The House of Entheogens

house

She met him in October on the Georgetown campus. He was wearing a red a blue baseball cap. The wind blew it off and she picked it up. Returned it to him. They started talking about the weather, then science, and soon philosophy. Quickly, they became friends.

 

They spent several Sundays taking walks to the local farmer’s market to pick out apricots, then going to eat them on a blanket in the park. It was the most romantic thing she’d ever done. But they remained nothing more than friends, yet something more than casual acquaintances. After all, she had recently finished her journalism degree and worked at a restaurant part-time, and he was pursuing his Ph.D. at Georgetown. Both of them, divorced. Neither had time for dating – or at least – no desire in walking the path to another broken heart.

 

Once it got cold, he invited her to his house. When she walked in, she wondered why he had a rice cooker with aluminum foil on top. A device to make gold out of, he told her. He explained the whole process. His alchemy. She trusted him. He studied quantum mechanics after all.

 

The house was full of strange things. (No, not the kind of strange things mothers warn daughters about before they sneak away with a glass of wine and the latest E L James novel.) The kind of strange things that made her curious and ask a lot of questions.

 

In the kitchen he kept tiny bottles on the shelves, full of substances that looked like chemicals or powders. Others were full of herbs, leaves, and varieties of tea, with perhaps a few strains of medical marijuana in the mix.

 

“Entheogens,” he told her. “Meaning ‘generating the divine within.’ Or more simply put — plant medicines. They produce non-ordinary states of consciousness. People around the world use them for religious or spiritual reasons.”

 

“Oh, right,” she said. “I knew that….and what exactly do you do with them?

 

“Oh, sometimes people come to me and buy them. If enough people are interested, I’ll lead retreats where people could take the entheogens within a safe container, like a Santo Daime church, someone’s backyard in the woods, or a yoga studio.

 

There was nothing ordinary about him, she thought. And maybe that’s why she hung around.

 

 

“So….you’re dating a drug dealer?” Penelope gasped.

 

“Well, no, not exactly,” she said. “I don’t know if we’re actually ‘dating,’ we’re just friends. Anyway, he’s more of an um…urban shaman.”

 

“Is that what he calls himself, or did you just make that up right now?”

 

“I mean….I guess it’s the term he uses, but I still find it pretty fascinating.”

 

“Come on Nat,” Penelope reached out to touch her hand. “I’m worried about you.”

 

“He’s getting a Ph.D.! In quantum physics!”

 

“Hah….Denver worked as Noam Chomsky’s literary agent, and you saw how that turned out when I needed someone to drive me to Planned Parenthood last summer!”

 

“What, you prefer I date a nice normal guy? Like the guy at the coffee shop with muscular arms and the compass tattoo who talked to me about The Unbearable Lightness of Being and then asked for validation for the quality of his pictures on his Bumble profile?”

 

“No! No…that’s not what I’m saying. I just think you deserve someone who genuinely cares about you, Natalie. Drugs and things…whatever. I just don’t want to see you settling for someone who just who only cares about himself again.”

 

 

She enjoyed exploring his house. She experimented with the musical instruments he collected from his travels around the world, like the Aboriginal didgeridoo and Malian n’goni. She watered the twenty potted plants and herbs sitting by the window. She bought him a bamboo plant, a snake plant, and a bonsai tree, just to add something a little more ordinary to the most exotic mix.

 

The jars of entheogens were meticulously labeled with the common name and its psychoactive constituent:

 

Ayahuasca – Harmala alkaloids and DMT

Bolivian torch cactus – Mescaline

Fly agaric – Ibotenic acid and muscimol

Magic mushrooms – Psilocybin and psilocin

 

“When did you know you were….you know….a ‘shaman?’ ” she asked.

 

“Maybe as young as twelve,” he said, not noticing the glint of sarcasm in her voice. “I started out having out of body experiences. Lying in bed before I would fall asleep, it felt like my body was being submerged in water like I was about to cross over into spirit realm. Started perceiving what was going to happen in the future. Sometimes clairvoyant. I didn’t know what was happening to me. When one of my college professors gave me some of C. G. Jung’s literature on archetypes and the collective unconscious, some things started to make sense.”

 

He paused to take in the confused look on her face.

 

“Don’t worry,” he laughed, almost reading her mind. “I’ve looked into mental health issues – I don’t have schizophrenia, not possible. Doesn’t run in my family line. I believe my ancestors carried this knowledge, and it’s coming through me in this generational incarnation of the bloodline. And of course, Western medicine doesn’t have a name for these types of things. Hence, a lot of people do end up getting a mental health diagnosis. What I experience is just that – what I experience. Weird things happen from time to time, but it doesn’t dominate my life. And I find the plants guide me to what I need to know.”

 

Remarkably, Trevor was the most normal person she had been with, even out of her male friends. When she was with him she felt safe and calm.

 

“And how did you find the plants?” she asked.

