Thursday, June 04, 2015

US20 to Shaker Campsite

11.9 miles

So I begin.  I can’t decide if I want to take it easy or not.  My goal was about eight-mile days, but there are exigencies on the trail, and the first decent campsite was more than eleven miles in.  So maybe tomorrow will be one of my slow sitting-in-the-sun days.  Already I remember that feeling of always wanting to push, to keep going—one more mile, one more shelter.

Nevertheless, today I saw:  two red salamanders on the trail.  Heard an owl hoot and then saw it flutter to a farther branch.  Walked miles I remembered—bog bridges laid in bright sun over swampy Massachusetts land—and miles I didn’t.

The trail has welcomed me in like a home, completely absorbed me so already I feel disappeared inside of her.  i could just keep going—no one would know where I was inside this great green tunnel and it seems no one should care.  I’m pleased by my choices.  I passed at least eight north bounders and I’m happy to be going south.  I won’t get caught up in trail gossip and drama, nor will I have to spend all day leapfrogging people.

Instead, I can be the mysterious black-clad stranger, passing with a smile, camping alone, hiking alone.  I’m camped alone tonight.  It’s the first time in years, the first time backpacking alone in at least a decade.  It feels strange:  oddly comforting and terrifying all at once.

Marching forth again

I am going hiking.  I have this sneaking-out-the-door feeling, as I did when I left on March 4, 2004, and I posted my first trail journal entry, nervous and self-flagellating.  To announce one's plans too early is to jinx them, to let them out of the protective circle of one's own intention, and that means that people can crap all over your parade.  So I keep things quiet, hold them inside, stoking my own inner fire.

I may go camping and hiking for much of the summer.  I've been needing it, a vacation for the soul, hermitage, solitude, trees.  So the Appalachian Trail calls me again, for all of these reasons, and I want to go.  I want to walk.  Unlike last time, though, when I was a 26-year-old marathoner, my body feels weak and feeble, my joints aching.

I am not sure this is a good idea at all.  But I know the only way to know if one can do something is by doing it, and I am doing it.  I don't know for how long--for as long as my body lasts.  I'm bringing enough food to feed an army, and that way I can take my time, do four-mile days, spend sunny afternoons at vistas, hike shelter to shelter.

In related news, we are thinking of putting the boat in the water next season and going back to Maine in the interim, once I'm back, if I come back.  This is a difficult thing for me to admit, or even contemplate.  I want to finish things, follow through, and I find this difficult process of waiting, of living day-to-day with things uncertain, unresolved--almost impossible.  Maybe that's why I'm leaving, to walk, to follow blazes, where the course is predetermined, the route already set.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Watermusic

Lace, cage
I live in a pretty lace cage.  Yesterday was the eleven-year anniversary of my start date on the Appalachian Trail, when I marched forth, and still, here the snow piles in drifts.  It is pretty hard to cut a mast, or install chain plates, or scrape bottom paint, with four feet of snow on the ground.  It's hard to imagine the harbor melting enough for a launch.

Snowshoes
Office
Cedar and wood stove in Maine, winter 2012
And yet we came down here to rebuild a boat because it's farther south, closer to the ocean and the Gulf Stream, and we could work almost year-round.  Instead, I miss my snowshoes and wood stove and office.  I could tell you the reasons for this chaotic stormy precipitous winter--how the ocean is 21 degrees warmer than normal and all of that warm water evaporates and then crystallizes and again falls on top of us, how the ocean rose five inches in two years in New England, how the changing climate has shifted the prevailing planetary winds south, allowing the Gulf Stream to be less mobile and giving those in Massachusetts all of Alaska and Maine's weather, how these scientific facts are not covered by the media because our news outlets including public radio are bought and sold by the same people causing this outlandish weather, and how this kind of climate chaos is the new normal--but you wouldn't listen.  You wouldn't divest yourself of fossil-fuel stock or organize or protest;  I haven't either.

Computer, vitamin D, toilet paper, window
I rearranged my room to face the window, an alleged treatment for depression, and already it is bearing fruit as this blog post.  February is a hard month for me, maybe the hardest.  Maybe it is for everyone and God made it the shortest month because we could only endure 28--or, in some years, 29--days of it.  March can't come fast enough.  But here when it came, it came with snow.

So the branches pile with drifts white as layer cakes.  The roots wait embalmed, and entombed, covered by what Eliot called "forgetful snow."  I hibernate.  The whole world waits, coiled to spring.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

I'm on fire

Plymouth library--my new studio
I'm back now, and it feels like during the last month I slipped into an alternate dimension.  I used to have that same experience upon leaving from or returning to boarding school--this bewildering sense that one day a person can exist at one point on the planet, and, mysteriously, through an uncanny process called travel, can arrive at a completely different point 24 hours later, as if the other place never existed at all.  Of course it goes without saying that everything can change in a day.  Yet there is a real feeling of solipsism:  can this world have really existed unchanged while I was gone?  Can that other world really be existing without me?

You close your eyes and poof:  everything is transformed around you.  And yet nothing changes.  Here I am, back at the Plymouth library, my writing desk when I can get to it in Massachusetts--different and yet the same from my studio in Vermont.  Louder.  When did libraries abandon their prohibition against noise?

I listen to ambient drone to drown out the chatter:  but I did that in Vermont anyway.  I look out at snow instead of a snowy river.  I feel like my time away fed me in surfeit, a nourishing abundant meal of time, respect, creative energy, positivity.  The sheer numinous power of fifty artists independently working by following their least inner voice cannot be overstated.  Here I feel that lack.  The distraction of having to fend for myself when it comes to food and caffeine, the distraction of driving--the sensory overload in even having to walk past stacks and stacks of books in the library--all of these burdens were relieved from me in Johnson.  As Richard Wilbur said:  these things "Call to me now. And weaken me. And yet/ I would not walk a road without a scene."

The things I came back to again and again in my conversations with fellow residents are the two things I come back to again and again on these pages--my current ongoing obsessions:  climate change and Carl Jung.  I am afraid about climate change.  That inner voice of my subconscious, the voice that Carl Jung first named for me--that voice is a conscience that cannot be silenced.  It points me to ever more revolutionary, incendiary words.  The world must change or be destroyed.

And the only way for it to change is for artists to hold the mirror up to our exhausted consciousness, the tired materialist mind of our culture, and to say:  look.  This is what we are.  We are tired and we are depressed and we are sick.   We are beings made of both flesh and spirit, mind and soul, consciousness and unconsciousness.  Integration--health--for us as individuals and as a culture comes from facing that which we are most afraid of--our darkest demons, the other, the chaos of the uncontrollable unconscious, the failure of our civilization, the stark fact of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere--and absorbing this truth into ourselves.  And then awakening.  Becoming active.  Changing.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Johnson, Vermont

My room at the Vermont Studio Center
It is my fourth day here.  Every step here has felt a sloughing off of skin. On Sunday, as I moved in this direction, passing through Massachusetts and into the mountains of Vermont, I felt like I was moving back in time, or deeper inside myself. Already I find myself hungering after my work, the work that I’ve postponed for so long.

