The smoke has a sweet smell: sap burning. From where I sit, the fire sounds like a strong wind blowing — not rustling leaves so much as the sense that it’s right inside your ears, like a firm whisper. Here and there it pops and crackles; this must be one of the most ancient sounds for human ears — maybe even the first man-made music.
It’s likely that fire was experienced before it was created; nature has a way of spontaneously setting itself aflame, which has the miraculous effect of purifying the land, teasing seeds open so that they can sprout, and carrying all kinds of organic material miles and miles away, ensuring the propagation of life forms that would have otherwise been destroyed by the heat of a land set ablaze.
I like imagining the faces of the first humans witnessing a lightning bolt striking a match against the earth — the awe they must have felt, the gods they must have thanked or feared. How miraculous to have seen something, felt its warmth, and then setting about to re-create it with the hunch that it could prove useful down the line when little Tom-Tom got a cold from staying out too late tipping wooly mammoths over in their sleep, and would obviously a little warming by the glow of the cave fire.
At least that’s how I imagine it. It helps me to remember that creative acts — often taken for granted — have helped shape the world we all strive to find joy in. Keeping the fire in my home is a constant meditation on the power of imagination and determination, coupled with a reminder that it’s Nature’s way to (literally) light the path for us.
But what if earth’s first people had seen that lightning strike, watched a fire start to consume a huge swatch of land and felt so overwhelmed by the holiness of this magnificent natural wonder that they shrunk back, figured they were probably not good enough to re-create it and went back to the Dark Ages equivalent of scrolling through social media, which was probably, I dunno, looking at everyone else’s cave paintings. We’d be without the magic of self-made warmth, engines, jet planes, trains, ovens, lava lamps and anything at all that is warm to eat. I’m incredibly grateful to the one guy who stood there, loincloth-clad, spear in hand, fire dancing on his skin and thought, “I can totally do this.”
Harnessing fire may be man’s first and most magical creative act, one that is responsible for the survival of our species. They couldn’t have known then what a massive gift this would be to the world, nor were they focused on their perceived shortcomings or droning on about how they didn’t have time. One moment sparked a very clear knowing in the bodies of those who would eventually capture this magnificent tool: I need to make this happen.
You’ve probably had a moment like that. Or several. Armed with your particular aptitudes and skill set, the gift of your awareness and hunch that you’re capable of great things (you are descended from the folks who harnessed fire, after all), you’ve probably stood in awe of something wonderful, or felt a bone-chilling knowing of your own. Something in you probably shouted, “MORE OF THIS!”
You may have followed the MORE OF THIS feeling to the love of your life, or the city that finally feels like home, or a creative act of your own that makes you feel alive and capable and whole. It’s also likely that you’ve ignored this feeling more times than you’ve gone with it. It’s hard work to follow such immediate instructions from your Original Self — the part of you that is still connected enough with your instincts that, like my dog when he sees a squirrel, doesn’t stop to think about whether or not he can catch it or if this is something that will please the other dogs or make him money — he just chases after it, propelled by an ancient instinct to hunt. As an animal, he can stay in touch with his Original Self and not worry about the consequences, the only real consequences being A) cars and B) rabies. In that moment between he and the squirrel, he is harnessing fire.
What’s your fire? What do you feel so compelled to chase after that, if you’re honest with yourself, makes you feel a little like Bodhi and his squirrel fetish? For a just a moment, forget the perceived limitations and consequences. Ask yourself the following questions:
- When do I feel most alive / peaceful / whole / content?
- What activities or experiences do I see other people doing or having that make me jealous?
- When I hear about or see other people _________, it brings me to tears.
Tears are an excellent way to gauge what really matters to you; they are literally the energetic conduit between your outer-world-being and your essential self. Follow them and you’ll have yourself a really accurate diving rod; what we weep to know or experience contains traces of our potential joy, and you are hereby instructed by your soul-self to follow those traces like your life depends on it. (Because it does.)
I’ve accepted it: twinkle lights really can cure the ailing heart.
I finally strung up a couple of strands in my new bedroom over the weekend, and yes: I feel like I’m back in college. My room is so dark, and the one (small) window faces north, and there’s something about the old school glow of white lights at night that reminds me of firelight and the warmth of being somehow smaller than I am, wrapped in something bigger and warmer. (It’s also like someone could open a box of wine at any moment and start doing the choreography to Tearin’ Up My Heart.)