 

“Maybe you should be asking ‘how did the plants find me’?’”

 

“Oh my friend,” she smiled and laughed. “You are such a mystery. I could write a whole book on you.”

 

“Oh? What would it be – fantasy?”

 

She blushed. Fantasies. She had a few. There was clearly some sexual tension between them, of course. But the two hadn’t had sex, or made love, or even fucked, or whatever you want to call it, in the time they had now known each other.

 

“Are you winking at me?!” she jested, then coughed. “No, you know I write nonfiction. And hard journalism.”

 

There was an awkward silence between them. She pointed to the stack of books on his table.

 

“Speaking of nonfiction, tell me more about the intelligence of plants they talk about in your books. What does it mean exactly?”

 

“Let me think…Well, you can’t compare the intelligence of plants to that of humans, exactly. It’s not as if they have a rational, thinking mind, like a brain or a computer. Scientists who study plant intelligence see plants as highly sensitive organisms – rather than passive players in their environment. Plants monitor their internal and external worlds for informational and functional shifts – like changes in soil, water, light, etc. Just like our eyes have a sensory inflow from the spectrum of light to perceive colors, plants have gates of perception that allow sensory inflow from a spectrum of what is going on around them. Then, they integrate that information into their own state of being”

 

“Yes, now, go on.”

 

“When I take the plants, they can guide my body into that same level of perception. I can’t explain it well, poems seem to do the talking for me from there.” He pulled a book off of the table and turned to a bookmarked page:

 

It is actually a kind of dreaming

And not the kind of dreaming you are thinking about either

But a different kind of dreaming entirely

(It’s like the dreaming you do when you are reading this book)

The dreaming is the central core of what this book is about

It is the kind of dreaming that Goethe was engaged in

When he learned about plant metamorphosis

And Luther Burbank when he looked deep into the plant

And saw every environment its ancestors had ever lived in

And the same kind that Barbara McClintock did

When she watched individual chromosomes in corn shift their structure

It is the same state of mind that writers enter when they create words

It is also how Gaia dreams the world into being

And is the kind of dreaming you can do, too, if you wish,

If you decide to walk through the doors of perception

And find out what is on the other side

 

 

“It’s lovely. I love it. You know I love poetry. But let’s go back to what you mentioned earlier – how DID the plants find you?”

 

“Ah! Right. Five years ago, not long after I moved to the city for grad school and was living in a condo, and I had a dream that I was wandering around this big house with secret passageways behind bookshelves, hidden staircases, and a big front yard. I felt curious and elated like I did as a child discovering life’s mysteries for the first time. The next day got a lead from someone I had met randomly at a bookstore in Adams Morgan. The price was unbeatable for the city, almost like a gift from the gods.”

 

“Yeah, really, it’s impossible to find something these days,” she commented.

 

“And the next week, I bought this house. Everything you see here, the books, the jars, the labels – all already on the shelf from the previous owner. An Italian immigrant, I heard, who had passed and left nothing to his grandchildren who all live in various parts of the country and want nothing to do with his past. The plants were the passageways waiting for me to explore their world of insight. Their potential to heal us and bring us more into our true natures.”

 

She stared at him in silence.

“Trevor, I think you’re pretty cool, you know that?”

 

He laughed and went to go prepare her a coffee. “I guess you’re not so bad either.”

As much as Natalie enjoyed hanging out with Trevor, she simply couldn’t bring herself to opening up to him intimately. Perhaps is came from her unhealed past. Her first boyfriend told her about his trips on acid at 17 and became a heroin addict by the age of 22.  In her last serious relationship before her marriage, her boyfriend smoked a joint nearly every time they saw each other, which would make him fall asleep during sex. And then in her marriage — the most disastrous of them all – her husband was a physiatrist who eventually began abusing the opioids he gave to patients and had convinced her she was both anorexic and had bipolar disorder. Neither of which were true.

 

Natalie was never sure why she attracted these types of men into her life. Aside from the usual alcohol and weed in college, she had never really taken drugs herself. Things had not been great, and her friends never knew what she saw in these men. All of them, to varying degrees, had expressed interest in social and political change, but never really seemed to put much action behind their words. Their drug use came first.

 

Trevor, on the other hand, didn’t seem to care about politics at all. When he wasn’t working with the entheogens, he put all of his energy into his studies. She knew there was something different about him. They kept their boundaries, and she let the man remain a mystery.

 

In February, Penelope and Natalie got their nails done for Valentine’s Day. She told Natalie she has a dream where she is pregnant. They stop by a drug store for the test and sure enough –

 

“I can’t believe it’s going to happen. I’m going to be a mom!”

