‘What is a page for?’

The one that happens after you’ve filled three others but haven’t quite reached the ending yet. I suppose a page four is a good sign, at least a couple miles behind you, you’ve gained some traction, moving along. A page is for boot prints to dent and backsides to rest on and when you’re finally ready to stick around, plant some seeds in, you’ve been turning it over all these years, may as well withdrawal a little from the soil before you pay it back everything.

What is page four, except for a bridge between a mountain and a bigger mountain. A hook set in the lip of the cockeyed metal strong fish. Page four is the maturation of an opening, it’s Braxton Hicks contractions, the precursor to some heavier cursing soon to come. A page is for eyes to do what feet are for and explore a place tethered only to the limits of their own imagination. A series of pages got me through some dreary nights where I’d do sad things like light a candle and let the wax spill and cool onto the table, a dab or two on the wrist, for validation. I can see the oily residue off the wax on pages of my childhood journal, and I know exactly where I began to become a teenager. I have pages recycled from the backs of church bulletins, like monopoly money pastel blue and yellow and ruffled meaninglessly as they are. Fragmented what some would call poetry and sermon critiques, only the most scathing and adolescently conniving would be shared with my dad, the pastor. For him a page was for emptying out a Saturday night that might fulfill the expectations of hundreds for a solid Sunday morning, more dependent on timing, but still, an audience is an audience, and a stage is a stage. The model for the pulpit, and certainly the source of the choir. What is a page for, except for actors to wage wars they’ve never witnessed and fall in loves they’ve never felt.

What page four and the pages before are is the shaft of an arrow laid against the knuckle of the archer, prepared to spring forward, regardless of the destination, what happens on page four is blind force. The thwang. The slap against the archer’s wrist. May as well be page twenty four, for how time bounds once a half decent piece of writing has dug it’s hook in, bridged that difference between big and little mountains, between clean pages and ones with muddy foot prints all over them.

A page is for contamination. Perhaps the one place still safe to betray the tenants of socially imposed distance. Page four is where the wheels lift off, and the wings sit their full weight down on the airy substance of imagination. The tremor before the birth. A ring around the moon. Page four of a story is like a superstition, fed more on fear than by belief.

That’s what a page is for. For getting to page four.

The Wolf and the Earthworm

Evolution doesn’t mean progress. A species is as likely to evolve toward their own demise as they are to avoid it, and history might argue, more likely. So, if all our ‘advancements’ in technology, medicine, food production, hastens our ultimate extinction, well then, humans aren’t the most intelligent creature, are we? Common grass would probably outlive us. Trees almost certainly will. Nuisances like field rats and house mice and insects will benefit from the same circumstances that bury us. Worms for sure, licking their little imaginary lips at this moment. So fixated on the top of the food-chain we’ve entirely overlooked its bottom. Where decomposers make a buffet of predator and prey alike. Of course, we are all on course to be a course for bacteria, fungus, a trillion other pesky neighbors we’ve always put beneath us.

Language, considering how often it harms us, is not a positive advancement, it is a thick silence stuffed courtroom where the jury is still out and the judges are in their office pretending we can’t smell the cigar smoke. If the weapons invented last century end up annihilating us, we won’t be around to concede, but we will have lost this great argument that we are some divine, hyper intelligent transplant in this place, and common things, like houseplants, and inbred purebred dogs, and dung-beetles and dust mites, well, let’s just say they didn’t commit species wide suicide. So, the irradiated, zombie faced jury returns to their seats and the last one of them who can really stand straight enough declares the verdict.

Our kind is currently dumber than the very least of these.

Evolution does not stop with mutation, with innovation, or invention, or vagabond species escaping their nursery environs. Evolution is mutation plus time. Longevity. Sustainability. Evolution can only be determined on a timeline, and ours is frayed and wavering. We are so smart, so capable, right up until we threaten making our only world uninhabitable, and then we are so fucking stupid it hurts my stomach and makes it hard to sleep at night. We are a species plagued by emotions about which we were never given an education. Anxiety. Depression. Happiness. Fulfillment. Chemical cocktails that reduce truth to the bottleneck of our one particular, highly limited vision of ourselves. The idea that we would drop a nuclear bomb on another nation to save our own, as if that would not set a thousand wars into motion, as if our country is not floating on the same molten ocean, as if killing is not the seed of a gigantic, deep rooted, immortal killing tree.

