Cynicisms of a Polymath

Please feel free to respond. I’m passionate on this one, but motivated by benevolence. I want peace as much as my some of my opposition, but I just don’t understand my opposition. 

I’ve been called an Old Soul as long as I remember, even before I was ten years old. People rarely surprise me, which is why I’ve spent the last few days reeling from the election results. That Trump exists and has support was not surprising. That he had enough to win floored me. I was naive.

I can’t let it go and for good reason. I’ve even…gasp…unfriended people on Facebook, to which I’ve been told is completely unproductive and divisive. And so, I wanted to devote a post to why I’m making these decisions.

By now, very few people can deny that Trump has bragged about:

I can go on, but you already know these things. I attached videos of him saying these things, just in case you don’t.

When someone says he or she supported him anyway, what I hear is:

I’m not a racist but…

I’m not a sexist but…

I’m not a bigot but…

…but I support one and want him to lead America.

Since his win, his supporters have finally felt the entitlement due to them. The attacks are mounting, and here are many that have already occurred (http://fusion.net/story/368783/donald-trump-racist-incidents-attacks/). My black friends and family have been attacked and also threatened. They are scared. If I am true to my morals, I stand up for these victims. In all fairness, violent protesters have attacked Trump supporters too. That is equally vile.

Now, some of the Trump supporters who I know are telling me that we should come together, unite under the rule of Donald Trump, be pals. I admit that I was naive, and I know that I’m missing something important, but if I were to unite and be pals I’d be doing a disservice to women, people of all races and colors, people of other religions, gays, differently abled, my own personal morals, and America. I’d be saying, I’m not a racist sexist bigot, but…I’m going to unite to support one.

I don’t get it. I still feel that most people are not sexist racist bigots, but I don’t understand why they would support one. Naive again. I understand the protest vote, and I can find peace with a vote for Stein, Johnson, nobody, write in, or even oneself. I don’t understand voting for a person with a proven record to support the things people are voting against. 

It’s happening, I’m still talking, and everyone wants me to finally just shut up. The subject isn’t cozy. I’m still talking because when things have gone wrong in otherwise good nations, the survivors have told us that we need to keep talking. Don’t let people forget. And besides, I am working through grief and searching for a hidden answer. So, I’m still talking, and for anyone who is listening I’m wearing a safety pin to show minorities that I am on their sides.

 

safety

 

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The Missionary

I’m not a poet. I’ve only recently started reading poetry, and I’ve only written one poem so far. It still needs work. I wrote about a very dear friend. A short version of her story follows. To preserve privacy, I’ve changed names. I attached photos I took while visiting her in Kenya, but the photos are of people who are not involved with the story.

The Missionary: Poem

Frail body homes hollow birdie bones, conquered and malnourished

Schools crumbled, monies squandered, children lost, objectives never flourished.

Now daughter gone and husband’s betrayal, you return an unsmiling shell,

Depressed and weary, wary and done, and doubting that you served God well.

 

We once were so alike, our curly hair and curvy hips, on a mission to save the world of sinking ships.

And then you left, built a school, saved a baby, smiled bravely as your parents pursed their lips.

All the while you called me hero, though myopic eyes expel

I wept from haven far away for you, who served God well.

 

Now returned, fractured heart with cast of wisdom

Of minute oppressors shaking hands for an edge on freedom.

Back to school you work again, with cautious tale to sell

Because intent by one alone is enough to serve God well.

 

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(Above: Here is a crumbled school. She helped the village to build a new one, since every time it rained school had to be canceled.)

The Missionary: Story

Sharon said one long prayer, while silent tears fell to the floor of her stone apartment. The prayer was to hold back the tears when it came time to give up her six year old daughter, Mae. If she ever hoped to get her back someday, she could not look weak today. No tears.

After the prayer, she filled a pot of warm milk and placed it on the stove. They would have tea first and a plantain each. When reaching for the plantains, she remembered that there was only rice and peas for dinner tonight. Perhaps she could convince Sean’s sister and their housekeeper, Trudy, to bring her a piece of fatty pork in exchange for a little beer. Pork could be added to the rice and peas to make pilau.

