The foragers

“What’s that?”

Lila pointed at the sandy ground, where, among dried oak leaves and thorny vines, a pocketed grey sponge sat unappetizingly.

Her mother came over and peered at the growth. She leaned over further, bending her knees to get a closer look. The breeze off of Huron Lake blew a cloud of dancing gnats around Lila’s head. She swatted at them and waited for her mother’s assessment. From the smile that was stretching across her face, it looked to be a favorable one.

“What’s this? What’s this? You found a morel, sweetie! In the most unlikely place!” Lila’s mother took a knife from her pocket and cut the mushroom’s stem. It was the size of Lila’s hand, and dense despite it’s hollow core. The cratered surface was firm, with grass seeds poking out a few of the tiny holes.

“Let’s see if there are more!” Lila’s mother started pacing the moss of the rest area, and soon had filled her pockets with several more of the prized fungi. They’d have to find a kitchen to cook in tonight. It was too late in the day to sell a handful of gourmet mushrooms.

Desert selfie

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Selfie: We stayed in a camper in the middle of Death Valley, with access to a private mineral spring. The precious water left our skins slippery with magnesium, as though we had lathered up with soap. Outside, the salted sand stretched towards dry mountains in the distance.

Oil painting on canvas, June 2018

Samba! The finale

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It happened! Last weekend was the weekend of the dance performance. We were a stage full of glittering women, crackling with smiles and sending samba energy through our fingertips!

The show was a success. I missed a few steps when my family’s astonished faces became clear  in front of me in the audience (astonished because I hadn’t warned them of the many samba butts that would be on display). I don’t have the chance to perform often, and it’s funny what happens to my brain: part becomes incredibly focused, with a vice grip on possibly unhelpful details (for instance: “Damn I messed that up!”), and part is remembering the big picture, the smile and the next exit and the entrance that will follow. It all happens so fast! Afterwards, my father, mother, and boyfriend all agreed: its about time they try out a dance class themselves. I can’t imagine a better impact. The more dancers, the merrier.

Dancing on stage was wonderful fun and it was a chance to meet new friends who share my passion for…samba!IMG_5481.GIF

Beautiful evening

 

As beautiful as the view is, with its rosy sky, the people are even more beautiful as they walk, wander, run, amble, bicycle, blunder, chat, crawl, dance, dip, dart, sit, ski, slip, stroller and roll through the park this lovely evening.

While the lightning bugs fly in lazy circles under the trees.

Fire at Dawn

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“Smoke”

My fingertips are the first to wake up. Then, strangely, my tongue, which distastefully notes the staleless of my mouth. Even though my eyes were still half glued with sleep, I am aware, in the neon darkness of the predawn, of Stephen’s shadowy form moving around the room. At the window, he becomes a man again, his silhouette tall next to that of the cactus on the windowsill.

“I smell smoke,” he says again. My sleep-heavy body lets in a new layer of sensation: sirens, many of them, drifting towards us from all directions. Their scream sounds like a red light, flashing and turning, fading and then becoming loud. Stephen comes back to bed, sniffing at the air but reassured that the smoke is not our problem. All I can smell, with my groggy nose, is the bitter perfume of wet cigarette butts. A light flashes by our window, briefly illuminating the cactus’s shadow in red and orange, and Stephen begins to snore. I lay awake with the scent of bitter cigarette corpses, amazed by the confidence sleep requires. It comes back to me eventually, that senseless confidence, and I dream of incessant floods.

White Girl

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I am a white girl. That is one aspect of who I am, and though I vacillate on how important an aspect it is, I won’t deny that being a white girl, both in my home country of the USA and abroad, has a big impact on my experience of life.

I can’t remember ever being unaware of the weight of this particular quality. The elementary school I went to was the “alternative” public school in a university city that pats itself on the back for its progressive values. My formal education was a funny mix of strong progressive curricula taught by somewhat clueless, sometimes guilt-stricken white teachers (that’s how I understand them in retrospect. As a child they controlled knowledge, though rarely had a good grasp over the classroom). In high school I noticed, and enjoyed, when I was the only white student in a class. As a young adult, I roamed the hemisphere of the Americas, living in Trinidad, Brazil, Louisiana, Colombia and elsewhere. My self, my race, and how these shift meaningfully across political communities has always intrigued me.

