A Scent Offering

Today my computer guy came to make sure my laptop would be good to go for Ireland. With dental, fluid, and computerly checkups now done, all I have left from that list is an eye exam.

Waiting for dude, I was a veritable wreck of vulnerability and mortification. I already get nervous when expecting anyone from my outer circles into the inner sanctum, but this time, on top of that, my toilet box stank (with the undeniable smell of my pee, aged suddenly almost to gaggifying levels — ack!). I thought emptying it might help — a calculated risk — but alas, that only stirred up the fumes. So I sprayed Poo-Pourri all over the bowl . . . and lid . . . and the whole treehouse floor . . . and the balcony and door, for good measure. I followed that up with body mist on myself, to cover any splashes from the emptying procedure.

Still, there was no getting around the pungent wafts of old pee, now accented with citrus and other proprietary scent blends.

I met computer guy at his car. He admired the treehouse as we approached it — “Inviting!” — but as he settled in to work, I observed him sniffing discreetly, even with the door open. How bad was it? (How adjusted to the stench was I?) Why hadn’t I warned him right away, made light of it?

After a while, during a sniffy gap in small talk, I nonchalantly threw out there, “Sorry if it stinks. I just emptied the toilet this morning, and . . . .” I kicked at it.

“It’s not that bad.”

No pretending now that he didn’t smell it!

I wanted to believe his reassurance, but I fidgeted. Why did these kinds of things affect me so much? Did I think someone wouldn’t like me because my treehouse toilet was a little odiferous? And if someone was as shallow as that, so what? It would only signal me to usher them out of my life at the earliest convenience. Good to know, and good riddance.

I strong-armed through my filter of insecurities to try to read how he really felt. A miracle: to an outside observer, he would have all the appearance of calmness and focus and kindly disposal toward me. He wasn’t visibly choking. . . . His features remained pleasant and his conversation mild. We discussed a shared love of maté. I asked after his cat. He talked about how he finally got his wife to drive a car.

Though my embarrassment lingered, I felt a rush of gratitude toward him and a hint of pride in myself for Handling It.

“That’s so great you got this treehouse to stay in,” he said. “I bet the tree is happy to support you.”

You know, I bet it is. I have always loved trees.

I’ve been watching myself in little moments of stress, and from a certain perspective it gets pretty funny. As I woke the other morning, I pictured myself waking beside someone again — wondered how that might ever happen. But my hair probably looked terrible!

Wait . . . what? Where did that come from?! Did I really think that someone wouldn’t like me after a night of passion or cuddling because my hair was sticking up . . . ?! What kind of . . . ? Hahahahaha! No one who truly cared about someone would stop caring because of the way their hair looked! Or anything else, for that matter!

I thought back to other moments of insecurity and shot them all down with the same laughter. My slight weight gain from eating too well with too little exercise lately, my sometime social awkwardness, the fact that I chew my cheeks as a nervous habit, or pick my nose when I’m alone, or have the audacity to fart and poop and bleed every month: did any of them make me less deserving of love? Hahaha, no! Furthermore, none of those things would faze me in the least with other people. Why did I faze myself when I thought someone else might know? Why would I accept that kind of judgment? Ridiculous! How had I carried such baggage so far?

This isn’t to say that shame won’t still wriggle into my arms like a dog you thought you were done petting. It’s just that any sane person is going to be fine with any other person doing all the human things. I expect nothing less, among those allowed into my inner sanctum.

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Solstice

This post is my first from the treehouse where I’ve been living for almost two months. I’m not sure what to say, which is often the case with these things, but I felt moved to write and I follow these impulses. Something always comes of them.

I don’t know what I’m doing here. It’s bright and beautiful and full of people I love who love me . . . and I feel glum and stifled, like all I’m doing is holding on. I mean, don’t get me wrong: I have many moments of joy and beauty and all that. I’ve come a long way from living in utter despair. I love living in a treehouse. I love my family — though we are cut from very different cloths — and the beautiful trees and skies and knowing I’ll probably bump into somebody I know or somebody else friendly and interesting whenever I wander town. I love going to movies alone in a cool theater with kombucha and a small popcorn that has all the stuff on it. Just . . . the overall feeling is one of waiting, of slogging through. I’m in the meantime. It’s a kind of purgatory.

