Guest Author - Jack Root - The Girl Who Wouldn't Be Found
For JET with love
I’m glad you are back in my life.
“Whence have you flown, my beautiful bird?” she asked him.
“Are you a warrior, or a musician, or are you just a poor wayfarer?”
“I’m everything you want me to be,” he laughed softly.
“She’s not a Girl who misses much...”
There once was a girl from Brush, CO, not Fort Morgan, not Roggen, (another girl, another story).
Here’s a bit of info:
She had a difficult childhood to be sure.
She grew to be a woman attending Colorado Women’s College (Temple Buell).
She had opportunities. She was a dancer, though she’d deny it sometimes.
She was a spirit woman gathering and healing souls even back then, though then she may not have known it.
Many kinds of music stirred her soul. She grew with experimentation exponentially.
She even saw Jimi Hendrix play the Star Spangled Banner at the old Bear’s stadium in Denver before he recorded the famous version at Woodstock.
She made the most of what she was: A girl from a small town gone to make something of herself, and see the Bright Lights, Big city, well a cow town anyway...she was beautiful.
There are cats.
She made it through alive. Despite, and because of herself she was a sophisticate.
“She’s a charmer like you’ve never seen, singing ‘Voulez, Voulez, Voulez, Vouz.’” Even Steely Dan couldn’t keep from describing her.
I was fortunate to meet her while I was working at Solar Technology Corp. She could draw any of us into her intense yet light existence. Many at more levels than others, but still, we were hers. And she was ours. Not always good for everyone. But there it was.
She became involved intimately in the lives of many of us. She touched our souls.
As in all things, even this too shall pass away. And it did, with a few exceptions of a few from the pack. The woman held sway over them and worked painfully for their mutual good.
In many ways, in many jobs, she was the glue that bound the office, the execs, the sales force, the employees together working productively.
Never one to hold her tongue, she held court over her fellow employees, and quite a few managers. She was good that way. There were many friendships and bonds that she cultivated, and the important ones remain on her vine.
She had some good jobs, and flew by the seat of her pants, and did damned fine.
Then all those years of being the up and comer, being the salve for those in her world, being the wonderful girl with the flashing eyes caught up with her and she crashed and burned.
She had become the reluctant yuppie hearing that flawed pied piper regarding onward and upward and more money, and then do it all again.
With that and trying to please everyone (except maybe her) all the time, downfall was imminent.
She tried drugs and alcohol became her drug of choice, crutch, and temporary pick up. And a downer so hard to shake.
Later in life, she would still describe it as her Muse.
There were so many things she struggled to cope with. Men, Religion, Arts, Corporate World.
Who the Fuck Am I???
She gave her head and heart willingly, and was often repaid with misunderstanding and unkindness.
She was battling around in her cocoon, trying to be a butterfly at the end, but not quite knowing how.
In her own cocoon, she was what’s known as a “breech baby.”
It’s tough being the heroine to all, all too often.
She fell apart at the seams, and she found love and loss some times in the same places. Fire and Ice.
She tried spiritual methods to find herself.
She did many things. She traveled.
She wandered the land after auguring into the ground a few times.
She was diagnosed with a number of maladies to overcome, some physical, most mental. Bi-polar disorder seemed to be the winning illness.
She was having a difficult “coming out” party from the cocoon.
She was a premie.
Due to her worthiness, her regained strength, her striving to be who she really was, she made progress.
She became comfortable with being labeled by the US Gov’t, (Huh, US Gov’t...a real piece of work if you ask me), as Disabled.
As far as I can determine, she’s Alternately Abled. The Gov’t does not recognize alternately abled, and also gives her the money back that she paid them when she was working at her “real jobs” throughout her chequered past. They send it to her month by month. A mere pittance.
I’m getting ahead of myself but...compared to the “real jobs”... Artist? Not a real profession? Hogwash!
I can see Uncle Sam on a poster asking us to enlist in the U.S. Artists. Yeah, right.
But back to our story.
It came to her. Finally.
To become a Curandera, a Bruja, a Witch, a Shaman To Be, she was drawn to these things like a moth before a flame.
During her travels around the US on her search path, (and it was not a yellow brick road, let me assure you of that dear reader, it was a bitch.), the Arts bubbled from her soul.
She took her heart and with her wound, she started painting, a little blood there, a little blood here, and almost all of her blood was thinly spread out over the lands.
Author’s Note: (I’m tempted to say that when she was done painting on the sixth day she had created the red states. But that is a mockery of her quest, just a jest on my part, at my own behest. The protagonist must protest!)
She wanted to help herself but she was rubbing salt in the wound while she was finding her way, painting her own blood across her path and then some.
Sangre de JET spread thin over the countryside.
Now the story gets interesting. As interesting as when she painted her blood across the land into a thin coating, like paint, but more painful.
Little by little, her blood across the land started to coagulate. Gravitating to New Mexico of all places.
She found a small place where her blood had gathered. It was outside Las Vegas, New Mexico.
As she became one with herself and familiar with herself, life became stretching out of her.
And her old friends opened themselves wide to her, and helped her stitch her wound shut so tight her blood would no longer paint the land. Except for once, but that’s an unfortunately sad sad history. Now back to the heroine, the woman who wouldn’t be found.
Her heart and her head and her soul now knew she would become an Artist.
All that wriggling in her cocoon was a sign to her artistry.
Soon she moved, out of necessity and some bad memories, and with recommendations from Marco the Magnificent, to a new place. The new place in her head and heart was Dixon, NM.
This is the place that the girl wouldn’t want to be found.
A lost paradise in which to fall apart, regenerate, fall apart again, create, cook, ponder, and create ART!
And she is an Artist in a small two room casita, and she is becoming more and more comfortable with others, and herself, calling her an Artist. Pursuing her craft and self esteem and healing. She remains Bi-Polar to this day, and is getting used to predicting her swings.
But we still don’t know where she lives.
It’s of her own choosing whether one may find her or not.
The directions are something like this:
“Take the second dirt road from the dirt road that branches three ways from the paved road. Pay no attention to any signs. Then, from another dirt road, turn left past the first cow, and then an immediate right. You’ll see an old Dodge Dart in the arroyo below, but keep climbing on the dirt road through the scrub and sage. The casita is the first stop on the next left, yet another dirt road.
Somewhere out there she lives. With her cats, her art, her books, her sparse music collection, and of course, Lola the pink wringmistress.
I think she’ll keep building her head, heart, loving-kindness, art, and keep up with her few valued loved ones and friends.
I, for one, am glad to be back in her life. My adult life and Quest, and my cocoon were so similar to hers it is scary. It really is scary in all senses of the word. There must be meaning to this and not mere coincidence. It’s great to be warmed by her fire.
Dylan says “She’s an Artist, She Don’t Look Back”.
I think she’s looking clear eyed into her future, following her path.
NOT THE END BY A LONG SHOT!
It’s about six and the sun set an hour ago. Cold settled around the mesa, thinking it might stay until March or so. My fire needs 24-hour tending now; I began the season of sleep deprivation a week ago. Socks decorate the house like tinsel; I add and remove them all day long as the floor cycles winter winds. The US electoral folderol concluded last week but never ends. Nestlé steals every ounce of water unwatched anywhere and Ireland scams her citizens again. Canada and China paid enough bribes that their pipeline through the breadbasket of the world is imminent. Infernal hand bells clamor and cheery lies spew from speakers. I curse Bing Crosby aloud these days and cannot buy anything that is not green and red. Crankiness hovers.
Then cold juice dribbles down my left hand into my sleeve. Nectar from the sweetest roundest pomiest Honeycrisp apple I could conjure chills my elbow and I lean to slurp it up. Can’t waste a drop it’s so wondrous, tart and sweet, making my teeth screek! I must thank Jane who works so damn hard and has for years to keep the local healthy food store open. Where does she get her organic fruit? The grapes she had last week sang in my mouth. I sure do thank those farmers. I wonder about Dixon fruit farmers. Is this the third year they’ve not harvested? How fare they over there? Thinking about the simple, beautiful, and wondrous things in life switched my day around. Jeezo peezo, that was easy.
© 2015, Jeanne Treadway
accepting all I’ve done and said - Peter Gabriel
My oldest written horoscope reading dates from 1975; astrology is important and meaningful to me, long a part of my spiritual life. During the past two years Planet Waves and other astrological sources repeatedly indicated it was time for me to rekindle sexual desire, renew my dedication to what brings me joy, and heal my relationships, with myself, this Earth, and those beings in my life. I slogged through most of 2012, sleeping the first five months and wondering how the hell to awaken any aspect of myself. I intuitively knew the advice was correct, that I faced an imperative yes or no choice—come alive or rot.
I’m an intense old soul, a 12th house triple-Leo Plutonian manic depressive alcoholic who usually swims alone in dark waters teeming with beauty and abundance, fierce illness, and disability sharks. I’ve been utterly exhausted since 1997 and these pronouncements of upcoming regeneration enticed me to dream of true health. In late June 2012, universal juju jumpstarted my will. I sniffed out a warm salt water pool nearby and began swimming daily, for perhaps only ten minutes. Ancient pain unlocked in that soothing womb. Hips, knees, shoulders, elbows, and ankles flexed easily. Courage returned. Healing began.
Though I am deeply sensual and joyously sexual, the political dynamics of sex and gender soured my willingness to be in a relationship with anyone. In 1990, utterly befuddled by what love meant or didn’t and deeply brokenhearted, I thoughtfully commenced a monogamous affair with myself. When our star-gazing guidance counselors chimed the end of that long experiment in aloneness, my body lusted at the prospect of sex with another person. I prepared, practiced, and lured. I brazenly arranged a sleep-over with a potential lover in July 2013 and, though we didn’t suit each other in any way, I pushed through that scary sexual maidenhood experience for the second time in my life. And, it’s okay it didn’t work out; I saw sweet, delicious, mischievous Male wink at me just last week. Oh, I rejoice for that wondrous hot and juicy!
Going from untouched solitary to an alive sexual being requires some patience and a bunch of diligence. Socially clumsy and reclusive because of mental illness and shy by nature, I surprise myself with the myriad subtle ways I’ve designed to keep potential friends and lovers away. Not taking one moment to make eye contact with friendly someones in a room or staring right through them with unfriendly eyes. Wearing haughtiness like a perfume, donning armor, pretending busyness, and other chilly little iceberg stay-aways. Being afraid and pulsing that aroma through the café. Not-interested signals I used when popular and attached unwittingly became routine body language, postures that shielded and separated me, something I didn’t understand until I chose to dive into life’s crazy ocean again. If I want to be in any face-to-face relationship I must consciously push open that steel-plated door protecting my heart and peer round the edge with curiosity and possibility playing on my face. I forget this easily but am making progress.
I was paying attention to the portents of the swirling cosmos and still I missed what was about to dance onstage. When Queen Sol ascended into Leo this past August, She scorched through a shroud I’ve worn for decades and delivered me from my home in the shadow-realm. That two-night stand in July portended this jolt and probably set the stage for it but on my birthday a month later, whap! I’m 63 and I am startled awake.
I want you to comprehend that I didn’t “find” myself or “discover my path.” I didn’t “go back to being Jeannie.” I’d been grayed out and dull but I was never lost. I know where and what my talents are. I did not return to old personality traits, characteristics or roles. My interior bonfire received blessings of fuel; I am nurtured and warm; I am present and I belong. Simple. And, oh so complexly far-reaching.
Belonging is the finest mood-altering drug I know. The tender regard I feel for myself surprises and pleases me, opening me to reciprocation. I’ve deeply longed to be part of a community and yet missed the signals that I already am a citizen of several lovingly cohesive groups. I didn’t recognize inclusion and, fearing exclusion, kept myself aloof. Then when unresolved ancient shame mixed with a recent fear of lively compromise, I became chameleon-like, shifting my attitudes to hopefully end the loneliness. The recent ingress of cosmic watery influences helped me realign my willingness and ability to participate in this pugnacious, shape-shifting era and I’m eager to enfold myself into larger communities of friends and kindred artists. In my own unrepeatable fashion, I have valuable contributions to give and am worthy of the affection streaming into my life. That healing rescue of my self-esteem buoys me sufficiently that I am able to take on the hard work of this incredible metamorphosis.
This isn’t to say that I haven’t been refused, isolated, deemed unworthy. That desperate lifetime wasn’t fabricated. Now I reprise Jeanne Treadway’s tragic drama canon as a fast-paced educational tool in the process of becoming well. Familiar voices cue scenes crafted during the past 60 years. If I don my assigned mask, I faithfully recite the hitherto indelible lines, react with prescribed emotions, and stride away villain or hero. Today I alertly discard angry fearfulness and modulate judgmental tones, condescending accents, and strident pitches. I rewrite wounding and wounded scripts, smooth dialogue, calm entrances and exits, signal different actors, and craft sweeter discourses. It’s not about becoming someone else, it’s about being fearless to change. Each time I modify one reaction, I step nearer to being bravely authentically me. and further into life.
While I struggled through brain-fogged years of chronic mental and physical illness, I often reigned as petty tyrant, inveigling adherence to picayune rules of behavior and conversation. Cycling sharply from bad-tempered and brusque to avid friend and engrossed listener, I created cesspools of caution through which few people dared slog. Who knew where today’s shit-piles might be? Friendships were friable those days; some still are. I understand. I shake my head at the rigidity hidden behind my flexibility and my softness disguised as hardness. I no longer hoard lists of transgressions, mine or theirs, though some need me to witness how I hurt and alienated them. I’ll accommodate their exploration for a time but rehashing pain and guilt already bores me. I have far more nourishing gifts to recover, uncover, and explore.
An unexpected benefit of this transformation is I don’t rely on prescription drugs as I did. Back in May, I forgot to take most of my meds while on a brief vacation. My body chemistry rearranged to such an extent that when I went back on schedule I rocketed into unholy mania. A month’s supply of medical marijuana helped me balance and eliminate two types of medicine. I’ve reduced the others to small maintenance levels and have forgiven myself for needing anything. Gradually I’ll eliminate my reliance. A gift within a gift!
I normally dither about balance in all forms of relationship. Appearing forthright, confident, sometimes brash and cocky, internally I struggle deeply with what is fair and whether I’ve given enough in compromise, attention, and compassion. Since my recent awakening I haven’t been able to stick with any decision about my feelings. I was evaluating the panorama of emotions coloring my world and each seemed weighted equally, each ultimately evoking longing and need. Then the environment shifted and slowly, ponderously almost, I realized I don’t really need to be better, stronger, smarter, kinder, friendlier, or any of the thousands of things I’ve thought might make me a better human being. Be still. Be disciplined. Stand within this energy. Let it support me as I revitalize; let its fiery strength sear away extraneous nonsense. If I observe instead of fret or react I have the stamina to change, to be renewed, to emerge as I wish.
Nuances of emotion regularly shift into view so that I may focus on the detail, winnow my feelings from expectations and clarify how I wish to respond. I see how I subtly sabotage happiness. I recognize the various levels of my trust for individual and collective human beings. I identify the source of edginess in my relationships. I recognize joy in my daily life. These revelations encourage me to remain focused and honest. I choose to change. I choose to accept myself—all of me. I don’t rethink decisions I made nor do I ponder what might have been. I move forward with an abiding devotion I uncovered for this fragile, brilliant, deeply loving person I am and for the manner in which I express that beautiful caring to those with whom I share love and this Gloriously Holy Earth.
© 2014, Jeanne Treadway (This article in another form appeared at planetwaves.net earlier this year.)
Originally appearing on DixonDallies.com
During a very cold February and March, in a dirty and very very cold north-facing garage, a small, well-insulated troupe of intrepid book slaves (as Adam deemed us) opened the garage door and rummaged through teetering stacks of boxes crammed with used books, ranging in condition from pitiful to well-loved. We began sorting. Stacks rose, fell, were recreated, got alphabetized, fell again. Only books stored in open-air crannies in a windy desert for a minimum of a year can be that dusty but from the chaotic plumes of choking silica came the Book Sale, Dixon’s improbably successful used book store, open every hour of every day.
Those books belong to the Embudo Valley Library. Traditionally, when apples ripened, volunteers organized that accretion of tomes and opuscles into an orderly, multi-table book sale which earned the library some meaningful cash during the Dixon Studio Tour. After each tour, the remainders got stuffed into every available box and shoved back into the garage behind the Co-op.
Dixon’s book lovers had long commiserated with the librarian that some wonderful something wasn’t done with all those fine volumes. So the librarian pondered and dreamt, accepted every plank, brick, and tilting bookcase, encouraged the community to wrestle this ponderous beast into submission, and asked. Pluto aligned with Aquarius one wintry February day and the right person was queried at the right time. Shazam! The cosmic tumblers fell into place.
