the enchanted valley and things that do not happen

Hello!

You may have read an early draft of this story, about the Duckabush Arson of last year, from a link on a hiking website. This early draft has been posted without my permission, and actually violates my publishing agreement with Amazon, and can get me in a lot of trouble. If you’re the one who posted this link, please take it down. And if you’d like to read the final, full-length version of the story in its entirety, you can find it here-

Duckabush Fire

And thanks for reading!

torrential rainfall and the disputed kingdom Protista

radiolaria

It’s been raining torrentially all day- this morning we took the dogs to kelly point park, the superfund site where the metallic Columbia meets the sewage-filled Willamette, and big cold drops began to pelt us as soon as we stepped from the car. We walked along the path through the woods, throwing Emy’s ball before us. The poplar trees, huge overhead, swayed ominously in the wind from the oncoming storm, and we watched in wonder as limbs broke off, now and then, and fell in slow motion to the ground. Let’s go to the beach? I said. A tree might fall on us? But the beach was too exposed, the wind beating us like a newspaper and the rain splatting us and the lights from the grain barges on the river. Back in the forest, we watched the trees. Woo woo, they said. The air was grey with condensation. Along the trail nettles grew hopefully, taking up nuclear waste from the soil.

Now I’m in my trailer with the space heater up too high, and it’s still raining torrentially. Earlier I tried to study, laying in bed with my big floppy biology book, watching the water run in rivulets down the little trailer-window, but I fell asleep instead. Before I fell asleep I’d been trying to focus on the disputed kingdom Protista, but instead I was thinking indulgently about summertime, and houses I used to live in, and meadows I have known.

I’ve been feeling a lot of nostalgia lately. Maybe because it is the wet end of the wintertime, maybe because I have been in the city too long with only crowded backyards and superfund sites to retreat to. And it’s funny, because when you finally let a thing go, sometimes years after you first realize that you should be done with it, you never think that it will come back all draped in the soft colors of nostalgia. But that is how I feel today, tonight, about all sorts of things- and I am thinking of them longingly, here in my little driveway-house full of warmth with the rain pounding on the aluminum roof.

Where do they go, these things that happen? Our experiences, our disembodied stories? Apparently there is a compost heap in my brain where they are recycled into magic treasures, more whole then they ever actually were.

I think of North Dakota often, it is one of my muses, if I am using muse in the correct sense, if a muse can be a thing other than a person. Also my friends are muses, people I have known, mostly old friends who cannot get their shit together, who are propelled helplessly through life by their own irreconcilable contradictions, who are moved about as if by mystery. Who do not use logic. Who are painfully beautiful. Who always seem more alive than other people but also more ungrounded. Which is maybe the same thing.

And North Dakota. North Dakota from a freight train- the train goes fast, because north Dakota is wide open. The train could be said to hurtle. On both sides of the train, the soft gold grass. Bent at the tops, like an ocean. The native prairie that grew back after people fled to the cities. Just the grass and the train and above you, the glass observatory of the sky. Now and then a broken down barn, melting into the grass. A stone fence, half-finished, built from stones fished from the ground. A shiny ribbon in the prairie is a stream, flat and clear, like you could float down it on your back. Wind, and sometimes clouds, charging from the east. Lightning.

I used to do whatever I wanted. Travel all the time, move back and forth. I ate dumpstered birthday cake and slept outside under forgotten clumps of trees and that was ok, because I was young and needed nothing. I thought that everything was too fucked up to invest in anything, but then investing in nothing made me feel like I was already dead, and that made me wish that I was, and that feeling was confusing because I had no reason to want to be dead. It was like I wanted to be free so bad but then when I was free I realized that there was nothing else. Like when I was little and I would try and play the video games my brother liked so much but all I cared about was finding the edge of the world, moving my little man into all the corners of the screen to try and find some place beyond what you could see. But there’s nothing else, there’s just the tunnel or whatever, and it’s all set up for you, you’re supposed to jump and get the coin and stomp the mushroom and it’s supposed to make you feel good.

When I was younger, I never thought about what would happen. I figured that the world would just end soon so there was no point in thinking about it. The world felt old, tense, used up, on the brink of something. Everything felt so extremely precarious, like if I touched it it would fall over. It didn’t make any sense to me to put my efforts into something that would just end anyway. I didn’t know then that things that fall over build themselves up again, over and over like magic. It took me a long time to see that.

I used to not need anything- not money, not a home, not any specific food. But there’s a lot of stress in that lifestyle, and loneliness, and eventually your adrenals get worn out and you wake up one day and your body hurts and you can’t do it anymore and you need things. Or you throw yourself off a bridge, because the world hasn’t ended yet and you can’t keep bluffing.

I’ve been in Portland for a year and a half straight. I used to leave for about half of every year. Also notable- I’ve had my dog for a year and a half, I’m starting my second year of undergrad next term, and March 18th is my one-year anniversary with Seamus. I turn thirty this year, and I’m so grateful that this shit is getting easier. And it feels sweet, this nostalgia for the way I lived for so long, tonight, sitting in my trailer with the rain coming down- memories, dreams, popping up like treasures from underwater. Sometimes I feel anxiety about it- like I’ll never be able to travel again, because I won’t have the money, and my body can’t handle the way I used to travel, for free. Waking up on the freight train, sided somewhere in Minnesota, watching the dawn bleed into the sky. Shoplifting grapefruit and sardines. Spending days in a bramble thicket, reading Steinbeck. Walking for miles in the dead of night, looking for water. So many moments of feeling so alive- stacking up on top of each other, making the universe hum like an electrical current. Like it was just me and the universe. The universe moving through me, like I wasn’t even there. Have you ever felt that way? Like you can actually forget yourself enough for the universe to go about its business right in front of you. Like in any Farley Mowat book, when he’s been in his canvas tent in the snow for long enough and the wolves decide he’s just a bunch of lichen, and they start playing with each other and acting out all their wolfy dramas in front of him. Like he’s found the secret place at the edge of everything, where there’s something else that no-one knew was there.