“Maewati, come here. Your tea is ready.”

A shorty, stocky dark girl came sulking into the room. Her eyes yellowed from HIV, and her tightly braided hair kept it from needing washed more than once a week.

Sharon handed her a mug of scalding milk with a tea bag placed inside. “Drink, and don’t sulk. You don’t want your dad to whip you, do you?” It was cruel, but she had to prepare Mae. She wasn’t going forward into a good world. The tears started to well up again, but Sharon remembered her prayer for strength and placed a plantain before Mae.

How did she ever come to live in this country with this life? Only six years ago, she came here to build schools. To save the world, that is what she thought she was doing. It was funny to even think about it, especially since now she saves money to bribe the police just like the rest of the citizens. The kids who get an education take off to America, never to return. Why would anyone return, when they had food and money and luxuries for working much less?

She came here and found a baby. The baby looked alien. Ten months old and ten pounds, the skin stretched across the bones of that tiny, ugly thing, with large eyes bulging from the sockets. She fought for an explanation and got one. The mother died from AIDs, and the baby, also sick, was considered cursed. The father and grandmother stopped feeding her. When Sharon took over, the baby ate voraciously, vomiting every time. By the age of one, she was instructed by the doctor to hold food back from the baby; she had become too fat in the last few months. At first, Sharon cried every time Mae cried for the bottle, but when the other mothers told her she showed too much emotional weakness to care for a baby, she forced herself to laugh instead. She even sent a video of the fat babe crying for the bottle.

Six years later, and now that Mae was healthier, the dad and grandmother wanted her back. There was a small chance that Sharon would get her once again, and she was prepared to fight for that chance. The agency said that if the natural family cannot attend to the medical needs of the girl, she would be given up. The family couldn’t. She wouldn’t be able to either if she hadn’t received special help from the states. Mae was slow, behind the rest of the kids. She was often sick, became injured easily, couldn’t hear very well, and needed regular medications. That family couldn’t afford it. They won’t, and she’ll suffer. Oh God, my poor baby.

Be strong. Sharon sipped her tea. Mae watched her closely. She had asked some questions a minute ago, but Sharon didn’t remember answering them. Focus, stay focused. You will not get her back, if they think you are weak. Where in the hell is Sean? Please don’t make me do this alone. This is your country, not mine. Please.

“Why do I have to go to that man?” asked Mae.

“He’s your natural dad,” Sharon replied in Kiswahili. She better get Mae used to speaking Swahili again. She’ll be able to talk English all she wants in school, but at home it will be Swahili.

“I thought Sean was my dad.”

“He is. You have two dads. Eat your plantain, or you’ll go hungry until tonight. Now, I won’t have you showing weakness. You need to be strong, okay?” Jesus, please make sure she doesn’t go hungry tonight.

“Yes, Ma.” Mae wrapped her arms around Sharon’s neck, without crying. Sharon recited a memorized poem in her head in order to ignore to divert the tears. She can cry again when she returns. Sean has seen her do it before and will be alright with it. But not now. Now, she has to be strong for her baby.

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(Above: The view from Mae’s home before leaving.)

A Grown-up Pianist

As a kid I was also a polymath. I wanted to do everything, but we had no money. My imagination soared because of lack of money, so I’m not complaining. I remember the other girls dressed their Barbies in fancy clothes, drove them around in the pink Barbie-mobile, and paraded them around Mattel Mansion. When they visited, it took some time to explain how my dirty clothes made the borders for the “bedroom,” and that my plastic and hollow Barbie-like creatures were not naked because I was a nine year old perv, but because the dog ate the original outfit. Luckily, I didn’t get too many visitors.

Although my imagination probably outdid the others, our lack of money held me back in some areas. I wanted to do gymnastics, but always had the classic Generation X parent response, “When you grow up and get a job, you can pay for your own gymnastics classes.” I did try this, I should add, but the gym said that their insurance company wouldn’t cover people my age. I also wanted to take piano lessons, so instead I taught myself to play on a tiny Casio. It didn’t have 88 keys, so when I outplayed the keys I’d just air-play the bits I missed.