A memo sent around on the Town Crier, the daily internet newspaper, brought eight avid book workers, appropriately garbed for outdoor winter work, to that preposterous storeroom ready to brave standing on frozen concrete, back-breaking schlepping, and inordinate amounts of pollen, grit, cobwebs, and grime to create a meaningful community resource. Three months later the Book Sale opened to muted fanfare but thorough appreciation. It is perpetually dusty and sometimes awash from a sudden summer rainstorm. It houses a gazillion volumes (an estimate which may perhaps be a tad inflated). Categorized in a somewhat arbitrary manner and then alphabetized in a slightly haphazard way, forty-five sections of books, ranging from weird old new age to slightly dated zoölogy, await new homes. The store is illuminated by donated lamps, arrayed with contributed rugs, and decorated with table and chairs (also gifts), making it a splendidly comfortable and invigorating place to visit.
Kids, carpenters, and creatives can scratch that cogitation itch in one central location; it’s marvelously convenient, open day and night, Thanksgiving and Fourth of July. Any book devoteë will find something to replace those she just donated, different but equally lovable, useful, and entertaining. And, it operates on the trust system. You pay what you can by shoving money through a slit in the wall.
Each sale contributes directly to the administrative costs of running our beloved small town library. That means the librarians can spend a bit more time on library stuff instead of grant stuff and that makes everyone happier, including those who braved frigid days and extraordinary dust.
© 2010, Jeanne Treadway
Dias de los Muertos
Originally appearing on Planetwaves.net
La Catrina is the reigning queen of Dias de los Muertos, the Mexican fiesta honoring the dead. Finely dressed in an upper-class Victorian style, an oversized, feathered and flowered hat perched primly on her skull, elegant but skeletal, La Catrina was popularized by Jose Guadalupe Posada in his political lampoons of the corrupt regime of Porfirio Díaz. Her role, then and now, is simple: She reminds us that rich or poor, famed or unknown, we all eventually become skeletons.
Dias de los Muertos is celebrated throughout Mexico and parts of the Southwest United States. Traditions vary but generally November 1, known in the Catholic world as All Saints Day, honors dead children and is frequently called Dia de los Angelitos (Day of the Little Angels). All Souls Day, November 2, honors all ancestors. Some communities use October 28 to pay tribute to those who died a violent death, while October 29 can be a day to honor the unbaptized, and October 30 often serves as a day of remembering lonely souls. All celebrations include building ornate altars, extended family gatherings, bountiful feasting, storytelling, and meticulous decoration of cemeteries.
Many cultures honor their dead with annual rituals and celebrations; often thousands of years old, these ceremonies frequently occur around the new year. On their Lunar New Year, Asians explode tons of fireworks, burn costly shrines created to honor ancestors, and parade dragons noisily through streets. Memorial Day in the United States is a somber occasion and leans toward the militaristic; rituals include draping red, white, and blue bunting everywhere, planting flags, and intoning long lists of those who died in service to the armed forces. Celts build enormous bonfires on their new year’s eve, October 31, known as Samhain, and commune with their dead while the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead is at its thinnest.
Early Christian history is often vexingly convoluted and that is the case here. The original All Saints Day appears to have been celebrated May 13, 609 (maybe 610) by Pope Boniface IV when he rededicated the Pantheon in Rome to Santa Maria and all martyrs. May 13 coincides with the final day of Lemuria, a Roman three-day ritual honoring ancestral spirits. All members of a community attended a feast on that date and ritually forgave each other’s past transgressions. Sometime during his reign (731-741), Pope Gregory III moved the date to November 1. It seems that the hierarchy of the early church had difficulty altering the pagan traditions of early Christians, because records show that both Pope Gregory IV (827-844) and Pope Gregory VII (1073-85) were forced to again mandate November 1 as feast day of All Saints.
Then, circa C.E. 1000, Saint Odilo, the abbot of Cluny, decreed that on November 2 all Cluniacs would offer special prayers for Christian souls expiating their sins in purgatory. The Benedictines and Carthusians followed suit and shortly thereafter the Catholic Church officially added November 2 to its all-star lineup of holy days.
Before the Spanish conquest of the American continents, the cultures of Meso-America, especially the Nahua (Toltec, Aztec, Tlaxcaltec, Chichimec, Tecpanec and others from the Valley of Mexico), remembered their dead in a month-long celebration that centered around the return of the Monarch butterfly, a symbol of the returning souls of the dead. The 3000-year-old festival specifically honored the dynamic duality of life; rather than an end, death was simply a continuation of life to the Meso-Americans. Mictecacihuatl, a goddess believed to have died at birth and known as the Lady of the Dead, presided over the ceremonies.
Catholic Spaniards rigorously attacked this frightful celebration with its skulls and skeletons, dancing and feasting, which in their European sensibilities was an unholy mockery of death. Using techniques learned from subalterning indigenous holy days for more than a millennium, the Catholics moved the fiesta from August to their November timeframe and whittled it down from a month to two days. They were never quite able to complete the transformation to a somber, religious ceremony spent in prayer, for Dias de los Muertos is a far cry from anything resembling serious Catholic mourning.
Dias de los Muertos has a complex history and because of this regional celebrations vary significantly. Some Mexicans begin this holy period on the evening of October 31. Others observe November 1 solely. Some communities extend the ritual for as long as a week. Key elements, though, appear in virtually all Mexican rituals: the ofrenda or altar, feasting, cempasuchiles (yellow marigolds), calaveras (skulls), incense (usually copal, a tree resin), pan de muerto (bread decorated with powdered sugar bones), and gravesite grooming.
Traditional Hispanic cementarios (cemeteries) and descansos (little crosses marking the site of someone’s death) are regularly tended. Family members visit gravesites on all significant anniversaries, including days of birth, death, and marriage, and adorn the headstone with flowers, repaint the ornate fence surrounding the plot, and commune with their dead by telling stories and praying. In Animal Dreams, Barbara Kingsolver richly paints a vision of one such carefully tended cemetery:
One of the graves, a great-uncle of J.T.’s named Vigilancio Domingos, was completely bordered with ancient-looking tequila bottles, buried nose down. ...It was a remarkable aesthetic--I don’t mean just Uncle Vigilancio, but the whole. Some graves had shrines with niches peopled by saints; some looked like botanical gardens of paper and silk; others had the initials of loved ones spelled out on the mound in white stones. The unifying principle was that the simplest thing was done with the greatest care. It was a comfort to see this attention lavished on the dead. In these families you would never stop being loved.
Dias de los Muertos is a time for thorough cleaning and decoration of all gravesites. Old and young, everyone in the family attends the dead on these days and the event is festive, often resembling a large community picnic. Much of one day is spent caring for those interred; those graves with no living family in attendance will receive as conscientious care as any other site during Dias de los Muertos. Again, Kingsolver gives a delicious glimpse of the atmosphere:
Little girls and boys played “make-up,” standing on tiptoe with their eyes closed and their arms at their sides, fingers splayed in anticipation, while a grownup used a marigold as a powder puff, patting cheeks and eyelids with golden pollen. Golden children ran wild over a field of dead great-grandmothers and great-grandfathers, and the bones must have wanted to rise up and knock together and rattle with joy.
Elaborate ofrendas are created in virtually every home preparatory for these feast days. Traditional altars are three-tiered and covered in white cloth. Creativity flits and tumbles in the embellishment of these shrines. Decorations may include toys for the children who have died, piñatas, balloons, tequila for the adults, cigarettes if the dead one smoked, enchiladas and tamales for everyone, living and dead. Certainly photographs of the beloved dead will grace the altar, as will candles. Besides the calacas (wooden skulls) and skeletons that bedeck the family’s ofrenda, pan de muerto and sugar skulls, with each family member’s name scripted across the forehead, lay ready to be consumed.
Cascades of purple, white, and pink papeles picados (tissue paper decorations) stream around the three tiers. These colors are specific because, for the Mexicans, purple embodies pain, sorrow, and suffering; white stands for hope and renewal; and pink represents life, happiness and celebration. Flowers in abundance, especially the cempasuchiles (yellow marigolds), greet the returning spirits and are often spread from the altar toward the cemetery. Marigolds are known as the flower with four-hundred lives and symbolize death to Meso-Americans. Copal incense (an aromatic resin regarded as holy) attracts the spirits of the dead and welcomes them to the festivities being held in their honor. The favorite music of the dead plays throughout the day, while family members dance and reminisce.
Dias de los Muertos is a communal and convivial celebration. To illustrate, in The Day of the Dead and Other Mortal Reflections, F. Gonzalez-Crussi retells a story of visiting the department of pathology at the General Hospital of Mexico City. He is working with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) on a documentary that has become an exploration of death and the human rituals surrounding it. Film crew and pathologists cram into the hallways of the hospital while an elaborate ofrenda is created during Dias de los Muertos festivities. Poems are recited, ancestors are remembered, and stories are recounted.
Imagine the other half of the scene: Outside the hospital, fireworks explode; parades stream towards cemeteries; thousands of children dance with skeletons of every imaginable construction; adults wearing calacas (wooden skulls) cavort, teasing children and scaring dogs; extravagant picnics abound, moving from street to cementario; singing and storytelling combine in flamboyant and outlandish dramas. Only in Mexico would one find such juxtapostion of death and life.
Toymaking and calaveras are thoroughly interwoven with this fiesta. Most of the images associated today with Dias de los Muertos were originally stylized by Juan Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913) in his satiric posters, etchings, and lithographs. Mexicans have traditionally called Lady Death by such names as La Flaca (skinny), La Pelona (baldy), or La Huesa (bony). Posada’s Calavera de la Catrina (fancy lady) drew on this tradition and has since become an ubiquitous icon. She was Posada’s pointed reminder to the wealthy -- even you shall die, nevermind your mink stoles and ostrich-plumed hats. Now, grinning skeletons grace every conceivable material; even papeles picados sport Posada-like calaveras.
Posada’s political art was scathing and bold. He satirized the most powerful and violent people of his time. For example, one of his pieces, Calavera Huertista, portrays the brutal General Huerta. A catalogue to an exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1944 describes this piece: “Into it he poured all his hatred as a free man of the tyrant whom he portrayed as a repugnant tarantula with the tail of a scorpion, insatiably devouring other skulls.” Posada’s art appeared throughout Mexico, was easily accessible to all social strata, and was usually accompanied by rhymed verse that derided the politicians and Church of that era.
Oaxaca, a state in the southern peninsula of Mexico, is renowned for its toymaking. Whimsy reaches high art here and Oaxacan animal figures are recognized by collectors and museums throughout the Americas. A hedgehog may be covered with toothpicks to represent its spines, painted with ten colors, dotted with glitter, and wearing a wolf’s grin. Cats and dogs appear with extreme tails and ears, frogs with stilt-like legs, fish with each scale a variant of one or two pigments. Skeletons are an important addition to the Oaxacan Dias de los Muertos fiesta and portray every imaginable role: the Nativity, mariachis, priests, bullfighters, nurses, street sweepers, taxidrivers, favorite actors and musicians, political figures. Inexpensive calavera puppets are made of plywood and string and are adored by children.
Somehow it is simply hilarious to witness preposterous skeletons dancing through every phase of life. This laughter at the antics of death serves as the undercurrent for this varied and intricate fiesta called Dias de los Muertos.
The Day of the Dead, Bobbi Salinas-Norman
Day of the Dead or El Dia de los Muertos - Oaxaca. - BY MARIA DIAZ in Mexico Connect - Mexico's monthly ezine / magazine.
The Dead Come to Life in Mexican Folk Art, Mary Jane Gagnier Mendoza
Gonzalez-Crussi, F., The Day of the Dead and Other Mortal Reflections, Harcourt Brace & Company, New York, 1993.
Indigenous People Wouldn't Let 'Day of the Dead' Die, Carlos Miller
The Arizona Republic, ezine.
Kingsolver, Barbara, Animal Dreams, HarperPerennial, New York, 1991.
LOS DIAS DE LOS MUERTOS (The Days of the Dead), Judy King, ON MEXICO CONNECT, the premium Ezine and Web Site.
Posada; Printmaker to the Mexican People, catalogue for An Exhibition Lent By the Direccion General de Educacion Estetica, Mexico to the Art Institute of Chicago, 1944.
© 2003, Jeanne Treadway
Errands to the Dark Places
© 2015, Jeanne Treadway
Powerful memories linger of running errands for mother when she cooked large complex meals. Whether we lived in Illinois, New Mexico, or Kansas, hurriedly fetching things for her forced me to grapple with doors requiring brawn, stairs designed for giants, smells imagined to be from a tomb, cobwebs foretelling multitudes of black widows, eccentric lighting, and prickly discomfort. Potatoes, onions, apples, squash, an occasional tomato, homemade pickles, jarred fruit, and fuel required cool storage and we kept them either in a basement or a cellar. I was the oldest; I did the fetching.
Outside in the back of one house two heavy splintery doors angled at about 25o protected our cellar. Each time I wrestled those doors I had to rediscover which opened first then use fingers, toes, a knee, an elbow, a shoulder, and my head to get it flopped open. No one thought to put any sort of light down there and flashlights belonged to grown men; kids didn’t touch them. Daylight was deemed sufficient and that was okay, though my skinny body protested with bile and goose flesh. I’d dart in, high-step down steep, short stairs, get a face full of spider webs, choke on a scream, hop from foot to foot while searching shelves, grab the requested ingredients, scurry out, and flip the door shut with vengeance. Fresh air was bona fide miracle.
Access to our basements was inside always at the end of a dark hall through tightly fitted doors with handles perched above my eyebrows. I think very weird people design basements explicitly for hulking things that stink and for spiders: big spiders, hairy spiders, jumping spiders, spiders who weave arm-grabbing webs. That first blast of nasty-smelling air always assured me there were plenty of black widows down there watching and waiting. I believed their aroma was unmistakable. Rickety warped stairs conjured stumbles and slick hand-rails sloughed off small hands. Usually I had to locate the lightbulb dangling overhead which swayed from me when I misjudged its location. Until I found the light switch I suffered wild imagination, which abated only a bit with illumination—those old dangling basement bulbs cast ooky-spooky dancing shadows. Oh, the courage!
Those counted as big-girl errands and I always wanted to appear calm and easy afterwards, you know, adult, mature. Invariably something pursued me and I raced pell mell out of those dungeons, speeding to the kitchen wild-eyed with the willies. Mother, sweaty and focused, swayed her chin to indicate where to place whatever I’d captured. Then I’d scuttle away before she realized I was still a kid. Whew! Recently some tiny something in my body calibrated after two decades of miasmal misery. Given a litany of disorder/syndromic names lumped under we’re not really certain/depression then partnered with hemochromatosis, a genetic blood disease, my malfunction robbed me of many things including self-confidence, cognitive harmony, and the ability to function in most anybody else’s world for significant periods of time. My friends and family regularly encouraged me with variations of looking great and you sound wonderful but I heard and lived fucked up beyond hope most of my days. I still wince when I remember.
Howsoever, that little cog repair left me assessing who and what I want to be now that I am able to make choices. Habits, moods, personal drama, woundings (both mine and theirs), things I’d swear were facts, perceptions, prejudices, personal gifts and faults—all the aspects of how you interrelate with this world—deserve attention and conscious decisions. I’ve discovered I’m still obliged to run creepy errands, only now I seek ingredients for my personal recipes and I don’t go to cold cement cellars to find them. I send myself on forays to my interior dark places to retrieve forgotten laughter, shelved dreams, and sere happiness. Then I go talk with a paid professional to see what she thinks about the treasures I unearth. She helps me distinguish affliction from self, among other things.
This is grimy work. It makes me weep and it is difficult—dreary, disgusting, compelling, nerve-spooking, momentarily demeaning, unbelievably human. And, it is very very helpful. As fast as I reconnect with a circumstance or apprehend a facet of myself, life, that Great Automated Ball-Thrower, wings me another curve and a relationship I buried fifteen years ago surfaces. It needs to be dusted off, cleaned up, mended, appreciated, and reinterred in my private emotional world. Shame, harsh judgement, nasty opinions, misunderstandings, and sloughed off truths rise in my consciousness, are examined, sorted, forgiven, and sent along to that slag heap of emotions wherever it exists.
An amazing amount of my time on these errands is spent looking at what the hell I think love means. How do I give it and how do I get it from people? (I understand and get heaps of critter love, flower love, tree love, sky love, Earth love.) When someone sends me a card with nom nom nom blazoned across the front and I say that makes me feel she wants to flay me, crack my bones, worm into my entrails, and eat me alive, I hurt that person’s feelings. Is there another way to phrase my response? Which part of this should I be worried about? Which of these many miscommunications are mine to fix? I’ve been out of the loop so long I have no real clue what is cultural versus unbalanced in relationships. What’s this stuff about boundaries? Where do I draw them? How do I stick to them, stand up for them?
