Super secret mantra

Here is my super secret mantra for how I get anything done.  

It is super secret.  

Are you sure you are ready for it? 

OK, here it is – 

“This shit doesn’t do itself.”

If you have a project that you want to do – that you know your soul needs to do – that you know if you don’t do it you will be super sad and maybe a little bit angry, then you HAVE to do it.  Nobody else is going to do that thing. That is your thing, and you have to do it. 

And sometimes that means reading books or watching videos about it until you can buy the equipment to do it. And sometimes it means learning a related craft/skill about it because the thing you want to do/make has never been done before by anybody and you don’t have a teacher or a guide. 

Sometimes you are the teacher / guide for someone else, and you just don’t know it yet. 

So you have to take little tiny baby steps towards the thing that you have to make/do/bring forth into the world because otherwise it will never be made. And the world will be that much lesser because of it. 

Dancing in the rain

It was tomorrow already and the rains had not come. They had chided her for wanting this house, more like a niche, all the way at the end of the alley at the lowest part of the city. The cobblestones directed the water this way, all of it, every last trip and drop. And then it ran, tumbling, gurgling, into the tiny alleyway beside her abode, rushing out to the sea which was the border of not only this city, but this state, this country. It might as well have been the border of the world for all she cared because she had no plans to venture out beyond it. Here is where she had been born and here was where she would die. There was no melancholy in it, no pathos. This was her fate and she was happy to accept it.

It hasn’t always been this way. The usual fits and starts occupied her in her youth, all that you would expect from a child. All of her classmates had wanderlust or itchy feet. All wanted to backpack in some foreign country on their summer breaks or find a way to get a spouse, get a job, get out of this fortress that was their home.

She had followed along, assumed that she was supposed to feel disappointed in her hometown, was supposed to want to leave as fast as possible, but that was what everyone else felt. It wasn’t really about her. It was all about them and what they felt.

It took a lot of her years and a little bit of therapy to understand the difference between her own feelings and those of everyone else. Perhaps she had enmeshed with the world because of her needy parents who had pushed their own anxieties and fears upon her while minimizing her own. Any pain she mentioned was overridden by their own hurts, both physical and psychological. They would tell stories of how it had been worse for them, making her pain small in comparison. And then they would tell her how they’d overcome it – always with a pill. Sometimes it was an aspirin, and sometimes a Xanax. Always legal, but never useful. It was a stroke of luck that pills never helped her or she would have become an addict like them. Every pill they offered her had a double effect, so much so that she started halving them on the sly. Then she just stopped taking them all together.

Which she really needed was love. Empathy would have healed her more than the “medicine” they offered. Meaningful connection, listening, anything other than what she had been given would have helped. It was a violence to her soul for them to say through their actions that her pain was meaningless, and to not teach her ways to heal that didn’t involve pills. But then again, you have to know better to do better. They were all dead now, or just dead to her. They would never learn from her hard-fought lessons.

So now she listened to her inner voice, the voice of her true Parent, the One who had created her and sustained her and brought her to this moment. Once she had started listening for that voice things had gotten a lot simpler.

Not necessarily better, mind you. Her parents hadn’t understood why she had quit college just a month into her sophomore year. Her mother had told her to ride it out, but her father – he understood. He too had been in that same situation decades earlier. Yet he had not been treated fairly or kindly then. In that moment, he knew he had a choice to treat his child now the way he wished he had been treated then.

Her brother had been the most unreasonable, telling her she caused shame to the family name. Meanwhile he was on marriage number three and had been discharged early from the military due to insubordination. But he, like their mother, had never been to college, so they didn’t know how alien it was, how foreign, how impossibly not human and artificial. It wasn’t for sensitive people, those who felt everything, all the time.

So now, all these years later, she was living in a tiny room with just a few possessions and finally she was content. She didn’t need anything, and when well-meaning folks tried to give her more books or craft supplies or ideas, she politely but firmly refused and directed them to donate it to a local charity or take care of it themselves. She didn’t need their ideas for her stories. She had plenty of her own.

But the rain still needed to come. You see, she had chosen this home because of the water. She loved the sound of it. She loved to dance in the rain. It healed her. But the townspeople didn’t understand an adult frolicking in a rainstorm, so she did it in private. This house with its little alleyway provided just that.

What comes first?

What came first – being a member of The Wander Society or paying closer attention to things? Many of us in order to be part of this funny little club had to read Keri Smith’s book first. Then we had to be curious about the clues in the book. We had to go outside of the book to find out more.

We had to figure out that there was a request to make a stack of stones, take a photo of them, and email them to a special email address mentioned in the book. It is kind of like coming across a treasure hunt without planning to. Just reading the book was the start. But then you have to engage the message in the book to get anywhere.

