One New Thing: On Believing What They Say.

Scientists or Buddha or some article in USA Today says it’s important to try something new every day.  Important for fighting dementia or depression or from cobwebs growing on the bottoms of your feet.

My friend Bryan told me that it’s hard to love yourself, because you know yourself best.  He also told me it’s important to believe the people who love us when they say unbelievable things.  Things like “You are good.”  Or, “You are special.” Or, when my Someone say, “My heart would break without you.”  Or even when he says, “I love you.”

No matter how unbelievable, Bryan says it’s important to believe.

I think that will be my new thing for today.  The believing.  I don’t know about the dementia, but it might work out all right for clearing the cobwebs that have me tangled from the heart down.

Resolution #2: On Mud Season.

2. Embrace the mud (roll with it and let it make me laugh).

We started this year in the mud, slogging around on January 1st on a Tennessee park trail.  We were turning over a new leaf, and the south was turning over nothing but rain.  But we were determined, two people and two dogs, to make this year one where we make the right choice over the third glass of whiskey choice.  We were sober and grinning as we slid down one hill and slipped up another on New Years Day morning.  Our short hike turned into a couple hours, and by the time we hit the grocery store on the way back, we were caked in a fine layer of mud from the waist down.  Walking Jackson Pollocks, really.  I laughed as my Someone grimaced and we slogged home to shower.

That’s when I wrote down my second New Years Resolution.

I’m an idiot.

I have this theory about the Universe– that it is listening and waiting for our next declaration.  I call it the Universe instead of God, because there is something about God laughing at our pain that keeps me from loving God.  And I am lately trying so hard to love God.  Whoever that is.

The Universe, on the other hand, seems more reminiscent of a Benevolent Trickster.  Like Puck.  Or the Devil.  Someone who loves the world too much not to poke it in the face while it is sleeping and delight in the spontaneous reaction.  For this reason, I love the Universe.  I’m not sure why it can’t translate to a God, after all.  I’m working on one thing at a time.  This year, it is mud.  And I made the declaration and the Universe heard me and I have been stuck in it ever since.

God damn.

It was February and we were T – 5 days from leaving Nashville.  We will be gone for months.  Or we will be gone not at all, because we are stuck in my sister’s backyard.  In the mud.  Our big ideas to store the camper in the backyard suddenly backfired after a cool-but-not-freezing winter full of more rain.

I did not laugh.

We waited a day for it to dry out.  We were still stuck.  We said angry things at each other.

We still did not laugh.

What we did, instead, was work through our things, getting rid of the excess, re-reading our old journals, giving up on our college goals of reading thick Russian novels and placed them instead into a box that would be traded for gas money.  Having nowhere to go had us remembering where we were going.  And we were rolling with the time we had left in Nashville.  We may never live here again.  Or, according to the mud, we may live here forever.

We rolled with it, but we did not laugh.  Not until the tow truck pulled us safely out another day later.  We would make it to our first show on time.  We were on our way.  Just as soon as we cleaned all the mud from the camper.

We are bad at lessons.  Especially lessons we are asking the Universe to keep us accountable to.

We were three weeks later in Michigan, and we were stuck in a stranger’s yard.  We were ankle deep in mud.  We didn’t hesitate this time.  We called the tow-truck.  We didn’t laugh, but we didn’t say the angry things.  Maybe we were getting better at the lesson than I think.

When I was working for my father digging ditches and laying pipe to make enough money to leave for a summer, there were a number of naked men who would appear.  The first one I saw was at the base of the hill from the manhole I was clearing, and when I saw him, I ran to my father.  He was unfazed.

It seems when you are digging in the dirt far enough and it rains, the thick mud lets loose a silky substance that is a perfect balance of clay, sand, and soil that drains to the bottom the grade and gathers in a latte colored pool.  This is where the naked men bathe– in the silt pool.  There is belief that this particular kind of mud, whose origin is quartz, is good for the skin and can heal anything from psoriasis to cancer.  It’s a gloopy fountain of youth.

