Sometimes Ashes, Sometimes Dust

I’m reading Timothy Egan’s stark and unsettling story of the Dust Bowl years, The Worst Hard Timean uneasy feeling keeping me company as I go. “A powerful cautionary tale,” reads the back cover of my paperback edition, and it is, though one has to wonder if any caution is ever heeded when there is still profit to be made by clinging to willful ignorance.

If nothing else, the history of the dust storms of the High Plains throughout the 1930s provides ample evidence — as if we needed more — of the capacity of human activity to radically alter weather cycles. And the basic difference between weather and climate is time. But time is measured differently in Washington, D.C., where nobody reads, and the only cycle that matters is electoral in nature, while taking risks on rising sea levels and drawn-down aquifers is part and parcel of our casino economy, to which we all must pay tribute, sometimes in ashes, sometimes in dust.

So it goes.

 

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All of the Past is Present

A couple years ago I carried a big bin of my journals out to a friend’s farm. We built a bonfire of fallen limbs in a wide dirt pit, and one by one I tore the pages from my journals and threw them in the fire.

A dozen years of journals, burnt to lovely motes and pale grey ash. I came home with a bin of tangled spiral bindings that I thought I might put to some artful use.

I still might. There’s no rush.

I expected to feel some kind of release in the aftermath, a liberation, a new lightness of being. I didn’t feel any of those things. Tho later, when I read Marie Kondo, I smiled at the notion of sparking joy, at the memory of burning pages to embers and tiny sparks. I know it’s not what she meant. But maybe it is.

Meditating with the Body

One of the somatic meditations I recently introduced into my practice makes me weep uncontrollably, and because of this I don’t often attempt it, even though it’s so cathartic and leaves me feeling weightless and liberated. It also exhausts me, and that’s something to consider when going into a session, since afterward there is still the day to be lived. Chores to do, and obligations to attend to, a body to be moved through space, energy required for all of this.

Sometimes I have to choose a path less fraught.

The other day I spoke with my facilitator and described how frantic I sometimes feel, how hard it is to not know what it is I’m moving through, moving toward, moving from, how panicked I sometimes get in the midst of all this not-knowing.

I am not a person prone to panic. And yet.

“Let’s just sit for thirty minutes,” he said. “How does that sound?”

It sounded hard, and I wanted to say so, but I didn’t want to be disagreeable, especially after he’d been kind enough to listen to me rant, so I arranged myself on my cushion, and we sat. Five minutes. Ten minutes.

The point beneath my left shoulder blade began to ache.

The body remembers everything.

The body is the subconscious. This is what I’m learning.

It’s painful to come back into the body, to awaken sleeping limbs gone numb with disuse, painful to stand, painful to walk. But what is the alternative? To remain asleep. Quiescent. Unfeeling. Unmoving. Unmoved.

I don’t want to be any of those things.

Fifteen minutes. Twenty.

To come back into the body, to listen to the body, is a radical act. The body as clear-cut, the body as strip mine. The body as resource, utility. The body as rock and dirt and sand and soil and veins of copper and veins of gold.

The body as womb, the body as nutrient, the body as home.

There’s a Crack in Everything

Must the world always break our hearts?

Maybe it must.

Maybe it is the function of the world to break our hearts. To break us open, again and again. To expose us and keep us exposed.

We are so adept at forming scar tissue, so eager to heal. Perhaps the function of the world is to keep us from healing too quickly, to hold us in a state of receptivity for as long as we can bear it.

Brokenness may be less a wound from which we must recover than an invitation to be with our pain, our confusion, our not-knowing, to feel it all without the overlay of narrative and story, without explanation or assignment of agency. Without closure.

It’s hard to do. We want the narrative.

I want the narrative.

I told my meditation teacher that I began my practice with the thought that it would help me deal with my shit so I could get on with my life.

I’m beginning to suspect that dealing with my shit is my life, insofar as dealing with my shit means staying in that state of receptivity.

It’s a vast space. There is room for so much.