In slightly more than two months, I’ll begin a two-day journey back to Ireland, where I will attend school for a year and perhaps settle in for the long haul. I’m sort of excited, but it’s hard to be exuberant about a place that hardly seemed real when I was there, much less a year, a string of temporary abodes, and many thousands of miles later. It’s hard to see through all the fog. Will it be as good, going back?

(. . . Will it be even better?, she dared to whisper. . . .)

I’m curious about what academia will be like again — how I will prowl among that stripe of thinkers, dreamers, and passionate wordsmiths at this stage in my life and in such a land. . . . I think it will be better than the first time. Much better.

By the time I complete my studies — do you graduate again, with a graduate degree? — I ought to be ready to look for a regular job again, or some semblance thereof. I bet I could work full time at a desk again if I had to, especially in a place as magical as that, and chip away at my debts. Or maybe I’ll hole up in the wildest spot I can find there. With a cat. I could totally see myself as some small Irish town’s token crazy-American writer. Surely a town has lost theirs, or never had one and feels lacking. I have qualifications: I was a small Irish town’s pet Yank for six weeks last year. Those blissful weeks.

Speaking of cats, I went through a whole relationship yesterday: glances culminating in soft feelings, the tentative touches, the “this will never work” stage, followed by falling head over heels, the “surely this can work somehow” stage, and ultimately letting go with a broken heart. It was a kitten. I could have named it Solstice, I realized, being as how that’s the day this all happened, but I didn’t think of the name until today, so it got A354181. I probably still could suggest Solstice. Those people were nice. Maybe they’ll come to Solstice on their own, by the time A354181 is ready for adoption.

Anyway, this kitten had been among my grandma’s feral cats. It was by far the smallest, with eyes so goopy they sometimes stuck shut. Unlike with the other cats, you could sometimes pick it up and pet it. Skinny little thing. Wanted to play with the other kittens but always ended up on the edges of things, shouldered out, looking in. Often huddled face bent in the grass or on the patio, all alone when the others left. My cousin almost accidentally whacked it in the tall grass with a weedeater. It was probably one among a batch of tiny babies that barely escaped my uncle’s lawnmower not long after they were born.

Yesterday, after the weedeater near-miss, the kitten lay alone in the middle of the path to the back garden. It didn’t even seem interested in a piece of ham.

That was it: I called the animal shelter. Yes, they’d take a sickly stray.

I made a little nest in my second-favorite blanket for the baby and set it in the passenger seat. Off we went.

Within the first mile, the bugger of course crawled out of the blanket — luckily toward me, onto the emergency-brake lever. Grateful for an automatic transmission, I had a free hand with which to pick up the ball of . . . skin and bones. What was I to do? I plopped it onto my lap: where it stayed, calm except when we passed a lawnmower or when I fiddled with the controls. I stroked the baby almost constantly, reassuringly. It looked up at me with goopy hopeful-trustful eyes, as if to memorize the face of a kindness it had never known, and my heart melted right out of my chest, all over the kitten, and onto the floor.

I kept driving, though. The little thing clearly needed care I didn’t know how to give, so I couldn’t take it back to the treehouse just yet. Maybe the animal shelter would give me the lowdown on how to care for it.

When I got to the counter, I helpfully offered the intake girl my services in fostering the cat for up to two months . . . ?

No need, she said kindly. It would be fine.

But if it wasn’t adopted . . . ?

It would be adopted.

Oh. Okay.

I arranged my second-favorite blanket in a provided pet carrier and coaxed the little darling into it.

The girl took my number, and someone whisked the carrier away.

Goodbye, little Solstice. You will have a good life now.

I went back out into the parking lot. Hot day. Someone had written “Sadness” in the dust on the back window of the car next to mine. Right.

There was nothing for it but to drive away.

I ended up at the theater and saw The Book of Henry. It’s about a broken little hopeless creature who needs a new chance at life. I cried.

Pride, Despair, and Things That Are Wonderful

I keep thinking about something I saw recently: that pride and despair are two ends of the same spectrum and thus equally correctable. I realized I had thought that pride was something to overcome but despair something to endure: pride could be checked, but despair was unavoidable.

The idea that they are two sides of the same coin makes some sense. And if despair consists of the same stuff as pride, then I can counter it the same way: by seeing it as an overinvestment in a single set of changing circumstances . . . and reinvesting.

A zen quote I saw yesterday helped: something like, “To eliminate suffering, eliminate its cause.” Sounds simple and obvious, right? But when I really thought about it — when I applied it to the brutal “natural order,” which has plagued me for some time — I found something profound in it.

