A Normal Day (An Excerpt)

For all intents and purposes, it was a normal day. And normal days, as well as abnormal days, tend to start the same way.

Open your eyes, Anna. The waterfall isn’t real. It was only a dream. And this is a normal day. A day like any other day. A day that takes its coffee black. A day that walks its dog to the park and back. A day that has yet to discover its purpose. And one might suppose that a normal day, as well as abnormal days, indeed has a purpose.

Okay, you’re awake. Good. Now wiggle your toes, Anna. Look out the window. There’s a green warbler on the branch outside—it’s got a song for you. Down the stairs, a record is spinning. It is not Lil Richie. And it is not Neil Diamond. And it’s not Velvet Underground. Down the stairs, there’s a plate of eggs sunning on the table. Would you believe your friend made it for you? Would you believe she awoke with your smiling periwinkle eyes twinkling in her mind, and thought she’d do a special thing to make your eyes smile wider? You’re a lucky girl, having friends like that. And she made the eggs just the way you like: a light shower of shredded Colby jack and a quick pinch of picante? Scrambled to milky perfection. A little fluff goes a long way. And so do good friends.

Life is a series of cycles.

We’re born alone. We grow up in a family, a tribe. Then we find ourselves itching for differentiation, a new name, and a vein of expression that is wholly our own. We find ourselves wanting to stand on the feet our mama gave us, prop ourselves up like flamingos in the waxing surf. We find that the pond—this pond that once seemed an ocean—is no longer big enough for us to stretch our big ole fins (to mix metaphors). So we head out. We pack a rucksack. No more sack lunches. No more notes from mommy. Who’s my sweet girl, Anna? I hope you have a wonderful day at school filled with learning and laughs. What a sweetheart that mother of yours, Anna. What a sweetheart. Let’s forget the time in fifth grade when Suzie Bondalucci looked over your shoulder at the lunch table as you exhumed that note from its brown paper confines and read it in the shadow of your own curls.

Oh wait. You didn’t have your curls then. You were too young to know you wanted them—that one day they would become as integral to your identity as your journal and signature space pants. You were too young to shuck off the husk of other people’s ideas to assert your own truth—the truth that one day you would grow out your curls and never look back.

So anyways there was Suzie Bondalucci sniggering over your shoulder like an invisible goblin with a lit candle up her butt and a donut in her hand. And there you were, stricken with a mixture of affection and embarrassment. The latter of which was only exacerbated by Suzie reaching over you, snatching the note from your hands, and reading it aloud for the entire cafeteria.

What a bitch that Suzie was. 

Anyways now you’re in the car and the sky looks like a half-finished Jackson Pollock. The highway overpass looks the same as ever. Droll. Drab. Dreary. Gray. Stone. Slats. A rumble of cars passes beneath it like an anthill built dead center between a troll’s legs. The troll in question—the overpass—is collecting its toll as usual; nothing material, simply that for brief moments, drivers have to subject themselves to the possibility that the troll could choose to pop a squat right there on the highway, or perhaps, a car—your car—were to fly right through the barriers as if mimicking its favorite Michael Bay scene, as if rushing to greet the vehicles below, as if smashing like a child’s toy Pontiac into another child’s whole collection of coupes, sedans, four-doors, SUVs, trucks, and go-carts, Lambos, Porsches, and Ferraris—too many foreign cars to be occupying the same roadway at one time unless we were in Italy, on some sundrenched coastal town sliced up by cement serpents rushing toward the sea.

But we’re not in Italy. We’re in America. In Kansas. This is prairies, and foothills, and too many pro-life billboards to count. And it is mundane office parks. And it is suburbia. And for a girl like you, it makes no sense. You stick out like a sore thumb at a pinkies-only party. At the mall, you catch a few too many stares for one human to be justifiably comfortable. Fortunately, you’re not in the mall. You’re in your car. And you’re crying. And you’re thinking about driving your car right off the overpass into westbound traffic. Of course, you’re too afraid to do it. But you’re thinking about it.

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Something About Love (An Excerpt)

Here is something the author knows about love:

Listen reader, the author doesn’t expect you to live a life as extraordinary as the Shaman’s. If, however, you do lead an extraordinary life, please give yourself a genuine and heartfelt pat on the back. We cannot doubt the importance of living boldly.