I am typing these words in a studio named after William Matthews.  Every morning, when I don't oversleep, I go to the meditation room and sit, smelling incense, doing my best to think of nothing.  After, I come to this studio with a blessed expanse of hours--thirteen, if I was to use them all--just to write.  My studio is small with a view of the Gihon River.  The Gihon, which in the Bible flows from Eden, and which here flows from Eden, Vermont.

I watch a coalesced skim of surface ice float by.  Last night it was 23 degrees below zero, with a windchill of minus 40.  I relish this cold as if were a rare wine.  I have no excuse to be outside.  Frequently the internet goes down.  I have no excuse to be there either.

Meals are prepared for me, shopping is done, I am cleaned up after.  I pace my room.  I rest my head against the window and watch the ice.  I read.  I post chapters on a corkboard.  I comb my sentences for excess words, again and again.  My fellow artists sculpt wall-hangings made of patchwork salvaged wood, sew metal, experiment with traditional oil technique and sing on the side, and take full-semester classes on Old Testament literature with Marilynne Robinson.

This morning, in explaining to a fellow resident why I prefer yoga to Pilates, I said it was not for the exercise but for the self-forgiveness it cultivates.  Last night, in a lecture on creativity and meditation, Jon Gregg, a founder of the Vermont Studio Center, told a story about Pablo Picasso.  Picasso, when asked what the most important thing was in his life answered simply:  self-trust.

These two things:  self-forgiveness and self-trust.  They're what I'm here to learn.

A poem for you today, by William Matthews, in whose spirit I write:

On the way to the rink one fog- and sleep-thick
morning we got the word fuck spat at us,
my sister fluffed for figure skating and I in pads
for hockey.  The slash of casual violence in it
befuddled me, and when I asked my parents
I got a long, strained lecture on married love.

Have I remembered this right?  The past is lost
to memory.  Under the Zamboni’s slathering tongue
the ice is opaque and thick.  Family life is easy.
You just push off into heartbreak and go on your nerve.

Monday, December 29, 2014

And the gun that’s hanging on the kitchen wall, dear

New England Christmas -- fourteen pounds!
On the beach, during my childhood in Thailand, we celebrated Christmas.  We went and ate shish kabobs and sunned ourselves.  We played ping-pong with other missionary kids from other Christian schools scattered around southeast Asia.  I read Agatha Christie novels and built sand castles.

We did not feel guilty.  Yet it was other people’s sacrifice funding our tropical vacation.  At some point during my childhood, maybe when someone else pointed it out, I realized that all of our income came at the mercy of strangers.  We went “home” to the States, on furlough, to raise money from churches.  These churches, and their elderly members, or families much like ours, working-class families, or wealthy families, or friends—all of them “supported” us.  They gave us money because they believed in what we were doing, evangelizing Buddhist Thailand, and their hard-earned savings funded our barbecue crab dinners and beachfront bungalow.

It sounds sordid, maybe—but only if you don’t believe in what we were doing.  And we did believe.  We believed with all our hearts.  My parents continue the same work, now living in Islamic Indonesia, where people keep framed photographs of Osama bin Laden enshrined on their walls.  There they run a Bible school, in a country which has a regular history of mass slaughter of its Christian minority.

Now I’m doing the same thing.  Asking for “support” from people who believe in what I’m doing, merely to fund my life, merely to fund what I believe in.  And I’m getting it.  I am absolutely blown away that today, with 6 days left of my Kickstarter campaign, I am at 68 percent support.  It feels great, and it also feels terrifying.  Because if people believe in me, then that means I actually have to do the work.  Do my work.

Books about creativity frequently talk about fear, not just fear of failure, but fear of success.  Because being successful means inviting people in, to see the work.  Being successful means that the bar is raised.  Being successful invites rejection and critique.  It means accountability.

Accountability, or the lack of it, is the hardest part of being an artist alone in the world.  I’ve never missed a day of scheduled work—and by that I mean any one of many menial office jobs, or bar-tending, or waitressing, or my numerous other minimum-wage jobs—any job where I had to clock in and report to a boss and had FICA taken out of a paycheck.  Maybe I occasionally showed up late, I took personal days—but I met my obligations.  I called in.  I knew I had to be there so I was there.  But working for myself is a different story entirely.  Why is it so much harder to meet an obligation to myself?

Also, I feel guilt.  If other people are funding my life by their sacrifice, what right do I have to sit in front of the television?  To take days off?  To eat shish kabobs or play ping-pong?  I do not share my parents’ certainty of belief.

Instead, I find myself returning an old prayer, again and again:  Lord, I believe.  Help Thou my unbelief.

After having prayed I believe for a little while longer.  This whole experiment, discovering a community of friends, friends of friends, family, blessed strangers—maybe can make me believe in myself.  One friend, an old friend, my first donor, wrote a beautiful email that said:  the patrons of your art demand such boldness.  And they do.  You do.

[Give here:  https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/casting-off/artist-residency-at-the-vermont-studio-center-1]

Friday, December 19, 2014

Don’t be afraid


Were Keats’ final words.  More light, more light—the dying words of Goethe.  Fear not, was what the angel Gabriel said when he appeared to Mary, and the command most often repeated in the Bible.  How many times do I have to hear it?

And still I am afraid.  Occasionally I have moments of boldness.  As today, posting a Kickstarter campaign, supporting the fiction residency to which I was accepted this month.  I’ve been at this business, trying to build a career, trying to publish, for ten years now, but this is the first time I’ve actually come out and ask anyone for money—what if all of you say no?

The Vermont Studio Center has granted me $2100 to attend their residency program for a full month:  including room, board, and most precious of all, my own personal writing studio, with desk, chair, privacy, quiet, silence, and space.  But an equivalent amount is mine to match, mine to find somewhere in the dwindling free digital economy.

In my video (watch, to hear me read you a story), I say:  "I know, from personal experience, the ways in which writers are finding it harder than ever to make a living.  Traditional publishing has been upended, and publishing companies are finding their budgets and staff cut yearly.  Yet the demand for content—satisfying, beautiful, well-made content—is at an all-time high."

I can say that I am alive, working as a writer, but am I making a living?  I am alive by the grace of God, by the grace of my dead grandmother, by the kindness of family members and strangers.  Making a living means people actually buying my work.  Choosing to spend their money on it rather than on a coffee or a donut or a mortgage payment.

Writing as a career is a diaphanous veil over an abyss.  Since I was a child, I’ve been told to give up, that I’ll never be successful financially as a writer.  My grandfather started his own publishing company to put his exegetical theology in print, a publishing company that’s slowly going out of business even now.