When I grew up I found that insurance companies will allow adult students in piano lessons, a slightly less hazardous activity than gymnastics. Buying a keyboard and taking lessons was a divorce present to myself.

I attended my first recital at the age of 34. The room filled with people dressed in nice clothing, and some of the parents asked me which kid was mine. I’d shove a chocolate chip cookie into my mouth so I wouldn’t have to reply. Then, the first musician entered the stage…a four year old. She plucked Mary Had a Little Lamb quite gracefully. Next, a five year old played Chopin. Then, a bunch of other six and seven year olds happily banging the keys to some well-known Mozart or Beethoven tune.

Then, I went up and tried desperately not to notice the murmur of the audience. I started playing, but then my legs shook. They shook so hard I could barely keep them on the pedals. Then my hands started shaking too. Before I knew it my whole body was shaking and I couldn’t wait for the song to end. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one. I skipped the repeat, bowed quickly and ran off stage trying not to laugh. Afterward, a few moms approached me and talked to me quite slowly and with small words. I realized that they thought I was differently abled, and I laughed some more as I left with a handful of cookies and apple juice.

I’ve done several recitals since then, and the parents have gotten to know me. Their five year old Chopin players come up to me afterward and say, “You sounded good. I didn’t even notice your mistakes.” I hadn’t told them I made any.

The best part about becoming a grown-up pianist is learning to laugh at myself. I’ve never been good at that, and I find it liberating. So, as I prepare for next week’s first solo recital, I’m posting a photo of me laughing at myself. Wish me luck. Cheers!

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How an Anteater Ate a Baby and Saved My Life

My first marriage began at the age of 21 and ended at the age of 32. It had come as such a shocking end that I was still providing marital advice to all of my divorcee friends the day it ended. It ended while eating spaghetti as my first husband admitted to a year-long affair with my best friend and the decision to run off with her.

I went through the typical misery of depression. I ended up in Rehab to find new coping mechanisms. The problem with alcohol is that it’s a very good one…too good. It left me with no coping mechanisms, so I jumped out of an airplane. Then, I did it eight more times.

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Above: I’m getting ready for my first jump. Just look at the misery on my face 🙂

I tried one-night stands and slept with all sorts of men whose names I didn’t remember.

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Above: Even penguins remember their partners. It wasn’t a proud moment of my life.

I tried manual labor. I replaced the carpet in my entire house with wood laminate and built wooden stairs outside by cutting eight 4x4s into 32 pieces with a dull handsaw.

Nothing worked, so I went to Peru to meet a shaman.

In the Amazon, I met Onorato, a shaman who lived in a village with about ten other people. An aged man in a short, wiry, boyish body, the years of shamanic wisdom hid between the wrinkles of his lively eyes. Wearing a plain, fitted white undershirt and faded jeans, he watched me earlier this afternoon, amused, as I chewed a leaf they used as a local anesthesia. I drooled leaf juice down my chin and onto my shirt, while he spoke about its uses in village dentistry, pausing at intervals for his translator.

Onoroto.jpg

My guide, Carlotta, led me to the middle of a large wall-less hut in the center of the village. The bluish light of the flashlight glimmered off of her long, dark, tangled curls. She gestured toward a dirty bucket and a roll of toilet paper next to a flat, stained mattress, and then pantomimed vomiting. “You use when you need. It is normally, Michelle.”

The buzzes and rustles of the nocturnal animals replaced the caws and hollers of the daytime. It was 9pm exactly, according to the shaman, who wore no watches or clocks. He and his intern formed faceless silhouettes underneath the one lit candle in the village.

Onorotto brought the candle to his face, illuminating something darker than the amusement he presented hours before. My focus turned to a two liter Coke bottle filled with a dirty liquid, the beverage that would supposedly change my life. He swirled it, then blew heavy pipe smoke into the container. His face lifted upward, he sang something brief, then gestured for me to come to him.

“He says you drink all,” said Carlotta, instructing me by drinking deeply from an invisible glass.

