Earwax

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“God,” I said, irritable and tired from a long day of petty frustrations. “Did you listen to a lot of heavy metal when you were young? Or maybe you need to clean your ears. Your hearing has gotten pretty bad. In fact, some people say you’re deaf.”

“Yeah, and some people say I’m dying of skin cancer. Too much exposure while I was building the solar system,” God said, giving me a friendly shoulder punch. “But people love to gossip. I’m more interested in what you say.”

“The weeds in my iris bed have gone to seed, and I’m sick of fighting back,” I said. I didn’t want to talk galaxies or my ongoing disappointments with my co-author. I wanted wisdom, peace, and an easier life. God likes lilies and irises, and mine are choking in big autumn weeds and native grasses. I’m not sure they’ll even come up next spring. Seems like an easy problem for God. Just smite the invaders, right?

And to make matters worse, I’ve noticed my cruel and vicious impulses have gained ground lately. People would be astonished to know how many times a day my mind whispers “Oh fuck.” Sometimes, I go beyond the F-word. It’s more of a primal scream. My innards seethe at the utter stupidity of humankind. But I breathe and wait. Breathe and wait. Usually, my demands to be special, perfect, noticed, or loved give way to the nearly inaudible whimper of surrender. I realize can’t fix much of anything. All I can do is go about the business of being alive. And I can try to be kind.

I offered God my bowl of chips and salsa. “Thanks,” God said in that still, small voice. “I’ve heard it all, you know. The clang and clatter, the gun shots and bombs, the sobs and screams and slimy claims, the pontifications and pathetic justifications, the pleas and praise. Machinery. Magpies. The making of love. First gasps of air, last exhales. I’ve heard it from the beginning. And I will hear it all forever.”

I leaned forward, pointing my finger. “Then why don’t you pull the weeds? Uncreate. End the cacophony of greed and moral failings. Why don’t you make it all music and joy?” I was so exasperated. “You don’t know the least bit about self-care, do you?”

“Sure I do,” God said. “Here I am, hanging out with you. Chewing the fat. Watching the day draw to a close. What more could I ask?”

The F-word leapt to mind. The scream began. I coiled like a rattler. Clawed at my limitations. It was worse than being alone. “What more could you ask?” I yelled. “I can’t begin to answer that. Can’t even begin.”

“I know,” God said. “But it’s an excellent question, isn’t it?”

Red Box

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God and I are meandering down the alley. I’m on foot. God’s doing a high-wire act to make me laugh. There are crows, evidence of squirrels, and things discarded littering our way. Among the riffraff I find the redeemable. I offer thanks for the empty gift box flashing fancy red from a garbage can, and driftwood, smooth as skin, and seven or eight green apples, all bruised from the fall. I commune with the broken, hoping to catch a direct glimpse of my constant, often invisible, sometimes putrid companion who hides among the worst of it. The ways of God aren’t always pretty, safe, or easy. But I’ve learned to never, ever sanitize God. It causes a crippling loss of the sensations that make us human.

Today, it appears God wants to be silly, but shoes hanging by their laces from electrical lines don’t do much for me. Everything seems stupid. “Hey Goofball,” I venture. “Could you stop clowning around? I don’t want to laugh right now.” Honesty usually works well with the Holy Goofball. She can make her hide thicker than a crocodile’s. But this time, her skin is thin and she’s reactive.

“What makes you think this is for you?” she asks, voice sharp and petulant. “It isn’t always about you.” I look around. Lilac bushes are wilting. Alley weeds transgress, ugly and aggressive. Dust and smoke swirl. And then I notice that a muttering woman with a Safeway shopping cart has turned toward us. Why’d she turn? It isn’t even a paved alley. But here she comes. Snarling. Incoherent. A small, vicious world pulled tight around her—she’s walled herself off from gentleness, reason, or even meaningful contact. She’s a one-winged bird, flapping low. The gravel impedes her progress, but even so, she’s steadily getting closer.

Unhinged people frighten me.

Of course, I know, you know, God is permanently, proudly, unhinged. An ever-present danger to my complacency. Ultimately, it’s always God pushing the shopping cart, arriving as requested. I often wonder why I ask. But this is irrelevant. The street lady comes for us all, requested or not.

She waits, scowling, while I meekly climb in. There’s room for my red box, the driftwood, and a few of the apples. I am adding to her burden, but I see no other option. This unflinching, castoff God shows me the way, holding a fractured mirror.

My real home is a borrowed wire cage, my shelter permeable, mostly imagined. I am wilting lilacs, aggressive weeds, swirling smoke and fine gray dust. I am the favored child of an unhinged God, waiting to see what will happen next.

Hide and Seek

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God and I were playing hide and seek in the pasture near the river where fallen cottonwoods and piles of brush add to the texture to the landscape. Here and there, boulders find a moment’s rest, nestled into tangled riparian roots. It’s remarkably green for August. God was having a lot more fun than I was, but that’s often the case.

