12.02.2012

Wandering in Wild Places

Laugh or weep. We swim in your tears. —Grand Mother Yemaya Mermaid

It’s a little over a month since I began my Year and a Day Living the Old Mermaids Way. Every day has been a challenge. For reasons mysterious and known, anxiety has been running roughshod over me. I am acutely familiar with this particular dance—ride, dirge, wandering—and I am a reluctant partner to this dance. 
Do the Old Mermaids get anxious? Generally speaking, as a group they are able to go with the flow of life, but they have each had difficulties. When Sister Lyra Musica first walked out of the Old Sea and into the New Desert, she was wracked with anxiety. It took her a while before she got her land legs.
Sometimes I feel like I will never get my land legs. Yet at times I feel completely out to sea. And not in a good way. Lately I’ve wondered about all the work and studying I’ve done during my adult life. I wanted to find the truth. Whatever that was. But mostly, I just wanted to be well. I wanted to find the sweet spot everyone else seemed to have found: The Well Place. The At Ease Place. It didn’t have to be Nirvana. Or Shangri-La. Hell, it could be a ratty tea house on a dark street corner called Teed Off. 

I didn’t care. Or maybe I did. I wrote about it. You can find it in nearly all of my books. I write about home. Again and again. I build houses. I create these amazing buildings. I imagine fabulous complicated loving relationships. Even my bad guys usually aren’t bad guys. Well, yes, they’re bad guys, but they aren’t evil. Just screwed up. 