In recent years, the way I think about being white and female has been jolted. The jolts come cyclically and sometimes unpredictably, the early contractions of the birth of something new. Mixing metaphors, my self conception, especially as it relates to my race, feels like the little silver orb in a pinball machine, bouncing up against walls, flying up ramps into new realms, and dropping down into the darkness of disappointment and shame.

The thing about being me, a white girl (and I’m not every white girl), is the ease with which I move through the world – sometimes doors are opened in front of me, sometimes hands are held out to help me up. Sometimes people smile. Most of the time I feel safe, at least as safe as possible in this world.

But I think about this ease, and the cost of it. As an individual, I want to be known for the qualities I have developed in myself, and for the blueprint my family layed down for me to build upon. I want to be comfortable. As a member of a society, I want to be respectful of the lives and the happiness of others, of their families and histories. I want to work for our lives and our collective and individual happinesses. For me, being white sometimes means that the two lived experiences are contradictory.  I think I’ll have to give something up of myself for the health of this society.

But what? Is it my eager voice that I should quiet when I’m in a group of many other white women and a few women of color, shifting my self from expressive individual to listening demographic? Is it my delicacy that I should trash, as I interpret the critics of society as personal affronts? Should I stop asking for answers from people who have their own shit to figure out? Yes.

If I were me

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If I were me…

I have a little book, the collected writings that Brazilian author Clarice Lispector used to publish in the Jornal do Brasil, short little mediatations on the cotidian life of a bourgeoisie woman artist. For some reason, I find them very relatable.

One of my favorites is titled Se eu fosse eu. In other, English words: “If I were me”. Lispector writes that sometimes, if she’s looking for an important paper that she’s filed away and cannot find, she asks herself,  “Ïf I were me, where would I have put it?” And then she becomes so fascinated by the possibilities of “If I were me…” that she entirely forgets about the paper.

“I think that if I were truly me, my friends wouldn’t recognize me on the street because even my physiognomy would have changed.” That unrealized doppelgänger, the true me, the possibilities! Why not just live as her, the “me” who exists outside of time and history? There are no limits to what I would I do, if I were me!

Perhaps we cannot imagine the extasy of life as ourselves, the things we’d do and wouldn’t do. What I love about Lispector is her depth: in a few casual paragraphs, she brings the idea around. She realizes, “I know that, after the first calls to crazy celebration that being ourselves would be, in the end we would have the experience of the world. Better said, we would experience the full pain of the world.” Because what is this me that is sitting here, half undressed in the heat of Saturday morning, writing, if not the me I have created to avoid some of that pain? We learn to position ourselves in ways that protect from the full blast of life as we hurtle into it day by day. A crouch, a slant, a shadow to lessen the blow. And though the protective crouch means I don’t constantly launch into the largest, most graceful grand jeté, the leap is still there, ready when I am.

Samba Journal 2: Practice makes perfect

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The drummers haven’t been showing up. We dancers are ready. In small groups, we flock onto the improvised stage like proud birds, chassé! In position, we face our audience, our reflected images in the mirror- 5, 6, 7, 8: we advance on ourselves, knees higher, arms wider! Spine straight, chest full and proud, I am a vision!

Kick, ball, change, turn- oops! Not yet. I need to go over that part. Stay, knees bent, hand on hip, left hand winding up to the ceiling and down up down up down up reach reach reach reach tuuuuuuurn. Finally!

When the part is over, we twist off the stage, disappearing into the eves and into our ordinary selves.

 

 Know yourself

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I try to sit quietly and find myself. I imagine I am somewhere inside, buried beneath years of social survival. I am like a firefly nestled in the pocket of the patchwork dress of my life, the pieces sewed together to create planes and correct mistakes, no grand design guiding it.

There is something true about me. Whether I was born with this truth, or if it was forged over time I don’t know. I am trying to return to this truth, because it is awkward living stretched beyond it. I have learned to be loud in a loud world: I am not loud. I have learned to be aggressive: I find no joy in controlling another person. I push the walls of what is true to me. But flexibility without strength causes long-term damage. Instead of stretching beyond, I want to breath into what is essential.

 

 

 

The Sounds That Inanimate Objects Make In The Night

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A pop in the kitchen when you’re lying in bed. What is the name for space compressing? In this vacuum, the ear travels alone, searching, but there isn’t another sound.

A creak in the hall. Is it the floorboard, moving under a weightless foot? Or the ceiling, sagging a little further towards the inevitable?

If you forgot to close the window the curtain is sure to rustle or beat in a more incessant wind. Narcissism reversed and amplified, until you yourself are still, inanimate, always listening.