I would sacrifice all of it, all the gadgets, the languages, the governments, the societies, for a good night’s sleep. I would turn off the lights on this moment. So that we could all see how much brighter and healthier our timeline could be. Two steps forward and one step back is still progress. And when compared to sprinting forward and never looking back, it is better evolution.

Our ancestors tried to explain this to us the best way they knew, with reductive, anthropomorphic stories, you know, our people’s preferred vehicle for deep instinctive truth. A tortoise and a hare racing toward a finish line. Spoiler alert: only one of them gets there.

I Wander

Hiking changes real estate. I remember house hunting with my family when my siblings and I were kids. No. Under a metal spiral stair case. Trapped between two thick yellow paint strips slicing the road in half. No in the yard. No that doesn’t fit in the yard. In the closet of a bedroom big enough for two, no, no more kids sharing bedrooms. 

I would describe it as exactly the opposite on a hike. I spent innumerable miles studying, imagining, dreaming of how I could make little flat patches on the sides of mountains, bareheaded bald spots on top of them, chilly Laurel stuffed hollows between them, into cozy fireside home for the night. No was in my little book of miles, my stack of shelter names and water sources and spectacles along the way. No was circling bare plastic in water bottles or a food sack stuffed with crushed Ramen wrappers and crinkly, metallic skin still plastered with bits of authentic peanut butter. I swear I could make anywhere home. Is that a superpower? An antithesis to the performing escape artist. My ability, my talent, the special skill I am about to demonstrate, I’m really good at home. 

Which isn’t a tent, a nice high firepit, a picnic table someone slid up underneath the shelter overhang, which is against the rules, and an answer to the prayer of every hiker in the rain passing through. It isn’t safety or security, there is none, save the insomniac canine stretched out on the leaves, ears sharp and crisp and up as early corn. It isn’t the view, though I’ve woken up by some doozies. I’ve slept sideways on slanted ground. Bent my body crooked as a snake in the shade to lie between the rocks. I’ve packed up my entire camp at nine at night because a strange man who had asked for food started staring at my dog, Eggs, like she was finally living up to her goofy namesake, hiked over a mile in the dark, shining no lights so he couldn’t see which direction we went, and set up camp in the pitch black not three feet off trail. Woke up to find out I’d slept beside an overview, woke up to carrot colored sunlight tickling hundreds of miles of central Virginia up out of a tough and too short sleep. I stayed one night down in this sopping wet valley dug by a wide shallow tongue of water called Dismal Creek. I know. I read the sign. The opposite of warm. The closest to freezing I’ve ever come when the temperature wasn’t freezing. It’s not a rule, it’s not even advice, so much as it is an observation, that one should always have trepidation about staying in a place where even the water is running. 

I could make anywhere home. Often, I think of campsites I scratched out myself, circled rocks and crushed my snow angel tent shape flat in the leaves. I wonder if anyone else has stayed there. I wonder if a ranger found it first and scattered the rocks and ruffled up the forest floor to cover the tracks. I wonder if perhaps there’s some territory in the afterlife where one has to go back through the world and revisit every place we ever left DNA. Gather it up like autumn leaves to lay down bedding in the latchless stalls of heaven. I wonder. 

Every night, I’d get my set up established, my shelter that packed down to the size of a loaf of bread, and expanded enough to hold me, my gear, my dog, room to spare. I almost always built a fire. Water boiling. Pour some wine if I had it. Slipping the dog slices of warm cheddar as if I hadn’t asked permission. I’d get out my notebook, wipe the excess ink pooled at the ballpoint of my pen, and wander. Pages. As my dinner grew cold. I’d shove all my dishes and food into a compression sack and send it up a tree on a rope, and I’d climb into my tent with my notebook and my pen, a bright white light emanating from the center of my forehead, and I’d write. 

