Although I have a hard time identifying with any belief system, one’s actions can sometimes categorize one’s self into certain identities. With that said, I guess I’m fairly pagan–as wonderfully nebulous as that is.
I celebrate the solstices and equinoxes. They designate important time periods in my part of the world, and are particularly important as mile posts for the waxing & waning of the unfortunate side effect of northern latitudes: seasonal affective disorder.
That’s not a blanket side effect for everyone on the forehead of the planet. But it sure fucks with me. After floundering for too many years, I have found that observing the points where the sunlight increases or decreases is one small way to acknowledge the cycle.
That way, no surprises. The merry-go-round is there for all to see.
Unfortunately, I was born with a ticket and can’t get off. The freewriting piece below is awkward & unsettling & dizzying, kind of like a merry-go-round. It’s an older piece, but from the same period to come, between the fall equinox and the winter solstice. I don’t think it offers much hope, which is why I felt the need for this preamble.
—And can’t you go for a week without? Look at what you’re doing to yourself—
<<Doing? That’s exactly it, hun. I’m doing>>
—You’re doing nothing—
<<You’re doing nothing>>
—That’s exactly it, hun. I’m doing—
<<What are we doing here?>>
—We’re here again. You ever wonder if it has anything to do with a gain?—
<<It sounds more like a loss. To be anywhere again is only retracing your steps>>
—Unless you took a new way. What are we doing here again?—
<<I wish I knew. You’re no help>>
—No help is right. Look at what we’re doing to ourselves—
<<This is confusing>>
—That’s right. I’m doing—
<<You’re doing it again. We’re here>>
—And can’t you go a week without reminding me? Listen to yourself—
<<I feel it all over again. We’re here again>>
—God fuck it. Krishna suck it. Devil may share. Damn us all to earth for a thousand lifetimes—
<<And you would still just come back here>>
—Probably. I can’t go a week without—
<<What does it taste like?>>
—It tastes like we’re here again. I feel it in every nerve—
<<Must be close>>
—Must be doing nothing—
<<Unless you took a new way>>
—Naw, fuck it. You know it. There is no other way—
<<Did you just feel that?>>
—I think that’s the point—
<<No, it wasn’t sharp. It was full-bodied>>
—Why don’t we forget about it all and get a bottle of Malbec? —
<<Why don’t we just enjoy the tilt of the earth for once?>>
—You know there is no other way—
<<There must be another way around it>>
—Oh sure, we can circle it all day, but we’re just going to up here—
—You’re doing it again—
<<That’s exactly it, hun. I’m doing>>
The approach of the autumnal equinox seems to usher a familiar feeling. I haven’t totally figured myself out yet, but fall always has some power over me. For one thing, my childhood ensconced September as “back-to-school”. That’s one thing I thought I had moved away from…but this year, I have summoned it back.
Of course, on a subtler note, the earth is tilting. The daylight swings wildly enough where I live that the difference between June’s all-night glow and December’s darkness is noticeable. Already, the days are shorter. The fifty-foot balsam poplar in my neighbourhood that serves as my seasonal barometer showed its first yellowing leaves over a week ago.
There is no burst of colours in the trees. The electric yellow canola fields trail off into a pale green before it’s piled into swaths which accentuate the topography. The other crops turn brown before they disappear. Trees denude back to twisted branches and twigs, their silhouettes etched like lightning against the sky.
I can’t explain why the leading lines make my eyes shiver, or why the smoothed contours soothe me—but there is a certain space I can enter when that certain blend of summer and winter meet on an archetypal autumn day—and even when I’m outside for the briefest moment, there’s a quietness that follows the thought that I lose as it’s whisked away by the nippy breeze.
The geese are in the air, they know what that breeze brings. Soon flocks of hundreds of birds fly overhead, charting a magnetic path they can see with eyes evolved for the task.
Waterfowl move methodically and rhythmically, setting up shop when necessary or where food is available. Warblers are more blindly determined—they only pass through for days, as opposed to the weeks that it takes ducks and geese. Warblers cause tumults in the middle of the night, quite literally warbling like a comet made up of a hundreds-strong (yet short-breathed) church choir.
