Learning to Breathe
After a nice weekend in Heber, Arizona - I have settled back into the noise of the city. I wonder though, what makes a city a city? I've lived in Queens, just 14 minutes outside of Manhattan, I was once a thirty minute train ride from Boston...and somehow I have traveled back to Arizona. It seems that Phoenix tries to be a city...but something is lacking. It could be that the buildings seem too brand new to capture the essence of generational functioning. I know while walking the cobblestone streets in Boston, step-by-step through Quincy Market - that there is history all around me.
So I found myself asking this question on the ride back home - what makes a city...a city? And why does my heart hurt on the way back to it like this?
The people I connect most to in Arizona all agree that the politics are disturbing, the governor alarming, and the newfound laws barbaric. Women giving birth in jail cells, chained to beds, because they are 'illegal' immigrants. I live in what is known as the historic district of Mesa, Arizona. Two blocks north and three houses west, a neighbor has a garage full of motorcycles and a giant confederate flag billowing in the wind. My exgirlfriend has been called sir more times in our "city" than living in Texas. People mostly stay inside of their houses. When I walk my dogs along the streets, I sometimes count the living rooms lit by television screens. When it rains I walk the dogs and count the people standing under their carports. Seldom, they say hello when I initiate greetings. I hear more racism against Mexicans than any other demographic of people, aside from the gay community.
In the mountains, I took a luxurious walk with the dogs. I was even able to keep Havok off of his leash the whole time. He would trot ahead of Sage and I, but he would also turn back to make sure we were still there and still walking behind him. Even the dogs are more mellow up north. Sage was preoccupied for almost an hour staring at a skunk that seemed to be stalking him on the other side of a chain link fence. Havok, not surprisingly, stayed by my feet on the porch while I played cards with girlfriends, or he jumped onto my chair and curled up behind me, making space wherever I thought space was unavailable.
I woke early each day in Heber. I had agreed to make every meal while we were away. Each morning: shaved sweet potatoes curried and simmered until semi-soft in sweet butter with parsley, mint, and cilantro. Eggs with arugula, spinach, garlic, turmeric, green onion. A rosemary/garlic baguette that lasted us four meals. Acorn squash soup on the second night with garbonzo beans, lentils, carrots, marinated onions, celery, handfuls of fresh herbs. Platters with cheese, hummous, olives.
"You really should be a chef," my friend Rebekah insisted.
"I will only be a chef when I have my own commune/non-profit type of place in the mountains." She tells me this every day, about being a chef. Someone once told her that even though she didn't have a lot of money, she always found money to buy the things she wanted. I have been like this for years. I do not have the money for expensive new material things, nor do I have a desire for them. I have enough money to pay all of my bills and to eat well and I count my blessings with every meal. Every time Rebekah spends most of a meal saying, "Mmmm!" I feel like the richest person in the world. My friends come to dine in the garden. I make them fresh soups and stuffed mushrooms, quinoa pasta with heirloom tomatoes, we talk about changing the world and smile around our spoons or forks, knowing there is something special happening. Food is important to me, as it is to everyone, but I realized within the past few years that cooking is a way for me to express gratitude and love. I zone into whatever I am cooking and turn off all other outside distractions at the time. I love slicing, peeling, preparing, roasting, steaming, grilling, stirring - all acts of love.
When I lost my job this past May, I worried at first, ceaselessly, about this and that. Somehow, everything has been working out fine. Somehow, I still have baguettes and fresh mozzarella cheese. Somehow, my notebooks are still being filled with observations and my sheets clean. Somehow, the garden is in full bloom and the lilies are over five feet high. My salary and health care benefits have been taken away and I have learned to breathe in the quiet of each new day.
After the four weeks of VOF ending, I stepped back from the computer for a little while. I picked up a new book that parallels the French Revolution to the current state of America. I don't know where I heard it, but somewhere I heard that an inclination of the Roman Empire falling was the peoples' preoccupation with beauty, or rather, vanity. I think of this country I live in, where opportunity appears plentiful and limitless. But I see everyone at war with themselves. At war with how their lives are versus how they have been told they should be. Living silently in little boxes, never knowing their neighbors with whom they may even share walls. Going, going, goin, doing, doing, doing - unable to sit still.
Thoreau wrote, "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life. And see if I could not learn what it had to teach and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."
It is not whether this city I live in is old or new enough. It is not whether the people are kind or talkative enough. It seems to be something deeper happening inside of them - distancing themselves from themselves, each other, the earth.
As I hiked through Christopher Creek, jumped over river rocks, lept over fallen logs, and stood still to look up to see how high the sky would be amongst the ponderosas - I felt alive. I could breathe. I could feel my heart pounding. Even the dogs would stop and be still. Rebekah found mushrooms and dandelions to photograph as though they were their own little villages. Havok and Sage were not timid crossing the river, as I stepped carefully onto and off of each rock. I always feel rejuvenated after being up north for a few days, but when I unpack my things and am home again, I am filled with a sadness that is built of noise.
One thing that became clear to me on this last trip...I want more than anything to have my own space in a foresty location. A place where women can wake up and be still with themselves, commune with each other, re-learn how to eat. Most of the time I have no idea what I am cooking. I may glance at a recipe, but I hardly follow them. After the weekend my friend Christan said she didn't know how she would go back to eating like she did before I was cooking for her. There is sheer delight in eating something someone made with love and patience, throwing common things together to make simple cupboard leftovers appear as a bountiful feast. Full, warm bellies create full, warm hearts. Taking a little and creating a lot...small or normal portions to create energetic, happy bodies.
The clarity came while I was having coffee on the porch the morning we left. I love the scent of fresh coffee in the morning mixed with nutmeg. I am joyful adding creme to the cup. But on the porch, in the sunniest spot, I knew my place in the world revolved around small circles of intimacy that create larger impacts. I knew that if I regularly got together with the strongest, most empowering women I am connected to, I would understand even more what needs to be done. My dream has long been to take these women I often speak of and have each of us contribute to an entire center of well-being, one that focuses on self-love and self-acceptance for women in the United States, but works to impact on much larger scales.
During VOF assignments...I read so many posts about women being less than and never equal to men in different cultures. I relayed a story about widows to my friend here and she said that the men in Cameroon who were upholding the traditions of widowhood relay a strong message about the innate power of women and how much it is feared. So then, I can think of nothing more empowering than gathering women, strengthening them, and creating solutions that will change the world one community at a time.