SAMHAIN: Musings on Pain and Death–A Personal Journey

Disturbing junk artwork courtesy of Maryrose Runk. Photo: I.O. Kirkwood

This is the jaw of a cat and a fortune displayed on my altar this Samhain. It will make sense when all is said and done.

 

Calm as you please, my mother set an incisor and a canine on the Formica table top. The teeth were pearly white, perfectly shaped and free of decay. She pointed to the incisor.

“This came out at the doctor’s office while you were on the phone.” She pointed to the canine. “This came out last week. I started keeping them.”

I’ve never seen teeth pulled completely from a jaw, not even in Anatomy & Physiology class. I stared for a long moment trying to comprehend what lay before me on the table. I had just finished eating my first plate from the Chinese buffet. I felt grateful for small mercies.

“Look.”

I did as she asked. She hooked her forefinger into the corner of her mouth and pulled it into a rictus. She pointed at the exposed jaw. I could see the gaping sockets in the bone. Half the teeth on the bottom of her mouth were just—gone. So was the gum.

“You can see everything. How many more teeth do I have to lose? I can’t chew my food.”

My proud and beautiful mother looked at me as if I knew the answer. Meanwhile, I felt as if I hung by one foot over a chasm. I couldn’t see the bottom and all that kept me from falling was my hope, which slowly frayed with each incident.

To look away would be to admit defeat. To look away would deny her humanity. She was suffering and I couldn’t help her. I’d never looked into the depths of such misery before. Not even my own pain could match what rested on the table between us.

She gathered up the teeth and put them in her wallet. She seemed satisfied, as if she’d made her point. I wondered if my eyes reflected the horror of this moment. I wanted to cry, but I held my face still. Crying would make her uncomfortable. This moment wasn’t about me.

I went to the buffet table and grabbed a second plate. I stared at a tray of vegetable lo mein, something I would never eat, and prayed she didn’t watch me. I silently came apart inside. After a long moment of self-pity, I added rice noodles and peanut butter chicken to my plate.

I would enjoy her favorite foods for her. I would break the fortune cookie with her. I would eat the cookie for her because it was too hard for her to chew. I would ingest the cookie that had patiently housed the fortune. This, I knew, would make her happy.

If anything, she seems happiest now when I visit. This hadn’t been true before she realized she was dying. I don’t know how her mind works. Maybe she was happy when I visited before, but her proud nature wouldn’t permit her to show how much she enjoyed my company.

She has never been an affectionate or particularly interested mother. Life had dealt blows to her that I could only imagine. She had closed herself up in an ivory tower of contempt and dismissal that I thought I would never be able to climb. I’ve often wondered why I continued my efforts.

She was my mother. Before my childhood went to hell, she was my everything. I don’t think I ever let that memory go or I would have stopped trying to get through. She was angry at me for some imagined wrong, but then in her mind, everyone has betrayed her. Everyone.

There was a cat my mother owned named Blaze, a beautiful, feral creature that never allowed anyone to touch her, much less see her. She was a blur of tuxedo socks and silence. You could feel her yellow-green eyes watch you from some unknown hiding place. Several months before Blaze died, she discovered the joy of human touch. After that, she was insatiable.

She would swipe at the legs of any passing human just to feel the warm glide of a palm along her back and the indescribable pleasure of fingernails scratching behind her ears. For years, she had denied herself this heaven because of her fear of getting hurt. Perhaps she died happy, but how much longer would the cat have lived if she had sought loving company sooner?

My mother reminded me of Blaze. I didn’t know how much longer she’d be able to enjoy my company, but now she has it at least once a week. There have been—difficult—complicated discussions about our shared pasts. They have healed us both and yet have opened fresh wounds as she swipes at me in passing, demanding my attention. She forces me to look at her, to see her as something other than my mother, something other than a dying woman.

Her soul burns brightly inside the body that has betrayed her. She has learned that life is pain and that everything, and everyone, betrays eventually. Nothing can be trusted to meet expectations, but that’s not what counts anymore.

