part of it.
We are all drowning in experience
And have nothing to say.
What is it we have learned
From all this doing ?
This is the real world muchachos, and we are all in it. Your comfort zone is not a given. Let me rephrase that. It is paralyzing and causing a road block.
I was working with the Devil.
She told me to ask him for advice
You don’t have to chase things
He said, they’ll find you
He asked me if I was tired of suffering yet
After having lived so many lives
Of course I said, Pues claro, Si.
Después de tantos vidas
Canso de sufrir
Pero ahora ya se
Que es importante
This is how I learned, what’s important.
In Portugal, for what I can recall, it was the ocean. The tidal river flowing into the Mediterranean with its boats getting beached during low tide, revealing oyster pens and salt flats and seashells; when it flowed in reverse we were given tide pools and free massage beds from the sand that formed around our bodies of matter.
There was a semblance of tourism that seemed to reveal something much more important than vacation. Those moments when we go to nature to restore us, give us hope, cleanse our mind and body. I spent one morning crying on the steps of my apartment and the Portuguese grandmother from next door waved me over, just to make sure I was okay. Just to share a nod. Yet again we are together, me and all of you I never met before. There was wine, and coffee, and fried potatoes. When you were lucky, when the waitress didn’t save all of them for the locals, there was also pastel de nata. Just a little cream to sweeten your day, and dogs, barking all along the way.
My Portuguese host gave me a ride to the train station, and I turned back east. Sometimes one does not want to recall everything, and this is probably best. Locations hold everything we forget. Here my heart reclaimed these pines and beaches from my mind, from other journeys, other stories, another time. Reclaimed some space and left the rest to sacred silence.
So why not repopulate your memory with new faces and places? A hidden valley amongst arid hillsides of rosemary, that is where I landed next. An empowerment from the powers that be. Opportunities to be a part of something, opportunities to be.
I tried to release all my stories. Intended to expunge my heart, but it wouldn’t go. It was in fact impossible. Felt like cutting off an arm. Not an option. For all that I was trying to let go, some of it was just in my blood, a part of my heart’s anthem. Some of you is already a part of me, permanently. And I am better for it, that is my admission.
For all that this pandemic pilgrimage gave me, what it taught me was this: not every intruder in our world is a contaminant. Sometimes just another human can be all the medicine you need. Sometimes it is as simple as, “I see you, and you see me.” For some of us, that is a novel thing.
So there we were, being sacred ceremonial beings, gathering on a hillside during a pandemic. We were one body over the allotted number that were allowed to gather. The local police sent drones in to monitor our activities like a low budget sci-fi movie. Mini helicopters flying overhead. Big Brother’s mini me. Yes, sure, supposedly this is for Covid protocol, which arguable is meaningless, but is this not also reminiscent of fascist Spain? People ran for the hills, and the government followed.
The thing is, the medicine only works when we are all connected. In this gathering of humans there were two different factions, and as usual, I was a part of both of them. Different languages, different understandings of the world, different levels of experience. One ceremonial boat that we are all on together. In a limited space like that, we are forced to see each other, and we must let ourselves be seen. All that wild animal inside of you, its screams and its whispers. Its groans. Its sounds in the middle of the night. So many beating hearts that fit into this human. I kissed one of them. A man named Eduardo. He is Castilian. We got caught in traffic on the way back to Barcelona, after swimming in a river. There was a sunburn involved, and Mary Poppins’ bag of tricks. Usually in traffic we want to get through it as soon as possible, get to wherever it was that we were going, but this time I was content with my half-truth and the present moment. We could have broken down for all I cared, and instead sooner than hoped we were speeding through the darkening streets of the city, approaching a moment of departure, a split of one being back into two. A shared human moment coming full circle.
I was a rubber band starting to ricochet home. He was the prettiest bit of scenery, the last thing I saw before speeding down the tracks. Home sweet home. Deutschland. Back to the northern parts. Paris and then eventually Berlin. Haupbahnhof. Tiergarten. Schöneberger Ufer. That glorious pink velvet couch. All the flavors of salt and sand and sweet residue overshadowing the bitter taste that had been in my mouth all spring. Suddenly it was summer in the city.
SUMMER IN THE CITY
I remember a there was a lot of white wine last summer. It was hot.
We went to outdoor events. Parties in the street. The parks were filled as usual and even more because most of the clubs were either closed or repurposed. Berghain had turned into an elite art gallery with a limited number of tickets available. KitKat Klub was now a Covid testing site. Leave it to the clubs to still have a lines around the block, even in the middle of a pandemic.
One day my friend and I went out to Peacock Island. We both pranced around like fancy birds and took pictures. By now society’s stamina seemed to be waning, and things like Positive Thinking and Manifestation began to find their way into mainstream media. People started downloading applications to help them relax. Help the sleep. Help them learn how to be. We want to learn how to induce that “Honeymoon Effect,” they say, that state of mind where everything is shining and beautiful and perfectly aligned. Everyone on cloud nine just because we are a part of Unity City.
We are celebrating the reunification of disparate sides. So many walls of difference broken down. Bridges burned and built again, contesting the musculature of frowns and squints, the threats from people who do not think like you. The habituated psychic postures, profoundly affecting not only how we hold ourselves energetically, but literally our bodies, as well. Influencing the sort of person we retreat from, or reach out to. Shedding this fear of the Other in the midst of a viral pandemic becomes the meditation object.
I never knew why they called it Unity City, and now I do. Freedom and Unity and why not add Health to the mix. Freiheit, Einheit, Gesundheit. Reaching up to new heights of what it means to be free, of what it means to be one, of what it means to be. We need to reduce restriction patterns, rather than create new architecture. Breaking up these pain cycles, bracing for the hit, the fall, the next crisis. That moment when the ground spontaneously drops out from under you.
There are the Messiahs amongst us. Just like our inner Buddha. God in man, with man’s ego. The people that are going to save us from delusion with their own prescription of the same. When I return to the city there are protests in the streets, thousands of people, protesting regulation and celebrating unity and again, who am I to say what’s wrong or right?
Enough with those Covid parties, all you teens in Mitte with nowhere to go except the street. No one seems to give a shit anymore about anything. In Greece, if you want to leave home you have to send a text to a special phone number. Get permission. In Italy there is a resurgence in the ownership of pets because a dog means you are allowed to walk it. My friend in Rome carries a fake bag of groceries around with her when she goes to teach her underground yoga lessons. Because lest we forget, many of us are still paying rent. Somehow. If you’re not independently wealthy you gotta hustle. Pandemic or no pandemic.
Take as needed what you need. There is so much grey zone. Such a spectrum between right and wrong. Left and right. Silence and song.
People are reporting on each other. But no one likes a snitch. There is a letter on the table and an open debate about justice. Public shaming and ostracizing has become the new vogue.
Can’t you just forgive your people? They’re hurting inside.
Why was this unwelcome news ? In New Mobility, origins dissolve. That is what they tell me, those Power Point creatives. How seductive comfort is. We become bodies of culture, invested in our ignorance. We don’t know we’re viewing it through a frame. Overt and complicit racists.