And that’s my superpower. That’s how I stay anywhere I go. 

I am real estate.
I am home.

That love…

Love sets your responsibilities. I find the phrase ‘falling in love’ intriguing. In a ‘saying the quiet part out loud’ way. When there’s nothing under you, we call it falling, but once you’re grounded, we just call it gravity. That constant nagging attraction our species has been trying to escape ever since we lost our first forest. We are the orphans of titans. Longing, and loss, are textures of our love. Strands within our braids. Should we leave one out when we weave our happiness, that stitch will fail. We fall in love, I know I did, and then we live with falling everyday, so that it becomes a peculiar particular gravity conjured up in the cosmic draw between all bodies. Stars are born out of the oscillating pressures and biochemical dynamics between us. Love has set schedules, and early morning alarms in neat fifteen minute increments, love forces you to obey at least one of them, love abolishes laurels, and hiding places, and high grounds. We climb in almost all external endeavors, be it power, be it corporate ladders, be it chakras within yourself, be it up on crosses or pulpits or podiums or high towers. But. But, we fall in love. I don’t know. I don’t know if I buy that. There’s got to be some middle-ground between always either climbing or falling, and if there is, it’s that incessant gravity. Climbing, falling, resolution. Sounds like a story. Perhaps that’s a more fitting phrase about the nature of love.

That love sets your story.

The Keffer Oak

I think the letter L in the word world is one of its most essential uses in the history of literature. It distinguishes two things most responsible for the heady, desperate plight of the human. Our kind’s fundamental confusion. Between an indisputable reality and the far more complicated one of our own inventions. Words are magic. Words are misleading. These strings of letters contain histories, feelings, memories, and worst of all, expectation. Language comes by its good-bad, right-wrong, off and on dichotomy honestly. Mostly, a symptom of two dimensionality.

A great light casts a greater shadow. The mere presence of the word hero will inspire hundreds to consider thousands of what if’s and then who am I’s and redefine themselves in the oppressive gravity of that bright, radioactive word. Hero is almost synonymous with conflict, is it not? What would true world peace do to the hero complex? What’s the use in preparing for the worst if we never get to see the parachute in action? It’s fire, not water department. That’s four kinds of weapon on any police officer’s belt. A miniature version of the shield that might serve them better decorating their bulletproof vest. We don’t come equipped for peace. People don’t really seem to seriously believe in it even as possibility. Same with God. More comfortable with words like belief, and faith, than opening our eyes outright and declaring if God desired to be known, it is more than capable, and the world as we know and experience is its only testament. Everything, without exception, written in human language, is a secondary source, at best.

Words are fun. And easy. Manipulated. Like a walking stick, shaped for grip, for control, for thrust and use. But too often we trust them to tell us everything we know about the oak they were cut from. That letter that intercedes on all our words and with an absolute absence of subtlety, shakes us loose from them. Shatters that old bent dried up walking stick we’ve leaned on so heavily we’ve stunted ourselves through the pursuit of support we did not need. We’ve imagined our bones breaking and it has frightened us so we’ve decided to go ahead and precast everything about ourselves in language. And in saving, sanitizing our lives, we forfeited every grimy, heavy, clunky idea that made it worthwhile.

We’re handing over twigs and telling kids it’s a white oak. I’ve seen the second largest white oak tree in America, the Keffer Oak, in Virginia. No part of the massive three hundred year old, sixty foot tall entity was meant to be mine, was made for me. I could cut it up and split it and stack and burn a hundred thousand words from it, piece by piece, as a sort of revenge sentence against all the cold nights that ever nibbled at my ancestors. Bitterly, with sore hands and crooked back, like all conquerors, looking over my neat pile of firewood. But it isn’t Truth. It’s perception. A side effect of an intense, microscopic projection of our sense of self onto the things we create, we so desperately pretend we make up, like words. Like houses. And cars. The most recent gossip you’ve heard.

But that is not the same as the world. Thank God.
There is an insignificant barrier between our reality and our schemes.
That wonderful little letter separating words from worlds.

