But for Fear, I Would Be Lost

A friend has loaned me a book. Common enough occurrence. I was skeptical from the start, but she told me it was good: Conversations with God. I accepted it because I think it’s often prudent to withhold judgment on things I’ve not tried. I took the book home. Actually opening it to begin reading took quite a long time. I am glad I did, though.

No, I do not like the book at all–its didacticism tired me and the simplistic formula of continually repeating, “no, I don’t follow you,” or “say that again?” was tiresome. Then in the first twenty pages it hit upon something, a big something, a powerful something. Neale Donald Walsch postulates that everything that motivates human kind stems from one of two emotions and only one. These two that he puts forth are love and fear. He holds them up as opposites, a duality, poles not on a continuum, but absolutes, for the so-called “Sponsoring Thought” of any emotion can have root in only one of these. He says that “fear-based love” is rooted in a lie, and that fear “contracts, closes down, draws in, runs, hides, hoards harms.” he says of love that it “expands, opens up, sends out, stays, reveals, shares, heals.” Opposites in every way. Is it all rooted in love or fear? Does he mean for me to believe that righteous indignation has its root in love, and anger over abandonment in fear? Anger has but two flavors? Or is it that there is no such thing as anger at all and one only experiences it as an outgrowth of fear be cause it’s a “negative” emotion?

What then, I wonder, is awe? In this model there is no space for the sheer terror, smallness, wonderment and joy that is wrapped up in this sensation. There is no room in this schematic to encompass all the strange whorls of emotion, everything from dread to hope that can be swept up in standing before a thing so much greater, older, wiser, deeper, stranger than oneself. What was it I felt before the great Triceratops in the hall of the Smithsonian, I tiny and trembling, shaken to the core and crying like a child, voices echoing through my very bones? These experiences had root in neither fear nor love. They were of awe. And I would say hope has no place in his diagram, nor curiosity, glee, selfishness, a sense of ease, anger, or peace. These are all emotions in the human scope. We feel moved by things sometimes for which we have no name. To call them all fear or love narrows the breadth and glory of joys, shames us for our pain and misery, blames the victim of poverty for their own aching. No.

And of fear alone? Fear can, yes, make one shrink, draw inward and hide. Fear also shows us where the boundaries are. Fear can dare us to test them, fear can keep us safe. And while I do not agree with everything she has written, Starhawk does say this well: “where there’s fear, there’s power.” In the roiling pit of fear lies the well of transformation.

As for the book? Though I am not enjoying it for its own sake, I will continue to read. I have learned the hard way not to discount lessons wrapped in contrary packages. This lesson learned, however, is one which must often be repeated.

Small Birds

Possibly an experience in common with many others: it always astounds me how one small act can turn around the force of an otherwise bad day. The completion of song lyrics. The writing of a poem. Writing the beginning of a story. Looking up and noting that the first of the jacarandas are blooming. It’s as though these things melt back the melancholy like the sun does snow, and suddenly, stiffly, haltingly, I can move again.

Thelma’s Gaze

Pop songs from any era are infectious little bastards, I think. There’s a rotation on the local radio station, Clear Channel’s iron grip wearing the same few songs into the three tiny bones of our ears like barbed wire into an oak at the fence line. The 80’s station by me kind of ranges around and plays stuff from other decades. Tonight I was treated to a pair of tunes that make me twitch: “She’s So High,” by Tal Bachman, and “Jessie’s Girl,” by Rick Springfield. They’re catchy, yes, but the “girl” so crooningly sung about in each has no name, no personality– only an appearance and a status. An accessory for desire. I became a little bit frustrated and annoyed, and so went home and played through some of my own music– The Magnetic Fields came up, and I fared no better. And such things wouldn’t be a problem–everyone is the subject of their own story, and everyone else is merely an incidental actor in each other’s tale–except that women are consistently portrayed as faceless objects of desire in so many pop songs, rock songs, hip hop songs sung by men…

And men in women’s songs? They are actors. Often, they are the cause of the pain that many female artists express in song. Listen to Sheryl Crow’s music for many examples. Louise Post’s pains on Veruca Salt’s album “Resolver.” Ani DiFranco sings of strong women, but never that I’ve heard of a faceless sexualized man in her music, though she portrays many an asshole who is distinctly male. Others are perhaps a little more ambiguous.