Being curious, not taking things at face value, and being willing to think outside the box (not even seeing the box!) are all traits that we brought with us into this group. Perhaps the best part of being in this group is that we are now validated for our curiosity. We are in a like-minded society (albeit a virtual one) of other people who wonder and wander. When we see pictures posted by other members of beautiful mountain scenes we want to lace up our hiking boots and go. When we see macro photography from other members of tiny little things that we otherwise would not have noticed, we think “Hey, I wonder what else I am missing and I should pay closer attention to?”

So perhaps they both reinforce each other – being curious and being a Wanderer creates Wanderers who are even more curious. Perhaps it is not simply “Solved by walking”. Perhaps it is all about wandering.

Perhaps instead of being inoculated against the world, Wanderer’s hearts are even more open. Perhaps The Wander Society serves as inspiration to share our hearts – our tender beautiful tiny huge hearts – with other people who share the view that the world is an amazing and tender and wonderful place.

The strangers.

The door was at the end of a long cobblestone alleyway. There were other doorways along this narrow path, and other windows above. Each door, ornately decorated with carvings and inlay, had no peephole. It was seen as a distraction from the aesthetic of the whole, and was in line with the beliefs of the culture.

Most of the citizens lived on the second floor, so when caller rang the tiny bell by the door, they would peer out at who was below. If they were interested in company, they would saunter downstairs and admit the visitor. Strangers were rarely allowed inside, so there were no solicitors in this town. The faithful had to find other ways to lure people to their gatherings.

This town had been rebuilt of stone after the second flood a century ago. Sure, the members of the fledgling town could have read the signs and chosen to relocate, but they had come to love the easy access to water for their entertainment and cuisine. There was nothing like a day by the shore and a grilled halibut to make a life complete. They weren’t willing to give this life up, in spite of the risk that came with a town so close to water. Plus they enjoyed being able to travel on a “road” they didn’t have to build to see other cities and other cultures.

For you see, they were perfectly happy visiting strange exotic people who lived a few leagues away, but weren’t interested in having anyone strange come visit them. Strangers weren’t seen as dangerous, or even odd – just simply not like them. And that kind of person might cause more trouble than it was worth.

The townsfolk were too polite to explain the rules to strangers, and in many cases they might not even fully understand them. Rules and customs had the force of law here, and like laws they sometimes made no sense but people followed them anyway.

It served no purpose to explain their particular rules to strangers – they had no desire to allow them into their lives. Strangers were shunned to the extent that they weren’t even allowed to become members of the community by any means. You could not marry into the town, or seek to transfer citizenship, or even own property if you were a stranger.

But then there were others, people who were not born in the town, people who visited, who were welcome with open doors and open arms. What was the difference? Somehow they knew the rules. They were seen as part of the community simply because of how they acted. You either got it or you didn’t, and if you were in you were in for life without question.

Butterfly

Michelle knew today was the day for the big reveal. Her family and friends had suspected something was up for a while. They could see how hard it was for her to continue to pretend. This would be no surprise to them. But for her workplace, a busy advertising office with many prominent clients, this would come as a shock, if not a joke. It would be difficult for them to accept this new reality because there had been no signs. She had played her role well.

You see, Michelle knew down in her bones that she had been born into the wrong body. Now, it wasn’t a case of gender. She was sure she was a woman, whatever that meant. The roles and rules had shifted over the years in women’s favor and she could make do and make a life within these constraints.

Michelle‘s difference was that she was African, not Caucasian. She had always been drawn to the African culture and stories. She’d dated guys from Kenya and Egypt and Mali, despite concerns from her mother that it wasn’t safe. Her mother had said that others they would encounter when they were out together might cause trouble. Michelle was unfazed – her mother’s life was full of fear and imagined danger, and she was sure that fear would kill her mother before any stranger would harm herself. Michelle was determined to not adopt her viewpoint.

It wasn’t out of spite that she dismissed her mother’s concerns. She knew, deep down, that her mother’s version of reality was not her truth. Soon she started examining everything else in her life to see if it was valid. She didn’t want to live her life – her one, precious, beautiful life, – following someone else’s pattern. So everything she had been told and taught got questioned and challenged. Her parents and friends thought she was going through a rebellious phase but she knew better. The unexamined life was indeed not worth living.

So that Tuesday she called a meeting and told everyone that she had to speak her truth. She was, despite appearances to the contrary, African, and from henceforth she expected all of them to call her by the name Kipepeo, which was Swahili for “butterfly”. She would not answer to anything else. HR was consulted. The legal team was notified. She had no plans of going before a judge and legally changing her name. She cited men who were named Robert who insisted on being called Bob. She cited Native Americans who had gone on a vision quest and come back with a new name. And then she stopped explaining.

