Monster Mash 1: It’s Nothing!

He’s big and shaggy, and he goes around shouting: Nothing! That’s nothing! or This is nothing! You’re nothing! This whole project, whatever it is, amounts to nothing!

In yesterday’s post, I described the habit of following and leaving breadcrumbs as a practice I do “If the familiar bogeyman shows up, growling that there’s Nothing to offer.” Later in the day, it occurred to me that I had possibly misrepresented the regularity of the appearance of this character, as a sort of roving Bigfoot figure, of whom I have occasional sightings, whom I nobly fight off whenever he arrives. 

In fact, there is nothing occasional about his appearance. In fact, I can’t remember a creative day without him. In truth, we live together. Always have and probably always will. 

It occurred to me that I should give him some more space. Monsters like when you give them some room. They like to be acknowledged, which is why they growl and lope about breaking things. Given that I’ve already tried everything I can think of to get him to leave, from battle to poison, to attempting to lure him away with some distraction, I’ve decided to make peace with him. I’d rather live with a peaceful monster than an angry one desperate for attention. Besides, he’s surprisingly endearing (in a so-funny-looking-he’s-cute sort of way), all shaggy and one-note, always bumping into things and repeating himself. 

“monster” by Karli Watson on flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 2.0 Generic license.

“Nothing!” Is what he says, over and over. That’s his name, Nothing. It calls to mind a favorite childhood movie, The Neverending Story, in which a boy goes on a quest to save the known world from The Nothing that is devastating the land. That nothing was terrifying to me, mainly because it rang deeply true. As a child I sensed what I did not have words for at the time, but which was definitely present: a strong anti-life force at loose in the world. Steven Pressfield calls it The Resistance. I sometimes call it The Machine. It’s capacity to destroy comes from its ability to exist undetected. 

This is why I decided to name my monsters. The umbrella title (Resistance, Machine, Evil, etc.) is useful, but the thing to understand about these forces is how they have minions going about doing their bidding for them.  I want to name these, too. 

So, back to Nothing. He’s big and shaggy, and he goes around shouting: Nothing! That’s nothing! or This is nothing! You’re nothing! This whole project, whatever it is, amounts to nothing! 

As you can see, he’s a bit of a solipsist. Poor guy, he really can’t help himself. It’s all he knows.

Yes, I say to him, patting his matted fur. That’s right, this is Nothing. Would you like some milk? 

I like Nothing! he insists, but he will take some milk. I put some out and he’s busy with that for a while, slurping away before he bangs the bowl to the floor, just to punctuate his previous statement. Which was: Nothing!

I even make concessions. I mean, he’s not entirely wrong. I actually don’t have any ideas, most days. So, if asked, “What ideas do you have this morning?” my honest answer is either something like, “I think I’ll fry my eggs instead of boil them today” or “I’ve got Nothing.”

Nothing would like me to submit at this point. But I can acknowledge that while I have no actual ideas most of the time, I am not in need of any, either. I’m here to show up and listen, and the world, as far as I can tell, is full of plenty to offer. All I need to do is look, listen, and describe. 

And be patient. If I didn’t have patience going for me, Nothing would probably win every time. If the question of what to post today (or write later, or how to develop that story or solve the next problem) had to be answered before I began, I definitely wouldn’t be getting anything done. But, as it turns out, it doesn’t. Nothing is big and hairy, smelly and loud, and sometimes just eerily silent, brooding. 

But Something is abundant and vast, full of more than I can possibly take in at any given time.  So, I practice just being in it, dancing with it, and let Something take care of the rest. That’s all I can do. Perhaps those with endless ideas have other ways.  

Maybe some people don’t live with all these monsters around them all the time. I can’t imagine what that’s like, but I can say that I don’t mind looking at these funny-looking guys. It’s quite a menagerie, really.  

You take a monster like this Nothing and you talk to him, pet him and offer some milk, clean up his messes, and after a while you start to notice that actually, he’s more like Something, which would negate the whole supposed threat of his being. 

But I won’t tell him that. Nothing’s got his job, and I have mine.

What’s that? He wants to know.

Oh, it’s Nothing! 

Hmmmmph. He nods, very serious, spewing sulfurous smoke from his nostrils. Nothing!

And then I get back to it. 

Follow-up:  After hanging out with my guy Nothing today, something occurred to me. I think I will do a whole “Monster Mash” series of posts though maybe not necessarily back-to-back. I like the idea of returning to these characters. I think I can assemble quite a cast, over time. I picture something like The Muppets Take Manhattan, another favorite childhood movie.