I haven’t been working on my book for a while. I took too many credits this term, and I moved, so I haven’t had time to write. And I hate being really busy. It gives me big fluffy piles of anxiety. Too much of my brain is devoted to thinking about stuff like colors and shapes and patterns of light and very little is devoted to time management and schedule planning. So I sort of freeze up if my life gets too complicated and then I can’t do anything. I need large blocks of time to stare out the window and think about sea creatures. I need to be able to accidentally fall asleep while studying. I need to be able to be ten minutes late for everything. I may not actually be ten minutes late for everything, but I need that to be ok.

I wish I had another three month stretch to work on my book. It’s my ladder to the moon– I need it to climb out of here. But you need a really strong ladder to climb out of one way of life and into another one, and it takes a long time to build a ladder that strong. Right now I’m doing undergrad to prepare to go to school for my master’s in Chinese medicine, because that’s my other dream, besides writing. But when I look down that road I see full-time school for the next five years and then after that, working full time to pay off my student loans, and then working forever until I die. And there’s no time for writing in that anywhere.

How do you do it? How do you be an adult. How do you want things hard enough to make them real. It’s like I woke up one day and all the rules had changed. Or I woke up one day and realized where I was- in this body, on this ground, with this rain coming down everywhere. There’s no place at the edge of everything, and yet there is. And I can want both worlds, but so far, I haven’t figured out how to have them both at once. And that’s painful, but pain can be good. A motivator. Soothing, even. I feel pain, therefore I exist. This sucks and I want something else, therefore I exist. This sucks this sucks this sucks, I exist I exist I exist.

thanksgiving

It’s late and I can’t sleep. I got up this morning, made the stuffing for the turkey (“Eddy”, he was ultimately named), and then went back to bed, because I was grumpy and hadn’t slept well, and was being a general pain in the ass. So I had a nap in the middle of the day, and now I can’t sleep. Seamus is asleep, I can hear him snoring, my little dog is asleep on the couch next to me, beneath a blue hoodie, Emy is asleep on her dog bed- everyone is asleep but me. I ate too much pumpkin pie today, laughed too hard, shouted too much, had the most fun thanksgiving in memory. Felt so appreciative for my chosen family. Felt such a strong sense of community, the real feeling, so rare, visible only in flashes, and when you least expect it- like a white-hot light beam straight to the heart. The turkey turned out amazing, thanks to a whole team of dedicated basters, some cheesecloth, a shit-ton of butter and the steadfast guidance of the Joy of cooking. I think the stuffing was good, but I had so much food on my plate, I ate so fast, and there was so much noise, that I feel like I hardly tasted anything at all. I’d gone for a run beforehand in the rain with EmyLoo and I was starving, but then I’d eaten some candied pecans and ended up feeling like I wasn’t quite hungry enough. I remember thanksgiving dinners at my Grandparent’s house when I was a teenager, being so hungry by the time we ate that each bite of food tasted like the fucking miracle that it was, chemical reactions exploding in my mouth, winter and spring and fall and sunshine and a nostalgia for everything that could have ever happened, like tasting the whole history of the world. I never helped cook, though, and when you cook a thing and smell it all day you can hardly taste it by the time it gets eaten. I learned that working at the hippie hotsprings last summer, cooking for hours and not being able to taste anything when I put it in my mouth, having to trust that it would taste good, finally tasting it eating it cold with a spoon out of the leftovers fridge the next day, like a fucking miracle.

 

I am thankful. I am thankful for my health and my friends’ health and for my date and for our dogs. I am thankful that the heavens split open and rain down goodness and unbelievable decadence upon us again and again, like the universe is a slot machine and I keep winning and I’m shaking the machine and saying why do I keep winning? But the money just keeps pouring out, gold coins piling around my feet. Of course it’s not just winning it’s being able to know when you’ve won, and being able to say “yes, this is good enough” and then, later, realize “yes, this is as good as it gets” and then “one happy thing is every happy thing”. And there’s also giving up hope, realizing that hope is a form of capitalism, a belief in infinite growth and if there’s not that constant moving toward some other thing then you’re dead. Giving up hope you stop looking around you and you look down at your feet and you realize that you can’t even see them because they’re buried under about a foot of gold coins. And you feel so rich you don’t even want to move, barely want to breathe, because you’re afraid it’s all so fragile like a screen made of grass blades pinned together with chestnut thorns and that it’ll crumble if you look at it directly, like your gratitude is a strong wind that’ll blow it over, like how the sun can fade a photograph.

 

Over-eating pumpkin pie is one way of indirectly showing one’s gratitude towards the universe. There were three kinds of gluten-free pumpkin pie at dinner, and I ate as much as I possibly could, spacing it out all night until, in retrospect, the evening blurs together into one long taste of dull pumpkin, maple sugar and baking-soda crust, like an IV drip of pie. The best thanksgiving food, tho, will be the leftovers I make for breakfast, and the turkey sandwiches I make into infinity, thanks to Eddy the expensive (but priceless) co-op turkey.

