14 December 2017

The Bullet is Never Hungry

I flop between gluing ever more things to my wall and tearing it all down, all the little tacked-on papers and feathers and spat-together artworks. Seems like before I encountered a real "winter," the season of renewal continued to dote upon me regardless of season. Now, it happens at a deeply slowed pace; once every two or three years. Perhaps, then, I have matured at this point in time.

There is way, too, much, god damned shit in my house right now. It's killing me softly.

I drew our Christmas card this year because I have finally grown tired of buying the cheapest bullshit-ass cards I can find.  In fact, I'm tired of doing anything that doesn't specifically holler my name and creed. I've been in a cave for like two years now; a cave with mortgage wallpaper dreams and a confidence level of absolute zero, colder than any scientist has been able to attain in lab settings. That is not right. That is bad. I was rotting. I have lived through a deep, dark winter of the soul. Most importantly, I have lived.

It sure is a good thing I open my eyes every now and again to comb away the dead cells. I would drown here otherwise, beneath the peaceful snow and silent deer, gnawing on dead greenery; not aware of the huge motherfucking goddamn bear, mouth-breathing mere feet away, huffing hard for a free venison dinner. 

How has living in the Rocky Mountains changed me? Oh, let me count the ways. One, life does not wait for you. Other life will kill you when given the slightest opportunity; we are all opportunists by circumstance, humans and elk and bears and even raccoons, when given an unlocked chicken coop. Though I know this, they are not my enemies, the other life. I respect them as I hope they respect me: let me live until I forget the rules. One must never forget the rules. 

Confidence doesn't come into play, here. To not have confidence is a luxury. Yeah, I have electricity and propane heat and...walls; I'm not living in a lean-to. It's just jarring, and oftentimes hard to reconcile how close a quiet death comes here, versus the bullet-blood-drama that death is where I come from. I've come as close to death on a porch in Baton Rouge as I have here with a hungry mountain lion feet away from my person. The difference is, if the lion had missed me, it would've gone for the cat at my feet. Bullets are not hungry.

It's been over a year -- a year, two months, and a day -- since my cat disappeared at sunset. Been about six months since a bear tore off the side of the chicken coop and made off with three out of our six-strong flock. It's been five months since the fourth went down; four months since the third. Then, there were two. 

We guarded them closely. Didn't matter. Then there was one; I named her, knowing I shouldn't. I talked to her for an hour every day when I went to feed her scraps. Sometimes there were no scraps; I just went to visit her. I knew she was afraid, I did everything I could to distract her from the inevitable. They got her a week later; she saw it coming. 

I've never seen a creature live in such fear. I'm glad it was only a week. 

All that said, this is what's affecting my months and years lately. This is the song my soul hears, and who could blame my soul for taking its time to learn this dirge? The sorrow one feels at the sight of his own killing his own is somewhat removed from...whatever it is that one feels at the sight of nature doing its duty in a very similar manner. One might say it's sad versus inevitable; but I think, on a closer look, we might all figure it out, that they're two sides of one coin. The motives are different, but the duty is the same. 

But the bullet is never hungry. Hunger is the ultimate motive of life up here. Winter, silent and peaceful in the suburbs, is desperation in the mountains. Life in jeopardy. There is no choice here.

I have no choice. If I only thaw out once every few years, what choice do I have in the present? None. Zero. Am I confident? That question is not a luxury of mine. Confidence only exists in the realm of others. If there are no others, confidence is only the precursor to skill. Thus, the only question left is,

Can I do it, or can I not? 






13 April 2017

Taxes

I spent all of last year thinking I had it too good, especially in the monetary sense, and feeling pretty guilty for it. I don't have to go to work every day, I rarely feel totally broke, I rarely have a solid reason to feel super stressed out. There are so many things everyone I know has to deal with on the daily that I don't have to deal with. There are plenty of things I stress about, like relationships and intimacy and splitting chores and all the other crap, but those are drops in the ocean compared to what my parents dealt with for 30 years straight, and what my peers deal with daily in regards to money and the job market. I have an easy life comparatively. 

But man, oh man, what I discovered when I added up my income last week.

I wasn't better off monetarily. At all. Actually, I had the absolute worst year financially that I've had in many, many years of filing taxes. Yes, hubs and I have a business, but that's a pretty expensive thing to do. I kept track of how much money I was paid out from that business last year, and we only started doing it in April '16, so I do have an exact dollar amount. But I thought it was so much more than it was. 

That, paired with all the random freelance money I pull in, totaled to less than I've made in a decade.

