Finding Myself: Reflections On Self-Transformation During Quarantine

“Getting lost was not a matter of geography so much as identity, a passionate desire, even an urgent need, to become no one and anyone, to shake off the shackles that remind you who you are, who others think you are.”
― Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost

As I move through the days, I realize more and more that I feel desperate for a world that is more thoughtful, contemplative, aware, awakened, transformed. Desperation, though, is not anything I can work with, this wishing for a different kind of world, as that is not within my control. What I can work with, however, is myself. So I am taken recently with the idea of doing inner work with myself in a way I wish society and the outer world at large would take the time to do before emerging from this gruesome pandemic. You see, I don’t want to go blindly back, I want to move forward transformed. And my fear is that too many people want the former even as I am starved for the latter. I am hungry for a transformation of some kind to take place both within and around me.

I have admired Rebecca Solnit for so many years I can’t even recall when I first was introduced to her work, save to say it was a long while ago. But I had never before read her incredibly eloquent, insightful book A Field Guide to Getting Lost. It has come into my life just a few days ago and met me exactly where I am in my -sometimes/often rattled- mind and soul. (Incidentally, the irony of a book about being lost finding me where I am in the dark right now is not. . . ahem, lost on me.)

There is a quote by Henry David Thoreau which I find quite poignant: “Not till we are lost, in other words not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves,” that resonates very deeply and profoundly with me in this present moment, some nine weeks into isolation. In a sense, I do feel I have lost the world, lost connection to it, not completely of course, but very much so in many ways. And I find it such a gift to have this extended period of time to turn inward, to take the journey into my own heart and mind and ask the big existential questions. What is most important to me in my life? What is my purpose here? What will I do with my gifts, interests, passions, ideas, thoughts, visions? What do I want to explore moving forward into a brand new phase of life, expression, creativity?

I am privileged to be able to spend time inside of myself with very little outside stress. I am safe, many are not. And I cringe every time I hear someone say “We just need to get back to normal.” I physically wince inside as though I have been struck because I am afraid of the grave mistake of going back to the old idea of normal. The idea that we need to rush to the end of a major global catastrophe and quickly forget it ever even happened. Well, I don’t want the world to forget. I don’t want to forget. And I don’t want to rush out. Not out of my house, not out of this moment in this one precious life of mine when so much is being revealed, our weaknesses exacerbated and our strengths tested at every turn. I want to sink inward and search for what I need to find, what I need to understand about what this experience is teaching me. Turn toward what is calling to me to be still and listen, to learn, to be made new. I want to be changed. Opened. I seek answers. Revelations. Insights. Discoveries. Magic. Mystery. We are all lost right now. We are surrounded by the unforeseen, the unknown, and the unknowable. Isn’t this where rich art is born? Out of uncertainty? Out of the searching for the secrets within? Out of being lost, and found, by ourselves in darkness?

In a beautifully elegant passage from A Field Guide to Getting Lost, Solnit writes:

“Edgar Allen Poe declared, ‘All experience in matters of philosophical discovery, teaches us that, in such discovery, it is the unforeseen upon which we must calculate most largely.’ Poe is consciously juxtaposing the word ‘calculate’ which implies a cold counting up of the facts or measurements, with ‘the unforeseen,’ that which cannot be measured or counted, only anticipated. How do you calculate upon the unforeseen? It seems to be an art of recognizing the role of the unforeseen, of keeping your balance amid surprises, of collaborating with chance, of recognizing there are some essential mysteries in the world and thereby a limit to calculation, to plan, to control. To calculate the unforeseen is perhaps exactly the paradoxical operation that life most requires of us.” (emphasis mine)

For me, this is the very essence of the creation of art of every kind. A collaboration with chance, with the dare, with the unknown, the unseen. An acceptance, and even a welcoming, rather than a rejection or denial of the unforeseen, the incalculable, the mysterious force with which we interact in order to transform and be transformed.

“In her novel Regeneration, Pat Barker writes of a doctor who ‘knew only too well how often the early stages of change or cure may mimic deterioration. Cut a chrysalis open, and you will find a rotting caterpillar. What you will never find is that mythical creature, half caterpillar, half butterfly, a fit emblem of the human soul, for those whose cast of mind leads them to seek such emblems. No, the process of transformation consists almost entirely of decay.” Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost (emphasis mine)

We have, in a sense, lost the world, lost contact with much of it. Lost control of much of it. Lost the illusions of a control we thought we had but in truth never did. We are experiencing grief, rupture, disintegration, decay. I don’t want to have gone through all of this mind bending upheaval and have learned nothing, to have nothing to show for it, nothing to emerge with when we see each other again. I want to find the gifts of this moment in time, brutal, surprising, breathtaking, and honest as they may be. Through all the heartache, I need to know it was worth something. That there is something in me I can still give, and a place within me which is still open to receiving.

