Fear and Barbed Wire: Who Do You Want to Be?
Life As Asana (Part Six).
Kate and Geertje are yogis, writers and friends on different continents. They correspond and talk about life as if it were a Yoga pose — requiring flexibility and strength, discipline and surrender, regular check-ins with reality, humor and kindness.
Dear American friend,
Blue skies calling! I’ve been wanting to write to you for weeks, yet everything I write today is obliterated by events later that same day. Kind of like inhaling deeply to say something meaningful, only to deflate mid-sentence. But I have a hunch this could be our new normal, so time to plant the proverbial pen firmly on paper.
Remember our plans to visit you and your United States over Christmas, and how we got so turned off by the idea of traveling into your post-election lands that we resorted to Vietnam? On Facebook, you replied Oh what a bummer and Are we sure we want to miss the crumbling of the empire? Well, I can tell you, we are not missing one single brick of sanity collapsing here over in Europe.
In fact, we quickly jumped to putting the Netherlands on Trump’s radar. And although we worry like hell, I shouldn’t talk about We because we have our own brand of Trump leading in the polls for our own election in March. Plus, some organizations are warning our government that our election electronics are very easy to hack.
Good to know in case you were saving up to catch a steamer to the continent to escape the crazy.
In my country’s defense, I must say that we kicked back too, however small we are. The Dutch government immediately started an international safe abortion fund after your ginger man signed the gag rule thing, and yesterday we became one of the first European countries to refuse to cooperate to extra-creepy-scan passengers traveling to the U.S.
Given that we are, like, utterly dependent on basically every other country in the world, I thought that was ballsy. In fact, I might be the last person in Holland who actually thinks the majority of our politicians are good people doing the best they can.
So in between swinging from fear to hope and back, I am doing what I’m pretty sure you are doing too: trying to figure out what the eff to do about it all. It’s not a very clear plan. It flows like fever waves. I do know I write like crazy. Every inch of stage I have I use. Imperfectly probably, but to my best ability.
In my downtime, my staring-out-of-the-window, driving, drooling time, I have one question roaming my insides, shout-planted there by Lidia Yuknavitch: Who do I want to be now?
I do writing practice on it, and sometimes I come up with poetic shit like:
I want to be the one who trusts what’s happening, whatever bleeding, the one who doesn’t need to understand things in order to be safe. I want to be the one who’s wholeheartedly willing to spill and smudge my certainties until they color shit-brown like Earth itself. I want to be blissfully out of control, except for the moments when intervention is wise, or natural, or needed, or all of these, like the Dao, following the Duh in my heart. I want to be the one who takes simple, clear actions, with no barbed wire attached.
And then I get distracted.
I start thinking of barbed wire, because I read something about it recently. It was quite fascinating. Did you know a woman caused barbed wire? She wanted to keep cows out of her garden back in the late nineteen hundreds in your great country, so her husband came up with the two metal strings wrapped around each other with periodical spikes fending out the beings of the Earth. It became an overnight hit.
In fact, I think there’s not a human alive who hasn’t rendezvoused with a rusty old piece of it. Have you?
Despite that fact, I never gave it much thought until now. I guess I’ve accepted barbed wire as a natural piece of existence. Until now, when I saw barbed wire in a list with the 10 things that have shaped the way our planet looks, along with the wheel and chemical fertilizers.
You see, where that Great American Divider is now, there used to be hedges. Stacks of wood and shit like that that oozed with life of all kinds — birds, insects, mammals. They became naked and unsheltered in one swoop, but I guess not quite homeless because unlike us, our fellow animals know that the entire world is their home.
Wikipedia says barbed wire became so rapidly successful — and stayed successful — because “it is simple to construct and quick to erect, even by an unskilled person.”
Now isn’t that interesting?
Ever since I read that, barbed wire became part of who I want to be. The next day, my poetic self shows up again in writing practice. Shaken, but not lost, is who I want to be. I want to be the scissor-handed cut-cut-cutting of the barbed wires around my mind, freeing my world of the cheap idea that I am right (and therefore, They are wrong). Post-factual is who I want to be, and I thank Trump for setting me free.