Have you been getting this latest storm where you are? It poured for most of the day, and it’s not helping my mood any; these dark days have been the hardest kind of short — I so deeply miss the sunlight and the feeling of warm nights stretching out until almost morning. Just for a minute tonight as the sun was going down somewhere out west, the light broke through the clouds and the sky filled with a pink cotton candy glow. I wondered who else besides me needed to see that right then to reimagine a world created for our joy.
I drove home toward the mountains, and through the dark, the peaks turned into the most electrifying diorama: sheets of fog and rain coloring what remained of the sky, and the deepest green you can imagine — a dark forest green like a living shadow — rose up from the wash.
I can’t count how often the wilds of this planet have befriended me when I felt starved for comfort. It’s remembering this basic aliveness that keeps me turned toward hope. There’s such collective sorrow in the world right now, and I think our hearts must be breaking a million times a day, but if I sit still enough to feel my heart beating me, and listen for how the rain plays this same rhythm on the earth, I think of how I can be big like the it: hold what I can and let the waters carve mighty rivers through my heart.
This life is not for the easily-wilted — it constantly asks us to stay open and let all the things happen to us, while simultaneously realizing that actually nothing is happening to us, but just kinda… happening. That’s real maturity, no? To separate our small selfishnesses from the larger story unfolding around us, and still somehow try to remember to leave each other better than we found one other. There are always more opportunities to crack the code and circle back to Center (even if Center feels like a wobbling target sitting on the back of a donkey’s ass somewhere in Siberia).
I’m always asking where Center is in any given moment or experience where it feels particularly hard to breathe, remember something solid, or offer compassion. I’m especially having a hard time offering that to myself right now; I’m trying to remember how to take extra good care of myself in the white wave of exhaustion that creeps over me sometimes, feeling like my ACTUAL joy is somewhere out on the horizon holding a margarita with no idea what time it is or when the electric bill is due.
I’m trying to remember that hard work happens in the in-between, too: between each big step there is the will to pick up the foot and move that thing slightly ahead of its predecessor, until bit by trembling bit, we’re standing at the next meet-spot, calling on Destiny and praying pretty-please that it be sweet and easy occasionally.
The thing we get to try to figure out, I think, is what Center feels like when it hurts just to move, or when the breath is hard to find. We have to bend an ear to the creature in us that remembers what wild feels like — in all its messy joy, missteps and un-conformed creativity.
It’s why I like living in the mountains, even if it’s dark and lonely right now: it re-wilds me. My eyes get wide and the tiny hairs on my skin teach me something about listening to the air. I can never be sure of anything until I’ve felt it with more than one sense.
It’s what I hope for everyone: that we have (or find) something in us that remembers who we are as animals — innately bonded to one another, this world, and to the instincts that tie a taught line from our hearts to the heavens. We get closer to Truth when we are closer to ourselves — they become one thing when we learn how to press through our domesticated fears and into healthy boundaries which can only serve to help us create a more beautiful life.
And when it’s really dark? There are always twinkle lights.
Growing up, my mom got these catalogues: pages full of homes, and objects to fill the homes. There were even floor plans to the homes on those pages, which was in part how I knew what the inside of a house with stairs might look — at that point, all I wanted was to live in a house with two floors and some stairs. I memorized the floor plans of my favorite houses and decorated them inside my mind: this is where the intercom to all the rooms would go (because it would obviously be too big for my mom and I to hear each other if one of us called); these are the curtains; this is the bathtub.
Catalogue in hand, I acted out going up and down the stairs. I told my mother all about what our house would look like, and I know she listened to me, but I remember a sadness about those conversations, too. I knew we’d never live in a house with stairs.
For most of my young life, we didn’t live in a house at all — most of the time, I learned my way around the complexes of condos and apartments, relishing in a pool to swim in during the summer, but bending a longing ear toward my friends when they talked about their own homes, most of which they’d lived in their whole lives. I knew I’d never know what it was like to live in one home my whole life.
It’s almost impossible to describe the ever-present tension that lives in the body of a woman who aches for home and belonging, but has never belonged to a home. I have never not been aware of the impermanence of every home I’ve lived in, which means some boxes stay unpacked and the home, even if imperceptible to others, for me remains un-lived-in. It’s a feeling of hovering above my life — always with a thin layer between me and what I know isn’t mine — that I’ve come to realize with great sadness means I’m never really home.
