Authentic Gifts

Theatrical Clown technique is an indisputable art form, and I am a biased insider.

Theatrical a.k.a. Personal Clown is a centuries-old performance tradition born from the tribal presence of a spiritual shaman, a community healer. The myriad clown pedagogies I’ve learned, performed, observed, and taught throughout two-plus decades boil down to an intentional, conscious transformation of one’s “mask.” A successful stage clown surrenders their protective, everyday persona in order to mindfully wield their unique idiocy as the stronger, more transparent—therefore more foolproof—and dare I say, more magical embodiment of themself.

It’s a funny business, this particular type of mask work, with or without a red nose—the smallest known theatrical mask. To improve my rapport and honest connection with an audience, I must be willing to reveal and exaggerate my innermost essence and fallible humanity, particularly the weirdness that stokes a solid fear of rejection and social exile. The taking-off of my personal armor is a simultaneous putting-on of what’s raw and tender within me. Like a cloak of invisibility. Except I consciously remove the thing I designed as a disguise, turn it inside-out, then don it reversed to magnify that which I habitually hide. Maybe it’s a meta sleight of hand. Clown is indeed a tricky and humbling art.

In classrooms and on stages, I’ve struggled to lean into my vulnerability. The cognition of the concept is easy. Maintaining an open characterization of my insecurity is a steep demand (besides multitasking that with the omniscient presence of mind necessary for executing the art of live performance). I’d welcome and appreciate a special clown meditation app that repeats the mantra “Audiences want your authenticity!” on loop inside my subconscious every time I get spooked and start to retreat into my buttoned-up personality traits, a.k.a. defense mechanisms. Anyone else who’s attended an Aitor Basauri clown workshop would echo my assertion that the deliberate stripping of one’s shield is an arduous challenge.

On second thought…

Is the requisite authenticity of Personal Clown an act of surrender, or an act of generosity? By telegraphing my self-judged character flaws to an audience, I say: “I give you what I guard.” In other words: “I give you my genuine, precious truth.” And if Brené Brown’s research proves true, then baring my vulnerability is one powerful move.

(to be continued)

(Good) Grief

Je cherche les mots pour décrire le poids du désespoir.

En anglais: I search for the words to describe the weight of despair.

Today I sense the faint crampy sensation of my cyclical ovulation, an echo of the unexpected crampy sensation that began on this day a year ago when I was approximately five and a half weeks pregnant. It was a short-lived pregnancy, but long enough to redirect my life’s trajectory and steer our indefinite international travel plans toward a home base. The row of eventful dominoes in that unrealized parallel timeline could have included a new birthday to celebrate near my husband’s birthday, and a new great-grandchild for my last beloved grandmother to bless before she herself left the party.

Needless to say, I rolled into the 2023 action with deep pangs of disappointment, and that’s nothing to say of the year’s continuation, or conclusion. 2023 was also my fifth year of grappling with the sticky tendrils of a brain injury and its string of sneaky symptoms, thankfully less severe than the first two years.

I find words much easier now than I could in 2019, largely thanks to learning ASL in 2020 to help bridge and reroute those injured linguistic synapses. But I continue to search for words to map and bridge meaning from the reroutes I’ve traversed. Words sufficient to tell the whole story. Words to paint newfound perspective.

I’m grateful to encounter another new year in 2024, and I look forward to surprising myself in many creative ways.

A tabletop tableau: tampons on the right, pregnancy tests on the left, a lush, leafy houseplant in the center.

January 2023 Photo taken in the bathroom of an apartment in Brighton, England. Caption reads in French: Je cherche un deuxième essai // Translated English: I’m looking for a second try.

Sound, as in: to voice, to express, to give

This is the second consecutive October in which I’ve house-sat for a puppy. Today the puppy discovered her voice. Underneath my eardrums’ annoyance at her sharp barks, I’m jealous.

Once upon a time, I used and embodied my voice in every way without apology. I remember my early childhood revelry in vocal and figurative expressions alike. Evidence: file folders full of school-related and freetime-created projects, dating back to age five of kindergarten year. Countless handwritten stories which just had to be told, usually starring animal protagonists. Colorful rubber-stamped, illustrated compositions and magazine picture collages. Cassette tapes imprinted with improvised ditties, imaginary weather reports, strange sound effects. And more, all the way through high school. (Thanks for saving those original hard copies, Mom.)

