This is the longest and possibly most intimate piece I’ve ever shared online, long even for me, a winding road that wanted to take its time and asked me to take mine. It’s nearly nine thousand words, three times what you might be used to from me.
All this to say you might want a mug of something warm or cool, maybe some snacks. Make yourself comfortable. We have ground to cover, landscapes to wonder at, mysteries, awe. Entering a space as I wish to be in it, for me right now, this is a clue about the tantalizing superpowers of grounded excitement, unhurried anticipation.
I am taking a breath of thankfulness: thankful that you are here, that I am here, here’s to the superpowers of keep on keeping on, to beginnings and entry.
In the beginning
In the beginning (of this summer).
That’s when the hornet stung me. Maybe that was the beginning.
My friend and I were walking in the wildlife refuge. I was in a crisis of renewed joy, so happy and relieved to see her, after having been so lonely and so isolated alone in the dome, for months, undone by the wild winds.
I had understood my state of misery to be standard-order depression combined with the anxiety of pandemic life and the devastating heat of summer, but depression doesn’t generally lift magically and instantaneously, and as soon as I saw my friend, I felt joyful and at ease again, hope-filled.
This sudden shift into joy meant I had to consider that maybe it had all been loneliness and sorrow in disguise.
To be honest, I had not expected to feel lonely in quarantine life; I spend most of my time alone anyway and mostly prefer it that way. The New Normal was a new lonely, and it threw me for a loop, how utterly different isolation feels when it chooses you, and you don’t get to choose, because all the choices are gone.
How do you anticipate being completely reconfigured?
How do you recognize yourself when nothing makes sense?
Reside in the desert at your own peril
I was musing on these themes, and enjoying seeing my friend, enjoying the hills and the trees. I registered the hornet coming towards me, but it seemed to be headed past, and Arizona is just generally oriented towards everything trying to kill you, so you kind of get used to it.
Hard to get too worked up over potential death when every aspect of your environment wants you to perish. This is one of the many reasons I was unsurprised the virus did so much damage; precautions are not the Arizona way.
Yeah that’s a rattlesnake in the road but it’s sleepy and all the way over there. Sure, we’ll sit on this porch and chat, it’s probably covered in scorpions but whatever, yes that decorative cactus will slice your hand off.
On the topic of perishing, sometimes these crises of self (who am I when I am not the self I thought I knew) are a form of death too.
My friend Kathryn calls this an acid bath of the soul, and my months of total isolation in the desert delivered so many of those that I am still reeling my way through recovery.
A sharp awakening
The hornet did go past me but then it dove back to sting me on the back of the neck.
A mob hit. Precise, cruel, completely intentional.
Which direction is safety, is there a direction towards safety
In Arizona, if any kind of bee gets aggressive with you for no reason, a swarm is coming for you, a swarm and death if you can’t outrun the swarm, and so I ran.
I ran, confused by the pain, trying to remember the distance you have to go to outrun the swarm, was I running in a useful direction, would the swarm come from behind me?
My friend Matthew was once chased by hornets all the way to his front porch, stung three times and then the swarm just stopped. Okay we reached the periphery and we’re done here!
And he made it through the door. I was thinking about that. Where is my door? What is my version of a door?
Absence of X
I ran. I noticed my friend was not running. Maybe she is not impressed by killer bees, maybe she didn’t understand.
There was still no swarm.
We walked through the fields of dead sunflowers. What does it feel like to not anticipate a painful terrifying death?
Dissonance amplifies trauma, that is the best way I can sum up this time.
Pandemic life in the United States means not only existing inside an unfolding disaster, but doing this while the danger is inexplicably invisible to half the people in the country.
There’s a premise for a disaster movie, or just a disaster. An alien invasion, but half the people can’t see them. Terrible fires, and half the people don’t feel the heat and insist they can’t smell smoke.
An earthquake that topples everything while half the population insists it hasn’t happened at all.
It is so deeply bewildering to be in the disaster, but it is more bewildering to interact with people acting like there is no disaster. My friend casually meandering and not running from an impending hornet swarm was almost a mirroring of that.
My friend gave me arnica capsules and a salve for the sting. The pain did not subside.
I somehow drove ninety minutes back to my loneliness, and slept for a week.
The back of my neck swelled into half a golf ball, and then larger, purple and bruised. It kept getting larger. I had to remind myself that I had been stung; my fingers touching it wanted to read it as a tumor. Oh no, babe, no, this is just what recovery looks like.
I didn’t see the point of taking any of this to a doctor. There is regular living-in-the-wild-desert danger involved in sharing space with poisonous everything, and then there is going to a doctor during a pandemic.
Anyway, I knew what a wise doctor would say, if I were lucky enough to find one of those. People vary. You’re someone with heightened sensitivities, intense reactions to everything, and now your body is having an intense reaction to being poisoned. Rest up. Wait and see.
That’s what I did.
Maybe this will be my origin story, I joked to a friend by text, maybe this will finally unleash all those dormant powers if I don’t die.
Maybe this is how it begins, the catalyst, the pre-story, this is the tale of how our lost and lonely protagonist Havi Bell Brooks transforms into The Desert Assassin, the Sorceress of Snakes & Self, the Vixen of Vs, the X of Xs.