Is this what happens when bodies get together to build culture? Open your chest, open your guts. When someone tells me their not racist, it doesn’t make me feel safe. They still have their assumptions and behaviors.
This belly, the beast, is being exposed. We found him, General, just like you asked for. We need to work out that pus amongst ourselves. Only thing is, not everyone is willing to acknowledge there is an infection. There are those who, how do you say it? Turn a blind eye.
(an eye for an eye and we all go blind)
It was a month of many rainbows. Rain and heavy clouds, but also sun, and hence, rainbows.
We were given the seeds of “Time Freedom.” Just need to water then with motivation and discipline.Use all the resources available to you. Think a little bit. That fear of missing out everyone’s talking about? That’s called Greed. Those voices in your head are emotions.
A sunset full of neon clouds at 9:25pm. Mother of gold you don’t blame blood. God is love, love is god. Hanoi Hannah…. now we are reminded, of all our pain ghosts, hiding in the shadows. Different jolts of the same current. Shows what’s on the edge of the mind, lightning on the front.
Transcend reportage, she said, tell you something of the condition. The heart of ambivalence.
“Dear passengers, please cover mouth and nose. Don’t risk a fight.”
There is a physicality to fear.
117 years of a department store legacy shutting down forever. All the weak links, even the ones we’ve loved, are breaking. All the old horses are dying.
“Well,” says Jacqueline, “I, for one, am tired of being great.” As in, what we were supposed to make America be. Again. Make America a Third World Nation. That’s what we need, Jaq says. Bring on the humility. Old town America is gone. A woman in a wheelchair, decked out head-to-toe in white and red polka dots. A house with a porch and a yard and a white picket fence, proud.
“Anger is a grief of distortion between peers, and its object is change. But our time is getting shorter.” (Audre Lorde)
You will remember where you were when you read these words. It was right before you got canceled. This implosion of culture around denying things. What a waste of energy.
Here I’m feeling like an old grandma in the grocery store in her cardigan sweater, looking at the headlines without fully understanding what they mean.
TAKING THE SCENIC ROUTE
Put on your jet pack, we’re going back to present moment. Suddenly we are in Oregon. The skies are full of smoke, Covid case levels are rising, and they’ve just reinstated the mask mandate. There is a wedding I am supposed to go to in September in Washington DC that has instated a vaccine requirement. I consult all my inner and outer resources and in the end take the middle way right over the ridge line. Took me a bit longer to get there, but I was right on-brand for myself, not overly committed to either side. With seven planets in Libra; what can be expected with so many sets of balancing scales? Before the global mandates set in and after all the eager beavers, I said yes. More like, “What the hell, I’ll do it.”
This morning the sun was once again shining orange light through a haze that inclined one not to even look at it. The light this sun casts is peach in color, as if the sun itself has been eclipsed. You can no longer see the mountains in the horizon through the haze of smoke. Supposedly there are no active fires at the moment in this region, but that is only if we keep the region in consideration relatively small. Expand out a couple of hours and the forecast is pure smoke and potential evacuation.
It was my grandmother that made me do it. She died some 12 years ago but when I brought her to mind the other day and asked her spirit if I should get the vaccine, she just said “Yes” off-handedly. It was a quick response. One she didn’t even need to give any thought. The list of reasons to do it were too long, and the list of reasons not to were mostly based on fear. And it was my grandmother, after all, the one who once gave me a pendant that said, “Not all who wander are lost.” This woman knew the meaning of Negative Capability, and was able to hold in her wide embrace many different kinds of truth. She was an open-hearted person who sometimes read the newspaper while receiving acupuncture for her dementia, which she was only doing to humor us anyway. For her the priority was her cup of black coffee each morning with half a muffin, half a grapefruit, half a banana, and the newspaper. Wheel of Fortune and a Bourbon Old Fashioned at 5pm. Whatever reason to celebrate you could give her, she was in. That’s who this woman was, a person who celebrated life. So when push comes to shove, I’ll take her advice. She’s lived through enough. I respect her opinion and experience. These are the rippling waves people can have upon us, the legacy of their spirits coming in to guide us when there are too many voices shouting from every direction something different.
So I put on my blue linen pants and a saffron colored silk tank and put on my straw hat and took my purse with a mug of black coffee right on over to McCoy’s Pharmacy. My neighbor and I went together. “Vaccine Buddies.” Should have taken a selfie. Both of us are skeptics and as we rode into town we spoke about all the misinformation and attitude prevalent on both sides. All the annoying righteousness. At the same time, it was better than Walmart. Gave us some measure of good faith to go to the local pharmacy instead of the multinational corporation. Perhaps the person injecting us will have actually worked with needles before. As we walked in the door I repeated the CEO’s mantra, “All people and all circumstances are my allies.”
We were greeted by an inviting and friendly atmosphere laden with the kind of cute wooden signs that people put in AirBnbs, like “America the Beautiful,” and ceramic mugs that say, “Take the Scenic Route.” There was local toffee for sale alongside the vitamins, and even a glittery pink wallet that I decided to buy for my niece’s Sweet 16 care package. Trish the friendly pharmacy technician greeted us smiling with her eyes from behind a plastic divider, and when asked proceeded to tell us that she and all 8 members of her family got the Moderna vaccine with no averse reactions, but she called upon David the pharmacist, the owner of McCoy’s, to give us his opinion. David came out from behind his desk with his fabric mask sliding a bit off his nose and told us that he too, had gotten Moderna, but told us anyway of all the options. It was all so congenial it felt scripted. As if this was exactly the scene one imagined to put the vaccine-hesitant person at ease. Truth is, what put us at ease was the lack of pretense. The fact that even as David was putting on the rubber gloves and we were rolling up our sleeves, there we were talking about how it was very likely that the virus somehow escaped from the Wuhan laboratories.
David was saying, you know, all the government had to do was tell us “We don’t really know, instead of pretending that they did and later changing their minds and losing our trust.” Which is exactly what happened, if in fact you had trust in the government to begin with. But David believed most aspects of the science, told us he has followed the people from Harvard who made the vaccine, and at the same time questioned the decision to promote booster shots before more research has been done. He accepted some aspects of this process, but not all of it. His negative capabilities seemed alive and well in a land of finger-pointing extremists, and that gave me faith. He told me his arm was sore after he got the shot, told me about some other reactions he had witnesses, suggested we stay seated for 15 minutes before leaving. We even began discussing the efficacy of masks. It was an open and pleasant dialogue where nobody felt the need to take sides, and that was so utterly refreshing in this time. I could feel Nana there with me the whole time.
Which is why, in her honor, it would only be appropriate to at least try to find a pint of Jim Beam. It is simple enough in my family. Anything resonant of Nana requires an Old-Fashioned. And today feels as worthy of celebration as any other moment. Celebrating unity, humility, humanity, optimism.
What a strange human tendency, this need to declare sides. On some level it all seems to come back to that egoic need to claim space that Jacqueline had mentioned. This thing that Jesus was supposed to have taught so well. What if one simply refuses to claim that space? Refused sides? I feel like this theme has already come up more than once in this pandemic.
