Carry the Sky

Angers, France

July 30, 2017. The echo of discordant footfalls on cobblestone. I stalk up and down the narrow streets, scolding myself. Few have the luxury of so much free time and I’m wasting it. In a few months, it’s back to the real world of work. If I don’t finish the memoir now, I’ll never finish it. Frustration clamps around my throat. Why can’t I get over this block? A glance to the left. Words written on a broken doorbell: La réponse est en toi. The answer is within you.

August 21st. It’s funny, the things that get caught inside us, interrupting the flow. Work on the obvious, then look at what you thought was insignificant. Because nothing is. A sliver: long forgotten and lodged so deep that I could no longer feel the poison that has seeped into every aspect of my life. The painstaking excavation is almost complete. It now lies just below the surface, freshly inflamed. The final extraction will be excruciating.

The livestream for the eclipse begins. Not just any eclipse. The Great American Eclipse! I roll my eyes. I’m surprised they didn’t find a way to trademark it. Totality is imminent. A reporter interviews a scientist. Wide, innocent eyes. The phenomenon is an amazing accident! The diameter of the moon is almost exactly four hundred times smaller than the sun’s diameter, and the sun is almost exactly four hundred times further away than the moon. The distance between Earth and the moon are slowly changing, so in the future this eclipse will not exist, as was the case in the past. Life has only been on Earth for four hundred million years. Such an astounding coincidence that we live in this little window of time!

A smile spreads across my face. Coincidence is for people who can’t handle mystery. The languid blink of totality fills the screen. Sunrays reappear. People gather up their blankets and scurry away. I shake my head. After what they’ve just witnessed, they’re worried about beating traffic? I close the computer and go out to the balcony. It’s headed this way. The familiar din rises from the square below. Chatter from the pubs and shrieking children, punctuated by the rasp of skateboarders gliding across the concrete.

The blazing disc hovers over the rooftops. A narrow crescent shadow slithers across the bottom. Barely perceptible dilution of sunlight. France only gets a partial glimpse. A sudden breeze wafts across the hardwood floor, encircling my feet. I lean against the door and close my eyes. Do not squander this. Use it to focus. Soft red heat on my eyelids. A flood of sadness. So much time wasted chasing after those who don’t recognize my value.

Time to set the last of the phantoms free. I am not the captive, but the prison. I’m ready now. Give it to me. His face materializes. A cascade of heartbreak. It drips off in rivulets of disappointment. I reach over and squeeze his arm. Soft smile of forgiveness. I was wrong about you. Go in peace. The euphoria of transference: it had nothing to do with me. With one long, luxurious sigh, it is gone.

Now. A feeling, not a voice. Forceful and tinged with mischief. Look at this. I open my eyes. The scene in the square below ripples. A massive wave recedes, revealing the life below the maelstrom. Writhing, gasping, stumbling through their own personal oblivion. All of the individual struggles, so intricate and unique. The magnitude of the illusion that enslaves us. Tears fill my eyes. My heart aches at the broken beauty of it all.

The air ripples again and then swells. A slow, deep hum. Pure awareness. The source from which everything emanates. The resonance intensifies. A tremor seizes me. It knows I sense it. I back away from the balcony. Turn around to step back through that doorway, but it’s gone. There is no going back. Back to the wall, slow slide to the floor. What the fuck. The devastation is total. Please. Not this. The day I’ve feared has arrived. I’m going to end up like my father: raving, incoherent, consumed by psychosis, medicated into submission. After all the progress I’ve made, this can’t happen.

Surrender. Love your crazy. I wrap my arms around my knees, lay my head down, and let it engulf me. Minutes pass. The tremors subside to isolated muscle twitches. Fireflies under the skin. They converge under my sternum. The tremor becomes a shimmer that radiates through me. I crawl into bed and collapse into sleep.

When I awaken, the world is reassembled. Sharper, more vivid. Untainted by the filter of every pain I’ve ever felt. All the little details I’ve never noticed. The hues within hues. The glow, everywhere. My entire body aches to the bone. The eyes that meet mine in the mirror blaze.