 


TO BE CONTINUED

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Coffee Date

Coffee Date
 
Sucking on this straw
And my coffee ice clinks
My new date
And I are out for drinks
He asks for a story
Before he asks for a nude
If you stick with me boy
You won’t need Pay-per View
“What happened to you?
To make you look so fucked up?”
“Dammit,” I think
“I even did my make-up!”
“Let me tell you
Last night I had one too many drinks
I ended up with my head in the toilet
At least I didn’t go for the sink!
But don’t worry
I didn’t start a fight!
I just lost my front tooth
When I tripped down a flight!”
Shit
….
..
.
Will you still love me?
Or will you get bored?
Hey  – my whole life I’ve been a whore!
According to who? According to what?
If the stars aligned – I’d be your slut.
You know – my last boyfriend – he was addicted to smut
Oh…I’m sorry! Is that gross?
Did I just reveal too much?
I know there’s a lot of ladies out there
But did I make the cut?
I have lots to say
And lots to do
I know it’s our first date
And this much is true
Baby boy
If you can listen to me
For more then five minutes
And your ball still aren’t blue
I’ll have to be honest
I think
I have to say
I’m falling
In love with you

Dream Stones

Dream Stones
Stream of Consciousness, Ethnography, Personal Narrative, Travel, Drugs
Dog
I wrote, I wrote, I wrote, because I don’t believe in writer’s block and even though I’m an expert at naval gazing I know I need to get out of the house and be around people, but no I don’t really feel like talking to them, I just need to watch them and their habits, kind of like how I watched this dog all week, who would wake me up in the middle of the night licking her wounds, a bad habit she’s acquired just like I have of picking my ears, so I’d yell at her to please stop and blame her for the reason I wasn’t really able to sleep but eventually I figured out she actually needed me to lift her legs onto the bed and then she took up all of it but at least she was peaceful.
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..
So I went out and I watched, I watched, I watched the whole world like I was traveling. I don’t have any money to take a trip but I can pretend that instead of those thoughts on is the path I always take and these are the same people I talk to rather to think this is the first time I have ever set eyes on this place and who are these people and what sort of culture do they have because I remember the time I went to Beijing for the first time and it felt like one week lasted me a whole year because nothing made sense but at the same time everything did because I just saw everything around me and felt free from wanting anything at all.
Dream stones
There’s a certain freedom when traveling but I can’t travel right now so I’m staying in this house with a meditation room and burning Chinese incense that reminds me of when I lived in Dali, Yunnan – the province of the Southern Clouds – and I am almost certain without a shadow of a dreamer’s doubt that in fact the people shaped the clouds descending over the mountainside with their thoughts and memories and dreams and hopes because the marble they mined from the mountain had the same look of the clouds and they sold that marble they called it dream stones.
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..
When my father came to visit me he went to every little just so he could stare at dream stones for hours before he decided to buy a whole suitcase full and I suppose they activated something in or I suppose it was the kind of shit he saw when he was high so maybe that explains why am I sitting here at breakfast Googling pictures of Ayahuasca for my desktop background because I remember that day after church we came back and ate bagels and talked about Jeremy Narby’s The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge for hours and how everything the Amazonian shamans told the anthropologist made complete fucking sense to me and now I hope every time I open my computer I can get activated and be reminded that life is not actually this but really that and be reminded there are some trips you don’t actually have to buy a plane ticket to take. 
Bus Stop Jamaica 
Sitting next to a Latina woman sitting at the bus stop, we are both watching the man across the street putting on a tie before he takes out two cases of bottled water from the trunk and I’m trying to remember that word…corbata…la corbata de civilization, it’s something like that, something like a choke hold that puts its arm around your neck and chokes you to death when you are just a man just a simple man and you surrender your whole head to the king of capitalism.
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..
He’s in front of a tire shop it reminds me of the kind in Jamaica because its yellow small and has some people milling about outside and when I went in 2010 with my jazz band it was the first time I could recall not knowing if I was awake or dreaming and it was the first time I could recall not having access to technology so I couldn’t call my boyfriend for a week and thank god because he called me every day ugh a way too co-dependent relationship I broke free from for a while but so I ended up cuddling with by the piano player in a hammock I couldn’t tell if it was okay to do that even though I really wanted to because there’s a certain way you can connect with people when we played music under the stars and the other piano player almost bought a ‘shroom from a guy on the beach but instead all of us when out to a trampoline on the sea and looked up at the stars and got high and thought maybe they made the shape of a cannabis leaf.
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..
The bus isn’t coming so I think maybe I should call a car but then I remember how I noticed the people who have white skin like me who have any bit of money don’t actually ride public transportation unless they are going to work, but at some point I learned that I’ll always get where I’m going anyways and at some point I learned time doesn’t actually exist and have you ever noticed that people think they need to be stressed out in order to get anything done and have you ever noticed people here use that word productive a lot but they don’t actually produce anything and at some point I removed that word from my vocabulary. 