Creative Notions

It is a good idea, I read somewhere, to have some other creative practice beyond the main one. Sort of like a cool down from the main event, or tai chi. I have been known to get tunnel vision and overthink, so take this advice to heart and consider some things that do not involve words. Painting might be good, but there are times I’ll do anything to avoid a trip to the store, and this is one. Okay, then.  Well, comes a voice, there are those fabrics you saved, and it’s not like you don’t have what you need for those projects. 

There are people who announce, when something tears, Oh I can fix that that, give it to me! like it’s nothing. Or, I made this dress from a tapestry I used to have in my dorm. Simple! I am not of this tribe. I am, however, very stubborn when it comes to acquiring certain skills, except where cars are involved. I know there’s no test at the end, but still. You meet enough of those made-these-pants people and you think, What am I missing? Maybe this.  

Besides, wasn’t I just thinking how I’d love to do something with all these frayed edges? It turns out I still have the book. I bought it because I had acquired a sewing machine and to let it languish forever seemed like a dangerous form of waste, and the sort of senseless sin that was no fun. I didn’t want any associated karma to infect the baby, so I made a few expandable skirts when I was pregnant with my daughter. The bar for maternity wear was not very high. She’ll be twelve in the fall, and since the skirts, there were also those napkins and aprons, and once a mermaid tail, because she saw a girl with one at the local pool and when I looked into getting one as a Christmas gift, the cost was out of reach, so I thought, Here we go. The key to the success of these, such as it was, was a sense of necessity combined with a commitment to regarding any seams only from a distance, in low light. Or through the eyes of a four-year old, who cared only that she had a tail. 

I spend some time with the book. There’s an essential tool list, but it’s unclear when I will be using any of these things, so I move on. Measuring, the importance, blah blah. Good shears? I have these scissors for opening amazon boxes and trimming split ends. The book explains that steel shears, while more expensive, are more reliable. The lightweight, cheaper ones may feel better in your hand, but could give you trouble. I think, here’s an explanation. 

Now wait: what is this seam sealant? For frayed edges, apparently. That might almost be worth a trip to the store. If available for low cost.  I wonder: a viable replacement for doing the actual hem? I table the question and think, Look at me! I am already exercising new creative muscles. Flex!

Ironing board? Check! Should be padded, they say. Well. I consider. That really depends. It’s covered anyway. A thimble is something I once had. Now it’s just this economy-sized box of band aids. The directions for the machine are rather long-winded with a lot about what part is what. It is unclear what help they can offer, so I suppose I’ll just feel it out like I did last time, when I––wait. Was that really seven years ago already? No wonder I am looking at these parts thinking, what does this do? 

As far as I can remember, my last attempt at feeling my way around also involved a number of expletives, and numerous stops as I attempted to figure why the machine was wildly stitching what amounted to a giant knot about the width of my bandaged thumb. My intention was not a giant knot, but a single line. I know I eventually achieved these lines, however uneven. So now I am trying to remember what I did to bypass this problem. I check the book for clues.  

I love that these things are called notions: the zippers, elastics, pipings, laces. Hah! I think. I have plenty of notions, and chief among these is that I will not be needing any of these accoutrements at this particular point. Just a hem, ma’am. Just a hem.

I am well into this knot collection when I read the part about fabric types and corresponding threads. Also, about how to toggle that lever, whatever it’s called, to make things go forward or back. Well, that’s something!

A place mat vest is something one can make, apparently. And wear. It never occurred. 

There are whole sections on plaids, patterns. Getting them to line up. Hah! I think. If I can say one thing with confidence about this endeavor, it is that the alignment of patterns is not, at this juncture, a concern.

Growing tired of this book, I look around in this basket. Surely that thimble must be in here somewhere. No such luck, but what’s this?! Aha! Hem tape! Now we’re talking!

I think, well, that was a successful review. I may not have done any successful hems––yet, but just wait! I did, however, find occasion to to remember that there is a difference between someone who hacks at a thing on occasion and someone that takes something seriously. Finding the right verb, I have patience for. Endless pages until I find the beginning? No problem. Rewriting a third person passage in first, or from the point of view of the postal worker, or a neighborhood feral cat? Check, check, check.

Lesson learned: there’s little logic to one’s inclination to a particular art, but what inclination there is, can be enough to sustain all manner of frustrations. Without it, there would be nothing but frustrations and a thing that is beginning to feel like a colossal waste of time. 