I’ve lost my physical voice plenty of times throughout my teens and twenties due to reckless overuse. I’ve also noticed a recurring theme of my throat as central headquarters for every illness, including covid of late, not unlike a certain Greek hero of the Trojan War with a special heel. A telltale throat tickle has signaled my inevitable surrender to each bacterial and viral infection I’ve ever encountered. No matter how many times I went hoarse or mute, though—no matter how long the imposed silence lasted—my voice always bounced back.

I am once again a puppy with an urge to bark. In these recent years, otherwise known as the geriatric dog years, I’m navigating through a silent spell of my figurative, creative presence: how to trust the way I craft words into resonant stories beyond the 20-years-long familiarity of ensemble-generated work. And also navigating my physical sound: how to sing solo, sans the costumed cover of a character in stage musicals, without the mask of a multi-part harmony in choirs.

I’m searching for the voice that already inhabits me, the one I already inhabit. A voice rendered somewhat foreign from different despairing erosions, and a bit obscured by untended calcifications. What a cave system I’ve spelunked in an effort to first rediscover then embody my good, worthy voice once again.

I’m taking puppy progress steps, such as posting this imperfect blog article, and learning to cherish my sung sound waves as they’re heard from outside the echochamber of my cranium.

I jockey the chaos disguised as calm. The process, neither neat nor tidy from my perspective, has yet to reach a conclusion. I’m afraid of the bellowing howl waiting to escape my lungs and larynx. I fear the sonic boom of so much backlogged energy, so many sparks, each building pressure, poised to explode.

You’ll hear more about this journey before too long.

Moral Dilemma

Would you rather listen to a toddler screaming in discomfort on an airplane, or to his self-soothing music video of “Baby Shark” on repeat?

Mon Histoire

 

Multilinguisme est le meilleur cadeau
qu’un enfant peut recevoir
pendant les années formatrices

J’aurais dû parler le français et le suédois
comme mes principales langues familiales

J’aurais dû, mais
le déni de langue de mes ancêtres a traduit par
un monde fermé dépourvu de capacité à communiquer

J’aurais dû, mais
la pression de l’homogénéité
anéantit la langue maternelle des citoyens américains
génération par génération

Mon arrière-grand-père franco-canadien
et mes arrière-arrière-grands-parents suédois
étaient les immigrants les plus récents
qui cherchaient une opportunité
dans le mythique rêve américain

Je suis un Erickson paternel

Ma grand-mere n’apprenait pas ses sons suédois
car ses parents et ses grand-parents ont jugé
être en sécurité pour s’adapter

Ma grand-mère, effacée de Suède,
a marié
mon grand-père, le fils d’un évadé Canadien

Je suis un Longe paternel

puis
elle a légalement ajouté l’accent aigu
en héritage pour mon père

qui est devenu un Longé

Elle espérait que cela inspirerait
moins de mauvaises prononciations
d’un beau nom de famille français

Malheureusement
l’accent n’a fait qu’ajouter
de la confusion à un système
exclusivement anglais

La pression des États-Unis
pour une langue singulière
opprime et supprime
maintenant mon inclination à rêver
dans un nouveau tonalité

J’ai toujours senti les échos français en moi

La langue flotte
sa résonance et sa percussion
comme un colibri
en remuant l’air

Longe (nom) : corde, lanière

Mes lignées ancestrales de France et de Suède
ont été dépassées par la fierté enracinée au plus profond
des sols de la Révolution américaine
paradoxalement anglaise

Longé (passé composé de la verbe longer) : aller le long de

Comme c’est ironique d’être marqué
comme quelqu’un
qui suivait
qui allait
qui roulait
la longueur de l’itinéraire assigné

se rendre complice de…

Seul un sous-ensemble de personnes pâles
sur une petite île
était destiné à maintenir l’anglais

Mais il s’est manifesté dans le monde entier
grâce à la colonisation, au génocide
et à une extraction culturelle plus poussée