We drove home and continued speaking about the spectrum of issues involved. The lack of good education systems that taught people critical thinking and discernment. The over-whelming inundation of environmental issues and extreme weather challenging the whole globe. Humanity’s arrogance and their tendency to be, as George Carlin once put it, a “surface nuisance” upon this earth. We have been parasites, that is for sure, but we need not be only that. Regardless of whatever science believes itself to prove, I will always give credit to Mother Earth for this pandemic. Nature will always be smarter than man. This virus was meant to regulate us, and it has. Put us firmly, and at times tragically, in our place. Which is decidedly not on top.
Sometimes it makes me sigh. All of it. The ignorance, the delusion, the greed, the hatred. All of humanity’s weakest links, and the reasons for our continued suffering. One would have though we’d have learned more by now.
But I will say this; I don’t believe all good intentions pave the road to hell. I appreciated Trish and David. Appreciated their humanity, their desire to do good, for whatever reason. The mind and the body are not disconnected, and perhaps we will never know the placebo effect of this vaccine, nor the negative impact on our immune systems or mental health of all the fear that has been continuously instilled upon us in waves throughout this pandemic. It is not nothing, that is for sure. One vaccinated individual I know told me after he got his doses he felt like Superman. Invincible. Which is not exactly the point. One must still cultivate good health.
But hey, who doesn’t want to feel like Superman, at least once in a while?
The crepuscule comes like it does in August, violent and reminiscent of fireflies and picnics and tired children who don’t want to go home.
I want to go home. It just happens to be far away from here.
NICHT OHNE UNS
My friend got married last summer on the Baltic Sea. I committed to going sometime in the early spring. Baltic Sea Summer Vacation! Who wouldn’t be in? Though really I already committed the summer before when we had her private engagement party celebration on Rosa-Luxembourg Platz. It was God’s Plan. Drake and a bottle of red wine confirmed it.
She had a yellow dress. Two of them, actually. Daytime and evening wear. Her stepmom made cute little table decorations of wild flowers and a beautiful bouquet.
It was a disparate gathering of people in the middle of a surreal summer. She was marrying the head of the German “Hygiene Protests” and for a moment we were concerned about the potential for paparazzi. They got married in an old church from the 5th century. The ceilings in the church we so high that from a certain angle one could see God sitting back in his easy chair, looking down on us. After we listened to an old man speak old words there was cake and ice cream and Sekt in an old stone plaza; we went for Italian food after.
Some of the guests distributed copies of their alternative newspaper along the streets. Not without us. You’re not going to make all those decisions without us, they say. People need to be reminded of their rights. Keep the government in check. Prevent a slide down a slippery slope. Except the whole apparatus seemed more like a toboggan, and the feeling, that of rushing through an obstacle course.
When all was said and done I went home alone only to end up at Europe’s oldest harbor pub, open since 1332. There I met Burckhardt and his wife, a German couple in their late 70s who still chose to go out to their local pub on a Saturday night. The place only had space for about 15 people, and for some reason I connected with this old couple and we ended up drinking a considerable amount of the house schnapps together. Amazing how one’s fluency in foreign languages improves with the aid of alcohol. All you need is a kindred spirit.
I find in my notes from this time a few phrases that I cannot make sense of :
Virus is least intelligent form of life on the planet (?)
Shining a light on slave drivers
Tracking what has been happening for centuries
The Shadow Pandemic
You have to put your laundry in the basket
I mean, tell me that is not an interesting snapshot of the stimulus taken in by one mind? I often make notes like that, and usually remember what they mean. But on occasion the spontaneous juxtaposition impresses me. From what I best recall these were perhaps quotes from a quasi-conspiracy website. I say “quasi” because they would probably not consider themselves conspirators, though many others would, and vice versa. Truthfully I had some quite interesting conversations with these anarchists, participant observing like always. They were for the most part discerning and passionate individuals, ready to resume the revolution. But we all have a blind spot. All of us, myself included. Comes with the human territory.
I remember thinking that if it was ten or fifteen years earlier in my life, perhaps I would have been there with them. Revolution seems like something one does in their 20s more than not. After that many of us become convinced that some form of compromise is really the way to go, because hidden underneath the view of many a passionate revolution is a lot of ignorance and, perhaps, people who have a tendency not to put their laundry in the laundry basket.
There is also that other revolution. The aesthetic one. Which is to say, the revolution we invoke with our choices. Where we decide to focus our energy. That alternative reality that we are creating alongside the one that is already created, like an invisible parallel dimension, the real matrix. Just take a minute, imagine it. Imagine it, and it is there. The real revolution, where there is no enemy. There is no Other, just Another. Another human. Another animal. It is a body, and it matters.
A mixture of theatrics and journalism was taking place. Large gatherings of people six meters apart, waving around copies of the German constitution. The social distancing diminished over the time, but the conviction around personal rights did not. One has to remember, this is Germany. There is a complex history of tribal independence, as well as extreme government control. Sides of walls. Genocide. Wire tapping of phones. Lots of barbed wire. Many older Germans witnessed at least one of the above and are wary of things like “lockdowns.” Because maybe that is just the first step. All these forms of permission and new kinds of health regulations. Allowances on how many people are allowed to gather, and for which designated reasons. Indeed, it is good to question, how much of this societal control will remain after Covid goes home?
The only problem with protest as such is the tendency to fall into old tropes, throwing around phrases like “terrorism” in entirely inappropriate settings. There are indeed characters to play, and sometimes we act out the scene in favor of a less interesting and mundane reality. In this Act the people that would consider themselves ‘progressive’ look a lot like the far-right (it is an interesting circular connection really), and start attracting people around an abstract concept of Rights That Have Been Taken From Us. Protect your rights, they say. Protect your right to have rights! The mob screams in delight.
But really, who ever said you have rights? What of this Right to Rights? Is that God’s plan, also?
So many incorrect assumptions. If we will speak of rights, let us also speak of our obligations.
The notion of obligation comes before that of rights, which is subordinate and relative to the former. (Simone Weil)
There is much in this life that silences us, but sometimes we just need to shout. Would that we had more socially acceptable forums for these cries, rather than waiting until that moment when the protest overflows and attempts an insurrection at the Reichtstag. What happened that day at the German Parliament was basically a smaller equivalent of what would happen some months later on the American Capitol. Individuals protecting our rights as citizens, challenging individuals protecting our rights as citizens, sometimes violently. Ironic, no? Seems everyone agrees about this Right to Rights, but we just can’t quite decide what they are.
Throughout Corona Season my friend had to bail her husband out of jail on more than one occasion. He is quite a philosophical individual, eccentric and charismatic. In some ways he seems like just another extremely sensitive artistic type, someone who would have done well in the time of Goethe. A person meant for long walks in green forests and extensive conversation about human nature. The problem is the society and world we live in is growing increasingly more crass by the day. We are all forced to protect our hearts, or risk going slightly crazy. Self-regulation is the tool, but that requires a lot of energy, the same kind of creative energy one uses for writing sonnets. Normally one doesn’t write sonnets with sirens blaring.
