Credentials. A sturdy tree in the thickly forested landscape of words, its roots tangled in the understory, with those of credence, credit, credible, credulous, and creed. Revealing inextricable relationships (as roots are wont to do.) In this case illustrating dependencies between our willingness to extend benefit– and what and how and whom we believe.
Credentials. Mine are not impressive, but that does not stop me from looking for them in others. Where did this habit come from I wonder? I am fairly certain I did not have it as an infant. Gazing at adoring faces above my cradle, I did not demand to see resumes or even IDs. What happened along the way?
I do like the word. Credentials. It registers as hardwood dependable. A word that echoes with the weight of its syllables, the quality of trustworthiness it means to communicate. A solid word. A word one can lean on, like a marble pillar, or a brick wall. A bolstering force when one’s spirit or confidence is flagging.
Do you aspire to enter the business of demanding to see credentials? Then it is highly recommended you begin developing an edge. Sans edge, demanding credentials is a risky proposition. This is why no one in their right minds demands credentials from customs officers, grizzly bears, or grandmothers. Once you have cultivated an edge and are invested with sufficient power, the need to produce credentials falls away. Like the need for modesty past a certain age. With sufficient power, your authority becomes self-evident. Like the sun. Then you can safely bestride the narrow world, like a Colossus. Or Julius Caesar. And if bestriding is not your thing, you can simply sit down quietly instead, and no one will disturb you with demands for productivity– or credentials.
It must be noted that there are cases where an edge is not necessary. Sometimes it is possible to rewrite the equation and subvert the order of things. Sometimes it is sufficient to tap into your own heartwood, and discover there, unshakeable worth. Sometimes this discovery causes confidence to bloom overnight. Like wildflowers in the desert. A windblown confidence in yourself and the world that extends into a rapturous willingness. To give credit without reck, to all who demand it, and all who do not.
Fall is here again. Season of spare and paring things down, of cutting ties, and letting loose. Season of discards, castaways, parachutes. Of trees performing mass exorcisms. Fall is here again. Lean stray dog, stripping things down to the bone. No furnished rooms for let. Its offices austere, its intentions monastic. Fall does not wish on stars or live in hope. This is what it looks like to divest dramatically. Let the chips fall where they may.
Thoughts take on a patina in this time of verdigris and vine. Nothing is as it once was. Everything is susceptible to tarnish. Even you. Who can feign innocence in fall? In Spring we are wide-eyed children learning our mother tongue. By fall the world is crowded with words, and we’ve all tasted forbidden fruit. Unforgettable knowledge blooms in the body. The flavor of freewill. All lanes are memory lanes in fall. All beauty is bittersweet. Desolation and delight hold each other’s pinky finger, swear they will never be separated.
There is a clamoring glamour to these days. Honking geese cause a small traffic jam in your heart. The wind shakes the trees and your confidence. The new moon feels like an abandonment. One must practice self-reliance in spring and summer — in fall one falls upon inner resources. It is too late to build reserves. If there aren’t any then, then there aren’t any. The stringency of this is grounding. All laws of nature are.
Lamp light is poetic in every season, in fall it is also phantasmic. Walk down an unfamiliar sidewalk in that deep blue triangle of life between dinner and dreamtime. In that surreal soundscape of slow cars, brisk dog walkers, and the struggling notes of a valiant middle-school musician, look for curtainless windows. Ones through which you might catch a glimpse of a staircase curving out of view, or the polished corner of a dining table. Maybe an oil painting on the wall, or a fiddle leaf fig by a desk. You do not need to try to fit yourself inside these bright tableaux. You are already implicated. Everyone leads imaginary lives in other people’s homes. There you are. Invisible and standing at the casement window, trailing fingers in the sink, or curled up in an armchair. Lost in a book so old and worn, the lettering on its red spine is indecipherable.
Fall nights lift the anchor, make it easy to drift under the stars into the sea of someone, somewhere else, to belong to other worlds without purpose or premeditation. For brief moments, on such nights I walk without name, or personal history. I walk without thought of tomorrow, without thought of past grievances or blessings. Moving as woodsmoke moves, lifting out of a narrow chimney and discovering its belonging everywhere.