I sit by the edge of the lake for hours and stare at the ripples as they journey across the liquid expanse. One tiny drop reverberates so far. And it never really ends. Runners and bikers pass by. Greetings are exchanged. I can look them in the eyes now. The further I recede into detachment, the more empathy I have for humans. The deeper I go, the more I blend in. My perception has shifted, but I still have to navigate the illusion. So what if I’m crazy. No one has a handle on any of this.

In the vastness left behind after letting so much go, I carry the sky. This exquisite silence, now. The clear intent. I fill in the empty spaces on the page. Leading it all to completion.

At the beginning of September, Le Voyageur arrives. Just in time to bring me back to Earth. With him, I am safe to share my deepest reflections. He’ll let me know if I’ve gone too far. We walk along the banks of the Loire, sharing revelations. He has his own way of figuring things out, as it should be. I bask in our communion of strangeness. So much gratitude for this thirty-year friendship.

Clouds converge. Ripening grapes perfume the dry, late summer breeze. Halfway through the fifteen-mile walk, we stop for a lunch of cheese and fruit.

“You know my trip home in January?” I take a deep breath. “I’m thinking of staying.”

His eyes widen. “Wow. What changed your mind after all these years?”

“I’m tired, Jim. I’m tired of being isolated from the people I love. I’ve done what I wanted to do, found what I was looking for. At this point, it feels like I’m punishing myself. I can pretty much go anywhere I want to, but is it worth it, anymore?” I swallow the lump in my throat. “I know that when I walk away from this marriage, which has consumed me for two decades, I will probably face the rest of my life alone.” I pause. The more I realize the rarity of finding someone who is unafraid of what lies beneath my surface, the more I believe it is possible. Explore your darkness: the loneliness. There you will find treasure. I close my eyes and nod. “I’m prepared for that. No more hiding who I am. It’s possible that I’ll work a mundane job until I die. That’s fine. Somehow I know that everything will work out, whether I stay in Michigan forever or not.”

Jim has recently moved back to Chicago with his partner after more than a decade overseas. Even though he longed to return for years, it’s a difficult transition. Friends have turned their backs on him, because he now has different views. He fears he has lost the ability to make new friends. It has become necessary to choose sides, adopt labels. People have become addicted to outrage and division. I need to steel myself for this and other sicknesses in the culture.

A high school friend’s face flashes before me. I reconnected with her during my last visit. Two bottles of wine consumed in a hotel room. Twenty-five years of history to catch up on. She built herself up from poverty. A brilliant example of success. Twelve-hour work days, two kids to raise alone. Gated community. Cosmetic procedures. The frequency and viciousness of her panic attacks put mine to shame.

Why are you doing this to yourself?

She brandished a plastic baggie filled with a trail mix of pharmaceuticals. I’ve got these. I’m fine.

A spasm of derision passed over her face when I said that my wealth consists of my experiences and the free time I allow myself to have. I can fit everything I own in two suitcases, but I feel like the richest person on the planet. I’ve made it a priority to face what needs to be done instead of drowning it out. It’s the only reason I’m still alive. I stared into her eyes, kaleidoscopes of torment. Is this really what life is about?

A vast sigh. You’re an artist, Julie. You live in a different world.

I frowned. What’s that got to do with it? Your kids will still love you if you have less. They’ll be happier if you’re happier. You don’t have to abandon your career, just learn how to say no sometimes.

She shook her head. You don’t understand. People can only hear the things they need to hear when they’re ready. Most make damn sure they are never ready. I haven’t heard from her since.

I take a deep breath and put my head in my hands. “I don’t know if I can deal with it, Jim, but I want to try. I feel like I’m being called back.”

“It’s funny, you’re not the only person I know who’s returning home after a long absence. I hope you do stay. I’d love to have you near me again.” Hand on my shoulder. A squeeze. I place my hand on his and bow my head.

Sometimes it reappears, seeping through the cracks of my consciousness. Seems insulting to try to give it a name. No more fear. I open wide and let it pour in. It leads the way now. Sparkle in my heart. A giggle. Such a delight to be in on the joke now. We are here to love and do it with every atom of our being.

The fog begins to dissipate, revealing the path ahead. Something is there, taking shape, waiting for me. Suppressed excitement comes back as fear, a therapist friend once told me. I lift my face to the sky and beam. I’m so excited for what you’ve got in store for me.

