What do beached whales have to do with depth, and bridging gaps? Questions I attempt to answer in this next installment. Audio and text below. Enjoy + happy Friday!
The whale was grey, not white; her stench filled the air,
An eyeblurring cocktail of fish bones
Baked together in midday sun.
The whale was grey, but dark,
Tinted with inky indigo. What colors! cried the crowd that flocked
To see the beast beached on the shore,
Their eyes hungry for something new and lovely—
Here she was.
Enormous and abrupt, a miracle.
Or rather, how they always dreamt
A miracle would be. A gift from God, one whispered. Marvelous.
The whale was grey, like a circus elephant.
She did not act like one.
She seemed to sleep: slow rhythmic breaths like steam,
Like a truck stopped to let off exhaust.
Her spout pulsed, now-and-then, to send
Bulbous clouds of water choking through:
Three times in the first hour;
Once in the second.
A cluster of children clambered atop her brow
To feel the flow
But soon the sun sucked them dry, too,
Sending them back to their mothers and fathers
Begging ice cream
Something better. Please?
Soon the sun did the same to their parents,
And the smell, oh well, they couldn’t bear it,
But as consolation, said, Such a shame that such a lovely thing
Can’t do anything.
But the tide will come eventually,
Take it home, of course it will. It’ll be fine.
It’s evolved enough for this.
The whale was grey, as she had been
For her last one hundred years;
As her ancestors had been
For several million more;
Evolved enough she was, indeed, to know
Those animals, they don’t swim well,
And could not help her even if they tried.
And her clan was far away, because they
Were either wiser than she or,
The sun sank down, sky black as cavern innards;
No touch of light scattered throughout the waves.
The whale was grey, just like her song
She sang in spite of cracking lungs—
She shrieked, or so a passer-by might think—
She howled a sound like that of wolves, but heavier and round,
Like a full bunch of black grapes.
She sang it to the sky;
It was like a woman’s sigh,
But emptier than all that air somehow.
She sang it to the sky
As if the clouds might hear
And have mercy, perhaps feed a light rain,
Perhaps a heavy one to send her home again.
The rain heard not; the people did. They heard a
The whale was grey, the size of a
With just as much life that was waning, and fast;
She poured it all into a nameless song.
It rang out like an echo in a canyon.
It cracked the windows that were closed
And drifted through the open panes
And every evolved person heard and could not catch her breath.
Each felt her face grow hot, indignant—felt his eyes alight with sudden tears.
Why oh why does she give so much life?
And we will never ever pay it back.
Dropping into this Friday with the second installment of this ocean-focused series, featuring thoughts on not-explaining the joke, Black Swan, being consumed by creation, and surfing. Poem below in audio and text formats!
He Was the Best Shaper for Miles
So you come to me with your arms full of water,
Which to me says you float
Which to me says hope
But who am I to your Noah’s ark?
Can you call yourself blessed if you’re blind to the dark? Because
I heard that you sleep alone with the lights on.
I heard that you carve like your hands are pure scythe.
I heard that you crave waves like your brothers do,
But I’ve not seen you there,
Never seen that love in you.
So you come to the water with your arms full of promise
Like a bouquet of jasmine spilling over a sigh
Which to me says you’re ready
For something new—but, what?
I heard that you heard voices in the mango tree—
That they told you to go and see
What it would mean to fall
And now you crawl.
What were you doing up there, asked your family.
This we will never speak of, you mumbled,
So of course they ask every day. Their eyes full of water,
They wonder and wander,
While you run off and squander their grace.
Now you cover your eyes
And I don’t know your face.
Water may be one of the most deeply explored topics–worlds, really–in humanity’s humanities. And it’s equally obvious and mysterious why. Yes, we are made of water, we are borne of water, we are sustained by water. Yet it also soothes, and renews, and therein lies much of the mystery.
Some might say there’s really no need to delve into this and explain it, though. It’s the depth and mystery that make it powerful. To an extent, yes, I’d agree.
However, one thing I cannot stop pondering is the divide water presents to each of us. That is, the divide between who we seem to be and who we are. What if, as with any baptism, water purifies us, makes us new beings? “Purer” versions of ourselves? Like the prisoners in Song of Solomon, or Florence Welch in any of her songs?
I wonder. Because there is an honesty that comes from water. It loosens up and bids float what we keep pressed down, hidden, confined in the mind.
