Picnic Apocalypse

Prayers echo through the windows.

Like the stoop conversations. Like the birds who chatter at sundown. Like the hip-hop that bounces off of walls. The prayers occupy that space between singing and chanting. These prayers in particular I cannot fully understand. The words twist and float in Arabic. As much as I do understand though, I understand the feeling of a blessing. God is with us. Goddess dances.

I dreamt of a small city up in flames. I sat on the edge. In a forest. I wanted to take a photo of the bright fire through the trees. It appeared magnificent. Brilliant and sad. Infuriating. It encompassed a dynamic spectrum of emotion. An outburst of flames. Death. A picture is worth a thousand words, they say. Lots of people hung around doing their thing. Mostly unnoticing. I wanted to yell and scream, “Can’t you see? Can’t you see?” But everyone looked unbothered. I walked closer to the flames to gain a better perspective. Without warning, an enormous flooding deluge of water ran ripping towards everyone.

A river tidal wave.

I ran with an urgent jump, climbing a tree to stay above the rush, but I grabbed a branch that bent under my weight. The branch set me back down toward the oncoming water. The top of the white frothy waves caught my feet and floated me to another tree. The water whispered angrily a message of reassurance. I grabbed onto sturdier branches and climbed to safety to the tippy top of the tree.

I gazed at the smoke-filled sky. When I turned the other direction I saw next to the tree a giant Romanesque archway carved into the side of a cliff. More people hung atop the structure drinking wine, eating bread, cheese, and fruit, relaxed, watching the world burn and flood as though it was just another day.

A picnic apocalypse.

I awoke wondering what the heck is wrong with people? But it’s not just other people. It’s reflections of myself. Admittedly, I maintain a strong desire for joy and celebration, especially in the face of IT ALL. But I don’t want to falter into escapism. Nor do I want to sit back comfortably eating popcorn watching societal breakdown like a movie of fiction.

To be real. To raise the spirits high. To keep an ear to the ground.

Like conversations on the stoop. Like birds who chatter at sundown.

Prayers echo through the windows.

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Bloodlust

Consider that you are loved.
Even when people don’t know how to show it.
Even when you don’t know how to receive it.
Consider that you are loved.

There is a lot going on in this world. A lot of struggle. People are hurting in all kinds of ways. We all know this. We feel it deeply. In our bones. In our flesh. In our shortness of breath. The panic. We lash out. Bare our teeth. Snap and growl. Especially with those we love. We snarl. Spit. Act nasty. Get ugly. We bottle up our emotions and explode.

We have this tool. The internet. To reveal our happiness. Our scorn. Our absolute disgust. Our love and relationships. We tell little lies and noble truths to garner scraps of attention. We fumble and flop and flounder
biding our time until what?

What is more intimate and revealing than feeling safe to express our darkness, our hatred, our anger? To be listened to in silence. Ears big as elephants. Hearts large as houses. What is more intimate and revealing than the gesture of loving space held?

I spent a small bit of time with an Argentinian writer and anarchist outside of Buenos Aries. We talked about love. Amor y rabia. He disagreed vehemently with the idea that “all you need is love” in no roundabout words he called it shit. People need housing and healthcare. People need time to spend with their families. People need food. You can’t eat love.

I didn’t disagree with him. But our conversation was loud and passionful because we still need love.

We still need love.

We live in greedy times.
The days are eaten up by work.
Why?
Work is eaten up by bosses.
How come?
The vicious cycle plays out from the time we hit the alarm clock to the time we clock out. Labor is stolen. Time is stolen. Where does that leave love? Love is not a currency. Love is not quantifiable.

Still…

Love gets shoved into a box and wrapped as a present to give a few times a year. Love gets a hallmark card scribbled on at the last minute the barcode succinctly ignored. Love gets pushed around yelled at stomped on used like a doormat ripped out of the chest tossed in the gutter and rained on.

I love the rain.

Love gets the brunt of the anger and rage. The hatred swirling in the short breaths taken without acknowledging we are actually living blood pumping hearts stomping out of the chest into the streets to scream at whoever will listen.

Love. We are mourning. We are grieving. We do not always mean what we say. We may believe in the moment the harshness. The fuck you. The curses swelling like waves. But we are a loud cry from those who deserve it.

The rule makers have no peace in their hearts. Only greed.

The greed trickles down
turns us all green
we puke our disgust
onto one another.
We are covered in the anger
meant for another
meant for the collective
to wield as a weapon
to recall times of the guillotine
pulling down figure heads
and holding them up for show.

Consider
Consider that you are loved.
Consider you are powerful
yet humbled.

Consider that you are hurt by a loved one. It is true. We hurt one another. There is no excuse. There is no retribution for unthinkable transgressions. We are forced into situations by circumstances systemic. We cannot become alienated and isolated over minutia. We cannot spurn one another without cold reason. We must take up our chains. We must take up our anger and rage.

We must…

As I finish this poem
I overhear lyrics spoken

“I never had healthcare
just a pistol on the waist
for the people”

It gives me a moment of pause and contemplation.

There’s no denying these times are dire.
The fire burns.
The fire burns.