So, I put the sewing machine back in the closet where it belongs. The basket, too. The scissors I keep right here, for everything else they’re good for.  It’s actually okay if those flour sacks sit there waiting to be made into napkins. It is even possible that I will do so at the next paper towel shortage. But for now, I have other things that need doing.  And I am reminded how any frustrations can be endured when the motivation for doing something is intrinsic, and the trust is in the process and not the outcome. 

The Freedom of Self-Imposed Constraints

If it is true that nothing is more terrifying for an artist/creative than the blank canvas or blank page, then it may also be true that the faster we get something on there, the more quickly we can free ourselves from such terror.

Before I learned to write every day, I spent about a decade either trying to write for too long (as if I could finish my opus in a month or something) or putting it off and feeling sick ––and who wouldn’t, with stakes and expectations so unrelentingly high? I started and stopped what I was trying to make a practice, more times than I can count.  Needless to say, I rarely finished anything. 

Write to save your life, is one prompt that I would never give to a student. But that’s exactly what I did to myself when I was trying to “be a writer” then. I was full of a destructive sort of “no pain, no gain” mentality, which I thought meant you were “serious.” If the point is to talk about the dramatic moment staying up all night, I suppose it could be effective. But if the point is to develop something lasting and long term, such as a body of work over a lifetime, it’s disastrous. In high school and college, I tended to apply the same model to my athletic training, and as a result, I was chronically injured and unable to compete for numerous seasons. 

I suspect that I was at least partially influenced by the incredible expectations I was feeling, from many areas of dominant culture, about the supremacy of youth. A writer I admired once said to a class, “If you haven’t made it happen by twenty-six, forget it,” and while there must have been some context for this, it was lost on me, and all I could feel after graduation was the pressure of “It,” and I think Stephen King made a brilliant choice for a title of one of his most well-known horror novels. Turning a creative impulse into an “It” is a great way to create a lot of drama, but it’s a horror and a disaster to live through. I had no practice to sustain any creative “vision” I could dream, and I had yet to learn that the daily practice of growing the work over time was what I really wanted. It’s much less glamorous, much more accessible, and much more sustaining.  

Then I stumbled on the idea of 15 minutes a day. Then 3 pages. Then I tried adding one hour in the evenings. Now there’s no drama about whether or not writing is going to happen. It’s no longer a big deal. It just does. To learn this, I needed to limit my expectations. This meant being humble, honest, and patient. I had to drop the unreasonable vague product-oriented timeline, and just grow. Not so I could be some superstar, but so I could live. 

 “Waiting for Summer” by Nicholas Erwin on flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license

I keep having to adjust the parameters and re-teach myself this lesson. When I started this daily blog project, it was a big step for me. I noticed that while the posts were generally short (the sort of thing that could be drafted in 15-20 minutes or less) I could easily not get them done until late in the day because I would decide I wasn’t “ready” or “didn’t have an idea.” In summer and in-between writing projects this might work, but in a few weeks, I am going to revert to my “normal” schedule with all of its typical demands and then some, plus I’ve added this. Plus I want to begin work on a new manuscript soon. I realized I had a choice: either plan on being unable to sustain it at some point or make a strict limit. So now I am limited to 15 minutes to think, 15 to write, and the rest of an hour to type, find (most) typos, add links and an image, and post. That’s it. Some are better than others, but all are the best I can do in a given time frame. No time for grand ideas or clever concepts. Just a daily offering, and no longer a big deal. I’ve scaled down my expectations some to make it so, and now I do not have a doubt that I can do it for a year (then two, three, and so on . . .), even during very hectic days. If all I have to work with is an hour, and it gets sidelined in the morning, I’ll find it later. But usually, I can control the early morning, so most days this is doable.  

Since trying this, I’ve noticed that I’m already able to dream other projects more fully, because my mental space is freed up after my morning post. I’ve been more relaxed, and I am learning to trust that something can always be made “from scratch” the next day. This post is written on a day that I admittedly have “no new ideas,” just this thing I was noticing all last week, after implementing a new constraint, which now limits my ability to plan on finding a “better idea.”

If it is true that nothing is more terrifying for an artist/creative than the blank canvas or blank page, then it may also be true that the faster we get something on there, the more quickly we can free ourselves from such terror. What comes after that is so much more interesting, anyway. 