The world breaks my heart on a daily basis. That’s how the light gets in.

 

Holiday

After a week of grey skies and near-constant drizzle, the first of January is bright and blue, the air so crisp it snaps.

In a little while I’m going downtown to a church, where a handful of us will spend a few hours brining vast amounts of locally-grown garlic in the big kitchen, and bringing home jars of it to grace our pantries and flavor our cooking for the next little while.

Brining is simple and straightforward and inexpensive — salt + water + herbs if you want to get fancy — and the end product looks nice in its mason jar and keeps for months. It’s a nice project for the first day of the new year.

It’s a holiday in these parts, New Year’s Day, and so I get to suspend my job hunt for the next few days, as the holiday and the weekend combine for one last pause before we make our official launch into 2016.

I’ve been looking for work since leaving my ill-fated job at a local Montessori school in November, which doesn’t seem like that long ago, does it, though it feels like a lifetime.

It was a bad fit, that job, and it paid poorly, and made me so terribly sad, all those children trying to get through the day, most of them wanting nothing more than to be reunited with their parents. Three weeks in I came down with some sort of respiratory thing that I suspect was pneumonia, though I was too broke to go to a clinic for a diagnosis. Also too broke to take more than a single sick day, since we weren’t paid for those, and one day’s pay was all I could afford to lose. So I never really got better, just less worse, recouping some of my energy over the weekend only to see it dissipate midway through the following week. Three months of this was all I could take.

It’s scary to leave a job without another job lined up, but I had three part-time gigs to keep me afloat, and once I was no longer spending my days amid the biohazard of preschool culture, my good health returned, along with my energy.

Then one-two-three, the part-time gigs all fell apart.

Right before Christmas, which I don’t really celebrate, but still.

Suffice it to say, it’s been a somewhat anxious stretch.

Which is one reason I found myself this past Monday sitting on a little round zafu in the spare office of a lawyer friend who offers meditation practice three times a week. “Lawyering is such a head game,” he told me, his fingers tapping his temples. “This brings me back down into my heart.”

There were three of us in attendance that day. We sat, we focused on our breath. We called our minds back from their inevitable wandering. Called them back again.

I went into the room preoccupied, and in all honesty I was back to feeling preoccupied within an hour of leaving. But the time in between was a holiday. It wasn’t exactly free from anxiety, but it was a respite.

Holiday. Holy day. Sanctuary.

During our meditation my lawyer friend suggested we count ten breaths, slowly, staying with the breath, staying focused. “If you lose track, just start again,” he said, and I wondered how one could lose track counting from one to ten.

I followed my breath, I counted. And somewhere between six and seven, my mind wandered. I lost track.

I started again.

This week I have an interview with a small local company, doing a job for which I’m well-suited and would probably enjoy quite a lot. Meanwhile there is garlic to brine, and a blue sky above. One day at a time.

Happy new year.

Home Maintenance

I’ve been putting off changing the furnace filter.

In home maintenance canon, that’s like skipping oil changes for your car. Not smart, but in my defense, the furnace is in the cellar, and the cellar is pretty much just a deep dark hole scooped from red dirt, full of shadowy edges and cobwebby corners and assorted mouse bones and other unpleasantness. It’s an old house. They didn’t do poured concrete basements in 1860.

Alas, cold weather has arrived, and with it the memories of the winter the furnace went out not once but repeatedly, until it was properly repaired by a proper repair person who schooled me in the importance of good furnace maintenance. I’m not saying the schooling was particularly effective, but this morning there were heavy grey skies outside and visions in my head of space heaters and thermal underwear and heavy socks and standing in front of the open oven door to get warm, and no, no, I can’t put if off any longer. The furnace depends on me.

It depends on me.