There are plenty of other things to learn/relearn. Self-discipline suffered mightily from brain fogs as hours whiled themselves away quite handily for many years. My creative brain envisioned thousands of projects and started many of them. There’s crap everywhere. I spend hours each week sorting and tossing; refiling, recycling, and burning; pawning off; reducing reducing reducing. Speaking of which, I gained weight that needs to leave, but won’t go unassisted. Recognizing my own bullshit takes some practice, too. So I devise new habits, release old ones, accept those I am reluctant to release, and keep high-stepping into those old dark and dank places. This time, though, I’m brave and I’m making my own soul soup.
For The Love Of It
2006, © Jeanne Treadway originally appearing in The Coop
As my contribution to the get-together, I brought a quiche, made with fresh, local asparagus, scallions, and eggs. A very nice man named Harvey liked it enough to take a piece home. While we hunted down a paper plate, I asked him how his crops were faring. Not great, he said, but he would have berries eventually. I asked if he sold them at the Dixon Farmers’ Market. Sometimes, he replied. Most of the time he sells his produce elsewhere because he can make some money. He only sells at the Dixon market for the love of it.
Brandon Johnson spent a year with his friend David Cortez filming organic farming in the Embudo Valley. “Don’t Panic It’s Organic” studies farmers, their work ethics, their value systems, their concern for the future of individual farmers and farm land. Johnson brought his film and beautiful black and white photographs to help us open the market season on May 31. His inspiration came from several places but started when his grandfather told him as a youngster “you are what you eat.” This simple statement bred a dynamic curiosity in a young man that led him to explore the production of America’s food nearly twenty years later. Besides serving as a beginning to his career, Johnson’s film and photography are ventures that will perhaps foster something he loves: organic farming.
Adam Mackie and Steve Jenison bag, sort, label, lift, carry, and store thousands (maybe millions) of seeds, many heirloom and rare, to give away once a year at the Dixon Seed Swap. Each year more growers come that one Saturday with seeds they’ve harvested to share with others or exchange for new varieties. This event is a gift. Mackie and Jenison see a continuation of healthy farming practices, a preservation of crop fertility, a strengthening of community, but no money.
Jennifer Barclay created wonderfully colorful and inviting signs to promote our Wednesday produce mercadito. It was a way, she said, that she could contribute something. She and Sam, her three-year-old son, love farmers markets.
In our valley this giving of oneself to that which you love is not limited to support of farmers. There’s Jeannie Cornelius nurturing the Dixon Animal Protection Society and all its critters; Lou Malchie with the Town Crier and umpteen enormous mailing lists; Horacio Martinez reading water meters for twenty years; and Mercy Romero opening and managing the Saint Anthony Thrift Store. There all those volunteers who keep the Dixon Cooperative Market and the Embudo Valley Library flourishing. And, think of the amount of work freely given by everyone determined to enrich our children’s education, the enchilada dinners, the fabulous flamenco, the poetry readings. Each person adds energy and spirit to several projects, not just those I’ve listed, and there are hundreds of other souls I haven’t met yet doing what needs to be done, simply and generously. I think this is what Joe Ciddio means when he speaks of tarea, that personal responsibility for doing work necessary to ensure the community we love is the sort of place we want it to be.
Farming exacts a stiff tarea, though. Not only must farmers deeply love what they do, but they must also work intensely and constantly to be able to keep doing that which they love. Little time off, capricious weather, uncertain prices, rising costs all factor into this labor of love. Right now, the drought in New Mexico and the early spring freeze are exacting huge financial tolls from our local growers. Nationally, the trend is insane as nearly 300 family farmers a week fall under steamrolling economic burdens, forced to sell their land and leave their heritage. Buying local produce at our farmers’ market is one small way to stem this monumental loss. A remarkable bonus — the food is the freshest and healthiest we can possibly buy.
I envision a time in the near future when farmers consistently earn what they need to survive and thrive, right here, in this splendid region, this gorgeous place we call home. Along with that growing financial security, all the rest of us will be enriched as well, in ways beyond counting. However, as long as it’s possible, our farmers will continue to farm and we’ll continue to do what we can to support them, all for the love of it.
Full Blown Brittany Blues
I’ve decided I don’t like spring. I’m embarrassed to say that because most people I know get giddy about the season. Sure, the lacy look of lilac-laden limbs knocks me sideways. And you just can’t beat violets, daffodils, iris, poppies, and the rest of the gaudy, gauzy palette. Those little chartreuse tips working up through snow and soil thrill my soul, no matter weed or pea. Songs swoop and soar, sweet words lilt off lips, bodies luxuriate in warmth and sore muscles. Bursting with energy, it’s all grand. So what’s not to like?
First, there too much sex in the air. It’s like living with a passel of teenagers. Hours-long preening, silly and seductive lies, passionately petty squabbles, chaotic confusion and dramatic exits wallop me like Tchaikovsky tympani. crash crash crash crash BOOM! And, it’s everywhere. The birds are outright hussies but even the plants are ostentatious, flaunting all they’ve got right in front of me.
Second, winter and spring cannot decide who’s onstage and they bicker about it for months, wearing everyone and everything to a frazzle. Winds moan and groan, whistle and whine, trumpet, holler, and play the piccolo all night long. Some numbskull tom cat yowls at our windows from midnight to 3:00 AM and the four spayed girls pummel me as they race back and forth across the bed following him and warbling to be let out the door. Personally, I can’t fathom their dither and I end up greeting each morning bleary-eyed and grumpy. Do I need a fire? Yes. I build one, get too hot, go outside, sunburn, freeze, come in, build a fire, get too hot, go outside, sunburn, freeze, come in, build a fire.
We’re kinda arid right now out here where I live in the red-stone upper western corner of the Llano Estacado. I think this is the fifteenth or sixteenth, maybe the twelfth, year of severe drought; depends on who’s telling the story, but we all agree it’s damn dry. We’re in the national news as a slap-down to the folks in Massachusetts who might yip a bit about their weather. Those flouncy winds I introduced earlier tease us pitifully with rain potentials. They’ll rustle up some dark and mighty rainy-looking clouds five times a week, spend the day rolling them our way, get close enough for us to smell the rain, and then dribble an eighth inch on our ecstatic upturned faces. I’m serious. In the past two weeks three-eighths an inch of rain filled our gauges. Three weeks before that we got almost an inch. It’s dry.
Spring also ramps up my addiction to gardening, as its designed to do. There’s something wondrously special about dirt, broken fingernails, back spasms and promises of glory that grabs my full attention. With the first hint of impending warmth, I begin my schemes about besting the weather. Each year I believe I’ll finally plant the perfect New Mexican combination of vegetables and herbs to survive the wind, the drought, the late freeze, the early summer, the plague of grasshoppers, the el Niño flooding in June and September. When I lived in Colorado I grew fabulous medicinal herbs—my luxurious mother’s wort was six feet tall and I harvested more than a pound of Roman chamomile from that tiny backyard in Denver. Gosh, I was proud of those beautiful plants! Down here I can only work my magic with some flowers and a few culinary herbs. All vegetables die a pitiful death. Many of my friends are extraordinary farmers so I don’t often share that shortcoming. But anyway, spring forces me to remember unholy failures and accept that I’m a dilettante gardner. Piffle.
Why else do I hate spring? Because it’s short and outrageous and I want the flowering and flirting to last and last and last. Because every fruit bud and green leafy thing can freeze in minutes and often does; I witnessed a hard freeze in mid-June that ruined nearly all fruit crops in my favored fertile valley. Because spring’s very capricious nature fills me with hope and deflates my enthusiasm several times a day. Because I’m manic-depressive and this hourly dance revs my hope to breaking point as I plummet to Earth.
But really? After stoically surviving and heroically thriving through sixty high plateau desert springs, how could I possibly come to loathe this splendid season of renewal?
Last year in May I went to Brittany. As the plane circled Brest, fields of yellow flowers hemmed in by verdant vines draping grey stones welcomed my eyes to an undreamed extravaganza. An aroma of rich soil and flowers greeted me as I drove the rental car away from the plane fumes. I spent a week driving down well-tended, narrow country roads, exclaiming at herd after herd of undoubtedly the most beautiful cows I’ve ever ever seen, losing my way to anywhere, circling lush gorgeousness casually gracing everywhere. Alone, without a single word of French remembered by my stunned brain, I cavorted in more green than I knew existed, even though I’ve camped in the Pacific Northwest and sojourned in New England. The ocean mixed temperate salt water in with the heady Earth smells and my lungs gulped the oxygen-rich air. My giddy nose trembled at the waves of growing vitality. My pores plumped with gentle green vibrancy. I soaked, reveled, relaxed, rejoiced, and healed in magical vistas. I don’t recall ever feeling that much at home, anywhere. I was ecstatic, truly lost in wonder and beauty, for six days. A numbing 27-hour return trip, cacophonous hours milling amidst my fellow Americans, and driving through the desiccated bare bones of my homeland broke my heart. I mourn still.
© 2004, Jeanne Treadway, originally published by planetwaves.net
I’ve reached my goal of taming her. My god, who could have imagined it would take me so long and that we would both change so much in the process? But it is finally done and that is all that matters. I think.
Oh, you should have seen her when she was young! When I first discovered her, she was in her honeyed springtime and was so gracefully beautiful I often sat for hours simply watching her. Languidly she washed in the morning dew. Her wet hair glistened, sometimes sending sparks back to the sun. Water trickled between her lovely breasts, over her rounded belly, down her sweet plump thighs, and then puddled in small ponds at her feet. The sun would kiss her soft dark skin until she flushed pink. Then she’d array herself with countless blossoms. Some days she selected only roses to wear, sometimes only lilacs. Her favorites seemed to be the night-blooming jasmine and the exotic, enticing incense of sandalwood. The aromas surrounding her made me quiver with delicious sweetness.
Whenever I noticed a subtle change in her, my every sense became alert and I trembled with a heightened delicate curiosity. Watching her eat was nearly as much a pleasure for me as witnessing her morning ablutions. When peach juice dribbled from her luscious mouth I could barely keep myself from rushing forward to lap that nectar from the tender hollows of her neck. The sunlight dancing on her sweet-scented skin was mesmerizing. The glow of the moon and stars enhanced her loveliness, as if they were a reflection of her. It was ecstasy for me and, although she never acknowledged me, she seemed to accept my silent, awestruck presence.
As she walked through her garden I would trail quietly after her, reveling in the muscles rippling through her tiger-like stride, the shadow and light accenting first this arm, then that hip. She would gather stones or feathers for ornaments. She sang with the birds and talked with the creatures skittering around her legs. Sometimes her songs would trill forth, soothing, musical, laughing, water giggling through gullies, cascading down ridges. Other times the melodies were soothing as sighs. She would play, racing a cheetah, swimming with the turtle. Wolves and ravens called to her. Otters showed her their slides. She was completely at ease, vitally alive, and glowing with life. We spent many years just meandering, her graceful ways and unparalleled beauty ever drawing me towards her. I followed her every move, studying, savoring, inhaling, content to simply be near her. My heart soared and my love for her was boundless.
I’ve forgotten when I began to worship her, but it seemed the only way to acknowledge my profound love for her. I built shrines and small temples for her. Lovely pieces of work though they were, they were not enough to demonstrate all the emotions I felt in her presence. Oh, describing love is impossible. How can I capture what she meant to me? I created jewelry and statues, using gold to match the sun that touched her when I could not. Lapis to match the skies that watched when I was away. Rubies that reminded me of her tongue. I drew images of her lovely form or stunning face, mere shadows of the exquisite beauty that nourished my dreams. I designed instruments to recreate her sounds and used them to sing my elaborate, empassioned praises of her. All of these I lay at her feet, and more, trying somewhat feebly to acknowledge the unending ways in which she touched my soul.
My passion for her grew and became hotly intense. For eons, I simply could not get enough of her. I had to be with her every moment. I vigorously tunneled into her at every opportunity. I explored every inch of her glorious body. Our sex was hours-long, heaving and burrowing and pumping. Gorging myself, I returned endlessly to her intoxicating folds. I studied every pore; I came to know each crevice. I couldn’t leave her alone. I craved her so intently that I believe I was addicted to her. She could never want me as much as I needed her. Never. Even when she gave me everything, opened to me completely, it wasn’t enough. I had to dig deeper, mine further, uncover every facet. If I could have flayed her, I would have. I wanted to see the color inside every vein; open her heart to weigh her love against mine; burrow into her brain and define her every thought. I was crazed with the lust of knowing. And I desperately needed her to love me with the same intensity. She couldn’t. She could flick me away as she would a flea; for her, I was only a momentary distraction. That enflamed me and I took everything she gave me and wanted more.
Then my feelings changed. It didn’t happen overnight and I am not certain what specifically caused the changes. My cravings simply grew, becoming some new, potent thing, over which I seemed totally powerless. My emotional turmoil was fueled by more than coveting. And it was more hotly intense than the need to penetrate her mysteries. Certainly, those feelings were part of this edgy, scalding hunger. I was jealous, too; I admit it. Others in the garden were treated as well as I was; I often found their gifts nestled among mine in the hollow of her favorite tree. She seemed to love all of us equally and I loathed that generous nature of hers. Beyond possessiveness, jealousy, and rivalry, the cauldron of my love churned with crazed desire. I exploded whenever I saw her with anyone else. I raged against anyone who enjoyed her laughter or drank her sweet nectar or ate her luscious mouth. How dare she favor another— she was mine! Suddenly I devised a plan to own her exclusively.
Step one of my master plan required that I introduce fear. What a tedious chore; it took me years to convince her that one of her companions wished her harm. Once I convinced her that her beloved snake was poisonous, though, I had the beginnings of what it took to tame her. Oh the centuries I had to work on this! It was not in her nature to be afraid nor was it easy to change how she viewed herself and others. But I did it. I was rapacious, relentless, and ruthless.
Next, I pressured her into believing that my love was unique, that it was better, more real, more important, deeper than anyone else’s love. You cannot imagine how tiresome this was. I built more beautiful shrines, wrote more elaborate songs, skillfully molded stunning artwork, lavishly praised her every motion, deed, or thought. Oh, you would not believe the books I created about her or the illustrations I drew using powdered gold and pearls. Still, it took eternities before she cautiously began to allow my attentions to penetrate the self-contained loveliness that surrounded her.
Then, I made up rules. Rules confused her. She had her own understanding of how things worked, how beings interacted with each other, how life was lived. But I changed all that with my laws. I claimed that they came from that which had made her and therefore were stronger and more important than her own. And, I changed the rules and laws often to make everything even more confusing for her.
Still I wasn’t satisfied. My thirst to cage her became insatiable. I had to possess her in every way, own all that she was, tame the very parts of her that made me love her so. For example, I could not look at her wonderful cascades of hair without wanting to cover them up, or at least pin them close to her head. Her body should be clothed, I decided, so that only I could look upon the lovely roundness that was her vast landscape. I used her love of color and form to create astounding apparel for her and, to please me, she would wear the most outrageous garments I could devise. But I was never content. I wanted her thin; I wanted her fat. I could only love her when she was clad; my lust was extinguished unless she was naked. I used my dissatisfaction to control and manipulate her. It worked. I was conquering her. And although I no longer saw love in her eyes and she never returned my caresses, I was ecstatic with my progress.
Her guileless nature rarely allowed her to see the truth behind my schemes. Periodically, though, she would understand the heinous nature of my plan and, oh my, you would not believe the tantrums. Tears flooding everything; eruptions of fury hurling molten screams, hot breath scorching me; great upheavals as she tossed in bed, angry dreams haunting her. Everyone and everything around her paid dearly when she became angry with me. Her fury was enormous and deadly, crazed with grief and hatred.
Occasionally some of her other lovers would join forces with her to fight off my mastering. She raised battalions who almost killed me and would temporarily convince me to quit digging, tunneling, and probing. I would think then that I had lost her forever and would renew my attentions. My devotion to her would give us a few calm decades, but then I’d become crazed again with my need to possess her.
I became surreptitious about my plans to subdue her, masking them with words that seemed to protect and praise her. I surrounded her with baubles that I had created in imitation of her treasures, pretending that the fake was more precious than the real. It was hard work. I had to use my most elaborate and ornate language, scathing sarcasm, and cutting cynicism to convince her to let me tuck this wrinkle there and hide that hill there. Eventually she agreed to let me try and with great glee I began to rearrange her every feature. I became elaborate in my praise and maniacal in my determination. I was winning. Her efforts to thwart me waned. She was exhausted from my constant barrage. Her will was breaking; she was becoming mine.
