Sabal Palm Sanctuary: Greeters and Witnesses at the Border–A Pandemia Chronicle

[I somehow lost the previous entry of this post and have tried to reconstruct it here. Of course, there has been some time that’s passed in between, so, I have given it some additional thoughts. I believe the essence of the original intent remains. I hope you agree.]

Much about borders has been ado about drama of invasion. Never mind that most–well, all–humans who inhabit the lands we call “America” and the lands we call “the Americas” have witnessedassault and invasion, conquest and su the millenia we like to call history. It seems we like to violate each other’s boundaries as a matter of course. It shouldn’ surprise that settng up boundaries–a perceived right to privacy where we can conduct whatever busness we believe we should conduct; egregious, laudable, mostly self-absorbed–is tantamount to saying “we are the real people”, everyone else is our guest or, more likely, enemy. And, it shouldn’t further surprise that we have been very good setting up proper boundaries for ourselves where we are always clear about who and how others violate them, but less clear when we violate others, especially when it is we’ve felt slighted in their recognition of our own.

What a piece of work we are; a tangled web we weave designed in practice to deceive. . .ourselves.

I visited the Sabal Palm Sanctuary, a place that has witnessed human capacity to create boundaries, borders where only a river teeming with life all around it existed. Sabal palms of the kind here are unique old growth palmetto mexicana, the only ones of their kind on this side of border of the Rio Grande River. For millenia, these trees witnessed a flowing river, were nourished by its waters and sheltered multitudes of fauna, migrating birds, quadripeds large and small. The first humans to come here were likey the Atanaquaypacam, one of many groups of Northern Mexico and Southern Texas eventually named Coahuiltec by the Spanish and who lived in this region. Coahuiltec is a word from that language meaning “people who live in between the trees and among them”.

The Spanish called this region “El Seno Mexicano”, Seno is a word for “breast”; fitting, especially for the lower Rio Grande as the river seems to nourish the land much like “mother’s milk”. I can imagine the Atanaguaypacam living in between and among the palm groves benefitting from the river and the land it nourished. Indeed, the Sabal Palm was a source of food for humans on the river. It’s core root, the “heart of palm”, like other palm trees, is edible and is now a delicacy enjoyed throughout the world.

The Sabal Palm groves are an idyllic place, calm as they seem to watch over the river and its history. People like the Atanaguaypacam lived mostly to survive and like their counterparts across the region, were often encroached upon by various “empires”, the Huastecans, Mayans, Aztecs from the south and, in later times, the Apache and Tonkawa (pressured by the Comanche) from the north. Of course, the greatest source of destruction in this region was the coming, first of the Spanish and then all the other iterations of Europeans. All empires seeking to “do better” with the land that these early “Paleo-Indians” (as they are now called) inhabited for many centuries if not thousands of years.

And, the Sabal Palms have born witness to this slow turning of a river of life into a line in river sand demarcating which group of later immigrants have laid claim to which side of its banks.

I grew up here at a time when the border was much more . . . .flexible in its conception. Like the stream of water flowing into the sea nourishing the land through which it passed, a stream of humans would pass across into each other’s “lands” conducting the business of commerce, loving. . .living.

The harshness that the palms have come to witness is palpable with rising of metal “vegetation” sprouting out in front of them like spikes impaling land and sky. And, now the river can only be enjoyed through those prison bars. The palms incarcerated in their role as greeters, witnesses to the mark of hatred holding the world out and keeping people who seem to find solace in their boundaries in.

There remains a light of hope: There are bridges. Those bridges can become gateways. I think the gateways are best seen as windows to bring in light to an ever darkening world beset by the fallacy that we are not one people when in fact we are. The palmetto mexicana may yet witness a better day. Where the light may return to the dark and the sound of welcome joins with it.

Coda DS al Principium

Returning to Boca Chica was much like returning to a portal. In important ways, it represents a return to a beginning, like a coda in music repeating an important part of a song. Except in this case being a return to a journey taken only in my dreams and now in waking. I needed to return. I needed to honor loosing the fear, embracing entry into a space that isn’t solid ground. Riding the surf to a more distant part of the shore needing me to swim into the currents. In doing so, I might have the chance to find a place to build a vessel that I can use to sail and then navigate to the places and times I will meet upon this new and open sea. . . . Yes, words and analogies by necessity are mixed here. There is no true template for this kind of journey. Not if it is to be more than just another trip into the familiar without the benefit of different sight and different thinking; that can turn sight into insight. . .