Here are some constraints I like to use:
•    Set a timer for 15 minutes. Pick up pen. Write. Stop at timer (unless you really can’t). Notice how fast the time went. 
•    Limit a daily exercise to something relevant to the history of a given day.
•    Prompts like this: In today’s short piece, include a childhood object, a famous dead person, and a favorite activity.
•    Start writing. Don’t stop till you fill 3 pages. No lifting pen off page. 
•    Write one page in the voice of _______________.
•    Open the dictionary at random. Choose the first word you see. Write it down (if you don’t know what it means, include the definition). Repeat five times. Now write a short exercise using all 5 words.
•    [for late afternoon sessions] Take a snack with you to the writing table. Don’t make dinner until you do this (short) thing. 

Lesson learned––again. Constraints are freeing and they allow me to focus. They teach and re-teach me to overcome paralysis of thinking. And they are a lot more fun than wondering what to do and listening to that nagging voice insisting that it isn’t good enough. 

Card Tricks and other Joys of Research

Writing gives me all sorts of excuses to go looking into cool things like a little kid on an extended break.

Sometimes, when I’m all out of sparks, I open one of my magic books. I have about five of these, acquired a few years back when I had a magician character in mind. 

That was my stated reason, anyway, but I confess that it is also true that I just think magic books are cool, and writing gives me all sorts of excuses to go looking into cool things like a little kid on an extended break. To the dismissive voice that might be lurking in the shadows waiting to shout, “Dilettante!” –I can call these pursuits Research (note capital ‘R’). This because I call myself Writer (see capital ‘W’).  It’s a title ripe for claiming, apparently, somewhat like Napoleon’s crown, but with much less bloodshed.  All you have to do is keep it is keep showing up, writing pen in hand, and move it along. 

One of my favorite writers of all time is Percival Everett, and I was delighted to learn, in an interview I listened to last year, that while he found the process of writing books generally difficult, angst-ridden, and unpleasurable (while also unavoidable), he found research to be a lot of fun. I was grateful that he dispelled the myth of writing as a grand old time. I have heard that it is for some, and I don’t think they are lying, but I’ve only rarely found it to be anywhere close to unpainful, much like necessary exercise.  That’s probably because my idea of fun is getting a bunch of margaritas and waxing loopy while making up song lyrics with friends, speaking in tongues and accents if with small children, or, if alone, laughing at cat memes. 

Point being, research has benefits. Among these is that when one of the horsemen of distraction come in (Thank you, Sarah, for sharing this “Four Horsemen of Procrastination”meme with me after I wrote about the challenges that come when the muse gets replaced by “That Guy“), to  ask, while I am trying to work out some interpretation of a proverb or philosophical paradox, something like, “Do you know any card tricks?” –– I can open an as-yet-unopened resource and compose an answer primarily of found passages and annotations. Such as this one, culled from the introduction to The Royal Road to Card Magic, by Jean Hugard and Frederick Braue.:

Modern magic is a vocation, a national convention
conjuring an art. In return for time and effort,
reap friends and spectators.

There are many  
whenever a pack is uninitiated, 
dumbfounding with impressions
of skill. 

There is always something 
in the effective sleight, 
unless striking feats from
wonder to wonder.

I wait for some response. The dark horseman of distraction slinks off. He was apparently hoping I would join him in some sort of illicit internet foray into all manner of card tricks.

Here the internal voice gets a moment of jubilation. “Hah!” she erupts,  “Another point for research!” Gentle reader, forgive her this cocky jubilation, as she is an endangered creature riddled with doubt.  And to the retreating back of this hooded gangster, she now shouts: “I told you I was trying to get to these proverbs! Now what?!” 

And now I may get back to writing this thing I am meaning to write.

But Why Bother? In Defense of Nobody’s Heroes

There is a lot to value about artistic recognition, but this is a cheer for the value of being solidly nobody.

There is a lot to value about artistic recognition, but this is a cheer for the value of being solidly nobody. Considering the Zen idea of “beginner’s mind, best mind” helps to highlight how the point is to keep beginning. The people I find most interesting (both well-recognized and completely unknown) are those who are more interested in what is confusing or new to them than anything they have already done. Life rarely fits any limited ideas of what it should look like, and this is the deep appeal of the misfit creative beings who go on doing their thing, pursuing deep interests and questions: not because anyone is asking, but because there is some life there, and sometimes because no one else is looking for or after it. 

To share from the point of strangeness and isolation, a person may create openings in the walls of strangeness and isolation that prevent us from knowing each other. It is interesting and deeply human, and a deeply loving act of service: the project of creating homes and supportive ecosystems that work with and for ourselves and the lives around us, regardless of who is or isn’t asking, noticing, picking up, or recognizing. 