October 16th. Something about the sun, again. Gauzy, copper-infused radiance trickles through the treetops. A warm, humid breeze. Could it be connected to the hurricane passing over Ireland?*

There’s something about Indian summer that makes me feel as though I’m passing through every place I’ve ever been. Foreign lands. Territories of perception. The beliefs I’ve held. Another’s happiness is more important than mine. Another’s life is worth more. I have no value, at all. Be grateful for the chance to disappear into someone else. I was so very proud of this martyrdom. You are just as worthy of your own love and energy as anyone else is.

The more I take care of myself first, the more I’m able to give. I’m not obligated to expend energy on everyone. Only those who are receptive. It’s not an obligation, but a desire. The right words. A look of recognition. You are not alone. I open myself to receive. I am not alone, either. We are in this together. Beacons in the gathering darkness.

A stray cat bursts out of the bushes with a raucous meow. I brace myself. I’ve been the victim of more random cat attacks than I can count. She rubs herself around my legs in a figure eight ballet. I smile. Infinity. I reach down with caution. “Don’t bite me, please.” She arches her back under my caress.

Line edits, then copyediting. Every single word. Over and over. The life on the pages becomes that of someone else. All of this couldn’t have happened to me. Afternoon walks along the rivers. The different voices tell me their stories. The whimsical Mayenne. The placid Sarthe. The sluggish whisper of the Maine.

The exuberant Loire swallows them all. Here, the current quickens. Not with urgency, but determination. Individual flows join forces, moving towards surrender to the infinite.

An undercurrent raises its voice. This one feisty and unpredictable and so far away. Calling me home.

December 10th. The memoir is finished. No fireworks, tears of joy, or flood of relief. Only calm. My mind flickers to the next steps: synopsis, proposal, the search for an agent. My chest constricts. A wall of self-doubt encloses me. Yet another block to dispel. The work is never-ending, but I welcome it.

January 1, 2018. Supermoonrise over the blue slate rooftops. Mind swathed in iridescent clouds. A taste in my mouth like dark forests and furtive blooms. In my slumber, a dream: Spider wrapped in a cocoon web. The kind they build for periods of regeneration. She is pure gold. Black hieroglyphic scrawls on her back. She stirs. Her legs tear at the fibers in slow, fierce motions. Her glow intensifies. She’s coming. Get ready. I’m petrified, but I force myself to stand my ground and look at her. She breaks free with a scream. A war cry. I jerk awake with a whimper, heart pounding, gasping for breath.

I stagger into the kitchen. Morning sounds rise from the streets. Delivery trucks and street sweepers. In the corners of the windows, tattered webs shudder in the cold wind. Tiny bodies cling, fearless. I brew an espresso and drink it at the counter. Spider is a frequent visitor to my dreams. She’s a writer’s totem, spinning the web of her reality. She also represents fear of one’s own power. I brush my fingers over a fresh red lump on the inside of my left forearm. It’s not failure that I’m afraid of, but success.

*The strange sunlight was caused by dust from the Sahara that was brought north by Hurricane Ophelia.

56 thoughts on “Carry the Sky

  1. I really found myself in your last sentence, about failure of success. So many years thinking that one shouldn’t be gloating, be modest and that the only way from the top is down (thank you, Catholic education) and I do realise I’ve got the same feeling.
    Having said that, I’m rooting for you here, and I’m hoping that whatever you decide to do – CEO of Boeing, waitress at iHop and anything inbetween – is what you really want to do, and that you’ll still keep on writing about it over here, for what’s your mundanity can be somebody else’s exoticity.

    • That’s a tough one, isn’t it, Fabrizio. Not feeling worthy of success or real happiness. Catholics have it worse than most, for sure. Conditioning at its finest. I’m slowly getting over that, but it’s not easy.

      I’m actually enjoying the hell out of the mundane right now. Nothing like real work to bring you back to Earth. I’ve still got lots to write about- past journeys, Michigan, etc, but I think I might take a little break to have some summer fun. 🙂

      • That’s interesting about Catholics……I recently found out my two best friends here were raised Catholic (1 went to a Catholic school as well) and they were the first one’s to accept my eccentric behavior and me in general. We all had a laugh when we found out about our similar history I was not a favorite of many people when I first arrived here, although since then people are now ok with me.