It’s a tall order and as I’ve mentioned before, perhaps I’m not up to the task. But it doesn’t matter if I ultimately am not. I will only fail if I just return to the present without having taken the journey.

Namaste To the World

I have to honor the chance I have that others simply do not have the chance to take. It’s best for a wild heart to take on the wilderness with reckless abandon, but to do so honoring the souls in others, a namaste to the world and to those in it that, in each their own way, have wished me Godspeed with their gift in letting me to know them.

I returned to my birth canal portal today to start a new tradition, to use the tools I’ve gained in the past years, yoga and the playing of my didgeridoo, to honor and appreciate the change in me that this portal now represents; the willing dive into uncertainty for the sake of greater access to the Truth.

I was wondering why I brought my didgeridoo with me when I left. I guess I found out.

At the portal where I cross into a new beginning, I salute the sun and play the sound that speaks from my soul. . . .

Yes, it’s a bit of a strange and new practice. And those who’ve said notwithstanding, I don’t think myself a shaman or any great spiritual being. It just seems fitting that I should have come back today to Boca Chica beach leaving it not behind but drawing energy, honoring the beginning to a new journey.

Continue reading “Coda DS al Principium”

Birth Canal: Boca Chica–Chronicles From Pandemia

I’m scared of little; what I’d say if I ever met Mitch McConnell and he asked me about his record on fiscal responsibility, what I’ll do if the silly Texan at the table next to me “educating” his Chicano guests keeps on about Joe Biden hiring only Black people for his cabinet and staff along with veiled antisemitic inuendo about the “Israeli lobby” dictating policy (yeah, I need to leave this restaurant pretty soon, ’cause now an argument about who to support, I Ran or I Rack), and murder hornets–I mean 2020, did you really have to throw in murder hornets onto this giant pile of . . . apocalyptic . . .dookie?

[Note: The time at the restaurant described above was in an open patio by a resaca and a pleasant light breeze blowing with very few people and me at a corner sufficiently away from the “silly Texan” and his guests. As you can tell, I ate and left.]

I was scared today.

Boca Chica, An Idyllic Memory

Boca Chica is Spanish for “Small Mouth”, it is the U.S. portion of the beach alongside the mouth of the Rio Grande River spilling into the Gulf of Mexico and marks the border between Texas and Mexico. The beach entrance is about two and a half miles from the river where one side is the U.S and the other side, Mexico.

Boca Chica beach was for much of my childhood a favored day trip for my family because it was easily accessible by road, we could take picnic food and assorted blankets and poles to spread as a tent with our car as the anchor. Great times close to the Gulf and the river, sunburns, sand in all the wrong places, but hours in the water and a chance for an idyllic happy memory that likely obscures many things; like Dad trying to make nice with Mom, cousins with unhappy homelives getting a brief respite from the wars at home, the thousand little problems that the suspension of regular life at the beach can be a welcome distraction, if only for a lovely Sunday afternoon into evening.

You know, good ol’ times of the good ol’ days. . . .

And I am serious, they were the good times among the underlying struggle to be a family. It is only with the hindsight of reflection (likely a bit blurred by time) that much of what I feel I now know has become more clear. What I do remember well, are multiple Wonderbread bags of “baloney” and chicken salad sandwiches, a few large tupperware tubs of potato salad, splashing in the surf and contests for who could swim out to the farthest sand bars and stand upright (yeah, such things as undertow and sandsharks or “vejigas”–“balloon” jellyfish or Portuguese Man-o-Wars–weren’t really a thing to worry about).

Boca Chica was much different than going to South Padre Island. One, SPI required going onto a raised bridge in between letting shrimp boats and such pass by (no longer necessary because of a great Causeway crossing the Laguna Madre in between). There were also the many cabañas and rental cabins where we could stay on the Island. Everybody liked going to the Island, but it was more expensive and, so, a treat. Boca Chica was our cheaper date. SPI involved barbecueing burgers and hot dogs, overnght stays. Boca Chica was a way for us kids to work ourselves out for a day and sleep on the way home. Some people camped out. I don’t remember us doing it.