The fact that I also feel a great deal of belonging to my experiences of place (as opposed to belonging TO a place) — the novelty of travel and the natural world being two of my closest friends — means I live quite comfortably on the fringes of home and community. A little more than a year ago, I was ready to strap a solar panel to the roof of my car and live as an adventure-seeking nomad; the only thing I was really worried about was the cold. (I figured I’d just head to Florida until it warmed up around the rest of the country.)
I grieved some when it became clear that my life was asking something different of me. The fact that returning to Southern California also meant coming back together with Bae after a lot of years apart was a really joyous byproduct — and a huge part of my decision to hunker down, get a day job, pay rent, and finally lean into the pieces of domestication that suit me.
Of course I’m understanding now that being constantly on the move in some ways meant I got to avoid the plunging feeling of loss I’ve felt with every move — novelty is a great way to stay out of the current of the River Grief. Staying put is a warrior’s path for someone like me, whose whole body begs to be pulled into the warm grounding of permanence, but is not wired to conform to the expectations of organized society.
I’ve spent a lot of the last year trying to remember myself in a day-to-day that seems designed to smother the fire out of us. If I’m not careful, I begin to believe that putting one foot in front of the other is enough.
The civilized world is not nearly as beautiful as the one that emerges from a person who has the freedom to truly express themselves — and my task (and everyone’s, I’m realizing), is to not only develop a practice of learning and expressing this True Self, but to be a tool for the bajillion other people who are struggling with the same pressure. It’s not a matter of distrusting a domesticated life — it’s a question of how to remember and express what’s natural to us: what joy and creativity is vibrating in us, and how to do so under the litany of pressures coming at us from every direction.
Earnestly making a home in a place I know I won’t live forever is a serious task for me. I don’t know if normal people feel this tension, but holy hell: it’s like tilling concrete. So is keeping a day job, and doing normal things like applying to grad school and folding laundry. I’m charting a course which includes staying put, loving my partner and leaning into the deep content of routine and a decent credit score. It’s wild.
I mean, honestly. The fact that we all have to somehow afford to live might be one of the greatest mindfucks of the human experience. For folks like me who have never really been comfortable with feeling like cattle ushered to the milking stations, we have to try extra hard to pump out work containing traces of our soul. If you are also a hermit like me, and sensitive and have a shockingly clear view of what is being felt around you at all times, it’s also hard not to hide in pajamas and eat ice cream sandwiches all day.
My greatest motivation is to allow myself — and everyone — the permission to explore what expressing truth means at every turn, with every change in season, so that making a life reflective of who we really are is something we are well-equipped to do. Maybe not perfectly, but authentically. And maybe possibly while still wearing pajamas.
I’ve been in a conversation with a therapist I don’t have for most of the day. Scrounging around my insides for what I’d say to this new person upon introducing him or her to my inner world, I’m remembering what it feels like to be therapy-vulnerable with someone. It’s uncomfortable. I end up feeling like a silly little girl. It’s simultaneously the most free I ever feel. I love paying someone to sit and listen to anything I want to say. I learn so much just by listening to myself. The real gift is when someone can hear you out, watch you snot all over yourself and still be like, “There’s nothing wrong with you.” The treasure is when someone can see through your “I Got This” façade and speak to the cornered child who doesn’t got anything.
I really believe this (there’s nothing wrong with you), despite the way the world seems to believe there’s always something to fix. It gives our difference-seeking mind something to do, I guess: to believe we need to be better to get wherever we don’t think we deserve to get.
Last time I sat down with a therapist for the first time, he asked, “How can I help you?” and I thought it was just so honest. Simple. When I put myself back in my body during that conversation, I feel how the deeper questions begging to be asked by all my cells and hairs and hopes were:
Is it okay to be myself?
Am I safe here (in the world)?
Is this enough?
Am I crazy?
These days it’s more like a rambling cocktail of, I have trouble focusing. Adulting is hard for me. I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. Is it weird that I look around, and don’t see any real problems, so feel constantly weighed down by the feeling that I’m misunderstood? And WTF is up with everyone trying to fix one another? How come I hate folding laundry?