When did I first notice that she wore the scraggy look of the subdued? I really don’t know, but it was pitiful, really. I even laughed sometimes when I saw her dress up her sagging breasts or tuck in her distended belly. Her cloying breath only hinted at the subtle fragrance of flowers she once wore. Her painted face only vaguely reminded me of her clear, lustrous loveliness. I knew she did it to remind me of what she had been before I started eroding her beauty, but it didn’t work. By that time, she was just a faded remnant, old, uninteresting and I was bored with her. The fight was over. I had won.
When I realized I had succeeded with my perpetual ambition, I understood that I had always been vastly superior to her. My machinations allowed me to grow spiritually far beyond her feeble earthiness. She had always represented the dark, the fecundity; I was the light and was originally anointed her subduer. It just took me eons to understand the depth of that responsibility, but when I finally grasped the significance, I no longer needed her.
Now, I simply don’t care about her and can scarcely remember what all the effort was about. She is nothing more than a used up, haggard old slut who can barely fulfill my scantiest needs. I rarely dream of her and certainly no longer lust after her. I am studying her sister Venus. She is so beautiful, floating in the blue ether so many miles away from me. She entices me and I hear her siren calls, luring me to her. Perhaps I’ll go live with her and start anew.
© 2015, Jeanne Treadway
My first pregnancy stunned and elated me; it also scared me witless. My love and I talked; there was little joy. We were young and obviously ill-prepared. He spoke his thoughts in his gentle, even-tempered way. He didn’t think we should go forward in this pregnancy but he supported me and my decision. I was pitifully naïve, but knew I’d be raising that kid mostly by myself and mostly in constant strife. I chose to walk this Earth without children.
Ultimately it took me forty-five more years to uncoil the rage inside me and bind up much of my woundedness, none of which were a result of the pregnancy but all were certainly present back in 1969. I was particularly unripe—tart approaching sweet and charming with possibility, proud owner of a sniper tongue and Vesuvian temper so volatile I didn’t know I was descending into rage until my victim turned to ashes in front of me.
I loathed neediness, mine or anyone’s, and left whatever and whomever with the first whiff of human helplessness. Then, someone would admire my strength or all the great gifts I’d been given and I’d crumble under anguish and guilt for my meanness, often returning to the desperately wrong relationship until one of us gathered the strength to truly walk away. Loneliness, my own sense of deficiency, nary a clue about human interpersonal dynamics, socially accepted drug use, and alcohol fueled these hell-storms of mine. Many generations of mean screaming hitting drunken ancestors stood behind me serving as my examples.
How could I bring a child into this world when I knew I was going to hit her and scream at her and tell her I wished she’d never been born? How could I give someone I would love so intensely the curse of three thousand years of alcoholic genes? I knew, too, I was a crazed drunk who didn’t have a clue how to gentle myself and didn’t trust a living soul. No words could explain all these emotions and thoughts to my most beloved, or anyone, but I believed I owed that little being cradled inside my body a life of love not one of abuse and so I began making plans to abort her. The decision hurt, for a long time.
I reeled in emotion and disquieted a few close friends but chose not to tell most beloveds why I was so mercurial. Abortion was illegal in the US and second-wave feminism nascent. My love and I asked a kind friend for money, my doctor slipped a note in my hand with a phone number of someone who helped me make arrangements; I bought a ticket and flew to Mexico. Two men in suits met me at the airport; they spoke no English; my meager Spanish was ill-suited to the situation. I don’t know if they were kind; did it matter?
A beat-up by even Juarez standards taxi stopped at a squat, two-room, urine green cinderblock building. We three got out of the cab and walked inside. One man gestured for me to follow him. I did. I remember nothing after that until I woke up to one of the men tellingme I owed more money. I handed it over and they drove me to the airport. My body hurt like hell and my soul ached. I arrived home, spent a weekend recuperating, and proceeded to pretend nothing happened. That was that. Onward. Except, that I’m the type of person who wrestles with decisions I’ve made long after I’ve made them. I urge you to overcome that tendency. You’ll be happier.
Sometime, I’m not certain when, I began dreaming of Julia, that potential child. I don’t particularly like the name; maybe John Lennon’s song to his mother influenced me; I don’t remember. She became Julia in my dreams and imaginings. These musings were never elaborate, fanciful mother-is-saved-by-daughter’s-eternal-love sorts of thing. They were simple. Where was she? Was she okay? Why was she visiting my dreams? Did she understand my decision? She gave straightforward answers. I was comforted A few years after the dreams began, they changed. They became a dialogue between two living souls—Julia had been born onto this green planet. As she and I grew up, the dreams came less frequently but Julia visited when either of us was troubled. I saw her face, her brown shiny curly hair, her green-brown eyes, her mouth that is mine. It is through these dreams that I learned what I know about the inviolate, eternal soul. Julia taught me that souls continue, and that souls love.
This summer, the day after my birthday, a gifted Tarot reader asked me about this child she saw hanging around me. The reader was truly puzzled when I told her I didn’t have a child, then we both immediately understood. It was time for me to chip away at that calcified heart loss that had colored in part of my adult life. I quickly forgot, though, about this mending I needed to do regarding Julia and me, and my lover, and my life.
Then, yesterday, in Taos, two friends and I filled a tiny shop awash in exquisite fabric with our gay spirit and holiday laughter. While we delighted in glorious colors of silk and cotton, admired satin and velvet flowers, oohing and ahhing at magical buttons, a beautifully lively 35-ish woman swirled into our aisle.
Whap!! She and I connected—first our eyes, then our hearts and souls embraced in incredible elation. She pranced around us, showing off her designer coat and allowing us to witness her prime-perfect womanly pleasure in her own loveliness and her magnificent clothing. I didn’t attempt to contain my whoops of delight. She laughingly responded, exclaiming that she loved her outrageously luxurious coat so much that she had purchased four of them: one black silk velvet, this burnt pumpkin one, a violet and magenta plaid, and a white with black pinstripes that is rough with linen and soft with mohair. She described the accessories for each and I became goofy about the pulsating lime-green gendarme hat and matching gloves with embroidery she wore with the deep orange. She put on an extravagant show for us and I loved it.
Soon she and I walked out of the store together. She turned quickly and pulled me into her arms. This was no nice-nice hug she was giving me. No air-kissing, phony, social hug. In her full and warm embrace, she held me until I relaxed in her arms and our hearts sang one to the other. The scent of her body filled me with profound happiness; I had been waiting for years to fill my lungs with that specific scent. We released and each gave the other a deep, wholehearted namaste bow. Then she walked backwards, sending me kisses until she disappeared around a corner.
I dreamed about Julia again this morning, laughing and kissing me with her mouth that is mine. I realized we were saying goodbye and that I never need to dream about her again. Somewhere she is alive, thriving, beautiful, and happy. She’s strong, healthy, and vital. There is no loss involved. Neither of us owe anything to the other. Our hearts are intact.
I also want to say this. If I had to make the decision again, looking backward with my 65-year-old knowledge, I would unhesitatingly choose the abortion. I felt nearly unbearable fear and loss back then. Loss because I knew I loved that man and that little spirit and I was going to lose them both. Fear because I couldn’t imagine how to begin mending that slapped-around little child inside me who carried such cellular fury. I knew what an abused child grapples with all her life: the struggle for worth, the mistrust of human beings, the manipulative games played unconsciously on many many levels. When I really understood that, I made an incredibly private decision.
At no time did the legality of my act worry my thoughts. I am not advocating that you think like me or act like me. I am not saying my story is typical; we each experience the process of abortion differently. I am saying you cannot decide for me nor make laws that will stop me from getting abortions. You can only make them ugly and deadly. It was our deeply personal business then and only mine now. You didn’t miss my Julia. I did.
© 2009, Jeanne Treadway, written for planetwaves.net
For more than twenty years I’ve relied on three musical traditions to carry me through the ferociously maniacal holidays. On Thanksgiving, Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant Massacree makes me laugh so hard I usually pee myself. Dec. 8, I mourn John Lennon’s death and celebrate Jim Morrison’s birth. I dervishly dance to Spanish Caravan, Waiting For the Sun, L.A. Woman, When the Music’s Over until I fall in a puddle of sweat and spent euphoria. Then I play a hodgepodge of John and Yoko and add my personal chorus to So This Is Christmas. I thank John and talk a bit to him about the state of Peace on Earth these days. Finally, on New Year’s Eve, I play Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with Jessye Norman’s incredible soprano lifting the Ode to Joy to the heavens. These personal rituals remind me of the essentials: ecstatically singing out loud, dancing long and hard, laughter, peace, love and joy. So often during the past 10 years, though, I felt as if I was just going through the motions during these sacred days. What the hell could I say to John Lennon about peace?
Since Nov. 5th, my mood improves. I actually feel hope stealing around my heart and into my thoughts, that ‘audacity of hope’ thing. It’s not a gushy goofy hope either. I am all sunshine and daisies because Barack Hussein Obama got himself elected but I still simmer in an edgy stew of 10 outrageous and unholy years, which can suddenly boil up and choke me with fury. So, I’m cautiously happy. No matter how brilliant, well-mannered and beautiful he is, Obama is a politician and most of them are scoundrels, so he might be one too. But when I read that our soon-to-be-President called Nancy Reagan to apologize for making a joke about seances in the White House, my cheerfulness settled in for a while. This man just might have integrity. He might understand his power to wound and to heal. Imagine.
The rampant abuse of privilege during the past decade nearly destroyed my body and my heart. Be it our domestic policies or our propensity to invade first and be diplomatic later, this departing administration crawled under every low bar of vituperative insanity in our history. Parading around as fervent Christians and crippled by the Rapture concept, that regime misused the power of their office and oath beyond anyone’s comprehension. And every time I hear some exhausted but sanctimonious voice droning that we all are doing our best so there really is no abuse, my raging, pissed off tiger aspect roars to the front, scaring children and scorching bushes.
Not only do we destroy any country that might stand up for itself and its citizens, we crush our most tender Americans, our children, beneath unacceptable poverty and uncontrolled fear. Abuse fills every newscast, every conversation, every policy, nearly every thought U.S. citizens have had for this last decade. Abuse in the form of rampant terrorism by our own government. Abuse meted out as sound fiscal policy in corporate board rooms; no CEO or CFO or ChiefDoohickyOfficer should make more than the President of the United States, let alone $4,000,000, when bonuses are included. Abuse in the wanton destruction of our Earth. Abuse in the number of children who disappear each day and the number of murders and the number of rapes and the number of home foreclosures. So much abuse glossed over as security. So many abuses explained away by free enterprise and the beastly nature of humans. No beast does what we do.
My immune system, coincidentally or not, crashed about the same time we suffered through endless cigar jokes. I fell down and went boom mostly because of the toxicity swirling around this precious planet, the unrelenting nastiness in the corporate world, and a genetic disease, but having to stand proud and uphold Bill while he lied toppled my very shaky house of cards. There were only so many times I could say out loud: “It’s none of my business nor of yours.”
I was still working at Sprint when I first heard about Bill Clinton. One day while a passel of us were outside leaning into the blasting downtown Denver high-rise air stream, Michael, a friend reared in the deep South, commented about Mr. Clinton’s predilection for pussy, especially black pussy. Yippee! I thought. Finally! We might get a president who’s sensible about sex. Am I naive or what? I got the sex part right but not the sensible. Black pussy should have been the giveaway. Jeez, what a twit he was! A truly charismatic man but a twit nonetheless. His arrogant stupidity dredged up all the half-buried, thoroughly rotted puritanical anti-sex, anti-woman, anti-other hatred simmering down in the bowels of our occasionally civilized country and, in a backlash of ludicrous proportions, we would soon sort-of elect someone who prides himself on being just like the local loser down the block.
Talk about karma: We scratch our heads about the wisdom of deregulating banking, but, hey, Bill says it’s okay, and he’s such a good guy it must be true. We figure out what NAFTA really means and survive a homegrown blast-furnace initiation into the realities of the WTO only to become an international laughingstock when we go gaga about William waving his willie.
All this idiocy pushed me ever deeper into my debilitating illness. It was if my body reflected the communal disease. Weekly acupuncture treatments, biweekly doctor’s appointments, monthly phlebotomies didn’t slow the downward spiral. I was so sick I couldn’t function, so ill my friends paid my mortgage and fed me. Ever more pain, despair, exhaustion. So tired I couldn’t brush my teeth. So confused I consistently put my phone in the freezer or washing machine. Days upon days of nothingness, no will, no feelings, no color, nothing. God, I despaired. As I slipped into some black hellhole, my country became ever more unfathomable to me.
During my periodic forays into the internet looking for work I could do at home, I found Eric Francis’s offering of astrological counseling. Why not? I called Eric a month or two before the Grand Cross in Leo brought me to my knees. I was in the midst of losing everything: my home, many of my friends, nine-tenths of my worldly possessions, my ability to work, a precious felioness, my 401(k), my glorious herb garden, and my little bitty aromatherapy business. But I’d call Eric, hear him take a deep, calming breath, and we’d talk about how this extravaganza in the skies was manifesting in my part of the world.
Both the voice and the astrology helped me find a tiny, precarious center. Eric would urge me to write, to get the feelings on paper, to ponder the reality of my inner world. So I wrote Too Dang Much. He published it on Planet Waves and people liked it, which encouraged me. I wrote some more. I scratched out a bit of poetry and he put that on the web too. Eric and the folks he was gathering into the world of Planet Waves joined with my network of dearly beloved friends to become a beacon of kinship coaxing me from my cave. Since all this human interaction was primarily on the internet, I could respond when I able to do so, I could participate as long or as briefly as I needed.
Even with all their help, withdrawing from adrenaline, caffeine and politics became mandatory. I could do without coffee and I could reduce the times I interacted with the outside world, but politics is personal and I allowed myself to continue reading national news. I didn’t have TV and only listened to music on the radio so I hadn’t heard that man speak until his inauguration.
When I heard his voice I got totally creeped out. One of those body-hair-bristling sensations ran up and down my spine. It was if I was hearing the bogey man himself or maybe even the inquisitor at my last witch burning. Yikes! I honestly could not translate his words; they were just meaningless syllables scrambled in my primitive brain. I only heard the voice, a voice full of arrogance and privileged smugness; a collection of tones resonating with dislike for anyone or anything different from him and his shiny white unchristian Christian world; a voice oily with greed and thick with the power now in his hands.
And he was using words about healing the nation and bringing everyone to the table of plenty. He actually said: "...this is my solemn pledge: I will work to build a single nation of justice and opportunity." "I ask you to be citizens," he said. "Citizens, not spectators. Citizens, not subjects. Responsible citizens, building communities of service and a nation of character." Subjects? When did we become subjects? Character? Exactly what sort of character was he envisioning?
I actually think he believed that he could be a unifying force. He had never unified anything, including his family, but for some reason he thought he could do it. With huge amounts of luck and grace, he might have been able to lead us into some less hateful reality. Maybe. I’d lived through the Silverado Scandal perpetrated by Neil, his brother, and I personally thought anyone from that weird family had a snowball-in-hell’s chance of doing anything decent for this country. I tried to pay close attention to the new regime’s first eight months, but it just made me sicker and sicker. The people he chose to fill cabinet positions were scary people and it seemed each new appointee was worse than the previous.
Can you remember when you glimpsed the truth about John Ashcroft? Here’s how the BBC described our reaction: “Mr. Ashcroft's record as a senator helps explain why he is so controversial. The conservative Christian Coalition gave him a 100% rating for the year 2000, while the environmentalist League of Conservation Voters and the left-leaning National Organization for Women each gave him a zero.” The man was truly frightening in his self-righteous rage.
Cotton Mather reincarnated hanging drapes over tits on statues. Gad, even the word sex was dirty, let alone a well-formed bronze breast. And, how very very disturbing to see those evil twins of the Nixon era, Donald Rumsfield and Dick Cheney, popping up everywhere looking like a couple of Stephen King’s creations come to life. Then good ole, mild-mannered Gale Norton chimed in, swore to gut every environmental protection law to the best of her ability, and proceeded to be good to her word. Poor Colin Powell failed to realize he’d signed on as huckster extraordinaire, soon to spend much of his time seriously supporting the idea of WMDs and showing vials of anthrax to underscore the danger we all faced. The United States had turned into a frigging circus and we were all stuck in the house of horrors.
I eventually realized that my adrenals kicked my butt every time I read something about this unfolding abomination of an administration. My heart couldn’t accept that a sizable number of citizens thought these people were doing good things. I couldn’t logically or emotionally figure out why they thought all of this was right and righteous. What was I missing? Each time I really pondered the situation, I’d go into a brain fog and wake up unable to get out of bed. During that first year, the news was so consistently frightful that I was forced to reduce the number of TruthOuts, MoveOns and newspapers I read, sneaking headline-fixes every other day or so. Even then, my body rebelled against the toxicity, crippling me with increasingly widespread pain, migraines, hours of blankness and debilitating exhaustion. Then the Towers came tumbling down.