Your Unreliable Ethnographer  
What thoughts are mine and what are not mine? I don’t really know anymore. 
.
..
When you observe a different culture, you assume the people you watch are genuinely happy to be together. 
.
..
I picked up a biography of Margaret Mead in a free library on the side of the street today and I don’t know anything about her much other than I agreed with her when I heard she said adolescence might really just be a sham invented by Western culture so why did I ever have to be a teenager I’ll never forget my remembered my first year anthropology professor who told us that when he was in Papua New Guinea the people worshipped sweet potatoes and even ate enough of them that they women used them as a form of birth control I have an IUD and people have all kinds of feelings about it but actually I probably eat like five sweet potatoes so I think I’m good.
.
..
I went out to watch the world like the world wasn’t watching me
.
..
When I got here I joined the spiritualist subculture because I started doing a lot of Kundalini Yoga too many days of the week until my body was beautiful and blissful and I had a killer set of abs but it’s about being spiritual right not the superficial way your body looks after a year of training so after I left that community I still found myself just as disconnected from people as I was when I lived in a place where I couldn’t speak the language.
.
..
So turns out your manic pixie yoga girl thinks fondly of her favorite anarchist Christian anthropology professor who had us question multiple interpretations of movie Jesus Camp and who told me to read David Graber when he met me in the park for a beer and who had us read an article called “Spiritual but Not Religious” which always sounded good to me but it seems that anytime I really sit with myself I remember I was still raised in the Presbyterian church and turns out so was Donald Trump and so fuck you Calvinism and your theory of predetermination and welcome to the terrifying side of something I need to come to terms with. 
.
..
I’m just here. Writing in a notebook and helping children climb up on top of the statue of Joan of Arc. Remembering no matter where I go in the world, this is what I’m destined to do every day. 
Yoga
There’s a man with white skin walking past some women with white skin lying in the grass on yoga mats and he laughs to maybe a woman who is his wife and says “Look – I could do that, just lie there” oh to just lie in the grass for a moment off my feet, it would feel so good, oh it would feel like I’m going home.
.
..
Now watching this couple a smaller man maybe of Asian descent and a woman with brown skin and I’m not sure if they’re not a couple couple but the very adept yogi man doing handstands is helping this taller also beautiful woman try one for herself and you can tell it’s hard for her so then he shares his watermelon with her and she looks nervous sort of to have this gesture of human kindness but at some point in her life someone told her to just follow her heart and for some reason she thinks to share some fruit right now just really feels right and good and loved.
.
..
Later I see her dancing around with two white flowers in her hands in sort of a freedom dance and she’s I wonder if this like a mating dance she’s thinking of that yogi guy from earlier and how he helped her with her handstand.
Drum Tribes
A lot of the people here have different colored rainbow hair as I imagine the Capital in the Hunger Games while on the inside I know they are caught up in an Arena of the heart, competing with each other to be sexier, slimmer, more booty shaking style smooth. 
.
..
There are two drum circles and one side people say these are the real musicians who are commemorating a man who died and on the other side people are just banging really loudly and there is a guy playing a drum set and from this statue I can just see everything and it’s the best seat in the house and I can hear feel smell taste the palo santo burning 
.
..
A woman with blue-colored hair is dancing and banging on a pot with a spoon and dancing with a guy who was spinning sticks with the people who reminded me of some traveling clowns I met in Argentina once who could juggle and had teardrops drawn under their eyes and the girl with blue hair is having fun and looks like the way I felt in a dream once. 
.
..
A man with white colored skin is playing djembe pretty well and sitting next to him a girl wearing a black wide-brimmed hat with a button on it and she’s cute but looking kind of bored so I wonder maybe she’s a poet so I’ve noticed a lot of girls around here wear hats because so a few months ago I bought a black hat to make me feel like a New York Patti Smith or maybe a New Mexican Georgia O’Keefe and to make me feel like maybe someone would pay attention to me while I read poetry.
Bathrooms
I buy a cold homemade drink from a girl with brown skin wearing a black value hat selling juice from a cooler and it makes me have to pee and I can’t believe there is only one public bathroom for all of these people plus I don’t want to wait in line so I go back to observe the human phenomena even though it’s not going to leave and will still be here once I return but I keep feeling like I need to see more feel more be more do more
.
..
I check my phone to see when I can catch the metro and I start to walk towards it but I can’t even last that long, and when I walk back and I girl walking with a boyfriend says I like your outfit! to me it seems like a friendly version of anonymous female-to-female catcalling, so I go back to the park to pee under a bush and it reminds me of that friend in college who insisted of peeing every time we went to the park to drink or get high and I walk back to the stairs and see this interesting inlet in the stone stairs and two women ask me if I’m looking for the bathroom because apparently this is where it used to be and I say no I just find it interesting looking, I just peed anyway in the bushes and they don’t reply back so is that appropriate for their culture I don’t know. 
Prayer
When I get back the drummers pause for a moment of silence for the man who died and I wonder is this how the tribes pray together? I’ve never seen anything quite like it except for in this temple of air. 

