On letting go of extraordinary ambition

The feeling of it is indescribable.

In a place like the one where I am now, it’s very easy to get caught up in the dreams of others, tossed into a pot of brilliance as we all are.

I remembered though, recently, that my walk is my own; I don’t have an entire life ahead of me anymore, just half of one, probably. My life already reads as a list of grand adventures and minor accomplishments, and I have little desire to let go of some of the things I had before immersing myself in academia: a garden, a wildness, time to create and enough of an income to provide for my daughter and pay for a pleasurable life lived within our means.

I’d felt isolated, but now I know why. The separation was only painful because I was unwilling to accept the truth: I am different, I am in a different place in my life, I believe that knowledge is power, I’m already good at what I do and being able to study and network with top-notch professionals is an icing on the cake. And I know exactly where the few people I can count on here are. This is literally all that matters right now.

I came here with much more noble ideas. I am finishing my stay with the realization that I am at a zenith. It’s time to reflect.

It’s a story that was told to me many years ago, but I only chose to remember half of it. I would eventually come to this place. I would eventually have things to accept. I would have to come to terms with what I’ve always known: regardless of how loudly I shout, I’m more effective when people don’t know who it is that’s yelling.

I will relax into doing something for sheer joy, with the knowledge that my choice to do so is a radical act in and of itself. It doesn’t require age to earn the privilege of pleasure or creative expression. Anyone who’s been doing the hard work of trying to make the world a better place deserves to settle into the goodness of a present, and we deserve to have the time to create that space if it’s not already there.

I don’t need to be a hero, I just need to live, to show my daughter how it’s done, to make sure she and others have the space they need to be joy.

These eyes.

A riot of color welcomed me, and a quiet cacophony of hummingbirds and bees, butterflies, other little things come to get drunk on flower sperm and help keep the vibe alive. I was there to see it for her, to relieve some of the pressure of maintaining a garden, of dealing with glaucoma, of not being able to see the finer details anymore. 

She was something of a hedge witch though. She knew where she’d planted things, could still see when the deer had helped themselves to the boneset, knew when it was time to prune so plants had more energy to regenerate. She had me wage war on the anemones, the beautiful white flowers that built networks just under the surface of the soil and spread like a California wildfire. This war, this endless war, had me returning each week to listen to the sounds of the wind in the poplars, to uncover beetle nests with delight, to run to her like a child because I’d found the first monarch caterpillar of the season and it was eating something other than milkweed.

What was this plant, I wondered? She held it close and then far, then sniffed at it, closing the worse of her two eyes in hopes of catching a clearer glimpse.

“I don’t know. I don’t know.” 

I was on the clock, so sharing wonder was as far as I could digress. I’d left my phone in the car, the one with the plant ID app. She would have been a bit disgusted, I think, had I consulted it first, a bit angry with everything, the kids these days, kids being relative since there I stood at nearly fifty, wide-eyed with wonder at a caterpillar, holding it out to my 74-year-old friend.

I was still young, to her. Though mine, too, were beginning their decline, I could still be her eyes, so I needed to be good at it. I pinched a sprig and put it between the pages of a book, the book I’m reading, the book I can read. I would look it up later, come up with a way to tell her how I found my way to it. 

She was already losing so much magick, so much magick. I hoped that after I left, she sat and looked at the shapes I’d created as I cleaned up the beds and gave the plants room to breathe. I hoped that she sat there and listened to the music—the wind in the poplars, all the sweet pollinators who’d come to her oasis, the offering her garden gave her in exchange for the love she gave it, for the love that I, through proxy, now continued.

whatever happened to tomwhore

I found him again today, in 1997 talking about an original online community and that was in the early nineties. I was twenty-one and working at my first job in New York in a tall skyscraper. There was a lot of shift happening; the boss who helped pay for my move to New York ended up not even coming, but he kindly found me a job in another department. It was supposed to be some sort of technology department but the dinosaur who ran it wouldn’t know the internet if he’d lived to see it and I had little to do, so I spent most of my days on usenet.

eventually that company got bought by a bigger company and they dissolved our department but the ole dinosaur god bless him got me a job in yet another department; it wasn’t permanent, but it was a paycheck for a bit more of my future. this time i wound up in a server room with tomwhore.

there were others, too, i think, but the only ones i remember are the boss and tomwhore, and only tomwhore by name. the boss guy had terrible eighties hair and chain smoked and was always angry and since i was in the server room now i stopped covering my tiny little nose stud and tried to start normalizing it in the corporate world. people were just starting to get desktop computers in their cubicles. lynx was a mysterious new world.

jobs were kind of getting fluid at this company and tomwhore tried to advocate for me to get a permanent job but the boss, who was a Cypriot and was constantly on the phone with his brother (who was in Cyprus) did not want to hire me because of my nose piercing. So he just kept stealing computers from the company and sending them to Cyprus.

Molly Archetype

A Trip to Remember, rafting on the Nantahala River, Tennessee | Photo by Dane Deaner on Unsplash | Sanguine Meander

I lost my faith on the Nantahala River on the annual church youth group rafting trip. When one is trying to be that which one is not, this may or may not be a good thing in the end, but what’s most criminal now is that I don’t remember the river.

