replant

She sits in a motel room by herself. Eating. A massive Chipotle burrito. Chicken, no beans, two scoops of brown rice. Extra cheese. Extra sour cream. No salsa. Naked. Glued to the television.

She spends a couple weekends a month in hotel rooms. She has a bag packed with all the essentials, ready to travel once a few interchangeable pieces of clothing are tossed in. A pair of shoes. Something to sleep in. An umbrella a colleague suggested she always pack.

She has the television tuned to CNN, or to that show where they sell stuff out of storage lockers. Like a game show, with hidden prizes buried in someone else’s memories. She has peeled off clothing that painfully binds, that balls up, that rolls up, that tucks under; clothing that pinches, smothers, overheats.

Shorn, she sits on the big bed, a double full-length mirror next to it. She looks over at herself, holding the burrito up for another bite. It’s been 12 hours since she’s had a meal. Her meals often come at night. She is morbidly obese. Her eyes glide over a body in the mirror that she hates, that has never been hers. Her legs are swollen, and her ankles are indistinguishable from her calves. They are monstrous. They hurt. Her feet hurt. She hurts.

The local pizza joint commercial interrupts the storage locker action, and she is yanked out of herself for a moment. She doesn’t watch television at home. She disgustedly disconnected her cable more than a decade ago. As a grad student. She was addicted to it. She and a fellow grad student—once a close friend–used to joke about how bad the jonesing had gotten for both of them. (What she didn’t tell her friend was that it was so bad for her, this need for a television world, that if she accidentally turned it off with some button on the remote, her body and mind actually panicked for a second. It was like the whole world just stopped. She’d scramble for the remote, push the on button—HARD–and breathe again when the noise started.)

She lost touch with the friend. Her fault, as always. She also disconnected her cable, for good. Almost like she was getting ready for what was to come.

It was going to be a waking dream. She would relocate her life to a place where things moved a little slower, where people weren’t the center of everything, where she might find some real solitude, some quiet. Where she didn’t have to constantly pretend, always perform to exist. She could just dig up her life and replant in new soil. So easy.

The new place would look like the old one, only smaller on the inside and much bigger on the outside. It would be a miniature version of the house she had just staged to sell, a house that never felt like home. Only this new one had acres of trees around it, so many trees. In her mind, it was all planned: she would move away for a few years, learn how to make a life, how to live a life, and write. She would try to make herself into a better human. And then she would come home, and they would all love her.

She shoves the last of the burrito into an already full mouth, turns off the noise and the lights, and lays awake, dreaming.

pain is love

“How can anyone watch those images of children in cages and not be outraged?”

They can watch and support caging children and imprisoning them in camps because they’ve been taught from a very early age that some things are necessary for love. Power has taught them that, often, pain is necessary–physical pain–so they understand they’re loved. Pain, their bodies believe, also demonstrates how much power loves them. (“I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t love you,” he says as he holds your hands out of the way so he can hit harder.)

The sharper the pain, the brighter the bruises, the warmer the love.

Those children—now adults–begin a lifetime of enduring pain, of accepting it as love. Disconnecting their empathy is necessary for survival: their natural need to connect and feel other humans’ pain overloads their hurting body’s capacity to endure their own pain, to absorb the “love.”

Now, concentration camp images wake those child-adult bodies, shock them into remembering. Trigger them. They feel the pain as it comes in the form of searing empathy: they are flooded with the same feelings of helplessness and terror they see all over the faces, in the eyes, and on the bodies of those caged children.

Of themselves, they demand, in fearful anger, “Why? Why are they coming here? They have to know what’s going to happen to them! Why would they put themselves in this danger–it’s just stupid! Why?!”

Secretly, their child-self implores the doomed children to stay away: “it’s not safe for you here, he’ll hurt you. stay away. hide.”

Out loud, in the noise and heat and screaming about invaders, they shout their support: “Go home! You don’t belong here! If you’re in a cage, you brought that on yourself! There’s a legal process! If you violate it, you are a criminal and we have to imprison and prosecute you! You will destroy our country and we love our country! Locking you up is necessary to protect it!”

Pain masquerading as love kills the empathy necessary for outrage.

sf bay area peeps

San Francisco Bay Area peeps are collaborators. We are student-centered, client-centered, customer-centered, patient-centered. We are power-sharers. As learners we’ve been shown how to power-share, and we expect to share our power. We are freed to stop chasing power, debating for it, fighting over it. Power-sharing frees us to create a multitude of healthier sources of power.