I realized that this is something that sits uneasily in my mind. I have to shift its weight every now and again, think on it once more. Objectification, when it exists alongside other presentations, when it is shown as one portrayal of many, doesn’t strike me as terrible, because the expectation changes: the objectified party is not bound by that sole image of themselves– there are other models to emulate, other modes in which to exist. In isolation? It becomes the sole example. One is supposed to be like this narrowly defined image, and only this image– there is no other model, no other option to hold up and say, “See? We have all this at our fingertips from which to draw ideas about ourselves and our world’s interaction with those selves.” I think that what is damaging is the way such limited portrayals assign roles. I think perhaps the cure is a proliferation of alternative images.

So I decided to make a list. Lists are nice comforting things, at times. They give a sense of where things stand. This list is a list of all the songs I knew wherein a man was objectified for the female “gaze” (ear?) in a similar way to the literally thousands of songs that pose the reverse. I can only think of four, and three are by the same artist– the third only gains that status by the fact that the covering vocalist is a woman: “State Fair,” “The Olde Headboard,” and “High of Life,” all by Rasputina, and Bow Wow Wow’s recording of “I Want Candy,” by The Strangeloves. This troubles me more. There is a lot of music with which I am familiar, and this is all that comes immediately to mind. There is undoubtedly more out there– do you know any of it? Help me compile this list. Help me take apart these notions and hold them up to the light to see where the holes are. Help me lovingly dissect these notions of portrayal.

Bitter Sun, Sweet Sorrow

There is something about Myakka. One of my loves is on deployment, and until now, he’s been nearby, just up to the armory, or a phone call away. I could talk to him. Occasionally see him. Now comes the hard part. Now he’s gone. For real gone. And instead of burying myself in a video game, instead of hiding at home once I saw the buses off, waving goodbye to him and all the soldiers in his unit, instead I drove out to Myakka, called other dear ones to go with me, and let the wind dry my tears.

I have become a child of Florida. I am a transplant, but you could mistake me for a native. The heat rolls off my consciousness, the mosquitoes I can ignore. Myakka River State Park has become my second home. I frequent it as often as I do small independent coffee shops. There is something there; there is a secret in that park. I can share it, if you like. I’m not bound to silence. But the magic of this secret is you will not believe me. You will not understand until you have been there, and even then unless you are fae and inclined to fall in love with places people don’t understand, you will never know what it means. The secret is this: Myakka is the soul of Florida.

The Everglades, strange and lovely grass wet land of bending reeds and open open open until you come to tree wet tangles, a park of circling vultures and slow sunning gators is the natural image so many have of this state. Being a national park does that. And I would say, yes, the heart of Florida is in the Everglades. Go there, and feel it beat. But the soul of this state is in Myakka.

Eight and a half miles, out into this land of immoderate glory. After we emerged from the oak hammock and its twisted verdant shade, we faced the expanse of Florida prairie. Grass and palmetto and blistering sun, turkey vultures lazily catching thermals– your eyes are drawn up. There is sky: it goes on and on until it encounters a pocket of trees, a change in the ground, and out there, far off, are the tall straws of slash pine trunks, like so many toothpicks set upright in the scrub. And over there are the low spreading cool of green of more oak hammock, a mile, maybe two off, so far and low it couldn’t hope to dent the bowl of the sky. Below your feet is a tragedy– the ground lumpy and uneven sprouting invaders that can choke out all the plants that do belong. This is the work of the wild pigs, invaders themselves. But with the dragonflies hanging jewel-bright in air so thick it’s syrup, it’s hard to be angry. The pig traps we passed made me smile– perhaps a bit vindictively.

Eight and a half miles through dry dry dry bone-parched wetlands, drought victim lands, sand showing through underneath where the water would be, wind taking the granules away where the drought plants haven’t yet crept in like an emergency team to hold it in place. In Florida, the fire licked, we have good EMS plants. These bare places were few.

Ten black and yellow butterflies and two ospreys. One black wild hog, rooting in the shade. Too heavy of spirit to be found worthy by the deer, the ground birds– five quail– at least graced us with their presence, scurrying in lines at the sound of our approach. This is Myakka. This is my soul.

There is no way I know to alleviate the hurt of being parted from a loved one. It aches now, still. But out there among the palmettos and the brazen sun and the wheeling vultures, I found something of a strength. I’m told that’s one thing that can come of exploring the soul.