But I don’t hunt warblers. At least not with anything besides a pair of binoculars. The geese and ducks are not so lucky. Wild waterfowl makes for a delightful meal, which is a foreign concept for someone who was raised in a metropolis (like myself) and saw geese and ducks as companions to pigeons and seagulls (i.e. garbage birds). I had heard of homeless people in Toronto eating goose, and it sounded no different than someone eating a subway rat.
Now that I live in the fly-path between the Arctic and the Gulf of Mexico, I think I can appreciate geese and ducks as something more. These birds certainly reside in cities at some point on their journey, but they benefit from a lot more free range than their eastern (or city-bound) counterparts.
(Some of that, I realize, is an idealization; and I am okay with that dissonance because so far, all the meat I have tasted has been delectable, and if it had any garbage-infused flavours they paired perfectly with the heartiness of goose).
Hunting can be a polarizing activity. It’s a complicated issue, and cannot be painted with the broad brush it so often is. It’s not a familial or cultural tradition for me. I have no compulsion or obligation to hunt. However, it seems disingenuous to me to eat and enjoy meat, but refuse to be part of the process.
I say, if you eat apples, go pick apples.
In a similar vein, I enjoy being entertained—therefore, I entertain. I don’t think that’s a comprehensive reason why I write, but it certainly feeds into my overall creative ethos.
Hunting and writing have some parallels for me—they’re done alone; can be fruitless no matter how much time and effort is spent; and, can be done without any instruction.
But the latter is only true if the outcome doesn’t affect your lifestyle. If I dick around in the field for three days and come back without so much as a feather, it’s all good. We go to the grocery store and buy whatever we need.
So far, writing has been similar. If it fails (as it so often does), it doesn’t really matter. I have a job that pays the bills. No one will starve or suffer because my story sucked.
North Korea might force our hand to need to know more about sourcing our food. In the case of creativity, I am being my own North Korea, forcing myself out onto the proverbial gangplank, where I either succeed as a writer or I flounder as a provider for my family.
Just like the apprentice hunter of yesteryear would seek a master to teach the skills needed to excel, I am also seeking out masters to help me excel as a writer. I am super-psyched to have been accepted into Stanford’s Online Writing Course for Novel Writing. It’s a huge opportunity…so huge, it feels too good to be true, like I’ll finally be outed as the impostor I have always been.
Until that happens, I have to trust it’s just a syndrome. An impostor can’t really try. And I am trying. Even if no one knows it—and of course, it’s this chink that my inner critic can still hang out and harangue me.
Because identity is everything—encapsulated in that millennial idiom I’m tired of hearing & writing: “If it can’t be shared, it didn’t happen.”
My family doesn’t value creativity, I have no friends to call up about life events, and the place I live & work isn’t a particularly cultured/artsy place. Social media is supposed to be the panacea for my kind of situation, but I can’t help but see it for what it is (a placebo, and not a very good one).
So basically, none of this is happening. My inner critic has a field day with that shit.
Not everyone seems to have the same hang-ups about pride. Anton Chekhov wrote a short story about a man who borrows a medal for a dinner party, only to find out someone is there who knows he didn’t earn that medal—only to later find out both of them are frauds trying to impress the host. Usually we never have that final reveal. Instead, we really buy into our borrowed medal and convince ourselves the illusion is real.
All I can do is give it my best shot, I’ve convinced myself. Until I shoot my eye out or carpel tunnel limits my ability to type, I only have my best shot. (After that, I have pain medication).
As September rolls on, I am re-acquainting myself with that “back-to-school” mentality. I am looking for my fingerless gloves and cleaning my shotgun. I keep one eye on the skies and the other on my prize. And then I put my sunglasses on, because no one can know.
When the heat rose
It brought the ants out with it—
The bedrock slumbers under the shivering topsoil,
All winter huddled up—
Now comes the tilt of the earth—
Now comes hibernation hangovers—
The creak in your elbow
Only you can hear—
Now comes the sun again—
Now the snakes sun on gravel roads—
God is whoever
Will recognize your sacrifice—
So every bud, rosette, and bug eye
Turns to the blinding star—
Half a life
Lived in chrysalis—
Half a life
Lived in fits—
Spring demands stridency,
Summer demands sweat—
Autumn begs for acceptance,
Winter requires sacrifice—
No one pouts as the beetle
Strains over mustard seeds—
Whimpering is pathetic,
Go gnash teeth instead—