That Punching Bag

Love is a dented orb.
Incontinent continents speak consonants
into a molten canon of iron core. Of course.
Trees in corps and rocky coarse
the skin off purply soft things.

Flowers grown in the soil of hell. On earth.
Do not bloom in heaven. So close the sun.
The son. That sum of all now ready to go.
That punching bag. That beaten heart.
That lost art.

Love. Is a muscle torn to shreds.
Love. Is the strength of torn up things.

Unmoved

What age. How much time.
Until the promise buried in the heart of the future is a frightening one.
Where in the past then did great change happen, when forward was no longer toward.
But a way.

What is time to the stuck. Broken. Fixed.
On a certain time like a frozen clock.

A speedometer that no longer works is still absolutely right most of the time.
Runny is the glue that binds us. How long is the dry time on an anxious father.
Try convincing him correctness is not necessarily progress.

Doesn’t matter.
To clocks with broken hands.
To odometers that no longer count.
To wet glue.

Presence is purpose unmoved by the promise of tomorrow.

Simply Put

It’s about renovated bathrooms and kitchens and putting new floorboards down on corrupt foundations. We need a more solid base. Government hit the track running, declaring for us, by us, a bill of rights more for us than by us. I believe in balance. Two way streets. Other than signs and painted lines and flashing lights, every road goes both ways. No matter who or what says otherwise. Remember that. We need a Bill of Rights, over authority, for government, because without it, they’re keeping us arguing over simplistic basic functions of human society established outside of time. Beyond constitution and revolution and justice systems. Food. Water. Shelter.

We’re launching missions into outer space, subsidizing single crops and mandating the price points of others. We are arguing decisions that are only to be made by trained, certified doctors. With no other natural resource for them, we’re policing medicine, as if people seeking health were criminals.

I don’t care the color of tile we choose for an upstairs bathroom if the concrete left corner of all of this is sinking into ever-softening earth. When there are termites enjoying the joists for breakfast, we should not discuss building new nooks to take meals in watching the sun rise. While gravity takes bites out of the high rise and everything metal gets dressed up in rust.

We, the people, need to write rights for our government to operate by, and before we’re all provided the resources to reasonably feed, house, and water ourselves, there is no higher priority on the agenda.

The founders knew a bureaucracy would be so confounding to the common people we’d fall under it obediently confused and subservient as if legalism was a new kind of steeple, for what is an altar without a gavel to bang it and summon up unsettled verdicts like they were lingering spirits. I don’t want to argue the way things things have been done. The founders invested the lives of our ancestors in the pursuit of freedom and left slavery in the system. Their ideas, their version of quality, is moot. We need to take our way of life down to the root, and start again.

Representation is the curse that has beleaguered this nation. Representative currency. Representative government. Representative freedom. And since its establishment, it has kept farmers, landowners, food producers, too tired and too busy to build any kind of revolution comparable to the first one. We need an agricultural economy, built locally into the infrastructure of every corner of our country. Barter based. Community supported. Democratically governed.

Everything else can remain the same, but the economy that dictates the prices of new Mustang convertibles or used iPhones or shiny logos on tennis shoes should not be the same one that determines the price of food, medicine, life giving water, or me and you. That economy already existed long before America, before Europe, before anyone conceived of something so big as a continent enough to name it. A farming, agricultural, basic, solid, slow changing and frustratingly consistent system at the bottom of our big, grand, shiny, plastic, expensive, current one.

A food, water, and shelter economy. One that recognizes the inarguable fact that poverty is, simply put, just another word for death.

From the Minds of Children

I imagine the very first writers as scavengers. Hikers. Walking village to village, collecting what noises each individual, isolated collection of humans have thrown at rocks, hills, rivers, trees, seeing what sticks, forgiving what doesn’t as nothing more than babble. The idea that one great thinker sat down to put down language is absurd. That is not the way the human mind works. It is far more likely language was discovered by children. Babies even. Probably the first of us to erupt into laughter, and then, call it a giggle just after. I’d be amazed if an adult ever invented a single good word. Grown ups just name things after what they heard, the sound they make. Bark. I give that to an old person. Scrape. Cough. But not grass, not oak, not maple or throw. Little children safely insulated inside their villages gave title its title. And the rarest of humankind, the poet, made a career out of restlessness. Searching out the particular phenotype of a phrase as it evolved up and down the Euphrates. Moving on and contaminating the next group with how their neighbors call after their dogs, how they describe the blood red hearted logs that stink like shit. Red oak and red cedar and straight as an arrow Tulip poplar.