Thank you for offering me the very tool I needed, but couldn’t find for the longest time. You’ve liberated me of the myth of an absolute reality. Your fake news rings true; there was never anything True and Safe outside of me to lean on anyway. Too long have I trusted a reality not even my own.
You have undone the slumber, stung me awake with the spikes of your barbed wired worlds, not yet piercing the skin on my upper legs and belly to bleed. You leave me standing, mouth open and hands palm-up with my religion of Facts crumbling in between my fingers.
In fact, I expect to soon be empty-handed, which is just another brand of Free. With no obligation or weight to employ, they will plant back my own reality. Hedges might grow only 10 centimeters per year, but they hold something that always prevails over man-made metal; they’ll hold life itself. Humming and crawling. Buzzing and flying.
So inside those moments, that’s who I want to be, darling. Post-barbed-wire, post-factual, post-reality. Also known as a woman who is free — the most breathtaking, also known as the most awe-inspiring thing in the world. Outside of them, CNN-watching, comments-reading, grocery-shopping vulgar me is definitely less free. But at least the question got planted.
Now tell me, because I am dying to know: Who do you want to be?
Dearest Dutchest One,
I woke up the other morning thinking I needed to get a gun. I don’t think this was my own thought. I think it was implanted by an invisible drone or some other-dimension-dwelling entity who gets off on terrorizing innocent Americans while they sleep by dosing them with fear-stimulating ear-worms.
Oh, by the way, my earlier reference to myself as an innocent American was an oxymoron. Americans are morons. I’m a moron. Was a moron. I may still be part-moron. Look, the mind is moronic. When you are born and bred in a culture that values money above all else, you become programmed to value money above all else. If you don’t have money, you’re full of fear. If you do have money, you are full of fear.
I will die because I don’t have enough money, says the poor mind. I will die because I don’t have enough money, says the rich mind. I know many of these minds.
I’m obviously being extreme, but extreme is the new mellow, and I’m not even sure we know what the new extreme is over here in the land of spoiled milk and rancid honey. Perhaps it defies language, and is an expression of screams, blood, bullets, explosions, and toxic waste oozing from every arrogant orifice. Obviously I’m being dramatic, but dramatic is the new rational, and the new dramatic is likely WW3.
a stupid person. synonyms: fool, idiot, ass, american, blockhead, dunce, dolt, ignoramus, imbecile, cretin, dullard, simpleton, clod
I took liberty with that definition and added “american”, and I didn’t capitalize. Does that make me a communist? Obviously, we’re not all morons, but our country has gone the way of the moron, so if the shoe fits…
My teacher Jumana referred to our USA as a “Spiritually and shamanically orphaned culture.” Maybe I’m not a communist, I’m an orphan. Not only am I orphaned in the traditional, ‘ain’t got no ma ain’t got no pa’ way, but also, my country ‘ain’t got no god’. Except for the fake one who wants to destroy us. We’re all Annie, and #45 is Miss Hannigan.
It’s morning now. I wrote the above last night after working for 12 hours in a hospital overstocked with certifiable crazies looking for pharmaceutical relief. I suspect my tone will change. I’ve been carrying your letter around since I received it. I printed it out and folded it into my planner. I wanted to take my time with your words.
So many moments since then, I’ve responded in my head to your mind hidden in the pages of my days. Thank you for your letter, and for your patience with my response. I have too many things to tell you. I want to spit them out as they occur, and let them find their rightful place on this glowing white canvas — words which admit without apology that chaos is the natural order of things.
After #45 got elected, we the people spent two months in the liminal space. Still safe in our cocoon of disbelief and comfort. Then on January 20th, we slipped into the strangest space. I think it’s true to say some of us are still in shock. The protective skin has been peeled off our collective American ugly, and many of us still refuse to claim it.
Reality has reshaped itself into a reality likely more real than one we just left. It’s almost impossible to tell what’s what and who’s who. I get thrown out of my sweet nest of certainty on a daily basis.
Here are but a few examples of how reality showed up to shake me awake: There was my Middle-Eastern patient and his boyfriend who told me I should give #45 a chance, that they liked him. I stood there in my scrubs not sure if they understood the irony I was currently soaking in.