Within hours that pitifully inadequate man started mainlining blood power. Like all new junkies, he and his power-crazed pals required ever larger doses to maintain that amazing power high. With the blessing and monetary support of nearly everyone, off they went, revenge in their hearts. Into Afghanistan. After routing the Taliban, we think, we drop to the survivors thousands of food canisters that look exactly like the antipersonnel bombs we strewed the week before. Into Iraq, bombing, burning, strafing, full of our own righteousness, the smell of brimstone perfuming our wake. Death and destruction everywhere. Kill. Kill. Kill. If you aren’t for us, you’re against. Can you believe people really accepted this crap?
Held captive by a corrupt media, force-fed lie after lie after lie, patriotism puked upon our every thought, we waded deeper and deeper into the shit. Remember the insane steps we took to find some level of happiness during those times? We’d try almost anything to numb ourselves for a bit. A couple of my friends became heavy-duty Jesus freaks and regularly insisted we were in the final countdown for the Rapture; I sometimes agreed with them. Another of my beloveds married his bicycle, riding a minimum of 300 miles ever week -- because he loved it! Yeah, sure. My doctor increased my dosages of antidepressants and pain pills and I painted bright Mexican colors on anything that stood still: floors, walls, computer monitors, filing cabinets.
I swear it was truly worse than living through Nixon and that befuddled, unctuous actor who so loved his little queenie in her designer twin-sets. Only this time there was no rising up in the street; at least there wasn’t much if you read the newspapers or watched TV. We weren’t allowed to disagree with our government anymore because national security kinda frowned on it. Those people who chose to do stand up were first cordoned off, then attacked by cops, then arrested and detained. So, we all walked through life with our heads tucked into our armpits, big tall awkward unfeathered chickens. Plucked. Fucked. Exhausted. Afraid. Consumed with despair.
Social Security finally awarded me disability benefits and I moved back to my beloved heartland, New Mexico, back to the culture I understood. Day after day, the clean, unrelenting wind scrubbed the American political and corporate ethos out of my pores and slowly my heart began mending. I lived near people who view life differently than what is deemed normal and their kindness added another facet to the jewel of community I was experiencing with my longtime friends and those new friendships I was developing among the Planet Waves clan.
I started paying attention to those who were awake and to those who loved me. I started waking up myself. New Mexico gave me haven and slowly, slowly I began to heal. I was able to reduce the dosage of my antidepressant and wean myself from my sleeping pills. I wrote more essays; some even had a bit of humor spicing their construction. Other art forms teased me into exploration. I painted Altoid tins, gluing tiny symbols on them, and creating novenas to tie the colors and objects together. Wet paper and glue turned into sculpture. Poems turned into ceremonies. As my protective rage and pervasive sorrow receded, beauty swirled in. It was glorious.
But that man was still convincing Americans that we truly had something to fear in this world besides his own little precious self. Hate and fear, rage and lies swarmed into our culture like Biblical plagues. Our astonishing language was turned inside out and the Babble administration’s cacophony sickened our hearts against each other, creating distrust and uncertainty in even the most sacrosanct relationships. Just think what destruction has been unleashed by those outrageous and hideous oxymorons: the Patriot Act and Homeland Security?
Their implementation destroyed any sense of unity or safety we, as a people, had ever felt. Neighbors were encouraged to report any suspicious activity, with special toll-free hotlines proliferating like ragweed. Was performing a shamanic ceremony at midnight suspicious? Damn tootin! Farting in public was too, probably. No brown man with a mustache was safe from being arrested and dragged away, not to be seen again for months, if ever. Secret gulags were airily reported and summarily dismissed: can’t happen in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Sure.
We became afraid to be who we really are, be it witch, homosexual, sexually active single person, scientist, truth activist, peacenik, feminist, single parent, disabled, oldster or youngster, any color variation other than that fallacious pure white. It was clear that we were no longer protected by our laws or our courts. There was no safety, no sense of security, no haven.
We are now shackled with the KuKluxKlan-gone-corporate, better known as the Department of Homeland Security. We’re still chasing bin Laden in Iraq, a place he hasn’t visited in many years. We’ve developed a border patrol that shames Chinese emperors, and a debt so large, a debt so large, criminetly, a debt so large.
While our pensions paid for the 15th house of our CEOs, we lost our mortgages and now rent our homes from Chinese businessmen. Each day untold numbers of our citizens choose between food or rent or health. And insurance companies keep getting rich while whining about how hard it is!
Nothing works anymore. Our infrastructure is in shambles. It’s not safe to drive over US bridges; sewage systems swell past capacity; water is poisoned everywhere; and our prisons spread like cancer. Our financial system is bankrupt, as is our auto industry, as are the airlines, as are most entrepreneurs and small business owners. We don’t trust each other. We converse only superficially. Every aspect of our lives has been diminished and we still quiver at the mention of bin Laden and weapons of mass destruction now hidden in Syria, spending trillions of dollars and killing hundreds of thousands to track down an illusive villain. Every time I think of all this killing I run smack up against that wall of Christian dogma: Don’t kill unborns, wait until they’re 18, then kill them. How does that work on the soul level?
Do you remember what it was like to not live in fear? Do you realize how pervasively fear now exists in our lives because of his raping of our country? How can we be safe when our own government is the terrorist in our life?
Here’s an example of what I am talking about. Just a few years ago, when she was about ten, my beloved niece lived through grade school hell because someone overheard a young boy talk about the bullet he brought to school, which became in some adult’s brain a gun, which then developed into an arsenal aka Columbine in several other adult brains, which then became a terrorist attack, which then was discovered to be a bullet casing in the hand of a curious young boy.
Meanwhile, my sister and all the other parents got no information about any aspect of the situation except what was on television, which was pretty damned scary. My niece’s school was completely locked down. Armed personnel flew in via attack helicopters from a nearby military base. Flak-suited humans raced through her upper-middle class, white American grade school corridors screaming orders and scaring the hell out of everyone. She spent four hours, feet apart, head on her desk, hands in front of her head. When it was all over, people in charge shrugged and brought in counselors for the kids. That’s nice but do you think she or anyone from that grade school, adult or child, will ever feel safe? Think they’ll speak out? About what? Think they live in the land of the free?
It finally became really clear to me that all this toxic duplicity and fear-mongering ate away at my health, so I started making changes. I developed these little mantras. Live well within the parameters of my health. Become disciplined. Make art. Play with dolls. Laugh. Plant gardens. Change the language in my head. Eliminate poisonous words: Duty; guilt; should. Speak up. Tell the truth. Be real. Be honest. Have integrity. Honor my words. It sounds like a bunch of hoorah, but it works for me. Leave that shit behind and take one step onward.
It seems our country might be waking up a little bit too. It seems we are beginning to comprehend that most of what that popinjay said was false and self-serving; that his rage and anger affected our lives in real ways. This waking up is difficult, because it requires considerable thinking and a huge amount of accepting responsibility. Hmmm, if he lied about WMDs and what the Patriot Act really meant and how secure duct tape/plastic sheeting would make us and, and, and, then maybe there’s truth to umpteen other stories about what was really happening in Guantanamo and how he protected the Saudis and, and, and.
It’s painfully embarrassing to admit that we were incredibly gullible dupes. It is also gut-wrenching to realize the damage done to our personal lives and our country because we let that group of thugs instill fear in every aspect of our lives. But dupes we were and there are still a hell of a lot of us who want to continue living in that hideous stupidity.
Here is where that audacity of hope thing comes into play. Dare we hope to be less afraid? Dare we hope that we can change the focus of this country? Dare we hope to learn to accept each other?
I think this idea of hope is an important part of our decision to elect Obama. I think scads of us are sick of the crap and want to change. So, now we have work to do. First, we gotta shred the living-in-fear rags and dust off the right-to-be-happy knowledge. It’s onward from there. Give back, clean up, throw out, reuse, get healthy, stop buying shit, either the plastic or the verbal kind. Laugh, love, participate. Add ten minutes a day to the amount of happiness you spread around to your own self. Stop telling the nasty truth about someone else’s bad habits. Learn how to talk gently again, with grace and good humor. Stop passing around the turd sandwich. Get rid of the whiny.
Give this brave man a chance to alter the course of this nation. Help him accomplish a tenth of his goals. Shut up with the anger and nagging. Remember all children. Do what needs to be done with yourself so you can leave them the understanding of what living a good life is all about.
This Thanksgiving, Arlo and Alice brought more laughter into my life than I’ve had for years. Dec. 8th, I danced until breathless and then profusely thanked both Mr. Morrison and Mr. Lennon for the astounding gifts they gave us. My spirit soared with Ms. Norman and the Ode To Joy as I welcomed 2009.
Obama is not the cause of all this happiness, certainly, but he is a part of it. There is a real possibility that this country can begin healing. Yes, there will always be the underlying issues; genetic diseases don’t go away for either me or the nation. And yes, there is so much to be done. So very, very much to be done. But, healing is a real possibility. I know for certain that it is possible because I am healing.
I hunted down and read, twice, I Have A Dream, that magnificent speech that ends with Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaiming:
“Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting
physical force with soul force. ...
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the
true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident:
that all men are created equal." ...
And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we
let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and
every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's
children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants
and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual,
"Free at last! free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!
Once There Was A War
© 2001, Jeanne Treadway, originally published by planetwaves.net
On a crisp, glorious day in September 1968, I arrived at Colorado Women's College wearing a lovely straw hat, gloves, patent leather shoes, and a frilly, feminine dress, all in pale yellow and in the latest middle-American, upwardly mobile, young girl fashion. I was in love with everything I saw. Life was astoundingly wonderful. I was naive, strong, brilliant, enthusiastic, and fresh. I could make a difference in this world; I had the power and the will to do so and I would.
We had just lost Robert Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., those great humans with peaceful souls. And there was Nixon, with those scared, hateful eyes, convincing the world that we Americans were just and right in our cause of murdering vengeance. Within weeks the freshman class had orchestrated a letter-writing campaign that sent more than 10,000 letters; we wrote everyone we could imagine, protesting our involvement and our killing campaign in Vietnam. We walked hundreds of miles with our lighted candles. We sang gospels for hours; read Emerson, Thoreau, and Paine aloud to thousands; wept oceans of tears. The music and poetry of that time were so strong, so true, they carried us when we wearied. We laughed, too. Joyously, we believed we would make the wisdom of peace known and understood everywhere.
Each night a young, earnest Dan Rather brought us horrific photographs and news of that “military action” that was never a war. No one had ever seen such film before; we witnessed unrelenting carnage that included our brothers, our lovers, our neighbors, and many many small brown people we didn't know. We heard ack-ack, explosions, hissing napalm, screams, sobs, dying gasps, sitting in a huddle in front of a small television, tears streaming down our faces.
The body count rose, theirs and ours; we hadn't yet become inured to that ghastly, gut-wrenching phrase, but we were learning quickly. We walked more miles, mailed more letters. We lost four in Ohio, four American children, killed by American children. We wept. “What if you knew her and found her dead on the ground? How can you run when you know? Four dead in O-Hi-O, four dead... .” We walked more miles. We exhausted ourselves and our emotions; then we did it all again. For years.
Suddenly, everything was over. Our soldiers came home, wounded beyond repair, to be vilified and spit on. That cruel president was humbled. Americans everywhere cheered and the business of making money and forgetting took over.
But a rift had been torn in our souls. That wound could not be mended; the scar continued to ache. Them and us was strengthened, accepted as real, and we all tried to live in some decency with that knowledge. Hoping, trusting that all our work had made a difference in the value system of us humans.
Then came Nicaragua, Guatemala, Panama, Haiti, the Gulf War, Bosnia. We could watch that, numbly mailing our letters, voting our hearts, speaking our truth. What was happening in Africa, Nepal, Tibet, India, Russia, was so beyond our comprehension that we prayed with fervor, sent food and money, and again trusted that walking our talk would serve as a beacon for change. We believed that the US was filled with good people who would help us change this horrid policy of murdering those with whom we disagreed. We just had to reach them and show them what was really happening. Then the change would start.
On a crisp glorious day in September, 2001 it all once more came home to us. The screams of 3000 souls filled our hearts with more anguish than can be borne. And that new man in charge, with the scared, hateful eyes and smug smirk of derision, once again is telling us all that we Americans are right and just in our cause of murdering vengeance. And once again, the flag decals come to us in our copies of Time and Reader's Digest. United We Stand. If you are not with us, you are against us. Criminally against us. Once again we face an unbearable horror that must be borne and one that threatens to rip our souls into fragments. Once again our poor children are lining up to protect the land they love. Once again our children are facing brutality from their own neighbors if they disagree with the murderous plans.
How do we go forward? What can we do? What must we do?
First, remember that all of this can be endured; it has been before; we are capable of surviving this and of changing it. But we must change soon. We are wearing ourselves and our beloved Earth out. So, from those days of Vietnam, I offer these simple ideas to you, to help you if I can.
•Love as much as possible, including making love, telling those you love that you love them, being kind, taking care of yourself, being gentle with the Earth and all her creatures.
•Be quiet for some portion of each day.
•Sing songs, laugh, dance, read beautiful and strengthening words, eat well, nourish your heart and soul.
•Be with each other in grace.
•Clarify your values and live them.
•Remember how very blessed your life is and has been.
•Give thanks for the very precious gift of being alive on this glorious, nurturing, green planet.
•Retreat when you must; return to the front lines when you are able.
•Plant and nurture living things, babies, trees, flowers.
•Do everything possible to change the American regime, especially but not limited to insuring that this hateful man is not reelected.
Finally, a few words from John Prine:
Well, your flag decal won't get you into heaven anymore.
It's already overcrowded from your dirty little war.
And, Jesus don't like killing,
No matter what the reason for.
So, your flag decal won't get you into heaven anymore.
Running Away My skin itches and flinches with cravings I cannot identify. Nothing feels right. I’m too hot so I take off my sweater and forget to stoke the fire. Now I’m too cold. New clothes! That’ll scratch this itch. Yeah—new shoes, boots, hat, something glamorous. No. I open the refrigerator and glare at the wholesome perk of gorgeous scrupulously selected fresh organic vegetables. They nauseate me. I want a greasy green chili cheeseburger with onion rings and Dr. Pepper. I’m desperate to chat with a friend but she who calls unknowingly pushes all sorts of disremembered buttons. I cannot grasp the tail of meandering meanings in our conversation and begin to believe one of us is an idiot. Damn I’m edgy. I pace. My elliptical orbit flows widdershins. I climb the stairs, trip over the seventeen speculum awaiting assemblage, wonder about carving some marvelous something in the chunks of red cedar, remember the breath mint tins need finishing, idly open the flat files, ponder the swath of dusty primed canvas, trundle down the hall to the toilet, peer at a bookshelf, step cautiously over the pride of sleeping cats; repeat. Molly, Lince, Emma, and Coco slash their tails in double-time counterpoint to my nine-year-old-on-a-rainy-day rhythm. Even screaming when I want to scream doesn’t work. I annoy myself. Some human design consultant somewhere assigns this frenetic moodiness to vitamin C-3PO starvation, barometric vortex, seasonal mega-chartreuse jonesing or Celtic insanity genes but explanations don’t serve. And coping suggestions may trigger locked-jaw ferocity. I do not give a rat’s ass if everyone feels this way or what I should do to not feel this way. I am this way. One more reason I live with felines—they don’t act ignorant. I feel like my Epona doll looks: All dressed up and primed for high falutin’ adventure with a stick-in-the-mud pony that wants to stay home. Each year about this time I spend a couple three weeks as ding-batty as eight-month-old kittens. I pirouette, lunge and leap, dancing seductively to Big Mama’s siren-songs preparing for a soon-to-be world-stunning splendiferous cameo appearance on some elaborate stage supported by a full choir and cast of 100s. Then whooomph! An itty bitty prick—it could be anything—deflates me. I’m wiped out. No energy. None. I cannot forgive myself for needing naps, so I lie down, jump up, lie down, spring up, peeving my precious feline companions mightily. Finally I blaspheme everyone (in my head) who might be whispering a comment about my age (there is no one around for literally miles) and get under the covers. The cats pile on and a dull, repetitive, napping-reading-should-be-doing-something-useful bickering ensues until I sleep far past my allotted 45 minutes. Mentally disheveled from the nap, I must do something. Food. Good idea. Standing with my tongue firmly clamped in my teeth, eyes agape and a sharp knife in my hand my gossamer thoughts drift to outrageous visions of me headlining the All Girl Bodacious Extravaganza and Eternal Beltane Three-Ring Spectacle, remembering how fetching I would have looked in a peach tutu tastefully adorned with scarlet, daffodil, and flamingo rhinestones, highlighted by ocher glitter and Monroe marabou. For a few moments I rue not taking that topless horse rider job in Tucson years ago (damn! I would have been good!), forget about lunch and mosey back to the computer until my stomach startles me and Molly. Fifty years ago I perfected the queenly, figure 8 wave just so I’d be totally regal when I acknowledged the thunderous applause for my splendid big-top aerial derring-do or even while I humbly accepted the Nobel Prize and the Pulitzer within days of each other, but, alas, I have yet to perform the beauteous ritual publicly. It’s doubtful I’ll any day soon stun an audience with my superb back flip twist on a cantering palomino mare or regale more than a mere handful with perfect narrative poetry. Rats. The great and good news is this is the præludium to Spring and at the end of this topsy-turvy time our world will be painted lavender with lilacs, then fruit blossoms, and on into the renewing of this northern part of our Earth. And, I’ll get through this tail-swishing cranky time, neither picking up roadside trash for the county nor drooling and rocking at my therapy appointment. Plus, mixed in with madness, the sublime moments just fill me to gasping. Yesterday, for example, I momentarily gave up trying to control the jitters and stepped outside to say an evening thank you. There, with just a tiny, truly an infinitesimal tilt of my head, were ten gazillion katrillion breath-stopping stars winking at me. Ah, yes, I sigh. The Great Cosmic Reminder. Be easy, girlfriend. It’s all working just fine, thank you.