L’homogénéité n’est pas naturelle

On ne le trouverait nulle part
dans le réseau interdépendant complexe
et dynamique de cette planète
des âmes
de la végétation
des éléments

Notre société humaine, elle aussi
bénéficie de la diversité en équilibre

Poussez quoi que ce soit trop loin de chaque côté
forcer la singularité là où elle n’a pas besoin d’exister
et la vie intelligente exige à s’égaliser

En apprenant le français, je découvre
la racine pivotante sous tant
de mots et de phrases en anglais

Je tire et creuse, creuse et tire

Je suis une ligne à l’autre
chacun empêtré à chaque intersection

J’aurais dû parler le français, mais
c’est le gâchis actuel
de ma lignée atrophiée au langage.

 

 

Je cherche…

Here’s the deal with this trip. “Trip” is the best word I can find for it, as it’s neither vacation nor honeymoon, nor residency, nor vagabonding, nor holiday. We’re mostly working remotely in other people’s homes: some rentals, some housesits; some more suited to our needs than others. I haven’t written or shared much in these three months abroad, but my trusty notebook has captured evidence of fun highlights, learning moments, tourist itineraries, incredible meals, community connections, and widened perspectives.

My personal journey throughout this extended trip—by which I mean epic pratfall—has been bumpy and riddled with confusion, to say the least. Feeling creatively constipated and generally adrift, a chance encounter with a random youtube video that played out of nowhere (God, is that you?) invited me to focus ninety minutes every morning for ninety consecutive days on a singular project. I accepted this challenge in late November. Why wait for December?

Initially unclear on which one project to develop, I discovered my delight in playing with the many photographs I’d taken in the previous seven weeks. I downloaded a software tool that offered enough editing dials for free, though I admit some of the subscription-locked bells and whistles would be useful. Homesick for my two-going-on-three-year-old tradition of handmade holiday cards, I decided these photos needed captions. The French verb chercher (to look for, to seek) echoed in my mind after our inaugural dogsit in Mont Saxonnex with a pair of truffle hunters trained to Cherche! on command. A few days later, a kind elderly Parisian couple spotted my consternation amidst a busy sidewalk and asked, Vous cherchez quelque chose (Are you looking for something)? Thanks to them, we caught our train. Piecing together the repetition of this action word with my own overall loss of direction, the series in this gallery took shape under the rule to begin each caption with Je cherche (I seek). Another rule: because they’re in French, they’re in cursive. It’s a thing, and I don’t know why.

Here’s the deal with this series. It’s a game. It’s a game to help me rekindle creative impulses. It’s a game to channel my energy, to begin each day in a playful state. It’s a game of wordplay made trickier by intertwining English and French idiosyncrasies that both fog in translation. It’s a game of casual laissez-faire, as I haven’t been exporting the full-quality photo files, so they end up a bit fuzzy-looking. It’s a game to render travel memories more interactive, rather than dooming them to an untouched, unseen album. It’s a game (within a game) of hide-and-seek; sometimes I forget where I hid the caption, and what I wrote. It’s a game to force me outside, to observe, explore, and take more photos when the coffer runs low. It’s a game to appreciate how many photos I might edit in a ninety-minute session; to appreciate how many photos I might have in the series at the end of ninety days. It’s a game due to conclude in late February. It’s a game for me to notice where I’d make slight aesthetic adjustments. It’s a game I didn’t intend to share, yet displaying “imperfect” work offers me a chance to edge out of my comfort zone.

I have another month to go, so you’ll find more photos in the gallery along the way. They’re currently organized by locale in alphabetical order, which isn’t chronological. I’m working on the blog bug that’s separating upload batches into their own alphabetized sections…very unexpected. I intend to add image descriptions and make this gallery accessible to everyone. (Contact me if you’d like to contribute your hand at describing one or a selection of images! Audio/image description is a great tool to sharpen and practice.) When I have access to and time with a larger monitor, I intend to re-order the gallery into a curated story sequence based on the captions, which will mix up the locations.

