the second joy

Posted on November 3, 2012 by Val |5 Comments

i have so many pieces of paper that i must consider here in this house: taxes, medical insurance, last will and testament. but instead i watch ellen on tv, check the latest poll results, walk the dog.
this dog has not said one word to me in 5 years and yet we commune so amicably. or maybe i just think we do.  still half credit.
my new theory is that dog language is body language. what one living creature can say to another.
the way one body speaks to another without words. it is why i love the idea of healing through shamans even though i am utterly skeptical of the associated ideology.
one body telling another to live. get better. stay here on this planet with us.
i had an aztec medicine woman mash (stolen) flower petals on my head the other day. and then lightening hit the tree next to the building we were in. it cracked all around us as she performed her “flower bath” ceremony intended to piece together a soul in disrepair. to heal me. i consider the premise hooey (and was offended at the implication)  but what else do i have to do? i enjoyed the rare oregon lightening and the novelty of ritual. the rarity of a sacred act between strangers. the intent of one body to compel another to thrive. also, who am i to say? lightening did strike after all.
i felt both honored and on the verge of laughing out loud. in my book,  an afternoon well spent.
the other day i watched one of those nature programs that is not actually about nature but a guy who filmed nature. they are always self-congratulatory and have lots of shots of these men scanning the horizon in a very noble and important way. describing how they got great close-ups of their tigers by bivouacking in a hole and pooping into a bag for 5 years.
i hate when i get duped into watching these.
they almost never show the tiger. just lots of the guy and the guy interviewing the guy stomping around siberia where the tiger used to be.
and here’s why i watch for as long as i do: sometimes they show the original footage. the tiger in the snow.
i grew up in cold grey places. i know what silence a frozen forest can hold. what an intrusion we are. in alaska, montana, come november, nearly every furred body in the woods is brown or white. and you probably won’t see the white ones unless you are bivoaked in a hole. and you never  see the 475 pound tigers.
so i watch this dumb show because i’m fascinated with the orange and black stripped tiger in a snowy woods. brown trees, white ground, grey sky. it lives there, like a giant camp fire stalking over snow.
last winter i went home to the ranch in montana. it was during a cold snap and everything froze solid. -12 degrees. the trees creaked with it. and the grass, crusted with frost, crackled with each step. every rock and twig was flocked with cold.
i wore nearly everything i had. plus my dad’s oversize down jacket and my mom’s fur trapper hat. and 2 pairs of gloves from the glove caddy on the back of the closet door.
then i moved like a space man down the hill and into the hidden meadow.

the air was full of ice. cold crawled into my nose. miniature ghosts floated out from between my lips.

i stopped in the center of hidden meadow.  it is where i always go to seek counsel. with a thousand former selves, my grandmother, and sometimes even my college mentor. she died 5 years ago of ovarian cancer.

i never know what i am making up and what is truly there. i am circled by aspen saplings that have had their trunks tattooed by rutting elk. it is a sanctuary of symbols to me.  a loose ideology. but i always feel compelled to go.
alice walker said “it is fatal to love a god who does not love you back”. when i am here, i think, it is fatal to make up a god who does not give a shit. but i have done it anyway.
sometimes i feel loved. that i am from this meadow. that i am a beloved daughter. and i laugh about how huge and lovely it all is. and even if i die, it really is okay. but sometimes, when i cast out with my longing, i hear nothing back.

stupid. i know better.

i lie down in the center of the circle. i am struck with how warm i am. inside this great coat, these layers. i am genius mammalian heat. i carry myself out into this deadly insinuating cold, like a small candle of 98.6 in a gale. my body resists frozenness. i am the astonishing mammal. a cradle for the tiny sparking heart and the electric diamond brain. a rare sighting here. if the trees cared to sight me.
i do not think they do today.
i wonder about falling asleep here. sinking into the ground. i close my eyes and try to imagine the stillness to come. and it is, like every other time i consider this, an exercise in peaceful surrender.
we hold heat. share heat. touch one another. and when we lose heat we no longer live. when we give up the ghost, we become cold clay.
i have loved this body. truly. i have found joy in the helter skelter pursuit of being alive.
a long time ago i decided that the first joy is joy in the body. but i must confess here: i don’t really know what i mean by that exactly.
i don’t know, for instance, what the second joy is. joy in the mind?