The things I create do not exist in any space except in your own mind.  Jonathan Safran Foer said, in an interview I attended, that writers are artists that paint on the canvas of other people’s subconscious minds.  The terror of the internet age, as Gillian Welch tells us, is that everything is free.  If everything is free, then how shall any of us eat?  But the terror of the internet comes with corresponding beauty: it puts the power into the hands of the masses.  Into your hands.  What we want is ours to ask for, ours to ask the whole universe for.

J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter while on welfare.  She trusted in her work enough to demand that the British taxpayer to pay for it.  I’m just asking you.

So go check it out.  The worst that can happen?  Utter humiliation and a big fat goose egg.  Nothing to be afraid of.

[Edit to add a link to the campaign--realizing I forgot to include it last night.  Clearly I'm a beginner at this:  https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/casting-off/artist-residency-at-the-vermont-studio-center-1]

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Riverside

A picture from the archives, February 2012 in Aroostook County, during a beautiful winter walk
The cold descends.  Today the high is not forty degrees, which is all right.  I keep thinking about my quest, in college, to believe that all weather is beautiful.  In its own way, of course.  When I think about that first year, 1995-96, my first winter since I was three, and one of the coldest on record in Chicago—trekking a mile across a wind-bitten campus through ice to send an email in the computer lab to my parents, twelve time zones away, in tropical sunshine—maybe believing that all weather is beautiful was my one defense.

If nothing else, the weather here is alien.  As an adolescent I was bewildered by the joke that one could always talk about the weather.  In Southeast Asia, there’s nothing to talk about.  Here, in Massachusetts, in New England, the weather is a constant threat, a constant source of anxiety, an endless well for conversation.

I hate it.  I hate having to think about the weather when discussing how far to drive on a certain day, to think of adventure and excursions as being limited by condition of roads, to think about sun in connection to laundry.  I don’t want to make a decision based on weather.  By contrast, in Thailand, in paradise, it is ninety degrees and sunny every day.  The sun rises at six and sets at six, with brutal regularity.  There is no need to carry a coat, nor even own a coat to carry.

So all weather has its own beauty.  The dense fog lifting off the orange-brown of a Plymouth County field.  The cold shuddering from a sleet-filled sky.  The four o’clock late afternoon sun on a brisk fall day.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Might as well keep going now

Courtesy of s/v Estrellita 5.10b
Okay, so I’m going to move on to what I’m supposed to be working on and writing about:  the boat.

Spirit, not at sea
A boat under progress is not very photogenic.  Note the pine needles, the antifreeze bottles full of tap water  used as weights, the carelessly hung rags and ratchet straps and cleaning accoutrements.  Doing boat work in the middle of a pine forest is likewise not very easy.  Every day starts with clearing the pine needles from whatever needs to be worked on.

I am resentful and angry about boat work.  I didn’t want to buy a boat.  I was happy with my little farmstead and office in Maine, and I was burned so badly by the last boat that I didn’t think I could ever trust a new boat.  I remember how my heart broke last time.

I remember that the day-to-day reality of boat life involves mammoth amounts of brute physical labor.  Cleaning.  Plumbing maintenance.  Cooking with limited ingredients and space.

And still I want to sail, not because I actually want to sail, but because I am still hungry for adventure, for travel, because my peripatetic urge is never satisfied.  I want to cross an ocean.  I want to drop luffing sails in the harbor of the Azores.  I want to traverse the Suez and Panama Canals, cruise the Mediterranean, round the great Capes, cross from Newfoundland to Ireland.  These are things I hunger after.

In Stephen King’s “On Writing” he says, of his wife:
In the end it was Tabby who cast the deciding vote, as she so often has at crucial moments in my life. I'd like to think I've done the same for her from time to time, because it seems to me that one of the things marriage is about is casting the tie-breaking vote when you just can't decide what you should do next.
As with a writing life, what really matters in cruising is who you choose to do it with.  I know, from meeting many grounded sailors, that what most often gets in the way of achieving a sailing dream is not hurricanes, or pirates, or broaching whales—but unwilling partners.  Your feet get tied up to the ground, not by roots, but by people.

And now I am one of those people.

I believe that the thing that entranced so many [elderly, male, ex-] sailors about the voyage of sailing vessel Secret is that I—the nubile female blog heroine—wanted so desperately to keep sailing and my partner did not.

This indecision has been a problem for a long time between us.

A Wharram catamaran sings her siren song for me, at her port in Phuket.  So does the idea of a beach camping cruise along the Mexican coast.  The Continental Divide Trail.  Cyprus, where my grandfather is from.  Bangkok, always.  Not to mention the best gift K. ever gave me, a writing room.  Again, King:  “Like your bedroom, your writing room should be private, a place where you go to dream.”

Also, famously, he said:  “Write with the door closed.”

Virginia Woolf, much more famously, said:  “All I could do was to offer you an opinion upon one minor point — a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction; and that, as you will see, leaves the great problem of the true nature of woman and the true nature of fiction unsolved.”

Worst of all, I remember that a boat has no door that closes.

[Well, there’s a head, smelling of holding tank, but certainly not a private writing room, not a place where you go to dream.]

I’ve been reading boat blogs, trying to get a handle again on this life that I’m not sure I’ve quite chosen again, and all of the sunniest cruising and travel blogs open with whimsical romantic stories of carpenters meeting bookworms, or spur-of-the-moment decisions over beer and pizza, or one partner convincing the other that what they really needed was a sailboat:

“I have long had a dream of going cruising in a sailboat and have gradually lured Mark into this dream.  His response has ranged from all smiles to the rare bout of kicking and screaming, but he finally agreed to purchase a boat a year ago.”  —s/v Groovy

“In May 2011 Tammara and I made the decision to purchase a sailboat to sail and live on and eventually take her down the west coast…  It is our dream to one day voyage across oceans to distant and foreign lands.  We hope to achieve this with our new boat.”  —s/v Lynn-Marie

“Have you ever dreamt of running away to live on a tropical island, spending your days basking in the warm sunshine while sipping piña coladas? We have. In fact, our dream included running away to live on a sailboat in the tropics, even though when we started we had never even sailed before!  Zero to Cruising is the story of how we took that dream and made it a reality. Follow along... you can do it too!”  --s/v Zero to Cruising

“Our goal is to share meaningful thoughts on simple living, to help sailors with life aboard, and to inspire others to chase their own creative dream through honest and uplifting writing.”  —s/v Sailing Simplicity

I find that so much of actual life aboard—which is constant interpersonal decision-making—gets left out of these blogs.