What counts is the warm glide of a palm against her back as she is hugged and hugs in return. I am still shocked when she reaches for me, when she asks for that life-affirming touch. What makes life worthwhile is the pleasure of shared laughter and sadness tickling her ears as old wounds are healed. I am still amazed by her desire to probe past misunderstandings when before we would go months without speaking at all. My mother astounds me.

When I returned to the table, I knew that her teeth still sat in her wallet. I may find them, a handful perhaps, still in the wallet after she dies. They will be a stark reminder of what has been lost and cannot be reclaimed.

Right now, all I want to show her is that though time is limited, love is limitless. When I get home, I can cry, but right now, no. There will be no tears to betray her.

Immigrant

what you were born intoMy friend immigrated from Pakistan when he was eleven. He might be thirty years or so old now. He has an accent. He looks Middle Eastern with large, dark brown eyes and glossy, black hair and a quick and ready smile. He prays to Allah every day facing Mecca, several times a day and quite visibly, when he is at work. He enjoys toilet humor (I make him laugh so hard he cries), playing with his 2-year old daughter, eating his wife’s amazing traditional cooking, and taking care of his extended family. He’s also a Pittsburgh Steelers fan living in the Baltimore area. Brave man.

I worry for him. With all the business about Daesh and the accusations of genocide and the threat of terrorism, I have that small thought in the back of my head that he will be harmed by the bigots and war mongers as well as the fear of otherwise kind and rational people. Fear has a tendency to blind the heart and mind to the truth and to the history that has been created over the course of years.

People who know my friend also know that he loves the United States. He is proud to be a citizen. He works hard, pays his taxes, and is active in his community. He cares for and respects his aging parents. He is a good friend, treats everyone with respect, and is very generous with his time and his resources. He is wise, compassionate, and just like the rest of us, he is flawed and beautifully human.

He also enjoys the traditions of his country of origin. He saw wisdom in his parents’ desire to select a wife for him. He explained the process to me, how the woman or the man could refuse, and how the family supported the couple when hard times hit, which in his opinion increased the chances of marital success. He asked me how many love match marriages have stood the test of time. Mine hadn’t, but he wasn’t suggesting that I should try his way. He just asked me to think about what was important to me and to go from there. It was a breakthrough conversation.

So this is my request to everyone who reads this post. Judge people by their actions. Your experiences with the person should be the barometer by which you determine to continue association with them or not. If you don’t know someone, regardless of color or culture or creed, don’t be hasty to pigeon hole them on first sight and react. Take a step back, gather your awareness, and give yourself a moment to be in the moment. Unless they’re pointing a gun at you or have obviously malicious intent, they are just another person trying to make a living and hoping to find a bit of peace and happiness throughout the day.

Peace be with you. Blessed Be. As-salamu alaykum. Namaste. Shalom. Peace exists in the hearts that live it.

2014 © iokirkwood.com “Immigrant.” All rights reserved.

savedpicture-33.jpgIn between bouts of writing for metaldescent.com, blogging, and banging her head, I.O. Kirkwood is the author of The Needless series, “Subatomic Revolt” in Mike Lynch’s No Revolution Is Too Big series and the short story “The White Carpet,” a finalist in the Scribes Valley Publishing Fiction Contest in 2013.

Why White Men Might Be Pissed Off

I’m just taking a stab in the dark here, but I think I might know why white men might be pissed off—at EVERYBODY, including other white men.

Imagine this scenario:

You are told that you are the root of all that is evil in the world—sexual objectification, racism, oppression, economic inequality, and every other –ism, –ion, and -ity you can imagine. When you can’t see it because you are also marginalized by a ruling class that happens to have the same colored skin and secondary sex characteristics as you, you are further subjected to the contempt of the people around you.

It doesn’t matter that you are kind to everyone you meet and give them respect regardless. It doesn’t matter that you’re willing to hear another’s point of view as long as they don’t objectify or oppress you. You’re a white man and you have the power to change these things.

angry white male

NOT. I’m not buying this crap that white men are the root of all evil anymore. I am a feminist and that means I want equality and respect for EVERYONE. I know which demographic is perpetuating the lie. I know that all of us are responsible for our own awareness. Just because I recognize that a few wealthy, white males are actively perpetuating this systematic oppression of EVERYONE ELSE, I’m not given the license to slander all men with white skin.

