Saturday, December 31, 2011

Walking in Prickly Beauty

Once again I am at the Old Mermaids Sanctuary. It is named something else by other people, but that's what we call it. It is here where I first learned about the Old Mermaids when they came up out of the wash and told me their stories.

We've been here for nearly two weeks. It's been blue skies most of the time, and yesterday, it finally got warm. We take long walks in the desert; we take short walks in the wash. In the evening, coyotes serenade us. (OK, they're probably serenading each other, but you get the idea.)

At dusk, we often see javelinas. One night when I was taking out the trash (down the long dirt drive to the road) a javelina followed me. She was either looking for love in all the wrong places or she wanted my garbage.

You pick.

I've also seen two road runners, once at the Catholic church near here where Mario and I went to walk the labyrinth. The second time was when I was in the wash. The one at the church seemed a bit thin and too interested in us. The one in the wash took one look at me, raised her tail, and sauntered away.

I believe that was the healthier response.

And of course, the Sanctuary is filled with rabbits and birds and cacti and my beloved agave, and mesquite and palo verde trees.

In the mornings, Mario goes out and writes in the Quail House. When he's finished he returns to the casita. I feed him breakfast. Then I go out to the Quail House and work. When I'm finished, he feeds me lunch. Then we go for a walk.

It is an idyllic life in many ways, these weeks we're here.

The first day I wrote here, on Solstice, I wrote a Old Mermaids Healing Tale. The second day, I wrote 10,000 words on a novel to finish it.

On Christmas, we drove to Scottsdale to be with two of my sisters and their significant others and my father and my aunt Alice. We had a good time, but I was wired the whole day and didn't relax, as is often the case when I see my family for the first time on a visit. Once when I went home to Michigan, I lay curled up in a fetal position for two days. I have no idea why. My family members are good people. We each have our own difficulties, like most people, although we rarely talk about them with each other. There is a tacit agreement, as there is in many families, to keep it light when we're together.

I've never been a keepin' it light kind of person. When I was younger, I always wanted to talk about things, get them out in the open, solve problems. But I've gotten over that. Spilling your guts at a family gathering never does anyone any good as far as I can tell. So mostly I just try to get along and still be myself when I'm with family. I want them all to be healthy and happy, and since I was a kid, I felt responsible for their health and happiness.

I'm not certain if I was born that way or if I was created that way. I remember when it started. It was in first or second grade and one of my teachers took me aside and told me that the other kids looked up to me. I was a natural leader. And if I was nice to Billy (the kid who pooped his pants in class, who always stunk, and who lived with the other poor people in Saxony subdivision), everyone else would follow my lead.

Now I was a naturally shy kid, so I'm not sure if anyone was looking to me for anything, but I listened to my teacher and I was kind to Billy. In fact, I became the little kid (because I was quite small) who was always standing toe to toe with the bullies trying to protect other kids, most especially one of my little sisters who was always getting picked on.

And I was the one who noticed things were wrong long before anyone else did and I'd try to get help. Tried to get help for my pony who was sick (she died). Tried to get help for one of my sisters who was starving herself. Tried to save the killdeer on school property that the boys were always trying to kill.

I was always trying to fix or save something or someone.

In any case, Christmas was wonderful this year and it was difficult. On the way home, in the dark, I heard Judy Garland singing, "Have yourself a very merry Christmas," on the radio, and suddenly I was remembering being a kid singing, "yesterday," while I was on a swing, wishing my life was easier and I was happier. I was about ten years old! As I sat in the car next to Mario, I looked back at my life and I couldn't find one memory where I was happy. I was always so sad. And that realization made me sad. My whole life was just one big pile of unhappiness. Every memory I had was rife with illness and sadness.

When we got back to Tucson and the Sanctuary, I couldn't sleep. My mind raced. I could not turn it off or down. I kept thinking about the day. I should have said this to so and so. I should have said that to so and so. I should have made a better effort. I should have tried to have a conversation with so and so.

Oh. My. Gawd.

I knew it was ridiculous, but I couldn't shut it off.

I got a few hours of sleep and woke up miserable. And I still had a stupid cough from the flu I'd had two weeks earlier. I felt sick and depressed.

I looked at the photos I'd taken Christmas day. As we were leaving Scottsdale, Mario and I had stopped at the Franciscan Renewal Center to walk the labyrinth there. Mario had taken some photos of me. In one I'm on a swing and I'm smiling.

It was the first photo I had seen of myself in probably twenty years where I thought I looked like myself. Where I looked as though I was full of myself--which has always been my goal. I looked at the photo and thought, "Well, I don't look sad there. I look happy. I must be happy." I realized I had been catastrophizing my life, something I was prone to do and something many people with chronic depression and anxiety do. It's all or nothing. I was always sad or I was always happy. It was always bad or it was always good.

