Daniel decides to pack a second bag. A three month “immersed” visit to the country appears to require more than his oversized overnight bag will tolerate. He grabs the huge gym bag stuffed with camping junk, dumps the contents in the back of the closet, and throws the gym bag next to his overnight bag on the bed. On second thought, he grabs the compass and tosses it back in the gym bag. Never know.
He hears the front door open, and his roommate, Chris, slams it shut. He is yelling at someone on the phone about the logistics of some rally. Daniel closes his bedroom door quietly so his roommate’s attention doesn’t turn in his direction. Lately, Chris’s constant anger keeps the two apart. He can’t wait to be far from the drama of Chris’s activism. Daniel’s activism will be a little quieter. The ad drew him instantly:
“Do you have a sense of immediacy? A deep drive to do good work? A deep need to understand? Little or no interest in being famous? A desire to put your privilege to work? A scary ability to make connections? Excellent in-field observation, listening, and note-taking skills?”
Check! Check! Check! Maybe a little. Check! Check! I can learn! Good to go—what’s next!
“If you’ve answered ‘Yes’ to all of the above, we want you on our team! As a citizen-researcher, you’ll contribute to an urgently needed study focused on understanding rural cultures in the U.S. Your participation is a way into a world where you can choose to be truly unplugged. It is a world where you can choose solitude and work. For a person with no rural background, it is a world full of humbling lessons, both personal and professional. It has radically changed many lives. Let it change yours, just a little.”
Impossible to resist.
shrouded sleeping shadows
darken lacey rusted hides
skins drip dark oil
staining gravel pocked soil
the old, the used up, the tired
the stuck, the blind, the deaf
stand among the rubble
selfishly assuming ancient power
they guard, police, gatekeep
they discourage, mock, condescend
they ignore, minimize, annihilate
they die standing
the sun rises
pixilated pale pink-orange
illuminates a hiding place
reflected in peeling paint flakes
the young sparkle under there
quietly softly luminescent
waiting for the fighting to stop
we live dreaming
“Call your mom out on this, dude! She can’t see the connections. She’s always covered for him. For beating all you guys. For being a tyrant. For treating you all like you’re his property. Like he has a right to—-”
“Fuck off! Get the fuck out of my face. Seriously, man, stop breaking my balls on this! It’s not worth it. What? I’m supposed to tell her it’s our family’s fault? The way things are? It’s us? Okay, right. Our family fucked up this whole stupid society. Okay.”
“No, you know that’s not what I mean. Not your family—this kind of family. The kind where the father takes all the power and everyone defers. The kind where he could do whatever the fuck he wanted to you all and it’s his to do, his fucking birthright. The kind of family that’s all over this place here. The kind you lived in most of your life.”
“Come on. I know he was an asshole. I know. I know, a total asshole. She tried to push back, though. A couple times. She tried.”
“She stood by silently and supported him. She still thinks all that stuff was okay. Was tough, but necessary.”
‘Not always. One time she did try to take us kids and leave. We all got in the station wagon, I remember. All us kids, and I remember she was crying and yelling and we left. Then, we came back after we stopped for something to eat.”
“Yeah. Right? I’m going to risk it and say that when you stand by and let your husband beat your 6 month old daughter until she can’t breathe because she won’t stop crying, she hasn’t tried hard enough. I’m going to say that she needed to try harder. I’m going to say it’s just as much her fault as his because she stood by and did nothing. And how about all the times she let him come in your room at night? How–“
“C’mon, let’s not go there…”
“When do we go there, then! There isn’t a better time than right the fuck now to go there! Are you telling me she didn’t know he was coming into your room? She didn’t notice her fucking bed was empty for an hour or so in the middle of the fucking night? For three fucking years? She pretends like she didn’t know. She knew. She did nothing. She had the power to try. It was her job to try. Man, she’s the problem right now. Can’t you see that? Women like her are standing by silently, watching and supporting while the men break everything. My mom, too–she cast it for the 45th.”
full moon splashes a midnight window
opening eyes, awake, drown in light; up!
shoes on, jacket zipped: out!
into the night; fly!
feet dance a dreamlit path
between shadows of shadows
cypress rows, bathed in bluelight
stand stenciled against a shimmering sky
life in the night light
a jackrabbit chases
a bobcat glides
a bat darts
a beach at the end of her street
waves like shark fins
push poke pull
breaking surface tension
floating in dreamlight
she tilts her head back
closes her eyes
A mind without a living mirror—without affirmation it exists in the world–seeks substantiation. It turns back on itself, like a honeysuckle vine with nowhere to grow, twisting around its own tendrils, winding and tightening and choking.
A mind requires an other to be healthy–a counterpoint, a contrast; it needs difference to reflect its self-sameness. The reflection reaches out and gives the mind’s process a shape. Without form, process backs up, it overflows, and it floods everything.
Process without shape glides over the world–sliding over it, standing next to it, never actually connecting or engaging. Process agency whispers, hides, withdraws; its power diffuse and ephemeral. Its liminality aches.
The Thing I Came For
She converted her privilege to tools. Her education saved her. All those abstract ideas she’d read, written about, and made her own saved her mind. Her sanity. An ability to bracket experience, to be an observer, to acknowledge when her efforts made no difference—helped her learn how to sidestep the little heat-seeking projections of power relentlessly fired at her. She learned how to disconnect from the poisonous expectations around her–the toxic social soil–whose pressure relentlessly pressed to bend her 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. She sleeps in a little later now; goes out after dark at night. She doesn’t clench any more when she hears something that sounds like a gunfire. Her mind is beginning to convince her body it’s safe now. 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 with anyone. 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 place this month has thrown her off balance, like when blocking is added to being off book. She forgets her lines. Forgets who she is. Where she is. What she’s doing here. Where she’s going next. She only imagines how this story ends, but when she remembers she’s writing it, she’s instantly airborne, stomach dropping out, like when you’re at the top of the roller coaster, right before you fall.
From the chaise in front of the giant picture window, she wraps her arms around herself, holding tight while a boat glides through three quarters of her living room.