The truth is, there is no going back, there never is. And I wouldn’t want there to be. I want to move forward, to be transformed into a new person, a new being with deeper awareness and intimate insights and renewed perspectives on everything. I want that for myself and I want it for the world. But I can only take care of myself. So I start in my own mind, my own body, my own spirit, my own soul. I read about getting lost and more and more, I am finding the deep abiding wisdom which can only be revealed in silence, in isolation. I cling to the hope of my soul’s voice, as wide as an ocean, wild, powerful, roaring, steady, ancient, shimmering in the dark.

 

Cuts of Light

My mouth is dry from cigarettes and wine and as I fumble my arm around in the dark reaching for my water glass, I knock the full thing over and listen as the liquid I desperately need down my throat now trickles down the bedside table instead. Fuck. It’s two in the morning and my veins are thundering blood through my thin body like the threat of a thousand wild horses set to stampede across my chest. I get these weird sensations once in a while. Palpitations or so they say, mostly it just feels like fluttering ruptures which are not unpleasant, just startling. I think about thinking and when I do, I do it too hard and can’t seem to make it stop. I meditate in the mornings, I think it helps but my mind wanders to places it shouldn’t and anxiety creeps into the tiny cracks where anxiety had previously let me alone, hence the wine and the cigarettes and the various attempts made at poetry or whatever else comes to creative mind. A lot of people are making those cut apart collages these days and sharing them online. We jam foreign objects together hoping to disintegrate the distance keeping us alive. We dabble and we try things and we make a mess and glue it all back together only upside down with glitter and we take pills to help us sleep all the while the rocky stars peer down, unfeeling in a cold vast place we will only ever dream about but never see up close. In times like these when time both races past and stands still as death all the same, it’s hard to tell if the ache in my bones comes from sitting too long in one place hunched over myriad books, notes, and screens or because every time I skim through social media feeds my chest contracts and my shoulders end up hung tight from my earlobes. Such a shit show, such a crying shame of a situation every which way you look at it. Staring at the dark wooden blades of the ceiling fan as they whirl in a silent circle of blackness, I can just make out the dim lines where hazy blue moon glow sharpens their rotating edges. If I hold my breath, I can hear the faintest movement of the air splitting itself to let the slats of the fan pass through. That’s what I need. Something which cuts through the noise and allows the thinness of my soul to slide on through. I move a warm hand underneath the blankets and place it on my bare stomach. My heart quickens at my own tender touch. I stroke my own skin, feel my own body. I bite my soft lip, and turn my head to take note of the time. My eyes and the dark halls of my strung out mind, still searching.

One Wing Would Break (audio)

Do you suppose
there is any difference
between
delicate and fragile?

Is it possible one wing would
break before the other,
even if by just a hair
line crack,

a whispered single
breath
beat
sooner?

I know you can’t understand
why I would concern myself
with such a ridiculous
question

in times like these.

With a matter so
utterly
useless
thin, insignificant.

Words inflicted upon
an age
of switchblades
victims and guns.

It’s just that right now
every fine boned thing
feels like an open
ivory wound.

Feels like a cut glass
slipper just about to
drop. Slice,
shatter

like a heart would,

before she could catch herself
shivering in the blackness
wet against tear
stains

running fiery tracks down breasts.

I want to know the
difference,
am I delicate or fragile
in my naked

foot steps
running, running.

Running.

Hidden Gestures (audio)

Reading Rilke’s love letters on a windy Saturday morning, I can see the empty trees waving, flexing, bending wildly in the bright open air as tiny purple clouds sail on by. Winds of change, the seasons swim out to meet one another, rise and fall on wave upon wave. The coffee is strong and hot, like the love we made which so opened me I’m certain it caused the fires of the sun itself to rise up over the distant hills before spreading its warm elegant golden fingers down along the gray walls around us. I watch the angle of the light carefully, softened by its rays as they are reflected off of a grand gilded mirror which leans heavy against the far wall. I suddenly remember something a sensual woman once taught me about sacred geometry, but as soon as I envision her pretty wet doe eyes gazing into mine, I’ve just as quickly forgotten. Wrapped in linen and lace, in my bones I feel the echoes of ancient stories welling up within me like quiet piercing tears desperate to fall. I swallow them until the ache is too much to bear, and I have to pour forth upon the pages not yet written. There is something in me which needs to be expressed, though at times I feel it is beyond me, or that try as I might I will never be able to touch it, to wrap my being around it. It is mine and not mine, it is here and it is gone. Its voice is a hollow, a begging, a melancholy love song written at the peak of the ripened sweetness of the pain. I write the truth and I write the fantasy, and one lies within the other until it all blurs into an ecstatic kind of fever dream, one I can at last be with myself inside. There are people who will tell you dreams are for fools and fantasies are for fakes, but maybe I want fake, maybe I’ve been the fool all my life so why quit now. Maybe I want a malleable liquid existence where anything is possible, pleasure is a religion, and rules no longer apply. Open your ribs and let me caress what disturbs you. Paint your wicked story so vividly for me that it blooms forth in my mind long after we speak. Listen to yourself. Be quiet and be still. Listen to the blood as it slides beneath your tranquil skin. Listen for the darkness beating its silent drum in your precious veins. Why is it that you are so afraid to live there? Why would you ever leave that place when it is all that you are, when it is the only thing you have worth giving?

