FEATURED, friends, language, love, marriage, pets, psychology, relationships, writing

Characterized as Vulnerable

vulnerable-chinese

I sat waiting for my lunch to be ready. Closing my eyes, the sun warming me, honing in on nearby conversations.

“It was just awful!”

“Do you want to meet later?”

“We have to get back soon.”

“What are you hungry for?”

And then, “Think of a Chinese word you’d like to see written.”

Two young women, students conducting a written language experiment, held a small, dry-erase board and the woman in the steel-grey wool skirt looked sheepishly to the man-in-tow standing next to her, scanning his face for a word, for approval.

“Tomato,” she smiled and shrugged.

What an¬†uninteresting word,” I thought to myself.¬†Clearly, hunger and condiments dominated her thoughts to choose such an oddly simple thing.

The student began to draw the two characters, then handed the board to steel-grey skirt and asked her to draw it, to copy the lines in her own hand.

“Like this?” She fumbled through and the student asked to take a picture of steel-grey skirt holding up the sign, which she obliged after being assured it wouldn’t end up on the web or Facebook.

Steel-grey skirt and man-in-tow collected their lunches and wandered off back to their meetings and spreadsheets and before the¬†students¬†could walk away, I volunteered, “I have a word I’d like to see.”

“Great! What’s the word?”

“Vulnerable.”

“Oh‚ÄĒI’ll have to look that one up, it might be kind of difficult, the Chinese don’t really have an expression for that. Well, depending on the context I guess.”

“I suppose weakness is not a good emotional or political stance,” I mused.

She typed it into her phone where there must’ve been a pinyin and symbology translator of sorts and she mumbled, “Ah, hmm, that’s really pretty.”

She sketched out what looked like two number 5s, curved, bent and spooning, little animals with two quick hatchmarks in the coils and crooks, something warm in their bellies perhaps.  The second symbol, like a little house on stick legs, or a bird laying in a field of short reeds or soft, matted grass, or a boat on uneven waves jutting a mast with no sail attached.

She handed me the board and it was my turn to draw.

“Very good!” She encouraged. “You could do calligraphy.”

And I suddenly thought of my high school art class, how I attended my prom for free because I volunteered to hand write every student’s name in my graduating class and their respective date’s name on folded white cardstock for all the seating arrangements at the dinner tables. How I painstakingly wrote every letter with a copper pen tip, sinking the nib into a bottle of crow-black ink, scratching out letters and then with a glue gun, affixing a black bow-tied ribbon and burgundy rose in the corner of every one.

She took my picture holding up the board with “vulnerable” written twice and asked, “Why are you so interested in this word?”
Tomato-HeartI considered the tomato. Heart-shaped,¬†red, plump, viscous inside, thin-skinned, vulnerable and thought perhaps, it wasn’t such a bad word after all and I said, “I think objects are fine, but I am more curious about concepts, especially emotional ones that are difficult to describe with one word. Like love or home or wonder.” I thought about how big ideas cannot, should not easily be boiled down, compartmentalized, or compressed into a single word or worse, an acronym. Americans are really fond of acronyms and especially mnemonics, trying to make big ideas memorable, and easier to digest, when really, what must be done is some digging, some spelunking, some serious unpacking followed by a gentle examination of all the parts.

I thought of other languages where speakers might have cultural differences and difficulties expressing emotion. For instance, one way of responding to the everyday greeting of “How are you?” in Russian is to say ” I am not unwell.” As if, already expressing in the negative was a way of conveying strength. Things could be worse. I’m not dead yet. My friend told a story where in high school, a Russian exchange student staying at his home was being chastised for taking her host family’s young ¬†son out to play in his school clothes on a rainy day. His mother wasn’t at all happy that they had returned so filthy, caked in¬†mud and muck,¬†but the Russian girl sweetly explained to the mother, “he is not unwashable.”