Poplar, staring into startling coals, dodging embers as they explode. Poplar. I’m sure that was popular. Right off the bat. Bat. A simple mind came up with that. But it took a genius to collect it and put it beside strings of others and carry it just as if it were as important as hard crusted bread or zucchini seeds or dried meat. Lion. Easy. Giraffe, not so much. Cat. Lizard. Leopard. Sherpa. Sauna. Stain the plate orange lasagna.

Every word is a moving target. A symptom of evolution, a flower off a creeping vine. A changing thing. Which explains all of relativity. A cold hand in less cold water does not equal the word warm. Because cold, and water, and warm, are just words. Just noises. Sounds that bubbled up from our throats and just so happened to get stuck against some unwitting, innocent object, also evolving, moving, changing.

All the quirks in existence can be explained by the little sentence printed along the base of side view mirrors on cars. Objects will appear larger in the construct of language than they ever are in the construct of reality. Because they were made that way. Like a microscope. What does it show. Truth. Indelibly. Definitely. Yes. But no. Not at all. In no way whatsoever, also. Does that make sense? That some truth can only be made clear via distortion, manipulation. The world around us must be twisted like a sopping dishrag in order to find out what it’s made of, emptied, when articulated fully. Through a little bent glass a microcosm of bacteria, cellular structure, viral culture materializes. The invisible can be made visible if you close one eye and squint the other one just right with the right amount of light aimed up through an empty space below a downturned, concentrated, scrunched up face. Point that same bulb of clear melted sand up at the stars and you’ll reach a far different conclusion. Darkness. Blankness. The dankness of empty, far off, lonely and desperate outer space. Is that true? Of course it isn’t. To see what isn’t out there more clearly a distortion of a totally different type is required, perhaps a couple bulbous lenses and a linear tube and no light at all whatsoever, and you’ll actually begin to peer into the past. Planets zoom past. Stars already dead and gone still filtering into wide open curious minds. And is that the truth, through a telescope, the other worlds that can be seen with one eye pressed into a cylinder, stared into well placed mirrors, seeing almost every single thing to forsake one’s self. Yes. And no. It is a trick and a truth. And yet, if we discounted the view, how much of our universe would we lose. The galactic framework of our marvelous blue green white marbled planet.

Language. Literature. Words. How much they have in common with low light, bent glass and mirrors. More than we would ever be comfortable with. Which is how we got ourselves into this mess. Trusting the noises that erupt up out of us more than the cavernous realms that gobble up and regurgitate them back at us.

If the words do not exist to articulate, or describe any section of this, it’s not there, it doesn’t exist. We haven’t really figured out the methods or status of the divine, so it isn’t there, we’re all atheists. Believers are worse about it than outright disbelievers. The word belief says it all. By not being the word known. Why would we not back up and readjust the microscope. How could a self respecting scientist peer down, give the knob a little twist, and not resist the conclusion they desire. The easy one. Nothing. It seems pessimistic, but nothing is the thing people hope for more than any other gift of life.

We don’t go back to the drawing board, pack the hiking pack, travel the world, asking children how they call the air we breathe, how they articulate the depth of the sea, or the fullness of space. We call it invisible. We invent words like empty. Void. Lonely. Where children paint pirate ships and abandoned train cars and alien worlds.

I like to imagine those first poets wandering the countryside, scavenging for noises, grunts, moans, taps and clicks and pounding fists and the futile, barbaric yawp of men and women and non-binary minds alike. I like to hear them unifying a thousand different sounds all around the same little bent growing trees, itchy vines, purple flowers. The same exact thing. With an entire spectrum of half names and partial titles and God’s honest gut impulsed recitals. Wheat. Corn. Cabbage. Turtles. Titans. Continents. Mountains. Clouds. Ponds. Wells. Swells. Sand dunes and rock slides and full on white death avalanches chasing what they hope to carry and are soon to bury. The strong survive to sing about it. Track down a poet, and share with them umph for umph the story of it.