For at the core of such a life there throbs a great willingness to take risks, to take mindful and impassioned leaps of faith into the great big unknown.

Did the Shaman know the island would be there? Let’s ask him, but stay quiet; he’s meditating.

“Hey Shaman…”

One green peeper opens with a mixture of irritation and nonattachment. “What is it?” He asks with a cinnamon roll of this lonely open eye.

“Did you know the island was waiting eight miles off the shore for you? Or did you dive into the salty Pacific merely hoping it would be there?”

He scoffs that signature scoff of his—the kind of scoff that doubles as a shrug and moonlights as a pooh-pooh on the weekends. “It was a simple matter of concentrated divination. Now please, I’m trying to meditate.”

When the Shaman meditates, two things happen: the koas blush and the Universe expands to play catch up.

Space is not merely a matter of the third dimension.

The brain is capable of many feats, one of which is that it can simulate the sensory conditions of visualization—anything you picture in your mind, you bring to life. If you want to imagine a baboon rubbing his butt against your leg in an effort to rob you of your cookies, and you’re able to hold the vision for a long enough time, you might just feel the fuzzy red flesh of ape cheek against your calf, as well as the profound disappointment of having lost a freshly baked batch of oatmeal raisin to a being of lesser evolutionary stature.

The same goes for space: if you can visualize yourself surrounded by infinite space, pregnant with it, a stomach full of it, and you hold the vision long enough, you will actually begin to feel it.

So space is also a matter of the fifth dimension—an inner experience as well as outer.

And one must have a healthy dose of both if they want love to thrive.

Anna never learned the value of space until it was forced upon her by her parents’ divorce. The collapse of the family unit as she’d known it left a void inside her—one that’d been previously filled by social and familial expectations, by enmeshed roles of identity, by hidden codependency.

It was not until she began living with the Shaman that she learned the true value of this most important ingredient of love.

“Love blossoms first within the Self.” He said, catching glimpses of the sunset through the Technicolor concoction in his highball glass. It looked like the Sun was dressing in tie-dye lace, swimming in a bowl full of jelly.

“Then what happens?” she asked him between sips of potato vodka and blueberry.

“That’s it.”

“What do you mean? It doesn’t go anywhere?”

“Love flows from the Self,” he said as the bowl of jelly began to spin, “and downriver the Self is there to receive it.”

Just then, the Sun began to twinkle in the upstairs hearth of the forest. The sky, in turn, blushed in six different languages. A mourning dove not endemic to the island landed on the porch. On her beak was a smile the size of a fried plantain. Anna smiled too. The time was soon at hand for her to return to the mainland.

For it is not merely a matter of creating space. One must also bring it to life—set aflame the joy of their own soul, pour it out their eyes and… One must begin to fill it with good salubrious work, the kind of work that makes a man go “whoo” when the day is done, the kind of work that cannot truly be called work if it is done with purpose. One must cultivate their space until the avocado plants are growing six feet high and the bees are having way too much fun pollenating the orchids. Cause everyone knows, all work and no play makes Jack a dull bee. But a bee that enjoys its work makes honey sweeter than a peach, and its space becomes rife with that sweet honey love.

The kind of love you can bake a pie with—a pie so good it’s guaranteed to make life at least five slices more bearable.

Like Water in a Drain (Quartet Excerpt)

Contrary to later reports, the triceratops was not born in Persia, let alone in the turquoise mines of Khorasan. It was given to her as a gift. A birthday present from an aunt. Small enough to hold in one hand. Big enough to crush a toy soldier’s musket. Under the beast’s bandanaed foot, the lieutenant gasped for his life. His cries reached all the way to the kitchen, into the ear of Mrs. Thoreau who was just then busy with a salad of bell peppers and mushroom. Mr. Thoreau spent more time at the office these days. The blinds were drawn. And slivers of sunlight, the amber kind, like the sheen of a dried peach, were falling in a flourish onto the carpet; they illuminated Anna’s curls, made them glow, made them sing, made the dust mites dance in the beams. This room was once the dining room, where family dinners took place. Now it was a playroom, full of multicolored toy bins placed against the wall opposite the window.

“Mommy, will you come play with me? You can be the Triceratops.”