Then there’s the much more honest s/v More Joy Everywhere, posting shortly before deciding to sell:

“These blogs are all written by people who are younger and prettier and smarter and more creative than we are.  They fix engines, install solar panels, sew cushions, grow sprouts, revarnish their teak, and understand how their systems work.  In their spare time, they sketch, make jewelry, write poetry, play the banjo, kayak, scuba dive, take fabulous underwater pictures, and never watch television.”

It’s easy to paint a romantic vision of life aboard—all sunsets and dolphins and glowing teak and tranquil anchorages.  It’s easy, when one is parsing a life a post or two at a time, to focus only on the beautiful things.  It’s why everyone, in our age of social networks, has a chronic diagnosis of FOMO.  We see everyone else’s gorgeous handmade children’s crafts, or snapshots of family vacations—we don’t see the dirty dishes, the arguments, the days spent in front of the television, the exhaustion, the chaos.


Some of the most inspirational and optimistic blogs drift slowly off into the ether with no explanation as to what exactly happened to the pina colada dream.  Some others, as with the second example above, have posts stop soon before the Sailboat Listing appears.  [Click here for a great collection of blog posts about cruisers who decide to quit.]

You’ll know, if you’ve read for a long time, that I love to write about being covered in poison oak, or boat poop explosions, or frigid Maine winters.  It’s the part of life that’s interesting to me.  What interests me about life—what interests me about travel—what interests me in literature and film and art—are the things that are difficult, the things that are hard, the challenges remaining to be overcome.

I know that I want to write, as I’ve always known, but as I said to Karl, when we first met:  I can do that anywhere.

He asked me what I did for a living, what I was, and I said:  a bum.

He asked me to live aboard a boat with him, on our first date, and I said, with no hesitation:  yes.


Sailing is a full-time job.  Boat work is a full-time job.  Writing, too, is a full-time job.  So what then?  I wrestle what time I can from the ether, and I use it to put words on paper, or onto a screen, or I stare into space and avoid putting words on paper or onscreen.  I miss my grandmother’s typewriter.  I miss my office and my desk and my view of the drained beaver pond.  I miss my literary dog and cat.

Can I really do it anywhere?  I guess we’ll find out.

And I guess, dear reader, you can always trust me, yours truly, to delve my hands deep down into the dirty painful nitty gritty of life, can you not?  I commit to you that I’ll continue to explore the dark side of life afoot or a-sail—at least a sunny post or two a month at a time.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

One too many mornings



A big part of me doesn’t believe, still, that “depression” exists.  According to the New Yorker:
There is little agreement about what causes depression and no consensus about what cures it…  There is suspicion that the pharmaceutical industry is cooking the studies that prove that antidepressant drugs are safe and effective, and that the industry’s direct-to-consumer advertising is encouraging people to demand pills to cure conditions that are not diseases (like shyness) or to get through ordinary life problems (like being laid off).
Louis Menand’s article, a review of Gary Greenberg’s book, “Manufacturing Depression,” continues:
Greenberg basically regards the pathologizing of melancholy and despair, and the invention of pills designed to relieve people of those feelings, as a vast capitalist conspiracy to paste a big smiley face over a world that we have good reason to feel sick about. The aim of the conspiracy is to convince us that it’s all in our heads, or, specifically, in our brains—that our unhappiness is a chemical problem, not an existential one. Greenberg is critical of psychopharmacology, but he is even more critical of cognitive-behavioral therapy, or C.B.T., a form of talk therapy that helps patients build coping strategies, and does not rely on medication. He calls C.B.T. “a method of indoctrination into the pieties of American optimism, an ideology as much as a medical treatment."
In other words, “depression is not a mental illness. It’s a sane response to a crazy world.”

According to Wikipedia:
The term "depression" is used in a number of different ways. It is often used to mean major depressive disorder but may refer to other mood disorders or simply to a low mood…  The diagnosis of major depressive disorder is based on the patient's self-reported experiences, behavior reported by relatives or friends, and a mental status examination. There is no laboratory test for major depression.
Essentially, it doesn’t exist, right?  But then there are days I wake up when I am unable to move.  Not literally, of course—I can roll over in bed, wiggle my fingers—but I don’t.  I lie there and I don’t move.  I think of all of the reasons I should move, or the things I could do that’d make me feel better, but I don’t do them.  I can’t bring myself to.  I rehearse a list of things I know to do, things I know help—heat, light, reading, baking, sitting in the sun, yoga, taking a long hot bath or a shower, going to a cafe or a library—but all of them, even the thought of them, even the first step towards them, feels like dust in my mouth.  I can’t move.  I don’t even pee when I need to pee because it requires too much energy to move to the bathroom.

In an earlier New Yorker article, “The Anatomy of Melancholy,” Andrew Solomon writes about his experience with his depression:  “My vision began to close.  It was like trying to watch TV through terrible static, where you can’t distinguish faces, where nothing has edges.  The air, too, seemed thick and resistant, as though it were full of mushed-up bread.”

I know that feeling.  For me the air feels resistant like mud, or like trying to swim against a current.  Motivation is a central problem.  I can think of a lot of things that make me feel better (writing, sunlight, a walk) but it is impossible to motivate myself to do them.  Or it’s possible but I can never do it.  Or I can do it sometimes, just not when I’m in the darkness.  In the hole, the bottomless pit, that Townes Van Zandt sings about above, so effortlessly.  The old lady catches me.

“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?” asks the Psalmist.

When I’m in the pit, pulling myself out is like trying to find pull myself from quicksand, use my own body as leverage.  It’s impossible to find any purchase.

Of course I can get out of bed.  It is possible.  It is not impossible.  And yet I don’t.  I lie in bed for hours—literally—not moving, thinking about doing something and not doing it.  Some days I can.  Some days I get up and take arms against the sea of troubles, even when it feels like moving through molasses.  Like swimming while drowning in a sea of mud.  Other days it is impossible.

In the wake of Robin Williams’s death, everyone is talking about depression, but not many people are saying anything useful.  Several times I’ve heard commentators say:  “just so we’re clear, ‘depression’ is a mental illness, not ordinary sadness or ‘feeling blue.’”  And I think:  oh, so what I have is just ordinary sadness.  Even when I’m not feeling sad at all.  Even when I’m feeling nothing inside but darkness, and heat and pain inside my head without actually experiencing heat or pain.

I’m sure Robin Williams and David Foster Wallace and everyone all thought they had ordinary sadness right up till the end.  How can we tell the difference when we’re in the middle of it?

Even Solomon writes, as he recovers, with the help of a vast pharmacopeia:  “I have felt blue sometimes, and on some days I have chosen not to work on this difficult subject…”  But how does he tell the difference?

I find it challenging to talk about, not because I feel guilty or ashamed, but because I don’t believe it exists.  I do feel guilty about my coping mechanisms—computer games and television and food—all things that other people assist me in feeling guilty about.  I feel guilty about my presence on the planet, about myself as a waste of space.  I feel “all the typical symptoms—hatred, anguish, guilt, self-loathing.”  But I don’t feel ashamed of the presence of the miasma itself because I don’t believe in it.