I used to feel clenched by the guilt over just being who I am and needing what I need. I used to believe the world was trying to hurt me. It was like I was yelling at everyone LET ME FEEL THE THINGS, without realizing that no one ever had the power to keep me from feeling, but gosh, you guys: it sure feels like that when we don’t know how to allow someone else to have conflicting feelings about what we feel. Or even complimentary feelings. The stage feels small. Everyone is scary. Everything is huge.
Lately, it’s more like I’m wondering how to match the Morgan I feel like I am inside to the Morgan I sometimes am on the outside. How to not be exhausted by the sheer fact of living. How to meet myself where I wish the world would meet me.
It comes down to a matter of maps. Location, location, location.
I talk about “positioning” a lot. Positioning is the same as belief. It puts us on the map. It’s the red pin that says I’m Here. It is also the implied other red pins we put on the map, saying, “And there you are, homeslice. And no matter how close you get, you aren’t here.” There isn’t anything inherently wrong with positioning ourselves on the map. It helps us navigate. In the material world, boundaries are helpful.
But I’ve been thinking about emotional location. As I perceive it, the material world is the manifestation of all that is, but sliced up into itty bitty pieces of a spectrum that allow us to identify and experience all of it — and ourselves — as individuated from the Whole. It’s the kaleidoscope of the human life. It’s the all-encompassing Everything shivved down into infinite pokey bits that can pierce our sphere of perception and be felt in all their confusing, conflicting precision.
This life is the gift of What Is, held in the womb of the Infinite, which, as I perceive it, is what we call God. God, then, is not a being, but the Ground of Being. All this, all you and me and them and it and everything? God. Made manifest. We will it so. We choose it. We enter into the kaleidoscope with this life and recoil at the harshness of the colors. We don’t understand (because of our perceived disconnect with the Infinite) that God doesn’t live only in the holy, clean places and faces our mind has sanctified, but in the mud room of the heart: in the full spectrum of feeling, and how that feeling calls us to widen our berth to hold more and more and more of this life and ourselves. In love.
I’m waking up on a brisk morning in Phoenix, though from where I’m tucked — between the magenta t-shirt sheets of my friend’s young daughter’s bed — there’s a warm silence and only the faintest feeling that outside, people are bracing themselves against the chill.
At my feet is Bodhi’s furry belly as it rises and falls with his breath. I match my breathing to his and my whole body starts to hum.
I came out to Phoenix with only the intention of saying yes to the invitation to be here: at a small gathering of women for an afternoon of making art. This morning, tiptoeing through the empty house while the coffee made itself, I spied the art of women I know and have become friends with dotting the walls. The things we make never exist in a vacuum; at some point, there was the moment before the thing got made, the inclination to make it, and a precipice where both the muses and the maker were dancing with possibility — but only one of them could decide whether or not the thing would get made.
What would have happened if those women hadn’t made that art? What else would be here on these walls?
Now, tucked between pink sheets and surrounded by the construction paper masterpieces on the wall beside me (made by my friend’s daughter), I can see evidence of the conversation between muses and maker as a listening that starts so young and a priviledge we never think to question — until we do.
And since what we make is so often channeled from our core, the questioning extends not just to the stuff we’d make but the stuff of our selves, too. For the women I see around me suffering from this harsh questioning about the rightness or wrongness of their compulsion to create — or create their lives in a certain way, or offer their gifts to the world — the tension is almost unbearable. It’s crazy-making and paralyzing.
The only way I’m able to see through it is to work through it. Not to bulldoze my way to my preferred way of being in the world (which would be antithetical to the way I want to be in the world, anyway), but to sit with the very real anxiety present in almost every moment that the unexpressed is seeking to be expressed.
Taste the metallic fear. Name the unnamed want. And meet myself right where I am.
There’s a lot of pushing and pulling happening in the world. There’s a lot of positioning ourselves on this side or that, in defense or support of one thing or another. And for the creators of the world, art and the creative life have taken on a battle-like persona. But I really believe it’s not only ourselves we’re resisting, but the compression we’re experiencing when some part of us is believing we should be living someone else’s life.
Our bodies know and are very vocal about what’s true in the face of these suggestions. With every oncoming wave of anxiety, the body says, That is not your life. That work is not yours to make. Be here with me.
Here is the place between the breath. This is the precipice of creation. This is where joy becomes manifest. Don’t wait until you feel safe to create your life — creating is the safety. It will catch you where you are until you can hold yourself there.
<< Back Yonder