Frank McCourt was sixty-six when he published Angela’s Ashes. He had spent a career as a teacher. Alma Woodsey Thomas had her first show at the age of seventy-five, after a thirty-five-year career teaching art in DC public schools. Mary Delany was seventy-two when she invented her own art form, mixed media collage. 

I am currently reading Helen DeWitt’s brilliant novel, The Last Samurai, which she published at the age of forty-three. This may seem relatively young, until you realize how early and earnestly she began. We live in a culture that loves to celebrate the young phenom, the wild breakout success, but I take heart in knowing that DeWitt’s brilliant “debut” was her 50th manuscript.  In each of the preceding forty-nine, she had labored diligently and faithfully toward her art, in hopes that it would be read and recognized. She was right, but she may have been “proven wrong” if she stopped after the first forty-nine “failures.” I doubt these were artistic failures, now that I have read DeWitt’s work, but her singular brilliance and truly groundbreaking aesthetic no doubt made unfamiliar demands on her readers, so it was likely passed over, in favor of more easily accessible and familiar styles.

These heroes are the passionate, sensitive artists who managed to maintain artistic vision and practice while working in other roles. Recognizing and celebrating the life-giving courage of their radical acts can be a healthy antidote to the common tendency to see perceived limitations as impediments to artistic development. I could do my work if only –– fill in the blanks, depending on the mood and obstacles of the moment. But if the goal is protection and preservation of life, then obstacles and moods, while deeply relevant to our being in the world, have no relevance (generally, in professional life) on whether the work gets done or not.

“Pygmy Tarsiers” by Rodney Campbell on flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No-Derivs 2.0 Generic License. *

I am consistently honored, thrilled, and humbled by the power of artists who demonstrate this level of artistic professionalism even as they play working roles as plumbers and dishwashers, house cleaners and repair people; chefs and diaper changers and all-around creative inspirations for managing the way the flow of the substance of any given day can feel like trying to take a sip through a fire hose while trying not to perish from drowning or thirst. 

It’s like that. Not sometimes, not exceptionally; but most of the time, and consistently. I’d rather learn to work with these conditions than cross my fingers and hope for better ones someday. 

*The pygmy tarsier, a nocturnal primate native to Indonesia, was widely believed to have gone extinct in the early 20th century, but then it was accidentally captured (and sadly killed) in a rat trap in the year 2000. Fortunately, since then, several other members of the species have made appearances, and their movements are now being tracked and monitored with great hope, interest, and appreciation for their fragility. One of my favorite species of internet research is searching up newly discovered and rediscovered species. 

Live at the Apocalypse!

Let’s go! someone said, meaning to the apocalypse. I thought it was coming to us.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Let’s go! someone said, meaning to the apocalypse.
I thought it was coming to us.

Sure, but let’s meet it.
What do we bring?

Whatever you want. Everything! But you may have to check it at the door.
Will there be snacks?

No, just a single unrestricted feast.
Dress code?

The less, the better.
What else?

Bring every ending, every lilting note of your unuttered cry––
What about the pets?

Well, obviously the dog comes with.
And the cat?

You know cats. I suggested this morning and she just gave me a look.
Like, “Again with this apocalypse?”

I think she’s probably done a few already.
What about the sleeping arrangements?

Have you been listening? Who’s sleeping?
Will there be singing?

At first, only silence, and then, there will only be singing.

In the Weeds: First Lessons in Classification

The opposite of weed is welcome: meaning, someone is asking for or seeking out the thing. Because someone is always seeking out the thing other than what is abundantly here.

“I sing the weed that is not weed: the uprooted,
Thornless shape with a scattering of seed
To the cast wind; whose green and gold are mated
in one bloom, healed to one shaken blood.”

                        –    from David Wagoner’s, “An Anthem for Man”

Dandelion by David Slack on Flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License

The opposite of weed is welcome: meaning, someone is asking for or seeking out the thing. Because someone is always seeking out the thing other than what is abundantly here. As in, there is the prize. Here is the weed.

The weeds are abundantly here, but the prized harvest is elsewhere; there are the treasures, there the celebration. To mean something was to be somewhere Far Away, glimpsed for a moment. Invasive species must have looked like such a harvest, in the moments before anyone figured out what they were.

 I learned about this the first time I ever picked weeds–– I called them flowers, then; I didn’t know any better–– that were abundant in the yard. I was barefoot, bending down, starting with the delicate yellow petals of mustard, bright faces turned up, offering themselves. 