SF Bay Area peeps know possibility is real. We know it’s as real as what’s actual. We know that ideas have lives, that they can change lives. We like to work from the ground of possibility. We are subjunctive. We are limited when we problem-solve only from the actual. We challenge systems that lock us into the actual because they block our view of the possible. We live in the actual and are present now (and now and now), but possibility moves us, lights up our imagination.

SF Bay Area peeps imagine. We imagine BIG. Our imaginations soar. We look up. We expect things will work out. (And we know they will, eventually, if we keep doing just work.) We know that imagining positive outcomes helps us create humane methods for input. We know that’s what humans can control, our own input. We focus on our best input instead of fearing unknown outcomes in the future.

SF Bay Area peeps self identify. We know the power in knowing ourselves. We embrace our intersectionality. (Ness.) We recognize that diversity, options, choices—knowing our own agency—makes healthier humans. Too much of any one thing always steals power. We know that each of us is a work of art. And we know that art is life.

SF Bay Area peeps orient toward the best. We strive to engage with our best selves. We trust each other to speak to our best selves. We try to connect with others’ best selves. We prefer incentive and support to threats and punishment. We recycle. We upcycle. We don’t throw people away. We know that people have inherent value because they are part of a whole.

SF Bay Area peeps embody Ubuntu. We live “I am because you are.” We recognize that we are all glittering jewels in Indra’s net: all our reflections are in each of us and those reflections are the core of who we are as human animals in the cosmos.

We know that creating one just relation at a time makes just families and just communities and just societies.

flying

She converted her privilege to tools. Her education saved her. All those abstract ideas she’d read, written about, and made her own–they saved her mind. They protected her sanity in a place that worked to annihilate both it and her. 

An ability to bracket experience, to be an observer, to acknowledge when her efforts made no difference—helped her learn how to sidestep the passive aggressive power projections relentlessly fired at her. She learned how to unfix herself from the poisonous top-down pressure around her whose force ceaselessly pushed her to bend to its will. Trauma surrounded her, the kind that people there don’t have tools to repair. The knowledge and belief that people are more important than institutions or rules or authority helped her find places to intervene.

Her body is starting to adjust since being home, since she’s learned to stay in her own lane. She sleeps in a little later now, goes out into the night again. Her body has stopped clenching every time she hears something that sounds like gunfire. She saw a whale the other day. It was surreal. Right there, in front of her–swimming and blowing and being magical–while she walked on the bluff. Like most things in her life, she didn’t share it. No reflection. She soaks in healthy experience and continues to heal.

She reads what she writes about herself, over and over. To remember where she is, how she got here. Who she is. Settling in to her new space has thrown her off balance, like when blocking is added to being off book. She forgets her lines, stumbles. Forgets who she is. Where she is. What she’s doing here. Where she’s going next. This story’s ending is only in her imagination, and when she remembers she’s writing toward it, she’s instantly airborne, stomach dropping out, like when you’re at the top of the roller coaster, right before you fall. (In the end, she’ll make falling into flying.)

Reclining in the chaise lounge in front of the giant picture window, she wraps her arms around herself, holding tight while a sailboat glides neatly through three quarters of her living room.

normalizing

I came to the party a little late. I was buried alive for 8 months while the earth shifted on its axis after November 6th, 2016. I fell into another world, very far away. My lifelines were imagined–only in my head–and they snapped at the first sign of pressure. When I dug out and came up for air in June 2017, this world was gone. So was everyone I knew. I’m still processing. 

I missed the group reckoning process, the one that started most people’s normalizing. I can actually feel the normalization process happening in real time now. I feel my emotions—stirred up by everything wrong in the world–want to relax, rest, just be. I feel the outside edge of rage dip into anger, cool, and trickle to a lower plane: sad acceptance. All my new, lively, squirming emotions have been on high alert since the world disappeared. They still haven’t settled down. 

My emotions want to lose their hypersensitivity, want to be calm. They just want to try and enjoy what they can. And my mind colludes. It keeps looking for ways to live with the cognitive dissonance between a body and emotions justifiably hyper-vigilant and a deep exhaustion and desire to stop feeling every fucking thing. To just live, accept what is

If I let myself normalize, I give myself permission to stop thinking about the carnage, stop feeling the chaos, stop trying to solve this new world’s ocean of problems. If I normalize, I let myself relax into this new normal, figure out how to maneuver in this new environment. Normalizing, I wall off my view of the destruction, creating a garden behind it, making room for peace in the midst of war.

