short stories, travelogue, stuggles toward enlightenment, and the world through my eyes

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The Phantom Limb

tragedy is my phantom limb

aching and insistent

growing larger and more powerful

with each new wound.

I carry it around-

it follows me around-

because it has nowhere else to go:

once summoned into existence,

perhaps pain is just like any other

form of energy; perhaps it was always there

and has simply become attached to me now,

I have become tapped into the current of

years and lives that suffered,

each in their own way and depth,

flowing onward through time and carrying

us with it

as we carry it within us.

the rules of nature do not apply

to this phantom limb;

no gravity can hold it down

no levity can render it completely weightless

no surgeon can sever its connection to me,

despite their years of delving under my skin

in search of the mechanism of affliction

and the chemical correspondence therein.

the throbbing intensity of its presence

waxes and wanes irrespective of the moons,

the scars it leaves will never completely heal

because there is no salve to purify these wounds;

they bleed intermittently, translucent drops

that stain and stretch my cheeks

an effluence that no dam can stop forever.

because it cannot be seen by the naked eye,

those around me cannot help but to

collide with it, an ignorance whose bliss

does not extend to me,

their insensitivity as heightened as my sensitivity,

leading sometimes to accusations, or disbelief

or repudiations, sometimes to release.

to some I make introductions in advance

if I sense in them a similar presence;

if my countenance seems heavier

or my words are not light on their feet

perhaps it is the weight of this phantom limb

suddenly felt greater today

for reasons it chooses not to share with me,

and so I must limp along

finding crutches where I may

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Remembrance (for the Soldiers)

I remember you

with a grief so keen and sharp

that it cuts through the gulf of years

and sews us together like

the wounds left in the earth by

the graves and graves

large, white fingers stretching from

beyond the present and into the past

in regimented lines

in orderly fashion

you marched into a world I hope to never know

and lost the chance to learn of mine

but I remember you

I stood at your graves, and I wept

leaves chiseled into stone

frozen reminders of where they fell

cast off from the tree of life to stave off

greater death

promised much but giving everything in return

you are not forgotten

the rusty barbed wire still bleeds from the

dimpled earth, crude reminders of a time

when the world became so complicated

spilling over into the simplicity of life and

death

though I am far away

in time and space

I remember you

Tragic Banality

But you don’t understand

Sometimes I’m talking and you hear a story, sometimes it’s a story I want to tell and sometimes it’s just a story that must be told

Sometimes I’m just waiting to see if it will break you, break us

Sometimes I just don’t care what you think

and talking helps fill the space and time I am not comfortable sharing with you

The story may be the same (can it ever be the same, when the time and place and mental space are different?) but the reasons are different and you must understand the reasons

Oh you must

But you don’t understand, and for that I resent you, pity you, mourn you, fear you, miss you

Whatever is in me that must (MUST) communicate with you, it demands understanding

An understanding I can give myself is necessarily diminished by proximity – of course I understand, I must (must…) understand for any part of me to function as me, that is how I am designed by myself and by destinecessity

It is both the most valuable and most commonplace resource at my disposal

Had a bad day? At least I understand myself

(or do I?)

But you! For anything to work properly between us, for there to ever be a sacred ground we can return to, for us to share anything and have it not be symbols of mutual incognizance –

You must understand my reasons; you must nestle my stories carefully within them, like the key in the code

You must listen AND hear AND bring forth a response that seals (or severs – sometimes severance is all I ask of you) the connection

Your failure to understand, to love or to hate or to simply accept my story within you like a puzzle piece for assembling my identity, is our failure to set tread to roadbed

Our failure to move forward – in any direction – is my failure to communicate my desires in anything but searingly honest cryptogram, and your failure (or abject unwillingness) to figure out the cipher

The banality of this tragedy is startling

The exceptions are my refuge

Quirks and Quarks

It’s a shocking thing to look back on your life and realize just how many of the decisions you’ve made have been about choosing the best out of a series of terrible options. Of course, that diagnosis would necessarily be a subjective one, given that one person’s option is another person’s living hell. But still, realistically, when I think carefully, there are very few crossroads in my life at which I had multiple enviable paths on hand; whether it was choosing a career or which country to live in, most of the time my decisions boiled down to whichever was the least repugnant, soul-crushing selection.