Oh, to be a writer in those days prior to words. An author of sounds and noises and explosive bodily functions and the shushing of waves and how the wind sounds like rain and the scream of a bee sting and the gentle sugary buzz off honey. To have lived and walked and traveled before there were enough maps for there to be a thing called lost. Life its self was purely a prize before the invention of the word cost. Surely made up by a grown up. The word responsibility. Probably ripped off from some child running full speed and leaping across their sleeping parents screaming the word ability. Life, dripping from the lips of babes like honey, stingers still in the tips of their fingers, and an old person coming up from behind and to chastise them by putting the word be in front of it. Shape up. Be life. Belief. In endless things we ought to know.

What I wouldn’t give to be a poet back before poets. Before farmers. Before politicians. Before lawyers, and office managers, and kings. When no one had anything. What choice was there but to grow. To scavenge. To walk the countryside and listen to water babble, worse than children about making up words and schemes. Back when sleep was the same as dreams. Birds flew in clouds and stars were dancing bears and shifting soldiers and long handled cups with cracks in the bottom leaking rain. When poets wandered like water the path of least resistance, and filled their bellies every night by telling stories and filling minds. When a single word held in it an epic tale. Chasing after dogs and cats, their epic tails. Recounting every noise of every tribe as they try to describe the exact same blade of auburn colored cattail headed grass. Talk about an epic tell. The boom off the tree that fell. The infinity of a field and how that feels when it has blistered your heel and decides to hold on to your foot print, and let everyone know the way you went.

I like to think how we didn’t start telling stories until long after the world decided to keep us in its story. Story. How many blades of grass, how many different species of trees, how many you’s and me’s, are in that word, alone. How many poets did it take to settle on that word, story. And to this very day, no matter where you are, you’ll find a different definition. We’re still fast at work on a new edition, every single writer ever, wants a crack at a new expression.

But they haven’t heard. They haven’t listened. Too obsessed with ancient religion.
To remember, the best words have always been born from the minds of children.

Some I miss. Some I don’t.

Some work I miss. Some I don’t. I miss dragging up, sawing through and splitting stumps to pieces with my friend Ken all day, though I don’t miss twenty feet up a ladder leaned on a wobbly oak limb with a gurgling chainsaw. The work melted time. It hurled the sun up and over head. I remember, I can always tell three o clock sun. I could see it on his face we’d be finished soon. 

I miss all the dogs. The big finicky Shepherds and dough eyed boxers and hear them screaming down the hall huskies. Giving one a bath was my first real test at the vet. She did great. They were surprised. I wasn’t. Which is probably why, our blue eyes were locked and I ran water over her for more than five minutes before a bit began to stick to that thick, greyscale coat. The old golden retrievers who seemed so out of place kenneled between a spastic one legged country mix and one of the doctor’s insane pit bull hybrids. Quiet. Stoic. Whose bark was nothing compared to his brown eyes, begging to be let out. I don’t miss most of the cats. Nothing against them. Just what they become when they visit the vet. I don’t miss being in the room helping to explain why someone’s best friend wouldn’t leave there with them. Some people had to pay for everything, make every arrangement, before the IV, before the slow groggy eye roll into everlasting sleep, so that the instant after goodbye, they could leave. It’d be first thing in the morning sometimes. Lit candles flicker in the waiting room. Each color coded doctor flag flung out in warning. The young staff begging to give a dying pup something inane like a cupcake. Pressing their limp paws in black ink and rolling them onto neon colored paper. I don’t miss that. 