Welcome, welcome, all aspects of self, these glowingly powerful power-personas, forged from the fires of isolation, desert heat and this dose of venom.
A chrysalis from venom
Maybe this recovery period is like a chrysalis formed from my interaction with venom, maybe this is what we exist-through before the emergence. A slow motion montage of gaining in powers.
That didn’t happen.
Or who knows, maybe it did.
Maybe this is exactly what happened and it hasn’t been made visible yet. Maybe new vision is part of this too. Learning to recognize myself again.
After about ten days, the swelling went down, a large marble, and eventually it subsided.
Here is another thing that happened this summer: My brain stopped working.
I lost all focus, I slipped deeper into listlessness, the days were long and confusing; I spent most of them staring into space having forgotten what it was I was trying to do.
You can do this babe, one step at a time, we’ve got this, let’s fucking go, I would say, and then three hours would be gone.
I started calling it a win if I could make myself eat once a day. I tried to maintain a sense of humor about my total inability to remember anything or care about anything.
Where were we? Oh yes, the pits of despair!
But really is any or all of this the lived reality of deep sustained forced isolation, or is it the consequence of the depth and location of a particularly cruel hornet sting? Who can say?
Is this a story about poison and brain inflammation? Or is it more that humans aren’t meant to go four months without seeing other humans or animal companions?
Or a combination of these and other factors, combined with the cumulative weight of fear about the pandemic and fascism and environmental disaster, combined with the dissonance of everyone else pretending it‘s all a big joke?
My neighbors had pandemic parties every weekend; I heard their laughter echoing through the desert.
Meanwhile the closest thing to a human interaction for me other than a monthly grocery run and the hike into hornet territory was catching a glimpse of the UPS truck on the road and waving to the delivery person inside, a boat just in sight of my deserted island.
When I finally made it to safety last week, to the dragon sanctuary nestled between the cliffs of wonder and the forest of mystery, I discovered I am allergic to something in the land of enchantment.
Here’s a fascinating conundrum: only my left side has this allergy, these symptoms.
My left eye wells up, turns red and sheds tears, my left nostril is either mysteriously blocked or mysteriously weepy. My right side is unaffected.
It reminds me of something my chiropractor in Tucson always says: “Bodies are weird, dude.”
That’s fair. Wise and fair. Existing in a body is odd and complicated even at the best of times.
Four summers ago
Four summers ago on a bus from Astoria, Oregon headed to Portland. A drunk man wouldn’t stop talking to me, and I looked around for someone I might know, and in lieu of that, someone who might be safer to sit with.
My eyes landed on someone I’d briefly chatted with at the bakery that morning (he’d asked about my laptop, and we’d talked tech supplies for a couple minutes), and he immediately read the situation and was like, “Hey old friend, long time no see!”
We shared stories about our various adventures on the road as the bus made its way through the lush green of Oregon. He had recently acquired a sloth sanctuary in Costa Rica.
Apparently sometimes baby sloths just fall out of the trees, and because some sloth stereotypes are true, the mothers are like, hmm that seems like a long way down, and it would just take so much effort to go get you, oh well…
And let’s just be honest, that’s so relatable, and I say that both as someone who has no energy for most things these days, and as someone who never got the genetic memo about wanting to parent.
But of course how can you not also worry about the poor, tiny, helpless baby sloths, alone and disoriented, orphaned by circumstance (the circumstances of sloths), and in the path of predators.
Of course I’m not the only one who is worried about them, hence the sloth sanctuary. Good news, my friends. The sloth babies are safe there!
It’s a sanctuary, for sloths
The growing sloths climb all day, very slowly, the sanctuary is basically things to climb on and things to eat, and my bus ride companion showed me hilarious long videos of a baby sloth taking forever to ascend a low wooden deck and getting bored about ten different times along the way.
It was charming, entertaining, and again, highly relatable content.
I think about the sloth sanctuary a lot.
What I think about when I am thinking about the sloth sanctuary
How awful and disorienting it is to be loved and then not loved, safe and then not safe, cared for and then not cared for, to belong and then not belong.
Everything ends, that is the truth of life, but sometimes these endings are so surprising, disruptive, and unfathomable.
For years I had a beloved mentor I adored and trusted, I thought he always had my back, my protector and champion, the one I could always turn to in an hour of need, until one day I woke up from a nap to a surprise lawsuit, to anger and attorneys in my inbox. No way to see it coming. Etc.
By etc, I mean this is not even close to my only experience of suddenly your perch is gone, the ground is somewhere else, you cannot get back to your tree home and don’t know if you’d even want to given the option, now that you know how expendable you were. Nothing makes sense.
Etc as in the memory of that moment, reading that letter and unable to comprehend its meaning, this is an example of a category.
The pain of betrayal is the first layer, but the bafflement and disbelief is what really fucks you up. Etc is the world you know crumbling.
Etc is the name on a drawer of a steel filing cabinet in the secret home office of a retired detective. This is where the the unsolved cases live, the pain-memories of betrayal.
Welcome to the Agency of the Ungraspable and Unsolvable.
The Agency of Recovery.