In this season of not-yet-winter, I slip my hand into your warm one. Am suctioned sweetly back, into the outline of my skin. I feel my feet on the ground, and stretch inside, like a cat. Ready to lie down at the glowing hearth of my heart. Ready to enter its dream.
In fall, perhaps more than any other season– I remember.
I used to think I wrote because there was something I wanted to say. Then I thought, ‘I will continue to write because I have not yet said what I wanted to say’; but I know now I continue to write because I have not yet heard what I have been listening to.- Mary Ruefle
You reading these words, I writing them– where are we going? What is the plan? Your find yourself here– but do you really? Do I? Where do we find ourselves– really? Sometimes, even on days when I have nowhere to be, I feel a strange pressure within. What is this feeling? I believe it has something to do with the strange woman inside.
It has come to my attention recently, that inside me, is a woman who believes she is running late. Who is she? How long has she been there? And late for what? These are reasonable questions. I don’t believe she knows the answers. I know I don’t. This does not stop either of us from feeling a sense of low grade urgency. “Hurry please!” she whispers, always demanding, but never impolite. “Hurry please!” And I, who have always disliked hurrying, feel an odd compulsion to obey.
At such times the delicate, green fronds of my awareness pull back and curl up tightly. Like a touched touch-me-not, I too am capable of closing up shop in an instant. Capable of withdrawing to a safe distance within myself, that is to say, out of reach of the coltish and curious present. Dogs and toddlers are the opposite of touch-me-nots. They gambol about in constant full-bodied contact with the here and now. Because they exist in a state of near-constant surprise, they are not fascinated by the future, and they are unafraid of delays.
But for those of us freighted with dreams, unmitigated contact with this moment always runs the risk of delaying our arrival at the next (somehow more important,) moment. And according to the nameless, recently discovered woman inside me– the one who believes she is running late– all delays are disadvantageous. So even though we do not know where we are going, she and I, we have been trying to get there quickly. We have been trying not to waste time being here, when we could be arriving there. But recently, it must be reported, I have been falling short.
Ignoring the exigencies of the situation, I have tended to tarry. Have allowed myself to be waylaid. By crow calls and hummingbird wings, by moss drifts on old oaks, by the long lasso of the lily’s scent. By the sunlight that pours into my pockets bearing a silence so wide, it opens closed spaces within. A silence so deep it swallows up the strange woman inside. Her urgency, mine, and our memories of each other– submerged in a sea of gold.
Now, you who find yourself here (or do you really?)– tell me — where did I lose myself? Where am I to be found?
No, no – wait!
I’ve changed my mind. Don’t give me the answer. Why spoil the mood?
Let’s continue to dance instead. Let’s continue to dance this dance, of losing and finding, finding and losing, losing and finding — until we are both so dizzy, so dazzled — we cannot tell the difference anymore.
When one considers the facts, it appears undeniable that the human capacity to earn affects the human capacity to yearn. Purchasing power renders us prey to the sales pitch. And sales pitches befuddle the soul’s longing. Animals have no purchasing power. They cannot easily be manipulated into yearning for things that are not aligned with their essence. This is why advertisers leave them alone. Animals are not susceptible to billboards, Google ads or product placement. In their world, Twitter is three or more birds on a wire. An influencer is anyone to whom you might be love-interest, or lunch. Animals do not have to untangle their aspirations from trendiness and the shimmering maze of mass marketing. They excel at following Mary Oliver’s counsel, “You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” For humans however, with our ticker tape, telemarketers, hyperlinks and one-click orders, it can be challenging to locate the wild and tender being who lives deep within our bones. The one who is penniless, barefoot and rapturous. The tangle-haired vagabond who never stops singing.