        • I don’t regret the Catholic upbringing at all, despite how twisted it was. I’ve also noticed how those who were raised Catholic, and went to Catholic school, seem to be more accepting of quirks. Probably because we’ve all got them. The stories we can tell, many of them so funny. It built character.

  2. The deep-down splinters we harbour and host. You’ve truly set me thinking/feeling here, Julie. What was it Tolstoi said about dipping his pen in the ink and ripping off skin. Rawly wrought and full of meaning and very fine.

  3. This comes across as a very personal revelation. “The answer is within you” – it sounds like you found it it and can move on. Many people never find it. Congratulations on finishing the memoir.
    Your photos of and around Angers are lovely. I would like to go there for myself one day.

    • I’ve actually been finding pieces for years, then I got hit with this BIG one, and more will probably surface, probably until this all ends for me. Too bad your plans for Angers didn’t work out for your upcoming trip. Hope you have a great time on your fabulous voyage anyway.

  4. Beautiful, Julie….once again!! I too, love the pics! Your memoir is truly a celebration of your life! I’m so glad you were able to finally complete it. Even though I’m sure it brought you pain to revisit some of those times, it was therapeutic as well. Can’t wait to see you again!!!
    Love you!!
    Shelly

  5. Beautiful photos. A life-story craved or abhorred depending on who is doing the reading. “You’re an artist.” Such an interesting way to say “I can’t.” Thank you.

  6. I remember the beckoning orb you wrote about in a former post, and I hope that brightness is still there, maybe even warming you by now. You made such a brave and difficult choice; I admire it and hope that all the frustrating webs of stuff you encounter here in your old/new land don’t feel too stifling.

    • Thank you, Lexie. 🙂 Yes, that’s exactly what I was referring to in the previous post and it’s still there, still glowing. Good stuff is happening here, slowly, but enough to keep my faith intact. As for being back, it’s all going much better than expected. But I’m in a special area. People are really cool up here, just as they’ve always been.

  7. Wow Julie, so much to discover here. Loads of courage in the sharing with your devoted readers. I’ve thought about this all morning and will read through it again … and maybe again. As usual, the writing and photographs are exquisite. I love the one with the green rowboat. And Lou Reed is among my most admired artists.

    • Thank you, as always. I hesitated to post this. I was concerned about freaking people out, but then I realized that some may find it useful. I sure appreciated stumbling upon articles/blog posts/youtube lectures by people who had gone through similar intense experiences. Besides, it’s my blog and I can do what I want. 😀 I actually heard this song on the day after I had that experience and it stuck with me. It’s so appropriate. Love it.

  8. I really like how this reads. It’s as though for a long time travelling–movement–have been the instigators of your growth, and now you’ve come to the place where in order to grow, you have to stand still.
    (P.S. Good luck on finishing touches of the memoir! Many eager fans await its placement.)

  9. One of those posts I enjoy reading several times, each one giving me a glimpse of something new, something different. You are now standing in one place, and watching this world twirl around you at dizzying speeds trying to make sense of it all. Pieces of it terrifying, but it is where the spices of life are born.

    Great writing is courageous writing ~ leaving it all out there within beautiful sentences and structure, but demanding the reader to step into the writing as well. You’ve achieved this is beautifully with this piece, Julie. It’s exciting and terrifying to explore the unknown and reckon with the impossibilities, all to create the magic of a life well lived. As you’ve mentioned before, only by opening ourselves up do answers appear. Wishing you a great day ahead.

  10. “Go in Peace.” There’s a lot to be said about that little thought: a way to say goodbye to personal baggage; a way to say goodbye to loved ones, hoping for a loving return; a way to move forward through life, trying not to get snagged on all the little aggravations. It sounds like you’ve found that path.

    Congrats on finishing the memoir, I bet it’s both poetic and a doozy of a read.

    • Thank you, Dave. Such a good point you make. I also use it when beautiful possibilities appear, things I wish for maybe a little too much. Set them free and see if they return. It’s a good thought to carry along the way, for sure.

  11. Congratulations on finishing! I’m still relearning and doubting about how best to spend my days. Your forest photo makes me long for the deep hours of childhood summer when this was never a question.