What does it mean to be vulnerable? To be “accessible, assailable, defenseless, exposed, liable, naked, on the line, on the spot, out on a limb, ready, sensitive, sitting duck, sucker, susceptible, tender, thin-skinned, unguarded, unprotected, unsafe, weak, wide open,¬†open to attack.” Why is there no strength in vulnerability when it takes all the courage in the world to allow yourself to let something, some ideas, someone in? To yield with grace to the often terrifying, ever-shifting locus of love, of home, and of wonder.

All three of these ideas have changed greatly for me in the last several years. Losing a beloved pet to cancer, losing a home by being priced out of the neighborhood, losing a job and a marriage; and all of these losses and changes at nearly the same time.  It was like witnessing all the love and home and wonder I nurtured suddenly evaporate out from under me. There was a serious unpacking. There was a gentle examination of all my parts. Especially the ones that went missing, where I identified myself.

I thought of many loves lost in my youth, how some of the most tender pieces of me were carried off by wild wolf boys and buried like edible treasure to devour later. How sometimes there were wounds I ignored and over and over I had to revisit the same old traps that closed upon them to extract myself very carefully so as to not lose more pieces still. Sure, I came out licking my wounds, scathed and dirty. But I emerged whole. 

Turns out, I am not unwahsable. I am not unwell. I am still hungry and I am getting reacquainted with wonder. I have redefined home. I still don’t fully understand the nature of love, but I am very much an eager student and believer of it in all of its necessary function and beautiful, new forms.

And I am still quite vulnerable.

death, dreams, friends, love, myth, pets

learning to fly

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As the sparrow in her wandering,
As the swallow in her flying,
So the curse that is causeless
alighteth not.

~ Proverbs 26:2

:::   :::   :::   :::

Olivia called me while driving and said, “i’m at a red light, thinking of you.”

And in my little self-absorbed funk i quipped, “Why,” and snickered, “because my signs say STOP?”

“No, because it’s RED,” she laughed.

A few dream cycles ago, the reddest of thoughts wended their way through the white matter that is my brain in a state of sleep, and i awoke, emitting pink smoke and in a haze from the most fantastic visions. my signs lately, they stop other things, they cut them off, they shine dark red warning light into my face: a submarine submerging, a whore advertising, a dark room for developing images, distant galaxies red-shifting, moving away from each other and then the signs switch and i turn right and the color begs me to go, go be green, be verdant, to grow. to GO! and i do.

i dreamt i was taking a shower in a brightly lit bathroom with a huge window in the shower stall. on the wall outside of the shower, where a medicine cabinet or mirror should hang was instead, a large vent recessed deeply into the wall, slatted for ventilation, as in a factory. i could hear birds chirping, chattering, squawking, and scratching around inside. it sounded like nest building, like an argument, like a rusty gate swinging in a storm.

a small blackish bird got loose and slid between one of the slats and out into the bathroom where i stood naked in the light. it was brightly yet darkly colored, iridescent like a Raven yet smaller, like a grackle. In Norse mythology the god Odin (for which i named my cat) kept a pair of ravens called Hugin (thought) and Munin (remembrance). Even Odin himself would occasionally shapeshift, becoming a raven. But his pets, they took flight in the morning and scaled the earth, asking questions and begging secrets of people, even of the dead before returning to the shoulder or the throne to whisper all they had seen and heard into the ear of their master.

The raven symbolizes solitude, gratitude, affection, wisdom, light, hope, longevity, death, and fertility. In alchemy, it represents change and the advanced soul dying to this world. Conversely, the grackle is typically a sign of Spring, perhaps of re-birth, the dark keel-shaped tail sailing in just before the Robin’s red-breasted return. But this bird was smaller and something about it was both sweet yet sinister. i bent down to push my finger against its chest to scoop it onto the ledge of my finger and it pecked me lightly. The grackle is an omnivore, which means it will eat almost everything that doesnt eat it first, so i thought it might take my finger off, but instead, it turned its head sideways at me and glared then clamped down onto me with its talons before flying out the window. Was i dying to this world or was i becoming new?

