Story’s have beginnings and endings. Even those stories that end leaving us with a sense of messiness and incompleteness, or that open in a disorienting en media res, they have a beginning and end. The sense that they continue, that they extend indefinitely beyond themselves on their own terms is a narrative illusion, trompe l’oeil, but for our sense of time.
Lives are something else, they begin only as a development within someone else’s life, the lives of parents, and they die into the world, spilling out into other lives. We tell stories about lives, of our lives, and stories have an impact on how we live our lives, but if the story is where you begin and you end, you are missing something. It isn’t that stories don’t have lives, but the life of a story isn’t contained within the story. How do I talk about my life without collapsing it into a story? Can I
I watch the hurricane churning around Saturn’s north pole, from the eye of a satellite that has immolated itself against this planet’s thick and churning air, a hurricane so large it could embrace every inch of the earth in winds that dwarf our fiercest hurricanes. I think of Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, Hurricane Maria, and they would be specks of wind torn apart by this. But this titanic storm isn’t leveling homes, this storm isn’t grinding Puerto Rico into an apocalypse. This storm won’t define a year we will almost certainly look back on as a turning point in our relationship with global warming.
This sea change will spawn many more refugee crises, internal and external. Europe struggles to deal with the refugees out of the Middle East, where the shifting climate is an often overlooked accomplice to ISIL driving people from their homes. The refugee crisis, can we remake ourselves quickly enough to be the people to aid those displaced? Can we remake ourselves quickly enough to rethink what it means to be a nation and a people, when nations and peoples are broken and scattered by the forces of nature?
While I doubt the political will of the U.S. government to confront these challenges, riddled with elitism and rot as it is, am distraught at the frequency by which public debates over so many issues regularly collapses into the invigoration of dead shibboleths drawn from political positions woefully out of touch with the present, I continue to see flashes of popular will, of popular insight, of popular organization, that promise something more. I can see beneath the waves of despair and resentment, people seeking after a new way of life. I wonder if I can find my place amidst that seeking crowd.
And I am in transition. That’s the word we use, so I am using it. I am in transition, taking hormones to change the way my body responds to itself, suppressing the flow of testosterone and replacing it with estrogen. I am undertaking a gender transition. Gender is a light word, too light for this visceral alienation in my body. And I know I won’t be able to fix all of that, and most of what I can fix can be only slowly.
I had heard about how transgender people often feel when they start taking hormones and I had hoped for it, but also feared its absence. Another judgment to navigate. I became aware of the hormones first as a profound relaxation, the easing of a fight going on at a level I couldn’t even access consciously. Even now, in the midst of these storms, that difficult to grasp relaxation remains intact. I am going to crash into the rest of the world as I change, for good and for ill, but this relief endures alongside all my fears.
Crash into a world in which transgender people have become a sign to be bandied about, where using a public restroom is fraught. Whether affirmed or rebuked, there is often a sense that it is not transgender persons involved but transgender tokens, to be invested with political pathos. It is less a matter of transgender experience than of transgender symbols. Crashing into a world eager to objectify me before the fact, to have scripted out my role in a drama that I have only a little force to change. I guess that’s not exactly new for anyone, though, just life.
Crash into a world that has been swallowed by a global storm, though one slower and more grinding than the storms of Saturn.
tell something other than a story to you? I think I can, but
It’s been a difficult few weeks. The visit to the doctor to discuss hormones also sent me off to other doctors, to confront my body as it ages. Psoriasis sinking deeper into my body, flashing hotly along my fingers and toes, causing joints to stiffen and swell, eating away at the surface of my nails. I commit myself to talking to a specialist, to following a line of treatment, and the psoriasis recedes, but in its place is the medicine.
My lunch walks become heavy discipline. I eat less and less; everything tastes poorly and the thought of putting things in my mouth, food after pill after pill, just makes me tired. One foot in front of another, beneath a sun that always feels too hot, that always feels like it is pummeling me, even on the strangely mild summer days that speckle this season in which the world turns. One foot in front of another, counting the moments to shade or thanking the heavens for a patch of cloud masking our brightest star. All the while, the medication eating slowly away at my insides, until one day the outward rush of diarrhea.
Diarrhea turns to constipation, painful and difficult to overcome. I spend so many hours on the toilet, sweating, muffling gasps and groans in a towel. Fear and the undoing of fear in the narrow confines of the bathroom walls. Two days without sleep and the unnatural crystal clarity that comes with it, until words glimpsed for distraction become a humming in my brain, the names of characters in traditional Trinidadian carnival a parade of silent tones shaking with the muscles of my thighs and my bowels.
In the midst of that, I glimpse myself in the mirror. Ragged and exhausted, I could also see the outlines of the changes beginning in my body. In the midst of that, too, a flood of memories linking me back to my youth, to the person I was as I began the course I am correcting, the course that saw me bundle and compartmentalize as much as I could, so much of who I was. How much will I change? Will the restoration of broken roads reopen channels of passion lost? As the future unhinges itself from the rhythms of the past, do those old channels even matter?
But it does not stop there. The constipation gets worse, becomes a weekly weekend ordeal of sleeplessness, bowel spasms, and painfully large stools. Week days are spent trying to make sense of what has gone wrong, of putting right with diet and probiotics what the medicine set wrong. Until the weekend comes when the ordeal ceases to be efficacious, when the diet and probiotics are not enough, when I finally can’t complete a bowel movement, and find myself in the emergency room.
It’s a humbling experience, being driven to the ER by your partner, hoping and struggling to not mess yourself, stripping to the hospital gown, submitting to x-rays and enemas. I am thankful, then and now, for the care of my partner, for the kind hospital staff. The staff were mindful of the extremity of the situation, of the discomfort and exposure of the situation, but free of the falsetto note of solicitous concern some caretakers wear. Kind, practical, mindful. I am lucky, exhausted and humbled, and lucky. The bill will be another thing, but for the moment, relief.