    • Thank you. 😊That childhood summer mind is still there, waiting for you to return. You’re making an effort to figure things out. C’est déjà ça. 🙂

  12. There are so many struggles that I can relate from the distance of another reality. I think somehow we run alone the same paths but in a way we cannot share with others. It is a strange journey (almost like a dream), with a particular beauty.

    • I know what you mean, Francis. A parallel reality, playing out right next to this one. I’ve felt it since I was a child, knew even then to have respect for it. But now I wonder which one is really the dream.

  13. Your recap of the Great American Eclipse was spot on. With that going on, I am surprised you decided to return home. It is reality like that which keeps me running.

    In addition to the well placed gorgeous photographs, there are so many nuggets in this post that resonated with me
    + La réponse est en toi. The answer is within you.
    + So much time wasted chasing after those who don’t recognize my value.
    + Love your crazy.
    + Explore your darkness: the loneliness. There you will find treasure.
    + The more I take care of myself first, the more I’m able to give

    I used to be just like your old high school friend. I am glad to have escaped. I hope she listens soon.

    • Hi Lisa,

      That zombieland reality is what kept me away for so long. Even before I moved overseas it creeped me out. It goes so deep, transcends politics. All the blind obedience, but the chants of « freedom » have only gotten shriller. I’m lucky to be able to live in the woods in a sparsely populated area.

      Good for you for escaping that prison. I think my friend is lost forever, like so many others. « Love your crazy » is my new mantra. It saved me that day. Hope you love the hell out of your glorious insanity.

  14. Julie,

    This piece hooked me start to finish. Your writing has the power of heartfelt authenticity, and all I can say is I find it inspiring. I wish you great success with your memoir and look forward to a signed copy, if that is not too bold a request at this juncture. The beauty of being human is our stories are never just for us, and while there is a certain profundity to being within them, there’s also the profundity of being touched by such reporting–live on the scene–as you provide here. Your writing strikes a chord. I resonate beside you, and all those called at this time, to stare into the mantle of love and call it our home.

    Peace
    Michael

    • Thanks so very much, Michael. Writing this one fried my circuits a little, but in a good way. Of course you can have a signed copy when it’s published. Who knows how long it will take but I promise I won’t forget. Peace back at you. 🙂

  15. Hi Julie. Finally managed to save away the requisite time to re-read your text with calm.
    (I was afraid comments might be closed…)
    Sorry about your marriage. It does take courage to do that. And most times it is for the best. 🙂
    Random thoughts: you are not your father. That’s one. It may be one of your greatest fears, but fear not. What we fear most generally never happens. Other s…tuff does. Meanwhile, enjoy.
    You sound at peace. More so than in many other posts I’ve read. And that is good. Hang on to that.
    I probably already mentioned Du Bellay to you? If not, and though you have precisely abandoned “la douceur Angevine”, it is the greatest poem about coming home:

    Heureux qui, comme Ulysse, a fait un beau voyage,
    Ou comme cestuy-là qui conquit la toison,
    Et puis est retourné, plein d’usage et raison,
    Vivre entre ses parents le reste de son âge !

    Quand reverrai-je, hélas, de mon petit village
    Fumer la cheminée, et en quelle saison
    Reverrai-je le clos de ma pauvre maison,
    Qui m’est une province, et beaucoup davantage ?

    Plus me plaît le séjour qu’ont bâti mes aïeux,
    Que des palais Romains le front audacieux,
    Plus que le marbre dur me plaît l’ardoise fine :

    Plus mon Loir gaulois, que le Tibre latin,
    Plus mon petit Liré, que le mont Palatin,
    Et plus que l’air marin la doulceur angevine.

    • Hi Brian. Yes, I am very much at peace now. And the poem I know, of course. It has a deeper meaning for me because, not only does it speak of returning home after a long voyage, it speaks of Anjou which will always hold a very special place in my heart. It’s the place that finally showed me the way home.

      • Hi Julie. I am very happy about the peace. And of course, I knew the poem would have a double meaning for you. To be honest, every time I remember it, it tells me of a possible return. To France. Which is not entirely feasible. Our life is here. But… I have maintained enough ties there to maybe have one foot in Mexico and the other in France. Or spend more time there (right now I spent 6-8 weeks a year there) and here. We will see.
        Bottom line: je suis heureux pour toi. La paix est parfois difficile à trouver. Bz.

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