that is much more tricky. the body can only be doing one thing at a time. i could be riding my bicycle up a hill. and there is a conspiracy of body and linear time.  the mind is not so good here and now, but the body is irrefutable. alive or not alive.  the mind is a tangle of then and now and heaven to come. no wonder death is a puzzle.
when i am riding a bicycle up a hill, i am a creature. i am body. i am an army of synapses all striving together. it changes how i think. it changes what i know. i am permeable to the experience of the road and trees and people walking their dogs and swift air and gravity. i am absolutely alive. and somehow, for me, this is joy.

and now, when my body can no longer ride this bicycle up a hill; when i sit and read facebook to distract myself; when my lungs are invaded and bleeding, i do not want to care about the body anymore. i want to pretend that i never cared. the best way to avoid being sad at losing a thing is to attempt indifference. i don’t care if you leave me. i never loved you anyway.

in my defense, i didn’t do this consciously. it is a funny thing not to be able to cut one’s losses and walk away. it turns your brain inside out. i can’t leave the situation, because the situation is my body. all i could do, were i in desperate need of control, is prematurely end my life. and that is an unsuitable solution.

so now i am in search of the second joy. or the joy of walking and not riding up a hill. or the joy of stretching and not lifting weights. or the joy of music. the joy of story. tell me what other joy you know. tell me, you heat-holding humans.
also, you should know that the incremental loss of a body’s ability is real loss. not an idea.
also, i know i am not a tiger. but i am indigenous to the planet. spawned from the intention of the primordial ooze. i have not come from aliens or from a manufacturing plant. i did not begat out of the old testament.
and it is not all personality here on planet earth. we love one another. the bodies that contain us. that make the loving possible. the quick smiles of the people we love are sustenance. we read these bodies like horizon of home. we know the storms, the meandering trails and the heat of the summers.

  1. Maybe the body is the second joy, too. We are each involved – molecules of me exchanging with molecules of other substances – in this continual interchange with this planet. I sort of believe that sitting against a rock on the grass gives my body a chance to pick up a few electrons of rock and grass, and they get a few tiny tiny packets of me with that heat I give off. I just spent a long weekend moving a 91 year old man into assisted living. There were many many bodies there who had been exchanging their molecules in this world for a long time. The mind carries impressions of this passage. Maybe the mind is concocted of all these exchanges; hence the difficulty of organizing it as neatly as the body is organized. I want to think about this more.

  2. “It is fatal to make up a god who doesn’t give a shit.” “I did not begat out of the old testament.”
    Love this stuff. My third joy is perhaps reading your powerful writing seemingly from between the worlds. Peace sister.

  3. how I love you Val. Treasure, returned many-fold, in circles, as always

  4. Val,
    the poetry and the fluidity, the honesty of your words, blows me away. I have been so busy spinning circles in my own life that i rarely stop. I try to be conscious, to listen, to keep “present”. I think often of the fleetingness of time (in the midst of flying through). Strangely, I am so often afraid of death in the midst of my living. We should not have to be contortionists in order to pay attention to our beautiful, sorrowful, ridiculous and often mundane moments of this life, this breath, this chance to connect. Thanks for touching my soul. I have had you on mind and am doing some “catch up” with your writing. Thankful for very thankful for who you are. As I sit here in the dark in my old bedroom in Montana looking out at the snow on the trees and knowing, if there is any church i go to, it is the land, the trees, the water and the wildness of the animals themselves, I stop.

  5. I frikken love you. I want to see the white tiger in some white forest and hope that I am unimportant to her. I know that cold in that special place you grew up! Well, maybe not THAT cold. I would never go outside in that kind of cold. My hands would say, this is bullsh*t and check out like a person in an unacceptable environment. My veins were built for Equatorial temperatures after all. I love your gift with crafting words. Thank you for giving them to me. I think those are the first joy – our words, our paintbrushes. I am sending you a ghost kiss from here. Did you get it?

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