“I can’t sweetie,” her mother said from the kitchen, “I’m making dinner for everyone. Can’t you play by yourself?”

Anna was six years old, just shy of June. She had a round, pouty face, and blue eyes, whose ostensible affection was only partially veiled by pupils that drew you in like vacuums; and by a short mop of curls that had yet to learn the value of a spiral. There was a natural intelligence and precocity about her; a child apt to cut through the world’s crap. Triceratops in her right hand, Batman in her left, she turned and faced the window, all three feet of her. Outside, a wind had taken up residence on the front lawn. Steadily, Anna looked out over the hill, past the oak tree in their yard where her brother broke his arm, down the street, past the garage door at the end of the block, the one her father’s minivan crushed when the parking break failed and it rolled from one driveway to another, past the wooded rooftops, the moussed-up hair of suburbia, past Indian Creek, the green leaved tree line, and the highway congested with cars. And one could guess by the horizon’s color, that someone, maybe an angel, had spilled a giant bucket of rutabagas into a vat of yellow curry paste and splayed it across the sky. On and on, she looked until it carved off into nothing, like shavings in a disposal, like water in a drain. There where the Earth fell into the void, she played her imagination game. The sky became a vast Japanese painting. She dotted its face with high arching mountains, eagles and beavers, with streams that gurgled the way honeybees dance, and beehives brimming with the Queen’s jelly. If her mind were any indication of her future, she was destined to remain afoot, restless, head in the clouds, a nomad without home, searching for it past the horizon, past the sun, in the blank space, the negative space. But she would find things there, too. Her self, for one. We cannot discount that. We cannot discount that those who seek, inevitably find so long as they want it bad enough. But! If they don’t know what they want… well then… they will get a little bit of everything, a taste of the whole pie whether they like it or not.

“Twenty two,” the Shaman said, breaking Anna’s reverie. She was staring open mouth out the window, a tiny bead of drool making its way to the table. Outside, the island channel shimmered through an open glade. “There are twenty two different types of pie crust,” he continued. “Twenty-three if you include the Zwieback Triple Pastry. My personal favorite, if you don’t mind me saying, is the Alabama Golden Flake.”

Days 6, 7, & 8

I have fallen off haven’t I?

Well it’s not out of disinterest or lack of commitment.

It’s out of routine–a strange, strong lull has rolled in to the river house. A three-day lull.

The days are blurring together now.  Perhaps it coincides with the right old skunking the dogs received on Day 6. Our wood walks have diminished since then.

But I will not blame a skunk for my own actions. I am fairly certain I’ve spent all of the past two days in my studio–not necessarily writing much in the way of novels. Doing lots of thinking, though. Lots of honing my ideas. My theories. My beliefs. And a lot of reading too.

I have decided to let the novel come on its own accord. Digging is for coal miners and grave tenders.

I never would have thought I’d be so comfortable with so much solitude. With the exception of my roommate I am alone out here. And besides, he keeps to himself as well. Even now he is up the hill, drinking with the boys, checking his internet. I would rather be here, on this couch, with my book, and my water bottle; looking out all these big bay windows at the river and the sycamores and the wind.

Although I suppose I can’t actually see the wind. It is merely by its interaction with the sycamores that I am able to see it in action. Otherwise it is a perfectly invisible force. Auditorily speaking, it makes itself known in the slow gusts, and the distant chimes. Nature’s solfeggios. A perfectly audible force.

I imagine I could spend all my time out here, engrossed in my books, finding eventually the stroke of my own creative genius.

Alas, my Walden-esque dreams have been made possible by this place. My desire to shirk the burdens of society and move into the woods where I might do nothing but write, read, contemplate, and dissolve into a being of greater intellectual and spiritual import.

The old pain has returned; and right on time I might add.

What is the artist without a hearty sense of existential dread?

What is the artist without melancholy?

A tree without a trunk.

Ice without water.

Peonies without sunlight.

Catch my drift?

Tutus without ballerinas.

Radios without antennae.

Bread without flour.

Scottie Pippen without Michael Jordan.

Bacon without smoke.

Capitalism without China.