It’s also difficult to talk about because there’s nothing anyone can do to help.  Antidepressants don’t work.  Talking to other people just spreads the disease, if it exists.  Depression is contagious.  Why should I drag anyone down inside the pit with me?  I hate reaching out for help because then I have to admit that the only thing inside is an echo because all that exists in there is a big black hole and I can’t tell anyone without dragging them down too.

I’ve been feeling this way for twenty years, if not longer.  I wept the night before I turned ten because I realized my childhood was over.  Oh, wait—I was just feeling blue, right?  Even as a child, I felt something like nostalgia, a deep eternal grief at the passage of time.  I remember learning the word “melancholy,” and the idea that someone could be a “melancholic.”  I remember thinking, oh, so that’s what I am.  I developed obsessions that I treasured close to my chest, and when I shared them, carefully, and was rejected, I plunged into despair.  I lay in bed crying, before the age of eleven, telling my mother and sister that I had people who loved me, but no one who liked me.  How could they?  I remember listening to Puff the Magic Dragon and weeping:  Jackie Paper came no more!  Therein lay the essence of life’s tragedy!

Some days I wake up okay.  Other days I wake up unable to move.  Everyone blames negative thoughts, as proponents of CBT, and the power of positive thinking, believers in the pieties of American optimism, do:  change your thinking, change your life.

Andrew Solomon writes:
Once upon a time, depression was generally seen as a purely psychological disturbance;  these days, people are likely to think of it as a tidy biological syndrome.  In fact, it’s hard to make sense of the distinction.  Most depressive disorders are now thought to involve a mixture of reactive and internal factors;  depression is seldom a simple genetic disease or a simple response to external troubles.  Resolving the biological and psychological understanding of depression is as difficult as reconciling predestination and free will.  If you remember the beginning of this paragraph well enough to make sense of the end of it, that is a chemical process;  love, faith, and despair all have chemical manifestations, and chemistry can make you feel things.  Treatments have to accommodate this binary structure—the interplay between vulnerability and external events.

Vulnerability need not be genetic.  Ellen Frank says, "Experiences in childhood can scar the brain and leave on vulnerable to depression."  As with asthma, predisposition and environment conspire.  Syndrome and symptom cause each other:  loneliness is depressing, but depression causes loneliness.
For me, negative thinking is merely a symptom.  If I feel like things are hopeless I find a reason for why things are hopeless and I can find plenty.  But the hopeless feeling comes before the negative thoughts.  Sometimes the negative thinking catches me in a cycle and drags me deeper into the hole, but it’s almost worse when I feel nothing but emptiness and just like there’s nothing inside, not even negative thoughts.  And I can’t convince myself to do anything.

Since I was a child I’ve felt like suicide is a brave move, a way of using actual physical weapons against the sea of troubles, as Hamlet is the first to suggest.  “The ultimate hallmark of depression,” an “obsession with suicide.”  I think of those who have—Kurt Cobain, Elliott Smith, David Foster Wallace, Aaron Swartz, Vincent Van Gogh, Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf—as secret brothers and sisters.  On bad days I pore over their Wikipedia pages.  Those who had the courage to tell the truth to an empty, hopeless world.

Solomon:
…the particular kind of depression I had undergone has a higher morbidity rate than heart disease or any cancer.  According to a recent study by researchers at Harvard and the World Health Organization, only respiratory infections, diarrhea, and newborn infections cost more years of useful life than major depression.  It is projected that by the year 2020 depression could claim more years than war and AIDS put together.  Ant its incidence is rising fast.  Between six and ten per cent of all Americans now living are battling some form of this illness;  one study indicates that nearly fifty per cent have experienced at least one psychiatric disorder in their lifetime.  Treatments are proliferating, but only twenty-eight per cent of all people who have a major depression seek help from a specialist;  fifteen per cent of hospitalized patients succeed in killing themselves.
Watching Robin Williams movies helps.  It’s odd to me how many of them deal intimately and sensitively with depression and suicide. My favorite movie as a teenager, and maybe still, is "Dead Poets Society," and I was powerfully affected by two of his other movies, not as well known:  "What Dreams May Come" and "World’s Greatest Dad."

In “World’s Greatest Dad” Robin’s character writes a suicide note and then gets to see what happens afterward—in some ways, it’s a suicide’s watching of his own funeral, a fantasy wish fulfillment.  He says, presciently and half-sarcastic:  “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”  But what if the problem’s not so temporary? 

In “What Dreams May Come” we get to see what happens after a suicide, too.  But this time from the other perspective.  From below the ground.

“What Dreams May Come” was horribly reviewed when it came out and still has a 44% rating on Metacritic.  I beg to differ with the reviewers.  Many parts of it terrified and entranced me when I originally saw it—joyful jumps through big messy wet swaths of color in heaven, walking on the disembodied faces of those in purgatory who don’t realize they’re there.  Since Robin’s suicide, I can’t stop thinking about the part when he dives down from heaven into hell, through an increasingly creepy and macabre dreamscape, where finally, at its very bottom, he finds his wife, who committed suicide.  She’s been sent to hell not because of her suicide but because of her own tendency to create “nightmare” worlds, the same tendency that led her to suicide to begin with.  She’s all alone, in darkness, living in a twisted version of their house, visibly tortured by her surroundings.

That part stays with me.  Because it’s what depression is.  When I’m there, I’m all alone, and nothing anyone could say could help or change anything.  Suicide and depression are really the same thing, because depression is already hell.

Jane Kenyon, a depressive and a poet, writes:  “Unholy ghost, you are certain to come again… and turn me into someone who can’t take the trouble to speak;  someone who can’t sleep, or who does nothing but sleep;  can’t read, or call for an appointment for help.  There is nothing I can do against your coming.”

In “Brothers Karamazov” Dostoevsky posits that heaven and hell are now, determined only by our frame of reference.  We are not condemned to hell in some future time;  if we are condemned to hell, we live there now.  The same with heaven.  Christ Jesus said:  “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  Here, now.

Dostoevsky:
“That life is heaven,” he said to me suddenly, “that I have long been thinking about;” and all at once he added, “I think of nothing else indeed…  Heaven,” he went on, “lies hidden within all of us—here it lies hidden in me now… we are all responsible to all for all, apart from our own sins, you were quite right in thinking that, and it is wonderful how you could comprehend it in all its significance at once. And in very truth, so soon as men understand that, the Kingdom of Heaven will be for them not a dream, but a living reality.”
Spoken by a character who committed murder, a murder he’s been hiding:  “I know it will be heaven for me, heaven, the moment I confess. Fourteen years I've been in hell.”