“Just take a look at the whole thing,” they say. This famous They. We haven’t gotten to talking about Them yet, but we will. I have much to say about The Club of They. The staging of history is not over yet. Half-comic, half-tragic. “Naive action art.” It sounds always already patronizing, missing the point of these situations. Because there is an overlooked aspect to such gestures — they cannot be well faked. Which is to say, they identify a certain place in a process, one that is usually unavoidable. It is all real to somebody. To many anonymous bodies.
THE WORLD IS SCREAMING
In this case, the transition is seamless. Where we are at in the story makes sense now.
Where we are at, is, for the most part at home, dialing into new Netflix series or regularly watching our favorite late-night comedians stream their shows from home.
“We need to learn now to take this anger,” says Jimmy Fallon, “which is, of course, just sadness and fear.”
We are in the middle of a change cycle. This ever-present sea change, ground shifting underneath our feet. In the midst of this shift we are learning so many things. All these rhizomatic roots of delusion, and then sometimes, coming upon the tap root. Weeding out the ignorance, confronting the hatred, addressing the greed.
(There were angels in the darkness that night. I’d close my eyes and hear their voices, singing on high)
When we touch a human body, we communicate with every nucleus of each cell. It is a liquid matrix, 60% water if we average all the parts. We touch this water and touch all of the water, this is our role in relation, holding space for all that water, all that change.
When we are traumatized the movement stops, or slows. The water freezes. We clench our jaw and our fists and batten our internal hatches. We become hardened on the defensive, hardly able to open the grasping of our hands. Oh what it would be like, to live with fully open hands!
It’s too heavy a high, too light a low. This unbearable sun and its gravity. Our being.
I couldn’t give the saxophonist playing along the canal money, so instead I sent him prayers.
“Drapery? What do you call it ! Curtains.”
Sometimes all the voices in my head become overwhelming. There are so many. We are speaking about vulnerability, uncertainty, risk, and human exposure. Vulnerability and leadership. Taking on one’s vulnerability like a gift. Leading around our fear until it turns to courage. Fake it til you become it, that’s what the pros do. I walk around until it’s time to go home.
We shared a home once, under a pine tree. A popular Japanese drama speaks of wedded pines that are eternally bonded despite being separated by great distances, the Takasago story. The distance between them is insignificant, because their hearts are the same. These trees are special, because they are unchanging. The home tree. The tree of life. Forever home.
That is the dream we created. But there is also a new story.
Sometimes I think about when we made love and you were above me with a tear in your eye and I was inebriated and tamed and submitting finally. You touched me deeply.
We want the heroes from another age to come alive again, this Fabio of our dreams. But I want to talk about something different now, the beloved community. A society at peace with itself.
John Lewis dies. He who tells us to use our bodies to heal the soul of our nation.
Our story is one of acceptance, patience, posture. Systematically avoiding the complications in life by embracing its complexity.
The sky turned peach and aqua as it sometimes does, mixed with lavender clouds at sunset. We are living the pain of proximity. To touch him makes me cry.
The candidates have agreed to not shake hands. Lest we forget, there was an American presidential election that happened in the midst of this season, also.
All this reckless development, a frightening surge in disasters, a jolting preview of what is to come and a newfound respect for the power of nature. Homes ignited spontaneously from the radiant heat and there is finally starting to be a cultural recognition of risk.
It feels very strange to be here in your bed, the one we once shared, which was once mine. Maybe you trusted me in the Canary Islands, so many years ago, when we would build a fire in the fireplace and then I would hold your head to calm its concussive movement. But I am not sure if there was ever trust there, trust in life, trust in me. I always needed to present an argument for it. Since then so much has happened, too much perhaps. I kept falling into the ruts and ditches of the script, getting stuck, repeating old patterns involuntary. So often it felt like you manifested my failure to be who you wanted me to be. Like maybe you didn’t ever believe in me at all. Made me try all the harder for so long, echoes of effort still beating in my being.
I slept fitfully here, feverish. Dreamt that you had a black and white long-haired cat, that a spider lay her eggs in my sleeping mouth, that you left in the very early morning to leave a deposit on a tattoo you wanted to get, some emoticon sunset image in the middle of your solar plexus. Like the water molecule, the Platonic solid of water, that you had on your t-shirt when we met, that is now forever tagged upon my lower belly.
The goddess of destruction moves outdoors, takes a stretch in both directions. She sits up, then lies down, enjoying the warmth, the breeze, the stillness.
I did not have expectations of this visit; perhaps I should have watched the trailer. When you leave the bed you offer me to share with you, that we share as some kind of friends, I feel rejected. You love me, but not like that, when I’m like this, which is how I am always.
We have bottle of fizzy water that make a sound when we open them in the middle of the night. It is still the middle of the night, and you are in the bathtub, were — now the water is draining out. I do not know how long you were there, just woke to your absence out of a dream in which you had already left.
Acceptance, Trust, they say. Famous words from The House of They.
Personally, it’s like watching the decline of the Roman Empire. Painful and inevitable.
What does Mood Indigo mean? It is a strange Blue Valentine kind of day. A mood of melancholy, mystery in the dark hues, joy and vitality in lighter variations. Like these cloud-hazed hills. Indigo is a dye that demands discipline to use. A discipline that seems to through experience, over time. It is an elder color, the one that lasts centuries.
My mother sends me a book about two women meeting, one older and one younger. They exchange lessons, taking advantage of the advantages each pole has — physical capacity on one end, wisdom on the other. The important thing, she says, it just to DO something, even if it is making a pile of stones. Doing leads to becoming. Before you know it, you are on to the next stage in life.
The next stage. Brightly lit and televised.
“As far as I’m concerned vital living is all about action and touch. That’s where you find the wisdom — in what you’re doing and feeling. Stepping out on a gray day, immersing oneself in the elements, daring to be different, that’s the way to go. Thank goodness, there’s no one as foolish as us right now. We can be in a fog all by ourselves!” (Joan Erikson)
Every time she approached the old master, he told her to go for a walk.
That is our story. Just one long walk. A graceful and everlasting daily obligation. You tell me to find you here, in the silence between moments. On rocky hill stops and wild waving oceans.
In voice we have resorted to a formal style of communication. We say Please and Thank You so as not to offend. That feeling of a void. Emptiness, after that which was over full. Extremes like always exhausting the baseline energy.
We look at the weather report and I notice my growing aversion to its impact on when and how we meet. Isn’t it always more fun to get caught in the rain? To get lost and find our way? And okay, yes, we did that also. We did it all.
The best projection space is an empty screen, he says, which is true. He was always right. Just because we cannot cohabitate doesn’t mean that I do not admit his intelligence on many levels. His superlativity. A superior man. How lucky we are to live the lives we lead. Never give back a tear for all they came from.
I have been writing our story my whole life, in lives before this one. How we came together, how we separated. Every story with the same echo. Except this time there is something different, another instrument, offering its tune. I hear both.