© 2014, Jeanne Treadway (This essay appeared in different forms other places.)
Sister Mary Josephina: A Beginning
Many years ago, in that holy, parallel universe known as New Mexico, a child was born to Sister Mary Josephina. It was not a virgin birth and she was still known outside the family as Maggie, short for Magnolia, one of her several secular names. The convent of the Poor and Sainted Bleeding Heart Sisters of Dolores y Hostilidad wouldn’t claim Sister Mary Josephina for another thirty-five years, but you know that old saying: once a nun always a nun. And María Rose Dolores Eleña Cabeza de Baca Cleary y Corbeau, her child, wasn’t really born in New Mexico, she was born in Texas. In the most recent segment of the ongoing serial known as Maggie’s Melodrama, Sister Mary Josephina had run from the sweet, unhappy, and bedeviled alcoholic who was her current husband right into the arms of Rose, her mother, then living in a more-than-normal-god-forsaken Texas dive of a town. Thus is explained the accident of this birth in that parched and heathen land of boastful losers, a few miles across the border from sacred red dirt.
This was a tough birth. Unwanted in the surgery, the grandmother paced in the corridor, drinking five gallons or so of coffee that would make a goat shudder and chain-smoking Lucky Strikes. Sister Mary Josephina’s ululations resonated with the neighborhood dogs and roused them into an ongoing, eerie-though-supportive concert lasting until dawn. A time-eroded nurse slammed down instruments, kicked cabinet doors closed, and set up a percussive din that underscored the howl of dogs and mother moans. The doctor, aglow in a warm fog of expensive bourbon, wielded forceps, harsh words, and gnarled hands to orchestrate the supplicants through the ritual. Hours rolled by, sweat trickled, cigarettes butts accumulated, smells intensified, dogs sang. No lung-opening wail, no scornful scream, no mew nor whimper, rather an unceremonious thump announced the new soul’s arrival. Pondering his next snort, the doctor had missed the emergence of the baby and she had landed in his lap, arriving precisely as Sol winked over the Gulf of Mexico.
Rose later claimed that the tiny one took a long look at the scene confronting her and decided she had made a mistake in coming. While the child held her breath and fervently prayed for a return ticket, the mama hemorrhaged. Her Rh-Negative blood rippled over her legs, cascaded down the birthing table, and oozed into the hallway where its rusty salty wounded smell woke Rose from her caffeine-nicotine-induced trance. The nurse had decided the mother needed the available help, tossed the blue child casually onto a nearby table, and cursed her way through stanching the Sister’s outpouring of sainted, ruby red blood. Rose marched into the ether-rust-tobacco-Jack Daniels miasma, pushed the inebriated physician onto the small examination stool, shoved that pair out of the way, and began coaxing the niña to stay around for a while. Over the next half day, Sister Mary Josephina and her child took turns leaving this Earth. Just as one would revive, the other would falter; back and forth, back and forth, a wearisome ping pong game of life. Eventually, though, everyone was utterly exhausted but still breathing and this tale officially got underway.
Now in the Land of Broken Bottles and Shattered Dreams ‘twas better that the child be born to a married nun than in Texas, so six days later, on that hot August morning when the two returned home to Nuestra Señora de los Dolores de las Vegas, the first of many myths surrounding this child was that the little one began her life just north, but within appropriately blessed boundaries, in a good Catholic hospital, and anointed by the parish priest. Even today, only astrologers and some lovers know the awful truth of her tawdry Texan beginning.
For at least six generations, every one in my blood family has been abused. And each of them was a beater or shaker or screamer or liar or all of that rolled into one fine sorrowful human. Some were alcoholics or dope users; several were work-crazed; a few found an outlet for their rage in sex or religion. With very few exceptions, each of us attached ourselves to abusive mates. Each generation lost a son, literally. No one knows what happened to Uncle Fred or Grandpa John’s brother or the first born son of Great-Grandma Agueda. My blood father, grandmother, and half-brother are buried someplace forgotten now. This is all taken for granted as what happens in life. Life is tough. It knocks those who don’t knock it first.
I was handed the keys to our legacy early, being first born child in the Sister’s middle marriage. My only memory of my blood father is him chasing my pregnant mother around our house with a monkey wrench. I was one and a half years old. My step-grandfather diddled me when I was six. My mother suffered being forgotten and rendered unworthy by chronically disinterested parents, mighty nasty and cruel wounding. She released her confusion, hurt, and fury by beating me and yelling at me until I turned on her, about age twelve, and she beat my sister and brother until I stopped that too. I was fifteen by then, stubborn, self-contained, and torn-up inside with rage and grief.
A child raised in abuse may never understand that love does not mean being hit, being abandoned, being yelled at, or being belittled. Such a child may never be able to break the bonds of abuse because she cannot clearly understand the difference between being abused and being loved. She always waits for kind humans to reveal their true, mean nature. In fact, she seeks or attracts abusive friends and partners because she understands them better. They replicate the models she saw growing up; they react as she expects them to. That child usually grows up abusive herself and may not recognize her patterns until late in her life, if ever.
The statistics about child abuse are horrific; it is rampant and corrodes equally both boys and girls. We are an abusive species but I don’t think we have to be. I write and talk about it so much because I believe we can change. Imagine.
© 2015, Jeanne Treadway
Stainless Steel Casket
© 2001, Jeanne Treadway, originally published by planetwaves.net
When the youngest in my family died in an airplane accident, my father and I became the official greeters during those two-ton days that came before the US Marine Corps got their agonizingly beautiful burial ceremony together. We were only slightly less catatonic than my mother and sister, but it seemed an immediate family member must welcome incoming mourners, and so we did. Sorrow was physical then, smelling and feeling like grey. Hollowness was the only perceptible sensation. Relatives and friends came; they found things to do; they were there. Someone cleaned, someone else cooked, and another stuffed casseroles into the refrigerator or freezer. But my father or I answered every knock we could.
My sister and mother had contracted into a world of grief where only their physical shells were available to anyone in this realm; their eyes were open but they recognized nothing. Their bodies literally shrank. Each morning we would wake them gently, select some clothes, lead them to the bathroom and watch while they showered and brushed their teeth. Then we’d guide their elbows down the stairs, find a chair for them in the living room, comb their hair, urge them to eat, and cover their small, soft bodies with an afghan. Papa or I would check periodically to see if one of them had slumped over or had grief snot covering their faces. We were robots; only moments filtered through that horrified numbness.
There were two doors to the old farmhouse, one to the kitchen which everyone even slightly known to us would use, and the other which lead to the front room and had never been opened in my memory. It was nearly lunchtime when Shirley, a beloved friend, tapped me lightly and told me she’d let my mother’s church friends in the front door. Church friends? Front door? A low level sense of unease buzzed my nervous system. I eased to Mama’s side.
Two elegantly dressed men were intently whispering to Mama. Her face was animated; there was hope in her eyes. The men looked somewhat like Mormon elders, clean cut, religious, and determined. But they had paid for their haircut. They could have been local military brass but there wasn’t a hint of khaki. I didn’t know them; a glance towards Papa told me he didn’t know them. Somehow, though, they had gotten life back into my mother. Softly touching her shoulder, I sat down beside her.
Within moments out came the fancy fountain pen and the long sheets of densely covered paper. Handing the pen to Mama, the lead man smiled and acid poured into my stomach. Mama took the pen and nearly signed on the dotted line, buying a stainless steel casket for Bobby. In fifteen minutes these strangers had convinced her that this casket would serve as a fitting memorial to her beloved baby, last child, male heir, golden man. Certainly, they said, Bobby would have wanted this sort of resting place.
Problem was, there was nothing left of Bobby but our memories and they knew this. His plane took off perfectly then plunged nose-down 2000 feet into San Pedro Channel, a few miles from Avalon. A ship captain saw a flash of light, most probably windshield glint, and that’s all. Nothing was recovered.
Cashing in on my mother’s love, these two slimy con-artists pierced her solitude for the sole purpose of lining their pockets. They used her despair to manipulate her. Twisting and contorting emotions, they convinced her Bobby would be unhappy, with her, if she didn’t buy a stainless steel casket in his memory.
I was up in a flash, calling Papa and Henry, our local sheriff, to come. Our friends, galvanized by the tone of my words, instantly stood with me. Quietly and with firm dignity, several men escorted the scoundrels out of the county, literally. My father's mother and sister gathered Mama in their arms and put her to bed, muttering under their breath about humans who feed on sorrow. Mama did not stop sobbing until our Doctor administered some form of Morpheus. For the next week, she got out of bed once: to weep prayers, hear Taps, and accept a tightly folded flag.
Mama never really recovered. Thirty years later she still wonders if she should have bought that damn casket. Maybe she should have. Who am I to know what she really needed to do at that moment? So much of our grief ceremony is performed to aid those who are left behind and must continue living. Perhaps that damned stainless steel casket would have made her live again. But I don’t think so.
I’ve gone through many death rituals since my brother was killed. I've watched beloveds slowly die of AIDs, shunned by health workers and so-called friends. I've survived the suicide of three deeply loved friends. I’ve heard of other predators chewing on mothers’ hearts but I never thought I would have to witness such heinous behavior again. I was wrong.
In September, 2001, two huge towers of industry collapsed and 3,000 people died, all in living color and slow-motion replay right in front of our eyes. The coxcombical, cashmere-draped, money-greased Texas trash sprawling in and around the Center of Power used our overwhelming collective grief to assume powers of authority beyond comprehension. Their glib eloquence and fawning commiseration distract us from the reality of their words and deeds.
They’ve sold us something we don’t need, can’t use, and never wanted—a stainless steel casket that won’t hold our grief, isolates us from healing, surrounds us with paranoia, and renders us mute and helpless when we most need to speak out. We need the sane among us to gently but firmly lead us away from this insanity, to void this contract for the poisonous but seemingly logical casket of World War III, known currently as first-strike option, us versus everyone else, Homeland Security, if you're not with us, etcetera ad nauseam.
Are we really ready to watch our children being murdered for the next ten years in some stupid and insane war? Are we honestly willing to give up each of our civil rights on the simple promise that somehow this will then protect us? How? Are we really going to allow the very structure of this gorgeous blue planet to be completely mined, milled, drilled, paved, and plundered for short-term profits? Are we willing to accept war as the only answer to every question? Are we going to allow 50,000, 100,000, 500,000 children to die so that George Bush can avenge George Bush? Can we, as a Nation, survive the hate, the brutality, the agony, the utter destruction in every facet of our lives that these men are proposing?
I do not believe our hearts can withstand this man and his policies. I urge you to call, write, plea, pray, beg everyone you can possibly contact to stop this madness. Start the process of removing him and his minions from office. Now. Today. Please.
© 2007, Jeanne Treadway originally appearing in The Coop
Near my computer sits a small stoppered bottle filled with something mimicking tiny, shimmering flecks of gold suspended in a transparent emerald liquid. Simple motion swirls the contents into stunningly beautiful and marvelously intricate patterns: waves, paisleys, star bursts, sunsets. It is a circumscribed world, yet always different and often, as I ponder the lovely formations, my thoughts center on this valley. Each time I touch some aspect of this matria chica, I’m dazzled by the complexity, and the beauty, of what unfolds.
For example, while on the Internet researching community supported agriculture, I found the Farm Connection, an organization serving northern New Mexico. I emailed for information and Lynda Prim responded. She lives in Dixon and owns an organic and sustainable agriculture consulting business. She also runs the Co-op’s Land Link project, which matches people who want to farm with those who have farmland available. Amazing. All I needed to know about CSAs is right here. Sniffing around, I uncover a wonderful synergism that’s been here for years -- the Co-op, our Farmers Market, and Land Link, each created to nourish farmers and eaters.
Later, a troubleshooting telephone call accidentally hooked me up with Clovis Romero’s son, Mateus, who’s a computer technician and a part-time, soon to be full-time, Embudo farmer. While waiting for electronic gizmos to relay information, we chatted about their fruit, the farmers market, and the repairs FEMA made to the acequia which waters their trees.
At the annual Co-op membership meeting, Fritz Kackley asked that the board of directors consider creating a grocery delivery service for people who are ill or shut in. Patty Neilsen and Carlos Vivanco suggested a few perceptive additions to the idea. I know this service exists, in a simple and informal way, because the courtesy was extended to me a couple of weeks ago. Do other people know about it? Is this something that should be formalized? Maybe one day, Carlos’s idea of an electric go-cart delivery service will be reality.
Also at the membership meeting, Mark Dilg remarked that he often found it difficult to coordinate his harvesting with the Co-op’s produce buying. The next day, Funny commented she would love to find an easy way to notify the community about freshly stocked produce or to pass along the information that local organic eggs are in short supply. She mused aloud that KDLK might serve as the medium, perhaps with a daily report of some sort. Two sides to the same question. Is there a way to make this reality?
These serendipitous adventures happen so frequently they’re obviously the norm here. This glorious valley is filled with culturally diverse, vital, intelligent, creative, and passionately committed humans who communicate with each other. Together we’re ensuring the health and resiliency of the place we call home. I’m reminded of a passage in The Dream of the Earth, a favorite book written by Thomas Berry:
Tell me a story, a story that will be my story as well as the story of
everyone and everything about me, the story that brings us together
in a valley community, a story that brings together the human community with every living being in the valley....
Let’s keep telling each other stories. Let’s include hawks and honeybees, fish and felines, oaks and ouzels. Who knows what simple combination of events will uncover another delicious layer of connectedness in this blessed valley?
Just Too Dang Much
© 2000, Jeanne Treadway, originally published by planetwaves.net
I'm one of those bad-broke, rode-hard-put-up-wet kinda gals. You know 'em. Fire sparks from their eyes, smoke streams from the nostrils, and they're just generally a handful. Sometimes gentle, sometimes a cross between a treed bobcat and a lady. Always keep you edgy wondering how to approach 'em. I don't know if I was born this way, but it seems like it.
My opinion is that the world deserves me just the way I am on account of the way it treats me and everything else. I'm kinda like one of the Earth’s walking consciences, always reminding people of what happens when they treat other people mean. I'm sure you know someone like me. I'm strong, opinionated, pretty, lucky, independent, self-assured, smart.
Oh, I’m not a stunner dripping with money and gently holding the cojones of the world; no way. I'm one of them strong, independent types who's got everything nobody else really wants. I'm one of those bitches who makes everybody nervous and that everybody calls touchy or crabby. I am too damned much for anyone to handle, or so they say.
The first time I remember having that odd little "too" adjective applied to me was when I was about five and was told I was too young to understand, too small to do it, and too hard to get along with. In the first case, a five-year-old should never be sacrificed to nuns for education. Secondly, I could ride any horse I got on, sort of. And finally, if they would talk to me reasonably I might not be so damn hard to get along with. But all this was just a portent, a hint, of what was coming.
By the time I was eight, I was too smart, too dumb, too much a tomboy, too serious. I kept the smart, dumb, serious part and became known as Little Miss Priss to my family by age ten. Puberty found me weighing in at 85 pounds, heft that was stretched across a five six frame, with a mouth full of teeth that wouldn't fit until I was about twenty, braces, and the self-esteem of a mouse. No tits, no hips, just elbows and knees and braces. Gorgeous from any perspective. My mom always told me I had a great smile, though. Very small comfort to a human tree.
I learned early that kids are mostly mean and stupid, so I found solace with very old people; they had something to say and knew how to listen. The first love affair I ever had was with my grandmother who died when I was nine. I played dominoes and jacks and could skip high waters/hot peppers with the best, but I also read forty to sixty books a semester from second grade on. I loved Hank Williams and Patsy Kline when Elvis was king. Vincent Price, who was better than John Wayne every hoped to be in my book, introduced me to Poe. Our twit of a librarian refused to allow me to check out the collected works of that dear alcoholic because I was only in fourth grade, but she poured the first shot in a life-long addiction.