The thing is, two events seem to have mixed themselves into my mind; a fall from a bunk bed on SPI and the surprise you get when you arrive right on the beach, off the road, with the swelling, roiling water almost splashing you inside the car upon waking from a nap on the trip there.

That, and maybe a memory of my emerging from my mother’s womb.

The result is a recurring dream that has been a source of dread.

A Recurring Dream

First, about the dream, or at least the dream as a template for lots of dreams. In it, I find myself being pulled with unrelenting force into the surf, farther and farther from the shore and deeper and deeper water where I vainly try to feel for the welcome sandbar that I can then stand and get some rest. Sometimes, I get onto the sandbar, sometimes not quite ever. When I reach a sandbar, then my problem is, of course, returning to the beach. When I don’t, there is the desperate race against the current, time, and waning strength to reach the solid land. In time, I often “learn” the important solution to let the tide take me to the shore even if it doesn’t land me where I started. But not always. In the times when I fail to learn, I often wake as I’m drowning.

What is often different in this dream is the issue I am processing that may be represented. Determining this dream’s effect and the issue represented has been elusive. The sense of reaching safety, or failing, is what is usually left after the specifics. It seems straightforward that images are about being drawn from a place of relative safety, the hum of the road in the back seat of a car lulling me to sleep. And comfort. A time and space where both are suspended, no past to traumatize, no future yet to meet. . . . And then the abrupt chrashing of waves waking you into reality, the surf like claws dragging you into the challenge of an open sea where everything before you must be explored, the safety in a place, wthin the water, where you can stand and catch your bearings.

Or the realization that the sea is much too big to swim. That to find the shore at a different time and place is both possible and a chance to discover. Do you return from where you came? Walk further down the beach? Build a boat to take you out to sea?

It’s may be the vastness of the ocean that calls you, but its the reaching arms of the tides and surf like fingers that are pulling you; sometimes in fear. Well, mostly in fear.

And you then set to making choices. To let the fear leave you groundless, use your wits to bring you to place of bearing or your patience to allow the surf to take you where it is you go knowing that it’s your newfound place to start.

And just like every challenge you will ever have, you may not meet it. You may drown. I think that’s been my fear whenever I have had this dream. The likely chance that I may fail.

A Fear Unfaced; And ReSurFaced

A few years ago, I was here in this place of origin. A friend of mine had come with me and we decided to visit Boca Chica so that she could see the contrast between South Padre’s beach and Boca Chica’s. There was something new on the road, the new Tesla Spaceport–SpaceX Launch Facility–and the related University of Texas–Rio Grande Valley Technology Center, the “UTRGV Stargate”. . . .cool title, huh?

After beng suffiiciently awed by the spaceport and the “Stargate”, we drove up to Boca Chica beach. I don’t believe I let on to my friend, but the effect of reaching the end of the road with the waves and surf splashing and surging, struck me with a force that I thought I’d jumped. I do remember saying something like, “Whoa!” Believe me when I say what went on inside my mind and heart was like a crashing wave on a rough beach that hits you and briefly drowns you. My recurring dream was alive and I was awake, but its force nearly took my breath. In the span of a few seconds, I was transported into a dreamstate where I felt every fear of “losing”, “failing”, doubt, and desperation. And I felt myself being pulled right into the sea. I remember telling my friend that the beach reminded me of a recurring dream. But there were other things that we were dealing with at the time (another story for another time).

But that moment has stuck with me until now. It scared me and I simply filed the fear away clearly not being ready to address it. I think this dream “template” is like an archetype for me. One that leads me into a fear state when I find myself being pulled into a new test. . . .

Of course, I had to come back here.

A Beach Entrance as a Birth Canal

Most writings about the birth canal dream seem to talk about it as the springing of new life or the desire to “birth” something new. The feeling I get from my dream is one where I am spilling out, almost like out of a womb. Perhaps this kind of dream has served multiple purposes for me, about the inner fear of challenge, the recognition that in meeting changes don’t always take you where you intended to go. At this moment, it is as if the sea is pulling me out not so much against my will as it is done abruptly. Like it is time, but you are still surprised by the force of the “call” of the sea. And in a way that I am not sure I will really find my way with the very real chance that I may have to swim with an uncertain strength.

In these times, what has served me best has been my utter giving in to the waves and natural rhythms of the surf, knowing that a surf, while roiling and tugging underneath, inexorably is destined to reach the shore. To find a different place along the land you seek is a good result. To find the pull of waves upon different shores requires building new vessels that take you to another beach. One that may show you other promises.