Nightlife, and afterlife. Nachher. And also later.
I continue to address our attachment algorithms and attention economics. Before and after the fact. Left the house in the summer heat and came home from the park with dried leaves fluttering on a clouded sidewalk. The skin is faster than the word because it is water and word is earth. We use this earth for transactional support but really don’t we already know what we mean?
That time when I dreamed that we walked on Symonds Yat Rock. Why do I know such things? These two settlements on either side of a river, linked by a footbridge. Sounds like Frida and Diego. Together apart and made with love and rage. Two trees, different places. Always this proximity and separation. There is something about the space between us, vibrating.
You get stoned enough times before leaving the house and you start to feel stoned every time you leave the house. It’s the perfect placebo effect. Experiencing the external world in technicolor. So many moving things making noises. The shock of it. The joy. On the lucky mornings you catch the bus just after one has come by, so you are still on time, but ferried along in a near empty chariot, un-disturbed by the increasingly disturbing other humans.
Certain voices can be heard grating, high-pitched or nasal or overly forceful, coming more from the head than the heart. These are the ones that break the peace. Then there are the diligent and well dressed, going to work with ties and sunglasses. I have just come out of bed and wonder how I look to them, slightly unkempt, androgynous. In between the lines and proud of it.
No more wine from the grocery store, I say to myself. Only good poison from now on. What did I do last night to deserve this lethargy besides research Walter Benjamin and find out he grew up where I now live? This was worthy of resonant celebrating. But the tears of yesterday seem again indulgent in the morning light. All the wasted energy of emotion, its unproductive cycles, which are not inherently bad but at the very least repetitive and ultimately uninteresting.
Attachment becomes boring when we are whole.
that stand out to me ::
“(an attitude not just of indifference but of contempt)
that has to be deferred to, had to reign supreme.”
It just costs me
So much energy
To engage with you
It cost me
It brought me
Something like attachment
Sucking all that you can get
Everything that was there
All my marrow
But though you took from me
I am aware that
I am the source
And you also gave me water.
In over-extending my power of acceptance I have diminished my ability to experience joy. Now it is not just about attachment but my own ego identifying my own being with his. This complicated concept of death — that he is alive, and yet some aspect of what was between us is dead. We both tend to this grave in our own ways, but we cannot deny its change.
The inner child in me, his best friend, is still looking at him with confusion as he seeks to eviscerate and obliterate the soft shell-less animal evicted from the home of our love. Everywhere it is vulnerable underbelly laid bare across a sidewalk, and he is hitting it with a stick, piercing it, and I want him to stop but he won’t until it is dead. And who knows, maybe he had to do it. I didn’t have the guts. But I do see the world differently. Didn’t feel it was necessary. Maybe I was wrong. But then again, I am usually right. We are both right, and these are different rights, how interesting, no? We are both right and it doesn’t matter. If you remember one thing from this reading, let it be Negative Capability, the ability to hold multiple truths side by side. Suddenly truth is exponential.
That is how it feels, on the inside, at the depths. The parts of me that were flying above in the realm of right place perspective feel like a kite swooping close to the ground, trying but failing to fully catch the wind again.
Still a pull, between a sense of respectful obligation, acknowledgement of perspective, and a growing sense that it is cumulatively causing real damage. Also and especially when reminded of desperation, where feeling pain is supposedly better than feeling nothing nothing at all.
You see, I have been writing our story my whole life. The story of love and its long loss. But there is another You to be had out there. Infinite You. Another voice, another song, another body. Angel wings. Resurrection.
The red sun is disappearing behind a cloud in the grey sky. The earth is in a dying phase, and we are a part of it.
Sometimes, most times, we don’t know what the moral of the story is until it’s nearly over. Makes sense. If we knew the point at the beginning, what reason do we have to keep going?
There was two things that were important to him: His girl, and his General.
Just as Governor Cuomo is eating humble pie it seems like Biden’s is baking in the oven. It is a disgrace, the way we are leaving Afghanistan. It IS like Vietnam. Maybe not in detail, but in principle. Soon enough in full color. Cities falling day by day, then suddenly, big surprise! The capital falls without a fight.
It’s like you’re standing next to someone who is trying to stand on one leg, maybe because they only have one leg. Right as this one-legged person finds their line and are trying to balance, that moment when they’re leaning into you, you decide to walk away. Sure, it is their own leg or two that they will eventually need to stand upon, but there is a way of tempering one’s force and presence so as to make a departure relatively seamless. If you’re really good, the person standing won’t even notice you left, and yet there they are, standing on their own.
It doesn’t matter that polling says people want to leave the country. The question is, does it make sense to leave? This is why one calls it “exit strategy.” One makes a plan, rather than a decision based on mostly uninformed public opinion.
Sometimes we write our story just so we can sleep at night. He was talking about the City of Dis. Dante’s Divine Comedy. This is where you get put for all the sins of your mind. Heresy.
“Losses give us wisdom; wisdom ain’t cheap.” (Kevin Kling)
Perhaps it’s foiled by Love or Truth or Beauty, those things that can’t be held. One can’t really sum up what is infinite and valuable. Nothing but impermanence on that train, rushing onto a burning bridge.
For reasons of location I watch a silent movie made in 1923. Probably one of the only post-Civil War stories that paints a scene in which the Confederate Flag is the victor. Yes, there are people and lives and legacies, and then there is the fact of rights, all those rights that we’ve been speaking of, the rights of other human bodies. Really, this is what we’re fighting for. Not your rights. But what’s Right.
This old storytelling was entertaining despite its obvious flaw of ethics; maybe anyway one is not supposed to take sides in history. Just look at the Oregon hills and those wood-consuming steam trains. It was the 1920s. I suppose I expected a pristine wilderness. Everything was better back then, right? Except it wasn’t, apparently. Seems the trains just deforested their way across the country leaving piles of detritus just like the fires do today. All these rolling hills of half-cut sticks that are actually trunks of dead trees. No better in 1923 than they are today. Oh people. When will we learn?
And so, I write a letter to the General, aka the Governor. Turns out he’s not the hero anymore, but I tell him its for the best, he’s worked hard enough and deserves some time off. I tell him to start making a list, of all the people he thinks he may have offended or hurt in his life, for whatever reason, and start apologizing. Ask his daughters for advice, and start listening. In time we will all get over this. Less time than one would think. Just look at what happened with this manuscript. Best reason to wait for those book deals; don’t know what’s going to be relevant next year. Your hero could crash and burn in the meantime. All formations are imperfect and impermanent. But this is no reason to judge. There is no need to judge. All these somewhat vindictive reporters and individuals. Even those who feel genuinely hurt. It is important to make distinctions between what is acutely happening, and what effects are cumulative.
Sigh we may. Or else Hail Mary.
By the way, did I mention I became her? The lover of Jesus. Always did have that scarlet letter painted on my back. Probably because I don’t fit into the usual categories. The two of swords turned into three and still she was there in her ocean half-smiling.