And then what? The choice is ours, I suppose. We can choose to take that, and to live in ways that marry these parts of ourselves that would prefer to remain disparate. To embrace steadiness and ease both on shore and in the sea.
Thus this series, which I call Split-Tale Sea. It is a series of poems and stories that explore where water can truly take us–that is, elsewhere, or really, back to ourselves.
Part 1: “When I Was the Moon.” A poem about becoming, and being, and, yes, the moon and the tides. Audio below. Text can be found after that.
When I Was the Moon
Once I was Luna, or one of many, but that
Was midday in the Catskills
Where the redbarn pulsed with heat
And sweet greengrasses combed my feet.
There was nothing to do but love, and be known.
When I was Luna we sang, trilled like birds;
It was lost to the trees,
And the heroic walls of our closet-rooms that shook with the words,
With the weeds.
The gardens were full of fruit,
And my sweat was cleansing to me.
The blooming was incessant and
We were rewarded happily.
Yet when I was Luna there was
Trouble in the plains —
A night when bright flashing bluelights came.
I said I was sorry but
No other moons remained — it was blanketed, dark.
Then a truck choking with diesel
Snatched me from the grass and
A voice inside said Come on, let’s Get you home fast.
What’s your name?
I said I was Diana.
When I was Diana,
It was a bayside night—
And man, I shined so bright
Because there was only neon
And only I knew how to laugh.
It was all that I wanted to do
Because it fought off the time, how it grasps.
And it grasped, and it grabbed,
But I never kept track.
Not even when the ones I trusted squeezed me
Between the cargo hold and lower decks
On a steel beast
And sent me across the mercurial Pacific.
Now they call me Mahina,
Because I am Mahina here,
Where I was born and will be born again,
Where it’s always some shade of morning.
I watch the misty clouds oppress the
Mountaintops, like a warning.
It’s like the foam that overwhelms the waves:
Force respects force. It takes nothing less.
Neither fineness nor affinity nor finesse
Can hope to stand.
They call me Mahina
Because I am not the sun
And I’ll turn like the tides against
Whosoever I damn well please.
I linger onshore, my coffee cup in hand, and
I watch everyone paddle out.
They do it just like it’s an art.
It’s invisible ink—it’s motion—
And you know it stings my heart.
But there is no solace in sadness.
There’s no warmth in weariness,
Nor in the knowledge that the
Sweat of your brow ain’t enough,
Or that I’ll never be so tough
That the pump of my blood could chase away
What wilts within me,
By sending me into the most crippled of waves.
I’ve never been that brave.
They call me Mahina:
I’m curved like a conch, like a shell.
And when I’m out at night,
I glow exceptionally well.
Most of them can always tell
I’ve been there.
But I’m nobody’s satellite—
If I were, I’d have to be able to live and love
Even when it’s dry season and no one fun is around.
I was called Mahina first, long ago,
Before Luna and Diana were ever breathed,
Because my eyes were black.
Those who named me thought it’d change my fate,
Make up for what I lacked.
Draw the stars to you, they said.
So fond, weren’t they, of
Making dark seem deep,
Much as the ocean does to us.
I watch now the silhouettes, so flat
Against the softening sky:
Scrawny boys, thicknecked stout men
Striding across the pimpled rocks.
The sun, falling down, lights them up, halo bright.
Who own that light. Even I,
Daughter of the moon, woman of the tide,
How quick the waters are to flood beyond
How much the currents steal beneath my feet.
But sometimes now I go out when the world is still asleep,
The world that cannot hope to keep me
Tied down, turned around, into someone
I could never hope to be.
I strip and swim alone. I climb onto those eyeteeth rocks.
I peel mangoes with my teeth and tear apart their flesh
And I throw back my head and I laugh and I scoff,
And I say,
The name of this blog has always, to me, been about living in the balance between planning and improvisation—about finding a harmony between practicality and spontaneity. I’m not always good at marrying the two (really, it rarely happens, I fall more into the former camp in both instances), but I’ve seen a lot of magic happen when the two approaches are allowed to exist together, for me and for others.
So I’m using that as justification for attempting to steer this site in a different direction. Only a slightly different one, mind, but I thought doing so deserved a post (assuming, lol, that anyone is reading this).
What is it we are trying to do when we write? What is it we want? To express ourselves? To tell stories? To seek connection, or some semblance of immortality, or something deeper? Or is it all of the above?