Kipepeo insisted that her employer print out new business cards for her, the same as if she had gotten married and changed her name. Except she hadn’t. She insisted that the nameplate on her office door be changed< as well as what was printed on her checks. She accused anyone who did not call her by her new name of creating a hostile work environment. She called it her true name.

At that, her employer started to look for ways to get her to leave. If anybody was creating a hostile work environment, it was her. They had gone along with her claim that she was actually African. It wasn’t something that affected the workplace. But his name thing was going too far.

Epiphany

Only once a year was this door opened, and that day was today. Many people loved the pomp and pageantry of Christmas, but for Elaine, it was Epiphany that took the cake. She celebrated all the usual observances her little village church offered, and a few extra. Opening this door was one of them, and this honor was now entrusted to her.

Elaine‘s family had been the keepers of the key since time and memory began – and perhaps longer. Every generation it was passed on to the second oldest daughter in a modest but meaningful ceremony upon her entering into cronehood. Of course they never used such words outside of the family, never even said menopause. It wasn’t anyone’s business how and when the key changed hands. If questions were asked, they were deftly and efficiently turned aside in such a way that the asker felt that his query had been satisfied and yet was none the wiser.

The door was a deep turquoise blue, the color of the domes of Santorini sanctuaries, of endless pools in long-abandoned quarries. There was an ornate metal scrollwork seemingly festooned with clusters of ripe grapes upon it. This was no mere feet of artistry – there were two purposes to these ornate bands. The first was obvious: it gave the wood a structure, like a skeleton, to ensure the door’s persistence. It would not do to have this door, of all doors, decay before it’s time. The second was hidden: never spoken aloud, never even hinted that. The guardian of the key invariably realized it soon after she was entrusted with her noble task. It was of no matter if she didn’t, however – early, late, or never, the truth was still there. It had no need to be passed down like an heirloom or a password. It was too precious to need to rely upon something as fallible and frail as human memory. The truth could go many generations before being realized again. It could wait.

So why Epiphany? That was a little murkier. All Elaine’s family tradition would comment was that the one year it wasn’t done, the cows ran away, the children were more difficult than usual, and the tractors wouldn’t start. And not just any Epiphany, but the one on January 19, the one of the Julian calendar. This made the tradition a little less obvious to the village, which wasn’t cosmopolitan enough to know that there were two different dates for the same event, just like with Christmas and Easter.

Not like it really mattered what day it was celebrated, because lightning never strikes twice in the same spot with the same day, but it was the principle of the thing, and a tradition was a tradition.

Elaine opened the door at sunrise as she has been taught. The door would remain open all day, letting the chapel inside soak up the sunlight from the sacred day. Then at sunset, the door would be locked again, sealed for another year. Perhaps the chapel was some sort of holy battery, solar powered, long-lived, and needed the light on just this day to keep the village running smoothly.

Just in case that was true, they kept the population of the village under 100 people to ensure the special energy would not be used up too soon.

Time to leave

Jane knew it was time to leave when she saw this. It was her car, sure, but he had paid for it. That was what he told her when she complained. It wasn’t hers.

Nothing was hers. She had no reason to complain. She should be grateful he even accepted her, even allowed her to stay with him as long as he had. And that was part of why she stayed. He’d convinced her she couldn’t survive without him, had no worth outside of his company.

She spent so much of her adult life with him that she had almost forgotten what it was like to not be with him. Now that she thought about it, she remembered asking him if she could get a tattoo, or even color her hair. He grudgingly agreed to both, but with restrictions. How many other expressions of her self had she suppressed?

When she mentioned to her friends that she was thinking of leaving, they said “But you should be grateful you’re in a relationship” or “Think of those people who have it worse and they stay” – like any of that mattered. It did, for a while. For a while she was fooled into agreeing with them. For a while she thought she was wrong, or crazy, or ungrateful.

But then the day came when she could no longer ignore the messages her body was telling her, but she tried. Back and neck so tight she had to get massages twice a month. Nightmares where she was trapped, waking up punching or kicking. Heart palpitations. She realized she was taking three different anti-anxiety medications just to get through the day. And still it wasn’t enough. But she ignored it, pretended she was fine. Everyone else she knew just seemed to accept it as normal. She even ended up in the hospital thinking she was having a heart attack but it was just anxiety. Even then he didn’t believe her, made her bring letters from the doctor, notarized, before he would be grudgingly accept her back.

She became suicidal in September, the life drained out of her. His response was to say she wasn’t the girl he had picked, had graced with his attention. He said she better pick herself back up and be cheery again or he’d kick her out. Never did he imagine that he was the reason for her despondency. That if only he had treated her with kindness and trust she would’ve blossomed instead of withered.