Consider that you are love.
That you are
another piece of the puzzle.
Without you
the big picture crumbles at the feet of tyrants. Full of greed. Full of unknowing.

We all deserve better. So much better.

The Witch in the Doorway

The sky cast an ugly shade of red on the ground. Normally she enjoyed the sunrise, but this particular blood-red reminded her of the streets piling high with bodies. The blood rose up to her ankles. At least. The blood fed the harshness of tar like rain fed the miracle of plants. The blood covered the buildings. The cars. Her hands. How could she ignore it. It was supposed to be beautiful, but it made her resent the light. Normally she prayed to the sacred ball of fire. Closing her eyes holding her hands at her sides palms facing the heat absorbing the vitamins the light burning her lids awakening the third eye. But today it stung her skin.

Not the usual start to the day. She took it as an odd omen.

She returned home and brewed a pot of coffee. She opened her notebook to a blank page.

The night prior she dreamt of a field swaying with a single type of flower. Chicory. The plant grew four feet high with delicate blooms and green, hardy stalks. She harvested a basketful of the periwinkle flowers. The breeze combed her hair whispering pollen and yeast.

A city sprung up around the field.

It felt romantic. She walked the tiny alleyways. Passing little yards. The fire escapes hung with clotheslines. Graffiti covered the brick. The sidewalks cracked with plants. A slight creek cut its way like a snake transforming the post-industrial roughness with a trickle of peace.

She paid a visit to the house of a witch. It was a reoccurring theme in her dreams. The first time she found the house she awoke with such inspiration she became determined to find the house again. The walls were lined with everything you would expect to find at a witch’s house. Books of ancient musings, glass jars tightly sealed with herbs, potions, oddities. Flowers hanging from the ceilings. A cat purring on the window sill. The sunlight filtering in slowly, gently touching every plant in the house.

She gathered the chicory flowers in exchange for a ritual. The witch did not charge her but she gave them to her anyway as a token of appreciation. The witch placed the flowers in a bowl next to the cat on the window sill. It had taken awhile to convince the crone to perform the spell. Many nights dreaming. Many visits paid. She had never expected to find the old woman again. What were the chances. The subconscious is infinite. But that initial dream made such an impression she had to return.

She laid her hand on the table, palm up, as instructed.

The witch retrieved an old tomb with tattered paper full of signs and symbols and flipped to a particular page. She tapped it with a long fingernail and cleaned a knife while whispering succinctly a strange tongue sanctifying the metal. A spider scurried across the pages of ink.

The witch made the cut quickly. Blood dripped into a cup of dried petals and crushed mushroom caps. The witch instructed her to place a pinch of the mixture on her tongue and the rest was lit on fire. It crackled loudly, surprisingly so, reminiscent of fireworks at a distance. The flame disappeared in a flash with no trace left. The witch dressed the small incision on her palm with dried yarrow and St. John’s wort. It healed instantly. The cut swallowing the flowers transforming into flesh.

She closed her eyes and fell into another dream. But she couldn’t remember anything from that second dream save a cellar door leading to a dark basement. She woke up.

What was the meaning of the dream? Why the basement? Why the blood? How did it connect to the anger she felt upon seeing the blood-red of the sunrise? What was the witch trying to teach her? She had so many questions, but what frustrated her most, it was her own subconscious. She wanted the witch to be real, but she knew better.

She refilled her cup with coffee and began reading the other entries in the journal. Perhaps a clue would arise. A missing piece of the puzzle. After a few unsatisfactory entries, she flipped to the beginning pages of the notebook where she found the entry from that very same day one year ago:

I visited the witch again. This will be the third time. But she keeps repeating the same lines over and over. “Seek the place where the rage is cultivated. There you will learn. There you will hear the strength of your mother, your mother’s mother, and her mother before that. Seek on and on until you awake.” That’s all she says over and over. I don’t understand the message. Mom was never angry. Not that I ever saw. But she grew up in a generation like that. A quiet generation of domesticated women. She had her “wild days” as she described them but then she had children. She grew up. And I never got to know my grandmother let alone her mother before that. I don’t know what to think. I question my own anger, to understand where it comes from. But nothing appears beyond the normal narrative landscape. Misogyny. Men’s entitlement. Rape culture. I could go on and on. Pressures to have children. To be beautiful. Yes. Everyday I am filled with a quiet rage. I guess I hide it out of fear of repercussion. But am I missing something? Is there something deeper? There’s war on brown and black bodies. Both at home and abroad. I am ripped apart daily. The destruction of the land is ever-present. I just don’t know what to do. I do what I can do. How am I supposed to cultivate rage?

She closed the notebook. She had forgotten about those first days of visiting the witch. But now it seemed connected. She remembered another dream. A dream she had only once. A dream she didn’t have time to write down. But it returned to her like a breath of fresh air amidst a midsummer’s heat.

When she fell into the dream, the surrounding city never arose right away. The buildings sprang up after she spent time in a forest, or a meadow, or a river. There was no telling how long it would take. To pass the time she went on hikes, took naps, dipped for a swim, meditated under trees until finally the city appeared. Except once. One time the city didn’t appear.