My father didn’t indicate that he believed in its healing property, but he didn’t shoo away the hopeful mud-seekers, either.  But when I turned back to the manhole, he handed me a shovel.

“What’s this for?” I asked.

“If he tries anything, just knock him out,” he said.

“It’s real!” Ash had said.  We found ourselves back in Booneville, New York just a few weeks after Michigan.  We hesitantly parked our camper in the backyard of a farm we played last year at this time, a bit more skiddish as we drove across the rain-soaked ground.  “It’s the season between winter and spring– we call it Mud Season.”

We had planned a tour to follow winter, squeezing out as much chilly weather as we could before we find ourselves sweating and sleepless in our air conditioning-less home.  But instead of traipsing through lumpy snowflakes, we find that we are only kicking up globs of mud.  We have become more careful, rarely driving off of pavement and holding our breath down sandy back roads in Vermont.  It had been more than a month since Ash warned us, but we are ever northbound this spring, and the mud gets only thicker.

In the south of Maine, we had enough.  The dogs had developed a cakey layer under their fur and a distinctive smell that no amount of candle burning was eliminating.  So we hosed them down and headed even further north.

Further north where Mud Season is in full swing.

“I’m only five miles from home, but it takes about an hour,” George said.  He was our host and owner of the lone bar in Northern Maine.  We were thirty miles from the Canadian border where, the locals proudly told us, police activity is at a minimum, and everyone has had to call someone to get them unstuck at least once this season.  “See, it’s about three miles on paved roads to my house, and two miles back from the main road, so I gotta park my car on the street, hop on my tractor, and slug through the last two miles and just sorta hope I don’t get stuck again.”

Which is why, with our freshly bathed dogs the next morning, we chose to take long, easy gravel path through the woods.

The thing about Mud Season is that no one is safe at any time.  We made it half a mile before both dogs were chest deep in the slurry lining either side of our best laid plan.  My Someone grimaced.  I laughed.  Soon, the dogs were chasing each other, splashing it up, and full face planting in the mud.

“It’s a Fool’s Errand,” my Someone said.

“It’s Mud Season,” I said.

And then, it happened.  We weren’t stripping down and soaking in it, just yet.  We weren’t adhering to its healing properties.  Maybe next year.  But for now, we were rolling with it.  And for the first time in a while, we were laughing.  At the same time.

Phantom Limbs and Dog Bites: On the Transference of Pain.

I could have been any age, sitting there, waiting on the water to move me to feel something I lately can’t conjure by myself.  Six, sixteen, twenty-six– I could be any of those ages.  But the problem was, I was feeling the age I am now, and the age I am now is dealing with the heartache of earlier ages– dark things that have me hung up and snapping at my Someone and meddling in the sort of feelings that have me shutting down every feeling.  So in Vermont, alone in the woods on a rock by a creek, I was looking for the sort of answers that would help me be healthy, if not happy.  I was visiting all of my ages.  And a barefoot me in the woods on a rock by a creek is a common seance.

I was armed with journals and books and pens and an instrument, but for the love of the afternoon’s changing light, I couldn’t do all else but sit.  It had been ages since I’d been alone with all of my ages and a dog.  Which took me back to my other rock with my other dog.  The memory of that dog instinctively had me grabbing my right hand with my left, remembering every dog bite I’ve ever had.

I watched the river as I ran through the memory.  Any memory to take me back seems important.  Anything to get me to feel anything.  I was twelve or I was thirteen, and there was a knock on our door.  Our slightly neurotic hunting dogs snarled and clawed at the storm door window.  I reached for the doorknob, while Jake– the oldest and crankiest– tried to escape.  When I held his collar to pull him back, it happened.  Three big chomps to my right hand.  The surprise of what he had done sent him running back into the living room.  The shock had me politely asking the person at the door to come back later when my parents were home.  As I closed the door, I fell into a heap in the entryway, holding my hand and closing my eyes.  When I opened my eyes then, it was a stream of blood and an archipelago of bruises.