In fact, it’s enough to make me wonder if this is a common decision-making rubric, or something that I have fallen into out of long years of habitual survival. The only reason I’ve even become aware of this propensity of mine to move towards the least offensive option is because of friends (or enemies…) who have tried to point out what they considered fallacies in my logic. Naturally this required bringing all my faculties to bear on what ultimately proved to be an inextricably emotional answer, something that never seemed to quite satisfy my interrogators. As if such a thing were necessary, or even possible.

To provide an example, when I complained about living in Winnipeg to a very close friend of mine he retorted, “But didn’t you leave Scotland to go to Winnipeg? Why would you go to Winnipeg if you didn’t like it?” The answer, which was perfectly obvious to me and impossibly opaque to him, was that out of the options I had (which were limited to: stay in Scotland and probably die; see how far away I could get before I wound up dead/in a worse situation than before; and return to Winnipeg) it was the path of least self-loathing and most likely survival. The part to pay attention to here is the self-loathing, for as much as I am hardwired for survival (and I am somehow powerfully so, despite any effort to the contrary) I have learned that no matter how acceptable my situation may seem to the objective (is there such a thing?) observer, it must be acceptable to me for survival to even become an option. In effect, avoiding self-loathing IS survival for me.

This fact used to trouble me. It occasionally still does, when I do my routine re-evaluation of every part of my identity (not as fun as it sounds). But I have come to see it as the most reliable compass I know. Whenever faced with a decision, it remains only to look as far down each path as my imagination can show me and see what my immediate and instinctual reaction is. Don’t get me wrong, I often have positive reactions, like joy or excitement or conviction; like the warm glow of a lit house seen from outside on a snowy evening, these emotions serve as beacons to a better future. That said, more often than not it’s a question of horror, loathing, misery, or disgust. Do I want to apply to this job? (Stomach-churning revulsion). Hmm. Can I afford not to? (Twinge of anxiety). Well, anxiety is much easier to deal with than revulsion, decision made!

I once spoke with someone who completely validated this process (for me). She said that, due to the way I’m wired, this is probably inescapable and I should do my best to work within it. That started me thinking, and because my first instinct is to resist authority and question anything anyone tells me about myself I immediately started to second guess every decision I made from that point onward. I would try and talk myself out of the visceral reactions I had to certain options, even convincing myself to ultimately choose them as a way of rebelling against what must certainly be a flawed system. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) for me, this always resulted in regret, misery, and self-loathing. Not the transient kind that hits you on a Sunday morning when you remember what you said while you were drunk the night before, the kind that leaves a mark on your soul and erodes your trust in yourself to a dangerous extent. That’s when it became clear that those emotions weren’t some irrational spurt of neurochemicals, they were accurate reactions based on intuition and values. Sudden stab of hatred? Most likely due to a deep dislike of whatever you’re looking at. Not sure why? Go ahead and look beneath the surface, there is usually a logic there that validates the response. It may not be a logic you like, but forcing yourself to do something you hate usually backfires, one way or another, so you might as well learn to work with whatever quirks and quarks you’ve got. For me this usually means trying to find other options – if you find one that’s worse than the one you’ve just reacted to it might make the other look better by comparison; or it might just mean you need to rethink the problem.

At the end of the day, it took me a long time to trust this process, but doing so allowed me to trust in myself and my ability to look after my own well-being. What I learned is that, while you have to keep your mind open as much as possible (it’s the crack in the door that keeps you from stifling on your own exhalations), if you don’t have faith in your instincts you probably won’t get very far. Mine just happen to be more visceral and less easily explainable than other people’s. And right now they’re telling me that the decision to accept this part of who I am is the best possible one I could make.