She fell asleep and entered the dream as usual. She wandered the woods and found a stunning plant. Ghost pipe. A wonderful specimen of life. A plant without chlorophyll so it remained totally white. Because it didn’t produce its own food, it latched onto the mycelium of a mushroom to gain nutrients. The mycelium received nutrients from the roots of a tree. An epi-phenomenon. A dream within a dream. The ghost pipe spoke softly, “Save my spirit, dear one. Save my spirit.” She smiled. The whisper echoed the trees like the wind rustling feathers and leaves. She sat with the plant.

She noticed smoke in the distance so walked in that direction. As she neared, the entire forest looked to be engulfed in flames. She walked closer and soon realized the flames arose from a single cabin surrounded by trees. The cabin remained unaffected despite the violent flicker of flames. She thought it might be an illusion, but the heat pouring from it proved her wrong. The witch appeared in the doorway. Also burning. But like the cabin, not the least affected.

In a very unexplainable moment, her awareness split in two. She saw herself standing outside the cabin & she saw herself within. On the countertop a giant cockroach crawled into a mortar. It disgusted her. Her body shook in revulsion. She found it amusing too. Animated. Cartoonish. She wondered if she could act quickly enough to crush the cockroach, but realized that would be foolish. The splatter of cockroach wasn’t a welcome ingredient. The cockroach perked up its antenna and scurried away.

The witch stared at her, nodding as if reading her thoughts.

“To hold rage close to your heart. To be in the flames but not burned up. To throw heat in the direction you choose. Protect yourself, dear child. The anger you feel is not simply from your present life. It arises from generations and generations. It is a weapon you need to learn how to use.”

Honeysuckle

You know those days when you wake up and go outside and you can’t tell if it’s a spring haze or an internal heaviness or a combination of both? And something in the brain feels like a dream and the words are wonky coming out your mouth. And simultaneously everything seems crystal clear, like conversations like the state of violence like the scream of oppression like people worn down like sirens piercing morning dreams like newborns gobsmacked with the reality of breath,

I can’t remember if that first breath tasted like pollution or not. I can’t remember opening my eyes for the first time. I can’t remember if the fluorescent hospital lights hurt or not. I can’t remember if the first rays of sun made me squint. I can’t remember the first human touch.

I used to think I was all alone in this world, but somewhere in my late teens a part of my self dissolved, like the walls of individualism caved, and I realized there are people all around. There are people inside. Voices constantly talking. I realized I am never alone. I try to hide away and find solitude, but there is always someone there, around the corner, walking, running, fighting, singing, what-have-you, in the next room. I love you. I hear you often. Although I can’t remember that first human embrace, I know I came into this world loving people, craving human touch, a strong desire for relationships that extend beyond the conceivable barrier of language.

It can be carnal at times, and base, but I like going to sleep with people. Horizontal, sixty-nine, on the floor, in the bed, ruffled sheets, no clothes, standing up, sweat meshed together like droplets of saltwater in the ocean. And that’s not it. What about handshakes and hugs. Kisses on cheeks. Arms around shoulders. Looks from across the room when eyes palpably touch and smiles perk upon faces. High fives. Shoulder rubs.

We know how precious life is. That’s why we don’t want to get out of bed on rainy mornings. To stay curled up with cats or dogs or humans. Unless it’s to retrieve a cup of coffee and a novel only to get right back under the covers after cracking the window to let in the moisture of rain that accompanies the breeze. We know how precious life is. That’s why we crack the car window and roll it all the way down to let in the salt air of the ocean because it smells like home. We know how precious life is. We do. We fight for it. Because how much time are we able to settle in deeply to appreciate it?

I see sadness in eyes. Especially in eyes that cry. But when I see eyes that don’t cry, I see sadness in shoulders, hunched up, holding the weight of tears like an aqueduct buckling with age. It makes me sad to see such sadness. It sweeps over,

We know how precious life is. It’s crystal clear. But there’s this spring haze. Or maybe it’s an internal heaviness. Could it be the dark moon calling in all the shadows? There are many reasons. Bills. Rent. Mortgage. Mouths to feed. The morning news. 60 dead. Another war. Another friend OD’d.

There’s this dream I woke up to, but I forget it now because I didn’t write it down. The day started so quickly.

Narrow Passage

II. The Crumbling Church of Reflection

“People suffering from nervous breakdowns often do a lot of research, to find explanations for what they are undergoing. The research, of course, fails… It fails as far as we are concerned, but the unhappy fact is that it sometimes provides a spurious rationalization to the disintegrating mind…” – Philip K. Dick, Valis

I believe there is a connection between the repression of feelings I experienced growing up, the inability to accurately language my internal landscape, and the bursting forth of that very same landscape in my early twenties in ways totally monstrous and blown out of scope.

Everything inside urged to see the light of day.