White men do not have the power to change these things unless they join the rest of us: black, brown, red, yellow, female and bleeding freaking rainbows. Blaming others for something they had no hand in dreaming divides them from us. It gives those who truly want to defeat us the power to do so.

See what this lovely white man has to say. He has identified the problem beautifully:

America’s White Male Problem

We are destroying our ties to each other with blame. Several white men I’ve spoken to have commented on how they feel marginalized and useless, and it stems from the idea that they are somehow empowered to change what is happening and should do so immediately. These white men are just as disenfranchised as the rest of us. This privilege is mostly myth, perpetuated only by the media and how we respond to it.

And just to show you what I’m talking about, about how all of us suffer because we are constantly blaming and judging each other by standards we didn’t even create, check out this article:

Defining A Modern Masculinity

I am raising two emotionally literate young men and what has surprised me is the anger they feel. Fortunately, I’ve given them permission to constructively express this anger at home. The outside world is brutal not just to people of color or women or homosexuals, but to just about EVERYBODY. There are very few people on the face of this spinning planet who have not been harmed by the damage we do to each other on a daily basis.

bikini rainbow

This is the article that started my rant:

The Actual Difference Between Women Who Are Hot And Who Are Beautiful

What man is going to read this rant and feel empowered to see the beauty of women? Does she have valid point about women’s beauty? Absolutely, but this article has painted men as the ugly creatures when its true intent is to empower women in their own beauty. Are there ugly creatures like the men this article has described? Absolutely, but they are few and far between, though most unfortunately vocal in their opinions. Since these kinds of men react out of a deep seated sense of fear of losing their man-card, the real key to avoiding such ugly creatures is to love yourself and know when to walk away.

This article’s anger is every bit as valid as the anger white men feel. This author has every right to express her rage at how things are and to demand change. I just wish she had done it in a way that empowered EVERYONE. That’s the true sign of being comfortable in your skin—of being beautiful. You take full responsibility for how you experience the world.

We are all beautiful, amazing human beings with different talents and capacities. I want to live in a world where we build each other up. I want to live in a world where we compassionately and constructively become the change we want to see.

What are your thoughts on -isms, -ions, an – ities? Hit me up in the comments below.

©2014 iokirkwood.com “Why White Men Might Be Pissed Off” All rights reserved.

savedpicture-33.jpgIn between bouts of writing for metaldescent.com, blogging, and banging her head, I.O. Kirkwood is the author of “Subatomic Revolt” in Mike Lynch’s No Revolution Is Too Big series and the short story “The White Carpet,” a finalist in the Scribes Valley Publishing Fiction Contest in 2013.

My Sweet Shadow, To You I Look No More

I had talked about metal music and recalling unpleasant memories in an earlier post. Wouldn’t you know it, I had the most vivid, controlled recall of my life a few days ago. I was alone, almost as if the part of my mind that controlled access to those memories had read the post, and I was fully aware.

As the memories unfolded, I expected my soul to cringe. I expected to die of mortification or to turn into a psychopathic killer that police would shoot in the middle of the street if I didn’t off myself first. I expected to disintegrate into dust or burst into flames.

Guess what?

I think it’s obvious none of those things happened. I started to laugh, actually. I laughed at the things that had crippled me for so long. I started to sing. In the middle of the night. I banged my head. I raised the horns. I danced with joy.

I sang the song of my people:

 

…Tamed with confidence of a brighter future
I found a flame in the burnt out ashes… burn out, burn out!
Fueled, these new shores burn, dark past lies cold
Shadow, my sweet shadow, to you I look no more…

–“My Sweet Shadow,” In Flames, from Soundtrack To Your Escape

 

I’m free.

Every time I think about it, I start to cry. Happy tears.

I’m fucking free and I am on fire!

 

Copyright © 2014 iokirkwood.com. “My Sweet Shadow, To You I Look No More” by I.O. Kirkwood. All rights reserved.

