As you may have noticed, my posting has been a bit sparse lately. Tour has taken up all of my energy. So far we have done two warm, homey (and sweaty) shows at Levon Helm’s barn in Woodstock, and taken a cross-country flight, ending up in Santa Fe and then Abiquiu, NM at the Ghost Ranch -- famous in modern times for many things but mostly for landscapes painted by Georgia O’Keefe.
I had a little room to hang out in while I was there with a chair outside. The first thing I saw as I walked up to the door was a little lizard who darted off as I approached. I noticed it had no tail, it had “dropped’ it. This is an incredible ability some lizards have of letting go of their tails should they be grabbed by a predator such as a bird or a bigger lizard. It’s even kinda gross in a freaky way (as in “cool”), like they have a flesh-covered robo-tail that will wriggle on it’s own even after being dropped to further confuse the predator.
Lizards are good companions, especially if they aren’t a pet. I like when they come and go as they please. I miss seeing them on a daily basis in Tucson when I was living there. (Vermont only has the five lined skink, which I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting. They are very rare.) I hung out in the chair on the porch most of the day and the lizard went all over the place but I could always find it if I looked. It would come back closer to me from time to time and nap. That made me feel good. It trusted me a little. It was a smallish creature but it had a friendly presence and I felt like I was its welcomed guest? Maybe I was even doing the little guy the favor of attracting some tasty insects? I wondered about the friendships of the original peoples and lizards..there must be some really excellent stories. Do lizards say different, un-special things to white settlers like me? I can’t really know, but I felt tolerated and I was curious.
I am not into human-centric spirituality (or human-centric reality, to be honest) so I work hard to make sure I don’t romanticize such encounters. I’ve been taught to romanticize with fairy tales and stories that are not mine since I was very little, and no one even had to go out of their way to try to interest me in them; they are mass-produced, printed, televised; in whole or in part, sterilized, shredded and broadcast into the universe as an aspirated confetti.Their meanings, formulas, toxicology lessons and life skills smeared to unreadable, sometimes meaningless images across the chalkboard of my mind. Even if I love them as they are, the stories are never just stories. They deserve a capital “S.” Stories are instructions, recipes, history, languages, maps, encyclopedias, pharmacopoeias and identities. The stories are not meant to float in space, they are supposed to have “tellers” as guides. Me, I have no “people”, just a few words and names indicating boundaries on a political map from not so long ago. It’s a shitty chasm of a feeling that would be tempting to spackle some generously explained origin stories of others into so it would stop endlessly seeping...but that wouldn't be “true.” It’s incredible just how quickly stories can die. It’s also heartbreaking and terrifying. Stories that took thousands of years to build—gone in the span of a decade or two. I do my imperfect best not to take other people’s stories to gauze-up my now, near history-less abscess, but I do appreciate and cherish them. A story given freely is a great gift. They may not be the map of “my” people but they help me find where I am and they are no less for it. There is no need to ever steal, but we do... The effort it takes to pause then stop the impulse to steal something living in the air is a real practice.
Stories are no small thing, they are, in fact THEE thing. They are the way to find ourselves on the map of the universe—past, present, and future. They are the living blueprints for what we want to become and generous gifts to the future generations. There is so much to consider next to the lizard in this majestic thinking place, so I think even harder.
I think about a cool person I follow on Twitter and Instagram named Monika Bielskyte who is actively working to “challenge Dystopian/Utopian future stereotypes” and reach for something bright and hopeful.
I think about women, POC and LGBTQIA folks demanding “better outcomes” for us in movies, books, and narratives in general.
I think of this lovely message posted today by Giselle Buchanan
I think about the many Indigenous people and organizations I follow on social media talking about becoming a “better elder.”
I think about place names and what they tell us. The names of this spot where I sit with the lizard are alive. They bend and change and center. The name “Abiquiu” is just one. The other old names I don’t know. “Ghost Ranch” doesn’t cut it, neither does assigning ownership to Georgia O’keefe because of all she painted here. In the history of earth these are **footnotes. This is where English fails. It’s a closed, inaccurate book. Even using the word “it” as a pronoun to refer to a lizard feels very wrong, the lizard is not inanimate no matter how good they are at holding still. Don’t get me wrong, the failing of the English language here does not make Georgia O’Keefe’s experiences any less valuable, it just makes them finite and dull no matter how beautifully she “captured the light.” I don’t want it to be “over”, but I have to be honest with myself and admit that “history” is a place I linger and look for because it comforts me; it’s a bit of a habit. It has the most beautiful wallpaper and I have to make sure I don’t live there full-time. After all, history is not inanimate either and the past changes behind us. The wake from a ship on the ocean is a movement that never stops moving. It is a “forward” also.
I think about the article I read from Canada citing intergenerational survivor Victoria Wells talking about the importance of not just learning the original tribal names and places on paper, but also to correctly pronounce them out loud. What a beautiful act of respect… and what a gift to know them and hear them!
So what do you do if you are without stories to build yourself on? If I am going by what the lizard may or may not have implied, one version could be “Be patient and do your own work. It takes time but it’s pretty nice! Be cautious, but don’t be too afraid of getting close to other creatures; trust is risk. Some creatures wanna eat you so if you lose a tail don’t beat yourself up about it. All that corporate “killer instinct” stuff is total bullshit. If you get too close to a “taker” they can have damn your tail, fuck em’! You grow those things authentically in your fucking sleep! And some days, if you’re lucky, a mammal smelly enough will come along and bring some extra flies to the party.. win-win!” I think it’s not too much to assume a lizard has a laissez-faire sense of humor and are rooting for us. I hope I got that right.
**“Footnote” is often used as an insult, but here I mean it as a compliment. I use it not to minimize, but to give (though imperfect) perspective, as does a map of the solar system with the sun at the center, larger than it’s orbiters.. These events and people are smaller in the grand scale, but footnotes are often some of the more fascinating parts of a text. The footnotes don’t stop you from wondering about Jupiter’s perspective, they jump off and become bridges to other ideas.