Does it matter what avenue we take to sate this craving? And what is the purpose of sharing the words that flow from us? This thing we call the Internet is a bona fide means of doing so every second—a fountain of letters and numbers and words upon words upon words. Why, with this in mind, does anyone write at all?
(and hasn’t that particular question been asked and answered thousands of times?)
There are ideas and thoughts to be shared, to be sure. There is information to be distributed. There are opinions to be stated.
And yet, with all of this filtering out through every paragraph that is displayed on a screen or printed on a page, I find that there is still not enough understanding in the world. Of ourselves, and of one another. Talk of worldly and cultural divides is sort of a daily phenomenon lately. Yet there are, too, many divides within us.
How do we begin to bridge those gaps? It seems an impossible task. Yet there is no shortage of ways, most of them involving, yes, words. Stories. Poetry. Movies. Video. Music. Podcasts. Theatre.
Maybe these outlets are where we go to escape, but they are also where we end up confronted with ourselves, if we are so open to the possibility. This is not a profound idea; it’s probably spoken to much more eloquently at the Oscars and/or in AP English classes. But it’s still valid, and it still means something, and I would like this space to be one that has such purpose and possibility. One that features not only my own work of that nature, but also that of others’, and of their unique perspectives.
Hence this change. I have a renewed certainty that the only enemy in the world is neither the self nor the other, but rather, fear. And when we work to eradicate it, we do more than we realize. We make it possible for new stories to be told, and create a sense of hope and light—of understanding and of possibility.
So, all this is to say: creative hope that navigates the chaos. That’s what I want Mayhaps to mean. Mayhaps it will, sooner than later.
Hello; is anyone still out there? (echoes into the ether)
This space is in dire need of a refresh, isn’t it—so let’s get moving. No time to waste.
Back in May (how far back it feels), I left a story here about running. About my own evolving relationship with it, my questions about why we do it at all, and, in the simplest sense, a trail race. Concluded, closed, done. Box, meet check.
Occasionally, lately, I’ve still been pondering this conundrum of health-seeking in this as well as other spheres. Meaning, not only exercise, but also food, psychological and spiritual practices, relationships, and work habits. After recently exploring this with a friend on her blog, I still am left with the question of why so many people, mostly in the U.S., go to such lengths for so-called ultimate or perfect health.
One easier answer is this: that, on a certain level, we possess a simple desire to be well, to feel good, and to take care of the gift that is the body. It is the soul’s sole vehicle for navigating this world, after all.
Another possibility, more difficult, is this: that, perhaps, we must cope with that age-old problem of mortality somehow. That problem of not just navigating this world, but of how to actually do that. And of course, this past week (or these past months) (or this past year) (or years), this has become that much more potent; when so much is senseless, including how we live and die, running and walking and eating and stretching and so on—they are simple and they make sense.
All that in mind, it is interesting how, sometimes, this cultural concern with health can become borderline religious. Not necessarily surprising—nor is it an outright good or bad thing. Rather, it’s a curious thing, and has the potential to go in dangerous directions as well as beneficial ones.
But of course, it’s only one side of an enormous subject, and there are so many other reasons for being concerned about one’s wellbeing. So the question remains unanswered, which is frankly how I like most questions anyway.
And all of that aside, this long preamble is for an idea that might better be represented elsehow. Thus:
Between Georgia and Maine, the Appalachian Trail winds its way along the spine of the mountains, cutting through Eastern towns and highways, bringing people from one edge of their lives to the next. Between Georgia and Maine—almost smack in the middle—is Virginia—and in Virginia is McAfee Knob, an overlook that is apparently the most-photographed spot on the AT. (You may recognize it from this movie poster if you have not had the pleasure of visiting.)
McAfee Knob is just outside of Roanoke, where I went to visit an old friend and take on the trail alongside her. By which I mean this section of it, starting in Catawba and ascending to the apex in question. The whole AT? No, though that may have to be an adventure for another time.
There is not much I can say here to do justice to the state of flow in which we found ourselves. In movement, in ascent, in a criss-crossing wind through the rocks and trees and flora and fauna, there was a sense of moving closer to authenticity, to purity of thought and speech. Our words flowed as effortlessly as a river after rain, our thoughts unencumbered by the physical and mental walls that surround us from day to day.
And we sweated. The southern Virginia summer is back, in all its humid presence, and so we sweated. In so doing, we also sweated out at least a few of the hot-blooded demons trying to drag us down—the kind that try to drag you from direction.