And also the Agency of recovering agency.
We talk about recovering memories in the sense of what is lost re-emerging. But what if the memories themselves are in a process of recovery, this is a hopeful imagining for me, and I’ll take it. A memory sanctuary.
The real deal (hope)
What if there is sanctuary? And: What is sanctuary?
Sanctuary. A place to land and recover while doing only your favorite things in your own timing. And, sometimes, a place for prayer.
Climb or exert the tiniest amount, nap, eat, nap, repeat sequence.
I hope the abandoned sloths don’t know their origin story.
I hope they think sanctuary life is the real deal. I hope they know there’s nothing better than being a sloth in a sloth sanctuary.
Nothing but question marks
In the dream I was supposed to be teaching a class, and I suddenly realized I had no idea what kind of class. What was this class about? I wasn’t even sure if it was a movement class or a class about concepts.
My entire brain was just: ?????
I had done the most I was able to do by showing up, and the rest remained a mystery.
Make way for ducklings
There was a group of people sitting on the floor. A dad had brought two little kids, and the kids had brought baby ducks, and one of them (one of the ducks) was wearing a tiny dress and an elaborate soft round hat that gave the impression of a furry halo.
The ducklings were funny; little energetic speed-monsters zooming around the floor, everyone was entertained and happy, laughing.
The ducks noticed me and came careening towards me enthusiastically, they seemed oddly happy to see me and I felt happy to see them.
Happiness composed almost entirely of relief
I knew that I knew these ducks, I had a memory of them, a flash of having met them when they were just tiny little hatchlings.
This was more information. If I knew the ducks, I was clearly not here in error, and presumably I must know some of these people too.
Also it was now safe to assume this class would be fun for everyone involved, because it came with ducks. Ducks taking the pressure off, good job, ducks.
“Excellent!”, I said in a cheery voice, crossing the room briskly in search for any clues in the space that could point me towards what my class might be about. “Glad to see our duck friends showed up today, they’ve grown so fast.”
The clues of Not X
What I was saying to myself in my head though was more like this:
“Excellent. At least now we know this isn’t a class about concentrating on things, and it also isn’t a class that requires concentrating on things, because there are adorable ducklings wandering around in outfits, and probably no one would bring that whole situation to, say, a meditation class.”
“This is not a meditation session which means we know a little bit more about what this is not. That’s a start, babe, keep going.”
Keep going. Not X is a clue.
Although, it occurs to me while reading my scribbled dream notes, I did in fact used to teach meditation classes with a rubber duck as my co-teacher, so there’s that.
Signs you are in the right (or wrong) place
I walked into the lobby to see if my class had a name (?) that might be posted somewhere (???), but found only a chalkboard stand offering the following non-information:
Room A: Regular Class
Room B: Regular Plus
The door I had just emerged from was marked with a B, so apparently I was teaching the regular class PLUS, whatever the plus meant.
Something plus something. Unknown quantity X with the addition of Unknown Y.
Plus ça change
Someone else was in the lobby, so I pointed at the sign and asked, “Plus what?”, and they said, “Ahhhh, we used to call that the one with the chocolate chips!”
Then they laughed conspiratorially like this was an in-joke I was definitely in on.
The more things change, the more they stay the same, I said, as if I also knew what we were talking about.
Then the most impossibly beautiful human I have ever seen walked past us into classroom A and smiled at me. I forgot how to breathe.
The person who had just given me enigmatic information regarding possibly metaphorical chocolate chips said, “Oh, that’s Stephaney, with an -ey, you will love her!”
Oh right, that
A couple walked in off the street and they seemed even more confused by the sign than I was. “Just TWO classes? Only TWO? What happened to all the other classes?”
“Well”, explained the person I’d been talking to, “This is our pandemic schedule.”
“FINE”, they huffed, “We will just come back in a YEAR!”
Oh shit, I thought, I forgot about the pandemic.
Except then I was even more confused: Do we not have masks? How is this safe? How did I end up here? How did I agree to this? None of this seems like me.
Stephaney with an -ey came back out and immediately erased my brain by being impossibly beautiful and existing.
Stephaney with an -ey had spikey hair dyed with neon yellow highlights, and spikey earrings. Giant brown eyes and a giant smile aimed entirely at me. I was the living embodiment of the heart-eyes emoji.
Stephaney with an -ey kissed me not quite on the cheek and not exactly near my mouth.
Stephaney with an -ey said she had heard so much about me and absolutely everyone had told her we need to meet, and that she couldn’t wait to hang out after.
After vs after
“After the pandemic.”
“Fuck. I forgot about the pandemic again. But you just kissed me?”
“Right, we shouldn’t do that, it’s a pandemic.”
Stephaney with an -ey disappeared into Classroom A, and I tried to guess from her clothing (black leggings, red and black plaid flannel button-down shirt, boots) what kind of class it might be.
But maybe that was just her style or maybe it meant we were in Portland, and then I realized I also didn’t know what part of the country we were in.
Location location location (location?)
In the past two months, I’ve been back and forth between New Mexico, Arizona, and California, first in pursuit of the dragon sanctuary, and then searching for the rescue dragon. Rescue a dragon, be rescued by a dragon, who knows.
