Month: May 2017

Jesus Bears: On Mutual Friends.

I like to poke the Jesus Bears.  The thing about poking them is that the reaction almost feels aggressive, but there is somehow a safety in the consistency.  My persistence is partly a barometer for my own feelings about Jesus, and partly to challenge myself and the Jesus Bears I am poking into figuring out that we can love each other even if we aren’t so sure.

But here, I was not poking a Jesus Bear.  Mostly, I was trying to be friendly.  I heard him talking about friends I knew, some of my best friends, and so after our set, I asked this man in the back alley of a Boston venue if he knew my friends.  He did know my friends.  He loves my friends!  We are practically friends because of these friends!  And then he said,

“So, you’re a Jesus-Lover, then!”

“Um,” I said, surprised that I had poked a Jesus Bear, “more like a friend of a friend.”

“Friend-of-a-friend of a Jesus Lover?” he pushed.

“No, more like a friend-of-a-friend of Jesus,” I said.

He nodded and walked away.

But this is how I wish I had responded:

1. What does that even mean?


2.  Why would you think that?


3.  You do know that if I say “no” that I am denying Jesus like Peter, but if I say “yes” then you think I am like you, and judging by how I just accidentally poked the Bear, I am not like you because…


4. I think that I am a friend to Jesus.  But I am not so sure we agree as to who that is.  Plus, Jesus and I used to play tea parties together and you weren’t there and he never mentioned you, so I kind of think maybe you aren’t a lover of him.  Unless you guys started seeing each other later at a different tea party.  And maybe sometimes just because you have a mutual friend does not mean that you will be friends with the person that your friend is friends with, and that’s okay.  

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.