I dropped to my knees at the sight of them, pulled carefully as close to the earth as I could, taking only three ––a round number, my grandmother’s trinity of beginning, now and ever after, and then––farther from the concrete sidewalk, I found the dancing orchard grasses, their wild heads extending like Fourth of July sparklers from their stems. 

I laughed to meet them, and they laughed back, waving in rowdy groups, loitering along the neighbor’s wall, telling raucous jokes and cracking roasts about each other’s untamed manes, each one wilder than the next. 

There was one group, they could not be separated; when I pulled near the base where they were cracking up, they all came up. They appeared to be willing in chorus, to join the lowly mustard, and me. 

There were grasses toward the wildest corner, which were stronger and thicker than the rest. They were very regal and stately, their blades long and wide, slightly furred. I gathered them, too, for balance and symmetry.

I brought them inside, an offering. It is no fun for mothers when they have to break things to their children, like the difference between the world’s leading lenses and their own. 

“Those are weeds,” mine told me, quite matter-of-fact. Still, she graciously accepted, filling a dixie cup with half an inch of water and placing my motley bouquet inside, for display at the kitchen table for the remainder of the afternoon. 

The import of these words rolled as quickly off of me as anything else. It wasn’t until much later, after at least a decade of school, that I considered them again, as the first lesson in something about established orders.

“What are weeds?” I had asked. 

“They are the plants no one wants,” she told me, careful to add that such prejudice did not apply here, where the weeds were proudly displayed, for a whole afternoon, in the water of a dixie cup. 

I had so little practice at the time, with rules for the classification of lives. How some were deemed worthy and others worthy of execution by committee and pesticide. School was coming, and I would have many more opportunities to learn how the living, examined under the lens of the machine, could be sorted and separated into categories of prized and rejected, in ways that could indefinitely keep us from ourselves. 

Now when I think of it, I am grateful to be old enough to have encountered the sort of living that makes me understand the way that opposing truths may breathe side by side, like the unnecessary and the desperately sought; like salvation and discarded; like the thing that you meant to get rid of, and the thing that was saving your blind and desperate life, all along, with the calm of knowing what was once, is now, and ever would be, in this world of never-ending limits of what may. 

Seeking Directions: A Cautionary Tale

Once, studying some recurring questions, I encountered a phrase: Be the hero of your own life.

It took me, as it were, by the locks, tugging my scalp. I couldn’t see what it was that was holding me, and it didn’t provide much in terms of useful transport, but it certainly did a lot of thrashing about up there. I was much older when I finally untangled my hair, which by then was starting to fall out. I think sometimes how the arresting speaker probably meant well. It was hard to tell, as he didn’t speak except in grunts, celebratory yelps, and the bridge progressions of various top-100 Jock Jams. Was this a man? Maybe, but memory does interesting things, so when I think of him now, I see the characteristically furry, vaguely hominid Sasquatch figure of an 80’s B-Movie, and he’s wearing a red T-shirt. The phrase was on the T-shirt. There was a company logo on the back. I couldn’t tell which one.

Correction. He did have a few words; he just didn’t seem to string them together into anything that sounded like a sentence. While we were marching, I could make out something like, “Yes, Success! Yes! Are you . . . ready to rumble?!!!”

He shouted the word “Legacy!” in a similar manner, but with a more elaborate percussive element.

And yet––

The attempt at – (what was that, anyway? making an impression? branding? was it meant to be instructive?) whatever it was, would likely have landed much differently on someone less porous, less susceptible to wonder about where her body ends and the next one began. It might have been recounted fondly as one of those turning point events so popular in American films, as in: “I was just sitting there, or dancing in a circle with no discernible ambition and then––Whammo! Blinded by the light and a sudden potent animal heat, I was moved to the summit!”

Of what? One might ask, but this is often wasted breath. If so inclined, it’s probably best to step back and simply regain what breath can be had, given the prevalence of such attacks by the spirited and hairy successful creatures, lauded throughout the land for their immense strength and variety of name brand merchandise.

You can know them by their talk: by their obsessions with legacies, their playbooks of endgames, their hostility towards doubt in all forms.

For a carrier of other bodies, the points of endings, like the points of beginnings, were equally irrelevant and often not even on the map, if there was one, which started either in the branching alveoli, or the ventricles (Which one? Right, left? Upper or lower? And which came first, arteries or veins?) or in the sound of a mother’s heartbeat, or her own, or her child’s, and if most of this is water, where would I find the source? Do I go back to Eden, the four rivers, or further, to some original droplets of cosmic condensation?