DANCING IN AFRICA
It is just the old airport in Berlin, but in late summer it looks like the fields of Africa, all dry yellow grass and horizon. When it turns evening huge flocks of starling circle around the runways and settle into the few stands of trees. Recreational sporters go by, with bikes and skateboards and kites. Many a pedestrian and stroller. It is a place to get perspective in the city, with a view as wide as your open arms in all directions.
As the lockdown measures fluctuated in the spring, forcing many sports venues and studios to close, the outdoor public areas remained somewhat of a gray zone. So, with the clubs closed and the vibe still rolling, we started to dance in the fields.
Perhaps this is my favorite pandemic phenomenon of all, the Dose of Pleasure. One special human named Alvin Collantes who happened to touch a nerve that all of us felt. Our inner animals, all dying to come out. First the studios started with putting attendance limits on his busy in-person classes; soon after they closed and he moved to Zoom, offering live guided dances for anyone who wanted every day at 5pm.
It was my happy hour ritual; listen to the Governor’s daily briefing in EST, meaning somewhere around 4pm in Berlin, then dance out all the news with Alvin. He started us moving through the Chakras, doing this thing called Gaga, where you just move where you feel you need to move, unrestricted.
Let it go, let your voice go. Let it out, whatever there is inside of you asking to go.
In the beginning of summer the groups were sometimes small, even as a few as 10 people, gathering in the late spring Deutschland of unpredictable weather. But by the time I left for my soirée down south they were gathering steam. Seems like someone on social media heard of it and spread the word. Publicized the open air club that was happening a few days of week in the airport park at the top of the City, the place where the wind meets a bridge and gathers energy.
Energy begets energy. That was the conclusion of all of it. He got sponsored by speakers, and we played it louder. The park regulators found out, and tracked us down, and we were forced to move several times. “Please stay 6 feet apart people!….and now, Let’s Groove.”
This movement of movement not only continued in my summer absence; it gained both size and momentum. Suddenly there were literally hundreds of people gathering with bicycles and on foot to surround the Rave Shaman and Groove. Take a dose, and then maybe hang for the Overdose. Substance-free except that substance called life, that was allowed. That was why we were all still dancing, pounding out the beat with out feet alongside the drums.
Eventually they made a movie about it. They make a movie about everything, don’t they?
But it was real first. There were real people dancing before the actors.
You’re heading towards your intention, she told me. Happiness, stability, long-term.
It is the ending a cycle. Justice, the Three of Swords, Five of Pentacles. Oh how often you have visited me these last years. Letting go is for real now. Like it or not, here we are. It was supposed to be this way. Wheel of Fortune planned it.
My new life feels like an unbroken colt, just raring to buck me into the dust. I keep dancing like liquid. She can try, but she can’t throw me off. Old songs come back as new anthems, and I start singing.
I WENT FOR THE OYSTERS AND THE OCEAN.
I mean, who wouldn’t?
I’d wanted to go to Bretagne for a while. Ever since the train ride back from Portugal. Sat next to a woman on the leg from Paris to Germany next to a woman who initially seemed quite cold and off-putting and then later offered me “Kaffe Kekse” — Coffee Cookies — I did not know such a thing existed but they do and they are good. Initially I think she just offered me cookies because she had to lower her mask in order to eat them and if we both were eating them then she would be excused of the societal violation.
She thought I was French because I faked it in Paris, but then we started speaking in German, and ended up conversing the whole way home. She was coming from a life celebration of a friend of hers who died. An old community of people she had been close with once in her life. So they all came together around a large wooden table in this wild landscape to eat good food and drink good wine and reminisce. It sounded fabulous. I decided I wanted to do that. I felt called to Bretagne, and it was my birthday in October. Perfect time for oysters.
I wish I could tell you they were the best oysters I ever had. They weren’t. But they were in such abundance and surrounded by such pristine waters and more than enough incredible Chenin Blanc. I was content.
Getting ahead of myself though. I have to be abandoned by my so-called friends the day after my birthday first. Contentment came before and after that moment. In the wind and rain of the savage coast. In that cruisey little rental car, navigating out of Paris. In all that happened before we even thought about leaving.
Fall is always my favorite season, wherever I am. There is that initial moment of contraction, after everything gets as big as it can for the year. The light changes color, the harvests begin to come in. The days get shorter, and suddenly there is more time. I like those fresh breezes, those last wildflowers, the hint of cold. Somewhere late summer I finally went for it and order those knee-high combat boots I’d been eyeing, and they turned out to be perfect for the season, waterproof and warm and enough heft to weigh me down.
To be fair to the truth, I don’t remember so much about the fall of 2020. It had been a long year, and I was tired. It all seems to have gone by in a blur. Already scheming my exit from the continent and eyeing the political landscape for landmines. In love and out of it. Mostly like an empty gas tank parked in front of an old-time gas station with the numbers clicking by in slow motion. Like running in place.
I believe there were fires in Australia. Something about saving kangaroos. The presidential debates were a nightmare and eventually Trump got voted out. But it was all liberal conspiracy. Not an almost lost election with a one-way ticket to becoming the newest fascist county. More about that later anyway. It was a crazy time. Still is. Crazy town in all directions. Perhaps that’s why I felt the need to get out. One mental health vacation out into nature every 4 months or so seems reasonable if one lives in the big city. And this was a big city in the midst of a long pandemic on the tailwinds of a summer that seemed to skip right over fall and move to winter. There was an impending feeling, of a wave ready to crash upon us, but not quite yet.
A trip to the countryside is always a bit of a challenge to organize, because people live different lives in different places and commitment to a plan is a bit of an old-fashioned idea these days. But nonetheless we seemed to have a committed group of travelers on board, everyone nodding and smiling to the “come at your own risk” disclosures. I had high hopes for this gathering of witches on sacred ground, around a wooden table in Bretagne.
The week before I departed turned out to be one of the worse on record for me, and like a trauma I don’t remember many details. There was a man that I love who was sick with a dry cough that kept him up at night and I held him from behind and massaged his chest with aromatic oils and fed him tea and broth. There was not much fever, and he still had his taste, and we still had our love, but everything was off. He changed his plans for a departure to Greece and suddenly it was me we were sending off, instead of him. I really thought it would be different this time, but it wasn’t. Another bridge, another departure, another void where a question might be.
He would tell me some months later in a message from Greece that he had a ring for me, and I asked him, why didn’t you give it to me before I left when we were sitting along the canal? Why didn’t you go out on a limb for me? I am a person who jumps. I am a yes-sayer. Even if it would have been crazy, I just might have. But that didn’t happen. We ate pizza. I went home. Got on the train the next morning with a sore throat and a thermos full of tea. He left some days later for an unidentified island in Greece and I haven’t seen him since.
The friend who went with me was a circumstantial friend of sorts. I taught her Zoom yoga throughout the pandemic, and we resonated about artistic things. She talked a lot, more than I expected, but we made a good team of sorts for the first part of the adventure. Paris was Paris, first and foremost, and we were there eating pommes frites with blond beer and generally enjoying life. We had two nights in a coastal B&B to look forward to, ocean and oysters, even a Michelin-starred restaurant. What more does one need?
