I took the above photograph (with my phone) on a day of intense falling apart.
A friend rescued me and took me to see the saguaro bloom, it was magical and transformative. The saguaro were loving and charming, playful, quiet, steady, vibrant, watchful, caring, and I especially fell for this one extending an armful of flowers while pointing out the way.
Anyway, this picture is a reminder for me of something I want to remember, that in one moment I had felt so impossibly isolated and alone, but then on the very same day, my friend conjured a rescue mission for me out of nowhere, and the saguaro were steady love embodied.
What do we want to preserve?
The title of this piece is is a joke that was funny inside my head when nothing else was funny.
I couldn’t write for months because it was too hard to think, never mind find energy to form words, and then when words returned, I didn’t want (or couldn’t bear) to write about any of what has been going on, so I wrote about jam.
This essay is mostly about jam, but also about staying alive, choosing towards life, aka preserving life.
Let us preserve something from this difficult time, and sweeten it so that it changes form.
Here’s to the slow alchemy of sweetening and transformation.
And a content warning
I want to include a CW for suicide, though I also want to emphasize: this essay is not about suicide, but about life.
That said, while writing about life, this does reference an aspect of life (for some people) which is going through periods in which continually choosing towards life is extra difficult.
So if that’s a painful and distressing topic for you, that is reasonable and understandable, and maybe this is not what you want to read. Either way, let this serve as a reminder for all of us that the best thing we can do for ourselves remains being conscious and loving with ourselves. We are in process with ourselves, not an easy thing.
If you are going through it, here is a crisis text line for anyone in the US, Canada, UK, or Ireland. You can text them at any time, and it is definitely better to text before you’re in crisis, no need to wait for things to get “worse”, what if we just normalized connecting to someone for support way before getting to the edge, I know, wild.
Let’s consciously keep choosing towards safety, let’s do what’s best for us, and either way: force fields activated.
Black Lives Matter (and are to be cherished)
A lot has transpired in our world since I last wrote anything in this space, so let’s begin with a breath and a prayer, or whatever words and feelings you wish to substitute for that.
What I mean by prayer is whatever happens when we combine Heart-Felt + Heart-Depth + Intention + Tenderness of Wishing + May It Be So: Black lives matter and are to be cherished!
This prayer for me is a commitment to cherishing: breathing love, protection, sanctuary and justice for black lives, calling in force fields of safety along with a just wind carrying justice.
Cherishing from the heart
I read online somewhere about how two versions of American Sign Language exist, due to [the entire history of racism and segregation in this country], and in ASL signed by white people, BLM translates to Black Lives Are Important, and in Black ASL, you say Black Lives Are Cherished, and this distinction matters too, and so I want to say both in my prayers, say it and sign it from the heart of things, from the root of things, from the truth of truth.
Heart-felt: I want to live in a world where Black lives are valued, celebrated and protected.
And, like so many white people in North America, I have not said this enough; I have not said it out loud when it needs to be shouted from the rooftops, I am remorseful about the absence of my shouting, all times of not shouting when shouting was needed.
A prayer of love & undoing, for justice
And so here we are, in this moment and in this prayer (prayers up but also prayers in, prayers circling through body, mind and body-mind), a prayer of undoing, a rewriting and a restoration for good.
May all racist and bigoted thoughts or aspects of self, whatever accrued cruelty, falseness or misunderstanding still may reside in my body and cells from being steeped in a culture of structural injustice, may it be undone, on every level, with renewed commitment to this undoing every day.
I am asking for this undoing for myself and for the whole, letting this request echo into the bigger culture:
May this rising up for justice, this reckoning in the name of justice be a real meaningful undoing within me of all that needs to be undone, so I can be a better advocate, a better truth-seeker, a better human and someone who participates in the undoing of all unjust systems, amen.
I have things to say about jam, and really maybe none of this is about jam.
I mean, is jam a proxy?
Maybe, maybe not, hard to say, probably yes.
All I know is that focus is difficult for me right now, and there isn’t anything else I feel drawn to share about in the moment. In other words, [Jam] is what remains when I give myself permission to not-write about the other things.
Maybe jam feels safe in the way that the other topics (rage, futility, despair, revolution, vengeance, the knowns, the unknowns, justice, injustice, the challenges, the questions, deep depression, doubt, the trajectory of the world) do not right now.