“I see you,” God said. “You’re not even trying.” She looked bored.

I have a competitive streak. God knows this.

“Okay,” I said. “Keep your eyes closed longer.” I took a deep breath and let myself sink into my footprints, tugging them under with me as I disappeared. This is risky because without footprints you can no longer discern if you are coming or going, alive or dead. Not an easy place to hide. I could hear God counting.

“One thousand nineteen. One thousand twenty. Ready or not, here I come.” She sounded excited and happy. I shivered in the residue of nothingness. To distract myself, I imagined I was at a party, drinking free beer, making the mandatory small talk that confirms my membership in the community of those who still cast shadows when the sun is up. Then I told even the idea of my shadow to disappear.

Twigs snapped. Dry grasses crackled. The wind picked up, leaves rustled. I could feel the sunset gathering intensity. Violet and orange taunted my eyelids to spring open. A fledgling eagle screamed far overhead. Creatures from my worst dreams began to eat my limbs. God wasn’t playing fair, but this only made me more determined. I willed myself senseless, motionless, colder than absolute zero. I put my heart in dark water and pulled the last of the air out of my lungs. None of this was at all safe, but I was playing with a dangerous God. Playing for keeps. Playing to win.

“Hmmm,” I heard God mutter. “She’s getting the hang of this.”

A great longing took what was left of me and spread itself over the face of the earth, invisibly thin. I dissipated into the falling night, the soothing moon. It was over. I was gone.

“There you are, my little soldier,” God said, approvingly. “There you are. That was fun. Now it’s your turn. Count as high as you’d like.”

The Gospel of Stone

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On Nova last night, I learned about the role rocks may have played in bringing forth life on our planet. I’ve always loved rocks. Apparently, God is comfortable being a humble, inscrutable mineral, waiting to see what his own inner turmoil might bring forth. God knows how to have fun in ways we mortals can’t even begin to imagine.

But watching Nova wasn’t fun for me. My species is complex and by all appearances, quite destructive. I am ashamed and befuddled.

“Sit with that,” God says. So I sit. And sit. The paint dries, the hands on the clock move, the clouds drift by, the grass grows, the flowers bloom, and the molecular miracle that I am begins to vibrate in harmony with the universe—a stringed instrument being plucked in defiant hope by God, my buddy, my nemesis, my imaginary friend.

The thread that initially stitched me together is intended to dissolve. I know this. I accept this. But before I unravel into my component parts, I want to matter.

“What a noble thing to say,” God says. His tone is a bit mocking, but then he shifts. “And, to some extent, I believe you. So shed the shame. Fend off the fear. Pedal your bike around and do something nice.”

“But I’m too sad,” I say. “Somebody has to save this planet. Somebody has to stop the suffering and the injustice and the greed.”

“Um, darling, if you were supposed to do that, I’m sure you would,” God says. Now he’s being facetious. I don’t like it.

“Yes, I would,” I say, and mentally give God a swift kick in the shin.

“Ow,” God says. Then he starts laughing. His belly jiggles and expands. The lava flows and the stones slowly harden, preparing again for their holy containment. I am filled with envy. God is filled with joy. “C’mon, sweet cheeks,” God says. “Lighten up. You’re one of my beloved little specks of nothingness. Isn’t that enough?”

“Nope,” I say. “Sorry. I know it should be, but it isn’t. Could I be a little more?”

No answer. While I was speaking, God had turned to agate. Sapphire. Onyx. Salt. Granite. I stroke the varied surfaces, take a lick of salt, and watch the limited sun scatter the light of purple quartz and fire blue diamond. I put six smooth stones in my pocket as the river roars beside me. Transitions are inevitable. I am always a little afraid, but sometimes, on a clear day, I can laugh myself to pieces.

Slow Awakenings

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“You awake?” I ask God. We got home very late. Time zone hopping is hard for me. I assume God doesn’t love it either, but I want to talk through my disorientation. Maybe with a cup of strong coffee, I can rouse the sleeping giant.

Our travels took us to cities cluttered with Homo sapiens arrayed in colors and shapes one sees less frequently in Montana. Beautiful, disturbing fractals–repeating patterns of hope, defiance, and despair. God on stage. God embodied. God black. God white. God with a face no one could love. I was reminded that God is, by definition, homeless. Such exposures can be unsettling. My usual world is small. My town, smaller.

Here on the rising river, God groans and pulls the alfalfa field over his shoulders, a shimmering quilt, greening as I watch. A red-winged blackbird lands on the garden fence. Then a robin. The boulders of winter have been rolled away, leaving the tomb empty again. The eyes of God are bleary, the breath of God questionable. The garments of night are crumpled at the edge of the riverbed–riffraff to contain spring runoffs and preserve riparian areas essential to survival.