Comments about the series, photos, or captions are welcome on this page; see below. Right-click on this gallery link, then select the first option “open link in new tab” for most ease to return here. Once you click to enlarge a photo from the display grid, you can view the fullscreen(ish) photos with your left/right arrow keys. Be patient; they might be slow to open. If you aren’t a fan of mystery, I recommend having this translation search open in another tab. Remember to refresh the page to see the rest of my 90-day progress populate the gallery, through March at the latest.

Enjoy! Bon appétit!

xoxo

Mont Saxonnex, France

The sensation of time passage feels like a week at most, and yet also like a quarter of a year in this goofy autumnal hourglass. The feral cat and 11+ year-old mighty duck are self-sufficient compared to the (easy) 5 year-old and (needy) 3 month-old dogs. The puppy dominates our attention and steers our daily schedule toward brief bouts of work punctuated with outdoor drinks of fresh air below the Bargy mountains.

Our housesitting residence was originally a high barn loft perched atop a small two-bedroom residence built in the 1860s. Our hosts spent the first two years of ownership in the original ground floor residence while they converted the upper barn space into a two-story, five-bed-two-bath layout. It’s a continued work in progress after 18 years; the kitchen recently received a new oven unit to replace the antique woodstove. A young family of four from California started their yearlong downstairs rental in July, so we’ve landed in a surreal US west coast normalcy. Their residence on the ground floor shares a dividing wall with the original cowshed, which was converted into a one-bedroom apartment, rented for years to a kind Frenchwoman who loves dogs and feeds the puppy chex mix.

The access road Chemin des Voyis is named for this hamlet, off the main switch-back arterial to Mont Saxonnex, and the house numbers here indicate the metric distance of the building from the arterial. The great-great-grandson, born and raised here, lives across the street to the south with his children and grandchildren. It was either his great- or great-great-grandfather who settled this acreage in the late 1800s and who built this central barn-cow-house. The two or three surrounding houses in this hamlet are still in the family, owned either by his cousins or other relatives. He tends an enormous garden on his plot, and feeds apples to the cows in the field to the north, adjacent to the garden and tool sheds here.

We’ve eaten heartily from the ample garden to spare the produce from seasonal rot: cabbage, eggplant, leeks, beets/greens, kale, nasturtium, beans, carrots, pears, onion, and zucchini! Loads of zucchini, ou courgette en français. A week ago, we hunkered down for a 2- or 3-day thunderstorm event, complete with photograph-worthy lightning bolts that danced on the surrounding rocky ridges. The elder dog Meg hid in every tiny corner while the puppy played, oblivious to the commotion. We’ve felt right at home, yet suddenly married with young children, staying hydrated with Evian-fresh tap water and strangely interacting with very few French locals due to our distance from the sleepy, pre-ski-season town center.

Clown, clown, clown, clown, clown…

I am determined to restore a centuries-deep cultural association with the word “clown.” I want to move us away from its latest turn of horror and return to one of positivity, reverence, and medicinal quality.

Actor Donald O’Connor planted the seed of my mission when he told (er, sang) me to “make ‘em laugh!” Throughout thirty years of my performance training and career centered around theatrical clown technique, I’ve struggled with O’Connor’s directive for at least two reasons. One obstacle is the laughter itself: to make someone laugh means that one must laugh at me. My work to welcome that laughter, onstage and off, provokes a mind-body dissonance that often gets in the way.

What an undesired prospect, to be the recipient of a laugh, says the thorny misnomer deep down in my cells. By the time I learned to read, I already understood and agreed to the invisible social code that laughter = bad. Being laughed at is a nightmare for many, not unlike the dream of arriving at school or work in the nude. I’ve witnessed the same frightening internalization for my niece who, as of grade school years if not earlier, started wilting in response to our familial, loving laughter whenever she’d make an unintended funny.

As I grew, no one explained the physical phenomenon of laughter to me. I lacked an interpreter of those bubbly sounds to reassure me of their delight and appreciation. I missed that type of guidance until my early twenties when it arrived cloaked in the form of a mask and clown coach, and in several clown experts thereafter. They surely would’ve told me sooner that I held a lot of power as one who initiates laughter.