When we reached the peak, we were immersed in blue and green: sky above, rows of trees below on the sloping Blue Ridge mountains. That old growth, humbled by time, was welcoming. We breathed it in: relieved, joyous. So far from where we started, and yet so at home.
This surprised me, feeling so at home, when I thought about it. Sometimes arriving at such a peak or point brings incredulity—a sudden sense of being thrust into the unknown. Yet this was one of those other times, when you arrive and something in your spirit settles down. It says you were meant to be there all along. The place seems to have been always waiting for you. You are here, or there, and you can believe it.
Maybe, perhaps, it is related to awe. Though rather than coming from a fearful reverence, it comes from a place of respect, one that acknowledges the obvious nature of a place’s beauty and majesty. In this case, that of the Blue Ridge, and the Appalachian trail, and southwestern Virginia’s beauty. It’s funny—I grew up driving through it often enough, yet so easily I forgot how striking it could be, this environment. Standing on that overlook was such a poignant reminder of what is here.
But it made me wonder: am I taking something for granted in this here that I know so well?
I wondered, because, for a contrast, on my first trip to Utah, which was also my first trip to a non-coastal Western state, reprieve and calm were not what I would say came over me. Rather, the sheer bigness of the sky, and the majesty of the red rocks and canyons, overwhelmed me. I was overjoyed, unable to contain neither that joy nor my enthralled girlish squeals of it.
(My apologies to Dave Blakkolb, wherever he is; he had the job of driving the car in which I, riding shotgun, did so incessantly. May your ears be at peace.)
Utah is a gorgeous state (yes yes, pun entirely intended, &c.). There’s no denying that. Yet I found it interesting that, when I visited O’ahu for the first time a few years later, it was the calm that came instead. My gut instinct was a sigh of relief: the ocean met the sky, and then they both met me, and it was as if they were expecting me all along. How kind of them to be so hospitable.
So, what changed? Did anything change? Are these reactions really so different?
Yes, the overlook was a place of rest. Yet while we hiked, everything seemed eye-catching and marvelous; verdant, green, and bright. As I write this, I am reminded of an oft-passed-around quote on living as if nothing is a miracle versus living as if everything is. (Attributed to Einstein usually, but I’m doubtful about this, just for the record. I’ve spent enough time on That’s Not Shakespeare.)
It seems maybe there is a middle place of knowing the extraordinary lives within the ordinary, and of being at peace with those extraordinary elements.
It seems simple. But simple ain’t easy. Everything ordinary seems exhausting sometimes, and I wonder: do I do this? Do I let my days be intruded upon by small marvels?
The Utah experience was one of amazement, and typical awe. I was less accustomed to what the earth had to offer then, in all its shades and shapes and varieties. Yet becoming more accustomed, surprisingly, has not meant losing this sense of joy. Rather, it’s granted the privilege of being able to appreciate beauty from a place of stability. A sustainable, un-drainable place.
Do I do this? Do I live there now, even when the marvels are smaller, less noticeable?
Am I grateful to the forests and the flowers for being there? Are we friends? Do we live alongside one another, as if both of us can belong?
Is this something some of us know how to do? And if not, how do we start to learn?
Maybe it starts in this sustainable, un-drainable place, emptied of ego and full of love for what pulses with life all around us. Open to it, unafraid of it, authentic in its midst, and immersed. Inside, outside, wherever, in every circumstance. It seems simple. Maybe it is that simple.
The river is running strong in this rainy season, its rapids gushing, and its movement is so enviable, something I crave. How refreshing would it be, I wonder, if our daily energy and movement were so rampant and wild?
We cannot literally have rivers running within us, as reviving as it would be. Yet that is the kind of momentum we need. And we especially need it in the face of that certain inertia that rises like a wall when spring arrives, as the cold air dissolves and is replaced by too kneejerk of a warming, of a humid overlay.
When everything seems stagnant, how do you find it? How do you choose the movement that works for you? I mean this physically, but also emotionally, and maybe even spiritually, too.
Recently, I started to more deeply re-engage with running, my movement of choice, after an injury forced me to cut back. I sort of forced myself to get back into the swing of it by ponying up for two race registration fees. The shame of getting dropped by the fasties in a 5K is that traumatic.
(Also, aforementioned fees are ridiculously expensive lately! That happened while I wasn’t looking.)
We’re in an interesting place, running and I. For a long time our relationship was somewhat forceful/codependent, i.e. I was the codependent one who needed it, and tried to make something special happen. If you are a runner reading this, perhaps you understand. And you probably also know that all of this is entirely unintuitive considering that, typically, we first start running because it is exhilarating. Because love is really what leads to speed.