From The Jerk to A TOOL

“A couple of people have asked me about my ‘complicated relationship’ status. I just want you all to know that I’m in a relationship with me. It’s complicated, definitely, but I’m the only one who has to put up with my crap <laughs>.” ~my FaceBook status on January 21, 2014.

image

The explanation behind my status is this:

I came into this world alone. I’ll leave this world alone. Out of all the people on this spinning planet, I’m the only person from whom I cannot escape. I am the only person I go to bed with every night.

And yes, it’s complicated because at the heart of everything, I’ve discovered that I’m The Jerk.

والهزه (The Jerk)

I’ve forgone the chair, the magazine, the lamp and the matches, but I’m sure you’ll forgive me.

“I don’t need anything except this. And that’s it and that’s the only thing I need, is this. I don’t need this or this. Just this ashtray. And this paddle game, the ashtray and the paddle game and that’s all I need. And this remote control.” Navin R. Johnson

I’ve been carrying around these three things for a while thinking I need them.

The ashtray is my ego. My ego contains all the dirty lies I tell myself to get along in this reality. It’s the voice inside my head that tells me how awesome I am.

The paddle game is the pointless up and down or back and forth of old habits. It’s the voice inside my head that tells me what an absolute loser I am.

The remote control only has two channels: the ashtray network and the paddle game network. All ashtrays or all paddle games, all the time.

None of these relics from 1979 serve the unnamed something that has been growing inside of me like a strange, night-blooming flower. This beautiful and fragile flower doesn’t have a language yet and I’m trying to find words for it. We could call it awareness, but it is bigger than that. Meanwhile, the ashtray is trying to beat it to death, the paddle game is trying to choke it out, and the remote control is charging pay-per-view.

I have never in my life felt as awkward, naïve and stupid as I do now. Every insecurity I possess has bubbled up to the surface, like a bad B movie on Blue-Ray with Dolby Surround Sound. If you understand my experience, if you feel these things, then I would love to commiserate. If you don’t feel things like this, welcome to my strange and frightening world.

If I’m going to change things, the best way to start is to reframe the problem. I think I will look to music for that, preferably something heavy and gritty-ah, yes, here we are. Instead of being The Jerk, I am now a:

TOOL

Whichever way you look at it, a TOOL is a useful thing but it needs to be fashioned and purposed
(to hear the song and see the actual lyrics, click the picture).

(The following is my paraphrase using lyrics  from “Forty-six & 2” by Tool off the album Aenima)

I’m shedding my skin, picking scabs again, and all at forty-six and twos. I’ve been wallowing in my own chaotic, insecure delusions. Contemplating what I’m clinging to, I know this means that change is coming. Live not the lie, kill the remote, Abandon the ashtray and paddle game to die in the truth, learn, love and do what it takes to step through the outside turning in.

I think it’s safe to say that I’m doing everyone a kindness by discouraging anything other than friendship at this time. Maybe after I’ve softened the old armor and cleared the way, I can come out the other side and consider the possibility of something more.

However, I will not complain or stomp my feet if the Morrighan tells me to quit my whining and dumps a hot, metal dude on my doorstep with the instructions: “Open at your peril.” I may be a hot mess right now, but I’ve learned to never refuse gifts from the gods.

An Open Letter to A Creep

Dear Creepy Guy at the Bar:

I’m thinking you might be a nice person. I’m thinking your mother loves you. Very much. But somewhere along the line she failed to teach you how to approach people. Or maybe it was an oversight on your father’s part. I speculate equitably.

Since the fine art of conversation, which is often learned through osmosis from our elders, has eluded your ken, I would like to present you with a few ideas about how not to interact with women – especially in bars. If you follow these rules, you might be able to talk to a few without them leaping off chairs or ducking under tables to get away from you.

its running away

1. Walking up to a woman only to stop a few feet away and stare is considered threatening. If you’ve worked up your nerve to come that far, introduce yourself and risk possible, but hopefully courteous, rejection.

2. Women who are interested in talking to someone, male or female, smile and make eye contact. If she refuses to make eye contact with you, she is telling you to leave her alone. The frozen deer-in-the-headlights stare does not count.

3. Just because the karaoke DJ announced a woman’s name to the entire crowd doesn’t mean you have made a proper introduction and can use that name as an opening to ask her inappropriate questions about her personal life.