Today, I Run

Today, I Run
Today, I run.
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My friend loaned me her car, so I drive to a trail head I’ve never been to before. I want to explore. I want to go up the rocks and jagged pathways and be completely immersed in nature. I love DC for that. You can escape whenever you need to into a National Park.
 .
I’ve caved in and started using the Samsung “Running Coach” app on my phone. I pride myself on being a self-motivator, but it looks like I am falling into another millennial trap of covering up the feeling of loneliness with a button on my phone. Hit this one to find a lover, this one to help you meditate, this one to find out where you are going.
 .
I find it hard to believe we are still born with any sense of intuition at all.
Looks great! says Samsung.
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How the hell do you know how I look? I say back. All that matters is that it feels great. I remind myself. Getting my heart rate up feels great.  
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Keep up, you’re going too slow.
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Of course, I’m going slow! I’m going uphill on a trail, dammit! This is as hard as shit! 
I give myself the break.
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Thankfully, I’ve learned how to do that in the past four years. 
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Four years ago I was not a runner. I was not even a mover. If the doctor asked me if I worked out, I probably would say I had sex pretty regularly– does that count?  Oh, and sometimes I take a walk. I wasn’t fat; I wasn’t skinny. I just didn’t really see the point of exercise when there were other things to do.
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My mother said my childhood pediatrician told me I had a body of an athlete. But the narrowness path of public education set me up as someone who was supposed to get good grades and be in marching band. I felt embarrassed around athletic people. Couldn’t really keep up. Leave me to the brainy stuff, I thought. Forget the body.
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So, when did I start running? I think back first run I took at my summer teacher training after I had arrived in China as a fellow in Teach for China, a program similar to Peace Corps or Teach for America. We lived and worked at a rural school for a month to prepare us for teaching in our villages in the fall.
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A few of my friends would run. But they were very competitive, as many of the people in my program were in they had first arrived. Many hailed from Ivy Leagues and were used to being the best. On many levels, I felt intimidated.
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I’m going to be quite vulnerable with my readers and say I have a slight, but sometimes major, emotional trauma from childhood when it comes to becoming a part of new, big social groups. Ironically, I seek the experience out constantly. Such is the paradox of souls yearning to heal.
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On top of that, the general atmosphere our training was just, well, difficult. I had become so depressed from nights hardly sleeping on the hard-wooden bunk-bed. We had ridiculous deadlines of lesson plans to meet without any real Wi-Fi connection. One weekend, I developed a low-grade fever and just wanted to nap the day away.
I think after some lucky Skype call connection with my dad, he reminded me to try and exercise more. I remember putting on an album of Afro-Cuban music and going towards the hills, the day-time glow of a full moon in sight.
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A la luna yo me voy sang my iPod.
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I guess this DOES feel good, I remember thinking.
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The fever disappeared and I forgot I had ever had it to begin with. 
Good pace. Keep this up.
.
Thanks Samsung!
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Today, I run alone. I’m going to an event later tonight with a new friend that I don’t really know. Samsung talks in my ear but grounding down into my body reminds me about real emotion.
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Slow down and keep breathing.
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Stop pretending you’re not anxious. Just breathe.
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Run at a pace that allows you to still sing a song out loud.
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To who? About what? I’m alone Samsung!
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I wonder if I can make new friends who will want to run with me. Or maybe I do have friends that will run with me; I’ve just never asked.
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I pass an older gay couple with the two black dogs, the family of four that got lost from the trail, and a mom and her daughter racing in the grass to run into dad’s arms. 
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Belonging. I think to myself. I also have that sense of belonging. Matching my emotions to manifest my needs.
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I think back to the friends I used to run with. 
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I think of Derek, I think of Brittany and I think of Li Hai Peng. My co-fellows, two Americans and one Chinese, in my village, who convinced me to start running with them.
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Derek had a long, lean and muscular build. Brittany was tall and fit and had been running cross-country for years. Hai Peng had shorter legs, but they carried him along quickly.
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The first year I attempted to go with them two or three times after dinner. Teaching most days was a nightmare. And with running, I did not believe in myself at all. Someone in my family sent me a giant jar of Nutella in a care package, so and truth be told, I just ended up eating spoonfuls of that in my room after teaching to combat the stress.
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The second year, I settled in. I had a mastery over my class, my Chinese, and my emotional well-being in general. I started doing a lot of yoga, but I got bored. There wasn’t really much to do in the village, so I joined the run.
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Today, I look up the hill I’m about the climb. I can almost hear my childish cry after Derek and I see him up ahead on the trail. 
.                                   
“Derek slow down! Not fair, you’re too fast!”
“No, Merritt, you’re fine. Keep up that pace. See, you’re doing so well! Lengthen your stride. You have long legs, you can do it.” 
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“Thanks coach!” 
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Hai Peng and Derek used to sing songs in Chinese. Derek told me he liked to run to sad, melancholy songs, rather than upbeat ones. While we ran, we would talk about what was happening with teaching, or just ourselves, and even our lives outside of that place.
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I’d wave at my students, playing outside at home after dinner. Derek would always see that 14-year-old picking grapes who had dropped out of middle school and who he had befriended.
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When I ran alone, I’d hope the stray dogs wouldn’t chase me, but sometimes they did, and it made me run faster. Adrenaline is a nice drug of choice. In my mind, I’d plan out my trips I’d take to Vietnam and Cambodia. I’d think about what kind of life I’d have once I got home. I’d look at the grape fields and the mountains, but I never thought that one day that this place would be the home that I’d miss.
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Eventually, we started training for a marathon in the nearest city, about a two-hour bus ride away from our village. Hai Peng’s friend, Kun Zai, had come to live in the village because he had a job in computers that allowed him to work remotely and have time to play lots of video games as well. He always brought along a much needed sense of joy and humor to our running conversations that were often dampened by the stress of our work in the classroom.
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The day of the race we lined up early in the morning. There was a man smoking a cigarette and with a Red Bull in hand jogging in place.
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Yeah, I think I can do this, I thought. 
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We were off, running past a large beautiful lake and through alley ways of shops preparing fresh包子Bāozi, or steamed buns, from the windowsills.
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Derek and Hai Peng took off quickly, both of them taking a stab at the half-marathon. Kun Zai promised to keep an eye on me as he and I were both attempting our first 10K. 
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Near the end of the race, I found myself alone, tired, and ready to have the whole thing over with. But then Kun Zai met up with me.
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“You can do it! Defeat the enemy!” he said, a quick as a gunman from one of his games.
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I looked forward at a girl running about 30 meters in front of me. Sure, I can do it. Why not? (Or as I was probably thinking in Chinese 为什么不?Wèishéme bù?)
I crossed the finish line and came in 9th place for the women’s race.
…………………………………………….
I’m not really sure there’s an enemy to defeat anymore. I don’t hang around competitive people and I can’t say I’m competitive with myself like I used to be. 
The only “enemy” was the voice in my head that told me I couldn’t do anything.
Now, I just enjoy the view from the run.
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Derek e-mailed me a few days ago. He still lives in China. I suggested that he and Hai Peng should make a motivational bilingual running app. It would sell millions! He said he’ll pitch the idea to him. 
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Across oceans of disconnect, it’s good to know technology can help make us feel we still belong to some greater tribe of friendship.
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 Nice job, you’re almost there. 
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Thanks Samsung.
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But where exactly is ‘there’?
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For I know with each breath I take, I have the chance to begin again.