The fear seems to lie in the determining what it is you really seek? And whether you can take the path to get there, especially when you cannot walk, but must swim. Not just lead. But follow.

Origins—Texas: Pandemia Chronicles

Hi 😊

Portrait of the Traveler On the Nueces River

I entered Texas yesterday realizing how every time I come here I am different and how Texas, if it were a person probably is too. I would say we’ve grown apart. Or to be more accurate, I’ve learned how very different Texas always was and I am just in some ways catching up.

You see, in my mind I don’t believe I had all the information and went about my youth largely in a fog about why all the animosity? Amid all the genteel southern hospitality and the almost regal Spanish politesse there lay a seething antagonism, antipathy, between Anglo and “Hispanic”. Along with the complete dismissiveness of anything plebeian, otherwise known as “Mexican”. Of course, never ever mentioned was the “Indio “, except in the romanticized version depicted by Tonto and the Lone Ranger or the strong silent type dominating TV shows in the early 60’s who could communicate large messages in a few hand flicks of sign language. It’s not hard to understand why much of Texan society in the Rio Grande Valley tends to operate in two-dimensional caricatures passing for a life. For Anglos, status is not important because, well, they have it and if you’re not White, you don’t. It doesn’t alter all the other class antagonisms that are a feature of society, White or not, if you’re White, you are afforded a little more leeway in most things. For “Hispanics”, everything seems to revolve around status; from how close to White you are to what kind of title you have, from what neighborhood you come. There is a pecking order many seem to be much more clearly aware about than I ever seemed to notice.

The Texas I’ve come to know seems far divorced from its formal history, which of course I received as part of my public schooling. The more accurate truth is that our history began with a lie.

No, everything you probably heard did actually happen, Cortéz did come to Mexico and the “Aztec” empire (another term distortion) was defeated by a few hundred Spaniards and 500 years later, here we are with South Texas “Hispanics” and “Anglos” (what? You thought the problem with terms only applies to one and not the other?) all playing nice and hatin’ at the same time. It’s the problem with the truth. It can hide the lies so well. First, the Aztecs. . . .

You know, before you know it, you start into full professor mode and, well, maybe I’d like to do that sometme but I don’t really want t do book reports about history here. Odyssey goin’ on. It’s more about trials and tribulations.

I’m writing here as I am a bit more replenished (not really refreshed) recognizing that my trials have mostly been about tribulation. And how my origins seem to have deeply affected every way I’ve connected to the world. I don’t mean to impy I’m any different than others, but I do believe that the social context of our existence does affect our personal history. Being a Chicano (yes, a deliberate choice of identity) growing up in the 1950’s and 60’s, I believe, had a profound effect on every way I’ve intersected in the world. Anger and hurt are mostly situated in our core personal experiences. Although such experiences might explan much, the social context of “status” and class and identity, the one foisted onto us by circumstances, has a powerful influence on everything we think and how we walk in the world (I think S. deBeauvior and F. Fanon had much to say about these things). The question is how do we grow beyond it.

That, I think is my quest; for this part of the Odyssey at any rate.

Of Triggers and The Impulse to Expect Rejection

I struggle with the concept of “triggers”. It’s not that I don’t understand how previous hurts can unwittingly guide our responses to new situations where we find ourselves vulnerable. If we have often felt shamed when we were seeking acceptance, it shouldn’t be surprising that we’ll react expecting some kind of rejection. Sometimes actively seeking it out because it is what we’ve come to understand and to expect. It somehow serves us. It can be uncomfortable, but it is more familar than actual or healthy acceptance. Even more so difficult to understand that one can honestly interact with you with no real malice; dislike what you are doing but not necessarily dislike you. As a student of children, I do understand how that is what so many of us have experienced in our early lives. It’s one thing to understand, quite another to learn more healthy responses; especially when you don’t always know what those responses ought to be.

But to call such activating events of learned poor reactions, “triggers”, sounds too much like we are all loaded guns waiting to shoot with deadly force. When you’re a gun, your life is destined in some way to shoot. And kill. I refuse to think that being a gun is all we’re meant to be, even in a world as violent as this one. In any case, if we create methaphors about ourselves as destructive weapons, it seems difficult to make the case for how we should care about each other. Or, more to the point, how we can learn to act differently than to be a gun. . . . .Yeah, I know, still professor mode. Sorry.