With a bitterness of an orange peel and the flavor of green leaves, it slugged down my throat thick as watered-down mud. I joined Carlotta back on the old mattress and wrapped myself in a tattered plaid blanket, though the night felt warm. Onorotto drank directly from the same bottle and extinguished the candle, leaving a dancing ghost of smoke in its absence. “Limpia, limpia, limpia,” he chanted in his clear, deep voice toward the sky. Clean, clean, clean.

“You now have 20 to 40 minutes. Then, you feel…”Carlotta noiselessly pantomimed vomiting again, “It is normally. You don’t worry. It is normally. The visions begin then.”

According to the accounts I’d read, a full glass preceded extreme experiences. One guy claimed absolute horror as gigantic lizard people chased him. A woman from National Geographic screamed so loudly during her first experience that the other members never forgave her. A friend of a friend of mine said that he enjoyed flowers with pirates and later made music to his own farts. Interviews and documentaries detailed intense visions of demons and gods, a spiritual journey through one’s worse terror in order for the spirits to guide him or her to personal triumph and euphoria. For the last month, I wondered what I would see.

I also wore no watch, but I suspected that it had been more than an hour since Onorotto began, and I felt bored and a little tipsy. No goblins emerged from beyond the hut, and at that point I wished they would. Might it not work?

Onorotto refilled the cup, and I drank again. In none of my research did the initiate drink a second glass. Another hour went by, then two. In the articles, it always worked. The stories shown vividly with color and spark. What was wrong with me? 

I cried a bit, then gave up. Resting on the mattress, I closed my eyes and feigned sleep, hoping the shaman would eventually halt his begging of the foreign gods to save my stubborn soul. Near my face, I could hear a tarantula scuttling loudly across my mattress. Then, I saw a flower flash in my vision like a purple-leaf and green-vined cartoon bathed in bluish clouds. A vision! It disappeared before it took meaning. Then, a vivid rat scurried behind my closed eyes in my brain’s feeble attempt to accept the hallucinogenic liquid. It didn’t sustain. Carlotta guided me back to the hut where she instantly fell asleep and I stayed awake.

After tucking my mosquito nets around the mattress, I continued with my predicament. How do I proceed with life? I am more alone now than I was before I came here. I should never have believed in…well, anything.

A baby cried in the neighboring hut, interrupting my thoughts. Starting as a whimper, the cries intensified slowly. After about ten minutes, she bawled loud and congested and sounding somehow closer than the hut.

She sounds sick. Why doesn’t anyone attend to her? I should do something. A parent or sibling should come to the rescue. Nobody helped the baby, and nor did I.

Will I be a mother someday? Perhaps it is too late. I’m nearing my mid-thirties. Will I even marry again someday? Do I even want to?

An anteater snorted loudly next to my bed, but I couldn’t find him anywhere in the hut. Are anteaters dangerous?

The baby continued crying more loudly, more congested, until her whimpers and the anteater’s hungry snorts became indistinguishable.

I can’t help the baby!

I covered myself with the blanket and distracted myself with the real problem at hand. Will I live alone, an adventure writer like the women in the travel essays books, having affairs with Bedouin strangers and surviving on fried guinea pigs? Perhaps my destiny is as a lone adventurer.

The merger of baby and anteater demanded my attention, savage and aggressively. As an EMT, I should help the baby, but I would not move. I couldn’t. Why? It was outside of the blankets. Is the anteater eating the baby? Where are the baby’s parents, and why aren’t they doing anything? Somebody do something! It isn’t my baby. I held the blanket tighter, fearful of what might happen next.

I strained my attention away from the animals. Will I be a wild grey-haired woman with 20 cats, an overgrown yard, and neighborhood kids daring one another to touch my door? I could do that. I could be an eccentric. Perhaps I’ll have a laboratory. I never did like mowing.

The sobs and snorts separated again. The anteater rooted near enough to eat me, and still, nobody tended the baby. I knew she might die soon while I lay on the mattress, hiding beneath the blanket from the oppressive sounds. All I have to do is get up, but I am too scared.