So we are gonna talk about jam, my friends.
And who knows, maybe we’ll cover some of those other themes too.
Or maybe they will just be folded in, that’s a joke just for you if the last season of Schitt’s Creek was your jam (and that’s a joke just for me, a jam joke!), otherwise it is just a phrase.
My wise yoga teacher friend in New Mexico made a very tart jam from cherry plums in her yard, she warned me that it is very, very tart, even after adding raisins and dates for sweetening, and salt which is supposed to cut the sour and make the tartness bearable…
She said, Havi, do you like things with a very strong flavor, and I said, oh indeed I do, and she said, I hope you like extremely tart things, and I said, I love tart things, the tarter the better, and she was like, okaaaaaayyyyy…
She then brought me the world’s tiniest ramekin (tiny!) with a miniature spoonful of tart cherry plum jam in it.
She added that I don’t have to actually eat it, just tasting is okay, because everyone finds it too sour to consume. I tasted and she watched.
After I insisted that it was delicious and amazing, which was true, she offered me more, thinking I would say no.
And that’s how I ended up with multiple jars of tart cherry plum preserves, because apparently no one else appreciates how very, very, many-verys of tart this very tart jam is, except I love it!
[Edit: I have eaten all the jam already, I’m sorry, you can’t have any, it is gone, but Cate showed me where these plums live so there will be more next year, something to look forward to, another year, let’s make it there, sweet friends in flavor, let’s keep going.]
Happiness, what is this feeling
Eating this jam, I am the happiest (not about most things, but yes, in the moment, about this moment, specifically, my mouth is happy and my heart is happy, and not just happy about it but also full of wonder: who even knew I would be blessed with new friends who would want to gift me the most delicious thing in the world?!
I have not felt anything even remotely approximating happiness in many, many months and so this was special, this moment with jam and with my friend.
She said she would have made more had she known that there was even one person in her life who could stand it, and that’s fair, this jam is certainly bracing and intense, an experience, a special kind of love.
This is also what I want for myself, to treasure myself with a special love, to love myself with an intensity, a powerful there-ness, presence and wonder.
Bracing & intense
The tart-tart-tartness of the preserves is bracing and intense, and I think, okay, THIS is what I have been needing, to be reminded of aliveness.
This is part of my training: strength for the collective. Movement for the collective. Grounded embodied presence for the collective.
But staying alive this summer has not been particularly easy, and I mean that in a variety of ways, beyond the most obvious way.
(Staying alive has not been easy this year, since March at least, for me, in the sense that we are all doing our fucking best navigating the fluctuations and uncertainties of this life while keenly aware of the invisible killer of a virus that lives in the air and cares not for our feelings about it, including but not limited to feelings of disbelief and apathy which people have unfortunately been demonstrating in abundance in Arizona, where I have been isolating.)
(Staying alive has not been easy for me in isolation, thanks to the killer combination of agonizing, unbearable loneliness and a total inability to focus on anything at all.)
(Staying alive was certainly made more challenging for me, when, left to my own devices for months on end in the desert with no one to talk to, I lost interest in the most basic life-adjacent things like feeding myself or sleeping or showering, or finding the energy to care about anything.)
(But I am here. Renewed in my here-ness.)
But/and: I am here
Still here. Still celebrating that:
I am alive. I am committed to life and Aliveness.
Committed to sensation and breath and moving through [moments, crises, perceptions of crises] with faith that circumstances can shift and change for the better, and often with greater speed and magic than we expect.
And so I am committed to staying alive, to preserving life, this is a half-joke about preserves and reserves, and a truth about what I know now, having been through these five months of hell and having recently re-emerged into a new something-or-other, whatever is happening now.
I can’t describe it exactly but I somehow made it through, to this place I knew must exist for me and was steadily aiming myself towards, a place where there is taste and pleasure and hope again. Preserved and renewed.
Maybe it is more simple than any of that. Maybe I do just really appreciate extreme flavors, and was also magically gifted with the right taste buds needed to appreciate this deeply sour fruitiness of Cate’s extra-tart preserves.