And here are words spoken by Father Zosima a prophet, a poet, a priest—someone who echoes both Christ and Buddha for me:
My brother asked the birds to forgive him; that sounds senseless, but it is right; for all is like an ocean, all is flowing and blending…  I ponder, “What is hell?” I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love...  there are some fearful ones who have given themselves over to Satan and his proud spirit entirely. For such, hell is voluntary and ever consuming; they are tortured by their own choice. For they have cursed themselves, cursing God and life.
Those "fearful ones" stay with me. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but a Spirit of love, of power, and of a strong mind.”  2 Timothy 1:7

I love that trinity.  Love, power, and a strong mind.  If I can have love and power and a strong mind, then I live already in the kingdom of heaven.  If I fear, then I live in an ever-consuming and voluntary hell.

But I fear so much, all of the time.  As Solomon writes:  "It’s possible to distinguish between anxiety and depression, but according to... a leading expert on anxiety, 'they’re fraternal twins.'"
A quote from Tina Berger:
I often explain it this way. If you go and visit a Western-trained psychologist for seemingly inexplicable anxiety, he or she will most likely ask you about your life and your job and your family of origin. You may receive a diagnosis and plan of treatment. The treatment will likely involve relaxation and stress reduction, perhaps some additional talk therapy to address past emotional wounding, and you may be referred to a psychiatrist for medical treatment with anti-anxiety medication. You may or may not find the source of your anxiety. Whatever the recommended course of treatment, unexplained anxiety is generally seen as a pathology here in the West. If you have anxiety and you can’t source it to an immediate and direct problem in your life, the general assumption is: something is wrong with you.

An ecopsychology-based perspective takes a much bigger picture view of anxiety, considering questions like, “How sane is it, to have no anxiety as such beautiful species of plants and animals disappear from the planet one by one?” “How sane is it to have no anxiety when we know children are dying unnecessarily from starvation in many parts of the world?” “How sane is it that we work such long hours to continue acquiring so many things that we will throw away in less than a year?”
How sane am I?  Not very.

One last Solomon quote:
At a cocktail party in London, I saw an acquaintance and mentioned to her that I was writing this article. 
"I had terrible depression,’ she said. 
I asked her what she had done about it.  
"I didn’t like the idea of medication,’ she said.  "My problem was stress-related.  So I decided to eliminate all the stresses in my life."  She counted off on her fingers.  "I quit my job," she said.  "I broke up with my boyfriend and never really looked for another one.  I gave up my roommate and moved to a smaller place.  I stopped going to parties that run late.  I dropped most of my friends.  I gave up, pretty much, on makeup and clothes."  I was looking at her in bewilderment.  "It may sound bad, but I’m much less afraid than before," she went on, and she looked proud.  "I’m in perfect health, really, and I did it without pills."
Someone who was standing in our group grabbed her by the arm. 
"That’s completely crazy.  That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard.  You must be crazy to be doing that to your life," he said. 
Is it crazy to avoid the behaviors that make you crazy?
Jane Kenyon writes, of emerging from a devastating depression:  “With the wonder and bitterness of someone pardoned for a crime she did not commit I come back to marriage and friends…  to my desk, books, and chair.”  She writes, of ordinary contentment:  “What hurt me so terribly all my life until this moment?  How I love the small, swiftly beating heart of the bird singing in the great maples;  its bright, unequivocal eye.”

So I make plans for a half-suicidal foray across the Atlantic.  Or I make sense of the world through art, as Townes van Zandt, the patron singer of depressives, did.  He also drank himself to death aged 53. Ernest Hemingway, with his shotgun, beat him by nine years.  Robin Williams beat him by ten.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Break

Weekday regatta at Mattapoisett Harbor
August is a good month to spend in Massachusetts.  There are regattas.  There is alleged sunshine, more than the rest of the year, at least.  There are clam bakes and fresh oysters and fluke sushi and better lobster than in Maine, if you can get your fingers into any.

Light at Mattapoisett
There are camping trips and sailing on ponds.  There are bonfires.  There is precious little swimming.  There is chilly yoga in sunlit patches.  There are car shows.  There are rainbows and sunsets and lighthouses.

Authentic New England clambake at the Marion VFW
The clam bake I refer to was especially spectacular.  It is impossible to sufficiently rave about the seafood around here, and how cavalier the locals are about its deliciousness.  New Bedford, less than ten miles away, whence both Ishmael and Herman Melville sailed, is still the largest working seaport in the United States in terms of volume of seafood caught.  The shellfish here, I would wager, are the best in the world.  As are the lobster, I believe.  Maine is famous for its lobster because they possess a larger quantity of them—Cape Cod lobster are rarer, sweeter, more expensive, and more succulent.  Scallop boats out of New Bedford bring in more money than the famous king crab boats in Alaska.

Clam closeup
Then there are the clams.  New England clambakes are legendary, even among those who have never been here.  The clambake is a traditional method for preparing seafood, using steamed seaweed and heated rocks buried under the ground.  In many places around the Cape, bars and restaurants advertise “authentic” clambakes.  But the one we attend, and that I blogged about way back when, in one of my earliest posts, actually *is* authentic.  It’s held at the VFW, and has been the same for decades.  The same, except now attendance is dwindling, with only 150 left of the 500 who used to attend annually.  Sadly, of the benches that were filled up when we attended eight years ago, only half were full this year.  They said they didn’t even break even this year, as membership in the VFW dwindles.

He ate four quarts--and flashes me a four to prove it
I understand, because it still feels like a steal to me.  $32 for all-you-can-eat steamed clams, haddock, sausage, corn, potatoes, butter, brown bread, and onions.  All of it steamed in beds of seaweed, dug into holes in the ground by veterans and volunteers.  There were so few people this year that we were able to fill up huge bags full of clams and corn to take back home with us.  Later, we transformed them into clam scampi.


A volunteer rakes the seaweed--still the same seaweed, the same rocks
It’s sad to me.  The VFW, and social organizations like it—clubs, churches, leagues—are the institutions that hold America together, that keep us strong.  When I was in college a book came out called “Bowling Alone.”  It told of the collapse in American community organizations from the fifties and sixties till today.  Back then, people joined bowling leagues, or the AmVets, or local social clubs.  Now we bowl alone.  We live, as we dream, said Conrad—alone.

Now people sit on their asses and watch television.  Play computer games.  Mess with the internet on their smart phones.  We shop at big-box stores.  We don’t go wade for quahogs or check lobster traps.  We don’t dig kelp and rocks to prepare food on a beach.  We buy bargain chicken grown in factory farms, chickens that can’t walk, that never see the light of day.  I’m one of them—don’t get me wrong.  Maybe we’ve gained something—freedom, Wikipedia—but we’ve lost a lot too.

