I jumped into the New Year―and decade―with optimism and excitement. After all, a bluebird flew down my chimney on New Year’s Eve. What reason was there for anything but excitement?
Then I had a dream that told me, blatantly, to slow down. As in, I was driving a car and the brakes were soft and I couldn’t get it to stop in time. So I hit a building. (Don’t worry. No one was hurt.)
That was the dream. But the very next morning I was using my husband’s car and it refused to start―the pushbutton ignition couldn’t see either set of keys. AND THEN the backseat passenger window of my car exploded while my husband was driving down the highway, for no apparent reason. (Don’t worry, no one was hurt).
And because I have paid attention to my dreams for all of my life, and because this was all so blatantly obvious, I decided to slow down.
That was really, really hard. I love having creative momentum, and I had it! I was rolling!
It was the weirdest thing. I was literally choosing to put myself in a funk.
On Friday I wrote this poem:
Before it even happens
I'm in the dark closet
looking for the glue,
the golden glue.
I can feel the cracks, hot and sharp, edging up my spine,
the left shoulder, crushed and oozing grief,
the skull's rivers, burning,
the weave of the sternum, stretched with weariness.
All the patterns that held me ―
blue willow swallows bordered with lace,
the teacups in the afternoon ―
no longer meet seamless and elegant.
They are split now, broken.
And before I fall to pieces
I close myself in the dark closet
and grope through the dust of little-used things.
My fingers remember the smooth-shaped bottle of glue,
of golden glue,
that will hold the patterns together.
I'll not risk the breaking,
the sacrifice of a broken vessel for something I can't see.
I stuff myself with gold.
After that I went to see my massage therapist. She’s working my left shoulder. You know the one. It’s oozing grief. Only she doesn’t know that, or if she does, it’s not because the poem came out of my mouth.
“You just have to let it come apart,” she says, as she’s working the knot there.
And I lay there wondering, “Can things get any weirder?”
I have a lot of houseplants. One of them is a croton. Crotons are tropical plants and this time of year my croton is thinking about giving up. It’s dry, it’s cold, and there’s not a lot of light.
Sometimes I feel like giving up. On this work that I do. Actually, I could never give up, but I struggle to find my place in this world. I’m like my croton. I’m in the completely wrong environment. By which I mean, we live in a capitalist system. If your’e not making money, then what are you doing? And I am definitely not making any money.
Don’t worry, I’m not complaining about that. This is not a plea for you to buy something. You couldn’t even if you tried. It is rather hard to buy things from me. I’m just acknowledging that for a lot of people, myself included, finding your place in this broken world is very, very challenging. It might even be impossible to do it right. It is very much like being a croton in a house in North Carolina, when you are supposed to be a tropical shrub under a Jamaican sun.
But then last night, I had another dream. Someone was showing me that I needed to cut the croton down to the roots. And I was shaking my head.
No, no, no, you can’t do that, it might not grow back, I said.
But then he shows me, how from the roots, new leaves were growing,instantaneously. Like, boom! Fresh green leaves, slick and glossy.
I’ll be honest. The dream is clear enough, but how it translates to my every day life is a lot less clear.
So I worked on this piece, the galax, all day Saturday. And while I drew purple leaves I thought about all these things. The dreams telling me to slow down, the falling apart, the roots. What is it that I just need to cut away? Where are my roots?
I thought about how friends have shared a similar stories. Maybe we are all going through this, together. Aren’t we? Maybe not simultaneously. But still, even a little falling apart is necessary in life, is it not?
So I decided to risk the vulnerability and tell this strange story.
Then I looked back at what I had written when I sketched the galax, earlier this week, in the forest above my home:
“I’ve been thinking of how the body can heal itself, so readily, given the opportunity. For humans this might mean tending a wound, or changing one’s diet, but still the body has an incredible capacity to heal itself.
The Earth, too has this capacity. The forest, these mountains, all the broken places will tend towards healing, given the quiet opportunity to do so.
This surely must be something all of us can tap into, all of us living beings.”
This is a story without an ending. Because I don’t know what’s next for me. I don’t know what cutting things down to the roots looks like. But just telling the story helps me trust what the dreams, and the Earth, say so plainly:
The healing is here.
Old things must be cut away for life to flourish.
So go ahead, fall apart.
Life springs from the roots.
The healing is here.
May we find the courage to cut away what no longer serves us.
May we find the courage to fall apart, to put away the glue, and trust instead in the gifts that dwell deep in our roots.