It’s staggering, though, how powerful the Christian complex influences our society. I’m not someone who attended church all that much. I wasn’t raised Catholic by a long shot. My dad grew up going to Catholic schools and vowed to never let his kids have the same experience. So I was raised skeptical and Presbyterian. We played basketball in the basement of the church. I don’t remember a thing about Sunday school other than getting those donut munchkins from Dunkin Donuts. One kid loved freaking the teacher out by swallowing them whole, and when they got stuck in his throat, he punched the bulge until the donut smashed up and he swallowed it.

My recollection of the myths and parables of the bible barely exists.

After a few years of that, the pastor left, so we went searching for other churches, jumping around from congregation to congregation. My dad didn’t go all that much. My mom wanted the community and spirit that came along with church, so I joined her from time to time as she explored the Unitarian Universalists. I was first exposed to Buddhism in those truncated days. By that time, I was playing soccer more and more frequently, so soccer on Sundays became my church.

I recall a friend of mine during those times; he and his family practiced in the Cavalry tradition. They skirted that edge of Born-again fundamentalism. The parents didn’t allow their kids to be in school for Halloween. They listened to Christian music only. Etc etc. The family was nice enough though. I slept over their house a good bit. Played street hockey out front of their house. Kid stuff. One time, which pretty much spelled the slow divergence of our friendship, I received a phone call from my friend’s father asking me to join them at the Harvest Music Festival. A day full of Christian rock bands. It sounded miserable. I declined saying I had soccer on the weekends and wouldn’t be able to attend. He said to me, “You know, you could be the world’s best soccer player, you could be Pele even, but if you don’t accept Christ as your Lord and Savior, you will be going to Hell when you die.” I said, “Okay.” And hung up the phone. Even at the age of 12, it seemed absurdly ridiculous. Laughable. Such weighty words filled with the arrogance of belief. How did he KNOW?

I began dismantling the Christian complex from that age, but it still had such a stranglehold on me, on our society; when I reached young adulthood, Christ ripped and cut so deeply into my psyche to the point I thought I was the prodigal He. It brought with it an arrogance I had not really known before.

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Mostly through my high school years I maintained a shy nature. I didn’t talk with many people. I recall at soccer practice one time, two guys approached me with pondering questions about my sexuality, “Do you like girls? It doesn’t really matter one way or the other. We’re just curious…” “Mhm…” “I don’t really see you talking with them…” “I don’t really talk with many people…” “That’s true.” And they stopped with their questions. I guess they realized I was rather reclusive.

I smoked weed for the first time when I was 13 years old. It was a half-day at school and the weed put me on cloud nine. I danced goofily and swore off the education system. I remember walking around and having no idea how to interact with people. The words didn’t match the images in my mind so I just stumbled around talking strangely. By sunset, I had had enough and went home in a fog, crashing in bed for the rest of the evening and night.

The weed awoke something in me, and I decided to stop doing homework. I remember in 8th grade, a teacher approached me with her grade book. She pointed to my name. “Look at your grades,” she said. “Look. You have mostly A’s here, a couple B’s, and look at your homework grade, that’s a C- soon to be a FAIL.” It seemed absurd to me, “If I’m getting A’s and B’s on everything else,” I asked her, “what does it matter about my homework?” I don’t think she knew what to say.

She let me slide as many other teachers did as well.

There was a bit of sports privilege wrapped up in there, I believe; I started varsity soccer from the time I was a freshman. In 8th grade, I was practicing with them from time to time. The teachers knew me like they know all the students, but it doesn’t hurt to stand out in that respect.

One teacher waited half a year for an essay I was writing. She bugged me periodically threatening me with an F but also continued to bump the due date. I was writing the paper on the play Waiting For Godot, so she waited and waited and waited and I turned it in at the end of the year. I don’t recall if there was any substance to what I had written, but she got a kick out of it and gave me an A instead of an F. She heaped on praises, “I’m so glad I WAITED to read this.” Hahaha. Ugh.

Even then, school was tough at times. I have many hard feelings for those days, mostly having to do with the institution itself and how utterly depressed & alienated that makes someone like me.

After college, I returned home to substitute teach. I recall some of the teachers reminiscing about my days in school. They described me as somewhat radical, like an outsider but still able to fit in. They said I wasn’t so much a rebel just for the hell of it, but more thoughtful, not easily swayed by the crowd. I wish I had understood that in those days, because it often felt like a nightmare where I was isolated, a prisoner in my own body, held captive and gagged, unable to say what I needed to say.

That being said, it was not always like that and not a total waste. I liked drawing and writing. There was usually a book to catch my interest. The Stranger came into my life then, and in that context, it made a lot of sense. The poetry. The romantic life. The overwhelming indifference. Its association with existentialism. The lack of meaning. The lack of substance. It felt like a world I wanted to explore. Like it held a nameable secret: This is life. It is simple at times and complicated at others. Enjoy what you can. There will be struggles.

This was right around the time of 9/11 and the second large-scale invasion of Iraq.

I remember arguments in classes and for the first time marching in protests.