 

I love feasting with my friends. I am thankful for so many things- but mostly I just want to catch this moment in my heart, this moment of being alive- because I am undoubtedly alive- and sometimes, still, that blows me over, even though I have been on this earth for nearly thirty years already. How is it that we are alive? Still I cannot believe it. In the great straws-draw of existence, I wonder if every single-celled or multi-cellular-complex organism doesn’t once in its life stop to wonder how they got so lucky as to be embodied in such a way, here and now, when there was so much that they missed, and so much that they will never see, how they ever got to be alive at all. And sometimes, when I stop fidgeting and stand still, I feel that time stops with me, and if I hold still enough, I feel that I can almost keep from startling it into motion again. And this always works except for when it doesn’t, and time passes but it doesn’t pass, and in the end, I always have it, even when I think I don’t.

Where darkness lives

I woke up this morning thinking about my mother. I invoked her, yesterday, by talking about her, and when I woke up this morning she was there, in the room. Her spirit, her energy.

My mother exists.

It’s hard to believe that something still exists when you do not see it with your own eyes. It’s hard to know that something exists when you do not pass it on your daily walk, talk about it in casual conversation, or read about it in the newspaper. Environmental catastrophe, prisons, endemic poverty, my mother. These things could all be one and the same- my mother is environmental catastrophe, my mother is endemic poverty, my mother is in a prison built for one. My mother is second-hand cigarette smoke, yellow fingers, and gas-station popcorn. My mother is isolation, alienation, hopelessness, and despair. My mother is fear.

My mother is homeless and schizophrenic. She lives in a halfway house in Alaska, and she suffers. Part of her suffering comes from inside, from her f-ed up frontal lobe, from genetics combined with environmental exposure combined with whothefuckknows. The other part of her suffering comes from outside, from being homeless. The inside and the outside feed each other, make a great cycling loop of isolation-alienation-hopelessness-despair that our culture will never interrupt. Round and round goes the loop, isolation and lack of treatment making her illness worse while the paranoia of her illness causes her to isolate herself even further. The upside is that the suffering that comes from inside of her is so huge and real, that the conditions of her physical environment must pale in comparison.

My mother has been a victim of the horrors and hallucinations of her own brain (which are modeled after her deepest, most secret fears) for the past 25 years. My mother’s paranoia causes her drive away those closest to her, or those who would try to come close. She is angry, spiteful, elusive, psychotic, and often violent, and for this reason she is without a single friend.

My mother is crouched alone somewhere, in a room that I have never seen, arguing vehemently with the voices in her head. She is trembling and rocking back and forth. She is chain smoking. She will not eat. She will not talk. She is hallucinating. And yet she lives, and lives, and lives.

My mother exists.

What I don’t understand is how my mother can suffer so much, and for so long, and have such a low quality of life, only to die someday, and then just be dead.

There’s no story arc to that. There’s no “Life is beautiful, life is hard” in that equation. There’s no dignity, no simple pleasures. There’s no “Things got shitty but we were brave and now we’re stronger for it”. There’s just badness, on and on and on, a black and infinite badness, like how you feel on the very worst day of your entire life, only forever, and with no ending or beginning. One single, endless moment, of suffering.

My mother didn’t do anything wrong to go crazy. She was just a regular person once, a sort of american archetype- young, beautiful, working class, small-minded, and racist. She was petty and shallow, bad at math but good at basketball. Just out of highschool she met my father, and they moved to Alaska to try their hand at life. There were jobs in Alaska. It was the seventies, and white people were moving there in droves. The quarreling, drama-prone couple settled in the mountains outside of Anchorage, half-built their house, and had two kids in the first four years. (In Alaska, if your house is not “finished”, you do not have to pay property taxes.) Somewhere in that murky, convoluted time, which no-one in my family will talk about and which contained a messy divorce, a restraining order, and my brother and I spending a total of two years in foster homes (apart)- my mother’s frontal lobe broke. The next seven years are, for me, mercifully blank, although I have been trying recently to get the memories back. (How to do this- therapy? Hypnosis? Writing?) I do not remember what my favorite foods were, what clothes I wore, or what kinds of toys I liked to play with, before the age of nine. I do not remember if I had any friends, if we had pets, where we lived, or anything about school or any of my teachers. And after the divorce (restraining order?) I never saw my father again.

If my mother hadn’t been in Alaska, so far away from her (controlling, hostile, small-minded) family, and so stubborn about staying there, then she might’ve ended up like my aunt. My aunt is also schizophrenic. She’s on a toxic cocktail of medications that took many decades to perfect and many cycles through the revolving door of the mental health system. These medications cause my aunt many unpleasant side effects, but she is functional. She has her own little house, her own interests and hobbies, a job, friends, and community. My aunt suffers, but it is closer to the way that we all suffer- endlessly, but with bright spots, flares from the infinite darkness, bits of poetic justice, hope. She has been known to keep geese, watch interesting documentaries, and ride her bicycle in the sunshine. She is a tireless fountain of trivia, very curious, and endlessly engaged with life.

She was also her mother’s favorite, the first-born, the one closest to her parents. And so it wasn’t hard for her to stick close to home and get support when she needed it, and when she ran away it wasn’t as far, and her parents were always able to bring her back.

In the beginning my mother was too stubborn to leave Alaska, too stubborn to admit that she had failed. She had no marketable skills, she had no clue how to raise children, and the friends she had made she was driving away, one by one, with her paranoia and her anger. But she was too stubborn to give up, and in the end Alaska and total destitution were the only things she knew. The life she’d had before Alaska was slowly eclipsed by the life inside her busted frontal lobe- a life that was like a movie projected onto the empty space around her- god, satan, the virgin Mary, and most of all, demons who knew her most secret insecurities and taunted her, day after day after day.

In a way, we are all like my mother. We all suffer, and we all occupy realities that we create inside of us, with our thoughts and our spirits and our expectations, and that we project onto the world around us, like a movie. Each of our movies is different, and yet each of our movies is real.