Much must be done for a dragon sanctuary to come into existence.
It takes work, determination and preparation to properly welcome a dragon.
The dragon is not me, the dragon is a piece of art that emerged from grief and loss, and the dragon is also my new home on a trailer.
Though to be fair, maybe I am the dragon too. Maybe I am more wounded dragon breathing fire than bewildered baby sloth.
Place (this must be the)
In the past years, I’ve been wandering: mostly California, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington.
But also Wyoming and South Dakota to Michigan, Ohio, and Kentucky, with a bit of Nebraska in there for a while too, until ending up in New Mexico and Arizona, with a lot of back and forth with Oregon, tracing paths between southwest and northwest.
No wonder dream me couldn’t even make a guess.
Land as a verb, land as an experience
In non-dream life aka my current fugue-state of being in recovery, while also moving locations while definitely not getting enough sleep, I finally have a place.
It was quite the complex adventure to land the dragon after two long months on the road following clues.
I am thinking about the amount of trust involved in even embarking on that rescue mission after the long and lonely months of confusion that preceded it, packing up the dome in the desert, preparing to exit, not knowing where I was headed, unable to make plans. Not only due to a lack of options, but because my brain had been turned off, and I couldn’t find the switch.
I existed in a stupor of loss, sorrow, isolation and hornet venom.
But we made it. Land ahoy.
I felt the existence of the dragon sanctuary before I could catch a glimpse of it, before I knew what it was or where it would be located.
Pointing the remains of my ship towards. The trade winds did the rest.
Land as an active verb: we gathered strength, and landed the dragon.
Land as a passive verb: look, a baby sloth fell from the tree and landed on the ground.
Land as a place: location, location, location, between the forest of mystery and the cliffs of hope.
Land as not-a-place: sanctuary, worlds internal, imagined lands that compose the geography of my mind.
Land as earth: the scent after the rain, the source of blooming sunflowers, the richness of a garden to be.
This is command, over and out
The dragon has landed. I repeat: The dragon has landed.
Time to rest into what is next.
It feels lovely and odd to have keys again, the keys to the dragon make so much noise. They rattle, and I am bewildered by the sound.
Before I lost my brain this year, sometime around hornet sting time, I was writing a long essay about rattlesnakes, and I can’t tell you more than that because I don’t know where it is, but rattled already held a place in my mind as a word that verbs and then is verbed into a new meaning:
The snakes rattle in your direction to let you know they are having an anxiety episode and they need you to back off, and then you are rattled, your spine is rattled, a visceral ancient knowing about DEATH, the anxiety episode has transferred to you.
My keys rattle. I am rattled.
But also I have a sanctuary again, a dragon sanctuary, a place to become un-rattled, to recover from the unraveling, let the sky and trees do their healing work on me while I remember where I am.
In the ether, maybe
Due to the one-two punch of ADHD and having my brain erased by [pandemic, grief, loss, depression, hornets, moving, a flash of Stephaney with an -ey, who knows what else, the many origin stories], I cannot remember anything at all these days.
I know that I cannot remember, and so I write it down.
That’s the one thing I remember: write it down.
But do I remember where I have written it? Rarely. Almost never.
A whisper of a shadow of what is already gone
In my bartending years in Tel Aviv, one bar owner liked to be served a vodka martini just so.
And “just so” meant he wanted you to lightly swish the martini glass with a splash of vermouth, and then pour it out into the sink, shaking out every drop before adding the chilled vodka that had been stirred with ice and itself for sixty seconds exactly.
“You want a kiss, a whisper, a hint! Your vermouth was in the room but it left before you arrived”, he would say, waxing rhapsodic, and very, very drunk, in between crimes.
I would teasingly tell him to just order vodka in a martini glass (a legitimate choice, want what you want), and he would retort that the real purists only lift the open bottle of vermouth reverentially while giving the most subtle nod in the direction of France, and the purists of the purists don’t open the bottle at all.
Of course, one could argue the real purists drink their martinis with gin and not vodka, but we were already in tipsy-turvy world, and I wasn’t going to argue anything.
Don’t get blown up tonight, he would say while leaving. Oh right, death. No suicide bombers tonight, please.
The act of writing down information I intend to remember or wish to be reminded of in the future is like raising a bottle in a direction: symbolic, intentional, and in that sense, powerful and meaningful, though let’s also be clear it’s not actually doing anything.
And so I distinctly remember how my boss twenty years ago preferred every possible type of drink, but I cannot begin to imagine where I recorded the very important information about the location of my storage locker where all my belongings have been waiting patiently for me to collect them.
What is the number of the unit, which part of the storage facility, what would I have chosen to be the combination to the lock, what was the seemingly very obvious place where I put this information? It’s all a mystery.
Writing things down is not so much a system as it is a symbolic reverential ritual.
Even in the moment of crafting these reminder notes for myself, I am at least partially aware that I am lifting a bottle of vermouth and touching it to my forehead, hoping this will be enough to convey the rememberance.
Let this be enough. Maybe this will be enough. Sometimes it is enough.
Sometimes it is enough and sometimes you have to break into a storage locker with a blow torch.