Yes, I'm married. But we are the peculiar people who keep our finances separate. We each pay half of every bill, every month, and there wasn't a month last year where he covered me on anything other than the occasional date night. I've stretched my mind far and wide to find the money I swear I had, and it's just not there. That's all I made. (Without putting my private numbers all over the internet, I made far less than $20k.)

The difference, apparently, was in the spending of it. I simply didn't spend much on frivolous things -- bar tabs, pizzas, restaurants. Looking at the year in numbers, I realize all that guilt isn't really warranted. I made a lot less than basically everyone I know on earth. The difference was in how I lived, which is pretty surprising to me.

Now I know for a fact that if I had lived in the heart of Denver last year, my financial situation would be so much different. I'd have gone to many a happy hour when I couldn't afford it, I'd have bought appetizers and bullshit. I am a fish who tends to grow with my fish bowl. I'm not taking moral high ground here. I just happened to move to a place that nearly exists without consumer distractions. When any store at all whatsoever is minimum 10 minutes of curvy-ass roads away, it makes one think hard about needs versus laziness, and laziness tends to win out most of the time.

Interesting, this adulthood I've stumbled upon. I've also not had a sip of alcohol since I left the South, for no reason other than I'm listening to myself. I wake up at 7:30am with tons of energy every time I don't drink, and I'm working on a loose no-white-carbs diet, so it works out to not drink. Ain't hard, especially in a legalized state.

Maybe all my wild years needed was a quiet place to collect itself for awhile. 



26 December 2016

A Tangle of Wires

Not a day goes by that I don't sense it somewhere, lurking in the slatted shadows of the mini-blinds at the end of the hall, or twitching behind the potted plant in the living room, rustling the leaves when there is no breeze. Not a day since it showed up a few years ago has it ever completely left me alone. It's always there, and hungry, waiting for me to let down my surface tension, waiting for a clear path to ambush the hole growing inside me.

"Starting over is hard," my grandma told me two years ago, as I was getting ready to move across the country, and as she was getting ready to die. "It's really hard, but I'm not worried about you."

I sat there on my aunt's patio next to Grandma as she smoked a cigarette, both of us knowing it would kill her. Still, she was happy -- she had always been happy -- and I tried to focus on that rather than the dark path ahead of her. She had started over many times in her life, married to a Navy man. And before that, her life could've been swallowed by the darkness she experienced in childhood. But she wasn't swallowed. If anything, she knew what she was talking about, and we both knew that this might be the last conversation we would ever have.

Before I left that day, she gave me her sister's engagement ring: a simple silver band with a traditional cut diamond set in a basic frame. She said I reminded her of her sister -- peppy, bright, full of energy.

It only fit on my pinky. I stared at it for a long time that night, in a trance almost, unconvinced that the diamond would stay put after all the years of wear in those few, tiny brackets of metal. A woman wore it for most of her adult life already, and that woman had been dead for 25 years. Surely it would fall out the moment I put it on, and I would forever regret trying to show it off. I took it off and put it in the box I keep my other jewelry in, and taped it shut a week later for the move.

Two weeks later, it was 4 in the morning, and my parents and I had just driven for 20 hours straight to be there. My grandma was hours from death, and there was no conversation left to hear above the low, clunking humdrum of the home ventilator. We got there before the end, we thought, but it was the very end. The part that comes after the last words have been spoken, the last goodbyes given, after the last pained exchanges have been seared into memorial permanence. We had arrived just in time to watch the end of a person. It's hard to watch.

My mom asked my young nephews if they wanted to go into grandma's room. They didn't. I felt a lot like my nephews did, but my age said I could handle it, so I went in and handled it.

She was there, sort of; sinking into her twin mattress more with every mechanical compression, surrounded by her ceramic trinket collections and brightly-dyed fake flowers and a few dead real ones. Lots of family standing around, not knowing what to do. My uncle, clearly wrecked with grief and regret -- maybe regret more than grief -- was laying at her side, draped over the corner of the bed like a deflated costume. He had spent years avoiding visits here, even though he lived a few miles away. He felt every missed visit that night, it was written all over his face, and as the night turned into morning, any hope he had of redeeming that lost time drained away. For those purposes, his mother was no longer available.

There was a funeral, it was beautiful. I should have said something at the service, but I didn't. My life was upside down and I wasn't even sure if I was looking at reality; not a time for public speaking. Still, I should have said something.

After a whirlwind of incredible love and family togetherness, I flew back to my new home, which was suddenly and obviously not home. Everything I managed to save from my old life was packed into a 9x9 storage closet at some metallic facility in Denver. My husband and I stayed in my mom's friend's basement for a month while I searched for a job, an apartment to rent, and to an extent, solid ground. I found the first two, but the last kind of eluded me for awhile.