Instead, I was left to my own logical devices and causal associations. The more I witnessed laughter in response to innocent mistakes (on TV with America’s Funniest Home Videos and countless scripted shows, in passing conversations, anywhere), the more critical my internal voice grew. Projecting my internal/intrapersonal thoughts (i.e. “how stupid of me”) onto the intention of those laughing (i.e. “they think I’m an idiot”) has been a recipe for trouble, lots of misunderstanding, and a natural inclination to avoid public/interpersonal laughter.

…to be continued…

Behind the Mask: A Clown’s Vulnerability

From the moment I read Brené Brown’s Women & Shame and saw her classic TedTalk speech, I was thrilled that someone else was talking about vulnerability. Finally. And on a very public stage.

I’ve spent the past 25+ years obsessed with the same vulnerability phenomenon and its inherent superpowers, only I’ve researched through a different avenue (albeit like Brown’s interest in storytelling). My method was theater. More specifically, the theatrical form of Clown. Yes, Clown. If theater reflects society for society’s sake, then Clown technique pierces straight to every individual heart in the audience. There’s a reason it’s known in theatrical pedagogy as Personal Clown. The trouble is – and my frustration boils because – U.S. popular culture believes that “Clowns are scary.”

Don’t laugh: I’m creating a podcast series around the question “Why are people afraid of clowns?” I ask counter-questions aplenty; I interview experts and laypeople alike. I tug at the threads of vulnerability, failure and fear, humor and beauty, to see how all connect in the tapestry of human experience. There’s a wealth of insight to be mined – a lot to unpack from theatrical clown technique, plus its vast cultural and historical evolution tracing back to early civilization’s shaman. This unique art form showcases and reflects our inherent wisdom, flaws, innocence, and medicinal magic. Maybe a shift in the public’s perspective will inspire collective courage.

My investment stems from a preschool-age moment where a delighted stranger’s laughter caused a lightning-fast, harmful ripple effect of embarrassed behavior, confused desperation, and unhealthy relationship patterns – all of which I’ve been sub- and consciously unraveling from my being as I age. I wonder if people are afraid of their own vulnerability (i.e. their Personal Clown), perhaps afraid of the power in embodying their wholeness. Brown’s research seems to support this theory, among others I’ve pondered. I wonder if this obsessive curiosity, to piece together the source and logic* of laughter, is my inner child’s lifelong quest. What conclusion will I uncover that might provide a satisfying peace of mind?

I feel vulnerable in advertising this work-in-progress. I’m still learning how to share as a vessel of abundant, potent ideas rather than guard them as precious and exclusive. Who knows, maybe all my years of notes, inquiry, practice, observation, Clown Labs, continued education, and gameplay would be fun and useful in a new collaboration. If so, I trust that you’ll communicate with me!

 

*The topic of “Clown Logic” is an entire department unto itself.

Exploring a Fish Bowl (compost draft v1)

The first challenge to publishing an individual, internal account of a traumatic brain injury: it’s invisible. There’s nothing tangible or obvious, no roadmap or guidebook. The journey is inward, and one encounters that unknown territory as a person dependent on light would grasp into a dark abyss with arms outstretched. A brain injury is invisible and yet smackingly immediate like a mischievous ghost wanting to play innumerable tricks on their haunted house’s intruder. As if the body itself and everything familiar within that identifiable territory suddenly turns shapeshifter. Or traitor.

My brain injury started with a mild t-bone collision. “Mild” only in terms of not requiring an ambulance, hospitalization, life support, surgeries, casts, or the many other medical memorabilia I was spared, thanks to the fact that the negligent driver was quickly accelerating from a stop. “Mild” doesn’t refer to the terrifying push into oncoming traffic, the burst tire, the lateral whiplash, or the closed head injury diagnosis that grounded me from a six-month sojourn in Europe a mere ten days before departure. At first my internalized ableism saw this as a full stop in my life’s trajectory, but I’m stumbling through the process of rewriting that biased, misinformed story.

A brain injury is every climate, every geographical phenomenon, every season, every sunken and mountainous city, every remote village, every language of Babel, every mode of transportation; smashed together in one claustrophobic maze of overlapping altitudes and layered textures. All of it uncomfortably intense and inexplicably oppressive. With a brain injury, every micro and macro sensory input punches you in the head like an animated club. Because the brain’s effort to heal itself translates as zero regulation and amplified computation, everything at the same exaggerated volume.