Not that the seafood’s necessarily any better than farmed meat.  Grillabongquixotic doesn’t eat seafood for ethical reasons, after seeing firsthand the way the ocean’s been fished out.  These new fishing shows (Wicked Tuna, Dangerous Catch) glorify the fishermen out there, but ignore the quantities being taken and the dwindling fishery.  Scientists estimate that human beings have already reduced the population of big fish in the ocean to 10 percent of what it was in 1950.  We’ve eaten 90 percent of the fish that we had.  Already in Massachusetts, bay scallops, the sweetest of the shellfish, are gone.  This used to be the only place in the world where you could eat them.  Now there is not enough sea grass to support their reproductive cycle.  How many years till there aren’t any clams?

Some people eat meat and don’t eat fish—better to eat factory-farmed meat than fish out our remaining wild food.  But then some people don’t eat beef for ethical reasons.  Cattle emit methane (methane could provide electricity for us, I argue, but no one listens) and are grown on factory farms.  Chickens and eggs and hogs are problematic, too, with the vast pools of toxic waste their production manufactures.

In Thailand, I met a traveler from Peru.  He didn’t eat soybeans or any soy product.  He refused to.  He’d seen the forest in Peru being clearcut for soybean fields.  It was the first time I’d seen someone who ate meat, but not tofu, for ethical reasons.

So in August we ate our clams, bottom feeders, and we’ll keep eating them until they’re gone, I suppose—until the New England coast is remade by aquaculture.  Aquaculture and algae are among the few things that can save us from climate change, I believe.  Offshore wind and algae farms, with oysters and shellfish beneath the surf for protein.  Delicious, nutritious, and good for the planet.

Plus there’s all that butter.

August is a good month to spend in Massachusetts.  But now it’s September, and already it’s getting colder, the trees tinged with red.  Now it’s September, and as House Stark like to remind us, winter is coming.  Winter is coming, and with it the cold.

Friday, August 29, 2014

I saw a black branch

Shadow
And then my dog died.  In truth he died before my last post, a reason for my delay, and in truth he wasn’t exactly my dog either, even after all of these years.  After all of the times we walked and snowshoed together.  The border patrol used to buzz us in their helicopter, till they got used to us disturbing their radar, two little linked shapes strolling along the border.  He was never really my dog, despite that, although I wanted him to be.

Winter walk
All those walks together I remember.  The times he dragged me out, our mid-afternoon post-writing walk become an ecstatic habit, him leaping vertically and twisting in the air, overjoyed, tangling himself in his leash.  The times I dragged him onward, in ninety-degree August, towards the end.  The years I had him trained off leash, and he ran in front, along side, snuffling after rabbits and deer.  The times we went in fresh-crusted snow and he broke through the surface, yelping, while I floated on top in my snowshoes and he, panting, plunged on.

At rest, among books, like a good literary dog
I felt a slave to him sometimes, his neediness and whining, but on cold winter nights in Maine he’d jump and share my bed with me.  He’d sleep beside me and I loved him, loved wrapping my arms around his heft, his warmth.  I taught him “noses,” the command, and he’d touch my nose with his, and Eskimo kiss, not licking my face (I don’t like that) unless completely overcome by affection and unable to help himself.

In winter
One night, back when K. was here working on the boat and I was still traveling in Asia, the two of them sat together in the garage and when K. went to go back in the house he couldn’t get Shadow to wake up.  He couldn’t move him, couldn’t wake him, couldn’t rouse him—as if he were already half in the ether, already half-gone.  He could have drifted off into nothingness that night, without me.  But something called him, and he awoke, and pulled himself to arthritic feet, dragged himself up the stairs and waited another two months for me to come back.
Looking right at me
When I flew in it was the first thing he wanted to do, noses, reaching and snuffling his nose for me, his clouded, half-blind eyes seeking me out.  He waited for me.  Three days after I flew in he was shrieking because he couldn’t stand up, couldn’t get down the stairs.  Two days later his hips gave out and he couldn’t walk.  He lay in the dirt and cried.  Till we gave him oxycodone and barbituates and he passed.
At rest, in love
It kills me; he waited.  This despite how we tormented him over the years with our adventures, our absences.  We abandoned him again and again, leaving him with family that loved him, maybe more than we could, but how could he understand the inexplicable?  I swear he understood English, and each time I whispered where we were going and how long we’d be gone (when I knew) and that we’d come back, whispered in his glove-soft ears.  Maybe he believed me;  maybe he understood.  Because he waited.  Despite my disloyalty, despite traveling almost all of the time I had with him, the years he had on this planet, leaving him in the care of others.

Molting, as summer came on
The night before he died I held him.  I keep remembering how he couldn’t lift himself from the dirt, how we made a blanket nest and spread out a tarp beside him and slept in the dirt next to him.  Sometimes K. allowed me a shift nested against Shadow and I curled up against his heft and put my arm around him, crooked at ninety degrees, so that my bad shoulder could rest on his weight, supported, and I could let my whole weight rest on his body, all of me, and he was still strong enough to take it, he welcomed it, my weight releasing onto his weight.  We breathed together.  My breath calmed and his breath calmed and we sighed together.

In better days, hiking--I'm so happy now we took him with us on the Pinhoti Trail
The next morning he was suffering and couldn’t walk and we made the decision and put him down and it was both brutal and necessary.  He died in the dirt.  He was in pain.  He couldn’t walk anymore.  He was crying all of the time from pain, under his breath, trying to keep us from hearing.  He got up and walked around, briefly, just fifteen minutes before the lady came with her hypodermic needle.  It made me question what we were doing but not really—it was just another gift, towards the end, one more sniff around the yard.  What they use to euthanize dogs is an overdose of barbituates, the same as for Michael Jackson, and when she injected him, already tranquilized, he smiled.  A kind of high, a drifting into space.  And then he was gone.

Our winter snowshoe path beaten down
Half of me wants immediately to return to Maine and begin breeding husky-shepherd-wolf puppies, a whole sled-team’s worth, training them to be bird dogs or hunting dogs or service animals.  Other people say:  no more animals.  It’s too hard.  But I think although animals open our capacity for suffering they also open our capacity for joy.  Suffering is the human condition.  But so is joy.  My life would have been smaller without Shadow in it.

It’s also hard to imagine going back to Maine without him.  What kind of place will it be without him beside me?  It’s hard to remember the last time we dragged him away from his home for the sake of our adventure.  It’s hard to think of his face, his liquid eyes, his black-gummed smile, his velvet ears.

I’ve never lost a dog before.  I’ve never really had a dog before, and I have this sense that my grief is unseemly, if not indulgent.  Thinking back I remember my distaste for other people’s grief at the death of their dogs.  But unlike when a person dies, it seems that Shadow has been erased, that he ceased to exist, that no one wants to talk about him or acknowledge their grief.  You can’t have a funeral for a dog.