Why Origins?

Chicanos in Texas have a distinct biological and related cultural characteristic; we are the product of rape, hated in history for neither being “pure” European nor pure Indian, I hope you note the utter contradiction in calling Europeans or native indigenous people pure. It is both a contradiction and a conceit; a way to create and maintain a hierarchy of social status. After all, if you’re a product of rape, it’s not easy for your parents to see you clearly, even in the best intentions. And it is even more complex than one might see at first “blush” (sic). Among us rape children there are those of us actually closer to one or the other progenitor. In some contexts there are even color schemes of dark to light. All of that is written in our psyches if not our DNA. The history of South Texas in particular is marked by usurpation of indigenous cultures, the colonization first of Spanish colonists and then subsequently European Anglos expropriating the land, not from native peoples but from descendants of Spanish colonialism who had colonized the land and its people. Layers upon layers of theft and outright murder, all for the sake of making use of land that others before them hadn’t “productively” enabled its capacity.

There are of course historical landmarks, the wars of Mexican independence from Spain, the war for Texas “independence”, the Mexican War, and, finally the unheralded, barely recorded ethnic cleansing of South Texas from 1915 to 1920 (there are many good works about this history, one is B. Johnson Revolution In Texas). What some people consider the orgins of Mexicans beginning to consider themselves Americans, hence, “Mexican-Americans” or, in my case like many of my youth, Chicano. It is this history that has had its psycho-historical impact on how people of the “Valley” have grown up.

Upon entering Texas this time, I realize that this journey is in truth a journey to a new world albeit ancient in its origins. Marked by its past and only dimly understood by all of us who came from this world.

I am mindful how my travel here is new, but ultimately the most important, not because of a new insight into history but because of a growing insight into myself. It’s tough when your tribulations requre not redemption but compassion for the anger in your soul and empathy for the pain in your heart. That your trials have never been the ones you have experienced but what you have to learn to overcome what they have taught you.

A Brief History of Gravestones and a Dream Awakening: A Chronicle of Pandemia

I left Lawrence (Kansas, don’t know any Lawrences currently) a little bedraggled–emphasis on the “draggled” with very little time to “be” in bed, at least asleep. It seems an Odyssey leaves little time for wanting to if not actually sleeping. It just seems more fun to see a world you’ve seen before with an eye for, well, different detail in contrast to meticulous detail. I didn’t really spend much time through Kansas and Oklahoma, except for the approximately 9 arduous hours of flat and open space. It isn’t surprising to see how . . . .uneven people have become here and how much many, though not all, cling to the ownership of land and privilege so thoroughly wrested from other more original inhabitants, but who nonetheless were migrants and immigrants themselves. I had breakfast at truck stop (takeout to my car) and was struck by the generally Latino/Latina workforce, most serving food, but others taking care of the “grounds” cleaning up the parking lot so that truckers and drivers don’t trip over all the trash they offhandedly throw everywhere but in the trash bins. It was as if I was transported (sic) to a different time; some slaves taken from conquered tribes by Mayans or Aztecs, cleaning the steps to pyramids and markets so that artisans and farmers of the “nation” could do their business without the filth they were prone to create. Here, today, were the descendants of the progeny between Europeans and indigenous people, having mgrated back to what were likely the ancestral lands of their native forbears. Returning to clean the pyramids to the gods paying tolls on a highway and feed the mouths and privilege of the “citizenry”.

Both Kansas and Oklahoma are lands that have special relationship to the Midwestern “Breadbasket” despite just being two among the many with the same kinds of story. As the Kansas Historical Society puts it:

“The land we now call Kansas had been home to many American Indian peoples. The Arapaho, Cheyenne, Comanche, Kansa, Kiowa, Osage, Pawnee, and Wichita are tribes that are considered native to present day Kansas. The area has also been inhabited by many emigrant tribes. Emigrant Indians are those people who have been moved to a new geographic region after being displaced from their original homelands. As non-native peoples became more numerous in the eastern part of the United States, plans were developed to move Indian tribes farther west.”