Running fast offers something not unlike the sense of power—of autonomy—that comes with the relief of outside air—there is a freedom there.
It does not come as much from recklessness, though, as it does from balance, and from paying attention to momentum and inertia. A body in motion stays in motion. A body at rest tends to stay at rest.
Lately, when it comes to running, pushing myself to the extremes I did before has been, shall we say, unrealistic. But perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that somethingin me doesn’t want to go there right now. Being extreme is cool, but unsustainable: it’s something we should definitely do, but more so in moments.
There is a strange freedom in going out in the morning to “bound” (jog?) rather than run. Or maybe, in clearer terms, to be out there and simply run instead of race myself. It’s an embrace of that old sense of effort-meets-ease. If it’s still running, it’s for different reasons.
That’s not to say it was easy to get there.
When I was in college and running was more about competition for me, I was like many an athlete in picking up a few unhealthy habits—though mine were more internal. You can get obsessed—borderline addicted—quite easily. This did not crop up immediately; it was gradual, and always mixed in with the more positive side of the sport, so it was tricky to pinpoint what exactly was going on. But I developed this constant vigilance, this layer of stress that wouldn’t go away, rooted in the idea that maybe I was not ever doing enough. Rather than acting on this idea by running too much, I did so by running too hard, and not resting enough—and overall by thinking about it way too much.
That kind of stress can affect your performance as much as physically overdoing it can. You can’t, I believe, always gauge whether someone is overtraining by how she looks, or how many miles she runs per week. If running is a mostly mental sport—90% mental, as one of my coaches put it—then how, and how much, you think about your training matters. And when those thoughts are tainted by anxiety and fear, it’s more than a little bit of a detriment.
These fears were mostly of inertia. I was a sure that, if I did not stay in motion, I would prefer entirely to rest. That if I did not run with as much intensity as my body could handle, I would turn the other way and become unable to pick myself up and go. I couldn’t take a day off unless the calendar said to. I couldn’t take training out of the forefront of my mind, because that would mean I was being lazy. I could not include people in this pursuit of so-called “greatness” and make it fun, because that would mean I was not working.
These beliefs came into full bloom during the tail end of my four years of college track, and it’s easy to see, in retrospect, the emerging pattern: that is, one of need.
I needed it. I couldn’t let it go. You could probably call that an addiction.
When I graduated, this turned into trying to grip my “career” (a term I use rather loosely) with both hands—else it would lose its meaning, and so would I. I fully intended to try and keep racing on my own terms. But in having this intention, I failed to comprehend the strength of the support that had surrounded me before. Nor, I suppose, had I wanted to, because all of this came down to avoidance. Something in me needed to avoid the truth: that I was—am—weak.
By this I mean, when we are human, we are weak. That’s it. When we do anything in an honest or vulnerable way, we show our weaknesses. And this is good. It’s necessary, but it’s certainly not easy.
Sinking into inertia is easy, though. Or at least, it happens easily. It starts with a week of late mornings where your body and mind definitely need the extra sleep, and morphs soon thereafter into two or three additional weeks of, “well, this is still happening, so that must mean I still need it. Right?”
(Rationalization is quick to respond with, “Right-o, my good fellow!”)
But the thing is, falling prey to inertia is about fear, too.
Fear that, maybe, control would slip away again if I started to constantly move again. That injury or imbalance would rear its ugly head again. Or that I would get too attached to movement and be unable, once again, to let go.
That reversal came with its own set of unintended consequences, because, though rest is important, it can also turn into less of a springboard, and more of a trap, or mire.
That’s when I had to wake up, and realize: it’s time to learn to move again. No: to move in a new way.
Not an easy lesson, by any stretch. Fear and old habits are potent. But facing down fear, thank goodness, is even more so. Because the thing is, I do truly love to run, and I am finding that there is more than one way to show it.
Sometimes you find that new sense of movement, and of vitality, by clambering through stupidly wide mud pits at an outdoors festival. Other times, it’s by admitting on the Internet or in counseling that you were once, in simplest terms, an exercise addict. And other, other times, it’s by giving yourself permission to enjoy yourself, and accept yourself, rather than try to be the best at every single thing in every single moment.
No one ever said giving up control was safe, or simple. But I’ve heard it’s worthwhile. And I’m counting on it.