Personal space, it seems. Communication skills. Thermoses of tea. Turns out an all-seafood meal doesn’t always sit well with a meat-and-potatoes German and you can’t keep too many princesses together in a confined space. But we made it through, shouted into the wind, ate crepes and drank cider and enjoyed our little room by the sea. We both made that choice.
When we left we visited the standing stones, the ones left by aliens, or else magical beings many years ago. Long lines of Stonehenge-like pillars extending in open fields. For what reason? On this ancestral land connecting England and France we have a transitional space and culture. Maybe it is a vortex. Maybe here we go back in time, and also learn what is timeless.
We visit the small river town where Gaugin spent time when there were only 15 houses. Ate oysters. Drank little beers. Delayed our journey with essential diversions and took pictures. By the time we drove around the western most point of the peninsula we were late and tired and arguing but the trip had also been nothing but beautiful. We met one other friend in an ancient walled town on the northern side of the peninsula and ate more oysters and drank more wine and picked up our other companion at the train station. The next day was my birthday, we were going to celebrate.
Thing is, I also had this cough I was nursing. Drinking my thermoses of tea, which were helping, but there were moments where it overtook me. Never mind that I had all my other capabilities, taste and flavor most definitely, not to mention no fever. But everyone is paranoid in Covid times it seems and all the more so when the “come at your own risk” disclosure statement amongst friends is countered by a long list of pre-existing conditions that one participant failed to inform anyone of until she did. Yes, it was my birthday, and there were people who me who cared enough to give me a postcard. I organized my own spa day, bought the groceries and wine for dinner; they did tourist things. We came home and everyone disappeared to their corners of the rental and I was left making my own birthday cake (chocolate, of course). I was a bit distracted, overcooked it. Didn’t turn out exactly how I wanted, but then, neither did this birthday.
We still made the mussels, had some amazing cheese and salad and potatoes. I taught them to open oysters. Covered that wooden table with abundance and shared some incredible wines worth remembering. It was beautiful enough. We all jumped in the ocean at the Plage de la Touesse, the home of Colette. There were rainbows. But there was still something growing under the surface, a current of disconnect. I brought friend #1 to the train station the morning after my birthday because she was due home to work and came back to find the other two preparing their bags to leave.
Never mind that we had spent the last 48 hours sharing food and wine and vehicles and bedsheets. Never mind the ecstatic cold water plunge, nor the shared plans we had for the coming days. They had decided that they were concerned I had Covid, and needed to leave.
It was a bit of a buzz kill, to say the least. One of these humans said they were my friend. Okay, point in note she arguably tried to steal my boyfriend the year before, but she was that sister-type, one of those “sisters” who you feel connected to because they are “like family,” even though all they really do is ask you to listen and use your resources. The other human present seemed to be my friend for all of 24 hours and then decided I was the virulent enemy, even though I shouldn’t take it personally. We should still be friends, right? Respect their right to get back on that public train and give up two days in grand natural paradise to return to Paris and eat in a busy brasserie right when the rates of infection in the city were soaring. That was better than being with me and my rhinovirus, aka a chest cold, the one I got from that special man whose chest I chose to hold. Sure, I made this bed I’m lying in. Kind of makes me wonder in retrospect if he would have held my chest if the roles had been reversed, knowing he had an impending journey, knowing all the virus risk. But that is neither here nor there. I know these other humans wouldn’t. These people who had come to celebrate my birthday left me to walk the emerald coast alone, so I did, in my black combat boots, and wouldn’t you know the sun came out and I found a Saint, and a castle. Some part of me genes feels connected to the old stones of this place. We all get what’s coming to us.
I suppose what struck me at the time, as well as in retrospect, was that these two humans were apparently very concerned about getting infected, but didn’t seem to care in the least how I was, or how I would be. What if I did have Covid? They leave me to fend for myself alone in a foreign country? Don’t call to check up? That’s your idea of a birthday gift? I remain astounded by the amount of blatant self-interest. The lack of compassion. All of it.
But never mind. It’s all good. It had to be. Another friend told me to enjoy my solitude so I grabbed one last bottle of red wine and drank it while eating mussels and watching Selky movies with the full moon shining down overhead. I was a one-woman witch party. Woke up early the next morning because I honestly didn’t want to confront my hosts with the fact that my friends had abandoned me. Never mind the fact that I was in fine health by now. Fear is a poison far stronger than all viruses, and personal interest is a good inebriant.
Finally I make it to Cancale, the home of all the oysters in Europe some say, and I ate a dozen to my head before calling it a day. Mind you, that was after the eight I had for breakfast, raw, just because they were there. All those leftover french cheeses and breads and fruits and vegetables. A fridge full of food for a party of one. Stupid humans.
Do you know, supposedly you can do harm to yourselves if you eat too much shellfish. The protein is too dense, you can become catatonic. I know, I ate 20 oysters before noon and still tried to sample to moules frites on the side of the road. I would have eaten them, I really would have, if I could. But I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Some part of me was overly full. Somethings about those 20 oysters. Forced me on, along the bay, to Le-Mont-Saint-Michel.
It is an impressive destination to have on one’s horizon. On a clear day, it can be seen for miles in all directions, and as one approaches, it seems both larger and less significant but retains nonetheless a gravity that pulls one towards it unquestioningly. So I went. Didn’t know I was getting into a touristic experience. I thought it was going to be more like a look-out point, but it turns out it’s sort of like Disneyland for the French. Once you’re there in the parking lot, you can’t see it anymore. That’s because the parking lot is some distance out and you are required to either take a bus or walk the kilometers out into the bay in order to reach the ancient fortified castle.
Ingenious architecture, really. If your enemies want to make the trek out there, they need to time it with the changing tides, and they are just far enough there that this kind of action requires precision. The suddenly the water levels are rising and the mud flats become more sticky and you can just see it, all those horses stuck in the mud with their desperate riders in retreat.
I chose to walk up to this human mountain. Got just close enough that I could touch the stone sides of the fortress. There was no need to go inside, not in my opinion. Besides, there was still Normandy to pass, an imminent return to Paris. The clock was ticking, and I heard it. Didn’t know it was the last day of freedom before a new lockdown was to set in, I just knew I had an early morning train somewhere relatively far away. One heeds such calls when they have to. This put me back on the road and pointed east, driving through the land of true Camembert. The colors were beginning to change with the hour and my energy tanks were diminishing. Now that I was alone I was also going to need to navigate my way back into Paris without a navigation system, map, or a co-pilot. I had assumed that if I cruised back in around 7pm I would be missing rush hour and have it a little bit easier. But I made that assumption because I am an American, who assumed work starts as 8 or 9 and ends by 5pm. Didn’t make allowances for those long European lunch breaks and leisurely mornings. Which is to say, I cruised right into a gridlock, which threw off the internet on my telephone and left me without any sense of direction except my own internal compass.