A cloud of cigarette smoke. The screech and hiss of a bus arriving at the curb. A bright sunbeam reflecting off the windows across the street. Singular raindrops tapping your arm, head, back. The flavor of your coffee, plus the heat of it, biting your tongue. This snapshot captures only a few simultaneous things going on when you exit a neighborhood coffee shop, not to mention the dizzying effect of objects in motion within your primary and secondary views. In the time it takes you to read this paragraph, your brain will compartmentalize each sensation with such speed and dexterity that it costs you nothing but a few milliseconds to interpret these typed English characters into linguistic meaning. My injured brain refuses to brush aside insignificant inputs, and pains itself to make sense of minutia in slow succession.

The one then two then three (and how many more?) years of healing have felt far from “mild,” although one would think the sole prescription mild: rest. Imagine going to the Apple store, your sleek and freshly dropped Airbook in hand, then they say to just wait for it to fix itself. Maddening, no? Don’t work, don’t read, don’t travel, don’t learn, don’t use screens, don’t exercise, don’t stress… Stop doing every last activity that defined the dimensions of your life, and relax. Sure.

My neurologist informed me that the saying goes: if you’ve seen one brain injury, you’ve seen one brain injury. While my experience is unique from all the others’, the community of TBI survivors can undoubtedly commiserate about shared symptoms.  A symptom is how the brain injury reveals itself from its invisibility cloak, such as headache, dizziness, fatigue, etc. Any whiff of commonality is a breath of fresh air in what’s otherwise an extremely isolating experience.

I’ve reached notable milestones throughout my ongoing pursuit toward a return to “normalcy.” I hate that word. Along the way, repetitive symptoms have arisen in varying levels of intensity. The worst: the most sneaky and subtle. The most difficult: the separation from a sense of Self and identity. The most common: acrid, dense fog amongst neural pathways; absence of clarity, cognitive and otherwise; trying to decipher incomprehensible (yet simple) text messages; fingertip reading like a kindergartner, muttered aloud to attempt to recall the string of words, rewinding over and over to retrace the meaning of an entire sentence; emotions everywhere, out of nowhere, big and deep, erratic and unregulated; feeling tranquilized, but not tranquil; thick throbbing headaches, similar to feeling spun around in nauseating degrees. And goodbye, memory.

How could an unassuming traveler guess that a bruising kiss would crucify their own ego from the body republic (rendered unrecognizable), and hide it hostage within heightened senses? How could a trustworthy steward ever conceive of being gas-lit by their own inner landscape lacking resemblance or familiarity?

It’s a sticky place, this injury. A different kind of sticky than the incessant sweat of Brisbane’s humid summer. My wheels spin and lurch; momentum jerks. Nothing smooth or sailing about it. Adventures away from home are consistently the occasions wherein I fill notebooks with nonstop writing, yet I avoid scribbling the intricate details of these three years and another yesterday with all my might. I don’t want to see it any more than I want to experience it. I know the travel story of this injury; I reside there. But I don’t want to give it shape in permanent records. Ask how it’s been, and I muster quick footwork for a lightning-speed getaway, a sitting duck poised to flight in a snap.

I wish you shared access to my mental capsule of events so you could sit beside me per your viewing request. And we’d hold hands while I avert my gaze from the flicker slideshow projected on pale faded daisy sheets in an anonymous file download of facts. You’d watch intently, then turn, peer at me with awe and appreciation for my resistance to succumb to the void’s beckoning loneliness etched into this invisible injury. You’d solemnly nod in compassionate agreement that one hundred sixty hellish weeks of bearing this _________ is indeed cumbersome – and still, all the while, I packed and repacked to muster miracles as I walked on footing unsure, flinging hope into light shafts wherever shelter opened and kindness appeared amongst unmoored lily pads.