For me, it was always bad. And even though I knew it wasn't always bad, since I was often depressed, sad, and/or anxious, it all seemed bad.

I thought about this year. It was a difficult year for me. I felt like I was slip-sliding backwards. I was sick or depressed or anxious the whole year.

At least that's what I thought.

I knew it had been a bad year for many many people. Friends of mine had lost family members. So many other people had lost homes and jobs and life savings. We'd all witnessed the horror of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

I'd finished school but at the end of it, I couldn't find a job. Any jobs in my field were shit jobs. The pay was awful, the hours were awful, and most of jobs were in hovels. I refuse to work for the good of society by having a shit job in a shit building. So that sent me into paroxysms of guilt. I'd just spent a very stressful year going to school. I'd spent our money, plus I'd gotten a loan from one family member and another family member had gifted me with money so that I could go. What had I done? Mario said it would come to something. It would have some meaning and value in our lives eventually.

But I didn't want to end up in the poor house or in the streets, panhandling. (Granted, we don't have poor houses any more.) Ever since I had gotten ill and had to quit my regular day job, I had tried to figure out a way to make a living in this ol' world. I had to do SOMETHING to be of value.

It had been a tough year in other ways, too. But I don't want to list all the crappy things that happened. Then I would have to remember them and relive them. Let's just say the whole year seemed like I was just dragging one foot forward and then jumping two steps back.

But as school ended, I realized two things. One, I realized again (again, again) that I am a storyteller and that's what I'm good at and it's what I want to do. Two, connection with Nature, particularly with plants, was where it was at for me. (Not in a botanical way, per se, but in that 'let's talk to the plants and get groovy' kind of way.)

Mario and I had launched Green Snake Publishing in the fall of 2010. We started out slow, but then after I got out of school this summer, we went crazy full speed ahead.

In the winter, we had published a new edition of Coyote Cowgirl. The cover design for that was a nightmare, at first. I knew what I wanted, but it wasn't coming out right. I was the concept person and then Mario had to bring my concept into reality. He didn't like doing it, and it wasn't fun for either of us. We wondered how we were going to proceed if every book was going to be this labor intensive.

Fortunately I have a friend who is a brilliant artist and we asked her to design a couple of our covers. She created a cover for Deathmark that we loved. This was a relief, to know we had someone to call on should we need it. She also did the cover art for The Gaia Websters.

But I also started playing with cover art. I love textures on book covers. I also like simple covers. We struggled with a concept for the cover of the reprint of The Jigsaw Woman. And then one day I took a clay statue I had made of Eriskegal (who is in Jigsaw Woman) and some indigo colored cloth and I put them together and took some photos. To us, they were stunning, and one of the photos became the cover art for The Jigsaw Woman.

The same thing happened with The Blue Tail. I knew what I wanted, but I wasn't able to convey my ideas very successfully to Mario or our cover artist, so I wasn't getting the cover art I wanted. I decided to start taking some photographs of mermaid tails and see what I could come up with. I had a green mermaid ornament. I put her on a green Fiesta plate. I took many shots. I found a couple I liked and then I changed their color to blue. Once again I loved the cover.

This happened again and again. I'd come up with a cover idea, and I was able to create the art myself and then Mario was able to design the cover. This was so freeing, especially since I had had some covers I was quite displeased with on books that had been published by major publishers.

We also found some proofreaders to help us with production. I loved being able to pay people to work with us. I have always wanted to have a business where I could help support my community members. Unfortunately, we just weren't making enough money (yet) to continue to pay for cover art or proofreading. Fortunately, someone who does proofreading at her work offered to help us (for free!), plus Mario and I continued to proofread. Since I've found typos and copyediting mistakes in all of my previously published books, I figured the three of us proofing each novel couldn't do any worse.

As I wrote in "The Making of an Indie Writer," I began to love writing and publishing again. I stopped worrying about the length of my novels. I tend to write shorter novels. Since Green Snake Publishing doesn't care about length, I could write a long or a short novel, depending on what the story merited.

I read the novel I had written last winter, The Desert Siren, and loved it. I wrote Butch, a novel I had been wanting to write to years.

My writing life was blossoming again.

And yet in other parts of my life, I was still struggling. I started a permaculture guild in my community, but there was trouble in paradise right away. At first people wanted to be involved, but then hardly anyone was involved. And then when the Occupy movement came to the gorge, some people in the guild got offended by any mention of it and wanted gone, gone, gone from the permaculture guild.

I was thrilled by the Occupy movement. After years of activism, I was exhausted. I didn't feel as though I had ever accomplished much. Seeing a new generation--and all generations--stand up for themselves and the environment was invigorating. I went down to Occupy Portland a few times.