I recall scouring the Internet for all the news I could feast my eyes on. Almost immediately I was drawn to anarchism. From that standpoint, society made the most sense. I had a peripheral interest in The Left as well, but honestly, never read much Marx or what-have-you. I find people of that persuasion to be good comrades, but never quite identified myself as such. IMG_5382I understand there’s a lot of interplay and intertwining of thoughts and praxis, so I’m not sure it matters how I choose to identify myself in this case; so many people conflate anarchism with socialism with communism and probably just toss me right into that godforsaken realm of Cultural Marxism. Or toss me out of it. Either or. I don’t know.

We’re all so full of judgment.

Before heading off to college, I was drawn to philosophy and psychology for many reasons. Our school didn’t offer those courses, so I sought the studies out on my own. I read The Interpretation of Dreams, and honestly, a lot of it went over my head, but still, it left a greater impression than most of the books for school did. It validated a certain mode of being in the world. I agonized over the nature of my experience. How to communicate it with others. How to feel not so terribly different. How to stave off that sense of alienation. How to greater know my role in society. I remember, specifically, realizing how potent dream life is, and that book spoke to exactly that, the reality of dream-life amidst all the chaos of war and propaganda.

Between that, the sports, the weed, the desire for a more esoteric knowledge, playing music on occasion with one group of friends, and occasionally displaying art from art classes, I garnered something of a reputation for being, well, I don’t know. Mysterious? A curiosity? I’m sure there was a host of other descriptions and labels too, some less flattering than others.

I experienced my first delusions from fever right around this time too. This happened toward the start of high school. It was probably the flu, or something of the nature, right in the middle of summer. I wore a blanket. I sweated and shivered at the same time. I drank water and ate fruit. I had no idea what was going on. Absolutely mad with delusions. A few nights I spent lost in nightmares. Even upon waking, I was still caught in hallucinations. I remember believing my dad killed my best friends. It made me angry. I surged with fire and an irate desire for revenge. I woke up throwing punches at him until he restrained me. I broke down in tears. Another night I believed people broke into our house and stole all the beds and sofas. “The bastards!” I yelled. “The bastards got out the back! What are you doing! We have to get them!” I ran into the kitchen and grabbed a knife. I shouted at my parents to defend the house and chase the thieves down. As I slowly started coming back to waking reality, I broke down into crying apologies. Shaking out the tears. Heaving and sobbing. Sweating and shivering.

I didn’t know what to make of that. But when I discovered the realm of shamans, I dug in deeply because it felt directly related. The ability to trek multiple realities felt all too real. Initially, it helped me make sense of my experience. I thirsted for more and more books along those lines. But eventually, I tired of reading book after book about people’s personal evolution into shamanhood. It felt like too much charlatanism. I didn’t want to be a shaman. It fascinated me, but our culture wasn’t set up for it. You couldn’t just choose to be one. It was more or less bestowed upon you by recognition, vision quests, ritual, and ceremony.

III. Theophany

“The distinction between sanity and insanity is narrower than the razor’s edge, sharper than a hound’s tooth, more agile than a mule deer. It is more elusive than the merest phantom. Perhaps it does not even exist; perhaps it is a phantom.” – Philip K. Dick, Valis

For the few years after I graduated from high school, into college, and post college years, I had reoccurring dreams about my high school. This isn’t uncommon. I speak with a lot of people, who, to this day, continue to dream about their high school days. The dreams usually involve stress and tests and homework. It’s no small secret that high school prepared us for the workforce. We are more or less trained to wake up early in the morning, cart off for the day, meet deadlines, attend meetings, etc etc. The reality hasn’t changed all that much, so the dreams don’t change all that much either.

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But my dreams did start to change.

It was always the same setting. I remember the bland hallways, the different entrances and exits, walking outside. I remember crossing into the park when school let out. All this showed up in my dreams with the shifting of people and emotions. I felt more or less pushed around by the bells ringing, weaving between teachers and students, under very little control of my own.

Certain dreams had me going through the motions of high school again. I remember being vaguely awake, thinking, “What the heck? Why am I doing this again? I already graduated! I even got a bachelors degree from a university! Why am I going through high school again?” The dream repeated many times in a variety of ways. It always brought with it anxiety and fear of failing and having to repeat the school year time and time again. It was a Nietzschean nightmare of eternal recurrence.

As time went on, I started gaining more and more lucidity in the dreams. I started questioning the reality of what was happening, until finally, it occurred to me, “Oh, okay. So this is a dream.” It was one of the last high school dreams I remember having.

I walked through a hallway holding a manila folder and a few papers. It was in between periods, so I went to my locker too. In the back of my mind I heard my mom reprimanding me, telling me I needed to do my homework and keep up with schoolwork.