There were good reasons to struggle with the question of beginnings, which naturally impacted the question of focus, and, regarding various inquiries around one’s own life, where exactly it was.

A better suggestion, in my case, might have been, Come here. Look ––for example, at the aspen, to notice the unseen roots. I might have been instructed to sit and listen, in good company, which I did ––and I was, eventually, and there wasn’t a hero among us, only a song in the distance and the waiting, and everything that mattered

––underground.

Aspen Grove – June Lake Loop by paraphulm on Flickr

The Matter of Your Substance

This is for the quiet behind your words, the songs vibrating in the back corners of your silences, for the shapes you have been noticing in the ceiling after dark; how they move in your nameless mystery. This is for the impulse to close your eyes when you’ve had enough of looking, to find the shadows just as present as the bursts and squiggles of colored luminescence spiraling across the eyelid-curtains after you stop watching.

Stellar Nursery in the Rosette Nebula – Nasa.gov

This is for your still-seeing even then, for the way you knew you could fly like you knew a mailbox could morph into a griffin; a streetlamp into a vine, from which you might swing across a rising river and drop safely on dry land — to wave at your enemies, scratching their heads.

This is for the rippled reflections over water when you touched it for the first time — really touched it — feeling it as babies do: Now it’s a boundary, now you’re breaking through; now it’s a horizon; now it’s swallowing your hand, your knowing screams of “Aaaaaah! Ha! Oooh!” against each splash.

This is for your hand — the speaker of the moment, do you remember? Chubby and sure of itself without even fine motor skills, already fluent in an ecstatic dialect, intimate with joys of pressing itself against what it cannot hold.

Earthling Applies for Creator Job: A Dramatic Thought Experiment

The hours may vary, as with pay. But the benefits are priceless, and you get to keep giving them away for life.

In the following scene, the boldface words are those spoken by the character “BOSSMAN.”

Hello, world! Here I am! I am nobody! 
Here’s my CV: Creator among fellow creature-creators. 

What? You want me to tell you my greatest weakness? I’m not falling for that one, but I can tell you this: sometimes a body intent on making something is susceptible to debilitating illnesses of spirit. Symptoms can range from low-level listlessness to acute despair.

Has this condition been diagnosed?
Sure, in ways that are generally and specifically wrong. Let’s examine why. In all likelihood, most of us have been afflicted. 

We don’t need to do that.
For many, the symptoms are those we battle daily in various ways, most of which would sound incredibly strange to someone bent on treating the affliction as an individual illness. What are these courses of treatment? They might include staring for a number of silent minutes at the sky, or over the steering wheel in traffic; looking at images of the Hubble Space telescope, or those really close up nature photos where the anthers of a strawberry flower appear as the surface of a hypothetical exoplanet. Some of us have a  fondness for searching up newly discovered species––like the giant Siphonophore Apolemia, discovered in 2020, a 150-foot organism, possibly ancient, which looks like a spiral of silly string floating in the deep––collecting the kinds of facts often called “trivial,” such as how a human heart will sync with the beat of music, and if the blood vessels of the average adult human body were unwound and strung together like a rope, it would wrap around the earth two and a half times, when it might seem to any nonhuman, so-called “objective” observer, that surely once would have been enough. 

Precisely. Anyway, ––
––Anyway, if you look long enough, you might come across this tidbit: how, everything you have two of, you only need one to live, and often (as with limbs, eyes, ears, lips, breasts, testicles) a body can get by without having any of certain common parts. 

That sounds like a wasteful model.
Apparently, we’re made with all these extra bits of ourselves built in. If one fails, the other is ready to support: circulating, filtering, oxygenating, detoxifying, holding, seeing, hearing––and if one never fails, just because. It is customary to ask, “can you lend me a hand?” We say, “Lend me your ear” and “who has a kidney that will match?” We walk into buildings and announce that we are here to give up our blood. We are always making more, and someone is always needing it. 

But what is your bottom line?
Is this a trick question? Have you been looking at my bank account? While you’re at it, let me know if you find that money they tried to charge me for not having enough money.

Well, I––
Anyway, I am clearly unequipped to offer discourse on bottom lines, but I can tell you this. Do you know what else we say? We say: “Can you keep an eye on my child?” My child, my life! In your eye, where I will hold yours when the time comes. We bow our thank yous at the ever-astonishing kindnesses of others. The unexpectedness of what we’ve been taught to disbelieve awes us back to ourselves with such power that it feels like remembering one of those vivid dreams that feels impossibly real.