A few days ago, I watched a spider on my deck — or rather, above the deck, beginning a web. I marveled at how much silk can come out of such a small body, and how the spider could make such an amazing thing by instinct. A lot of the process looked random, like when the spider hung from a thread and waited for a breeze to blow it to attach a string to something. I wondered if it might run out of thread, and what would happen if it did. I watched for a while and then went inside.

The next morning, the web was complete: perfect and huge, glistening with rainbow colors in sunlight.

By that evening, the spider was gone but its web remained, squirming with insects caught and unable to die or break free. A beautiful terror. I tried rescuing a couple of them, but the web was too sticky. What a waste, I thought. What horrible suffering, for nothing, repeated in countless webs all over the world. My old despair welled up.

When later I saw the quote about suffering, I applied it to that situation. If I were God, tasked with eliminating suffering, how would I remove its cause in this case? The obvious response is to eliminate the spider, but then insects would get out of control and cause suffering to other creatures or cause their own resource depletion (and thus greater suffering as they starve en masse). It’s classic interdependence.

Were the insects even suffering, for that matter, or just having a bad day until they died? Did they achieve surrender and release as they eventually came to rest, tired of struggling?

Spiders and insects are one thing, but what about human suffering? Say we eliminate our predators and killers, many of whom act out of mental illness or instinct. That’s even harder to think about, because we’re us. But we are out of control, causing suffering to other creatures and depleting our resources.

I have a friend who lives outdoors. He fought with the cold this winter as though it were an enemy. But then one day he realized it was just cold. It had nothing against him. He stopped fighting it, and he was fine.

If you don’t take something personally, is it really suffering? Is pain necessarily suffering? I don’t think so. You just have to be okay with letting go of anything, including your life. It seems like that’s when you live most fully.

I’ve also been applying all this to my employment situation. I’ve been working six or seven days a week for three months, with three months to go before Ireland and no guarantee (though good indications) that I’ll gather enough funds to afford the year-long master’s program I’m slated to attend there. The old weariness is coming on — the feeling of merely trudging through life. Ireland seems so far away (though I carry it within me). Will it even be the same? My dreams for the future keep changing shape. Why don’t I cut away some of the work, if it’s so draining — keep from counterproductively running myself into the ground?

Well, I could scale back. It’s good to consider putting a stop to a devitalizing activity or association, to weigh the options. But it turns out I am doing what I want. This is just a spot of drudgery on my way to where I’m going, and I’ll be glad for it. I am glad for it. If I were to work less, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself. I’d be exactly where I was before I decided to go to Ireland last year: stagnated and dim. I’d be permanently stuck in a temporary situation, which is a kind of hell.

There’s an end to this. I know it. I’ve seen it. Sometimes I get tired of the often-false promises of hope, and I forget how good this life can be . . . but when things are bad, they always do get better. Even at the very worst — say, if you’re in the grip of torture — at least eventually death or someone releases you. My employment situation is very far from the very worst — in fact, it’s quite good, because I get to spend time with my grandma through some of her last days, I have time to write things like this, and for my other job I make joyful mementos for people at special occasions. In the bigger picture, I’m doing all this for something. For someone. Somehow.

After so much intense introspection, I want to close on a lighter note: a special installment of “Things That Are Wonderful.”

Things that are wonderful: the singular peace encapsulated by sports playing on TV in the background while one’s grandma rests, sparrows, kittens, cats, cottage cheese, free food, living in a treehouse, sunlight on greenery, wind, hope, hot tea, caffeine, whiskey, four-legged (or six-legged, or eight-legged, or hundred-legged) roommates, being marked by an animal, dreams, life mysteries, music, good work, water, rivers, oceans, breathing easy, white things floating in the air, spider webs, tattoos, physical photos of loved ones, good relationships, possibilities, good food, rainbows, conservationists, clear progress toward goals, financial independence, fun clothes, hair colors, plants, trees, tying up loose ends, anticipation, Love . . .

There Are Different Kinds of Tired

Sometimes I hesitate to write posts that are about less-than-happy topics, because I’d rather uplift people than bring them down, but I’m inspired by “The Healing Power of Sadness” by Juansen Dizon (Lonely Blue Boy), to which I can relate from past experience and new nigglings of old emotion. None of us always feel happy. Yes, it’s good to feel better if we can, but not feeling good is all part of this massive experience. To suppress the latter is to make a lie of the former.