I remembered the entire thing vividly.

Which is why I was shocked when I opened my eyes in real time by a creek in Vermont, cradling the wrong hand.  My left hand, still with the distinctive scar, seemed surprised, too, and leapt up in front of my face to be examined.

“I’ll be damned,” I said to the woods, my right hand– the wrong hand– still aching from a two decade old dog bite it never had.

I have been thinking lately on the transference of pain.  This is partially due to the dark thing I am working through.  When time traveling to my ages, I am grappling with what was true– what happened and what is merely a side effect of what I can’t remember happening.  I am all wobbly on my memory’s feet, tripping over details and worrying that my full ethnographic study will be incomplete or, worse, inaccurate.

Each morning as I stretch, I rub my right knee and twirl my ankle.  I give my right side extra attention during yoga.  And then, I talk to my mother weekly to see how much longer until I am back to normal.  My knee started hurting just a couple weeks before my mother’s surgery.  The day of her surgery, I could barely walk.  In the subsequent weeks, its been a slow process of careful attention and long stretches.

My Someone calls this my witch stuff.  I call it inconvenient cosmic empathy.

Since my mother has been having knee trouble in the last couple years, even before she tells me, I have indicators in my corresponding leg.  While I am a believer in coincidence, I am also in love with a world filled with inexplicable magic.  It’s a complicated relationship, and one that I don’t often put stock in aside from checking in with my mother occasionally to see our progress.  The transference of pain here has become so literal, that when I complained to my Someone that my right knee seemed to be doing better except for at night when it was nearly causing me to lose sleep, he asked me when I had last spoken to my mother.

“Oh, I’m good,” my mother said to me the next morning, “the knee is much better.  I’m getting around during the day, except in the evenings it’s much harder.  And at night, I can hardly sleep because it hurts so much.”

I am bumbling through fears of victim blaming and no-one-will-believe-me-if-I-don’t-have-every-answer-correct.  But pain, it seems, is pain.  Even if not remembered correctly or carried by the right person.  And to better help me sort it out, I am attempting to give myself a pass on the grounds of empathy.  I am working so hard to believe myself, that my right side is empathizing with my left.  My fifteen-year-old self is trusting my thirty-one-year-old self, and the latter is believing the former.  It’s tricky business, and while time traveling through these ages, I am attempting to keep everything as I found it so that my present remains in tact.

But truthfully, meddling with time in any sense will leave a few ruffles.  Phantom limbs are still retracting from invisible dog bites.  And if the scars aren’t there to prove it, I am still learning to listen to any amount of pain, tracing it back to the source– figuring out not just where it came from, but from who. And remembering that, like it or not, it is connecting us.

Black Bean Soup: On the Gift of Impermanence.

I am thinking about the impermanence of my black bean soup, again, and it is sneaking into my death thoughts.  Even on a night of fried tofu and brussel sprouts, my mind wanders to the miracle of the black bean soup, all while chewing the impermanent tofu and sprouts.

“People always ask me for my recipes, and they make them,” Ms. Vicki had said, “and then they inevitably call me after and say– ‘Vicki!  I did everything you said, and it doesn’t taste the same!'”

I was standing in her kitchen, shoveling one hot bite of carrot soup down and quickly slurping her homemade chai tea, breathing intermittently and feeling a little like an orphan on a curbside with a hardened bread crust.  I was grateful to be eating.  And everything tasted so… perfect.

“And I have to tell them,” she continued, “I say, ‘It’ll never be the same!’  Like this one you’re eating– it has leftover basil broth and leftover oregano, some potato water and Pat only just this morning pulled and peeled those carrots.  How do you replicate it?  You can’t.  You just have to enjoy each one for its impermanence.”

“My miracle black bean soup!” I blurted out, dripping a little carrot soup down my dress.