The lonely shadows of the new city played with my faults, tempting me to consider the most unsavory moments of my life in great detail. My faults, my failures, my broken promises, the relationships I'd taken for granted, all the time I hadn't spent with my family. The guilt of leaving them in the dust of my ambitions. Many nights were spent like this before I was conscious of it, and by that time, waking up exhausted and deeply sad had become routine.

A day came when reality fizzled out and my mind began to unravel. I don't remember the day, it must've happened on a day, yet I can only describe it as a timeless chunk with ethereal qualities: The bright colors that made up my life dulled to a projection of what once was. All my thoughts were present at every moment, shrouding even the slightest direction or decision. That's when I started to see it, floating just behind my head, or flashing briefly the moment before I turned on the light in the bathroom. Following me to the communal hall, where I checked my mailbox quickly, running back to my apartment before anyone in the building could see my ragged pajamas.

Sometimes I noticed it welling inside my chest, where it would smother my heart without provocation in just any old meaningless moment. Those are the times that worried me most, my heart beating out of my chest, gasping for something I couldn't give it, possessed by a god damned shadow. And it wasn't lost on me that in the past, I had stared into eyes of loved ones struggling with something very much like this, telling them in earnest that I understood. I thought I had understood.

I hadn't understood. I still didn't understand, but in those moments I wished I had stared just a little bit longer.

The peripheral hallucination may be the reason I took up running as a hobby. One foot in front of the other, counting breaths with the pace, slowly. Always slow, but just fast enough to keep the pace of the thing. No sense in speeding up the inevitable when the point of the exercise is to reacquaint myself with the rest of the world, full of people who have not let this thing fill the empty spaces of their lives. People who wake up and lie down filled with thoughts of loved ones, to-do lists, minutia; rather than my mornings and evenings, overwhelmed by nothing out of nowhere. Running will at least give my heart something to beat about, I thought.

It didn't work like I wanted it to. I looked up at some point and realized that two years of my life were gone, yet the memory of my grandma, frail and pale on her deathbed, still felt like yesterday. Though many things had happened since then, it was the last event that I could remember with clarity. I had grieved her loss already; it didn't feel like grief. I had become unstuck in time, and could not remember if anything was meaningful or meaningless. I could not remember what I was supposed to do with my life, and no part of it felt important.

After a few months of running every other day, I had more energy, some of which was positive energy. Some of it wasn't, and only fueled the darker parts of the ghost. I ended up with enough energy to declare, at some point, that enough was enough; that I was sick of living with no joy or awe, and I gave myself a choice: be proactive, or do something else. There was no choice, really -- I've only ever had the courage for one.

The next step, I dreamed, was to create a kind of metaphorical doorway for myself to walk through. If only I could assign ethereal meaning deliberately to something in my possession, maybe I'd have a shot. I went to the bathroom and dug out my cardboard jewelry box, still taped shut from the move two years later, the ring still safely inside. Looking at it didn't thrill me or consume me; I felt nothing, and I simultaneously realized I didn't expect to feel anything, because this isn't fiction, it's depression. I just put it on, and made a non-magical, conscious decision not to worry about the damned diamond falling out, because what is life lived in worry?

It was cold on my pinky, and felt like a foreign object that didn't belong there. It was not, in fact, a doorway. I had long yearned for a transformative event in my life, but that was a child's thought. Here, as an adult, yearning did nothing. Doorways of transformation did not wander past me any longer, and they hadn't for some time. My solutions were all too poetic to work. I started to think that maybe the shadow wasn't going to leave, and if I couldn't off myself, I had to find a way to...cohabitate.

So, rather subconsciously, I went further than simply not worrying about the diamond.

Note to self: My subconscious should not be responsible for anything of value or importance.

I flew to the Gulf of Mexico for a family vacation, and took the ring with me into the murky, oil-raped water of my childhood. It survived, diamond intact; I flew home with something that felt like an aspiration, but I couldn't be sure; it had been awhile.

I continued subjecting the ring to horrible tortures. I scrubbed dishes with steel wool, ring en pinky. I served barbeque with it, I shot weddings with it. But those are the merciful ones. I once punched a brick of soft cheese with it, and giggled at the carved chunk that got caught in the setting. As I lay in bed at night, instead of thinking about my flaws, I thought of new situations to test the ring's resolve. One idea I had was to bake it inside of a large cake; another involved following the cat around for a few days. For months, I lived to destroy this shiny nugget, to find its breaking point, however silly it may sound to do this with a family heirloom.