Now, just to say, I grew up in Massachusetts. People there are known as “Massholes.” If you want to know why, you need to go drive in Boston. Basically, it means that people seize the smallest window of opportunity to go, and then they do. Erring on the side of aggressive in Boston is recommended, or else you’ll may get into a fender bender, or at the very least suffer some shouts out the window from a friendly local.
One would think this would have prepared me for Paris. But that experience turned real, real fast. Usually when one drives they do not fear for their life unless there is an on-coming truck. But in this case, there was on-coming traffic, in every direction, and nameless roads, and one-way streets, and no clue as to how to get to whichever unnamed back alley of a train station this rental car was supposed to be going. It really was no less than a miracle that I found my way to where I needed to be, alive, and without a scratch on the vehicle. But then there was also a curfew in effect, and with the minutes now ticking down towards 9pm I was still cleaning out the rental car in the parking garage of all the scattered remnants.
I knew I would remember it, that moment, running down the street towards my hotel, determined to get in before the clock chimed the hour. It was just so cinematic. Dramatic. A happy ending after all.
All of a sudden there was a Mademoiselle checking into a fancy hotel and a man from Martinique at the reception offering her a glass of Champagne and then a small bottle to take upstairs. There was a hot shower and clean sheets and an invitation from the receptionist to come listen to music downstairs, more wine and dancing, human energy, everything but a kiss. Because you know, that whole rhinovirus. For some reason that felt hygienic. A modicum of boundaries. Some hours of sleep. An early morning train. It was some record of history repeating, trains rushing out of a country that was closing its borders once again.
A vortex. That is what took me from there to here.
Sigh. We made it. Right back into the Coronavirus Testing Station. In case you were wondering, it wasn’t Covid. Either that, or the test was wrong. Which version do you prefer?
All the same it was a somber Halloween. I spent it alone at home with Frankenstein and his Bride making coconut milk salt water caramels infused with cannabis tincture. Have you ever made caramel? It is the perfect witch medicine. All big bubbling pots and long wooden spoons and broomsticks. Stirring and stirring and stirring. Making your potion.
Used my leftover cantaloupe haze or whatever the Israeli drug dealer called it. My magic little delivery hookup. Hadn’t been smoking, so decided to go for caramels. And let me say, it was the perfect decision. Little wax paper wrapped doses of presence. Spent the next six weeks periodically dosing myself before going on a walk in the park or cleaning house. Was cleaning up my life, really, attempting to find some measure of closure. Oh what fools we are, to try to manifest closure. One can manifest many a thing, but closure is not one of them. Things just close on their own, when they’re ready, when they aren’t even thinking about themselves anymore.
It’s just over.
ANOTHER HOLIDAY SEASON APPROACHES
This December morning embraced me with a paradox of fresh damp air and the smell of creosote, comforting and toxic. It is the smell of an old European city, just another page in its long history.
I will not miss the sounds of this city — the wailing sirens, the abrasive doorbells, the piercing bus stop signals. It is as if they design them to be unpleasant; this is part of their function.
The cobbled streets are filled with detritus in certain districts, and one hears a quiet lonely churchbell in the back garden of the apartment building, when it is not interrupted by construction, as it often is.
This city makes you feel like you are going to war in every moment, that one is here to survive first and foremost. Survive and create and procreate. The people on the evening train seem more somber than usual and I find myself returning to Walter Benjamin regularly.
It had been a festive Thanksgiving, the last gathering of sorts before the end. I wasn’t sure I was going to roast a turkey because turkey is not actually all that common in Germany but then there I found one in the market by surprise. So I gathered a crew of Germans and Croatians and one token other American, who brought a pumpkin pie. Brined the turkey leg in buttermilk and got up early to start it cooking like you have to so by the time they all arrived everything was ready. Mashed potatoes, stuffing, Brussels sprouts, cranberry sauce. Basically, the works. One of them said it smelled good when they arrived and I told them, it smells like Thanksgiving. One of the best things America ever invented. A whole holiday devoted to Gathering and Gratitude and Nourishment. It’s even a Yankee Candle flavor. We all got too full, the way you are supposed to. By then Berlin was in lockdown again and we were disobeying orders. Us and the Governor. I think he had a festive Thanksgiving with family, too. Got backlash for it. Just like the Governor of California and his wine party. Just like Barack’s birthday. Lest we all forget, we are all teapots and kettles and in this case, we are all black.
Funny, isn’t it, how in this time we are told how we should do so much, and then also need to practice our own sets of decision-making. It’s back to the question from the summer — why DO we go on vacation to the beach? Is it because it’s warm and we get a tan, or because the ocean and sand hold us, make us feel safe? What is it worth, to feel safe, and loved? What is it worth to gather humans together? What impact does that have on your immune system? By now we really know who our true friends are. Alliances have been tested. Who has been sharing space and time because of circumstance, and who is actually going to come by and help you if you’re sick?
Meanwhile my yoga teaching friend with her fake groceries in Rome gets Covid despite the rubber gloves she’s using in her lessons and all because she apparently went to one little birthday gathering. This Covid-thing, she says, it ain’t no joke. Puts you on your ass. I send care packages and pack boxes and write letters. Take my last micro dose of LSD and go through all my old papers. Have the surreal experience of seeing my life through remnants of random documentation. Find letters from an old fiancé. Have revelations about my creative process. Stay up until dawn with the typewriter listening to the bells chime 6pm, midnight, 6am.
A week before my departure I go Christmas shopping to the fancy department store in the West with my German friend and we spend time finding a new perfume, trying on all the various scents of the future. Ended up with wafts of cedar, vetiver, and tuber rose. We buy fancy tea, much of which I plan to take with me to Mexico. Walk home through the cold in the dark of the approaching solstice. All those winter feels begin to set in. The days are now much shorter.
And then just lots of endings. Packing. Unpleasant finality. Some of the more annoying aspects of human proximity, and then also some strange funny blessings. Like my downstairs neighbors, the ones who disliked me since I moved in two years ago. I buy them a small plant because there are only a few of us in this building and despite our differing lifestyles and schedules we were in it together for a while there. Somehow this small gesture tilts the scales and then we were good somehow, almost instant comrades. They help me move out, buy me coffee, send me off well. Almost makes me cry in retrospect, all these impermanent human connections, these people I meet and say farewell to. What little it takes to be kind, and with what rewards!
The night before I leave I stay up late, but not all night. Go room by room cleaning out the dust and energy from every corner, anticipating some final creative goodbye. But instead of sitting in the window with the typer, I go to bed. Decide to enjoy one final set of moments in my pandemic refuge. I spent a lot of time in that bed. Sleeping, dreaming, healing.
It was all so surreal, the early morning departure, the taxi driver at 4am, the empty airport, the clerks behind the counter unable to find my reservation. Finally they did, but not without some question. I could sense the precarity of it all, and yet how mundane! Boarding a flight to America, leaving the continent. My first flight in 18 months. Liftoff.
Rode out that first wave on the continent. A second of sorts. But the waves keep on coming, and it seems to make sense to be somewhere I can surf. With the whales and my chosen family. Supported.
Don Juan says, close your eyes and jump.
Jump across the ocean.