We are all like my mother, and we are none of us like her.

Once, in a crowded, wooden kitchen in the forest, I met an old man who told me that we humans are meant to experience the goodness, joy, and beauty of life about sixty percent of the time, and to dwell in the darker, more painful places for the other forty percent. This balance is based on the golden ratio, he said, which is a pattern that pops up often in nature, architecture, art, and the patterns of galaxies. It is one of the patterns of existence, a spiral and, mathematically, a sort of tilted balance, a leaning scale that lists towards Life and keeps us from slipping back into that dark abyss of pre-existence.

If my mother’s life is meant to be 60/40 goodness/badness, then do her pre-marriage years count as goodness? Did they consist entirely of flawless, sun-filled days, of flips on the trampoline, of sewing pinafores, of bickering breezily with her siblings? Is this why she was spit out into the world so helpless, without any skills, so small-minded and so shallow? Was it because she had never experienced suffering? Because she had never really been crushed by life, had never experienced the blackness of despair? Would a little bit of suffering have inoculated her against the dark hole of badness that she was about to stumble into?

And if my mother’s young years were pure goodness, and her adult years were pure suffering, then she has, as of this writing, spent equal time in each. Which makes the ratio of her experience 50/50, and counting slowly higher on the side of darkness. And what of that, universe? Does the irregular nature of her suffering to not-suffering ratio create imbalance somewhere else in the cosmos? Does it alter the fabric of space-time? Does it contribute to global warming? Does it speed us towards environmental catastrophe and ecological collapse?

Or is her unwarranted burden of suffering just a reflection of a larger trend, a mirror in which, if we are brave enough to look, we can see the grossly unjust worldwide distribution of resources, the disparity between the rich and poor in our own country and others, and the vague, far-flung wars we participate in but whose purpose we do not understand and whose aftermath we will never have to see.

A mirror in which, if we are brave enough to look, we can see all of the individuals, in our culture and in others, who must carry the burden of suffering and who will never be forgotten, because we do not bother to know them in the first place.

(In honor of the fact that my mother (still) exists, I am going to write about her every day for a week. This is the first post.)

light bulbs, chihuahuas, and writing about myself

My new apartment is two square rooms, a yellow kitchen counter, and the hum of the fridge. It is the click-click of the baseboard heaters and the cold blue light of the stark-white walls. I have not hung artwork yet. I just moved yesterday from a one-room cottage with a woodstove to this land of carpet, neighbors, and window blinds. But I had to share a kitchen when I lived in the cottage and I don’t want to share a kitchen anymore. I have some money and I want to live alone. I have never lived alone in Portland. I have lived alone in plastic, drafty yurts, I have lived alone in dark cabins made of logs. I have slept alone beneath mosquito netting in a camper van, I have lived alone in a two-person tent that I pitched, surreptitiously, in a patch of woods next to the highway, while I waited for salmon season to start. I have lived alone on the freight train, and always I have lived alone in the copse of trees on the outskirts of town, lying on my back on my foam sleeping pad, watching the birch leaves flip like coins in the wind. But I have not lived alone in Portland and now here I am, in the City, in my very own Apartment. I must be grown up, or I must be anti-social. I am highly efficient, or I am a capitalist tool, unwilling to do the work it takes to share space with others, and so ultimately responsible for the current breakdown of human community, and all of our resulting cultural alienation and existential despair.

In my apartment, now, there are No Distractions To Keep Me From Writing, and it is raining heavily, so even my dog needs nothing. She is a chihuahua, from the desert, and she does not like the rain. If I try and walk her when there is water falling from the sky she will turn, face home, and plant her feet. Sometimes if I stand motionless, the leash taught, and wait a long moment, her peanut brain will reset and she’ll forget why she’s pulling so hard. She’ll trot merrily for another half-block, before she remembers, again, that she doesn’t like the rain.

Today it is raining and dark, I am tired, and I do not know what I need. I am tired today of my small dinners, my cabbage-and-onion browned in a cast iron skillet, my half-a-lemon, my leftover-chicken. I am tired of reading periodicals and watching the rain in the courtyard. I am weary of the way I overthink my relationship with my dog, the way I look at her and try to puzzle out her emotions, the way I project my own negative feelings onto her (Kinnikinnick doesn’t love me, Kinnikinnick thinks that I am a failure) in a way that I do not do with any human relationship.

I am Tired, I have Fatigue, I cannot Concentrate, and so instead of working on my novel here I am, writing about myself, which is what I specialize in anyway, since it is what I have done the most.

Yesterday I was at Fred Meyer buying a can opener and I found myself lingering in the light bulb aisle, picking up the long fluorescent tubes that said things like “sunshine!” and “full spectrum”. I’ve thought, before, about buying a full-spectrum light box, in front of which I could sit, in the mornings, until I became energized. But full-spectrum light boxes are expensive, and what with my solo apartment in the city and all the money I’m spending on healthcare each month and how much Corinne and I like to eat at Chaba Thai, I wasn’t sure that I could afford it. Then, in Fred Meyer, I saw that you could buy the “full spectrum” tubes individually, and that they were the same price as any other florescent bulb. So theoretically I could just get a fixture and put one of these bulbs in it, and then I’d be all set to get jacked each morning on pseudo-sunlight and slowly turn my sad face upside down.

But then, I didn’t know if the ones at the hardware store were really the same as the ones in the light boxes, and I just looked on the internet and the light boxes were on sale, so I bought one.

We shall see, when it gets here, how it makes me feel. We shall see if it can replace the forest, if it can replace the drip of rain in the fir boughs, if it can replace the infinite peace that nature brings. If it can prop up my chi enough for me to write.