Maybe she should’ve left then, but she didn’t. Maybe she felt she couldn’t afford to live without him. Maybe she had gotten so used to feeling second rate and third class that she even agreed with him that there wasn’t any point to complaining. Maybe everybody in her position felt the same way and she should just accept it and not hope for better.

But then it happened. The day she never had even dared to hope for – that awful beautiful day when everything became crystal clear and her path lay before her. Stay, or die. He had made the decision for her with this message. She knew if she returned to him her life would be forfeit. It was no longer merely uncomfortable or difficult to be there, but deadly. A few phone calls and she was gone. She never looked back.

Ministry at the thin places

I’m called to the thin places, the holes, the edges.  I’m called to those moments where people are at the edges of life and don’t even know it.  They are at risk of death, due to overdose, or suicide, or both.  They’ve wandered too close to the limit.  One more step and they are gone. 

It took me a while to see this pattern.  I kept meeting people at these edges. 

I went walking in downtown Chattanooga with friends many years back at night, and saw a young man, thin, dark hair, alone at a water fountain that had been turned off for the winter.  I left my friends and walked up to this stranger and began to talk with him.  It was a month later that he admitted to me that he was going to kill himself that night.  It was the fact that I started talking to him that distracted him, that turned him away from the edge. 

I’ve had several boyfriends who drank too much, not trying to kill themselves but trying to enjoy life more, in their opinion.  I was there to keep them alive in those moments when the body starts to react badly to that abuse. 

I’ve dated two people who had attempted suicide before I met them.

My father tried to commit suicide when I was two.  My great-grandfather, his grandfather, did commit suicide.  They say that someone was “successful” at suicide, but is it really a success? 

I feel suicide and addiction and overdosing are all related.  We walk too far into territory that we don’t know, and it pulls us in with its own gravity, its own magnetism.  Before we know it, we are sucked in much further than we meant.  We didn’t know where that dark alley led to.  We didn’t know – or we thought we were strong enough to walk away.  These forces are older than us, and hungrier.  They will have what they will have and there is no arguing with them.  The only real way to survive is to never get too close. 

And that is where I come in.  I show up.  I happen to be there.  I’m called to it.  This isn’t something you can schedule.  There isn’t an app for this. 

I stand in the way, with death behind me, so they can’t see that doorway. 

This isn’t something you train for, not really. This isn’t something that people even talk about.  We don’t talk about death.  We certainly don’t talk about suicide. 

(Written 11/8/2015, updated 5/14/20)

Beggar

I think I’ve figured it out.

I should quit my job

with its low pay

and become an artist

and have five children

and have no health insurance.

I should spend everything I make

as soon as I make it,

saving nothing.

No pension plan

nothing to prepare for

the future

whether the future

is a month

or 20 years from now.

Then when anything happens,

when, not if,

I’ll go up to strangers

and beg for money.

But I won’t do it like people used to do it

standing on the street corner

like a beggar

or a prostitute,

I’ll do it the new way.

I’ll set up a “Go fund me” account

or a Kickstarter

and do it all digitally.

I’ll ask friends

and their friends

to pay for

my gallbladder operation

or my child’s new baseball uniform

or my pet’s funeral.

Meanwhile I’ll make art talking about

how awesome it is

to be free

from all the constraints

of a 9-to-5 job,

while conveniently forgetting

that my friends

in those 9 to 5 jobs

are paying for my bills.

Or maybe I have too much

 self-respect

and respect for others

to beg at all.

(Written 10/30/2015)

Illness

What are you afraid of?

What are you trying to control?

What are you holding onto,

 that you can’t let go?

Sometimes when people have an illness it is just the end result of a wrestling match that they are having. They are struggling with something in their life and they’re having a hard time releasing it.

It would help if they can slow down and listen to what their illness is trying to get them to pay attention to. There is some imbalance in their life, some incomplete business.

It reminds me of one of the mantras of AA, about fixing what you can, letting go of what you can’t fix, and knowing the difference. If you are fighting an illness, ask yourself who is in charge? Who is going to do the healing – you or God? If you are fighting it to the point that you cannot allow yourself to rest and you’re in a great deal of pain then perhaps it means that you are not trusting in God to heal you, but you think that you were going to heal you.

Healing doesn’t always mean a physical healing. Sometimes healing simply means that you’ve learned a lesson you were supposed to learn or what was supposed to happen has finally happened. One of the biggest things that holds people up is needing to know an outcome. Sometimes letting go of that need is the most powerful thing you can do.

(started 9/21/15, updated 5/14/20)