A criminal endeavor
It’s rural New Mexico, and the owner of the storage unit lives a couple minutes away. I called her from the gas station, and she brought her husband and a blow torch.
Honestly the blow torch thing was hot. Obviously literally, but I mean the part about feeling LIKE A CRIMINAL. I am never going to even bother learning a code again? This is the only way I ever want to get into a storage locker now.
ADHD trauma brain is full of fun surprises like that.
I get so frustrated when I can’t remember a number, or a clue about a number, or where I put the clue about the number. But then I get to watch a cool old man in a denim vest casually blow-torch my lock off. Everybody wins.
I got to keep the remains of the lock, a souvenir to remind me of not remembering.
Then they handed me twenty five whole American dollars, which was another fun surprise because of course I had also forgotten about the deposit, which I get back for emptying my storage unit.
They were confused by my joy, but then they were also confused by my mask, so we exist in different minds and different worlds, and that is just a summary of the way things are right now.
I spent this surprise windfall in another small town at the hardware store, where I was enthusiastically greeted with HELLO LADY and then GOODBYE LADY upon my exit.
The blow torch itself is a small dragon that you can procure for yourself with money.
Breathe fire, direct heat and power where you like, shoot sparks in a direction, be fiery and ever more fiery but never consumed.
In the morning I open the doors of the dragon and spread the nearly ten feet of long pale red rug onto the deck, so I can stretch like a bobcat and salute the sun on this sleepy dragon’s tongue.
I am the flame. I am the flame-delivery service. Fear me. I am formidable.
Formidable, tender and sleepy. A wounded baby dragon in recovery.
Watch. I draw breath from source and alchemy happens: turning breath into passion, passion into words, words into wishes. Fiery.
I entered the dragon and suddenly had words to write again, so many words, after months and months of not being able to write anything other than the scribbled clues I knew I’d lose.
Prayer is a complicated word, maybe, you can translate it as you like, but for me it sometimes means sound, chanting, words, crying, and all of this has been how I communicate with myself and the land.
Prayer was my sanctuary these long months, and since arriving at the dragon sanctuary, I have been turning to — or is that returning to? — Hebrew prayers long forgotten (by me).
Returning in the sense of remembering, but maybe also in other senses, since this is the month of Elul, a month of repentance, a word which literally means returning, leading up to tonight and a new year.
A completed cycle. Many happy returns.
Good morning, being alive (a prayer for this)
Speaking of returning, a morning prayer about being returned:
modah ani (I am thankful / I am thanking) l’fanecha (before you)
melech chai v’kayam (king, alive and existing)
shehechezarta bi nishmati (for returning my soul to me / breath back in me)
b’chemla (with compassion, graciously)
raba emunatecha (great is your faith)
Thanks given for today, hello new day, this experience of right here right now.
Textual reading, because I can’t help it, it’s what we do
I love I am thanking, and how verb-like it is, how it feels more active than simply feeling grateful, for me.
I love before you as in: I am in a state of thankfulness before you. I am in front of you, facing you, turned towards you.
Not just thankful generally but thankful in relationship to source, with source, pointing myself towards. How I am thankful towards the juniper and the cottonwoods, the fields of wildflowers, the cliffs.
I love how you can read king who is alive and existing in different ways, for me it’s more like sovereign of aliveness! Otherwise known as the Survive And Thrive superpowers of keep on keeping on.
As if god in god’s godness is like, oh yeah I know this is rough, kiddo, existing is messy, I believe in you. Let’s try this alive and existing thing again today.
Hang in there, little sloth, the rescue squad is coming!
More love for these words
I love for returning my soul into me, replacing it, placing it where it belongs, like you would a lost baby sloth, a return, many happy returns, nestled. And I love the interplay in Hebrew between soul and breath, how they live a vowel apart.
I love graciously, and how it implies that while of course I am thankful for having been returned to myself, reunited with soul and breath this morning, I am especially expressing thanks for that having been done kindly when it could have been otherwise.
My appreciation is for the way this returning was arranged (with compassion, mercy, a sweetness) and not just that it happened.
I don’t know if the baby sloths know how much they are cherished, but even if it doesn’t matter to the baby sloth, it matters to me.
Great is your faith
I love great is your faith, in me, apparently. More often we think of prayer or worship as being about our faith in [divine, source, something greater], but this is like, nope, source has faith in me.
And sure, I am more of a tree-hugging atheist type of jewish than anything else, but apparently that doesn’t change how source-love feels about me at all.
What an honor, the power in that great is your faith, what does it mean to believe in me like that, to believe in my power, my pain, my rage-fury, my grace, my returning.
Mini therapy session right here
You can also read faith as loyalty-adjacent. In Hebrew the words faith, belief, and loyalty all come from the same root, and so I have a flash of a sense that [loving source, loving a loving source, being a love-source who draws source-love from source] also means a love that won’t betray me.
If I were my own therapist, I would be frantically scribbling notes about that one, so let’s just say we are putting a pin in that theme to revisit later. It’s been noted, my pain over the endless betrayal stories has been noted.
My people love textual analysis and uncovering layers within layers, and by “my people” I of course mean poets of pain, but also yes, there is something very jewish about both obsessive textual analysis and being a poet of pain.