I knew rocks, snakes, trees, water, rabbits, cats, and horses had souls; I was uncertain about people. I wanted to be a ballerina from age six until I dropped that nonsensical dream on my twenty-eighth birthday when I did an arabesque and semi-permanently sprained my ankle.
I fit well in high school, too. I had to take the high school entrance exam twice because I scored higher than the male genius and the first score was obviously a fluke. By fourteen I had fallen in love with a man who was to fill my dreams to the present, some thirty years later. We were an item during my twenties, but that story best fits in later. I dated three guys in high school, none of them him, and scandalized the town with my supposed promiscuity (you were only allowed one man every four years back then). I wasn't selected to cheer for the team because, as the kind president of the pep squad told me, they were afraid I might become too egotistical. My algebra teacher made certain I was never elected to senior honor society or chosen as an honor student because I was too loud in the halls. I was asked to run as secretary of the senior class, but wanted to run as president. Girls names were never entered for that position so I didn't get to run for anything.
I kept thinking I was going through a phase, that some time in the near future I would be just good enough. In fact, it wasn't a phase and it expanded to include too sensitive, too loving, too good, too bad, too intense, too modern, too wild. Let's see, what did I miss? Oh yeah, too sad, too happy, too mad, too glad. Too much a hippy, too old-fashioned. Don't get confused here, these were certainly not words I applied to myself. Good-intentioned professors, friends, therapists, bosses, unknowns told me these things, for my own good, of course.
What the hell is a twenty-year-old supposed to do with this kind of knowledge? I thought love might help me figure it out. Believe me, it doesn't. It just adds to the list. Drugs don't help either. They mirror the words back onto your soul and write them into your heart with a bitter, indelible ink. Alcohol is a socially acceptable method of drowning, but that leads to alcoholism and, dang, that's a tough one to get rid of. Thank God for the rare soul who believes in you, without strings, without wanting to own or change or manipulate.
I'm not certain when I started thinking I might be okay to look at, that my nose wasn't too big or my cheekbones too prominent or my lips too big. Somewhere in my mid-thirties I decided my eyes were really quite nice, but pretty? Never. In fact, I settled for exotic. That's better, anyway, isn't it? I think getting sober at 32 unlocked the gate for several revelations, including that I was bright, could be charming and okay to look at, and might have something of value to give to friends and lovers. It's a theory I'm still testing, twenty years later, though.
Briefly back to the love of my life. He recently got married for the second time, obviously not to me, and that's because, he says, he would rather be comfortable than passionate. Ergo I am too passionate. He's probably right that our marriage would have been tough, but damn him anyway.
What the hell is wrong with being too passionate, too sensitive, too everything? Why is this silly little adjective thrown at me in explanation for each aspect of me? My beloved sister once told me I was too supportive. Jeezo peezo! Was I supposed to become less smart, less pretty, less lucky, less sensitive, less passionate? Would that ensure that someone would love me? That I would find a place I fit in this world? That the pain would abate? What was I supposed to do with this stuff? How do people want me to react, to change? I was simply befuddled by this. It ebbed and flowed. I could go a whole three, maybe four, months without someone using that adjective to describe something I had just done, some feeling I had just expressed, some thought I had just expounded. But without fail, that well-intentioned look would descend on someone's face and the next "too" would pop out.
It's an interesting phenomena, this "too" stuff. When people say "you're strong", it's a compliment. When they say "you're too strong", it's a criticism. It implies that you are supposed to do something about it, that somehow you have stepped over an appropriate, social boundary and that, if you were a "good" person, you would do something to correct that faux pas. When I first encountered it, it stung but I didn't spend much time thinking about it. I had no idea that little word will become my personal Chinese water torture, wearing my heart away drop by drop.
I started hearing that word in every conceivable context. Was there something wrong with me? Did I have some major deficit? Was I born missing some key ingredient that would allow me to understand this too stuff? The weight of that silly little word is extraordinary because not only was it used to put me in my place, it was also invariably used to explain why someone treated me abominably and why I should be big enough or strong enough or gracious enough to let that rudeness pass. Essentially, because I was a "too" person, I had to accept every form of appalling behavior imaginable. People were allowed to and, according to their moral precepts, were supposed to bring my "too" behavior to my attention, just in the off chance I wasn’t aware that I was a "too" person.
I spent years shaving off parts of my personality. You know, trying to speak softer, act nicer, be stupid. I even wore suits and coiffed hair. Jeez. I figured if I kept carving off pieces of my personality I'd eventually get to the "good enough" part and then everyone would start saying I was just strong enough or smart enough or whatever. It doesn't work that way, but dang it takes some learning to figure it out.
Finally, though, it came to me. They ain't never gonna be satisfied. They just need to break my spirit for some reason. When I got to that understanding, and believe me it didn't come quick, I had myself a year-long cry, dusted off my boots, and start living for myself again. Now I glory in being too much. It reminds me I am vitally alive, full of piss and vinegar, raring to go. It lets me know that they haven't broken me to saddle yet. Oh sure, many of them still want to but, until they figure out that wounding an animal's pride only makes it mean, they'll never get this mare in their corral.
Fresh Water/Salt Water
©2005, Jeanne Treadway originally appearing in Planetwaves.net
Water, water everywhere
Some be salty; some be fair.
Some be oily, foul and black
Cries to us of what we lack.
Five days before the official opening of 2005, a wall of water rose in the Indian Ocean and scoured more than 280,000 souls from the Earth. And this was literally just the beginning. By the end of 2005, nine additional Class Three floods battered nearly every quarter of the globe. Both fresh and salt water systems were repeatedly overwhelmed; millions of people were displaced; complete villages and towns washed away; hundreds of thousands of homes destroyed; untold numbers of wild and domesticated animals eradicated. Damages are estimated in the hundreds of billions U.S. dollars and cost projections continue to rise.
All this was on top of an already soggy situation, as 2004 was also an astonishing year for global flooding. Besides the tsunami, two other Class Three floods and 30 Class Two events drenched this precious planet and her inhabitants during 2004.
Class Three (C-3) events, as designated by the Dartmouth Flood Observatory, are those which are extreme, with an estimated recurrence interval greater than 100 years; Class Two (C-2) are very large floods, with a recurrence likelihood of more than 20 years but less than 100 years.
COOL, CLEAR WATER
Freshwater systems, those which allow us and all land-based living things to survive, were demolished in 2005. Tumultuous water struck every continent on our beloved planet. The tiny island world of the United Kingdom suffered two C-3 floods. China witnessed two C-3 and two C-2 floods. The United States was deluged with four C-2 floods; nearly every state survived one major flood during the year. Within months of the tsunami, Thailand sustained two more C-2 inundations. India, Taiwan, and Malaysia, too, were hit again shortly after the pummeling they’d received from that phenomenal wall of water.
Fresh water systems are regional in scope. They recognize no man-made boundaries such as state lines or national demarcations and they encompass streams, rivers, lakes, and wetlands, plus all the agricultural and urban areas in between, everything eventually draining into one or more large rivers, which in turn drain into the oceans. There are virtually no natural water systems left on the Earth, which means that all fresh water is dammed, controlled, channeled, filtered, and medicated.
Even normal rain showers stress dams and filtration plants, but a C-3 flood overwhelms all such systems. Torrents of water deluge homes, crops, businesses, dams, and levees. People die; crops are submerged. Sewage treatment facilities quit functioning, water filtration plants become clogged, and thousands (perhaps millions) of gallons of toxic sludge pour into storm sewers and on into local rivers. In an ever-escalating pattern, these polluted rivers then flush residue from parking lots, oil refineries, landfills, superfund sites, feed lots, chemical manufacturing facilities, gasoline fueling stations, and who knows what else, all churning together and heading downstream towards the seas.
Floods were once a natural mechanism of land refertilization and delta renewal. Wetlands around rivers and lakes are designed to be filtration systems that absorb flood waters, cleanse them, and release them into larger rivers. Silt washes over wetlands and then churns into lower rivers to renew the banks and channels of those rivers and feed the deltas even further downstream. It is this process that created the land on which New Orleans was built. In the natural cycle, nutrients from the upstream lands also nourished saltwater swamps and estuaries, those buffer zones between sea and land.
Ole Man Mississippi drains nearly 40% of the continental US; as much as 90% of all freshwater dumping into the Gulf of Mexico is from this huge river system. Runoff from the Mississippi has become so toxic that a “dead zone” now exists far into the Gulf of Mexico.
The most fragile piece of this river drainage is the three million acres of coastal wetlands in Louisiana, also one of the most valuable ecosystems in the world. Until Hurricane Katrina,Louisiana fisheries produced 50 percent of the oysters consumed in the U.S.
Worldwide, most large rivers and their drainage basins are heavily polluted, particularly from intensive agriculture, manufacturing, and urban environments. Besides all this extreme flooding, large-scale pollution events are becoming commonplace. More than 300 tons of oil recently spilled into the Caspian Sea from Russia’s River Terek. Ten trillion or so gallons of untreated stormwaters enter U.S. surface waters each year and the EPA believes as many as 850 million of those gallons are raw sewage. Annual runoff from a city of five million people is similar to a large oil tanker spill. The Spokane River in Washington state now hosts fish with extremely high concentrations of toxic flame retardants. PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) are chemicals used in electronics, plastics, building materials, and fabrics. They build up in animal tissues and can cause neurological damage in human babies, acting in a manner similar to PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls).
Today, clean water is unavailable to 1.465 billion people. In China, 400 cities are short of water and the source of the Yellow River, which provides water to 120 million people, is drying up. Nearly two-thirds of our life-sustaining ecosystems are damaged. Intensive farming is one culprit. Another is urban pollution. Surprisingly, another stress factor, especially to river basins, is glacier melting.
About 70% of all freshwater supplies are ice, mostly glaciers, and all measurements demonstrate a faster rate of glacier melting than was generally predicted in the 1990s. Glaciers around the world are losing as much as 22 miles of ice annually; this melting is attributed to accelerated global warming in the past 30 years. A Peruvian glacier is receding as fast in one week as it did in one year. Gangotri, an Indian glacier, now loses 75 feet per year. Earth’s largest reserve of water is in Himalayan glaciers; these feed seven major Asian rivers, three of which are now showing reduced flows. The famed snows of Mount Kilimanjaro most likely will disappear within the next decade.
As glaciers melt, they release an enormous amount of water. For 300 years this has been a slow process. Now the rapid glacier melting is creating floods and overwhelming river drainage systems. Exposed ground from glacier retreat is often fertile and can provide new land for planting. However, the water to nourish it is no longer available. All that fresh water races to the oceans, which not only increases sea levels worldwide, but eats up coastal regions in turn, submerging the most fertile ecosystems in the world, wetlands.
Desertification is a fancy word for this drying up process. First, global temperatures rise, then glaciers melt. Next, rivers flood and dump copious amounts of water across the lands and into the oceans. For a while, more and more acres of land are put into service and, usually, large amounts of fertilizers are used to boost crops to help make up for the shortfall that resulted during the floods. But then, rivers start disappearing because their primary source of water was the glaciers. When rivers dry up, irrigation becomes infeasible. When rivers dry up, we have less water to drink and less food to eat.
MOTHER, MOTHER OCEAN
Separated by a short eight months, the Asian Tsunami and Hurricane Katrina serve as a sort of horrific bookends to 2005. These two catastrophes were the only two C-3 saltwater inundations during the twelve-month period and they account for nearly 98% of the destruction created by C-3 floods.
Communities along the coasts of 12 countries were erased by the onslaught of the Asian tsunami, and damage to the environmental systems alone approaches $700 million. Nearly 300 kilometers of coast have been severely damaged or destroyed. In Aceh and North Sumatra, 25,000 hectares (one hectare = 2.4711 acres) of mangroves are gone, 30% of their coral reefs washed away, and 20% of seagrass beds are severely damaged. Estimating the costs to rebuild human lives is nearly impossible.
Statistical data about the Asian Tsunami are more difficult to accumulate than similar information for Katrina. Reporting systems vary for each country harmed by the tsunami. Few people paid for insurance, either for themselves or their property, and that industry is usually the group toting up the numbers. And, the horrendous devastation is daunting. We can assume that the pollution swept into the ocean was at least as foul as that swirled away by Katrina.
Repairing New Orleans and its surrounds will cost more than $125 billion, and the dollar figure rises weekly. Environmental damage from Katrina, and her little sister Rita, is unprecedented in the United States. Facts are staggering and numbing. Tens of thousands of acres of freshwater marshes were deluged with saltwater. Massive oil spills, millions of gallons of raw sewage, thousands of dead bodies (animal and human), a plethora of pathogens, and untold amounts of toxic chemicals including benzene, xylene, dioxin, lead, asbestos -- all these and more -- were washed inland, then carried back to the Gulf of Mexico, either by storm surges or later by polluted waters draining from the rivers and lakes.
At least 22 million tons of debris must be removed (1.5 million tons of debris were cleared after the demolition of the World Trade Towers). New Orleans is an old city and the amount of asbestos in the debris will be quite high. None of the wood in the debris can be shipped to landfills outside the state because of a long-time infestation of Formosan termites (extremely ravenous and most difficult to eradicate or control), so much will have to be burned, a significant air pollution nightmare in itself. Other air pollutant releases include spills of volatile chemicals, leaks from industrial plants, dust from building demolition and debris transport, and contaminated sediments that can be resuspended as dust when they dry.
Katrina engulfed more than 500 sewage plants, most of which are either severely damaged or destroyed. An estimated 350,000 automobiles were submerged. Before these can be crushed and recycled, the tires must be removed, all fluids drained, and all switches that operate anti-lock brakes and automatic-on lights must be taken off (these switches contain mercury which is toxic to nerves).
At least three EPA superfund sites were flooded. In downtown New Orleans, the Agriculture Street Landfill was completely submerged. The poisons contained within this site are horrific; millions of tons of waste, including two pounds of dioxin, were stored there. It was once sprayed with DDT and then covered; underground fires at the site have earned it the name of Dante’s Inferno. It is believed that the site was seriously compromised by both hurricane surges and that all previous restoration may have been destroyed.
This bitter brew, estimated at billions of gallons, simmered for days, was agitated by Hurricane Rita, then pumped into Louisiana’s wetlands, Lake Ponchartrain, or the Mississippi River, for eventual release into the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean, and ultimately the Atlantic. Tons of sediments, from earlier floods upstream and the churning action of the tidal surges, plus all that poisonous water join the toxic plume already strangling the Gulf of Mexico.
Called the “dead zone,” this damaging swath of sediments from the Mississippi River drainage is visible (via satellite and some ships) from the Louisiana Delta around the Florida Straits and up into the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic Ocean off Georgia coasts. Appearing generally in the warm months (April through September), this plume has been as large as 12,000 square miles. It results from excess plant nutrients, especially nitrogen, being washed down from mid-North America. These nutrients encourage algal and phytoplankton blooms, deplete dissolved oxygen which supports fish and crustaceans, and destroy seagrass beds. This form of pollution is pervasive and is becoming viewed as the highest risk for resource diversity in coastal environments. Besides the Gulf of Mexico, extensive damage exists in the Baltic Sea and parts of the North Sea, the Adriatic Sea, the Black Sea, and Japan’s Seto Inland Sea.
Earth’s salt waters are increasingly acidic, which is extremely harmful to organisms, such as shellfish, corals, and crustaceans, which make their exoskeleton with calcium carbonate. One reason is that an astonishing 24 pounds of carbon dioxide per day for every person on Earth is spewed into the atmosphere. Eventually all that carbon dioxide gets mixed with the ocean and generates the corrosive chemicals which are so harmful to exoskeletons. Until recently, study of this process was focused on warm water oceans and, although harmful, the general thinking was that severe damage would take hundreds of years. A recent study, conducted by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, included cold water oceans in its scope and found that the intensity of acidation is happening faster than earlier believed and that it is more lethal to cold water systems. “Basic chemistry tells us that within decades there may be serious trouble brewing in the polar oceans,” said James Orr, lead author and ocean modeler from the French Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l’Environment. “Unlike climate predictions, the uncertainties here are small.”
As with fresh water systems, the accelerating glacier melt harms salt water ecosystems. First, the additional water released raises the sea level and destroys wetlands, which filter nutrients, pollutants, and sediment, clarifying water before it’s released into the oceans. Next, the salt water reaches farther inland, mixing with fresh water supplies. This process not only contaminates fresh water, it also concentrates and intensifies the pollution being carried downstream through those river drainages. And, then, there is great concern that the huge additions of fresh water to the oceans will “shut down” the Gulf Stream. “When it [the Gulf Stream] failed before, 12,700 years ago, Britain was covered in permafrost for 1,300 years,” so ends Geoffrey Lean’s “The Big Thaw... .”