somehow from contact with the bird i developed a curse. i was new by design but i brought death instead. any man i touched, any man i put my hands upon out of love would turn ashen and grey, then disintegrate, like burning incense. with one boy i learned i could touch him with my toes and so we held feet under the table during dinner, but when i got too comfortable, when i forgot myself, when i curled into the crook of his arm as we watched a movie, i placed my hand gently on the outside of his forearm thinking it wouldn’t harm him if i touched him through his clothing, through the sleeve of his maroon jacket. he turned to me, he grew stock still, his eyes grew wide as tears welled in my own. a wave of frightening, sure knowledge crashed over us as he turned a grey replica shape of himself, then fell into a soft pile of silver ashes below me.

i went to see a bruja, a Mexican witch and she drew a curse book from a dark drawer in a table. “You have the Blackbird’s Curse,” she told me. “You must trust and they will remain. You must love openly and it will pass. The bird will come to you again and you will be safe and your lovers safe from harm.”

do i mistrust so much i withhold emotions and never give myself away Рboth betraying and denying myself? or do i flay myself so wide open that i bleed a murder scene, make a mess of things until my lovers evaporate, leaving only a chalky outline?  or will everything i touch simply dissolve while i am waiting to hear his call above all others? will i understand him when he calls, will i know him when his feathers brush my cheek or feel him when he finally reaches out and clutches me?

education, family, nature, psychology, travel

Diamond Life

some days after my vacation (and still i would say . . .) adjusting to previous modes of reality was a dull and joyless task. i still find myself researching and reading about some of the creatures i saw and took pictures of while there. for instance, the smallest lizard in the world is a gecko indigenous to Virgin Gorda called Sphaerodactylus Parthenopion. i also took pictures of several birds i’d never seen before.

but then, i have returned to school, in Summer if you can believe i’m up for that kind of self-abuse. but it’s two classes, a Statistical Methods for Psychology and an Adulthood and Aging course. Numbers and growing old. Two things most people can barely manage and often, avoid. well, it was time i tackled the rough stuff. little by little, coming back to my life as i knew it, facets are moving in and out of focus: past, present and future creating and re-creating new visions for me.

on June 14th Zoey, a friend i’ve known for a few years is moving to Maryland where i am. i am busy making arrangements for her so the adjustment will be a comfortable one. it’s strange to think the man i met 7 years ago came to me via this glowing box. as she did. as many interesting friends and acquaintances have. as plane and concert tickets do. as books and music have. as bills do. as this place did. so much dependence on this magnetic, metallic, wire bound piece of furniture. so many words and images and impressions and memories tied up in it and yet – i missed it not while i was gone in the islands. her moving here is the end of an era in some ways. less chatting, more real time together. i wonder if she’ll miss getting my silly packages in the mail. distance is one thing – personality surrounded by flesh is quite another.

3 days ago i came across the cocoon of a Tiger Moth, i know this because the last shed of the caterpillar was still attached to the end of the pupa. i have it in a terrarium with a stick bent at an angle so that it may emerge, crawl up, hang upside down and from its body, pump fluid into its wings until they inflate, then i will let it go into the night. it will be born without mouth parts and all of its energy and food will have been stored up from all the eating it did as a fuzzy black caterpillar. its main impetus is to make more of itself, then in a week, perhaps two, to mate with many if it is male, and to lay eggs if it is female and then, to die.

late last night the cats chased mosquito hawks and beige moths around the nite lights in the kitchen. this morning the red-eyed cicada bloom howled and chirred in a deafening blur as i drove through the woods. this evening a dark field blanketed with fireflies winked like a billion stars, so many, it was a shimmering field of diamonds waiting to be found and gathered up. all of them looking for mates, all of them trying to be brighter than the next. early this new morning, a Luna Moth appeared, wheeling in dizzied circles toward the porch light, dashing itself into the pebbled driveway, flapping like a broken-winged bird in and out and under the ivy near the garden. ghostly, flailing but seemingly tireless. circles and circles and circles.

all of us waiting for a place to land, for our our body to break and our wings to push out, for our life to shine – or wink out at dawn.

writing

bird of paradise

under the apple
a bird on its back
beak points black
stuck in red meat
pewter bead eyes
cloudy nectar runs down
a sweetness a blindness
and fruit becomes tears.

~ Andrea E. Janda