What A Woman Wants (audio)

Hello out there, how are you doing? I am thinking of you, wondering with you what will today bring? What is today? What day is this day. And what I felt like sharing today is so far away from what I usually share. It is a sort of behind the scenes of my creativity, my process, my writing, my craft, my art. I have been wanting to reach out in so many multiple directions lately but I keep cutting myself off because, well I don’t even know why exactly, I guess I had it in my head that a writer or a creator should have a certain bend, like be a certain kind of writer, only write certain things about certain topics in certain ways. But then that feels boring to me, I think that’s the thing, I do get bored. I have liked to evolve over time, delving into new things when the old things feel limiting, new ways of expression.

But anyway I was reflecting on the topic of women and desire. I think because the days stretch out right now like blank pages you can fill with anything you want. But what do I want? Like you can do anything, but what do you want to do. Not what you have to or should do but what is it that I want to do? Want to study? Want to create? Want to try?

I did this weird thing where in my journal I took a whole full page and just wrote the words “I want” over and over and over until the word ‘want‘ seemed like it didn’t even mean anything, you know how that happens? If you keep saying or writing a single word over and over somehow your brain goes numb to it. So ‘want’, I had to remind myself how to spell it but I kept writing it until I filled the entire page. I didn’t write what I want, because I don’t know what I want. I really don’t. As long as I can remember I have been full of longing, a need, a feeling like something in me is begging me to get it something, do something to fulfill it. Soothe it. Hear it, listen to it, turn toward it. Look at it. But I do not know what it wants me to do, I don’t know what it wants.

I wonder if this is because I am a woman who grew up as a little girl hungry to express, to create, to pour forth. I was taught subtly and directly, right, not so subtly, too be small, quiet, still, grateful for whatever I got. I was taught not to be hungry. Not to ever want, and certainly not to ever want more. I was taught that my desires, my true human desires, were ‘bad.’ I was taught that to want was greedy. If you want nothing, you are easier to be around. Not wanting is nice. Not wanting is sweet, kind, loving. Not wanting is good. Wanting is bad. And so now, and for as long as I can remember, when someone, some motivational, inspirational someone whoever it may have been, when they said to me Dream or Desire or Imagine… I would have a very hard if not impossible time doing so. I would shut down, go blank, go numb. I have been unable to Dream because I don’t allow myself to want. I have often been unable to name, seek, or explore my Desire because what I want is considered by some to be bad and bad is not allowed. If you want to be loved, you have to be good. I have been unable to Imagine because imagination means conjuring up what you want inside your mind.

But now in this alone time, this extended alone time, I have decided I want to want what I want, and I want to know what it is that I want. So I wrote in my journal ‘I want’ a thousand consecutive times just to feel the words in myself. Just to get them out onto the page, make them real in the real tangible world. To break through to myself and my want, my desire, my hunger, my need, my ache, my essence. I do not have the answer yet to this inner restlessness, this inner question “Allison, what do you want? What do you want your life to be? What do you want to do with yourself? What is your most burning desire?”

But I am hoping that by preparing the way, by repeatedly making it okay to say I want, over and over, my desires will break through and show themselves to me. And because I will be ready, I will touch them, feel them, hear them, listen to them, turn toward them. Accept and welcome and cherish and act on them. Make them real.

 

Had I Never Met You (audio)

Hello out there, I hope that you are doing well. I thought I might read something for us today, a little excerpt from my book Luminae which was released a little over a year ago now. This piece is titled ‘Had I Never Met You’ and I wrote it with much love and affection for someone who made a dramatic though fleeting imprint on my psyche, he awakened so much in me, the way I saw the act of creation, the possibilities and infinite power of word, voice, music, connection. I hope you will enjoy it.