As if omniscient, she repeated back to me, “Exactly.  Like your black bean soup.”

There’s a fancy ramen place back in Nashville that we’ve heard does not allow customers to box up their leftovers for home.  We’ve rolled our eyes and groaned, lamenting yet another uppity snob-nosed indicator of our old neighborhood turning into a lavish, throw-it-out-if-it’s-not-new marketplace for white people with skinny jeans and fat wallets.  We made plans that, should we ever go there, we would sneak in our tupperware and dump the cooled ramen and walk out covertly with what we rightfully paid for.

“How can they tell us what to do with what is ours now!” I said.

“It’s like giving someone a record and telling them they can only listen to it on a special sound system!” my Someone said.

How cruel.  How unfair.  How pretentious.  That someone takes such pride in the time and place and demands that people remain in that time and place to consume, not merely sustenance, but a moment.

I thought about my black bean soup.  Then, I thought about the first time I listened to the new Regina Spektor album on headphones, on a front porch in North Carolina, crying, laughing, and knowing that I could never have this moment back again.  We would listen to it endlessly in the car and in our camper, but every listen after was just me eating out of a take-out container reliving the steaming bowl presented to me the first time.  Maybe there is something to listening and tasting in the way the creator wanted you to listen and taste.  Maybe there’s something to stopping our claim on what inevitably will come to an end, and trying instead to be there– here– relishing in the impermanence of now.

Living on the road means that my whole life is impermanent.  As of this morning, we were parked on a secluded spot that allows you to take up residence for only 14 days out of 30.  Everything is with an expiration date, even with places to live.  And all the impermanence has my Someone and I lately talking about more permanent roots.

“What about Jonesborough?” he said last night.

“But it’s still Tennessee,” I said.  “I never thought I would be someone from Tennessee.”

“There’s always Dillsburg,” he said.

“There is always Dillsburg…” I repeated.  But then I remembered the problem with settling down just yet.  It’s not the feeling that stopping would mean quitting.  Rather, our little culture of impermanence means that we are always in the process of being about-to-see-our-friends and saying-goodbye-to-our-friends.  A house with a garden and a few little goats had me missing all of my friends at once– they with their permanent structures and backyards and increasing number of children.  My own impermanence keeps me permanently loving each of their own shifting, impermanent lives in their still places.  And the hello-then-goodbyes has me sucking to the marrow each impermanent moment with them.  And filling my to-go containers to the brim with the love of them.

I wonder if it is in this way that we crave so badly a Heaven.  Where every old face is restored to their young self, every missing family member has returned, every impermanent thing is given a permanent home.

I wonder if it is in this way that I am so rarely grateful for a moment with my Someone that I am not also afraid of losing him to the great dark mouth of death.  And then I wonder, which one of these feelings comes first?  And then I re-remember my fear of Heaven– that permanent place where time is gone and there is no hurry to be all in on love.

My black bean soup was a miracle.  An effort of leftover potato water and Himalayan pink rice that was gifted to us, some broken dried black beans from the bargain bin, and a concoction of spices and celery and… I can never remember.  But we ate that soup for three days, and each time wished for more.  And then it was gone.  And while I have tried again and again (maybe it was the Michigan water?), it hasn’t been replicated.

“You have to stop trying,” Ms. Vicki said.  “Even if you had it all over again, you wouldn’t be able to love it the same.  The impermanence is what made it so spectacular.  It is better to celebrate it than to replicate it.”

She must have seen my defeat.  She smiled.

“I once made a magic curry,” I said.

“I know,” she said.

Wabi-sabi: On Broken Baskets and Glue.

Wabisabi (侘寂) is a concept in traditional Japanese aesthetics constituting a world view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”.

It is important for me to remember that sometimes the things we carry that are broken are not direct representations of ourselves and our relationships.