I wear rubber shoes to do the job. The cellar used to flood with some regularity, especially after a sustained rain, and it’s been raining here most of the past week, a persistent cold rain that will seep into your bones, not to mention your cellar, and draw off all warm thoughts of pumpkin spice and sugarplum fairies. Even though there hasn’t been any cellar flooding since I had the house’s gutters replaced 18 months ago, I long ago habituated to a puddled floor. Plus, I don’t like surprises, especially in places all dark and cobwebby. So: rubber shoes.

Surprise: the dirt floor is dry, but there is something over there next to the furnace, a suspicious dark mound that looks a lot like scat. Rather large scat, as a matter of fact, considerably more than what might be left by, say, your average Midwestern house-invading raccoon.

It is disconcerting.

I lean in to take a closer look.

Relief: it is not scat. It is a small dead creature, dark and furry and desiccated. A vole, perhaps, curled into a ball, rigid in death. I nudge it with the toe of my rubber shoe and it topples sideways. I can see its front feet now, the tiny finger-like digits, and a tail not quite furry but not bare like a mouse tail. Definitely a vole. I direct it with my shoe into a shadowy corner, behind a piece of rotting plank, next to a dirt-crusted cinder block, where it can continue to decompose in peace.

At the furnace I pull out the old, dusty filter and replace it with the sparkly clean new one. I carry the old filter upstairs and out the back door to the trash bin, where I fold it in half and stuff it down into the bin. On the way back inside I leave my rubber shoes on the porch.

Point of fact: the entire enterprise has taken about four minutes, including the time needed to inspect the mysterious mound and toe it aside. It’s taken longer to describe it to you, and far, far longer to consider doing it and deciding not to, again and again, for weeks on end.

Procrastination is irrational. I am irrational. Q.E.D.

That winter when the furnace wouldn’t work properly, the technician who came to repair the thing (properly) showed me a carpet of animal hair he’d extracted from it.

“Change the filter every month,” he said.

“Yes,” I said. “I will. Every month.”

But I don’t. Instead I buy three-month filters (“Doesn’t matter,” the tech said when I told him this. “You have cats. Change it every month.”) He told me to mark it on my calendar, so I do. I choose a date, make a notation: “Δff.” Then the date comes and goes and I don’t “Δff.”

I’m a little slow with the oil changes, too.

It’s a common failing, this habit of postponing the small stuff until it threatens to become bigger stuff. I don’t even know why I’m telling you, except that I felt so triumphant when I came back upstairs with that dirty furnace filter in hand, and triumphs have been so few these past several months that I wanted to share that feeling with you, embedded though it may be in something bigger, something about the cellar where I’d rather not go, and the small creatures who dwell there completely unbeknownst to me, who appear unexpectedly, creatures I can (sometimes) nudge back into the shadows with the toe of my shoe, in order that I might get on with my life.

Dust Filter

I don’t know what to call this filter through which I’m seeing the world right now. Maybe it’s dust.

Maybe it’s fear.

Maybe I am in The Waste Land. (Come in under the shadow of this red rock.)

I’ve taken a job I’m not particularly suited for (to put it mildly) that places me in a dirt-and-pebble-filled children’s playground for nearly half of my eight-hour workday, five days a week. It has not rained in any measurable amount in these parts for over a month, and copious amounts of dust are kicked into the air by flying feet and tumbling bodies. By the end of the week my lungs feel like those of a pugilist with a pack-a-day cigarette habit. Battered and bruised.

Last week I got truly sick from it. And now I fear it.

On the drive into town each morning I pass fields of corn and soybeans gone brown, the giant tillers turning under the remains of this year’s harvest, raising rooster-tails of bone-dry earth in their wake.

Where is the rain?

In honor of yet another presidential campaign season, I have turned off the news. Whatever fresh hell is headed our way can be dealt with when it gets here. Meanwhile, I have decided to sell everything I own and make my way elsewhere. I will not sit out the apocalypse, or the 2016 election, or my impending crone years, in this place.

Ambitious plan, and I am only me, so it will take some time. Meanwhile, I try to write, and the dust (fear) clouds my vision, and the words come out all wrong.

Plus I’m still sick. And so it goes.