Play + dissection + intersection + revelation + uncovering + recovering + the joy in discovering a fragment of pottery at your feet. A tel of fragments. What is hopeful or informative in the mound of ruins.
The same beloved mentor, the one who unexpectedly chose to level a lawsuit at me rather than ask me even one question in the interest of untangling a misunderstanding, used to say (before all this), there is good experience and there is useful experience.
To the river.
My grief river runs high.
My grief river runs so high I fear it will flood the whole town, washing everything away. I cannot, I cannot, there is simply no more capacity, the river banks won’t hold, we cannot take on any more loss.
And yet, what is life if not a series of losses, fragments of pain poetry and pain pottery. Another mystery.
Where will these waters go?
Meanwhile my trust river is more like a mostly dried up riverbed, a trickle so minimal as to be functionally non-existent, more of a marker that tells a story about what once was.
Sometimes I don’t even have the memory, I only remember touching an unopened bottle of trust and nodding imperceptibly towards France.
I don’t remember the taste of trust.
But still flowing
And still I wake up in the morning, thankful before you, I have been returned to this life, great is your faith.
Some days I feel the fullness of heart gratitude for spirit in that line about great is your faith, and some days I wonder-suspect if it might not actually have been intended to be said with a little dagger of sarcasm, my people are funny that way.
Thanks for waking me up, asshole, now I have to deal with being in a body. That would be a very Jewish prayer, just saying.
Many happy returns
I am returned to myself, many happy returns.
I cannot betray myself, I continue to love myself fiercely. I cannot be betrayed by this bigger love, who trusts me and wakes me again.
And so I do what I can which is observe the land and my landscape, and reorient.
Four words that in Hebrew are alive
Water, sky, life, god.
In Hebrew, these words are dynamic and flowing, fluid and in motion, plentiful and replenished, alive.
In English you say the water is cold or the sky is blue, life is good (or life is hard), god is whatever god is. In Hebrew, the waters are refreshing, the skies are beautiful, life are complicated, god remains whatever god is, a vast oneness, but the word echoes that same form.
Water, sky, life, god.
Alive and existing, alive and in motion.
By the river
My first name comes from the Hebrew word for life, a variation on Eve, who was em kol chai, the mother of aliveness, the mother of that which is alive, the origin of living.
My name itself is alive. My middle name is a resonant bell echoing, amplifying and reverberating. My last name is a body of water that exists in plural, like water and life in Hebrew. Origin story naming.
Alive, resonant, flowing. Keep on keeping on.
I have been lying about my name
The thing with rural life, or a thing about rural life, I want to describe a phenomenon and I don’t know what it’s called, a thing white people do with other white people they suspect might not be as white? It’s a game they love to play. The game of Are You Really White Or Are Ya Faking?
My god, the layers of constructs within that, how exhausting. And yet at the same time, so much privilege embodied in being someone they can play this tiresome game with. I can choose to answer in a way that preserves my safety.
Anyway, there is a very specific way that people in these parts ask about my name, this particular flavor of curiosity that is very not-neutral.
They are trying to determine what kind of foreign name I have, how foreign am I exactly, in what ways am I different, how much should they other me, how much do they get to other me?
The dreaded question when I say my name.
What’s that from? Where are you from? Where are your people from?
That’s a foreign name, isn’t it, you don’t look foreign, what is that?
They frown in consternation at the combination of my undeniable whiteness and a name that doesn’t add up. Light skin, light hair, light eyes, a name that sets off bells.
They need to know, and they keep asking until they get an answer. “Haaaaaavi, what an interesting naaaaaaaaame, could that be Scandinavian, or is it JEWISHHHH?”
You can tell by the contrast in their voice, the way they try to scrape that last word off their tongue to get it out of their mouth, you know which answer is “right”. You know you can give an answer that ensures easy comfortable conversation, and you know how things go the other way.
Tell them your name comes from Hebrew, and things turn chilly fast. It’s disorienting, the speed of the shift, a friendly conversation into a wall.
Or they fetishize you in some creepy way and try to convert you, or they tell you that their cousin’s wife’s sister married “a Hebrew” and that he is “pretty nice actually” and “makes a lot of money”. It’s never good, basically.
Speaking my name comes with dread for me, but I want the opposite of that. I want the utterance of my name to breathe boundaries of fire.
It feels important to emphasize the vast privilege built into in this choice I am given, the ability to make a selection, two doors always available, privilege is having the option to ensure invisibility and safety for myself by just opting out of the truth.
White privilege is the realest, and it keeps me safe all day every day.
And I hear in their tone how much they would love the chance to rescind it, from their personal perspective at least.
It’s not that people don’t ask about my name in cities, but there the question usually feels more neutral, the curiosity less dangerous. “Oh that’s so pretty!” or “Cool, a name I’ve never heard!”
Not to mention that in cities, people have met jews before, we aren’t abstract, and the conversation is mercifully not headed into y’all killed Jesus territory. IT WAS THE ROMANS, CATCH UP.
So anyway, I’m Finnish now.
I told my neighbors that it’s a family name, which is true.