But he loved me better than a human being ever could.  He loved me completely and unconditionally and more and better than a human being.  His love was simple, without flaw, without grudge, freely give and freely received.  When I scratched his belly, when I gave him the hard pat he loved, he dissolved in joy.  I loved him with all my heart.  And he loved me.  I am grieving now not the end of his pain but how much worse a place the world is without him.

How many people are lucky enough to have their Jungian shadow made manifest?  How many women are able to become wolf maidens?  I keep hearing his whine, caught, distant, in the creaking of black branches.  I see tufts of his hair caught in the grass.

I suppose I wish I’d spent more time with him when he was alive, but who doesn’t wish that when someone dies?  I spent as much time as I was capable of spending at the time.  I never believed he could really disappear.  And now I have to be a person in the world without him.

I feel like Peter Pan.  I’ve lost my shadow, and with it my ability to fly.  All those walks together, not many, not enough.  His beautiful perfect soft glove ears are gone forever.  Ashes.  Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.  He’s in the wind now.  In the trees.  In the starlight.  Isn’t that what heaven is? His consciousness become all consciousness.  My Shadow.

Into the distance

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Marion, Massachusetts

Family
Coming back to the United States of America has meant a lot of change.  Some things I am happy about:  drinking water from the tap, paper towels in bathrooms, the fourth of July, cooking for myself, guacamole, cheese.  Being able to flush toilet paper down toilets without worrying about it.  Best of all:  pointing my feet at people without being rude.  Things I have not missed:  socks.  hoodies.  coats.  long underwear.  cold. 

I’ve been traveling a lot since I returned to America, and I am alleged to be writing about travel, and yet somehow travel within these United States feels less deserving of catalog.  But that is my own stingy prejudice, I know.  I spent two weeks in Chicagoland and a week in Ann Arbor—sampling local cuisine, attending local cultural events, and visiting local farms—all of which I would be proud to advertise if it were in Vietnam or Laos.  Why not here?

So.  On we go.

Sophia examines her trophy in private
On my third day after arrival I attended my niece’s championship baseball game, during which she scored the winning run, in the bottom of the ninth inning, thus winning the entire season after losing to the opposing team the previous night.  Too good to make up.  We sat in the rain to watch her, all five of us—my entire immediate family.  Do we resemble each other?


Beautiful sister
Then there are these interesting signs, still hand-painted, at Pan’s in Oak Park.  It’s a local grocer where my friend Amy used to shop when she lived down the street, when I lived several more blocks down, for three years.  We used to walk here and to the Avenue Ale House, our local, and the Mexican restaurant across the street.  It’s now something else, maybe high-end Mexican, next to the gastropub where this time I enjoyed Chicago gin and a burger made of local ingredients.  House-made ketchup.  Farm-to-table greens.


Fresh in the husk
In Ann Arbor, I visited a farm where we fed pigs corn.  I felt less bad about eating them after I saw them, in a farm’s usual way of hardening one against life’s cold realities.  I saw where they brewed their beer, and met co-op workers, who travel and freely work for room and board, at farms around the country.  This farm, Mulberry Hill, which runs a CSA (community-supported agriculture), also just held its own Ann Arbor version of Burning Man.


Ann Arbor farm

Although I complain about eating meat, I feel better about eating pigs after spending some time with them.
Cucumber and beans being prepared for CSA delivery
Sonia and I went for lunch at a vegan restaurant with vertical gardens.  We envisioned our own life of pro-gluten tee-shirts.  “Ask me about my gluten deficiency.”  I had vegetarian and organic mac and cheese, with local butternut squash in the sauce.  It was nutty and delicious.  We wanted to ask for extra gluten in our meals, but did not.
Vertical gardens, although it's hard to tell
My sister and I made paleo Thai food.  What, you say?  You didn’t know cavemen harvested rice kernels as they hunted and gathered?  That they pounded palm kernels together for sugar?  Well, now you do.

We also started quilting.  I am addicted, now, to patchwork, in all forms.  I bought a book on it, at an Ann Arbor book sale.  With pictures of the Baltimore album quilts, of which I'd never heard.

A quilt at the American Museum, not my photograph
And then I started searching online finding things like this:
Knitted patchwork, not my photograph
Or this:
Called a scrap-buster, but my favorites are the crazy quilts that use randomness as an organizing principle
(not my photograph)
Or this:
Something called domino knitting, where each block leads into the next--again, randomness, and I love it
(not my photograph)
Now I’m back in Marion, working on another boat project.  No travel, but future posts about teak and mahogany, the joys of hand sanding with 200-grit.  I slowly slip back on my socks.  The fan goes quiet.

Spirit, under construction
Here, too, I photograph beaches made of marble.  Regatta races in the fog.  I wrap my Thai fabric around my shoulders.  I want to be in two places at once.

Beach made of marble
Regatta in fog
Here, too, I am grieving, grieving and miserable.  My ability to speak and read and write Thai has been put in suspended animation, somewhere below consciousness, somewhere I can’t access.  I fall down body-image rabbit holes, something that didn’t happen as much in Thailand.  There is was normal for me to be bigger than an average person.  Here Americans look at me with cold scorn.  I photograph the surface of the water in Marion harbor, wearing my Bangkok tie-dyed clothes.  People stare.  Men.  I look at them and smile and they don’t smile back.  I wish I’d been brave enough to dye and dread-lock my hair, too.

I’m hungry all of the time because of no more Thai food.  Meal here consist of meat.  Bread.  Cheese.  I’ve eaten my last moo daeng, pad Thai, pad see eu, curry, som tahm, gai yahng.  I’m already forgetting how great it is to hear Thai, see Thai, speak Thai—food, language, people.

Moo daeng (red pork--okay, it doesn't look like I'm protein-starved based on this bowl)

Late lamented pad Thai
I even miss the smell the Argentine kid at Bluefin complained about, saying, on his first day in Asia, wrinkling his nose:  what I didn’t expect was the smell.

Every so often I catch a whiff of it here, in this air that smells like nothing, a whiff of the dank, fetid, rich smell of something rotten and it remains me of home.  What I wrote in my journal the first morning in Bangkok was:

It smells the same.  The humid air.  That eucalyptus and incense smell in the morning.  The mildewed bathrooms.

Is it the lack of light and vitamin D that brings me depression here?  Is it the meat-heavy diet?  My brother attributes the exponential rise of depression in modern America to the toxic hormones in our factory-farmed meat, animals that live and die in trauma, and the stress hormones in their bodies that go into ours.  In Thailand I lived on vegetables and rice and oil.  I ate fragments of egg and meat in almost every meal, but barely more than fragments.  When I bought a chicken skewer at the market I wolfed it, protein-starved.

Or am I deluding myself?  I had plenty of anxiety and depression in Thailand, too—fear of locals, fear of strangers, days when I just wanted to speak English and order pizza and stay in my room.

Or is it just aimlessness now that I’m back, not knowing what or where I want next?