In short, Kansas was home to many native peoples, the originals were eiher eradicated or colonized and were joined by “emigrant” native people removed from their ancestral lands and made to live with the originals of what is now Kansas, a melting pot, emphasis on melting. Some of the people that came, and went, live on in names of creeks, rivers, and state counties. Driving through from Lawrence through to Fort Worth (Texas), you could see some of those that came and went, Osage, Pawnee, Wichita, a town in Oklahoma called Comanche.

Oklahoma is even more special, for much of early U.S. history, Oklahoma was the buddng nation’s open prison house of indigenous nations where people who were defeated and displaced to serve European settling ended up becoming “emigrants”, that is, a Leavenworth Penitentiary for the inconvenient in the way of “American Progress”.

The stories and history are just too numerous to tell here (there are many books on the topic, one very comprehensive one is 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by C. Mann. All I really want to say is that driving through these often barren lands was a bit like driving through a cemetary with only names of the gravestones written on county road signs and highway markers. Perhaps, the land seems more stark in coming winter and knowing how so many nattive people have suffered disproportionatelty in the pandemic. It was not lost on me to remember the effect of previous pandemics of Europe that were brought here by settlers, sometimes the virulents laced into blankets given to native people as part of “initiating” into . . .civilization.

The Kansas and Oklahoma territories were the last stop for many people who tried too vainly to forestall Pax Americana.

I say all this because this now second day in what I know will be a long journey is really a gateway to a history I need to feel and touch, see and hear on the wind, in the heat of day, and light of a moon. It’s also, likely most important to me, a gateway to the anger and despair we all live, but that is meaningful to understanding at the deepest level my own anger, despair, misbelief.

Wakefulness Into Dreaming: A Twist Before Dying

I said at the beginning of this post that today started off a bit bedraggled. I got to sleep very early. In the morning; about 5 am and slept fitfully until about 10 am. Maybe it was because of a strange bed, or because I didin’t follow my well established regimen for sleeping, ‘honed” in my retirement. It’s amazing the things you need that you packed in your car so you wouldn’t have to buy them on the road; my new iPhone charger (yes, I’ve entered the dark side. Blame my daughter for that. ), charger for my headset, mouthwash but in a different bag, some clementines and crackers (don’t ask) to settle your stomach when you take some medications. . . and, oh yes, your favorite pillows from home to supplement the six available in your twin queen bed hotel room (you really don’t want to know). Hence, what you could have brought in one trip upstairs, ends up being three (the distance between room and parking lot in a large, mostly empty hotel will surprise you) . All around 2 to 3 am. And then sleep, perchance to pretend with your eyes closed hiding the fact that you are wide awake.

I finally did get to sleep, woke up to my alarm at 8 and then promptly decided to just close my eyes awakening about 9:43 after an amazingly deep but brief REM (like) sleep.

And here’s the point (and you thought there wasn’t one, didn’t ya?). As, well, some may know, your dreams come to you after a REM sleep in the period just before waking. They sometimes feel like they are longer but they aren’t. And, of course, there are many good and not so good theories about dreams. You can believe of them as you will. My view, is that everything you dream, everybody in it, is really all about you and the parts of you that people in your mind seem to represent (yeah, you may think otherwise, analyze away for yourelf). For a very long time, I have had several recurring dreams. I know they are because many of them I wake remembering only the most general details; some murderer finding ways to kill me that are only effective if he finds a way to saw through my spine–from the front, a house that holds all my family including my deceased mother (but not my deceased father), a young alternatively blond, sometimes brown-haired girl who has become my new love (yeah, there’s lots there, not the point here, pay attention), and a young dark-haired angry, desperate, self-loathing boy. Even now, the images are receding, which tell me that this dream is by no means over for me. But in my dream last night, I struggle with this boy, fighting with him for being such an angry louse, such a petulant, emotionally manipulative child and how he has ruined just about everything including any chance at love. . . I only remember the struggle. And the conclusion. I kill the boy in the most visceral way, taking hold of him and jumping off the building (it’s a building this time) to our common death, a death that somehow I know we will survive, so, just before we leap, I snap his neck so that I know that he is dead.