The next morning as I come to my senses I am aware of two things simultaneously. One, that even after the extensive purging of the night before, I need to vacate my bowels rather urgently. Two, of a sign floating in my mind’s eye, curved and square, moving in and out of intersection. In the way of spirit communication, it is a dense message and I am aware of it all at once, having to parse it out later into discursive thought.
The hard and the soft, which is a reference to the quality of feces in my bowels, but is also a reference to what constitutes a person, of flesh and bone, stone and spirit. There is the Middle Passage and I am given the keenest sense that I have had the most gentle taste of the experience of the Africans who were carried across the waters. The shit is important, the smell of it, it’s part of what makes this a glimpse, but mine was wrapped in kindness and not cruelty, was humbling and not humiliating, was brief for all its extremity.
This is the first baptism as St. Augustine could grasp, the child born between feces and urine, a baptism that we sometimes imagine undone by a second. But to have been malungo, to have been made kin in the belly of slave ship…here, the vision says, you have had a taste, a reminder of the first baptism that cannot be undone. Just a taste and you will be glad to have had no more.
That’s why you can find Dunham observing that the routines of her kanzo, in which the initiates’ very sleep rhythms are directed by their initiators in mimicry of the regimen to which Africans were subjected during the Middle Passage. Here you have the overtaking of humiliation by hard kindness, an assertion bold and resolute.
I begin the translation from spirit to discourse as I empty my bowels in the toilet.
won’t you just hear the story?
This may be the proper function of allusion in human speech, as an opening that manifests the incompleteness of speech and gestures to something besides speech. We may allude to practices, to people, to events, to forces and rites, all as a way of pointing. When we turn allusion to the task of pointing to still other forms of speech, we begin to tilt toward a dark pit in which allusion becomes lost in an endless game of rebus making, where each word points to a ‘secret’ word beyond, and we are talking and talking and talking and talking, without escape.
I am reminded of stories of elders who slap away their student’s scribbling hands and wonder if it isn’t this they are trying to teach, that the caginess toward writing reflects an understanding of how writing turns to story and story turns away from life. They fend off a generation of scribbling elders from rising up to replace memory and vicissitudes with dead letter reenactments of scribblings. But writing can capture the motion of life, words can become vectors, lines along which force flows and is deflected.
One of my favorite sayings from the proverbs of Obara is “the lie becomes truth,” because it asserts the intimacy between lie and truth, of the lie being a precondition of the truth, of the truth beginning in lie then finding its feet and stretching out its arms to make some order of this world, that it is by way of the lie and the word that the world resonates intensely with itself, signals broadcast across space that spark changes in another space.
Don’t I need
We are waiting on the side of a mountain for the eclipse, having hiked several miles through Panthertown Valley to find this scenic overlook. From this vantage point we can see the sun and beneath us an expanse of trees that joins us to other mountainsides like the ocean joins the shores of distant islands. I have a few rocks with which to remember and inscribe the event and while we wait, I doodle until the image I need appears, until I have the lines I need to stand over the stone and moss that will receive the moment.
As the hour approaches, we gather with the dozens of other people who made the same trek we did, and across the valley, over the ocean green, the rain begins, approaching us as inevitably and noisily as a line of horses, pattering growing louder as it surges closer, overtaking us. I take shelter with some of my companions, while some remain committed to a long, though subtle, spiritual undertaking. When it becomes clear the rain will not break for totality, when it becomes clear our meager shelter will not hold back the rain indefinitely, we rejoin our companions.
The crowd is thinner, a child can be heard to sob, despairing that their friend will see the eclipse but they won’t. As the rain soaks us all to the skin, the totality begins. We cannot see the sun nor the moon, but the light thickens and changes, until we are in a luminous gray, swallowed up in the eclipse and the rain together. I hold the rocks in my hand and a song comes to my lips, Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” I can’t recall having so much as hummed one of his songs since he died, but the chorus comes easily, sincerely, and there we all are, swimming in the eclipse, all humming to our separate chords, calling toward and for our own beginnings.
It rains for the entirety of the eclipse, from its earliest beginning to the tail of its conclusion, as if the eclipse called up its own veil. We hike back as totality ceases, stumbling and pausing our way down the moon-drenched mountain. Around the axis of this moment, several others, around which I can feel a genuine shift in the course of my life. I pluck several sassafras leaves from the side of the mountain, chewing and swallowing the eclipse in them. I am changing, I know this.
The diarrhea preceded this weekend. On the other side of this weekend, the constipation begins.
a lie through which I can communicate? A tongue of lies, a flickering flame? But will a lie heal flesh and bone, mend soul?
Only if it is given flesh and root, only if it sinks into the darkness of a life, disappears from sight. The lie can only and ever be the flower, a means through which we may communicate and pollinate, but the life we live, together and apart, isn’t that at all.
Magnesium citrate, the day after the hospital to make sure everything is clear. Laying down on the bed after a round of the medicine doing its work, I close my eyes and am immediately greeted with a sense of pure effervescence. It is bright day, but with my eyes closed I can see stars in a dark firmament. The effervescence carries me up toward them and for a moment the stars, too, are bubbles amidst which I am floating.
My attention catches and I am bouncing from sphere to sphere, smash cuts of voices and figures suffused in a golden light. There is a voice close that reminds me this is the work of dirt and bones, too, that you do not etch into them to live in the dark enclosure of them, but to make them resonant, to make them receptive to the fullness of the cosmos.
The bones and the dirt flower in wonder.