My main characters are always just trying to make their way in a world they don’t understand even when they pretend they do. The Old Mermaids make their way in the world together. Ahhh, I love that. They wipe each other’s tears (and put them in bottles to use in soup later—nothing so valuable and nourishing as Old Mermaids’ tears). They listen to one another. They see each other. They love unconditionally—full out. And any fears or anxiety they have fall away, eventually. 
I am waiting for the falling away.
As time goes on, my characters have gotten more complicated. No, that’s wrong. They’ve gotten older, so maybe they understand better the complicated world. Or understand that they don’t understand. My fictional characters are not me. If I were writing novels about me, I would be bored out of my mind. I write in worlds where I am more at ease (i.e. not dis-eased). But I relate to my characters. Brooke McMurphy from Whackadoodle Times is me in a different life. I understand her absolutely. 
And then there’s Butch. She is who I would be if I were different. 
In my heart of hearts, I am Butch.
I am Keelie.
I am Brooke, Gloria, Sister Lyra Musica Mermaid, Myla...
I’m wandering again. I was telling you about my month. Most of it is too painful to write down. Painful because I’ve been dealing with it for so many years. It feels permanent. I had a sudden revelation last night. (Is that redundant? Are all revelations sudden?) I realized that my entire adult life has essentially revolved around being sick. All of it. How we live. How I sleep. How I work. 
Mostly how I get through every day.
Every day feels like a failure.
I’ve got it easy compared with so many people who struggle with so much. I understand that. I have it easier than many people in my own family. Nevertheless, the last thirty years have not been easy. I have struggled for breath, for ground, for sanity. I have fought hard. I have fought valiantly. I have gone out and slain the dragon. Or wait, a better metaphor would be that I have tried to outrun St. George as he has tried to slay me. I ain’t St. George. I am definitely the dragon.
(Or maybe I am St. George, too. He may or may not have been a variation of the wild Green Man. He may or may not have been associated with curing the mad. And the myth of him slaying a dragon may or may not have been just a misspelling of the word Dagon.)
In any case...
When I realized my entire life revolved around this dis-ease of mine, I had to sit down. I was shocked. I have tried to ignore the sickness. It’s not something I talk about, in general. My family and friends don’t know about my life. I write about it, but mostly strangers read my writing. Strangers know my inner workings better than most people who know me.
What does that mean?
I have always been most comfortable in the wild and with the words—with the story. 
I often don’t understand people. I offend easily and most of the time I have no idea what I’ve done. 
But wait, wait. I don’t want to dive into that pool. 
No, this isn’t about what I don’t do well. Or even what I do well. Ahhhh there’s that word: Well. I like it. I have been searching for wellness. “Well” comes from wel2 which means “to will, to wish.” “Well-being.”
Well is one of those words I check my manuscript for before it becomes a book. I use it too often, mostly when a character is speaking. So I delete most of the “wells.”
Perhaps all these years I’ve been trying to enchant my stories, concoct a spell, make a wish, and it all begins with “well.”
I have always believed my stories would cure me. 
Cure the world?
If my life has been centered on my dis-ease for thirty years that meant it had leeched into every part of my life and no doubt into the relationship I hold most dear: the one I have with my husband. I immediately wondered how much I had changed and damaged his life because I have not felt well for thirty some years.
I have wondered this many times over the years.  
Useless thought process.
It doesn’t matter what was. What is? How can I get sickness out of the center of my life.
I have been trying for thirty plus years. Been fighting. Been trying to solve an apparently unsolvable mystery, puzzle, life. 
Maybe I should just stop fighting, solving, ruminating.
I’ve had some amazing healing moments this month. I healed a bad burn on my hand. It was gone in about fifteen minutes. And then I had about three weeks of almost complete relief from my asthma. 
I’ve cried a great deal. I don’t do that much usually. I mourned the death of a friend. 
Have had brilliant ideas for novels, yet lately, I haven’t been able to write. I feel frozen in fear. Not of the novel, not of the story, but of what’s happening in other parts of my life.
The other night I dreamed I was in a flood. I ran and climbed up onto the roof. I found me some shelter. 
A couple of weeks ago, I dreamed a tiger was trying to eat me. I was holding his mouth open to keep him from ripping me to shreds while I screamed at Mario to go get him something to eat from the freezer. He did what I asked, threw it at the tiger—it was frozen salmon—and the tiger let me go, and Mario and I ran.
That same night I dreamed my mother was back from the dead and I was desperate to keep her here. I showed her the Old Mermaid quilt my father and I had made with a mermaid in the middle. (My father and I made it in real life after my mom died.) I thought that would keep her here. She showed me another quilt, a mermaid quilt, she said, only there was an angel in the middle of it, not a mermaid. I knew then that she would leave again.
My way of saying this first month with the Old Mermaids has been full of wandering.
I got a batch of seaweed and split it with friends. I invited them over for seaweed soup when it was time to divvy the seaweed up. Two of my friends came. We each contributed to the soup. We stirred the pot. We talked. It was nice sitting at my kitchen table with two women I had known for years. They have known me so long that I think my bluntness no longer wears on them: In other words, they are used to me and I am used to them. We have gone through a lot together. There’s something to that, isn’t there? Just the experience of shared life can bind people together. I felt blessed to have them in my kitchen. At one point, I told them my plans for the future. Radical plans. Seemingly impossible plans. But plans that fill me with joy. They encouraged me. (Filled me with courage?)
I’ve been listening to a CD of Eckhart Tolle. I enjoy hearing about the “power of now.” Although I don’t always understand (or agree) with what he says, I appreciate being reminded about the “now.” I’ve been studying mindfulness for years. I regularly meditate to Jon Kabat-Zinn’s mindfulness CDs. Note I used the word “study.” I also “practice” mindfulness, but it is definitely a practice. When I do it regularly, I feel so much better. When I tone, when I meditate, when I do yoga, when I eat right, when when when when when...I feel better. 
Better is just a synonym for well.
Right?
For someone with anxiety, being in the now is important. I’m often lost in the past (why weren’t things different) or in the future (how can I save myself and everyone else or what bad thing is going to happen next). Being in the now can be blissful. Unless I’m feeling like shit, unless I’m struggling to breath, unless, unless, unless. And then I can be in the now and say, “this too will pass.”
I’m not sure what Eckhart would say about that.
Today Mario was listening to Tolle with me. We were talking about how when we’re writing we are definitely in the now.
Or are we? 
I’ve always said I’m most at home where the wild things are.
And the wild things are often in my head. 
I am happiest when I am writing fiction. No, I am happiest when I am writing a novel. And the truth is I am happiest because when I am writing a novel I am not beset by demons. By anxiety or fear. When I am writing, I feel like my true self: a powerful Amazon, wild, whole, capable of absolutely anything. Butch without the alcohol. Keelie showing Victor the truth. Gloria healing...everyone. Brooke writing zombie screenplays and pulling herself out of a hell hole. Jeanne cooking up the truth.
Mario and I went to brunch today at one of our favorite places, porque no? in Portland. We sat under the heaters while outside rain washed over the city. In our little room, where we sat alone at a varnished picnic table surrounded by various depictions of Jesus and the Virgin of Guadalupe and various other accoutrements that might haunt a Mexican restaurant, Mario started reciting some of the 13 Suggestions of the Old Mermaids. 
“‘All the wisdom of the ages can be distilled into one suggestion: Be,’” he said. “Kim, the Old Mermaids are all about being in the now. You already have the wisdom.” He began reciting more of the suggestions. I was impressed. He remembered more of them than I did. 
We began discussing “A good bean is hard to find. Everything else is easy.” (That was Sister Ruby Rosarita Mermaid.) I said, “When she first told it to me, I didn’t really know what it meant, and even now I’m not sure.”
“But it’s perfect,” Mario said. “Because even though we don’t know what it means, we understand it.”
I agreed.
I could feel myself settling into place, into this place, into this body, into myself, into my day, as we talked about the Old Mermaids. As Mario reminded me that all the wisdom I needed was in the Old Mermaids. Was in me. If I needed a how-to, there it was: In the 13 Suggestions from the Old Mermaids.
A woman brought us our meals just then. She smiled at us. She’s young and beautiful, strawberry blond hair, and she’s always kind to us. Sometimes when we get to this restaurant (and are standing in line), the music is up loud and the wait staff begins dancing and Mario and I dance, too, and it is as if for a moment we are all a part of something together, swimming in this Great Old Sea. 
Mario and I dug into our meals. When we were finished, I used a soft corn tortilla to clean up my oval salmon-colored plate. The plate would fit perfectly at any Old Mermaids Sanctuary. I could feel the heat coming from above. The stone floor was hard beneath my feet. I could hear the fans from the heaters above the rain. Across from me, Mario watched me, smiling. 
Well...



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