My denied permission to write has incidentally dulled what memory – and memory of memory – could have been recorded in the moment, so now it’s a fickle game of recollection. Recollecting factors of repetitive yet fleeting side effects forces me to sift through mental rucksacks and train trunks to re-collect the journey’s amassed souvenir (“to remember,” en français)…seasonal aromas folded within foreign flora, sharpness of windchill, colorful sunsets, culinary flavors at market, unusual ambulance sirens… Souvenirs take time to coax from their hiding places, sometimes tucked into far cobwebbed corners after years of neglect. Only the most polished anecdotes sit on the obvious shelves, lifted often enough to build a distinct dust imprint, revealing the separation between fondness and forgetfulness.

My jumbled and gapped word bank trails behind in strenuous efforts to maintain a conversation. I wonder if that spaciousness resembles the stuttered consequence of children sniffing jars of glue tucked into their sleeves, the ones who asked for money from drivers at intersections in Nairobi. Tangent: I cringe to recall my preteen naïveté in shamelessly uttering the Swahili word to “welcome” two young Maasai sisters to the safari campsite (where I was the visitor), on property etched into their herd’s feeding grounds. My vocabulary now snags on rock and rubble on its route between my impulse to speak and articulation. It begs for an immediate salve, but instead receives practiced, pitiful tsks with sharp splashes of “…but you look fine!”

A brain injury could visually resemble the heavy cement oratory atop a high hill in Montréal. Its exterior: hundreds of steep, severe stairs cascading downward (a vertigo-inducing mind-fuck). Its interior: a dark, ominous demand for silent reflective contemplation. A few narrow stained glass windows offer barely perceptible splashes of color on the cold, grey floor. For that matter, the terrain of a brain injury might more closely resemble Dante-esque catacombs than share a likeness with any landmark or landscape I’ve traversed throughout four continents. Their depths threaten a deafening rattle of rage, nerves, and riddles to sort. I keep these caverns locked, but they leak.

I wouldn’t describe the prolonged, quaking fear and grief as “mild.” These friendly foes have been annoyingly persistent in my periphery like the wild-hair bearded vagabond who followed my twelve-year-old self on foot through Paris to the Louvre, intermittently blowing into a melodic bird whistle and smirking in disturbing eye contact once I’d identified the sound’s source. They all ignore my evasive maneuvers.

I joke (seriously) that a brain injury places me in a very different time zone than the surrounding world. As evidenced during conversations, my response circuitry is sluggish while everyone else runs on fiber optic. My effort in this molasses air feels glacial among average passerby tailwinds who vault along with extra springs in their step. Every so often, though, the cityscape clocks into my time zone. (What relief the pandemic provided! People stuck at home!) We finally find syncopation for a few beats before their pace of the pendulum rocks ahead again.

As worker bees, theirs is an erratic pace to which I’m not eager to match once I’m fully healed. I had a taste of this time zone during my 2015 trip to Australia and New Zealand. To be. To exist. To allow minutes to mirror hours. Not to compete. Not to get ahead. Not to rush toward the myth of success and satisfaction and instant gratification. Why hold oneself under unnecessary pressure?

Recreation (as in, leisure) is crucial for catching one’s breath, for curiosity, for daydreaming. To remove oneself from oneself and all the trappings of routine, persona, mindset, fixed perspective, and comfortable community. To be. What freedom in anonymity and unrestrained, unscheduled time! Re-creation (as in, forming again) is important for embracing the undone, for immersing in the unfamiliar, for imagining new architecture. We’re often inspired by the unexplored, so let’s not be precious about our one lived identity. Be wild.

Slow and steady became my full-time job; a stark contrast to my previous go-go-go energy. If that’s a gift, the twist was not being able to “make something” of it (as in, “be productive”). However, the prolonged meditative sit with myself has probably been the most arduous work. I’ve had countless moments of feeling foolish, failed, and faulted. Confusions roost: remorseful quagmires of questions unanswered. Many hints to puzzle out, indefinitely.

How will this local wanderer recognize the promised land of recovery? Does it already move amidst this changed wholeness, holistically healing hour by hour, impatiently patient? And what have I noted along this improvised itinerary? Healing takes time. Maybe a long time. And focus. And practice. And intention. Rest is allowed and encouraged.

I’ve been steeped in a travel bundle I never sought, yet I cannot deny the wealth of gifts this injury has offered me. Human bodies are only ever temporarily “abled” and there’s much societal work to be done in the collective mindset…

(to be continued with more details and revisions)