 

 

Conqueror

Sing a song of sadness

and slide it down my throat

weave a world of madness

to justify the moat

Oh pain walks in and pain walks out

and never can we stop it

But think a thought that carries clout

and drowns the never-ending shout

just so it can be softened

snowglobes

where do tears go
when they well without falling
when you don’t fall into that well
of sadness, of despair, of disappointment
do they seep back inside you
does their salt make you bitter?
does their volume dilute your happiness?
if, when they fall and
you release them
they are a release,
then if you hold onto them,
do they have a hold on you?

Uncertainty

Currently my life is an exercise in living with uncertainty, dealing with rejection, and searching for self-imposed meaning. While it is extremely uncomfortable and even painful at times, especially when faced with a particularly taciturn and opaque job search and the fact that I’m technically homeless, I have elected to listen to the small inner voice that says ‘this is necessary. this is life handing you the tools to build yourself better than before’. That voice, a rather new phenomenon, is something I have learned to treasure and seek out; it is a sign that I have found a way to accept myself because of who I am and not despite it, and a small current of positive energy that I hungrily cultivate as a way of changing my internal landscape like water carves a canyon.

One of the other things that little voice whispered to me, just today, was ‘you have done this before. you can do it again’. And unlike every other time I have thought or heard or read those words, this time they sounded powerful and loving as opposed to exasperated or demanding or ominous. This time I thought, yes, I may have to do it again someday, it may be inevitable that life unravels at one end because you use all the string at the other, but that’s not a failure or a curse; that’s a challenge that I can meet and succeed at. Instead of gritting my teeth and resentfully pushing forward against a hail of unknowns and unexpecteds, I am going to try to see myself as climbing a mountain path whose end I can’t predict but whose journey will be its own reward.

In fact, the one thing that has stood out for me lately is what is certain in my life. The elements that are in flux are definitely the lion’s share, but the things that aren’t are bringing me so much joy. Uncertainty is the perfect place from which to cultivate gratitude for what is certain, which is what I’d like to do here.

To start with, I am grateful for the opportunities I’ve had over the years to travel and explore the world. I celebrated my 20th country in February of this year, and look forward to many more ahead. I am so lucky to have been able to see so many beautiful vistas and learned about so many diverse cultures; I have eaten amazingly good food, and met really fascinating and sometimes life-changing people. Everything I’ve seen and experienced has taught me something, and I am richer for it.

Speaking of people, I’m endlessly thankful for all the wonderful friends I have been so lucky to meet in my life so far. Being with them, whether it means a karaoke night, or a skype date, or simply exchanging postcards from afar, reminds me of how beautiful human beings can be and how amazingly lucky we are to have found others who augment our lives in ways we can’t even articulate. The people in my life are one of my greatest treasures and I want to recommit to showing it every chance I get.

This leads me to the family I have been lucky enough to have been born into. We may not always have treated each other as we should, and we may not see eye to eye on many things, but there is a love there that is stronger because of it. We have survived trials and tribulations that I wouldn’t wish on anyone, and come out with a greater appreciation for what it is to be connected to others through bonds of blood and history. I don’t get to see them often, but when I do I am frequently overwhelmed with a feeling of pride that I am related to them. Beyond sharing the same eyes (which is a big thing for me) or the same sense of humour, these are all genuinely fascinating, beautiful, good people. There is so much for me to learn here, and I am honoured and delighted to be a part of it.

Finally, I am grateful for the beauty of random possibility. The flipside of uncertainty is that I have the freedom to sketch out the life I want with minimal restrictions. My canvas is not blank, it has many layers and patterns already in place; but I am free to manipulate those patterns, to discard some layers, to reorganize the space so that the many colours I have been lucky enough to collect can better create the picture of me that I want to be and want the world to see. I may not achieve everything I have set out for myself, and that’s okay. But the beauty is in the trying.

All I’ve ever wanted from this blog is to make something beautiful that will both put my work out into the world so it can live and breathe and guide me forward, and to give something of myself that I hope will help or entertain or intrigue others. If I have ever accomplished that, even once, then it has been a success. From this point forward I want to make better use of the resources I have available to do both those things and more. If there’s anything I want you to take away from this, dear reader, it’s that you get to figure out everything in this world all by yourself – and that’s what makes you so powerful.