The Whole World

Listen to a tale of how the whole world came to be
Sit on my lap and sink in close to me.
God rose at dawn, fell asleep by a well
Took man from an atom
And descended to hell
It was then that he saw
How the great sun grew bright
He put up stars in the sky
To make that thing we call “night”
With blue boomerang balls of fire in fists
Blazed rock laden coasts with the air we call “mist”
Moonbeams and sunstreams and water did not
Exsist at this moment for God had forgot
The Goddess inside and her good word delight
Spreading an unyielding love upon a vibration called fright
So they danced and they withered with some special light
Not the kind you turn on, but the kind you ignite
And they waded and walled in all of that pain
Thinking that one day, in some dimension we’d exist on this plane
of projects and problems and death’s brutal brew
so that I could sit here my dear one, and feed it to you

Sunday Mornings Are Never Really Sacred

A poem I wrote years and years ago that I am reminded of today. I like to think something really new and beautiful awakened after I wrote it. I don’t really go to church or am A practicing Christian” any longer, but I do find something wonderful about a Sunday.
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Sunday Mornings are Never Really Sacred

Sunday mornings are
never really sacred.
You walk to church,
like your feet are carrying you there.
You can’t say why.
It just feels like something you’re supposed to do.

Minds eye takes me home
Meandering road
Pennsylvanian vistas of the
Hilltop crest past the Christmas tree farm,
Barn door tucked into valley folds of
sunlight soaked evergreen pond.
Tampered by the promise of
Lumped on fracking wells
To end this recession.

In the city you arrive at the church
and climb to the balcony.
No familiar faces greet you. The sounds of a passionate piano do not guide the way.
No tapestry of a labyrinth, or a Pentecostal dove.
No smell of flowers or wax dripping off of candles.
No need to brush legs with your neighbor while you step into the pew.
No prayers of concern, no reverend who raises his hands –
Let us stand and greet each other.

Just that little black book, where you write your name and check whether you are a member or not.
And the hymnal too. It’s the same shade of blue.
Without white walls to use as a pallet for the colors seeping out of organ pipes,
your gaze tracks the leaden frame of a stained glass window,
dodging eye contact with a painting of Christ.

Your mind drifts during the sermon,
And when the collection plate comes around you throw a dollar in,
hoping it will atone for the sin of forgetting to tip the cabbie last night.