At the times in recent years when I’ve stared at the aftermath of exploded dreams or in the face of horrors, I have felt so weary. Soul-tired. Sapped in a way that I cannot replenish with sleep or movement or hope. And I wonder why I’m doing all this: toiling toward Ireland, living in and on other people’s property, struggling to make sense of senseless things. Well, what on Earth am I supposed to do? There’s nothing else, no other calling of my heart to action.

For now.

So I wake up to the alarm again, and I fill out survey after mindless survey, enter one sweepstakes after another, do another day of work, day after day — all, I hope, toward some better place that the so-called gurus say is already within me. Fuck them. What’s in me —

And my grandma distracts me because she needs to pee and has vehement opinions to share about her little world. Haha! So it goes.

Feline Dreams

In a dream last night, I saw a yellow kitty-cat — no, a lion cub! — among tall hills of trash in a dump. A fat man with a gun was aiming to shoot the cub, so I ran and swept it into my arms, prepared to block bullets with my body if need be.

The guy shouted, “You can’t protect it from me!”

I did, though. I got away to a semi-enclosed library in a depression between dusty hills scattered with scraggly plants.

I wondered uneasily where Mama Lion was, and whether I would die to her teeth and claws if she discovered me with her baby.

Then there she was. She seemed to understand, though: she came close and rubbed against me. Just as I was about to turn the cub over to her, the man with the gun reappeared.

Wondering how I could possibly protect a full-grown lion with my small frame, I attempted to gather Mama Lion into my arms, too. Easy: she turned into a plank of rough, light-colored wood the size of a very large shingle.

I held the cub between the plank and my chest, which further protected the cub and thus rescued the mother as well.

This time, I escaped the gunman for good.

By now, day was becoming night. The shingle morphed into a lion again and jumped out of my arms, now a black panther! We were still in a somewhat populated area, so I hoped any human children would be safe with these large predators on the loose. . . .

The cub was still yellow. I guessed it would darken with maturity.

I saw a road of ridged concrete slabs with a low wall curving down away from the left edge of a beach. A solitary man walked ahead, exuding peace. That was probably the safest way to go. I started down it.

The panther, though, veered through tall grasses over a dune and onto the beach proper, which was deserted and flat. I turned and pushed through a faint trail as well, breaking a large spider web, proud to find that I was okay with that. My draw to the panther superseded my fear of having an upset spider on me.

The panther padded into moonlight that shone across a small expanse from where the last wave had receded. Almost as though I could hear a voice narrating, I understood that the cat was establishing her domain, asserting and ascertaining that she was a land-thing and the water-things would stay in the water.

She came back to the dry sand and lowered herself to it, looking outward, absorbing. I thought she would make an amazing picture, black against the hazy moonlight on the water, but — oh, right — I had left my camera at home, or wherever I was staying. I patted the empty pockets of my loose, light-colored shorts. Well, not every time is a time for a picture.

The way the moonlight shone through some trees at the far side of the beach made the water and haze look like a small glowing girl-woman with long, black hair and a pale blue shift. Oh, wait — here’s my camera! And wait — was the girl me — my reflection? . . . I held up the camera.

The reflection didn’t have a camera. She continued smiling peacefully.

Was she connected to the panther somehow? Was she the panther’s reflection? Or mine somehow, albeit camera-less? Or was she an ocean spirit?

These are the things I wondered as I woke into this morning.

 

Glowing in the Dim

I have an hour and a half left of my shift at Grandma’s. She’s resting quietly on the couch. It’s the first day in a while that I’ve had a moment of time in which I’m engaged enough to write and have the time to do it.

A light wind blows tall sunswept grass. Sometimes I stop to watch it. It soothes me, speaks to me. It talks about the passing of time and things eternal: always rising, falling, or fallen, creating movement, leaving breathless peace in its wake, and coming back no matter what.

The wind is like my love: the deepest love from my deepest depths. Sometimes this love blazes out from me and sometimes it’s quiet, but it’s always there, if only in potential. It comes back no matter what.

If wings are flight, and flight comes from happy thoughts, then my wings are attached to my heart like a cheesy image of a heart with wings. Or — less cheesy, maybe? — like the Golden Snitch in Quidditch.