I shouted internally, “Someone answer me! I’m here for answers. Why don’t I get them like everyone else? Where are the spirits? Something should have happened. What is wrong with me? Help me, please.”

No heartbeat. No baby. No anteater. No internal videos. No answer. Silence. Complete silence since the first time I entered the jungle.

A new image emerged like a smoldering campfire on a cool, foggy night. The affair in my marriage had been a familiar treachery. I’ve hidden beneath blankets before, waiting for the pain to disappear and sleep to provide escape, but then as a taciturn and friendless child. Desolate and contused, I encountered monsters in my youth. Sometimes, the racing footsteps found me, quavering beneath the blankets, and I reaped my punishment. Often, though, the footsteps were only my heart beating, living a cynical life in its worse circumstances. Regardless, I always crawled out of the covers the next morning. I learned how to earn friends, I put myself through college, worked fast food, sacrificed comfort to buy a home, built a career, and fought terror. I’m no coward. I’m 33, and I know that the demons hide under the blankets with me.

I walked alone into the Amazon, and two days from now, I would walk out of it alone too. Finally, the silence comforted me. Carlotta breathed deeply beside me. She had slept the entire time, undisturbed by the raucous altercation.

It was the first time I could see my future, and it didn’t matter what I decided to do. It was euphoric, probably because I had taken a hallucinogenic drug, but also because I felt alive more than I had ever felt before.

I am now 37 and I realize that the anteater had to eat the baby in order to save me. Since then I’ve been living like I’ve never lived before.

machupicchu

 

Firehouse Dinners

A firefighting crew is a family. My co-workers are brothers and sisters, and like my biological siblings I berate them, ridicule them and fight them for the TV remote. My lieutenants are like parents. They preach safety and morals, then return home to drink excessively while operating heavy machinery.

Like any proper home life, the fire family sits together at the dinner table to discuss their day. A typical non-fire family dinner discussion might go like this:

DAD: Johnny, how was school today?

JOHNNY: It was spiftacular, sir. I got an A in the maths and was chosen as captain of the baseball team.

MOM: Oh gee, isn’t our Johnny special?

The ladies and gents of the fire service like to think we are a proper family too, and so we tend to discuss our day at the dinner table. It usually goes like this:

FIRE BOB: You won’t believe what I went on today. This guy has some disease called jlsejiijtlks, and there was vomit everywhere. It smelled like feces and peppermint.

(Below: Detailed description of Fire Bob’s call)

1a

MEDIC ANNIE: Wow, Fire Bob, that sounds gnarly, but that was nothing. I had a patient today who shat his pants three days ago and left a three-day trail all over his apartment.

(Below: Detailed description of Medic Annie’s patient)

1b

Eventually, all of the firefighters and medics try to outdo each other with their best stories of brains splattered on pavement, along with a description that resembles the evening meal. We do want to be a proper family, after all. Studies show that bonding occurs with dinnertime discussion.

The problem occurs when, say, a firegal like me goes out to dinner with friends who are accountants and school teachers. Dinnertime discussion tends to go more like this:

TEACHER SUE: You will never believe my day. Sally May ate a half-container of Elmer’s glue, and Billy John threw a book at the fish tank. Honestly, children these days are so unruly.

ACCOUNTANT TIM: Oh, I know just what you mean. Mr. Edmonds, my biggest client, dumped half of his stocks into a very poor investment. Doesn’t he understand there’s a recession looming?

FIREGAL MICHELLE: Bad Ass! Like you, my day was totally un-rad. I had a patient with his femur sticking out the side of his leg. You’ve never seen a man cry until you see one with a femur pushin’ through his thigh. Bloody bone marrow leaked down the pavement into the storm drain. We had to call public works to prevent the fish from…Are you going to eat that chicken?

TEACHER SUE: …

ACCOUNTANT TIM: Um…

FIREGAL MICHELLE: (licking fingers) Well, you know. He’ll live and all.

TEACHER SUE: Well, that’s…

ACCOUNTANT TIM: …I’m glad he’ll be okay.

FIREGAL MICHELLE: So, uh Sally May…Elmer’s, right? I ate glue as a kid too.