It’s all around you, the way the vacant words falling from the mouths of those who do not understand separate and resuscitate themselves, surviving only barely by the eating of your breath.

You like the rainy days because they break you and cradle you just enough. I can tell you wear anguish and destruction like a shield, that you believe safety is a gag and a blanket, something you win by paying for it with every aching fiber of who you want to be.

When you smile I want to pull the flowers from your bleeding chest and plant them in the darkest corners of my mind. Never to forget you, you and all of your wilderness, all of your seasons of life and skeletons and death. A wall of tears is suspended in the air, at any moment about to crash along the surface of your limbs. You can tell me all the dirty things, I have no interest in robbing them of you.

The moment I met you I knew we had known each other for a very long time, it felt like my eyes resting behind your eyes would have made perfect sense. The way you saw the majestic and the terrible things I could see and did not turn away. I am always so taken by the souls of those who find silence to be rich, the ones who slide their bodies into a quiet room and listen for the things most people throw away by moving too fast, protruding too intrusively, talking too much. Saying nothing about nothing when I hunger for so much.

They shuffle and speak in low tones as you drift past their illusions and up into the blue electric sky. It’s not that you don’t care it’s just that there has to be more than this, something with a deeper soul must exist if only people would let the darkness into the light and the light into the places where they think there is nothing more to see.

And as they keep trying to sell us eternity, we fade farther and farther into retreat. This moment, the one catching you and I by the gap between heartbeats, this is the only one we need.

So there was my little reading for today. Thank you for having a listen, I am always so grateful for a chance to share with you. If you are interested in purchasing my book, or even just taking a look through the previewed pages, they are all available now on Amazon, paperback and also Kindle versions. Wishing you well, stay safe out there. Cheers.

Rip Your Heart Out

What will you do when the words run out, when the sands of the grains of the time you spent together slide through your fingers only to scatter on the wind. Not everything you want is something you need. How do you tell the difference? I carry within me multiple hearts. I know because at least a few have stopped beating but I’m still here. People have come and people have gone, some a complete surprise and some I have helped along. I sit at my altar staring into a single flame which flickers and sways slowly in the morning breeze. I picture you and your liquid movements melting all over me. I imagine a pale blue sky above a cathedral, so full of black birds circling the steeple that their bodies and wings block out the sun. I wait in a smooth black dress by a fountain, my hair undone. Water cascading in grand arched streams, from the hands of topless maidens, from the mouths of naked children who reach for the heavens, white marble statue eyes, cold, like ecstasy unfeeling. A filthy city crawling to life beneath my fingernails. My skin is hot with a fire I am dying to remember. I’m wearing that lipstick you like, dark as blood, you hesitate to touch. You watch me like a picture you suspect may come to life. The ache in you possesses me like a predator, hungering for prey. If you come for me with teeth, I will offer you my neck. If you come for me with roses, I will fasten them in my hair for you, that you may imagine me innocent. I open my mouth and swallow the sun to keep precious the night. When I close my eyes, I still see you. Feel you ring through me hollow as church bells as they clang high above, shatter the air against my chest, locked in a tower made of stone. I once wrote a poem that went like this. A boy takes a girl and carries her home. She kisses him deep, makes love to him sweet, and come the serene light of dawn, can never return. And though one of them dies, the rest of the hearts within her continue to beat.

Little Flower of Evil

Please don’t come so close to me. I can’t protect you from all that I am and that has been enough trouble before to burn even the most beautiful temples to the ground. In my mind there is a circle of white winged doves, fluttering elegantly, continuously, in a slow spiral toward the sun, which descends as it glitters its golden rays over a placid pale blue sea. In my blue body, my veins are the rivers, my lungs are the flood. I am the womb I was born within, the womb rushing violent, the womb overflowing with peace, tranquility, the tides of time as humanity is created, humanity is destroyed. You dream of me, parting lips of an exotic fragrant flower, petals lush with warm sweet rain, the nectar of the deep folds of night. Please don’t. Please come. Come closer and tell me what you see in the mirrored halls of my eyes as I take you in, body and soul. He was forbidden and she was a playground as evening falls, she was a carousel of dazzling light on a crowded filthy city street. I hope you will write of the things no one speaks about, the things they are afraid of. I hope you don’t let them tell you what to say, or how to say it. You have to be on guard at all times, you have to protect the only thing you know for sure is yours and yours alone. That magic heart of yours. That mind racing like mad back into itself, shield it, lock it up tight. I know you don’t believe me. I know you think I’m skittish and paranoid but that doesn’t mean the danger isn’t real. This world will try to out run you, game you, play you, gut you, leave you for dead. Don’t let that happen to you, don’t you give them the satisfaction. When they threaten to leave you to the wolves, remember you are the wolf, you are the wilderness, you are the hunter. Make your own fire, be your own shelter. Shine. Shine brighter than all the rest and don’t look down and don’t look back. Smile in the face of death. Walk on water. Walk so you can run and run so you can fly and fly so your bones can burst into a million ecstatic stars dancing so high above no one can touch you, only wish upon you for the things they dare to dream of in the silence of their trembling hearts. Don’t be the answer, be the dare. Don’t reveal your secrets. Do it all and don’t explain any of it. Don’t forget you don’t owe them anything. Be the way an illusion shatters expectations. Show them even in the pits of fire and hell, nothing is as it seems.