And this dream has been recurring for a very long time. It comes as no surprise to me that it occurs during a time of what has been emerging resolution, especially in exposure of a “core hurt” (a word borrowed from a friend) that has resurrected itself for yet one more time in my all too not so young, but very youthful (that is to say, immature) life. I’ve been struggling for a while with fear of acceptance that often manifests as coming on too strong in connection to relationships that are promising but really only just beginning; the fear that you will lose out if immediate full gratification doesn’t show itself right away. Or, when gratification comes but then you wonder if it isn’t real, or you’re not “ready” or a myriad of other ways that some people call an issue with “object permanence”. When you’re a smart guy, you can fool a lot of people that you have it all together. When you’re a caring guy, you spend a lot of time wishing you could be better. And it can be . . . .enlightening when you meet some caring and very smart, loving people and they call you on all of it, sometimes in soft ways where their unconditonal positive regard humbles you and sometimes with a clear rejection of your hurting and emotional self-manipulation, which to them is just manipulation.

I am here on this journey knowing the very real danger that is out here in a pandemic that is running rampant. I only recently became clear that I face another danger, one that is not a problem of acute mental health (at least I don’t think so), but because while I have tried, often with apparent success, “killing off” that angry, distraught, emotonally stunted little boy (sure, you can insert dad issues, mom issues, whatever. But I’m a grown-ass man, so, you know, no) , I think that killing him off has been exactly the problem. Last night, or rather, somewhere between 8 am and 9:43 am today, I sensed something a little new. At the very moments just before waking, I heard myself say something, not to problem child, but to me directly. Only one word, and it has blossomed into ever growing thoughts around, Compassion.

I’ve made lots of emotional errors, and, if today is any indication, I will continue to do so. But I think that what I might try to do more is show myself compassion as I try to do better. I think it is best to be self-compassionate instead of seeking to eradicate a part of me that likely serves other purposes, my anger at the historical injustices of the world we inhabit and species we represent, my disbelief that just because you’re “smart” means you can be complacent in not learning more, and the recognition that just because we’re old, doesn’t mean we are completely mature. Smart is as smart does and mature does as mature is.

Well, like I said, it’s a long journey into this dark night fueled apparently by sharing, really baring, deeper recesses of your soul. I’m not sure it’s what I’d counsel anyone to do. Hell, I’m really very tempted just to set this off permanently into “draft” mode. But I think I have learned one thing about myself. I’d rather choose honesty and truth. We may not know the entire truth and we may not always succeed at being completely honest (some people may argue that hiding some is a good idea, ’cause, you know, creepy otherwise). I do know that I’d rather all of you within the “sound” of my voice hear me being honest and as truthful as I currently know to you. You deserve that and I no longer wish to have you like me without this rather unendearing transparency.

If I walk alone. It’s ok. I’ve been so fortunate to know, some a lot, some too precious little, such wonderful humans. I believe that our problems, certainly regarding me, are not that we are men or women, but that we are humans. We often say something similar in the positive, that “we’re only human”, so, we can’t expect perfection. That is true, but it is also true that because we’re human, we make such terrible mistakes. . . I almost said “unimaginable” mistakes, but you know that isn’t true. We imagine horrific mistakes, make them, and then chalk it up to being human, so, “do over”.

And still, I think our greatest tool out of all of that is for us to be gentler with ourselves, with each other, compassionate. Because in our compassion for ourselves and for others, there is the chance that we can imagine, and then do, better.

I’m gonna try.

Maybe tonight, a dream, perchance to sleep.

Chronicles of Pandemia: Story City

It begins.

Today I began a journey through the middle of the country often known arrogantly as “America” but which in 2020 is more accurately, Pandemia. As I expected, the beginning of this journey seemed as nondescript as the farmland-tamed prairie of the Midwest. The strip and outlet malls beyond the Twin Cities proper gave way to towns that may sound exotic to some, Owatonna, or characteristically pioneer-settler such as Northfield or Farmington, Lakeville. And then again, Albert Lea, exotic in a settler-colonial kind of way.

As I entered Iowa, the land was very much the same. Except, if one can imagine, even more mundane. The Ames’ juxtaposed with the Des Moines’. But what really catches the eye are the highway electronic billboards crying “Mine Protects You, Yours Protects Me, Mask Up Iowa!”. I found it interesting knowing that even as late as October, Iowa’s State administration had been resisting the demand to support use of masks and social distancing to evade infection from the COVID-19 virus. To be sure, it was a welcome effort. On numerous COVID websites, Iowa has been a particularly hot “red zone” where infections have been rampant. So, you can imagine I was quite motivated to rush through Iowa opting to fill up my gas tank even at half full just inside Minnesota so that I wouldn’t have to stop in Iowa.