In the meantime, dear steadfast reader, I have a question for you- have you ever used a full-spectrum light box, and how did it make you feel. Was it as nice as cross-country skiing? Did it make you feel generous towards your chihuahua? Were you less prone to eat snack chips instead of meals? Did you feel like running in the rain?

 

Look! I wrote something!

My chemistry homework makes an appearance, as does North Dakota.

—————————–

S A D

———

It has gotten cold here, sometimes
sometimes it is not cold, but the air is filled with water like someone is misting us
like we are fragile plants that need misting
It has gotten sometimes cold but dark
dark, dark, dark
I do not know where I am
that it is so dark out
where have the trees gone? the sky? the road?
my eyes hurt from non-light
six o’clock feels like ten p.m.
I do not know what to do with this.
I have gone to the gym,
I watched TV on the elliptical trainer.
I do not like the gym.
when I was younger, I rode my bike through the dark, mist stinging my face, grimacing in pain.
I was fearless and brave.
when the ride was over I do not remember how I felt. Transcendent, like I had gone through the oracles and not been shot with laser eyes,
or just cold and wet and miserable, reminded that life is suffering.
My ears painfully red
the leather of my shoes damp
my bicycle rusted.
Now it is dark and I research light-therapy lamps on the internet
with 10,000 Kelvin bulbs
and it doesn’t make me feel any better.
I want to fold up into myself, I want to go blind. I want to find a giant puppy, eviscerate it, and climb inside for heat. I want to drop out of college and go somewhere colder but brighter, like North Dakota. I would have no friends. Friends and light frequently shift on the antique brass scales of my heart.
The country is like a periodic table, light increasing as you go east. I am the element Lithium. I am Oregon. North Dakota is a transition metal and Alaska is a noble gas. I want to go to one of the places that has not been discovered yet, Sunny Ununtrium where the ecosystems are still intact and no-one believes in science. The people who live there talk with their hands and use their voices only for singing. They live in huts thatched with palm fronds and eat coconuts and raw sea-beast. There are giant spiders. But would that really be any different than riding the lightrail downtown, bathed in fluorescent lights and off-gassing plastic? And off-gassing people, who don’t eat any vegetables, who wear too many layers and live in dark, moldy houses. These people have nothing but at least there are cats for them, cats they can feed dry kibble made from the bodies of euthanized shelter animals. Mostly euthanized pit bulls.

I want something exciting to happen. Something really big, like an explosion. Maybe the earth will crash into the sun and all of our molecular bits will dissolve into everything, heat and light and then infinite, infinite cold. I’m not sure if that is better than the park outside my school, where the pumpkin-orange of the maples clashes so well with the grey, grey, sky, and the mist that makes an infinite continuum of the sky. The sky falling down all around us, sifting down, permeating matter and dissolving the trampled leaves. There is beauty here, but there is not light. It is so still it makes me tired. I want to freeze in place on the bricks where I sit until I become a stone and can talk with the trees. We’ll look down at all the people and the bright white glass of the buildings and we won’t think anything.

I’m back

It is so strange to be back in the city.

It is raining, I cannot ride my bicycle. The air is cold and grey- there is fruit out there, ripening, figs and blackberries, but I do not know how to find them. Last September it was not like this- last September there was long yellow light and the sidewalks were strewn with walnuts and moldering flower petals.

It is hard to leave the forest. They dry, breezy forest where I have slept these last five months. In the forest there are always good smells, pine pitch and green things, everything is fresh, there is dust, and small mammals with bright black eyes who make their lives in the dirt and the moss and in the food cabinet of the outdoor kitchen, in a crumpled plastic bag. They eat the bag of green tea that was left there. They eat fifteen grains of brown rice. They do not want the rice cakes. No-one wants the rice cakes, not even me. Rice cakes are famine food, although I did not used to feel this way. The mice build a nest of hair and cloth fibers behind the bottle of olive-oil. They have just gotten settled when I wake them, mid-day, and they stumble out on their hopping gerbil-feet and huddle, confused and disoriented. I can not bear to scold them because they eat green tea-leaves and harm no-one. Gentle beings with their tiny, beating hearts.

It is so strange to be back in the city. I woke too early this morning, all the world was present in the warm damp wind from the window- jet-planes were in attendance, and freight trains, and buses, and garbage trucks with their crashing sounds of glass like windows breaking. If only there were the sounds of water running underground, and the clatter of breakfast dishes, and stars exploding. But it is hard to be present to the whole world at once- my ignorance of some things keeps me sane. I do not think I could stand to hear the stars exploding.

Not in attendance were the animal sounds. “I think that the season of screaming birds is over,” I say to you, from my half of the bed. We are both bathed in light, much more light than I am used to. Your old bedroom, downstairs, got little light. And in the forest the light was blocked by leaves and wood. Now you have moved into an attic bedroom with windows at both ends, and the light and winds blow through, woo-woo, in one end and out the other, and shine off the hardwood floors and colorful walls. There is room for yoga and dancing and a dozen reading chairs. The view is of peaked rooftops and the tops of trees. And in the distance, a rainbow windsock. And the thick grey sky.

The rain has stopped, and there is so much to do. It is September, and there are so many things. I can write again, and soon I start school. Today though I will unpack the car, and get on my bicycle, and go to the grocery story for carrots and chicken broth. I will do laundry and go to the bank. I will make my bed and put the books on my bookshelf. I will search out more Fitzgerald. I will sleep early, in the dim musty light of my shack, with its walls banked in moldering leaves and its light filtered through raspberry canes. And tomorrow! And the next day! And all of September! And I am in the city now!

