The Chickens and the Half-wild Heart

A group of chickens in the shade of a tree It’s been a few short months since the half-wild years ended. For two years Annie, Niamh, our dog Gunnar and I lived in the Scappoose/St. Helens area, a rural cluster of towns an hour’s drive out of Portland. We moved there to live on land; we moved there to raise a daughter away from the stress and grime and danger of the city; we moved there to raise animals and grow food; we moved there to know deep peace and let our souls drink deep of the song of stars and trees and hawks and dragonflies.

And after two years at two farms, we’re back in the city, having traded a field for a yard, a wild space for a domesticated grid. We didn’t make this decision lightly, and we made it for positive, proactive reasons: to finish school, both of us, and to partner with relatives in caring for Niamh. This is a step forward, not a retreat. But we did leave the wild place, which upon our departure Annie named the Big Green. It wasn’t that wild, honestly. We were just off the highway, and the second farm was bounded by a row of housing developments. But it was wild enough, wild enough to be alive, to speak to us, to breathe its breath through us, to make us feel that we were living on planet earth and sharing that life with other furred, feathered and leafy neighbors.

Continue reading The Chickens and the Half-wild Heart

Body

I am carrying my body
Or maybe it carries me
A vessel of muscle and respiration
Of heartbeat and headache

Lifting me

From a place of relative peace
Into that river of fear and happiness
And sensation and tension and annoyance and excitement

That I call
“My day.”

It lifts me, and I drag it
Wheezing and protesting
Toward duties and desires
Straining toward outcomes.

Continue reading Body

An outcry for the new year

In every cup of joy
a drop of heartache

A tang
Continually reminding
of the poison in the well.

In every breath of life
the wheeze of death

A rattle
Marking the slow march
of every endeavor into decay.

In every heartbeat of courage
the skip of fear

A moment
Of sheer terror
that the talons will close.

Continue reading An outcry for the new year

Finding Burdick

So we’re playing our final session of Apocalypse World. At least we think it’ll be the last. We’ve all agreed that we’ll either end the game tonight or next session, depending on how things go. And I’m feeling the pressure.

See, I’ve become intensely invested in Burdick’s future. Burdick is my character, a Savvyhead with a greenhouse trying to get the earth to yield a bounty like she used to, rather than the weak, halfhearted crops she produces now. Burdick’s had her hurdles, including clashes with her Hocus brother, Always, who leads his people in a fire and brimstone, will of the gods manner, with ecstatic visions and draconian pronouncements.

Now Always is gone, disillusioned with his leadership and living alone in the woods somewhere. Burdick’s got the Battlebabe Kickskirt at her side, and a gaggle of scared people looking to her for fresh leadership. And the warlord Barbecue has moved in, threatening our territory and our way of life.

Continue reading Finding Burdick

The World Behind

Poetry time! A reflection on our recent move, from a wild farm to a tamer one a few miles away.

I’ve left a world behind me

Like so many before

But this one

Was a world my heart loved

A world

That shone joy onto my face

That breathed peace into my lungs.

Continue reading The World Behind

Commodore Dreams

When I was young my brothers and I had a Commodore 64 Personal Computer. We all three of us sat enthralled for many hours by the vast trove of video games available for the machine, but I wanted more. I wanted to create. I wanted to get under the hood of this 64K, 16 color processor that could display 8 sprites—8! onscreen at any given time. I wanted to unlock its secrets and make games myself.

I had no teacher. I didn’t know any computer programmers, and there was no school curriculum for it. All I had to guide me was my Commodore 64 User Manual and my own determination. I started writing simple programs in BASIC, gradually increasing the complexity until I could build something that almost resembled a playable computer game.

But there was always an obstacle. The documentation was spotty; there were several BASIC commands in the manual that simply did not work when I input them as shown. I checked out books from the library, but they were unclear on some key concepts; I could input a mass of command lines and they would function as the book described, but I couldn’t pluck out the principle behind them that would enable me to use the techniques myself, spontaneously.

Continue reading Commodore Dreams

Solidarity on the Brooklyn Bridge

I’m sitting in my farmhouse home in Warren, Oregon, and watching live feed of the Occupy Wall Street protesters facing off against police on the Brooklyn Bridge. They’re crammed onto the bridge shoulder to shoulder, calling out slogans and standing peacefully, and the police are arresting them…one by one. One by one they’re cuffing the protesters and walking them over to a paddy wagon. Someone is filming all this from above, and I can see it all clearly. There’s no struggle, just an endless parade of quiet, unresisting arrests, while the crowd chants “Let us move!” and “We’re fighting for your pensions!”