Lately I have been catching myself wishing I had interest in cooking again because I want to do interesting things with these tart preserves, maybe layer them over a meaty stew with rice, but “interest” sounds like energy and passion, and I do not have these in any quantities at the moment, so eating it with a spoon is where I’m at.
(I wrote these words a month ago, and now I am having a taste, haha, a taste of what energy and passion might feel like, so thank you, preserves, for preserving this in me and for preserving me so that I might arrive here at renewal.)
A new palate for these troubled times
I described this jam situation to my friend Kathryn via video, while eating the tart jam in question from a jar, and laughing my head off about how bizarre it is that almost no food has appealed to me since quarantine began, and yet I will happily consume the tartest of tart jams by the spoonful like it’s no big deal.
Her response is below and it filled me with joy because there is nothing in this world like a friend who really gets you and your weird shit, no matter how weird that weird shit is:
“I love you eating that tart jam”, Kathryn said, “I love it so much, I love this entire notion, I am imagining that all you eat are Challenge Foods, foods that would kill mere mortals, but you would eat them, laughing delightedly while everyone else writhes in suffering, I’m very into this for you, it’s very on brand and assassin-like, your palate is so good, and this is about the all-important questions:”
”What does a Havi do in the wild? What does a Havi eat in the wild?”
“And it’s all just, like, Danger Foods, that is so good, I love it for you!”
Something about intensity
Alyssa Harad has had some inspiring things to say lately on this topic of craving intensity of taste and sensation while in quarantine, when everything feels off and odd, vague and dulled, familiar and unfamiliar.
I think this was my favorite quote from her, she has said many other wonderful things that I am not going to find, so let’s go with her words here:
“So far my plan to assault despair with strong flavors is going pretty well, if only because all the prep work keeps me off the internet. Also, instant endorphin boost.”
I feel this deep within me.
That everything has been so bleak and unappealing since mid-March (for me), and so I crave intensity: bright colors, a richness of taste.
I have taken to putting bitters in sparkling water to get myself to drink. Quite often I don’t feel like eating anything but I try to tempt myself with whatever is most colorful and flavorful: a plate of berries and manchego cheese.
Lavish amounts of Cutino’s hot sauces on everything. I need my nourishment to spark something for me, and sometimes I honestly just need it to punch me in the face.
May this shock of flavor remind me that I am alive and that this is a good thing. May I taste my way back to my wise loving self who is a LIVE-er of life, a lover of life.
Twilight zone of the soul
For about a month or so, I found myself continually slipping into strange twilight zone states, perpetually getting not-lost-exactly, but effectively taken out of the regular world, in impossible ways, unable to return to it.
One friend described these experiences as an Escher holding pattern, and another called it a non-consensual hellish shamanic underworld journey that won’t end, but everyone confirmed that it was surreal, bizarre and deeply unfair that I was going through this. Ah, fun stuff.
I don’t know how to explain these episodes, all I can do is to to try to orient them in time, space and psyche, because describing them does not actually capture how deeply disorienting they were.
More like a psychotic break than getting lost, except I wasn’t the one breaking, the world was breaking around me, and maybe that’s a metaphor for everything else that has been happening, but also it was happening in reality at the same time.
So, one example, I was trying to head to New Mexico from Arizona, to visit my friend with the preserves, and not only could I not get there but I couldn’t even embark on the trip, no matter how hard I tried.
I wanted to fill the gas tank before leaving, and at each gas station something interfered.
At one place no one was observing the mask ordinance and so I left; another place was inexplicably crowded with cars moving in circles, and no one would let me into the line or even anywhere near a pump.
The next place was mysteriously closed, and so on, until suddenly hours had gone by and I was still just circling my neighborhood on almost-empty, and then it was too late to drive over the mountain.
Do you remember The Truman Show? Are you remembering the part where our protagonist finally attempts to leave the island he has always lived on, and various vehicles continually move and reconfigure in such a way that he can never reach the bridge?
It was exactly like that.
And now I am staying in a casita with a tiny dog named Truman who comes to check on me twice a day.
The next day I tried again to leave Arizona, and something similar happened. I somehow missed a turn that I make all the time, and then everything sort of stopped working, and I wasn’t able to turn around.