But when they wanted to know where the family name is from (that word again), I joked that we don’t know but probably not the Hungarian side because there aren’t enough letters, so best guess says it comes from the Finnish side.
The Finnish side is my dad. He used to tell people he was from Finland when he was wandering the world in the sixties and they wanted to know where he was from, and wouldn’t accept “American” as an answer.
So really you could say pretending to be Finnish is a time honored Brooks family tradition. A ritual, if you will.
The protective force field of a secret identity
Finland, land of a thousand lakes, land of the midnight sun, land of the northern lights, perhaps a place where my Russian-to-Nordic imagined ancestors might have ended up on their wanderings, who knows.
It’s certainly a more appealing way to explain how I look than the violent alternative.
And anyway, I feel the most jewish when I’m lying about my jewish identity.
(Take notes on that, imaginary therapist!)
Funny, you don’t look Finnish
Did I ever tell you about my Finnish doppelgänger? You’ll have to let me know in the comments, I have been writing here for so many years, I cannot remember what I have told you or not told you.
The first time I was in Germany, my friends there had a dinner party to introduce me to an exchange student from Finland who everyone said looked exactly like me.
I hadn’t believed them of course, because that’s just a thing people say, oh so-and-so looks just like you, and then you meet that person and they don’t look like you at all, but this young woman, well, she looked exactly like me. Like a reflection.
She looked exactly like me in a way that was as disorienting as falling from a tree or waking up to a lawsuit or being smiled at by Stephaney with an -ey.
I didn’t know what to do about having a twin who was no relation.
I didn’t realize the effect of the hornet sting, how it poisoned me and erased my brain and my sense of self, and probably in retrospect was the genesis of my devastating summer depression.
I didn’t even really remember that week of sleeping it off and hoping the pain meant I was transmogrifying into a super heroine, until a bee found its way into my car the other day. It landed on my neck and I screamed, and then the connections were all there, along with the absolute terror that it could happen again.
Genesis / origin
The hornet sting in my neck was where it all began, maybe.
In Hebrew, Genesis is b’reishit. We translate it as in the beginning, and it does mean that, but literally it means at the head of things.
And here we are, heading into the new year, rosh hashana is literally that, the head of the year.
The month of turning and returning. New cycle. Breath in, breath out.
Recommitting to life, asking to be written down in the Book of Life, as if god in god’s godness is shining god-light, aiming the rays though a bottle of vermouth to touch the gin, nodding towards France. Remember me to life.
Generally I am against anthropomorphizing the unknowable (if source is, then source is infinite and ungraspable, alive and dynamic: water and sky and life), but I love this image and this imagining.
Thinking about a divine nod towards France is making me laugh out loud right now, and also reminding me of God Says Yes To Me by Kaylin Haught, which is a poem that works as a prayer, or maybe a prayer that is a poem, and full of truth.
As my dad the rabbinical school dropout says, “If there is a god, I hope she’s listening…”
There is no back
A wise compassionate mentor-friend said this to me years ago.
“I can’t wait to go back there”, I said, speaking of a place I deeply loved and treasured, imagining the scent, the orchard of citrus trees, the place I planned to live.
“There is no back.”
In the moment I felt impatient with my friend and her insistence that going back did not exist, could not exist, that back was unattainable.
Of course she knew what I meant. It’s a phrase. You go back to a place you’ve been.
It doesn’t have to mean regressing or capitulating. And you can still move forward while returning to a place you’ve been.
And of course, from a philosophical perspective, the river is always in motion, right? So of course the place you are attempting to return to changes over time, and you have also changed, so when you meet again, you are both new.
But she was right, and I was wrong.
I went to that place I thought I was going back to, and it no longer was.
That was very bewildering and disorienting too.
Uprooted, active and passive verb.
They uprooted my trees. I was uprooted.
Dislodged, unmoored, lost, vulnerable, a bewildered baby sloth bruised from both the unexpected toppling and from not being wanted. They took my trees away. My orchards were and then were not.
Each day I am new, familiar and unfamiliar, returned to myself, back together but also not back, because that does not exist. Not-back as a state of being. Where am I? Not-back. Not sure. Pointed towards.
What am I teaching when I am not teaching
I don’t know what happened for my dream self, if she taught her class or not, I woke up from a world of unknowns into another world of unknowns, and that’s all I remember.
Let’s raise an unopened bottle towards the light, for dream-me and for Stephaney with an -ey, and for hope.
However, I will say that the dream about [teaching something without knowing what it is] seems like a surprisingly accurate description of what I already do.
Urgent note to self! Figure out how to get paid for this???? Wow, I am lifting the most beautiful bottle of vermouth in the direction of this wish, letting rays of light shine through it and placing it back down. The wish has been wished.
Dream as story
This dream also feels like a story about pandemic brain and trauma brain, and possibly about depression brain, but also about living with ADHD.
Dreaming about forgetting is really about wishing I could forget, aka the lived dissonance of daily life.
It is deeply confusing to be someone who forgets things other people can remember and remembers things other people can forget.
I can’t remember where my keys might be or what day it is, and cannot forget about the death in the air, pandemic, climate crisis, or a hurtful lie my trusted teacher spread about me nearly ten years ago which, in retrospect, was a hornet sting I did not recover from.