I told this to my Someone as we both looked in the Broken Basket.  The Broken Basket was the basket we keep on the bed that moves to the couch when we sleep and back to the bed when we are traveling.  Its constant movement is to be a reminder that the broken things in the basket need fixing, and the sooner we fix them, the sooner we can put the basket away.

But the broken thing in the basket had been broken since the time I began to wonder if we were broken, and its continued brokenness culminated on a snowy Friday morning in April in Canada.  Here, a country away in strange weather, the little piggy bank shaped like a camper that my mother had given us for Christmas was still in pieces.  It had been broken for almost four weeks, and was a regular topic of conversation.

My Someone had broken it, accidentally, and was intent on being the one to fix it.  But somehow, picking up glue became harder and harder to remember.  We joked that the little bank camper was just like our own– often in pieces but still keeping us inside.

So over coffee in the snow I began to cry and be angry that the camper was us, and that we will never take the time to fix ourselves because we cannot take the time to fix our things in the Broken Basket.  And that maybe our whole life was a Broken Basket that will be endlessly tossed from the bed to the couch and back again at the start of each day.  My Someone bristled.  I got quiet.  I left to change over our laundry down the street at the laundromat.

When I got back, my Someone was gone.  I worried that he now believed we were in the Broken Basket, too.

When the door opened, my Someone was smiling.

“We are not broken,” he said, rummaging in a plastic bag, “I got the Crazy glue!”

And there, we pieced together what was left in the broken basket, some pieces missing, some of our finger sticking together, and a little white tape to cover the disparities.  Just like our real camper.  Just like ourselves.

Birthday: On Where I Am So Far.

Today I am 31 years old. I am the kind of person who leaves the hotel tv on for her dogs in case they get lonely. I am now vegan and gluten free because of my poor eating habits for too many years. I like wearing dresses even though I sometimes feel conflicted about the gender norms they indicate. I am getting better at looking people in the eye instead of looking around or down because I feel inconvenient. I am comfortable with the amount of space I take up. I like walking my dogs every day even though my knees hurt more now when I do. I do yoga every day because of my knees and a few other aches I didn’t know I would have at 31. My favorite color is yellow with brown as a close second. I am in love and married, even though I didn’t think those two things could happen at the same time. I prefer winter over summer. I am missing a tooth and have for a few years, which makes me chew mostly on my right side and makes me worry that my face will go lopsided. I am beginning to accept compliments rather than be nervous by them, especially the kinds that have nothing to do with how I look. I started eating chia seeds and taking magnesium supplements. I am learning to breathe deep to alleviate stress. I live on the road and don’t see signs of stopping. I don’t have any children and don’t think I will, but really love my friends’ kids. I still pick up pennies and I call my mother every birthday to wish her a happy giving birthday. I love eating and don’t feel embarrassed to take seconds anymore. I am really happy. It’ll be a good year.

Ominous Silhouettes: On Nothing and Someones.

I don’t remember if it was he who said it to me, or me who said it to myself.  These days, it doesn’t seem to matter much.  It’s the kind of thing that can be said only once, then takes years to undo.

I remember it now as an ominous silhouette standing above me.

“Nobody is going to want you after me.”

With a Leap Year Anniversary, it was hard to tell if I was one day before, during, or a day late to the celebration.  But somewhere between February 28 and March 1, there is the memory of a year before, where my Someone and I said, “Okay, for good.”

Somewhere in the space of missing time, a year was collected.

My smart pastor friend Bryan told me this week about how Taoists believe that you cannot gain something from something.  Contrary to our popular belief that you must work for everything you have, he explained the belief that in order for Something to come in, you must first have Nothing.  Otherwise, there is no space for the new Something to exist at all.

“No one will want you after me,” the Ominous Silhouette had said.

No one did.  And then, where there was No One, years later there came my Someone to fill the space.

I am spending a lot of time in the in between again.  This time, between an Ominous Silhouette and an ever lighting up Now.  And there is space for years counting half my lifetime spent filling with Something to avoid the Nothing that was left from an Ominous Silhouette.