I miss riding fifty foot high porch swings up a mountain through a blizzard and leaning forward dreading that leap and goofy trot at the top, to sit in a heated box for an hour eating my Nature Valley bar and scribbling nasty, numb finger poetry in the palm of my hand. Slapping the switch and bringing the whole contraption to a halt when a nervous kid would neglect to lean forward and slide off. Teaching kids and old folks alike how to ride a lift I had never even authentically used myself. Wearing five coats. Jumping in place nonstop when it was fifteen below. No fewer than two pairs of everything, gloves, socks, hats. I don’t miss climbing a frozen ladder onto the frozen bullwheel that moves the cable with all those porch swings bolted to it, with a lit blow torch in my left hand, a full propane tank in my right. No kidding, I asked if he was kidding when I got to the top. I thought I was being pranked, or hazed. But no, I was earning my keep, proving my worth. Slow and unsure I melted every inch of the inch of ice that had coated that thing before I climbed down to the sarcastically scrunched look of ironic northern surprise. I miss being a living breathing novelty. I’m glad I lived to miss it. 

I miss moving hundreds of yards of material in a single roll of fabric. I have never seen people more excited to purchase an almost never ending chore. The thrill they found in fabrication touched me in helping provide for it. I miss the excited look of kids wearing their favorite cartoon characters on clothes made by their favorite grandparents. You get to a certain age and you almost forget altogether how it feels to wear something you’re excited to sleep in. I remember the best boss I’ve ever had slapping a stack of multicolored polyester poplin and explaining to me how they were off to be made into fast food uniforms for some restaurant chain or other. Humble little store bought fireworks sizzling in my mind. Working in wholesale is like having x-ray vision. You get to see the skeleton of everything. The resources that get twisted and braided and heavily longarm stitched and embroidered into products. I don’t miss time clocks or cleaning bathrooms or having to handle often times caustic personnel issues. Infighting between the different shades of blue collars. Trying to explain that the beauty of work is what you get to leave at home. That you’re really being paid not to show up everyday. To be there, to lend your time and talents and bodily and customer service presence, but keep the you part safe and secure, no one will every pay you enough for that. Leave it where it’s safe, employ it only for your dreams. Trust me, the money you take home will help, but those dreams won’t make it easy to make. A few hours a day off from being the true authentic you can be a beautiful thing. Can be being the optimal phrase in that sentiment. It takes practice. I miss the times I really had it honed and humming. 

I miss arranging pink and blue piggy banks and flower vases shaped like Ford Mustang convertibles. I don’t miss knocking three glass shelves covered over in them completely to the floor in the glittering shattered cascade of sharp ceramic, clear blue shards and the broken up eyes and snouts of little pigs that were never even fed a penny. 

I miss helping young women and their moms search for the right prom dress, and young men toward their first black suit, and older men nervous to tell me their true waist size even though I had already assessed it with my eyes. I remember helping one gentleman on and off with his shoes, and his wife thanked me for my help with tears on her cheeks. He was getting a suit for his sister’s funeral, he was a very big man, with a great many stories to tell, and I was honest to God happy to help. He reminded me of someone, but I never figured out who. Probably myself. I don’t miss the owner’s father, Pops, following me around like he thought I was going to steal something, condescending me because I cleaned the bathroom, which he referred to as ‘woman’s work’, and chastised me for slipping off a ladder even though he refused to steady it for me, or take the heavy box I was descending with from my hands. That was the only job I have ever walked off from in the middle of a shift. And three months later they begged me to come back to watch the store for them while they were out of town, and I never did. I would rather sweat through summers doing landscaping than to be treated like something I’m not. Dishonest. 

I do miss cutting grass, all day chasing a self-propelled push mower and coming back through like a barber with a razor scraping the warm shaving cream of soft green grass off the edges of sidewalks and wiping them clean with a leaf blower. I worked for myself, for a few houses, and a church in Shelby. One day I had to do the job in the rain and I broke the bolt that held the blade on the mower deck three times, going to the hardware store to replace it, three times, before I finished the job. Knowing if I did not make it home with that check, well, that was not an option, at that time. I don’t miss finding I had hit a snake, or a toad in the grass. Or that I had taken an extra twist and nicked the heads off someone’s lemon yellow daffodils or candy pink tulip lips. I don’t miss being overworked and overtired and still poor. Or when it would start raining and not stop for six, seven, eight days sometimes just pouring. That’s a good word for those times. Pooring. Equipment sitting cold in the bed of my overworked, overtired Jeep. 