I realized I was awake and dreaming, so I tossed the papers into the air and decided against going to class. Instead, I explored the hallways. I walked to the main office, and as I did, the walls started disappearing. In the open office, I saw people hanging out and talking, both students and staff. Why hadn’t I always socialized instead of going to class? I stood next to the proverbial water cooler where people gathered to drink water and chat. I tried chatting with them, but everyone appeared like an automaton. They only talked about a constrained program of thoughts and ideas. When I spoke outside of their realms of stored thinking, they ignored me. So I started making a scene, throwing my water cup in the air, splashing water, yelling and hollering, but no one responded. What is this charade? Is this even real? Who are these people? Am I even here? I walked down another hallway to a set of stairs. The hallways went dark and it felt post-apocalyptic. I walked up to the third floor, which had changed from a number of classrooms to being solely the art room. It was abandoned, covered in dust and cobwebs. I gingerly stepped through the cobwebs avoiding them the best I could, until I arrived in the center of the floor. Sunlight filtered in gently and picturesque. The ceilings looked like the rafters of barns. And suddenly, without warning, a giant spider appeared before my eyes, right in front of me, close enough I could see all the little individual eyes and hairs and fangs. It scared me to death. I screamed and woke up. But upon waking, the spider came with me. Apparently I scared her too, and she bolted along a thread of web from right in front of me to the corner of the bedroom. I sat up shaking. I woke up my partner at the time. Do you see that! I yelled. Do you see that! The spider darted from one corner of the room to another corner. I shifted my body and pointed. Over there! Do you see that? But she didn’t. And just like that, the spider dissolved back into the dream world.

What the.

I shook off the fear as best I could, locked the dream in my memory, and fell back to sleep. It reminded me of those fever dreams I had had when I was in middle school. Waking up and the dream world coming with me.

In retrospect, the spider as a symbol makes sense. The weaving of webs, illusions, myths, and stories. I’m often curious how memories compile to form reality. What is more real? The dream or the waking? Does it matter? They are tied so closely together in memory, why do we make the hard distinctions? I assume a lot of us, for many reasons, don’t give much weight to our dream life let alone our internal landscapes.

Especially when they’re screaming at us.

Snake Eyes

Where does romance come from?

I’m specifically interested in the feeling of romance, but my curiosity has led me to take a quick look at the etymology of the word. To break it down, as an adjective, romance describes any language coming from Rome, i.e. the romance languages that derive from Latin. And from that point onward, those who told stories in the vernacular where known to romance. Often those stories involved knights, heroes, lovers, and adventure, hence the meaning we generally associate with it today.

I sense there is some patriarchal dismantling to be had given its formation during the days of chivalry, but I’ll save that for another time when my thoughts have delved more deeply into its origins and connotations.

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For now, let it suffice on the surface, the feeling of romance arose from a walk through the city, a section known as Kensington.

The night air remained chilly, but not terribly freezing. Nice enough for a walk under the El with the train rattling overhead. The floodlights along the avenue showcased storefronts, most closed up for the night. The metal shutters rolled down to the ground with a clang covering up the glass windows and doors. Barbershops stayed lit up with lights and music and customers into the later hours.

I was on my way to grab a steaming bowl of noodles.

I passed an AA and NA recovery building. People hung outside. Chatting lively. A fenced-in yard stood next to it. Wonky, wooden crosses dug into the ground erected on slanted angles. Across the street a Franciscan soup kitchen loomed humble and unnoticeable save the people always around. When the weather is warm, people hang there for hours on end. Even tonight, a person slept curled up tightly with blanket, snuggled into a nook between the steps and a wall to stay protected from the wind. How tired must one be to fall asleep in the cold?

I served food there once or twice. I remember talking with a monk brother about meditation and psychedelia. In his deepest trances, he saw images of Christ meditating before him, emanating blue white and golden light. I didn’t doubt his experience. He called it visceral despite it being a visual hallucination. I just looked at him like, “You’re tripping.” He traveled with a number of other monks from Wisconsin to Philadelphia stopping at other soup kitchens and churches along the way.

I find I’m often in similar places.

A few years back I attended a Quaker church hosting Buddhist monks. They wore robes like the Franciscan monks except different colors. The Buddhist monks traveled around touring cities and sacred spaces meditating through the creation of sand mandalas.

I found it fascinating.

On one night in particular they planned to play music. I arrived early with a friend, her kids, and their friends. Right away, they ran off to explore the church. I sat with the sand mandala on my own and stared into the patterns and colors, the infinitesimally small mounds arranged so delicately, appreciating the elusive magnitude of it all.

Not soon after, a grandfather and granddaughter walked in.
“Make sure you don’t stare them in the eyes!” He warned. He carried a balloon in one hand and her hand in the other.
“How come, Pop?”
“They’ll hypnotize you!”
“Oh!” The little girl looked surprised yet enchanted, filled with a million lovable questions. She couldn’t control her excitement and interest, so all those millions of questions condensed and funneled into a simple exclamation, “But how?”
“They have snakes in their eyes!”
“Oh!” She hollered again and pointed at me from across the room, “Is he one of the snake monks?”
I smiled at the question. Her grandfather looked at me and nodded his head, “Look at his eyes. He’s got snakes!” I didn’t know what to think about that response, but it amused me. They walked over to a nearby pew.

People slowly filed in. Everyone quiet and whispering. Even the kids kept their cool for the most part.

The monks ushered us over to a different area for the music. We sat in pews and they faced us. I don’t know what I expected, maybe something relaxing or soft. Which it wasn’t. These instruments, which I couldn’t name other than brass, a shaker, a scraper, a drum, probably another horn, in addition, an interspersal of throat singing, made so much clanging and discordant nonsensical sound, it jolted me awake. It crashed into my peripheral understanding of meditation and smashed it up, dancing all over it like a danse macabre. The kids kept trying to stifle their laughter, the parents kept trying to shush them, but the laughs just bubbled up and out like a creek unimpeded and joyful. It was great. The playing. The jolting. The meditation. The laughter. It felt like seeing an abundantly playful noise band.