I WANT


I want to bust you out of the city. I want to steal a car and drive up I-5 as fast as I can go. A nice car, a solid box, a bubble-pod, a car that smells like vinyl, nothing of the forest, a euphoric comfort machine. Stolen. What better thing to steal, than a car?

A stolen car and a suitcase full of money, to pay for all the gas. I’ll find the suitcase under some tumbled rocks on the mountain-top, underneath a giant Alaskan yellow-cedar of record diameter. A suitcase full of money and a car. The seas are filling with oil, the world is ending, who cares. This is no time to be pretending to know how to bake bread. This is no time for routine. This is no time for patience, for tolerance. This is no time to love the land of here below.

I’ll pick you up in my new car and then we can go anywhere. First, we’ll chase the sun. For moral. We’ll bust out of the rain cloud that clings to the cascade mountains and drive east into the summertime. It’s so bright out there that we’ll get suntans on our feet in the shape of flip-flops, even while driving. No more getting cheated out of summertime. No more pretending to know how to bake bread.

I never want to learn how to really bake bread. How to give an egg wash, sprinkle the loaves with seeds, mist the ovens with water to make a nice crust. I want to burn all bread loaves. Next, I want to burn all gluten-free bread loaves. I want to burn all pizzas. I want to burn the word PIZZA. As soon as I’m out of the rain cloud this feeling will pass. I’ll have my feet up on the dash, in flip-flops. Bread loaves can live. Bread loaves make a pleasing smell, sandwiches are sometimes interesting to assemble. Anything can go in them. Absolutely anything.

I’ve got you in the car with me and we’re busting out. Routine does not need us. School in the fall can Eat a Dick. Being far apart from each other is unnecessary. Missing your freckles come out, one by one, in the springtime, and seeing them only in bunches now and then, for a night or two, tears my heart apart. Now I’ve got you till the money runs out or we get sick of each other, whichever comes first. You’re wary of my plan, my stolen car, my mercurial wanderlust, but then I tell you that I’ll pay for your art school so you don’t have to spend your savings, and you feel better.

We go to North Dakota, because it is far from everything and not overdone. There’s an abandoned ranch, the grass waist-high. The wind blows ferociously, and sucks the moisture from our lips. The old house tips into the earth, but there is no mold anywhere. All the rooms are filled with light. The paint is peeling, and paint chips get in everything. I have a small gas generator for electricity. You’ve brought a good table and enough coffee to fuel a mild obsession.

All we do is fuck and work. We wake at dawn and run, without time pieces, down the pitted dirt road that goes through the grass. We can see the horizon in front of us, and I think of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her bareback ponies.

We run until we are exhausted, farther every day. There’s a stream to jump into, clear, with wildflowers. We bathe in the stream and then make breakfast out of things from our garden. We’ve cleared an overgrown patch of yard for our garden. It has volunteer watermelons and chicken bones in the dry soil. An old compost pile. We’ve got chickens. We eat and then I push you over into the grass and take off your clothes. We lay in the sun and bake. Then we crawl into the shade to fuck, because I am intolerant of the heat.

After fucking, we do not know what time it is. It doesn’t matter. We stumble, barefoot, into the house, leaving our breakfast dishes in the grass, and begin to work, you at your table and me at my computer. When we get hungry we eat from the big pot of food on the stove. Simple things, mung beans and brassicas and bone broth. Wild potherbs. Bacon.

When the sun sets we stop working, for we have no electric lights, and if we tried to work by oil-lamp we would go blind. The oil lamps hiss and we lay on the warm boards of the deck and watch the stars come out. I’ve got a banjo, and you’ve learned to play the thumb piano. Our hair is wild. We have no mirrors. It doesn’t matter, because we know how beautiful we are. We fuck again. All day, when we are taking breaks, moments of staring out the window at the tall grass, and the wind, we are thinking of new ways to fuck. Ways to fuck that no-one has ever done before. Fucking as improv, as spirituality, as ritual. Fucking that pushes our limits, our pain tolerance, our love for one another. Fucking that doesn’t try to be anything at all. Sometimes I read outloud to you from Little House on the Prairie while you masturbate. Sometimes I try and make myself come just by breathing and watching the clouds.

Frequently your coffee consumption keeps you from sleeping. These nights you sit up in bed and blind-contour draw my chin as seen in the moonlight. During the day you nap, and I write you love letters because I miss you, and feel my infinite smallness, all alone on the plain. I am like Ma in the dugout, when Pa has gone away to find work back east, and the blizzards will not stop coming. Only Ma was infinitely more patient than I am, because she never had the internet. Eventually you wake up, and find that I’ve taken off your clothes and tied you to the bed with some rope I’ve found in a broken-down stable. I’ve rubbed you all over with oil and placed warm stones along your spine. I’ve made constellations of your freckles with one of your shoplifted drawing pens. I’ve made you come seventeen times, in your sleep. You’ve had the strangest dreams, and you’re flushed.

Summer gets old and dried-up, and we run out of salve for our lips. We’ve eaten the twenty-pound sack of mung beans and are down to the bottom of our barrel of salt-pork. The wild pot-herbs have gone to seed and we’ve eaten all the watermelons. One day I wake up and want to read the news. You’ve been reading it on the sly for many months, and tell it to me in one long narrative there in bed, propped on your pillows, talking with your hands. I work in some magical realism to put the world back together, like an emulsifier. The seas are still filling with oil, there is still nothing I can do. The sun from the window is resting on your perfect tits, which have exploded in freckles. I pull the suitcase of money from under the bed. It’s empty. We haven’t grown sick of each other.