And one year ago, on Leap Year Day– a mythical day of sweet Nothing in time– I became someone that Someone would want.  Or rather, I was given just enough space to agree that it was who I had been all along.

Tight Leashes: On Loosening Grips and Starting Again.

My Someone is so cross with our littlest dog.  She is the pulliest of all the dogs, and she is pulling him down every sidewalk.  When this happens, we learned, we are to stop completely and wait for her to step back.  When she steps back, we are to continue walking.  In this way, she is to learn that no matter how excited we are, we will get there no faster if we are not together.

This is a tough lesson for all of us.

Sometimes our shoulders ache with the pulling after long walks.  She is tireless.  Sometimes we wish to not stop and want to let her pull to get where we are going faster.  But then, we are not together.  And our hands hurt.  The leash gets so tight with the pulling and the stopping and the more pulling.  By halfway through our walk, my Someone yells, “You are making my hand hurt so much with the leash because of your pulling!”

She looks up at him and waits for him to move again.  He unwraps the leash and rewraps it.  She sits.  He walks.  She walks.  They are a few steps in, and she is pulling.

“I’m afraid we are broken, now,” I told my Someone last week.

We have been bickering for weeks.  I am sorting out dark things.  My Someone is sorting out insecurities.  We keep missing each other.  One steps outside while the other starts talking.  One checks their phone and misses the other one looking.  One makes a small move to not refill the other’s glass of water when they are getting their own.  One asks a question while the other one is finishing their thought.  They are smalls tugs, but conscious ones, and ones we have grown lazy to remedy right away.

“We would not have jumped to use those bad words before,” I continue.  “Now, they are our first words.  They are losing their meaning.  We are jumping to fight first.”

“I am tired of the fighting,” my Someone says.

I realize my hands are clenched.  They are hurting with the pulling.

It is not so much that I believe she will stop the pulling soon.  She is a puppy.  It’s going to take years.  But lately I find that when I am becoming most angry, my jaw grinding and the top of my brain ready to spark, I look at my hand.  The leash is so tight.  To unravel it and rewrap it would be to unravel it again and rewrap it again at the next block.

I stop.  She stops.  She looks at me.  She steps back.  I furrow my brow at her.

We walk further.  I get angry.  I look down to yell at her.  And this: she is not pulling.  I have not taken the time to unwrap the tight leash from my hand.   I unwrap it.  My jaw relaxes.  The fuse at the top of my brain becomes confused and putters out.

“Good girl,” I say.  She wags her tail.  I take a deep breath.  It is so important, no matter how much pulling, to unwrap the tightness again and again.  If we don’t take the time to unravel the grip on our hands, we may not be ready to feel the small victory of two creatures finally stepping together.  Even if for only a block.

We clink glasses.  It’s martini hour.  My Someone takes a sip.  I become agitated.

“What?” my Someone asks.

“We used to cheers to something.  Every time.  We don’t cheers to anything, anymore,” I say.

He looks up, a little angry.  Then, he unravels and rewraps.  I wait and take a step back.

“To never cheersing to nothing again,” he says.

I unravel, too.

“To never cheersing to nothing again,” I say.

Snow Day: On Reruns.

It snowed in Grand Rapids, and we were the first to alter it with four feet and eight paws.

It was our second walk of the day with all mittens and scarves and a tennis ball for losing in the snow.

“I am so homesick,” I tell my Someone.

“For Pittsburgh?” he says.

“No.”

“For the camper?”

“No.  For nowhere and everywhere I have been and haven’t been yet,” I figure.

“Ah,” says my Someone.  “It is the time for you to miss every toy you’ve ever owned.”

We walk to the place we romped with our two dogs that morning.

“Look,” says my Someone.  “Just think, all of these tracks are only ours from today.”

We unleash our dogs.  They run to make more.

“This is my favorite rerun,” I yell.  My Someone follows me following the dogs, to everywhere and nowhere we’ve already been and haven’t been, yet.