In all my explorations of meditation, juxtaposed to what we expect, I find the nature of violence to be a consistent theme. One full moon many moons ago, I attended a chanting meditation of the Rinpoche lineage. So much of the language described how dastardly corrupt the world is, and how strong and prevailing in spirit we must be to walk through it.

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We often have this idea that peace of mind is accomplished high up in the mountains far away from society, and that’s true, it can be glimpsed at and cultivated there. But what happens when the practitioner returns to the poverty of the city? It’s a whole different world. The subtle and overt violence is striking. The gentle mask is ripped away. The air is dirty and the water’s poisoned. Are we trying to expel the darkness of life or understand it? We often have this idea that we must always be standing in the light to be healed, to acquire knowledge and wisdom, to live righteously. I think there is merit in that, but I believe wholeheartedly in living with the darkness, in continued confrontation with our demons, treading the shadowed waters. We have to be honest with ourselves. The day falls dark. The moon disappears once a month. The stars shine thousands of lightyears away. How many of them have already exploded into death?

My last semester at school, I volunteered at a soup kitchen in downtown Boston. I went once a week just about every week for a few months. We prepped food, served those who were living there and a few others who came in off the streets. It was a halfway house, so a lot of the folks were either addicts or coming out of jail or both. After serving, we ate with everyone and conversed. It seemed just about everyone wanted to talk about god. They spoke intensely and wild-eyed about their journeys discovering the divine. It pummeled them with inspiration to talk and read until their heads cracked like lightning. I was there for it. No doubt.

When we got to talking, everyone assumed I was there for a class requirement, so they acted surprised when I told them I was volunteering simply because I felt compelled. Good for you, they said. It’s not really volunteering if you’re required to do it anyhow. During that time I found myself buddying up with all kinds of people considered degenerates, drunkards, addicts, criminals etc etc more or less the demimonde, the underworld, the subterranean of castaways and outcastes. 

One day I remember slicing my thumb open terribly bad. We were cutting bagels. Blood dripped onto the table like little ink blots. The pain sat me down for a long moment. I got woozy. The blood rushed from my head. Everything flashed white.

A woman stared at me smiling, “It makes you feel alive, doesn’t it?” I looked at her bug-eyed and she smiled wider. I felt like I was going to pass out or throw up. I felt sick. But her suggestion took my mind a different route. I recovered the ground under my feet and got back to helping out.

That weekend, I drove to White Plains, New York with a friend, hopped a train to NYC and a bus to Philly. My thumb throbbed and yelled at me the whole time. I tried to practice my breathing while repeating the mantra, “Pain is an illusion. Pain is an illusion.” But that worked only vaguely. The pain faded in and out slowly, without warning, and when the pain returned, the intensity didn’t subside.

That night I arrived home, I stayed up staring at the gash, wondering about the healing process. I wanted to watch the mending occur. The coagulation. The scabbing. The slowly closing up of skin like a flower opening and closing in tune with the sun. I didn’t have the patience to stare at it that long.

At one point, my cat walked into the room. I must have been in such a daze. She appeared to motion me to follow. So I did. She sat down next to an aloe plant and looked at me in that peculiar way cats do, aloof yet expecting something. I held my hands out like, “What?” So she licked my thumb and it all made sense. Of course. Aloe. I broke off a tiny piece, spoke with it, and asked it to heal my thumb. I slept with aloe that night and the following night, and in three days time, to my amazement, the cut healed like magic. I still have a little indentation on my thumb from that.

Since that time, I’ve never experienced such quick healing with aloe specifically. I continue to use it when it’s around, but tend towards other woundworts like St. John’s.

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Only one other instance have I personally experienced rapid healing of that nature: I was pounding rebar stakes into the ground with a metal mallet hammer and it slipped down the side of the rebar and smashed my instep. Everyone knows how sensitive that area is. I yelled fuck! and took long, deep breaths. I went back to work, and afterwards, took a trip to the garden to pick a couple comfrey leaves. By the time I got home, my foot turned red and was beginning to swell. I didn’t even crush the leaves up into a poultice. I just wrapped my foot with the clean, intact comfrey leaf, securing it with an ace bandage. Before going to sleep, I brushed up on my study of it and stared into the other leaf I harvested. If you’ve never stared into a comfrey leaf, especially when you’re under the spell of pain, I recommend doing it. It is a deep leaf. It penetrates. It’s also called knit-bone. When I woke up the next morning, I had no pain in my foot and no evidence of swelling or bruising. I could walk on it with ease, but it was still sensitive to a heavy touch. It healed within a week.

I’m not saying plants work like this all the time, but it does happen.