The citizen media crew call out to each detainee, Hey you, guy being arrested, what’s your name?” Some respond, some don’t, some can be heard clearly, some can’t.  A man named Michael Burton takes his arrest calmly, his eyes seeming to meet mine as the camera zooms in, radiating quiet determination and strength. A young woman wearing an Invader Zim “GIR” hat, just a teenager by the look of her, is arrested, and someone shouts “How old is she, officer?” and “Oh, sure, arrest a child; see how THAT goes!”

Continue reading Solidarity on the Brooklyn Bridge

Vulnerable places

I talk a lot about raw, emotionally vulnerable play on this blog, and whenever I have a roleplaying experience that scratches that itch, I gush about it here. But I haven’t very thoroughly explored the issue of how to achieve a safe space for that kind of vulnerability. I’d like to examine a recent case to see what comes to light.

I’m preparing to play in an Apocalypse World campaign. I, along with Hans, my friend and MC, have been looking forward to it  with relish. We both feel that we’ve had fun with past AW games, but never really gotten at the emotional core of apocalypse world play. for my part, following my initial, very moving experience over a year ago, I’ve had a string of one-shots that were mostly just fun, casual and diverting, without a lot of emotional investment in the characters. not to knock fun, casual and diverting, but for this game, Hans and I wanted something deeper. When I hit up my friends to play, I emphasized this in an email:

“[We’re] looking for a game that really emphasizes the humanity and desperation of the post-apocalypse, with folks who are prepared to go to some emotionally vulnerable places and aren’t afraid to have their buttons pushed. “I will Not Abandon You” play, as it were. If you’re down for that, you’re welcome to play with us!

Continue reading Vulnerable places

The Superstar Connection

This one’s extremely personal, folks.

For Holy Week (the week in the Christian cycle leading up to Easter Sunday), I posted songs from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar on Facebook, one video a day. It started as a whim, but it quickly became a kind of religious practice.

I first saw Superstar about 5 years ago, a local production in which a dear friend played Mary Magdalene. I was moved, in an indescribable way. I  engaged with all my body and soul with the messy, human struggle between Jesus, Judas and Pharisees.  By the end I was bawling like a baby. After the show, the actor playing Jesus found me and hugged me. I didn’t know what it “meant”, but I knew I’d been given a gift, and I felt utterly grateful to Molly, my friend, and her fellow players.

Every now and then I listen to the soundtrack, or play the 1973 film version. I mainly do it to remember the sense memory of that night with Molly and crew, which will always be the “real” Superstar for me.

This time, though, I resolved to pay closer attention to what Superstar was saying to me. Just like past times when “Reading the Signs” has been enlightening, I learned something vital about myself.

The message that Superstar screamed at me through all the songs I posted: human connection is tragically, excruciatingly hard. Our broken, separate-ness sometimes alienates us in spite of every intention to connect, to trust, to love.

Continue reading The Superstar Connection

Enemies

I’m going to get all mystical on you for a minute: I talk to Yeshua sometimes.

It usually happens when my hippie punk-rock faith community has a communion service—I take my wine-soaked hunk of bread, find an out of the way corner, close my eyes, and visualize entering a room to sit and sup at his side. This may sound strange, but I hope it’ll be relevant to human experience whether you believe in talking to Yeshua or not.

Mostly I talk and Yeshua listens. That’s because I try not to put words into his mouth, or simply imagine him quoting a convenient scripture. If I’m going to hear a message in words from Yeshua, it’s important to me that it be his words and not my projection. So, because I’ve still got a lot of mental clutter that interferes with my listening, the conversations are pretty one-sided, and I’m OK with that. Usually I feel Yeshua’s responses to my venting or questions in nonverbal ways, like a loving look, or a physical embrace.

But a few weeks ago I DID hear him, quite distinctly. I had, as usual, laid a problem at his feet: “I feel such a strong urge to fight battles. I want to stand against oppression and injustice, but mostly I just end up hurting those I love. Surely there must be a place for my warrior’s heart?”

Continue reading Enemies