It's not that I thought it was indestructible. It's not tied to my sense of inner strength or anything. I barely even tie the ring to the memory of my grandma at this point. Of course I know that one day, the diamond will fall out.

I think that might be why I was so tickled. It reminds me of something, something I may have seen on my uncle's face that night my grandma died. The draining of hope, that beaten look on his face, maybe the uncomfortable realization that life is also death -- not just to say a poetic line, but to feel it. Every time I found a new test for the ring -- and every time it passed the test -- I felt another root shoot down into my soul and tug on my sleeve, suggesting in a tiny root voice that perhaps the ghost should not be a persona non grata in my new home; that maybe it's just the other half of life, begging for acknowledgement.

Jamming an antique engagement ring into a soft brick of cheese over and over isn't everyone's way of acknowledging such dark things as the constant chance of loss in life, but it's certainly mine, and I'm okay with that. Maybe I do assign meaning and purpose to inanimate objects, and maybe that's not always a smart or wise or logical thing to do, but I've never consistently been any of those things anyway. I may have thought I was, but it turns out I was never in control. I've seen a few more of my own layers now, and nothing makes sense down there. It's the worst tangle of wires, worse than anything behind my parents' computer, and I'm not going to touch it ever again, because it got me through this.

Still, not a day goes by that I don't sense the shadow somewhere, lurking. It's always there, and hungry, waiting for me to let down my surface tension, waiting for a clear path to ambush the hole inside me. So I take it for a jog every now and then. And because it's hungry, I feed it a happy fat dinner, drink a glass of wine and talk to my sister. I let it talk if it needs to talk, but usually it's ready to go to bed by then. 

19 December 2016

Principles and Kindness

I think I am two-faced.

Surely there are a few things about me that no one knows, though I can't put a finger on any of them, and I have done enough drunk talking to strangers to have strategically placed those bits of information in people I'll never see again. I didn't (consciously) do it with the intention of comfort, but it is a consolation I fall asleep spooning on shitty nights.

Lately I have felt a little oppressed. I wonder what life would be like without a constant nipping at my heels. That's dramatic, I'm sorry -- I know what life is like without a constant nipping at my heels. I have a memory. It works pretty well; absurdly well. I trained it a long time ago to remember the details because life seemed so meaningful and so fleeting, and at ten I saw my grandmother die with no memory, no timeline. I remember things in telephoto. Close-up. The hairs on a knuckle. A momentary blue light touching a set of fake eyelashes. A mouth open, enthralled, basking in total unawareness of anyone else's telephoto memory.

Maybe I never wanted anyone to know that about me. It's hard to hide with a camera in my hands.

My job as a wedding photographer has me mainly behind a telephoto lens. I was told to master it, to be the 200mm wizard; most likely because I am bad at composition, and telephoto makes it easy to fill a frame with one subject. The face behind my face mouths the words, "I'm bad at composition, I'm good at context." My photos slow my husband's editing down because he has to crop all the context out of them -- the half-faces in the background, gaping in awe; the blurry eyes that pair with a mouth saying something no words can articulate. The power of a photo to two different people is the deepest trench.

We don't do sloppy context in photography, though. We must arrange and balance the context. We design peoples' memories, in a way, and they must look just so. Flattering, framed, focused. Calculated and intentional. My vision, not your person in this instant.

I don't have a vision though, and that's why I am bad at composition. In another thread, the reason I started writing is to describe everything; to loan context out wherever the focus lands. To encourage it, to let it flourish, so that maybe some splinter of it will end up lodged in a memory some years down the timeline. I'm learning a lot about arranging things to suit a vision of some kind, in both writing and photography, though it's always been hard for me to own the driver's seat.

Some weeks ago, Josh told me something I had noticed myself: many of my photos are marred by my tendency to shoot ever so slightly behind the side profile of peoples' faces, and those aren't keepers. I noticed it myself awhile back, and even so, it's hard to stop. It's apparent to me that this is a psychological mistake rather than a technical one -- I hesitate to get exactly where I need to be to get the keeper; I'm always just a little off to one side, or a little too far back. My lizard brain does not want my subject to notice me, and that has been the constant background noise in my daily life for many years. I cower at the idea of getting front and center. I hold myself back from both success and failure, and I attempt to prevent anyone from noticing me trying in the process. Reverse the order and it's still true, regardless of which one comes first. To be honest, I'm not sure which one comes first.