When my friend broke her hand, I wrapped it with a comfrey poultice. Before doing so, it looked like a baseball mitt. She could barely move her fingers. Within an hour of applying the poultice, the swelling completely subsided and she could gently and slightly close her hand. When she showed it to her aunt and mom, they looked at me like I was some kind of witch.

I know it’s hard to believe, but plants really do work wonders with our bodies.

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“I got this voodoo. Yeah. You should see it. I went to the voodoo shop. Uh huh. And late last night, like 2 3 4 in the morning. Yeah. You should see their doors now.”

I had no idea what he was talking about, other than voodoo, or who he was talking to, but it piqued my interest. I only caught snippets of the conversation as he rode his bike by. I didn’t catch a face to gauge his expressions. I only guessed he was talking on the phone. It brought so many questions to mind. Like, what voodoo shop? What magic supplies did you buy? Who are you? Can you tell me about your goddesses and gods? To be honest, it sounded like he was proud of a hex. Can’t be sure though, like I said, I only caught part of his story.

Communication is like that sometimes. Like dreams. Like memories. We fill in the gaps with our own imaginations, delusions, and ramblings.

I stood on a ladder, painting the side of a row home. My thoughts generally caught in the wires, sometimes traveling with the clouds. It’s odd. These days, for extended periods throughout the day, I feel like I am a composite of people. Like, I’m in there somewhere, but others are in there too talking their talk and sharing their memories. It comes with living in the city I suppose. And probably the collectivity of the internet too. The rapidity of messaging. Memes. Pictures and captions. The viral ripple of snapshots and hot takes. I often wonder how we get anything across at all. It’s a deluge.

When I get a moment, I like to sit and see how long it takes to reach a place of silence, and then, of course, I start hearing neighbors talking through the walls.

I had a dream last night that I went to the psychiatric ward of a hospital. I went there of my own volition. I sat for a while, writing down conversations. No one bothered me or asked me why I was there. It felt inspiring, like I was exploring the collective unconscious. Taking important notes. Studying the undercurrents. My mind started blending with the minds of patients and doctors, which triggered a different dream sequence:

I was at the house I lived in for 4 years. In a large park. The sun was setting so I laid down in the tall grass and watched the stars come out. Very suddenly, snow blew over head. I thought it rather beautiful. The snow intermingling with the twinkling of the stars at dusk. It had this As Above, So Below quality of experience to it. I wanted a photo, and tried to capture it, but the moment lasted so briefly. I sat up, and when I did, I saw the house had burned down and the shed was on fire. I went into a panic thinking I had caused the property to go up in flames. “I’m not even supposed to be here. I don’t even live here anymore. They’re going to think I came by and set the place on fire out of revenge. What have I done?” I flashed back to the psychiatric ward where I was now talking with someone. “The house is still there,” they said. “You just had a schizophrenic episode. It’s okay. You’re okay.” I flashed back to the house. It hadn’t burned down after all. A wave of relief washed over me.

I wonder about memory. How true to life our memories are. How colored in they can be by all sorts of various outside and inside stimuli. By dreams. How people can influence one another. How propaganda affects the reconstruction of our memories into misleading myths about the way things are. How rapidly the internet slings thousands of stories and narratives. It often feels like the general consciousness is falling apart. It’s on overload and bursting at the seams. Like everything we once believed is collapsing and people are picking at phrases and empty rhetoric to keep themselves afloat. Like people take to social media to be reaffirmed that their construction of language, their semblance of memories, is real and valid. And it’s true, you exist. All of you in your wondrous unfolding. All of the thoughts and images that arise into your expansive consciousness. But deep down, there is still that panging truth. It’s a losing battle. The ego can’t survive as it once did. The foundations of our story-telling, the way we understand society and how we belong in the world, are being swept up and drastically shifted. This, we know.

And yet, there’s always absurdity; I still sit here and write longhand.

Before the word apocalypse came to mean judgment day, it described the uncovering of a vision. A hallucination, rich with meaning, brought to light. The fault lines cracking and the spirits of the earth arising within our minds bearing prophecies.

It’s not like that anymore. Apocalypse connotes catastrophe.

There’s this other phrase. Folie a deux. It literally means madness of two. More generally, it means a shared psychosis. I think about that a lot in our given culture.

“You think the paint will dry before the rain comes?” A woman hollered from across the street. I didn’t turn around but caught a glimpse of her from the corner of my eye. She pushed one of those fold-up laundry carts, the klinky metal ones.
“That’s the hope.” I responded.
“Supposed to be what, 6 7 8 when the rain comes?”
“I’ve got my eye on the sky.”
“It looks nice.”
“Thank you.”
“The clouds are coming,” she said.

I saw the mailperson down below. I didn’t see his face, but it looked like he was smiling.

It was a pleasant day. The calm before the storm.

As we sat down for lunch, an old guy drove by with his window down. Leaning out the truck, he hollered, “It’s not going to finish itself!” He cracked a boyish smile that reminded me of my grandfather. He laughed at his own joke.

The radio kicked in every once in awhile, interspersing the sound waves. “When logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead. And the white knight is talking backwards and the red queen’s off with her head. Remember! What the dormouse saidddd! Feeeed your headdd! Feed your hhheadddd!”