I was also shocked by the invective directed at the Occupy movement. Here we were trying to make our country more democratic, more fair, more equitable for everyone, and so many people were just hateful towards us. I had someone in my own family write, "Let them come down here and we'll put them six feet under." When I pointed out that he was threatening my life, he continued to rant about how "they" should leave and go to another country.


I was appalled by the ignorance. Our country is based in revolution, and pointing out what is wrong has always been a part of who were are as a nation.

Paradigm shifts are never easy.

Where was I going with all of this?

Was it a terrible year?


Was it a wonderful year?


I'm in the desert now. It's been a tough couple of weeks. I apparently somatize absolutely every feeling I have. Since I've been here I've had a cough, my feet have hurt, my hip has hurt, my back has hurt, and I've had insomnia.

I really think it would be easier on everyone if I just felt my feelings, whatever they are.

I am in the desert.

I love the desert.

I used to loathe it.

I love where I live in the Pacific Northwest. When I walk the great old forests, I feel as though anything is possible. I feel dwarfed by the bigness, by the awesomeness of the woods or the ocean or the rivers. I am a child or a bug or a puff of air. Small and probably insignificant.

When I am in the Southwest, I feel loved and accepted. I walk amongst prickly plants here. They all have prickles. I rubbed mesquite leaves across my cheek yesterday. They were nearly as soft as mullein leaves. And right there by the leaves was a thorn. Could have cut my cheek deep if I'd rubbed my face a little differently.

Everything is prickly here with a soft center.

I can relate.

Just call me Briar Rose. Not because I fell to sleep for a hundred years, but because I am covered in thorns.

When I lived in Tucson twenty-five years ago, I did not like it here. I hated it. I always liked the desert, but it scared me. That was the proper attitude. I love the desert. I feel at home in the desert. I feel welcomed in the desert. But I don't romanticize it. I know I could be dead in minutes should I get bitten by a snake. I could be dead in hours if I got lost on a hot summer day. I have to be alert. You can't let your mind wander in the desert. It is a constant teaching about being in the present.

The desert is a place for old warriors. A place for edge dwellers and crazy people. A place for peace mongers. A place for old dogs and new tricks.

I feel loved in the desert. Did I say that? Accepted.

I am battered and beaten up. My broken nose makes me look like one of those punch-drunk fighters. The white hair marks me as a desert dweller.

I fit in here.

The desert is where people throw trash, dead bodies, and beer bottles.

The desert is where some of us go to learn the language of our souls again.

For this coming year, I want to learn how not to be buffeted so much by the storms of my life. I want to be more Zen, in touch with the Tao, a more 'be in the now, baby' kind of person.

Really, I just want to be more myself. I can't believe myself was destined for such a life of sadness and illness. But whatever happens to me, I'd like to get my mind right.

What I've tried over the years hasn't worked.

Or maybe it has. I've gotten here. I'm sitting across from the man I love. I am surrounded by beauty. Prickly beauty.

My kind of beauty?

This next year, I hope to walk, dance, play, and write in beauty. I hope it's an easier year for everyone.

This next year, I'm not going to try to save the world. I'm not going to try to save anyone.

Perhaps I will save myself?

This next year, I don't want to just survive: I want to thrive.

I wish the same for you.

May it be so.


MaryKate said...

Ah Kim.. such a beautiful blog. I walked that whole blog with you. *lovely* I had a dream once about living in New Mexico in the desert. I have been a water person my whole life... I used to think I would crack and bleed and dry up in the desert. Then I went this summer with my bff and found I sort of liked the desert... so who knows *smile* I am glad you have a place of peace and serenity where you can write and connect. That's all just happy for me because it means a new book ;). Peace to you.

Indigene Theresa said...

This was such a wonderful post to read! :) We have shared many of the same things! And it was a few years ago, after many visits, that my husband and I decided that we too, love the Southwest! I want to settle in New Mexico. The desert has often called to me, and I've never known why, since I am from the Caribbean islands! :)

Thank you for sharing so much of yourself in this post. I could relate on every level and actually with all the feelings, because it's been that kind of year for me, too!

Thank you for voicing feelings, I could not write, you are a true sage for those of us who do not have the "telling" talent that you do! I'm a visual artist, so for me, I try to do my telling with paintings.

Thank you again, and I look forward to reading more from your writing well! Happy New Year, and may your mermaids give you a wealth of knowledge to share with the rest of us.

Kim Antieau said...

Thanks both of you so much. It means a lot to me. Happy New Year!

kerrdelune said...

"The desert is a place for old warriors. A place for edge dwellers and crazy people. A place for peace mongers. A place for old dogs and new tricks."

"The desert is where some of us go to learn the language of our souls again."

Dearest sister Kim, I love this, and how I needed to read it on this first morning of the calendar year. It seems we are journeying along the same road. You do know, do you not, that you are the finest and wisest of companions? xxxxx, Cate

All work copyright © Kim Antieau 2008-.