How delicious and refreshing to be able to forget, a reprieve.
What is my job now
I am laughing a bit at figure out how to get paid for this, whatever this is, because that question was already a fairly mysterious mystery for me in the before times, given that hosting retreats is labor-intensive and not lucrative.
Not to mention that the administrative work behind them is non-fucking-stop, and I get depleted easily and never know how much energy I will have.
However, now this question is further complicated significantly:
a) I have no working brain much of the time,
b) the retreat industry is no more,
c) I don’t have the bandwidth to do online retreats,
d) I meant that in the mental-emotional sense, but also very literally I am hiding out at a mostly off-grid dragon sanctuary and rarely get signal. Eventually I will drive forty five minutes to wifi to publish this for you to read, on a good day when my brain and wrists are working at the same time, and neither of those are super dependable.
Golden tickets, chocolate bars, mystery
Anyway, this feels like one of those ancient (in internet time) meme joke formats…
Step 1: Be a muse, trust, teach through not-teaching…
Step 2: ??????
Step 3: Profit
I have no plan, so a plan will have to emerge.
Just gotta keep existing as a creative spirit who engages with the process of being alive, that is the plan, and that’s also about as close to [whatever teaching is] as I would like to get. Keep on keeping on.
Appreciation (I exist in a state of)
After my last essay here where I mused on [life and not-that], and how intensely challenging these last six months have been in my world, several readers sent me funds by way of Barrington’s Discretionary, and wow, a blessing, I feel so loved and also so thankful. Thank you, thank you. For the love and for the surprise money.
Thank you. I am thankful before you, also in the sense of being thankful before your offering of thankfulness, here in our circle of joyful appreciation.
And then immediately after that glowing wondrous experience of full body gratitude, I had this funny moment in my head that you have to read in a 1940s movie gangster voice:
“See? That’s the ticket, you hold yourself for ransom! Pay up, folks, if you want to keep Havi alive and writing!”
Which of course made me think of The Big Lebowski, the truest noir homage.
She kidnapped herself, dude
It’s so simple and so obvious, she kidnapped herself! Who did? Bunny Lebowski!
Anyway, I need to have a moving sale, because moving is complicated and expensive, and I don’t know what a Moving Sale is or looks like yet, and again, some days I can rely on my brain now, other days still waiting for the hornet poison alchemy to kick in, change form. Cue the slow motion transmogrification recovery montage.
Maybe a bundle of some of the many ebooks I’ve written over the years, deposits on future retreats, maybe an idea spark will come to me when I stop trying to solve this.
Maybe I will kidnap myself and visit the giant fields of sunflowers in sunflower season, which was going to be one of the secret retreats I was so excited about offering (Operation Sunflowers!), before this year changed shape in the ways that it did.
Walking in fields of sunflowers is the most cheerful way to be in a transition state. I will walk and ask what the sunflowers know, and in the meantime, anyone who has the capacity, ability and desire is welcome to sneak some appreciation money into Barrington’s fund, hey, bribe me to write more, it just might work…
Go fast don’t die
In Tucson: a guy on a motorcycle with Alabama plates, wearing absolutely no motorcycle gear other than gloves, and a black helmet that said GO FAST DON’T DIE.
Other than that, he wore just ripped jeans and a ripped t-shirt, so obviously he’s gonna die.
And yeah, we all die but he’s really rushing towards it a bit too enthusiastically. Between his choice to forgo protective gear and the jaw-droppingly reckless way people drive out here in the wild west, I don’t see this ending well. And yet.
Go fast don’t die, go fast don’t die, I can’t stop saying it, like a mantra, rewriting neural pathways through loving-repetition, turning it over to return to it.
Go fast don’t die.
Sidebar: Why am I so attracted to people who consistently make unwise life decisions, who can say. Another mystery for the filing cabinet. I am honestly so hot for that entire situation, but especially that helmet.
Go fast don’t die.
Chrysalis at the dragon sanctuary
I am giving myself four weeks reprieve at the dragon sanctuary, new moon to full moon and back again (except there is no back, so forward again), before trying to make sense of any of the projects. It might take longer but this is a seed, a chrysalis and an intention.
My plan is to hydrate, stretch, bask in the sun, talk to the trees, observe the dragon, observe how it feels to live somewhere again, to be in sanctuary state, and really nothing else. Just to be and to experience being in a state of not-doing.
I am ready to meet the me who emerges, who has landed, who knows how to land.
And then we’ll see from there.
I want to cook on dragon fire, and light candles. I want to kiss the palms of my hands and touch them to my cheeks.
And I want to lift a bottle towards France (Let France = Better Things), and let light stream through the liquid aliveness of my life-wishes, illuminating them and turning them into blessings.
Let’s keep company if you like
I’m here, in the comments, we can take breaths and share some sharing if we want.
Maybe you want to say hi, or share anything sparked for you while reading or what you’re up to, call in some superpowers you’d like for these challenging times. All good.
Presence as medicine. I’m glad to be able to be here again and that we can connect here.
And this too is sanctuary space which means we don’t go into care-taking mode and we don’t give advice, we make space, we meet ourselves and each other with as much kindness as we can glow in the moment.