These avoidances keep you vulnerable,
until the end of the service, when the man in front of you with a startling stare turns around and invites you downstairs for coffee.
Tells you about what a great church this is and boasts of former reverend with Princeton accolades who boosted membership with his own bare hands.

Walking back to your apartment under a grey sheet of sky
you call your father and remember that today after church
you won’t be watching red cardinals and clumsy squirrels
dancing in the big pine tree
outside your long glass window

Rather hum to yourself
Be Thou my Vision
While washing the dishes

Ode to 艾 and 爱 (Ode to Ai and Love)

— I’m not doing the quote full justice, and there’s much more I want to say on this but here is the story for now —
Today I went to go see Ai Wei Wei’s “Never Sorry” at the Hirshorn Museum.  It’s been over five years since I’ve seen the film. To be honest, at this point I define my life by “life before I went to China” and “life after I lived in China.” Most ex-pats who have lived there for any extended period of time might agree. The place changes you. I was curious – how would I feel about the film this time?
When I saw the movie five years ago, I went with a group of four Chinese teachers my father had dragged along with us. I respect my dad so much – for years Chinese teachers have been visiting his school and he always connected with them so beautifully – inviting them to dinners, Christmas, taking them shopping for groceries, and supporting them just as humans who needed to be seen and understood. Of course, having a bit of a radial edge, he always wanted to dig deeper into their experience. What was life in China really like? Were they a part of the Party? Were they religious? What was life like for their grandparents during Community rule?
So he took them to the film. Big mistake? Maybe. They yelled at the host leading the Q&A after the film. He was also Chinese. He originally came to the US to get his degree in engineering at CMU, but started learning about Chinese history in the 20th century, and switched his degree to nonprofit management. He had been working as a coordinator for wealthy Chinese high school students coming to the US. When I asked him afterwards what the Chinese teachers were saying to him he said, “They think Ai Wei Wei is a nobody, not important, worthy to be ignored. They are still so brainwashed by Chinese propaganda.”
When I saw the movie today, I noticed people in the theater laughed a lot at Ai’s antics. He is quite a hilarious activist, a modern day jester if you will.  There’s certainly shadow side to Ai in this context. He makes those privileged in the US feel safe in our complicity. To  feel good that we “aren’t” China. We are here, in a museum watching an activist film, for free, on a Sunday. I probably watched the film the first time in similar fashion. Amazed, fascinated, curious and in awe of the man. Knowing that “over there” people lived in repression and thankfully we had free access to art, music and culture. A dangerous dose of some American exceptionalism I was born into: the illusion of pure free expression.
My viewing of this film this time around was much more…human.
I cried much more than I laughed. I sobbed seeing schools destroyed by the Earthquake in Sichuan province in 2008, due to shoddy construction of “tofu-brick” buildings in schools in poor areas; meaning, tuition funds go to a fat salary for an official comes before the price of a student’s life in a safely constructed building. I cringed at the moments when Ai sat in the hospital photographing himself wearing a bandage on his head after being assaulted by the police. The audience laughed, but here I saw a man in pain, trapped in a cage he could not escape, no matter how humorous his approach.
When I came to Washington, DC in 2013 for an interview with Teach for China, I remember heading over to Hirschhorn afterwards, alone, to see Ai’s “According to What?” exhibit. Always was my favorite museum after all. I saw the backpacks of every student killed in the Earthquake lining the ceiling, the names of dead children lining the walls, read aloud by many different voices.
Knowing, in my heart at the time, these students and families would one day be a part of my own world. People I connected with, played music with, shared meals with, attended religious services with (Yes! religion exists in China!), talked about love and relationships with, danced with, cried with, spent the night in their humble homes with.
Today I sat shocked, at the lengths an artist must go to in order to humanize himself to the Other.

How to Get Lit

Lately I’ve been caught in
     the right way to hold your breath, how to meditate, how to stop the mind
     the right way to cleanse your liver, what to eat, when not to eat it
     when to go to bed, how cold to make your shower, what to put in the bath, what scent to wear
     how slow to dance, how to be a woman, how not to be tamed, how to be domestic
     what gave me acne, how to make it go away
     if I start smoking weed and cigarettes does that make me okay?
     i just asked the dentist if fluoride can close my third eye
     but my gums are bleeding! oh me, oh my!
     should I drink? do my armpits stink?
     is it okay to ask out a guy? or is it better to just sit around and wonder – why?
     be with the mama moon on your period or keep the IUD?
     but hey – if you get pregnant just don’t come to me!
     must I feel guilt when the Beibes comes on?
     or can I claim Despacito as my new favorite song?
     just live life by the fly, but please – don’t cry! it makes you seem weak
     you don’t want to loose your own winning streak
     drink bottled water, or don’t, just recycle the plastic
     hey look – you’re fantastic!
     do you compost? Throw your paper away?
     would you vaccinate your kids or raise them on an apple a day?
     do you ever how your gay friends have to pray?
     when so many rights are taken away?
     by those people who can split their heart into three?
     shoo away the Mormons at their doorstep but practice their own form of polygamy?
     I’m sorry to say, as I take a breath in
     I don’t really believe in original sin
     I sort of believe we are all just fine as we are
     all chasing that wish on some shooting star
     so join me perhaps in the “the Way” if you will
     because these self-punishment talks are not really real
     between vegan and kosher and old gluten free
     there’s no right way to do it
     I’m just simply
     me

Inner Writer: What Does She Need?