If not for my chickens and for my gardens those times would have pushed past hard and actually frozen solid as ice in the dead center of summertime. You can ask my sister. I’d eat ten, eleven ears of corn and call it dinner. Leave the house with three hardboiled eggs in the morning, and no lie, pick dandelion heads and free pears and scavenged blackberries on the properties I worked. I was so terribly free and pinballish those two years. Almost everyone who loved me was afraid for me. But I wasn’t though. Too busy. 

Which is how I discovered my own personal secret to sustain sustaining. Busyness. Work. Walking. Responsibilities. Caring for animals. Caring for people. Neglecting myself. 

I learned a critical lesson, and I will share it with you here to sum up and finish this piece that is likely to go on ten, maybe even fifteen more years at this pace. 

If you can’t be okay all the time, then start walking it back. What makes you okay for, let’s say, a day. If you can’t be okay for a day. Keep walking. What can you do to be okay for an hour. If you can’t manage that yet, how about half an hour, fifteen minutes. Don’t lose heart. Fifteen minutes of being okay can be really really hard. Back up to a minute. Is there anything at all that you can do and for just about one minute not fixate on your problems, your hangups, fears, your lack of motivation, anxiety, depression, innate invisible suffering no one in the world may know about but you. 

You’ll find it. It’s there. For me, it was work, and walking, with my dogs, hiking, being outside. But work mostly, for other people, for myself, on my farm, in my notebook. I found I could choose one of these activities and be okay for a minute, and if I got a little momentum, two, then five. A good long walk, losing track of the dogs as they bound up ahead of me after a deer they’ll never catch, or a bird that isn’t actually there, fifteen minutes, then forty five. At the end of it, all of it would come back and hit me like an ocean wind. So I’d do it again, and again. A nice, breathtaking, sun drenching, sweat dripping shift, I’d get five, six hours in before something worse than exhaustion would catch up to me. I practiced those a while, and soon enough, I could get through a day, at the end of which I’d be beat, inside and out, upside and down. All the energy I had left to do anything with was required to carry my butt to bed. I’d get up with all these thoughts, ideas, lists, agendas, chores, filling my head. No room for the other stuff. 

I got real good at going two or three days. Which was great, I could more than feel, but see my progress. Next thing I knew, I’d have my weeks mapped out all the way until I had to call them months. And honest to God, honest to you, it has been years, actual years now, since I’ve revisited the bottom of that pit my thoughts dug out for me so long ago. 

And that’s the secret, my secret at least. Start small. Start with the seed. The here and now. And don’t even take a second to think about minutes until those seconds are something you can sustain. Until for a few seconds, you can be okay. Don’t dwell on hours, if you have to, pretend there’s no such thing as days. Build your happiness brick by brick, minute by minute. Without much more strain and wracking your brain, you’ll have a wall, four walls, a roof, without any more thought than it takes to slap down a little mortar and sandwich it tight in between two red rectangles. 

I think a lot of depression and anxiety are actually offshoots of our impressive imaginations. Our understanding of, and longing for, wide, intricate blue-printed designs and multi-layered, textural maps, and the expectations of our friends and families and the pressures we put on ourselves to think in five year plans and knowing our lifetime career goals before we’ve even held down a simple summer gig, or a year or two of odd jobs and the hungry, gut-wrenching process of self discovery and finding out our own beautiful, hardfought points of exhaustion.

Essentially, try not to get ahead of yourself. Try not to plan too much until you have some pretty decent milestones in the rearview. Once you have a few mountains behind you, you’ll see the vast range of powder blue ridges stretched out before you differently. You’ll see them with your feet, and with your back. You’ll learn to distrust your eyes, just enough so that you can hear the beating of your heart. 

You’ll learn the greatest fear you’ll ever feel is for the things you’ve already been through.

No matter what obstacles are set out in front of you, they all have one incredible, optimistic aspect in common. 

They’re new.