The trick then, is to train your senses like an animal’s. To become increasingly aware of, and responsive to all the unearned pleasures lying in great swaths around you. The quid for which there is no quo. Like amethyst sunsets, alabaster moons, and Amaryllis Belladonna… Are you unacquainted with the latter? Let me introduce you. But first, “What’s in a name?” Shakespeare asked. And no one answered. Reader, just because he was a bard it does not mean all his questions were rhetorical. What’s in a name? A great deal of poetry if you’re lucky. Because in days of yore (ie before we lost the intuitive genius of imagination, and started churning out prosaic epithets like modem, credit card, and chairman,) we had a gift for summoning up the spirit of a thing through its christening. Names were cast like spells through the air, and the world’s entities were instantly vivified, summoned into brightened states of being by precise vibrations. Call a rose a skunk cabbage, and it will, almost certainly, die a little inside.
Amaryllis flowers are well-named. Derived from the Greek, the word means to sparkle. Like many things Greek, it can be traced back to a beautiful nymph. Beautiful Greek nymphs fall neatly into two categories — the be-sought, and the besotted. Amaryllis was besotted– with a disinterested shepherd. She turns, as the spurned in Greek legends often do, to the Oracle of Delphi– that dispenser of non-linear advice, who excels at keeping things interesting. Oracular wisdom suggests Amaryllis adopt a 30-day regimen of piercing her heart with a golden arrow while standing at the cottage door of her crush. She complies, and on the final day of this rather risky business, the crimson drops of blood splattered on the ground are transformed into ruby red flowers. The theatrical alchemy of it all melts the shepherd’s indifference. As he embraces his self-harming sweetie, Amaryllis’s pincushion heart happily heals on the spot, and the slender-throated, newly sprung flowers become her namesake. Not all Amaryllis flowers are blood red however.
Our Amaryllis are the aforementioned Belladonna variety (Belladonna meaning, ‘beautiful lady.’) They are a pearl pale pink. Technically they aren’t ours. Or anyone’s really. One day we woke up, and they had surrounded the perimeter of our home, like a glamorous army. If one must be besieged, then may it always be, by a floral militia. One whose heads tilt so prettily on brown and leafless stems, one whose petals curl so gently at the tips, you forgive them their trespasses now and forever.
Because their tall stems are absent any shred of leafy apparel, and because their scented multi-blooms are frilly-faced and feminine, they are also known as Naked Ladies. If this sounds scandalous to you, remember the life of every flower relies on scandal, on secret trysts in velvet chambers, and all manner of comings and goings. It does not behoove a flower to be prim or proper. Arguably it does not behoove anyone to be prim and proper. Ask a whirling dervish if you care to be set straight (or set reverently giddy,) on this point.
If you think the Amaryllis arrived right before bloom time, you would be wrong. They were there long before you noticed them, first hidden deep in the ground as gloriously lumpy, misshapen bulbs, then emerging in late winter, disguised as emerald assemblages of strappy green leaves. Sprightly and promising — but promising what? The leaves betray nothing, and before any blathering Springtime buds appears, the propitious leaves abruptly wither, die, and disappear. All that green hype, and now — just bare earth. So much something, come to naught. A letdown of sorts. And this is where an error in perception begins. The blunder is understandable given how much of our lives are conducted like a negotiation. In negotiations transparency and concreteness are key, one does not settle for ambiguity unless one is exceedingly gullible. The clever do not say, “I will give you my blood, sweat and tears, and you give me — a surprise.” No. The clever will hammer out clear terms and clauses. But mystery– mystery always deals on its own terms. Mystery will always have the last laugh.
And sometimes it laughs in the trumpet-shaped flowers of Amaryllis Belladonna. Flowers that escape the tight clasp of their buds, buds held aloft on erect and determined stems, stems that rise from bare earth like holy resurrections, long after you have given up all hope. For years (years!) you do not connect the dots. These yawning pink beauties rise from the graves of those disappointing green leaves. The discovery has all the shock of a divine revelation.
Absence is a misinterpretation– of invisible presence. In this very moment, hidden immensities are being transfigured in the dark. There is no keeping tabs on life’s endless love affair with the sun. So stop scheming for trifles dear heart. You’re not a bounty hunter, you’re the motherlode. Stop with your drudgery dear mind. You’re a wellspring, not a grindstone. Beloved Friend –enough of your frenzied industry. Try a different way.
The flowers don’t earn the seasons. No river deserves its way to the sea.