Okay, okay. You get my point. But it is to say that by clinging to certain someones, certain things, I seek to avoid the inevitable sensation of my aloneness. I reach out to reach in. But as an artist, as someone trying their damnedest to put words to the more ineffable experiences of the human condition, it is necessary for me to feel what boils and brews inside me. So I have decided to accept my fate. I have decided to plunge headfirst into this experience here. To not restrict myself. And yet to find the balance of a good routine.

Still, the past few days have been uneventful enough that a single three-day post seems more than appropriate.

Updates: Love is something you give out without expectation. Not just the givers, but the takers too. Everyone has to learn this in their own time. When you give love away, you give love to yourself. It’s a very strange thing, you know?

I love you. 

I love. 

You are merely the object of my life, the receiver. But the love is mine. It comes from me.

Here’s the most important thing to take from my experience thus far: I am so happy to be with the person I love the most. She is always with me. Always. She is creative. Imaginative. Intelligent. Vivacious. Strong. Sensitive. Deeply engaged. She is a seeker. A contemplator. A dreamer. She embodies every bit of what I look for in a human being. And yet, I don’t have to look at all. For she is in me. She IS me. And am her. At any given moment, I can let her know how I feel about her, and I feel her light up. I feel her heart warm. Her cheeks blush. Her lips pout. Her scalp tingle.

Lisa Dion, a renowned child psychologist, Gestalt therapist, and play therapist, once said, “If you are attached to yourself, you can be attached to anyone.”

So it is that I am here with the person I love the most in this world: myself. Gifted nothing but time. Nothing but quiet.

Days 6, 7, & 8. A chill has descended upon these woods. The Progenitor of the OAC has returned to himself. The river has picked up its pace. The streams have grown gunky with mud-sloshed leaves. The woodpeckers have quit their constant song. And the Sun. The Sun doth not come out but for an hour or two.

The other day I got lost on my way home from town. It was late. Stars-in-the-sky late. Ten PM to be exact. About the time when Zoey’s melancholia becomes most prominent. I drove over the bridge, past highway D, turned onto 89 and went toward Linn. I found myself in unfamiliar territory. I turned around. I went back. I found my way. I put Dark Side of the Moon on and let myself rage. I pulled over a hump in the road to its grassy shoulder, nearly overturning my Subaru at 50 miles per hour. I put the car in park. Turned the music up. And sobbed. Loudly, then quietly. Rising and falling like crescendos. Like clouds. Like the sound of the wind. I let myself miss her. Miss the sensation of closeness. The sensation of intimacy. The rest is simply adornments, ornaments, accoutrement. A soft voice, a gentle graze of my stomach, a cupping of breast, nuzzling of ass, a moment of prolonged eye contact. All very lovely. All very desirable.

But what I crave the most is an intimacy of self. A deep, unbroken communion with my own soul. And I am only days into finding it within my reach.

Where one blocks, something else unblocks. One door closes, so to speak. And the door of my soul gets slammed WIDE open, gusts billowing in, papers flying everywhere, bread crumbs stirring on the hard wood. A distant song infiltrates the room. The studio gets BLASTED with light. And suddenly the stars are sitting on the deck reading Sirian poetry. And the void has come to rest inside me. And a single blade of tall, golden grass juts into the sky. And… and… and something transfigures itself in the moon glow, transmutes in the low clouds, evolves into a full blown promise. A promise of what? A promise of what? 

Of nothing really. The promise of right now. The promise of presence. Of dealing directly with the present, the here-and-now, instead of the bramble of the past, the tangled mess of Christmas lights in the basement of your being. There are humans who deal in the now, who find communion in the now. They do not drag their haversacks along, shilling out old rusted pence, useless stories of times gone. They do not dream of a long-dead Golden Age. They make it. They bring it to life right in front of themselves. So maybe the specters on the wall will have something to dance to.