I Am the Storm

All night the wind rattled the clanging chimes in the backyard and drove itself mad in loud rushes against the houses and buildings. The rain slashed the window panes and glittered in large crystal gobs, pinned, suspended by the great winds, before sliding its streaky path downward. I tossed and turned a little but not much, more because I left the notifications open on my phone and the random glows lit up the corner of the room like those many soft fireflies we’d collect as kids and put them in jars with fistfuls of leaves and sticks. I can still recall the way it felt to be out in the late night of summer, my bare toes rustling through the freshly cut blades of grass underneath the low hanging trees, you could see the bug’s lights better under there where it was darkest. I could scarcely believe my mother would let me go out in my thin fuzzy nightgown even though I was already clean from the bath. I remember vividly the feel of the warm air upon my skin all over underneath the fabric as I ran and ran and twirled and opened my arms to everything. It is my first memory of freedom, of wilderness, and the taste of the dream that I belonged within it. One misty morning, I woke to find my tiny jar of glow bugs didn’t glow anymore, too young to understand I’d smothered them by fastening the lid on too tight. We try to hold things we have no business holding. We make our attempts at nailing beauty to the wall and think nothing of the arrogance of that. We punish, we manipulate, mutilate, violate, annihilate. We glorify control, exacerbate it, turn it into a perversion and call it adoration. As I sip my coffee and type, I flashback in my mind to the night I left his apartment after we had a brutal fight, stabbing each other with words like knives. Some wounds are invisible to the naked eye. Suffocation. Gashes in the psyche, bleeding in the red tides of emotions we refuse to tame. Pain is where the tears come from, screams come from, hurt comes from, a place you can feel but cannot point to on your physical body, on an x-ray, on a scan; it does and does not exist. Perhaps this, too, is the place where poetry comes from, this placeless place. A pin on a map that nobody can print. A homeless home we crawl towards with what is left of us, that we try to return to when the storms come to your front door. And like a perfect fool, you open up and watch, as they come crashing in.

Break Glass In Case of Emergency

I’m not sure it’s an emergency but then again I’m not sure how I got here so who’s to say when the urgency sets in. Can a person slowly slide toward their own demise without ever actually seeing it coming? Doesn’t matter. Across the street, a woman has placed a blessed mother statue in her front window facing outwards with palms raised and eyes cast downward. I’d say she’s done it as some sort of ritual prayer for good weather but she did it so many years ago now it’s hard to tell if it’s worked out as she’d hoped or not. It’s funny to me what people believe in, or I should say it used to be funny until it started becoming more and more absurd.  I am not a believer in much of anything but I do read tarot now and again and it stirs something in me, could be the idea of witches and magic, could be the pleasure of escape from the everyday world with its pragmatism and general low grade misery. I don’t think you need to believe, I think you just need to be open to making up your own story the way you want to. On the drive home, I passed the odd shaped one-level building tucked under tall pine trees back along a gravel road off the highway. It’s dark and seedy, the muddy color of wet bark and indignity. Used to be a sex shop but now it’s a kids day care center, made only slightly less grim by the cardboard cutouts of smiling red, blue, and yellow dancing crayons in the small front window. How much we endure between then and now. The grown ups I see, I can’t help but wonder what the hell they are thinking, or if they even think at all. So many random lives on autopilot, bodies and dreams on medication. How do they keep it all together and why do they try so hard to impress each other. And why does it always feel like I’m not one of them. Not even close. The more they want to make me like them the more I retreat. The more they reach for the outer signs of success the more I want to scream. There is a tangerine streak of cloud falling from the tail of a plane running jagged across the evening sky. It looks like lightening stood still and turning soft at its edges. The house creaks as evening falls in and I wonder why any one tells the story of anything. Why anyone who gives a damn about this life speaks what is untrue so often it becomes everyone else’s reality. I pour the wine and wonder why any one of us speaks at all.