Inner Writer: What Does She Need?
“Who is your inner writer and what does she need?”
So I wrote to her, and in faith, she guided me.
  – An invocation – like to a lover. Where are you? Come to me today.
  – Space – like a date, focus on your needs. Have plenty of food and water.
  – Some inspiration from anything – a music video, a conversation, that will come in and go out.
  – No fear to be vulnerable and open. I am an observing, observing your thoughts.
  – Usually no music – I like the vibes of nature or the sounds of humans or the humming of buildings. If there is music, make sure it’s instrumental or in a different language and tunes into the rhythm of your own words.
  – Relaxation into the entire body.
  – Honesty and trust.
  – A little warm up exercise…just to undo the top layer and get deeper.
  – Some spell checker, because let’s be real, grammar and spelling have never been your friend. Those traumatic moments from teachers and parents that planted perfectionism in your bones. (Blessing to the goddess of Julia Cameron for freeing me from such!)
Meeting my inner writer is like meeting a long lost lover. I can spend hours in her presence. I can laugh and cry with her. She tells me things I never knew that I knew about myself. When I discover them, I feel whole.
She is very particular and will operate only under certain conditions. However, once you have her caught for just a few moments, she will come out to play and forget about the passage of time at all.
She has all kinds of ways to remix the world. To take from the past and turn it into the future. To look at a photograph and unravel its meaning. To dig into the unknown places of history and question them. To take a real wound from love and turn it into a made up story, that makes the hurt not seem so bad after all. To write a poem that rambles on and no one understands, but she feels good every time she sees it.
She gets resentful when she is not seen. But doesn’t matter because she stays cooped up in the house a lot anyway, wearing a vintage silk robe she got a thrift sale. She imagines some dame from the early 20th-century wearing it while she smokes cigarettes off the balcony and says words like “darling” and complains about the unbearable heat in this city.
She likes coffee shops, even though she knows you shouldn’t be drinking coffee anyway, bad for your hormones, at this age. Most of them nowadays are for people who need to “get stuff done” and race on with the world. When the inner writer is in a coffee shop, she imagines them like the something from Revolutionary Paris, although she doesn’t know much about the Revolution or Paris, she just lives in that notion of romance and freedom.
Maybe it’s something like the coffee shops you sat in from the French Quarter in Shanghai or Hanoi in Vietnam – in a secret alleyway, full of with small nooks and crannies for antiques to hide. The oldness about this place brings a meeting of worlds that is comforting. People came here just to sit and talk once, and come up with ideas, with nowhere to go and nowhere to be. A cup of coffee that doesn’t brag about its name, or size, or special latte combination. It’s mixed with something like condensed milk or egg white. No whipped cream on top. She could sit here forever and be the Buddha with froth overflowing from the lotus flower. The energy of this discovery brings this lasting peace that calls to meet the feet on sidewalks and in botanical gardens. Please, take me on a stroll, darling.

Rowing Through the Rot

He paddled, day after day and night after night. Looking into the mirror of experience. Looking for that truth. That essence of his being that seemed to be missing forever.
Some would call it the Rot. Some would call it the “dark night of the soul.” The dark swamp of despair that he could not get out of. The paddler is like the Grim Reaper coming forth from Death to carry you across the Hades, into the underworld, where you will sit – wondering why you can’t really speak to anyone. Where you feel like you look around and every one seems happy and joyful and you just are not a part of that, while also knowing you are a part of everything at the same time.  Knowing death is imminent, you infinite, and human all at the same time. The feeling of now-ness, of nothingness. Of wanting to connect with your true self yet manipulate the tides of nature and her curses all at the same time. Using your gifts of magic to speak wisdom to the ages, yet lost at sea, alone, wanting to finally reach that next tree, but the water of consciousness just keeps running forever, knowing that you will never quite get there without a fellow paddler at the bow. Yet you keep rowing along, the lone traveler, thinking “If I just try this” or “If I just did this correctly” I would finally get there and I would be whole again. I have bad news for you – the water keeps going and from the illusions of trees there is just more water. You need not row forever, because, my dear, you have not yet learned to just rest in the stroke. You’ll see – something that used to be essential now Rots away, a compositing of the muck you could say, into the very White-Hot heart of Our Being.