Eventually I ended up at a surprise police barricade that had absolutely no business being in the most rural, out of the way nowhere place. They said they were there to spread awareness about the Fourth of July? Does that even sound real, we all know about the Fourth of July, and also we’re in a pandemic in the top hotspot for dying of the virus, but they made a special barricade for the purpose of handing you informative flyers through your window?
It made no sense and I felt outside of reality, unable to reconnect, and then I couldn’t turn the car around because of the barricade, and ended up just roaming around endless gated communities for hours trying to find a road that went anywhere, but there were no roads.
Once I made Santa Fe, this happened again. I found myself near the cemetery where I had visited Waverly, and thought, ah I know where I am, and then suddenly I was off on the wrong road, and again ended up in some endless swirl of gated communities with seemingly no way to return to the freeway.
This time though I didn’t have water or food in the car because I had thought I was just out for a three minute errand. I didn’t know where I was or how to get back. And I had to pee.
Also I was out of range of service, so my phone couldn’t give me directions, or it would, on occasion, but then the directions were out of sync with where I was. So it would suddenly direct me to TURN LEFT but left meant going over a cliff into the abyss.
Nothing, more nothing, just stuck
No one was around to ask for help.
There was no music to listen to.
I was tired and thirsty and in agony, traversing the same circular similar roads again and again, trying every possible turn to see if this time one would let me out.
A parody of quarantine in a way. Quarantine, or depression, you choose. You hate it and it’s terrible and it makes no sense and you can’t leave.
LET ME OUT
And I was so tired of these cursed otherworldly twilight zone episodes where none of the regular rules of life seem to apply.
After a couple hours of going in circles, I became convinced that I was in a simulation. I drove and drove while screaming LET ME OUT LET ME OUT LET ME OUT, but nothing changed.
I will be uncomfortably honest here and tell you that I did in fact consider just going left and driving over the cliff to find out.
But then I remembered that I had just made it through (by the skin of my teeth) several rough months of not particularly wanting to be alive only to choose life again, so we weren’t going to do that. I re-chose life. And then I was back on the freeway, back on my road, back to the complicated world of unknowns but at least it was a world that I recognized again.
Except there is no “back”, right? There is only new and renewed.
Here’s to the weird miracles
To preserving and being preserved, to cherishing life, to surprise good luck.
Where I’m at
I said goodbye to the dome in the desert.
In two weeks I am relocating to a place with trees and quiet and cool breezes.
I am renewed in my commitment to doing what helps me thrive.
Right now, for me, that looks like making sure I am in bed at nine, drinking enough water, stretching like a bobcat in the morning, moving slowly, taking so much more time than I think I need, relinquishing guilt over what I have not yet achieved or solved, taking myself to see the saguaro and wave at them and be loved by them, making sure I connect with people-friends and tree-friends and dog-friends and hawk-friends.
I am learning that what I think of as Plentiful Rest is actually more like a tiny taste of the actual amount of recovery time that I need, and that maybe I can stop thinking of this as a bad thing, when it’s just neutral information that I can use to my benefit.
Reminders of what is important (to me)
In addition to resting more, I am pursuing flavor and taste, playing with interior design (my long lost passion), practicing self-forgiveness, and making room for things to be as they are, while also making room for things to be different than they are.
I am reminding myself over and over again that SELF-RESCUE IS SELF-LOVE, as Incoming Me likes to say, and I can do this for myself.
I can take myself to be loved by the saguaro, take myself to the best tacos, to different air, to clearer skies.
The forever practice of change my place to change my fortune and re-orient my setting(s), reorient myself within my setting and in relationship to setting.
Everything is changing right now, so why not for good. Towards good.
If there are endless alternative universes, let’s pop over into a more fun one, a more equitable and just world, a place for good dreaming, wild clarity, creative possibilities, a willingness to be surprised by life.
Let’s keep company if you like
I’m here, in the comments, let’s take some breaths and share some sharing.
Maybe you just want to say hi, or tell us about something delicious you have eaten (I will be genuinely excited for you, I promise), or you can share anything sparked for you while reading, or name some superpowers you’d like to call in for these challenging times.
Presence is medicine, presence as medicine. I’m glad to be able to be here again and glad we can connect here.
And this is sanctuary space which means we don’t go into care-taking mode and we don’t give advice, we make space for each other, we meet ourselves and each other with as much kindness as we can glow in the moment.