What to do next? Get married? There is nowhere else to run. North Dakota was the last place. You furrow your brow. You are both worried and excited by my mercurial wanderlust. Your hands are neat and square, the blue of your eyes has faded from the sun. I do not know what to do with you. Maybe I was exposed to too much lead as a child. All those peeling low-income apartment complexes. The lead weights in window dressings. Lead affects the part of the brain that determines impulsiveness, and one’s ability to learn from one’s mistakes. I flop back down on the sheets, and whine like a puppy. The sheets are thin and soft, like my grandmother’s sheets. They have small simple flowers on them. The sheets make me want to have sex, and sleep. They fill me with infinite peace, like my grandmother’s house, with its hardwood floors and chiming grandfather clock.

We don’t have money for gas, so we leave the car at the house, at the end of the long pitted dirt road. We use some of your savings to mail your art and art supplies and my computer back home, to the raincloud. Then we walk. It’s fall, and the wind blows drier than ever. I have a mason jar of water and a cucumber, and my banjo. We’re barefoot. Our jean-shorts are torn. My tye-dye shirt is faded and thin. Around my neck are rainbow freedom rings, and they glint painfully in the sun.

When we get to the small paved highway we’re so hot we almost pass out. A woman with air conditioning picks us up. She’s unhappy, so I give her my banjo. She rambles when she talks, and offers us diet sodas. You’re allergic to diet soda so to protect you I dump yours out the window when she isn’t looking. In this way you know that I love you, and that I Pay Attention. The woman is so excited by our energy that she calls her husband and breaks up with him, and then drives us to Oregon. She throws her shoes out the window, and after dropping us off in the raincloud she moves to a small beach town, and opens up a shop selling bath oils and gluten-free cinnamon rolls. She’s reached the end of her personal evolution and lives there, happily, until her death.

My problem is that I fear that I will never reach the end of my personal evolution. Back home, we both get jobs somehow, even though the world is ending and capitalism is becoming irrelevant. It feels good, to have routine. It’s much easier to pretend to know how to bake bread than to think. The wild part of me goes to sleep and I lose my suntan. The rains come back and we both have allergies. We don’t worry about what the next part will be because we both know that one day, the day will come when we won’t have to figure out the next part, that the next part will come for us, over the mountains in a tidal wave, and we’ll never have to think again.

the sun and time

This week is our last week in Idaho. Corinne is at the cave cabin tonight, to think in the fire-warmed dark and have epiphanies about her path in life, while the stars wink on over the salmon river and the goats, once tamed for milk and now gone wild again, bed down in the clumps of trees that cap the dark hills. The cave cabin is a small room carved out of the stone mountain and framed inside with logs. The front wall is made of mud and old car windshields, everything is fitted together with clever bits of wood, and the window opens on leather hinges. There is a woodstove made from an old steel drum, set into the rock at the back of the cave. There are a few shelves, two oil lamps, and a teapot. There is a shitter at the end of a little path that runs along the hill, it is made of recycled planks. Last time we were there, there was a frozen tower of turds in the hole where you shat into. Turds stacked one on top of the other, all winter long. But the weather has been warm, and I imagine the tower is now melted and collapsed.

Inside the cabin there is a rough board that serves as a desk, fastened just below the windows that look out at the river and the sunset and the stars. There is a chair pulled up to the desk, and some paper and old national geographics. I imagine Corinne sitting there, mapping out her life, burning beeswax candles and playing with her tarot cards. I sent some mung-bean patties with her, for dinner, and some split pea soup and rice. She took a big glass jug of spring water, the good spring water that comes from the tap here, and has so many minerals the glasses are never clean. It gets cold at night, still, but she has plenty of wood and blankets and though the vent on the stove at the cave-cabin is busted open and the fire burns too fast, she’ll get up at night to feed it, and build it up again in the morning to heat water in the teapot for her tea.

Here at the house I’ve been having my own sort of ritual, the kind where I read in bed for six hours, oddly cold and then too hot, and wait for my period to come. While the sun was out today I sat next to the river and read there, the wind blowing my blanket and the dog, the ugly wiry-haired brown dog with the weird yellow eyes, came up and sat next to me, next to the rock labyrinth that has just as much horse-shit in it as stones. The yellow grass bent in the wind, and the horse chewed at the ground and moved around, and I wished I knew how to ride horses, and I was strangely content, and I wished I never had to leave. There is so much to do, besides sitting in the sun and reading, and working on writing projects that may never be finished but grow larger anyway, foolishly, and surprise me every day- there is walking in the hills and collecting crystals, which Corinne can see better than I can, because I need glasses, but there are still enough that I find plenty- and back at the house we break the big rocks open with hammers to find the geodes inside, the geodes that we think might be inside, and get glittering bits of crystal all over the cement deck and laugh, like children, and feel like children, and I watch Corinne grow younger, and her freckles come out, in the desert, like magic spots, the nicest color brown, and her eyes flash like gemstones, and her lips are the color of amethyst, and she is happy-

It makes a person trust in the future. And there is no reason to trust in the future, and so it makes a person try and figure out how the future will happen, so that it might seem reasonable to trust in it- but there is no reason in trust, and trust, in a sense, is the opposite of hope- it is acceptance instead- this trust- the belief that Everything will be ok is not a belief that everything will, indeed, be ok, but a declaration that Whatever happens, I accept it, and then of course you can let go of the fear, and you are just where you are, and your shirt is full of crystals that you have carried home from the desert, where you were almost lost in a ravine choked with brush, but you helped each other find the animal trail, for cows and deer and wise beasts, and you climbed down the rock and crumbling earth to home, and everything smelled of sage, and it was the new moon. And you were happy, and you trusted.