These are the same notes I made about myself in my journals as a teenager. The same feeling I got when I saw my dad peeking into my room as I played the guitar. Plenty of things have changed since then, of course, but it's at once comforting and unsettling that this has remained the same. At what point does a mistake you've been making every day of your life become part of you? At what point does it add itself to the list of things that make up who a person is? No matter the answer, getting defensive doesn't look good on anybody, and it helps no one.

I'm working on it in a different way these days. Photography has given me a very literal perspective on myself -- what was once a nebulous cloud of "maybe" now seems defined, and much harder to ignore or excuse. My person shows up in my photos whether I intend it or not, and these aren't just made-up stories anymore; they are mostly peoples' wedding days. I have never looked at myself like this before, nor with such corrective urgency. I've always known my fear of failure, but looking at my fear of success -- literally, in telephotographic detail -- is taking self-examination to new and critical heights. When I picked up the camera professionally, I did not expect it to teach me anything I didn't already know.

It's good to be wrong. May it be a new mantra.




16 November 2016

Across 110th Street

It was 60 today, and tomorrow it'll be no warmer than 30 with snow imminent. It was a good run, Fall. 

I want this winter to be a season of productivity, introspection, and practice. Love, too. Lots of love.

15 November 2016

Desensitized

Strange times we find ourselves in. President Trump has saturated all forms of news and all the souls on the planet. We wake up, our spirits stained with the shit of his words, always a different color, never consistent, nothing is real for more than a week, we've always been at war with Eastasia.

Strange times I find myself in, out here in the woods. Not leaving the house for large swaths of time, wandering the forest for hours, thinking things that need thoughtin' about. With all the bullshit happening across the country and the world for the past few months, my nerves have been in a clump and ideas I have can be manic and won't calm down enough for the ol' steamroller to get a good shot at turning them 2D. I'm reading more, and when I do, it's an amazing sedative for the modern-trained brain that visits my head for months at a time. The one that can't sit down but won't stand up, can't stop feeling, must keep scrolling. And thus my ideas scroll just like that, down and down the page. Into nowhere, to no conclusion, no nugget to tote away as I lick my lips in satisfaction of a job well done. They vanish in dispersion, like a fine mist of pointless, medium-sized bricks of text, dead to the world of ideas, left to rot where I lose my bank password every few weeks, never to be felt or heard or ingested, not even by me. I'm tired of it. I mean that literally -- it is exhausting.

I'm fighting it. I wake up at 6 every morning, I make an incredible cup of Ethiopian coffee, I watch the sun come up and plan my day. I make pretty much every meal I eat. I screw sticks to the fence to make it look cool. I collect bones from the backyard, think about life and death a lot out here. Death happens a lot out here.

Whatever's out here got my cat, the cat I got around the time I started this blog. I didn't realize how much I loved that cat, and that's what death does, or one thing death does. It lets you touch the tangible depths of your own love, and for days and weeks and months after, you feel it on your fingers and deep in your chest, in the muscles of grief, this beautiful memory and the pain of its end. She haunted me a little on that front, and still does. I met her at a weird time in my life, and she saw me through it all. I'll be okay.

The middle of nowhere is a strange place for me, coming from such a loud and expressive and emotion-filled culture. I feel a little bit out of place, but I'm not sad. Really, far from it. Physically and mentally, and in some sense spiritually, I'm in a place I've never been before, and that's always been a goal of mine. I'm learning to live in a way I never have, sacrificing a few conveniences of the modern world for a lot of solitude. I've learned a lot about myself since moving here. I wouldn't call it exhilarating, but exhilarating seems more like a vacation feeling these days.

I enjoy it more when I don't feel it all the time.





01 August 2016

Keep Going

This blog has no audience. That's what I like about it. When I want to write something that has no audience, this is where I go. I've given this link out few and far, very rarely and sometimes I don't understand quite why I give out a link to this blog to any certain person. I doubt any of them read it. Actually, I *hope* none of them read it, especially a certain few of them. Why did I give them the link? An exercise in vulnerability, maybe; I'm pretty shitty at that but I realize the importance of letting one's guard down. It sounds poetic now, but it certainly didn't feel that way in the moment. But I think that's why I gave you all this link: So I could practice my weirdness in front of an audience I could legitimately, psychically, forget about. The faster/drunker I hand out passes, the more quickly I can forget anyone is looking at me, which seems to be my secret for flawless performance.

Anyway. That's not why I came here today. I came here today because I drank whiskey and I don't do that very often and I wanted to tell somebody to keep going.

Yep, you, me, whoever. Keep going.

Keep going. You will get somewhere if you keep going.