I was walking the other day and a memory was brought to my mind. By whom, there is no telling. But it was this: A waterfall descending into oblivion, slipping, sliding, and shooting over soft granite cleaves into the valley below. A girl tending to an afternoon fire, under cover of forest. Another girl, out in the open, getting as close to the edge as possible without falling over; talking to strangers; befriending strangers; missing the fire. Upon the return of girl no. 2, girl no. 1 is still tending, still stoking, still poking. She is wearing a big green sweatshirt and glasses. Her hair is in a bun beneath a ball cap. Girl no. 2 says something stupid, something unnecessary, about how she used to make fires; how different it was. Girl no. 1 gets upset. She storms off. The fire dies. Girl no. 2 sits in her own guilt. The waterfall, the cliff’s edge, they are permanent fixtures in the landscape. But Girl no. 1’s fire? A fleeting thing; a quick flash of heat and friction. Girl no. 2 should have stayed put. She should have gotten the franks out–the sausages they bought together at the store. How nice would that have been? How tender to share the warmth of Girl no. 1’s incendiary efforts? Simple as that. Girl no. 2 should have stayed. She should have gotten the franks out. But that is not how this memory goes. The fire dies. Only regret remains.

But we are dealing with the present now. The present has no room for regret; has no need for it. The present asks us to take our shoes off by the welcome mat; it asks us to leave our bags outside, where the wind–that perfectly invisible, perfectly audible force–may come to whisk it away. The present says, sit here, stay a while, breathe to breathe.

And right now, the present is a long drawn lull, a blur, a smashing of days into one large theater of clouds and stars, sun and moon, peace and pain. Days 6, 7, & 8. A blur. A longing. A storm. A crush. A sadness. A need. A loss. A breaking. A torment. A joy. Yes, yes, yes, a joy indeed. A true, unfiltered, still-ripened joy.

And a getting back on, a saddling back up, so to speak.

But might I remind myself: that time is just space, and space doesn’t care whether it’s empty or full.

 

 

 

Sand Castles

Have you ever made a sand castle at evening time? When the wind roils the sea and draws gloom from its shadows? And soon the tide comes in and takes what you have built? Leaves only the sand? Always with the sand. It is the grain of the inevitable. The fragile pendant of entropy. Both the seed and the fruit of nothingness, to which everything returns.

That’s what became of us, didn’t it?

Did you know that there is a sick, terrified child inside me. There is a look in her eye. It is one of fear. She trembles. She shakes. She will not look me in the eye. She will not look at me at all. Don’t come any closer, she says. I won’t let go. It’s for your best, I say. She doesn’t believe me. She squeezes harder. She squeezes until her cheeks turn green. And her knuckles turn bloody and white. She refuses to give up what she loves. And yet she is terrified of it being taken away. While she clings to it, that which she loves dies. And without it, she too would perish. Her life. Her very identity depends on it.

But it does die. And so does she. And the fire turns to smoldering ash and embers. The fire turns back to sand. And isn’t sand so hard to get rid of?

It finds its way into your shoes, your crevices, your hard to reach places. It stays there for a long time without you knowing until your foot gets rubbed the wrong way and you become starkly aware of what happens when you ignore the fact of impermanence; when you ignore how everything changes; how nothing stays the same; how even memories are corrupted; how everything truly is lost; how that which we hold sacred starts to matter very little to others who once held it in the same repute; how slowly but surely we lose ourselves to the past and whatever it comes to mean; while in the present, moments grow stale and pathetic, wan and tight-lipped in the moonlight; thin, frail, and meaningless as many things are wont to do.

Loss casts a long shadow.

Loss comes looking for you when you’re out drinking with your buddies and somehow you manage to have one too many. It sneaks up on you while you’re peeing in the alley, or maybe you’re smoking a spliff. Then things really start to spin. The centrifuge in your puny human brain begins to dance wildly. It begins to pull forgotten strands from the bramble of your unconscious for you to unwind in front of everyone. You come back inside teary eyed without a sure reason why. And your friends go to greet you with consolation. They put a hand on your back and say it’s okay whatever it is it’s okay.  

But it’s not okay. Loss is not okay. Sure, it is a fact of life. But it is not okay. It is the grindstone against which we are made new, our wits sharp, our attachments smooth and easy to release. Loss is the pulp of our involuntary transfiguration.

You sit in a pasture of dead grass, grown golden in the winter sun, reading books, praying, praying, praying silently, ever so still, waiting, waiting, waiting, for something to happen. Anything. But nothing does. Nothing happens at all.

How many minutes does it take for transcendence to strike you while sitting in a field? The answer? Time does not care for transcendence; and transcendence does not care for time. One drags on, endlessly it seems; the other remains hidden, endlessly it seems. That is the sad paradox of life. The inescapable truth. Sand castles in the tide.