In the natural order of things named God, I catch my breath and await further instructions. God yawns and rolls over. The hills pillow his sleepy head, and he gives me a nonchalant wave before snuggling back in. Generally, I don’t like being ignored, but this morning, I can tolerate the slow awakenings. I am growing more patient as my years dwindle and my soul thins out. Reality has become more translucent. When I really concentrate, I catch glimpses of the beyond where my thin bones and thick arteries won’t matter anymore.

Closer in, everything seems to matter. There are hills to die on, but I don’t know which ones. This is why I wish God would wake up. The fight to survive winter is over, but the wrong-headed weeds of early spring romp through my dreams—nasty little gargoyles grinning and drinking while I stand in the rain, chilled and uncertain. Exactly which battles should I wage, God? And how will I know if I win?

God snorts in his sleep. Likely, he’s dreaming gargoyles too. In the underworld, they’re everywhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

God Comes Back

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After that short break, God came back rested, full of new ideas, in one of those rare moods where I knew I could say pretty much anything that came to mind. Over the years, I’ve liked these times a great deal. I’ve asked crazy questions or pushed God for proof of something or the other, often getting dramatic responses. Rooms filling with liquid orange. Inner voices warning me not to jump. Lightening. Severe clairvoyance. One time, the face of God went by, inches from the window of my van. He was driving a semi, loaded with cars. Thanks to the ice, all hell had broken loose on I90. God made eye contact and I knew my life had been handed back again.

Today, the topic on my mind was drag queens. A famous drag queen had made the statement that we’re all God in drag. This seems unlikely. No matter how dressed up I get, I know I’m not God, even though I’d like to be. But the other direction? In my experience, when God comes by, the drag queens sigh in envy.

“You sure look happy,” I said as an opener. God grinned and nodded. I continued. “So I’m assuming you had a good vacation.”

God acted like I’d said something very funny. He belly-laughed for a while and then said, “Vacation?”

“Yeah. Remember? Your break?”

“Oh, that,” God said. “That was all about you, chickadee. I never go anywhere.”

My defenses went up, anger flared. “Don’t call me chickadee,” I said. God can make me unbelievably mad sometimes.

“I’m not blaming you,” God said. “I totally understand your frustration. Yes, I took a break, and of course, I never left. I’m still in the Garden. You’re there with me. Your substance is mine. Mine is yours. It’s just that you have boundaries. And it turns out, I don’t. I’m God.”

I stuck my fingers in my ears, sang la-la-la-la-la, closed my eyes, and staggered out of view. From a cosmic perspective, I’m sure I looked ridiculous. A whirling dervish of denial. But as any alcoholic will happily tell you, denial is useless.

After a few minutes. God caught up and tapped me on the shoulder. She was wearing bright red heels. Her platinum blond hair was piled high, her face heavily made-up. She was oddly beautiful. Oddly safe. She wrapped me in the baby blue boa around her neck, slowed the music, and we swayed in the outrageous splendor of being together, moving exactly to the beat.

God Takes a Break

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“I need a break,” God said as we walked gingerly down the icy sidewalk in the gathering dusk.

“Me too,” I said. “Those beaches in Aruba look pretty enticing about now. Why’d you let my ancestors settle in Montana anyway?”

“Ha ha,” God said sarcastically. “They were as stubborn as you. And there weren’t a lot of options, since they’d barely escaped the potato famine in Ireland, right?”

I made a noncommittal snort and we kept walking.

“No, really,” God said. “I’m thinking about leaving for a while. You know. Engage in a little self-care. Sharpen the old perspectives.”

“You can’t,” I said with my usual unearned authority. “You’re God.”

“And you are…?” God said. Three words.

Panic surged through the atoms that comprise this thing I call myself. I began to deconstruct. I told myself it didn’t matter. Wholeness is an illusion. I have a vague memory of being stardust, and yes, golden. But the path back to the garden is littered with grotesque distortions, slick with blood and oil.  Far too treacherous to consider. Not humanly possible to traverse. The gates have been shut for a long, long time.

Even so, I suspected that was where God was going. This is exactly the kind of break God would take. A morning stroll in the Garden of the Beginning. Alone. Contemplative. Enduring the solitude of the imagined and the dead.

God seemed unafraid, but I was terrified. Swimming through illusions of myself in an existential whirlpool. Nose barely above the surface, clinging to a singular vision of companionship. Grinding my teeth against the uncharted terrain of not-self, not-ego, not-my-way.

Amazingly, even in such disarray, I remembered my manners. I knew I should wish God safe travels. That’s what friends do. Suck it up and extend a sincere fare-thee-well.

We walked a bit further. I searched for words. “Well, bon voyage, God,” I said, pushing aside the primal scream lodged in my throat, ignoring the bereavement washing over me. “If anyone deserves a nice vacation, it’s you.”

“Well done,” God said, and smiled. For a minute, I hoped maybe it was all a joke. A test. But God continued.

“I’ll send messages in the evening, or deep in your dreams. You’ll be fine. And I won’t be gone that long. Carry on.”

The words lingered in the solitary air. “Carry on,” God had said. “Carry on.”