My patient said, “Give him a chance!” I responded, “Really? How long do you suggest we should give him to destroy our democracy?” He and his lover were both very clear, “Six months!” This led me to think they were repeating what the media had been telling them, or they were in cahoots with some terrorist organization that needed six more months to sufficiently bring down the USA.
Oh, and just before this, I had been in another patient’s room listening to her father tell the story of his mother’s escape from the Nazis.
The rest of her family was sent to the camps. They were German Jews, but had escaped to Gouda in Holland. He told his story with a Dutch accent, by the way. His mother still lives in Holland. She escaped through the back door when the Nazis came to take her family away. She lived in a barn, getting her meals from a kind farmer who eventually introduced her to a wealthy Dutch family who adopted her.
Those two experiences happened in the span of two hours, but they colored my perception forever. Literally right across the hall from each other, alternate realities playing themselves out for my consideration.
Also, one of my most intelligent, liberal, free-spirited friends sent me a text the other day, “By the way, I voted for him, so that may blow your mind and enrage you, just letting you know.” When I asked her why she voted for him, she sent me this picture with the words, “This explains my view of current politics. It’s all in perception.”
Meanwhile, nothing has actually changed in my world, except my thoughts about my world. Apocalypse literally means uncovering. And this seems an accurate way to describe what’s happening here, and it seems too, over there. It’s comforting that there are always heroes to stand up to the villains.
I don’t know what I used to think about our government. I didn’t think a lot about it. I think that’s a perk of a democratic society, but look at us now.
I too ride waves of peace and fear. Fear feels like being electrocuted. It’s so sudden.
One moment I’m riding the current of well-being while hanging an antibiotic for a patient, and the next, I’m accidentally glancing at his muted TV (it’s become a request when I enter a patient’s room and they’re getting hopped up on the free-range all-you-can-eat fear being served up by the media.) and I see the words “T*@*p threatens Iran” or “Devos confirmed!” and I feel a cold buzz begin which quickly explodes into a roaring blizzard, blowing me off the ground and into so many disaster scenarios.
Fear and barbed wire have much in common. “It is simple to construct and quick to erect, even by an unskilled person.”
Peace comes when I remember my breath and my feet and the 10,000 reasons why I want to stay right here in this horrible nightmare that more often than not reveals to me a startling beauty that’s been hiding under my own monkey mind. A mind that spins fake news and thinks it knows and relentlessly searches for safety.
There is no denying that we have moved into a new epoch, or perhaps we are at the end of one. How are epochs measured? I suppose it depends on the perspective from which one is looking, huh? #45 could be the beginning of the end, or simply the end of a beginning leading us into another beginning. All of those, it seems. Depending on perspective, huh?
Which brings me to your question: Who do I want to be?
I want to be chaos fleshed out in grace and clarity, dripping with heartbreak and joy and wonder and anger and all of everything that makes up creation. I want to not be undone by fear-mongers, especially the ones who live inside. I want to take fear and grind it into the red-hot core at the center of the earth, and turn it into unexpected beauty and major miracles. I want to be a truth-monger, a peace-monger.
I want to be a woman who continues under all circumstances on her voyage of direct revelation. I want to take you and everyone else with me.
Thanks for asking.
So, what actions are we — you and me — taking to be glorious fleshed-out alchemical she(s) ?
Reading anything Kate wrote is great. And no, this is not her writing her own bio in third person, it’s me talking, Geertje. Kate says she has biography anxiety. I think it’s cool of her to refuse to be distilled into a tiny bio-box. It won’t work anyway, not with a woman-writer-phenomenon like Kate. Writing a bio about her is like fingers pointing at the moon, to make it sound Zen. Like the song goes, to know, know, know her is to love, love, love her (and I do) and you will too once you dip into her magical world.
Writing Geertje’s bio is a fool’s game, but way more relaxing than writing my own, because, who am I? Well, I’m pretty sure I’m a fool, so here goes. Geertje is sugar dipped in flames, fierce-hearted sage draped in ginger-scented supermodel flesh. A mirror that is angled just right, reflecting sparkly disco-ball light. Read more from her zany and just sharpened shank mind here.