The youth group was part of a Southern Baptist church in an outer suburb of Atlanta, led by a polished, hyperactive and overly-tanned little man and his Karen-haired and equally-as-overtanned wife and their two perfect (and overtanned) daughters, and they were keen on expanding the flock. They would eventually build a megachurch. 

The youth ministry also provided meals and fun things to do and other drifty teenagers to flirt with and so was worth the tradeoff. They liked to feel pity for poor kids. I put on my Jesus face and they acknowledged me as trying. I went rafting. 

This is not to say I didn’t give back. It was work.

First the all-day bus ride, then the awkward choosing of sleeping arrangements and seats during meals and the trust falls and touching and talk circles, and of course the ever-present option to come to Jesus after dinner if you hadn’t already, and if you hadn’t yet exhausted things to feel insecure about in groups.

But for those hours on the river, for the brief excitement of Class 3 rapids, of shouting and shouting with joy as we bounced and splashed and coursed down the river, of shouting and shouting to please, please stop when the youth pastor used his paddle to splash freezing water on me from another raft. I did not enjoy it and he did not stop until I screamed at him with rage. God. Stop. Please stop. Stop.

But even so, the joy of discovery, thirty-some years later remembered. My body of water is the river, indeed, and the things that feed the river and that feed me. Negative ions, phytoncides and watersong, wildflowers, fish and birdsong. Movement and flow and stillness. The story and solidity of stone. But there is more.

We concluded our rafting trip pruned, sunburnt, cold, and exhausted, and got ready to eat and pack up for the drive back to Georgia the following day. I was looking forward to sleeping the whole way home, or reading a book not the bible but probably just sleeping so i didn’t have anything to explain. My things were facing toward home already. I had organized and packed with intent, to go home carrying the river in me even if it meant extra vigilance. And then we docked.

By the boat launch, a dog had been tied to a tree with a cardboard sign. “My name is Molly,” it said. “I need a home.” We were at a rafting camp in the middle of a national forest.

The dog was emaciated. Sobbing, I went to the little supply store and bought hot dogs and tuna. I asked for a plastic container and some water. They were apathetic when I told them what I was doing. I didn’t understand. I went to feed Molly. I promised to help.

The next morning, Molly was still tied to the tree. She stood and wagged her tail when she saw me and I went off for more hot dogs, tuna and water and brought it back, trying not to cry. I sat petting her while she lapped up water and scarfed down the last meal I was sure of.

Finally, the youth pastor came looking for me. The bus was packed, where was I. 

I explained. 

Molly was lying by my side. I asked him if we could bring her somewhere she had a better chance of finding a home. I knew my mother would understand. We’d always had dogs, mostly obtained in circumstances equally as traumatic as this. It was something my family did. It was the Christian thing to do. 

He said no.

Star Land

STARLAND by Robert S. Ball | sanguine meander

As part of an online class discussion, I had to stop by Project Gutenberg and look around.

Simultaneously I got pinged with a couple of YouTube videos to check out.

The end result of this combination was that I was listening to Tiny Desk while looking at old books online. I am drawn to books published during La Belle Epoque and Art Deco periods. Perhaps that taste is simple, but I don’t care. It warms me in a weird way.

I’ve seen this art before. My grandmother used to buy old hardcover books at the Value Village when I was growing up. She’d read from day to night sometimes, during those periods I can now identify clearly but back then were simply days I’d have to go buy her cigarettes for her with a note and some extra change for a candy bar. My grandmother had her up moments, her very up moments, and then she had her down ones, her very very down ones. She cycled pretty rapidly.

During the reading times she sat by her bedroom window, bottles of nitroglycerin scattered around on her bedside table. She’d look out the window to the street, chainsmoke her Carlton 120 menthols and read these books. Periodically she would demand something of me and eventually I would remove a stack of books from her bedroom and stack them somewhere else, usually on the stairs going down to the basement. When the stairs got dangerous, the books would move to the basement itself, where I would put them on a huge floor-to-ceiling bookshelf that took up one wall. When that was full, I began stacking them on the floor. My family’s baggage was written on pages.

When she died, my mother had to go several states back home and clean out the house. It is good I did not go. In her old-fashioned penmanship (who has that, anymore?) she’d written a book review in all of them. It is good I did not go. I would live among stacks of musty old books and I would have tried to carry them with me.

My mother remembers more about them than I do. She saw them last. What I  remember is the feel of those books, their burlappy covers and ridged fore edges that looked like my grandmother’s nails, but soft.

I couldn’t talk about the walls those books built until I moved to Star Land.


Here are some of the ones I enjoyed thanks to Project Gutenberg. Content must be considered within the context of the time during which it was published, you’ve been warned:

Star-Land – 1889

Tillicums of the Trail – 1922

Die Hexe von Norderoog – 1908

The Bear Family at Home, and How the Circus Came to Visit Them – 1908, 1923

And here are the Tiny Desk concerts that accompanied this:

Lizzo

Gallant

Masego

Tash Sultana