I wonder: “How much harder will it be for me to push back when I’m normalized?”

silence

A cabin, above a river; dusk. A small light flickers, like a hesitant child.

Screeching hawks coast above a fog-shrouded Russian river whose banks drip with lush green growth. The sun’s going down on this Christmas eve day. The sky’s saturated with intermingling tones of deep reds, purples, oranges, and yellows. The colors splash the bellies of speckled clouds. Shadows erase structure. It’s near time for the walk up the mountain.

324 square feet. One year. No reading. No talking. No arguing. No one else.

A deep black resolves from jewel tones into a sky close enough to touch and artfully splashed with sharp sparkles of hard white light. Blues and reds and oranges and purples glimmer and wink from trees and balconies. A striped orange and white cat joins the walk, performing graceful figure eights through less graceful slowly walking legs.

Being, walking, hiking. Learning self-care, how to cook; leaning into the rhythm of the day. Dancing and raging and grieving with deeply interconnected intimate rhythms.

An enormous, glorious oak lives at the top of Fitch mountain. Her lower branches extend from her trunk and gracefully lay on the ground around her. Visitors have fashioned seats from other trees’ trunks and they encircle the glorious oak. On Christmas eve, the seats are filled with silent visitors who gather to remember what matters.

The small light in the cabin winks out, and the river reflects.

gratitude

She makes her way slowly along the bluff, eyes adjusting to the early morning depths. As she walks, just the beginnings of outlines appear, above and below the horizon. Muted warm light reflects off shining footbridge handrails, revealing deep green and yellow mosses that feast on ancient redwood. Sand crunches under her soles. It’s the only sound that cuddles up to waves kissing the shore.

Standing on the little bridge, watching the sunrise in this place brings her to tears. It’s taken months for her body to believe she’s safe, for her mind to relax and accept, for her spirit to allow itself to be lifted. Every single day the universe lets her know she’s in the right place doing the right work. This morning, the rising sun warmed its way through the defenses her mind’s been slow to relinquish. (Sometimes a soul’s been parched for so long that the salve runs right off at first. It takes a little while to be able to absorb the good.)

She realizes she will never hear the sound of gunfire on this bluff, never hear high-powered, rapid-fire weapons in her neighborhood, never across the street from home. Here, she will never agonize for hours, rehearsing violent scenarios where she tries to defend her kittens and herself against an angry white guy with a gun. Hiking in this world, she will never come upon a sow whose gut has been blown out with small explosives. She will never stumble upon acres of naked, clear cut land. She won’t regularly terrify other animals just because she’s a human animal. She will never, ever say goodbye again to the sun for nearly half the year.

She reaches deep, but she can’t feel the bottom of her gratitude.

mandala

Our cycle of life is off. It mirrors our pursuit of knowledge. And things. It starts out slow, thin, but very present; aware, visceral, emotional, tactile, hopeful, curious, open. Full of joy, of wonder, of imagination. Then, we accumulate experience and knowledge. We collect things. We become culminations, and our limbs are collections. We become complicated. We become too big to move easily. We become comfortable and stuck in our assumptions. We feel safe and sure in our conclusions. We compare our thickness to the thinness of youth and feel secure. We know we know so much more. We’ve experienced so much more. We have become the standard. And we guard that standard as if our lives depend on it.

18: legally, we’re “adults.” We are responsible for everything we do, everything we think. We are accountable for our actions, our thoughts, our behavior. It is up to us to fix ourselves. Up to us to find the help for the damage that’s been done to us, by power. Up to us to recognize it, to see the connections to a wounded life; up to us to commit and engage and follow through on the repair process. Drowning in everything else “adult,” we reach back toward what we think we see in our younger selves, what we think we felt then, all the while having lost our connection to who we were when we started.

What if it changed? What if we started out the same, but we inclined toward returning there? Toward returning—nourished and full of experience and resources—to the place where new humans are starting, to the beginning again. What if the first half of our lives were like sand mandalas? What if when we got to the middle, we let go, blew the beauty of our lives to the wind, and turned to where we are needed? Where we are useful. Where we can offer what was never offered to us. Where we can find the beginning again. Where we can feel that joy, that wonder. Where we can join in imagination. Where we can honor and celebrate and help bring to life the dreams and hopes of being young. Again.

What if we lived there at the end?