Are you still talking? Please, just the numbers.   
Okay. Let me stop talking. Do you know any cheers? I do! It’s good for employee morale. Here goes: “One, two, three, four, I’m not measuring myself in code anymore!”

[Irritated cough, for emphasis. A common power move]
The machine would have us believe that we are incomplete cyborgs in beta-testing, whose value as life forms is to be determined by the scores of a consumer panel, as if consumer panels––or, for that matter, any component of the industrial engine––had ever shown any natural (hah!) capacity for recognizing the value of a life (be it of a creature, an area of land, an art form) except as capital for someone’s, as you say, “bottom line.”

Again, just the numbers, please. Do you even know what I mean when I say analytics?
Not really. But trust me, Mister, you can’t count that high. 

Are you still interviewing?
No, I just hired myself. 

[Bossman exits. Earthling sits in cushy chair, spins and bounces excessively. Earthling leans back and forth, back and forth. Takes off shoes, uncomfortable jacket, shirt. Stares through window making sounds that are not words. Eventually, earthling picks up pen, rifles through desk drawers looking for paper, gives up, walks to industrial-grade printer, fumbles with trays, and eventually retrieves a page. Resumes seat, picks up executive pen, writes] 

Dear Earthling,
    Congratulations, you are hired! We are delighted to offer you this job as creator! 
Start now.

Yours truly,
The planet

[Earthling sits back, smiles at page, leans back in chair, puts feet on desk, laughs, “Hah!” This lasts about a minute. Then earthling begins to look sick. There is no one to talk to.]

END SCENE

Let’s analyze this.What exactly is happening with this would-be creator? They have just hit the motherlode! The ultimate boon! 

But they don’t look too well. What is happening here to make this creature so ill?

Ah, it’s the symptoms again. The environmental hazards are getting to them.

The machine would have us believe that there is just barely enough of ourselves to go around: mainly because what is deemed a precious good, is what is rare, and what is abundant (in various forms, including whole populations of humans) is classified as disposable. Life, by nature, is abundant. Once labeled disposable, the algorithmic solution is: exterminate, bulldoze, destroy. The apparent uselessness of many species of earthling is something that the machine gets wrong every time. Still, earthling is breathing the air, and what is in the air gets in the body, in the lungs, and from here: into the blood, the brain, the spirit.

The antidote? Only the company of other life forms deemed useless, and a willingness to commit to protecting them.

What is useless? Plant life growing through concrete sidewalks, the colors of a sunset, the presence of the second of any of our essential parts; laughter, delight, the petting of cats, the slow sipping of hot coffee when a caffeine pill would do;  how dolphins play in waves and dogs bark wildly when they see most other living things. Art except when it’s being bought or sold. Diapered babies, blubbering and cooing, whose have to be carried from one place to the next; diapered adults, whose food must be taken to them, who are fluent in histories the machine would erase. Finger-painting, the colors of a butterfly. Why does a writer have to write a thousand pages to find the idea that the machine would reduce to two hundred and fifty words, why did Rothko create so many versions of “Untitled,” without even bothering to have his painting “look like” anything? 

[Earthling begins to revive. They may have blown the interview, but they really know how to knock it out of the park when it comes to landing the job.]

Because: we are not ideas. We are not projections or statistics. We are bodies, and we are abundantly so. The apparent uselessness (to the mechanical eye) of large portions of our individual and collective bodies, brains, preoccupations, delights, and creations––is indivisible from our nature as earth creatures. 

Any acknowledgement of this simple truth begs the question: how is anyone going to begin to protect any of what is so bluntly called “nature” or “the planet” unless we recognize how its fundamental substance aligns with our own?  

And what if: our fragility to slaughter is precisely in line with an abundance that the machine cannot comprehend? 

It is fiercely life-protecting to favor the wisdom of those who share like reckless fools, who understand what the machine can only deny, because it does not compute: how giving ourselves away is exactly what we were made to do.

The hours may be anything, and the pay is variable. The benefits are priceless, though: and you get to keep them for life, with an unlimited number of co-beneficiaries, for an unspecified and entirely unreasonable amount of time. 

[Earthling is no longer trying to write or speak. What they are doing is very irrational, but if any of their fellow creatures happen to enter the room right now, they will know what they are seeing. It is dance, and it has no value according to the machine’s algorithmic metrics. It is as priceless as the life beholding it, who cannot help but dance along.]