I don’t want to go back to the city. Can you tell? But Corinne has to, and if I was out here alone it would be like my oxygen had been taken away. I am going to try and come back, to this land where there are no dance parties or potlucks or readings or buildings full of books or unique ingredients for cooking or really any kale, but still, there is so much to do- we haven’t even ridden the four-wheeler to the secret lake, yet, where in spring the fish are so thick you can grab them up with your hands, nor have we ridden the horse, or had our photo shoot in the good sun at the abandoned log farmhouse in the tall golden grasses, wearing the ridiculous clothing we got from the thrift store in town, holding a BB gun or a length of rope or teacups. One of us was going to be the cowboy and one of us was going to be little house on the prairie in a bright neon Technicolor muumuu, with a wicker hat with a big length of ribbon, blowing in the wind. And the shirt for the cowboy is thick cotton with turquoise feathers on it and geometric designs. And Frannie wants a bit of the wallpaper.

And there is so much else! I haven’t learned the constellations yet, for example. And I haven’t done my howling-wolves cross stitch and I haven’t built a miniature log cabin out of twigs that I fell with a tiny, imaginary chainsaw as imaginary winter comes quickly and notch and fit together just in the nick of time. And I haven’t found any roadkill, and I haven’t made a potroast. And I haven’t had a garden. The days pass so fast, and I thought they would go so slow. But when do the days ever go slow? It seems that time is speeding up, that life is a spiral into nothingness, faster and faster, and only youth have the slow smooth arch of the outside circle, where for a moment there is immortality and unspeakable wealth, as if there will always be enough of everything, and the minutes run through you and make you larger, and so little happens that you see it all and take it all in and there is still some of you left over at the end of eac day. I am not old yet but already, time is going too fast, and there is not enough of me.

And what of you, dear reader? No doubt you live in a building surrounded by other buildings, in a great glowing stretch of lit-up buildings, where weather doesn’t matter and all the crystals have long ago been picked from the earth or paved over. It’s where humans live, these days, nearly completely all of them, some crazy percent of the world’s population, now residing is cities. More than every before in the history of anything. We are living right this ten minutes in a way that has never been lived before. Everything looks different, if you are a tree or someone who has lived long enough to be able to notice it, than it did for most all of time, and no-one knows why, or where this train is headed. But it doesn’t matter because the train is headed nowhere, it is just the feeling of moving, this vibration, the earth through space. And I wonder- if time passes because we are on the earth and the earth is moving around the sun, and that is a day and night, then what is time on the sun? I imagine that there is no time on the sun. There is only one moment, and that moment is the moment of burning. And we are small burnings, children of the sun, small heat factories, tiny combustion engines, making energy. So is there time for us, or just this one moment, the moment of burning? And what gives it shape and color? And why are there feelings?

Who knows the answer to my questions? The trees know, but they are not telling. They are made of sun and water, they are indifferent to both time and space. They do not mind me asking, though, foolish mortal that I am, vibrating like a hummingbird, no roots to prove that I exist. They humor my need to see shape and color and space and time, my need to feel their curled white bark and think bark, to lean my forehead against their furrowed trunks, to ask the simplest, and largest questions, to get pine pitch stuck in my hair and think pine pitch. They cannot make existence small enough for me to understand, but if I turn off my brain, they can help me to almost feel it- and it is like a wind, a warm wind, the sort of wind that comes from sun, from water, from movement. And that is all it is.

everything

I sleep with the windows open and it’s cold now, as wintry as Portland will get. In the mornings I come up as if from the bottom of a deep hot pit and the cold air bites the tip of my nose where it sticks out from my ten hundred blankets and my sleeping bag, underneath all of it. I open the blankets and eject my little knitted bear, which has been wrapped up in my arms like a cat. I turn on my cellphone to see what time it is. Usually I’ve got a text from you, because you wake up before I do. Sometimes you’ve left me some soup on the front steps. Sometimes it’s still warm. This morning I wake up right when you’re walking up the driveway so I pull you into my shack, try and drag you down into the watery depths of my bed like an octopus. But you keep your shoes on so you won’t be late for work.

After you leave I get up and shut the window and turn on the space heater. I could keep the window shut at night, but then there’s something I’m allergic to and I stay up all night coughing. Mold! The concrete floor of my shack floods when it rains hard, the whole thing threatens to float away like a ship. I can only imagine what’s happening in the walls. But as long as there’s air circulating at night it’s not too bad, and I’m only mildly expectorant during the day. But still it wears me down a little, at the edges, and I fantasize my way out of here, plan my Great Escape. Only there’s nowhere to go. I can only move horizontally, I cannot transcend gravity. I am the master of my own heart rate.

So I stare at the computer, and think about my audience. Am I writing for you, who I don’t even know? With the shining hair and the glamorous costumes? What is your life even like? I have come to suspect these last few days that life, for nearly everyone, follows the same subtle patterns, and there is no way to transcend it at all. I can only move horizontally. Still I wonder where you sleep, and if you drink out of mason jars like me. Are there people who don’t stare at computers? Are we all jealous, imagining each other living? Last night Peter Fran came over for dinner, and while the shepherd’s pie and zucchini bread were baking we talked about all the horrors of the world, and also all the beauty when things come easily, and the contradictory nature of those ideas, and how try as we might, it was impossible to reconcile the two. It was, and still is, seemingly impossible that we exist in a world that harbors both. It makes a spectrum so wide it won’t fit into my field of vision, and I cannot make heads of tails of any of it. I am, we are, will be, stumbling along, in the middle. I guess that’s why it’s called mystery.

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(and this has nothing to do with anything, but it’s really, really funny.)