4. Lurking is rude and threatening. It is exponentially creepier when you make sure she can see you coming before stopping mere inches from and directly behind her.

5. If she turns her back to you when you approach, she is giving you the opportunity to save face and walk by.

6. If you aren’t invited to move and talk comfortably among the people that are so obviously part of the woman’s social group, don’t wait until she is alone to corner her.

7. Following her from one end of the bar to the other when she is trying to get away from you is unequivocally threatening, especially if you stand between her friends and her.

8. If a gentleman in her social group makes the appearance that he is with the woman in question, assume that she is with said gentleman. It’s none of your business what the relationship happens to be.

This is not an exhaustive list. I understand that social interactions can be awkward or opaque or strange, and I am able to move beyond those moments because I too seem awkward, opaque and strange (to most). But your behavior was out of the ordinary and constituted the only fly in last night’s ointment of a very good time.

My wisdom is that the experiences we have externally are reflections of the way we experience ourselves internally. So ask yourself, Creepy Guy at the Bar, what would drive a woman to leap from her chair to escape you? What are you chasing that you can’t seem to catch?

Because I’ve asked myself why I didn’t just glare at you the first time you so rudely lurked in my specific direction. I wondered why I waited until I just couldn’t take it anymore before telling you to “go away.” I finally had to ask myself, why did I exhaust all the polite social cues before acting when my gut told me to stare you down? What creepy part of me am I too afraid to confront until I’m cornered?

Show Me Your Hub, Baby

Things to be grateful for this week: I had a serious breakthrough in how I can be more aligned with the Center of the Tree of Life known in Qabala as Tifareth (aka the Christ Consciousness).

Tifareth is the Sun/Son, the Center, and is known as Beauty or Harmony. This sphere rests in the center of the Pillar of Equilibrium and operates much as the hub of a wheel. It keeps all the spokes together and allows the vehicle to move forward. All influences, whether the source is the All or a reflection of the All (from Earth/Malkuth), pass through this sphere. This is where we find the Holy Guardian Angel, the Savior, and the Vision of the Harmony of Things. Everyone has a personal Tifareth, a God-spark, within them and this is one of the greatest gifts from the All.

what you were born into

So how does this relate to my amazing week? I’ve been struggling. I’ve been trying to reconcile love and hate and the issues of race, gender, religion, and anything human-made that divides us from each other. Trying to have conversations with people about these topics is difficult (understatement) and very few people are ready to have this kind of conversation without getting upset.

I must explain that I’m a relentless sort of person and I lack a certain polish (it’s called tact). One person, offended by my relentless lack of tact, indicated that he could not believe I was bringing up the matter of skin color or gender as it was irrelevant. I wanted to know why? If I have to ask these questions about skin color or gender, I reasoned, a problem exists. I can’t pretend racism doesn’t exist. I can’t pretend that sexism doesn’t exist. I want to understand and I want to challenge the idea that merit is earned by an accident of birth.

Then I had the discussion with a new friend I met on Saturday. He said that color doesn’t matter either, but he acknowledged that there were problems. He spoke about “back in the day when co-workers and friends were just co-workers and friends – not Black, Hispanic, or White.” I remember that time too, but I also remember my grandfather using the “n” word and afterward, my father having to explain to me that I didn’t have a “black friend” but that I had a “friend who happened to be black.”

Some people don’t get that I’m exploring. They tell me to stop asking questions because it’s not going to do any good. Well, I have always been the person to say, “Hey, does anybody else see the big white elephant in the middle of the room?”

My new friend finally let me ask questions until I didn’t have any more questions to ask. He was patient, funny and outspoken. He could see the white elephant too. I felt much better, but the amazing thing is that he stripped color away. He stripped gender away. He made me see that no matter what the physical vehicle looks like on the outside, we are all suffering to some degree on the inside. We all have our challenges. Some of us more than others, but we choose how we overcome them.

baby knows what you teach it

My new outlook is not color based or gender based. When I see people now, I will seek that inner flame, the hub of the wheel, the God-spark, and I will give them the opportunity to show me how they have tended it. Because that’s what truly matters at the end of the day. How will you show the world your hub?