I was doing quite well, using a rest stop on the Minnesota border (well-fashioned to be as contactless as possible) and, well, not quite “speeding” through the state, but, you know . . . maybe.

And then, I ran into Story City. “Story City, Iowa”? Here I am traveling into a disease-ravaged land to see its history and reveal it in a story, doing my best to avoid my natural inclination to explore, and what do you know? Story City. I had to stop.

Was this some magical place for telling tales; literary cultures? An American Ireland of written traditions that somehow I had missed in my blind disdain for a state that wreaks in usurpation of the tall grass prairie for the sake of . . . .corn and soybeans? Another “field of dreams” writ into a blandness, some sort of camoflauge of dull to hide a gem of lettered splendor? It even has a carousel!

I think that probably should have given me a clue. It turns out that Story City isn’t at all about books and words that draw pictures in your head. It is named after Judge Joseph Story a supreme court justice in the mid 1800s. He is known as a conservative defender of property rights, which is deliciously odd as he is also and best known for having written the U.S. Supreme Court’s majority decision in support of the kidnapped slaves aboard the Spanish slave ship Amistad.

Story City, while not a place of story, did indeed have a story.

My brief fruitless drive into the city, however, does have an interesting twist. While I was driving by Carousel Park trying to take photos from my car–I didn’t want to get out unless I could get into see the carousel, unfortunately closed, due, you know, to the pandemic–there were some children sliding on a snow bank. It was, I thought, an idyllic piece of Americana that might serve as a nice photo of the times with all the pandemicing–solitude, isolation, in the cold. But in my reverie of vicarious photo-chronicling, some parents standing by a rust-bottomed red pickup truck, a man and woman, began eyeing me. I didn’t pay it much attention as I left the parking lot. I decided to look at the same scene from a farther view across the park and turned down the street across the way slowing down to lower my window and start shooting . . . photos with my phone. And then behind me, red rust-bottomed pickup. I swerved over to let it by. . . no, it turned to come behind me. Hmm?

I decided to head out of town. Rusty Red Pickup following me onto the ramp . . . . I wondered what was happening here and began, as one might do, to think about events that led to this . . . unlooked for adventure. Did the parents think I was photographing their children? What would make them want to follow me? Was I being particularly suspicious to them? Were they people who had kidnapped kids and didn’t want to be exposed? Were they a family in some witness protection program and I inadvertently caught them on camera? As notorious RRP (Rust-Red Pickup) kept following me I envisioned all the sheriffs SUVs I’d noticed at the local truck stop by the freeway just before my little Americana jaunt into storyland would be following behind red (and white and blue) lights flashing, me spread-eagled on the hood of my silver Elantra or, you know, worse. In between the bad episode of “COPs”, I also thought, would the little-red-rust-pickup-that-could just be some Proud Boys couple enjoying playtime with their kids before they, you know, begin marching around looking for somebody they think looks like a Black Lives Matter supporter or a CDC official “forcing” them to wear masks and I just happened to fit the bill, the BLM supporter , that is, ’cause I’m pretty sure I don’t come off as the CDC. For about 30 seconds, that and the whole my past life flashing before me, filled my thoughts while, well, trying to drive the speed limit in as much a record time as I could.

Red Rusty took the next exit ramp.

Yes, my new adventure has begun. I can’t wait to see what comes next.

But then, you know, as I’m sitting here in a safe hotel room, hoping that it is indeed safe and not some virus-saturated kill box, I begin to see how stories come into their own. I’m traveling because I know I need the space to face the dangers that have often traveled with me in my life. Stories actual and the more dangerous kind, the ones perceived. I have said this journey is an odyssey, replete with sirens luring you to mental rocks that kill your chances for any happiness, trials in threading through the danger of virus particles in some human air and those equally dangerous thoughts infecting you inside your mind for feeling unworthy, monstrous, overly emotional in your desired attachments. It is a story of unlooked for adventures, real places inhabited with the ghosts of the past, and real trials in finding clarity within yourself. I am glad I’ve started now. Regret nothing about how it’s taken all this time. It is the best time. Because I’m here.

Indeed, I am begun. You can guess for yourself what’s behind the mask, a smile, a frown? Elation or great sadness? I think you know