When I’m done at Grandma’s for today, I’ll head down to the city for a burlesque show. My friend Funny Rob schmoozed a front-row table. I’m blasé about getting dressed up and whatnot, but Rob needs a distraction, having inexplicably lost a Canadian job offer that was so in the bag that he moved out of his place and shipped all his stuff to Prince Edward Island. Now he’s jobless and homeless.

Anyway, it’ll be good to get out and do something.

Tomorrow, my day off, I’m going to a metal wedding. Again, there’s the getting dressed up and what-all, but it’ll be worth it — good to see all those guys, and I haven’t been to a metal wedding before.

I got the motivation to put the fuchsia in my hair that I’d been holding onto for the right moment since I bought it on Earth Day. (My hair, previously blue, had faded.) Fuchsia feels very good — any new color would’ve, really. This pixie glows again, albeit from the shadows.

Thirteen Reasons Why I’m Happy

This post draws inspiration from the “Thirteen Reasons Why Challenge”. It reminds me of the “things that are wonderful” posts that I used to do on Facebook (an idea that I got, in turn, from another friend back then).

As with terrymcnude in her original “13 Reasons” post, I’m not feeling particularly happy at the moment, though I’m not unhappy, either. Just blah, which is my default mode since I had to leave Ireland last September.

  1. I know what it feels like to love with all my heart. This paraphrases a quote I saw from a woman in her 90s in a photographic book of older women and their stories. (I think it was called Wise Women or something like that.) That woman stood out to me the most. Her quote was: “I still remember what it feels like to love with all my heart.” The photographer captured her in the moment she spoke those words, her eyes closed, her worn face uplifted and glowing with rapturous light. I know exactly how she felt. (That, as they say, is another story and shall be told another time.)
  2. I have good food, good drink, and a good bed. In my travels, I have gone enough times without such things that I truly appreciate them every time I snuggle down with a full stomach and a buzz, and every time I wake up in my own cozy room to the sound of rain or wind, or to sunlight or moonlight streaming in.
  3. I have direction. I have been spiritually gutted — had the spiritual shit kicked out of me so many times that I’ve been a zombie — but I’ve kept going because I have something to keep going toward. Right now it’s Ireland. And beyond Ireland . . . or within it . . . ? We shall see. I also have direction toward a way of living: one that is sustainable while granting me opportunity to offer the gifts I have to give.
  4. I am loved. Few of the connections in my life right now are easy or perfect, but they’re good and true. (Anyway, if they were too easy, they would be boring.)
  5. I have relative freedom. I have a vehicle to use and can roam at will in reasonable safety.
  6. I enjoy my own company. Some people fear time alone, but I recharge and thrive in it.
  7. I am in the presence of nature. At any moment, I can open the door or window and see and hear trees. I can breathe fresh air and hear the rustling of critters. Indoors, I can pet the dog, an old Doberman with uncut, silky ears. And I type this in the presence of my spider plant, Spider-Planty, who perches to my right, on the windowsill. (He has perked up considerably here.)
  8. My needs are met, free of charge. I’m still not quite sure how it happened, and I’m not sure it will continue until I leave for Ireland in four and a half months (in part because I might move of my own initiative), but for now, by some miracle, I pay nothing for food, lodging, or gas, in one of the most expensive areas to live in the U.S.
  9. I have plenty of work (which allows me to save up for the coming year of Irish schooling and living expenses): a full-time job, a part-time job, and paid tasks I can do during the full-time job. And it’s all relatively easy work.
  10. I have fun, creative clothes. Almost all of them came free from clothing swaps, as gifts, or from thrift stores. A few of them were personally hand-knitted by or crocheted for me, so they have that extra bit of magic.
  11. I have minimal stuff. I have gone through it all so many times, discarding and distributing all but the most vital things, that what’s left is good for travel and/or easy to store. It no longer weighs me down; in fact, it brings me joy, grants me freedom, and is thus light. The strands that tie me to this place or that place, one person or another, are stretchy and glittering, treasures in themselves: bonds of love.
  12. There is such a thing as cats.
  13. There are sequences of events like the one that led me to this blog post. As I started to write, I had the grim, serious, stretched-too-thin look I often get of late. But just now, when I looked up at the mirror that rests on the table where I type, I caught myself smiling faintly, chin resting peacefully in palm, my face reflecting a hint of the glow shared by the ninety-year-old woman who remembered what love feels like.