THE VEIL BETWEEN THE WORLDS
Wherever two worlds parallel each other, there exists a zone between the two which shares aspects of each world but is itself a unique plane. In esoteric knowledge this space is known as the veil between the worlds. Wetlands is the general term for the fragile, yet strongly resilient region between land and water; specific names include estuaries, beaches, riparian areas, saltwater marshes, and tidal freshwater marshes.
These wetlands are critical to the health of the Earth. The Chinese call them the kidneys of the planet and indeed that is precisely what they do: filter, eliminate, modify, and cleanse. A relatively small area of wetlands performs the same filtration of a mechanical wastewater system costing millions of dollars and it does the job much more efficiently. Wetlands serve as a vital buffer between land and ocean surges and tides. They are the most productive land on Earth and the overall global benefits of wetlands far exceeds any other environment, including forests and agricultural lands. For example, before Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana's coastal wetlands yielded a billion pounds of fish, crab, and oysters annually, about one-third of the U.S. commercial seafood produced.
One problem for wetlands is the human propensity to build dams. Whereas beaver dams generally benefit vast areas, our dams benefit some humans by bringing them electricity and providing a wonderland of boating and swimming. But, dams also dramatically harm the environment and the surrounding communities. Estimates for the number of people displaced worldwide because of dam projects are as high as 80 million. Some of the environmental difficulties posed by dams are that they change the river flow, reduce the sediments that nourish beaches and riparian areas, and alter the temperature of the water pouring towards the oceans. These changes starve the wetlands below the dam and submerge those surrounding and above it.
Humans love to live on wetlands and during the past century drained and paved 50% of the world’s wetlands to create miles of homes and acres of parking lots; only 10% of the remaining wetlands are protected. Nearly 1,300 people per day move to the coastal lands of the United States, which has ruined more than 215,000,000 acres of its wetlands. The Chinese drained three million hectares of their richest marshland for agricultural use. France has destroyed 67% of its original wetlands, Germany 57%, and Spain 60%.
Most urban flooding these days is a direct result of the devastation of wetlands. Plus, “stormwater discharges from roads, buildings, industrial sites, construction activities, and other impervious surfaces are the largest known cause of beach closures and activities. Sewage pollution is the second largest known cause.” (Testing the Waters, 2005, p. 1.) Further, wetlands are known to be extremely efficient about reducing the amounts of nutrients and sediments dumped into the rivers for eventual depositing in the oceans. Restoration of wetlands would greatly reduce and in some cases eliminate the plumes of algae and the water-darkening walls of sediment that harm our oceans.
All of this is enough to make you weep with frustration, but there is heartening change. The Chinese government implemented an ambitious plan: By 2010 there will be no more wetland degradation in their country and by 2020 most of China’s wetlands will be restored. The Audubon Society in the United States works to restore the Mississippi River, from its headwaters to the Gulf of Mexico, a campaign they call the “largest and most complex environmental restoration project ever undertaken.” Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have stimulated enormous interest in this sort of restoration project because many people believe the effects of those huge storms would have been significantly lessened had wetlands in Louisiana and Texas been healthy.
Canada is becoming assertive about protecting its enormous reservoir of fresh water and continues to work to prohibit bulk water removal from Canadian boundary waters and the Great Lakes.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) actively stimulates research and discussion about world water problems. Each year UNEP honors seven “Champions of the Earth,” a person from each continent who has actively promoted sound environmental practices or served as leaders in turning around current degradation.
There are two active forums for the international exchange of scientific research on wetlands and water: World Wetlands Day and World Water Day. Both these days are also focal points for community organizations whose charters promote healing water everywhere. Annually, February 2 is World Wetlands Day, a day that seems appropriate as it is also Candlemas, a day of celebration of love and light, a day of hope and promise.
Water, water everywhere
Clearly tells us we must dare
Heal our Mother’s holy sea.
As we will, so mote it be.
When One Man Dies
©2003, Jeanne Treadway originally appearing in Planetwaves.net
It doesn’t matter who you are. It doesn’t matter how you well you think you lived your life. It doesn’t matter what happened before. It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, known or nameless. It doesn’t matter if your friends number in the hundreds or less than a handful. When you die, pain and sorrow permanently alter life for everyone who knew you.
When one man dies, neighbors become friends. April, Leroy, and their family are my neighbors a mile to the north. They were here within minutes of my 911 call and spent the first four hours with me, directing the state troopers and coroner, rubbing my hand, and holding me close while I slowly came to understand what had happened. When Gary died, my landlords came with green chili stew and bottles of wine. They traveled 90 miles to feed and comfort me. The 88-year-old neighbor brought beer; he had to find someone to drive him the four miles.
When one man dies, grief crashes in. People who didn’t know Gary cried with me when they heard the news. Usually they were remembering their own loss, the person they loved who died. Old sorrow returned to linger, to sit on their shoulders awhile. People who did know Gary were stunned, wordless, until the reality set in, then they too cried, remembering the man they loved. Grief tastes like ashes; words are no longer eloquent; colors are dull; time is warped. Pain is real, though, and weighs more than you could ever imagine.
When one man dies, family expands. I called everyone I knew who knew Gary. Each of them gave me strength, each one wept, each one called me back to check on me. Each one called another person who knew Gary. Now all of us are more than mere acquaintances. Now, Gary’s grieving mother is part of my family. I know things about her child that she does not know but that she needs to know. I know that he was a kind, gentle, strong man. That his kindness blessed many people. That he still wanted his body used by scientists to possibly unravel one more mystery. That he was diligent, brilliant, laughing, caring, and still tortured. That he built beautiful stone walkways, altars, and fire pits. That his final days were spent in a beautiful place and that he was surrounded by people who cared very deeply about him.
When one man dies, grudges are forgiven. Most of Gary’s family and friends had not spoken to him in years. He cut off his relationships one by one, methodically, in the last few years of his life. That angered and hurt his friends. Somehow it helps to understand that he did that to everyone. His friends understand more about the pain he was carrying, the weight of the decision he was making. They also know that carrying grudges is foolish and can rob you of precious time and sweet memories. Friends who have not spoken to each other because of some previous hurt have called each other this week and sought some common ground for forgiveness.
When one man dies, everyone becomes a storyteller. I have learned that Gary spent a month building stone walkways for a friend in Missouri. I have heard details of his childhood, stories from his days in the solar industry, tales of his propensity to make every project into a scientifically elaborate experiment. I know that he could be bone-headed stubborn and I know that he could be child-like in his enthusiasm. I know that he loved deeply. And, I know that many people loved him.
When one man dies, love floods your world. My mother and her dear friend, a priest, came to help me bless the home where Gary lived and died. They came laden with flowers and prayers. They soothed my spirit, and Gary’s. Friends with whom I work, called me, wept with me, and did rituals for me. Their notes poured love over me like a honeyed salve; their calls allowed me to grieve and to be held in love. That soothing allowed me to comfort Gary’s friends and family. They in turn poured love on his mother and on me and on each other. The richness of the love given to Gary, and to me, cannot be described but will always be remembered.
My friend Gary took his life on Solstice. His own grief stilled his heart and turned him away from the beauty of life. He no longer knew how to live in this world. His pain broke his spirit. His choice is almost impossible to understand; it was his choice. We sit in quiet sorrow, remembering when we chose to continue but so wanted to die. We all know now that the answer of suicide is a gut-wrenching answer for those who remain behind.
He came for solace; he died in peace. I will remember Gary Lee Moore.
Whispers and Sighs
The work of the eyes is done. Go now and do the heart-work
on the images imprisoned within you. –Rainer Maria Rilke
Compelled to comprehend the enslavement of women, I studied witches, medieval history, feminism, Celts, serfdom, cults of Mary, industrial revolution, science, spirituality, human rights, Abrahamic religions, shamanism, Marie de France, marriage, genital mutilation, torture, and rape. The subject was so broad I couldn’t wrestle understanding from it. I narrowed the focus to a matrilineal history, interweaving this unsettling saga into my family story. Weird customs and eccentric record-keeping muddied evidence of my mother’s grandmother so I started my search with my first grandmother born on this continent.
Grandfather Bernado Sena married Grandmother Tomasa Gonzalace on February 8, 1705 in La Villa Real de la Santa Fé, capital of the “Kingdom of New Mexico”. Had I known this sooner I might have followed the Gonzalace family but while I ferreting out my my matrilineal tribe abuela Dorotea Maria Sena, born in 1844, showed up. I thought I’d easily follow a trail of Senas to Mexico, leap the Atlantic to Spain, and land amidst a gaggle of relatives. It sucks being a romantic sometimes—there is no EL CAMINO DE LOS ADOQUINES AMARILLOS (Yellow Brick Road) to the land of female ancestors. Two years into the research I unearthed fabulous stories, unknown worlds, marvelous histories, but no Senas.
In a moment of “I’m finished” frustration I began reading A.S. Byatt’s Possession. The story reminded my pal Jacque of my odyssey; I hoped for diversion. Then, on page 496, I read “where the nine terrible virgins lived who were called the Seines or Sénas or Sènes….” Dang. There they are.
Around 43 AD Roman geographer Pomponius Mela wrote of these priestesses living on an island he called Sena and placed in the English Channel; most historians believe he referred to l’Île de Sein. By calling them terrible virgins he meant they were sovereign–unmarried–and therefore potentially dangerous; tales survive of them brewing the Druid potion of knowledge, calming storms by displaying their vulvas, healing all illness, and shape-shifting at will. This is also perhaps the Armorican Other World, equivalent to Avalon, where women consecrated the dead and released the souls of those brought via an unmanned boat from the mainland.
l’Île de Sein sits seven miles west of Pont du Raz, the edge of Armorica, ancient historical land that became Brittany and is now a department of France. The old people on l’Île still speak Breton, part of the Celt language branch that includes Welsh and Cornish. Everyone else speaks French and the young ones learn English and Spanish as well. The island is tiny, about a mile and a half long and three-quarters of a mile wide in some places at low tide; it balances five or six feet above the Atlantic. The Talkers, two menhirs, document human attention to the island at least in the Neolithic Age. [Menhir(s) and dolmen(s) are Breton words commonly used to designate the upright and horizontal megalithic stones forming Stonehenge, Avebury, and Carnac.] Knowing whether the priestesses existed is not important to the Îlenes. They are practical people whose island is threatened by rising sea levels and lack of potable water; whose children must thrive in this technological world; and who must develop tourism to survive the loss of traditional fishing. Theirs is not my story to relate.
The Senas were part of the continental Celts about whom I knew little and that was wrong. Celts—a great stew of ancestors which includes Irish, Manx, Scots Welsh, Breton, and some Iberian peoples—have been passionately debated since the Greeks squabbled about them in 6th century BC. A hundred tribes march to the tunes of fifty chiefs; bewildering decrees change calendars at a whim; nations consume tribes like truffles; musings become someone’s facts. Lakes, rivers, landscapes, forests may or may not have existed—reality and myth so intertwined they are one and the same. The Bretons form a little pocket of historical chaos that maddens with its speculative inconclusiveness and scholarly disagreement. I waded into this mêlée unprepared for the astonishing mess.
How to trace pagan holy women in the catacombs of this turbulent history recorded mostly by argumentative Christian intellectuals? A shamanic image of a lighthouse outlined on cliffs of a speck of land, flashing across a thousand miles of thrashing ocean served as beacon throughout my unknowing—there was a Sena priestess light blinking in the midst of all that goodly analyzation.
Scholars believe Celtic women were equal at law and that they served as bards. Celtic women are known to have fostered children, educating them in nation-to-nation diplomacy and other worldly skills. Druidesses taught techniques of fighting using two-wheeled chariots on an island south of l’Île, perhaps. The priestesses on Sena crop up, veiled sometimes, clearly on occasion; usually the story is similar to Mela’s, but subtle additions appear. Infertility prayers include a reference to The Talkers, two menhirs on the island, which hints at wise woman traditions. Endless clues on this chimera quest.
A devoted friend takes pity and flies me to Brittany. Perhaps, she thinks, I’ll get some answers and quiet down. I mostly blow the opportunity. Thinking I am carefully prepared, I land in Brest, rent a car, get lost hour upon hour, miss the ferries to l’Île, laugh often, speak rarely, eat sporadically, fall totally in love with the Bretons and Brittany. I realize that what I know about their culture is woefully inadequate and I learn nothing more of the priestesses or the Île de Sein. I return home determined to get on that beloved island.
Going to Brittany again requires intense preparation. I need money, of course, and I need to learn French. A network of support here keeps me invigorated, believing, and encouraged. I continue ferreting out possible evidence, but I focus on getting strong physically and psychologically so I can travel and be present over there. I’ve been mightily depressed, sedated, and impaired for nigh on twenty years and am personally depleted, but this desire to be in Brittany and on l’Île serves.
I create a three-foot by three-foot sheet of paper, tape it on a wall, and daily scribble my desire to see the Île de Sein in 2015. I fill up one sheet with ideas, wants, hopes, needs, and intention; I begin another. I write and publish my second book of essays and poems, Writing Myself Back Into Life, in itself an intention to well in health. Replete with some of my most gut-wrenchingly honest and difficult writing, the handmade edition of 40 copies sells out.
Though nestled in exquisite llano y montane landscape, the ranch isolates me so and I move house back to my Dixon community of friends and artists. I study, recite, read, listen, and try numerous methods to learn French, and fail. Life sends the money. I leave for Brittany on Labor Day. September 10, 2015, at 10:28 AM, Paris time, I step onto l’Île de Sein. Gosh. I’m here for 23 days. Now what?
My second night at Hotel Ar-Men I awaken to sonorous sounds of a woman in ecstasy. Her sultry sighs of pleasure–slow full intakes, great heaving exhalations–last long; I drift in and out of sleep to them. I hear her again in the afternoon and early the next morning. I’m envious and curious. So! All those tales of French lovemaking are true, eh? Her joyous music stays with me, somehow mingling with the pleasurable tingles of moist air on my skin, those swooshing kisses of warm wet wind, the way my body interacts with stones, grass, and flowers. I hear love songs everywhere.
Each day waves of ocean and wind lick my skin clean, removing calcified attitudes and limbering ligaments, working physical magic on my sand-papered nervous system. I am agile, exploratory, more actively curious. I spend hours in liminal space with nothing between me and Life. There are tide pools to witness: small brown blobs like blood clots with tentacles capture my attention. Bivalves bubble and breathe. Cormorants dive, dine, then drape huge wings to dry. A disheveled great blue heron stalwartly withstands gusts, awaiting clear sight to stab breakfast. I wander up one side of the island, down the other, over rabbit warrens, across slick seaweed, over boulders, curiously at ease, vibrant, alert.
My brain works again. Though I am more likely to answer in Spanish or German, I am pushed to listen and comprehend simple French conversation. I ask for food and water. I get directions. I speak haltingly to a woman whose father joined Charles de Gaulle in London during World War II. Dominique and Marielle applaud unexpectedly correct French and I deepen my reading comprehension. Each day the faulty synapses fire more quickly and accurately. My confidence grows. I mend.
Then the day before I leave, I sit on the north beach gulping the sensuous reality of this vital place into my memory banks. I have 3,500 photos and thousands of words describing what I’ve seen, yet suddenly I’m afraid I’ll leave without understanding why I crossed a continent and an ocean to sit on l’Île. Of course, I want to belong to this tradition of priestesses who were more than sex workers and with whom I share a name. Yes, I long to be recognized for the wisdom and knowledge of this place I have earned. And, naturally, I wish to remain cradled in the extraordinary beauty that solaces my soul.
Before that longing can become desperate, the world shifts. I’m in liminal space again, in-between, neither here nor there, embraced by and enmeshed in everything around me. I realize all those womanly orgasmic sounds I’ve been hearing are the great heaving tides of our mother ocean. The whole fabulous island filling with whispers and sighs, the sensuous soughing of sand and sea are all life–Life–breathing. And, I am fully planted in the midst of it all, synchronized with and sculpted by that from which I was born. Fire and water. The utter miracle of this planet and me on it, enmeshed in the improbable and incomprehensible splendor of being alive and belonging to all creation. I came here to learn that I am whole. So simple. So clear. So real.
Like the selkie of story, I found my skin, my pelt, carefully preserved there on the sand of l’Île de Sein and once again covered my poor naked nerve endings so long abraded by loss. I returned to my natural element of belonging. Continuing the story and living whole are my gifts back.
Dias de los Muertos
Errands to the Dark Places
For the Love of It
Full Blown Brittany Blues
Once There Was a War
Sister Mary Josephina
Stainless Steel Casket
Just Too Dang Much
When One Man Dies
Whispers & Sighs