Wherever The Roads Take Me

“You’ve never been to Burning Man? Darlin’, you belong there. I wasn’t sure if I was going this year, wasn’t even planning on it – but now, I guess I am. I’ll give you a ride.”

New Orleans, 2006. I had recently moved there about five months before, the first time I had ever stepped foot in the city. Though I had seen it on the news a lot recently, nothing prepared me for what I was in person, stepping on the ground, smelling the decay and rot – but still, underneath that, there was something else it took me a while to put my finger on, a feeling… and then I realized what it was. There was a strength to the city, a spirit that even The Storm couldn’t take away. I fell in love with it instantly.

It was a strange path that led me there. My work with The Dresden Dolls had ended in Colorado, and with it the move to Boston. In thinking back all of these years later, I think it may have been a combination of a couple of things that prompted the email from Amanda. The first two were that The DD were going a slightly different direction, and also – I think The Brigade – what we called, and still call ourselves, were perhaps getting too big, too strong, especially the Boston chapter. Hell, we were even working on making it into its own entity, looking into becoming a 501(c)(3) performance group, renting a building where we could inspire & teach others.
And without question, one was my drinking. Though my work with them had never faltered for it, I was again trying to escape something dark & wrong inside of me by numbing it however I could. Still, I helped inspire hundreds of young people across the world to reach beyond themselves, to walk through their fears, to realize how beautiful they are. It was the first time I had ever, in my life, actually felt needed, felt appreciated. The first time I had ever felt loved.
Then everything I loved was ripped away from me.
Such is life. The Universe had other plans. I needed to pick myself up, to try to find the strength to keep moving forward.
In Colorado I found a good place to busk, saving up money I would need for gas. I would listen to the radio in my van at night, stretching out as much as I could in the back seat with Bean, my beautiful dog, caressing her as she rested her head on my chest and hoping sleep would come soon. It was then that I heard about Katrina and the devastation it left in its wake. It was September 5th, my birthday. I was alone with Bean, in our van, crying.

The next morning I started emailing people, and I connected with an old lover who was now living in New Orleans with her family, asking if there was anything I could do to help them. They were fine; she was safe with her family and out of the city. I asked if there was anywhere or anyone she knew of that needed help, and she gave me the contact information to a place in Austin.
“We need people. Show up anytime.”
I smiled for the first time in a week. Within the hour Bean and I were back on The Road.

Going through Kansas & Oklahoma, driving hard, Bean asleep on the throne I had built for her in the back seat. In the black of night there was nothing but the hypnotizing dashed lines on the highway, as if nothing else existed after the reach of my headlights. No signs, no horizon, no hills or turns. Only every few hours would another vehicle pass going the opposite way. 80mph and I would close my eyes, seeing how long I could keep them shut before opening them again in sheer panic. The rapid pumping of my heart helped keep me awake. I knew how stupid I was being, but only when I thought of Bean did I decide to pull over to the side of the road and rest for a bit. The morning brought sunshine and a beautiful view that stretched for an eternity.

19 hours later I was finally in Austin.

It was an amazing place. The “Austin Enchanted Forest”, a private 3 acre wild forest in the middle of Austin, art everywhere. They had set it up with donated tents, blankets, and everything else people who had to leave their home with next to nothing might need. I was “in charge” of welcoming people, showing them around, making sure they had everything they needed.
Bean was in absolute heaven. She had an entire forest to run around in and sniff, other dogs to play with, and every night she would sleep just outside of my tent. In the morning she would poke her head inside the flap if she thought I was sleeping too late and do this kind of “rrrroooowwrr?” thing, a cross between a growl, bark, and asking me to get the hell out of bed because it was time to play, to go on our morning walk in The Forest.

I lived there for four months in a 10’x10’ tent, going from volunteering for a couple months to helping set up and performing for their yearly “Austin Haunted Forest” through the month of October. The time I spent in Austin is another story, though.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“I’ll give you a ride.”

Burning Man was coming up fast. Raven, the kickass woman I had promised a ride to and I started preparing. We bought our tickets, figured out the route – there was just one thing we needed.
A van.
The van I drove there in had only made it that far because I needed it to, and it had done its job. Shortly after I got to NOLA when I needed to move it for parking and found that it had a flat tire and no spare, I decided it was time to let it go to the city. Considering that it was breathing its dying breaths, I wouldn’t have felt right selling her to someone who might depend on it. The next day it was gone.

My work was busking, doing street performance as a Living Statue. I was making good money, saving every penny I could for a van to get Raven & I the 2,200 miles to the Black Rock Desert. Once I had saved $800, I started looking…

Coming from the West Coast where vans & large vehicles are plentiful and cheap, I was surprised at how few there were for sale here, and how expensive even the crappy ones were. I couldn’t figure it out – and then it hit me. I understood.
This is hurricane country. People here need to regularly throw everything they can grab into a car and bug-out, and the bigger the vehicle, the more space for family & things.
I hadn’t thought of that. Time was getting close to our planned departure.

Shit.

I worked extra hours, every day forcing my body to the limits of what it could stand, standing perfectly still. I took the suggestion that a nurse whispered to me one day and started taking aspirin to hopefully prevent blood clots from forming. At night I would look on craigslist for a van, widening the search, increasing the amount I could pay by working the extra hours.

It was grueling, painful, exhausting, but I had given her my word. I wasn’t going to let her down. Far too many people are so full of empty fucking promises, and I won’t be one of them. Hell, if I couldn’t find a van I was ready to buy her a flight to Reno – but hopefully it wouldn’t come to that.

Every night as I laid in bed and every morning, I would do a manifestation meditation. I would picture Raven & I driving up the road to the front gate of Burning Man, blasting music and singing along in a plain white van. In the visualization my window would be down all the way, arm resting on the door as we laughed triumphantly.

The days continued. Still no van. I refused to worry, and just *know* that it would work out.
Well, maybe I worried a little bit. I mean, c’mon, I’m at least *somewhat* human.

Then, finally. Less than a week before we were planning to leave, I found a van for sale in Baton Rouge, at just a tiny bit under what I had saved – and get this: It was the exact van I saw in my mind; white, plain, even a Ford. And it didn’t have a driver’s side window at all. I guess that when I saw it in my mind, every time with the window all the way down – maybe I should have visualized at least a little of the window there. Still, the Universe had given me *exactly* what I was asking for. It likes having fun with me, I’ve found over the years.

The van wouldn’t idle, the driver’s seat felt like it was one of those things in kids’ playgrounds – the animals with the big springs under then that you sat on and leaned every which way, then sprung back up headed in the opposite direction. It felt like the seat was trying to throw me out the window with every right turn I took.
I managed, with the help of a friend following me, to limp the thing home, then spent the next three days making it not only stay running, but idle smooth and strong. I ripped out the driver’s seat and fixed the base of it, checked lights, brakes, tires, fluids, everything. It would get us there. We had a van. It didn’t have a license plate, so I made one out of cardboard that looked almost real, if you didn’t look *too* close.

Then, something unexpected. An email from the seller, a nice lady when I met her. She told me of her uncle – Conrad, or “Uncle Connie”. He had lived as a homeless drunk in New Orleans, and after most of his life spent that way had finally gotten sober. He had bought the van to fulfill a dream he had – of driving West to see the ocean for the first time. Unfortunately, he had died before he could make the trip. Before he could make this dream of his – his only dream – come true.

In her email, she said that when we were talking and I was telling her my plans with the van, she felt something in me that reminded her of her Uncle Connie. She said he had a wonderful heart, a warmth and kindness to him – and she told me how much she had adored him, feeling so fortunate that they at least had a little time to spend together after he got sober. He would have loved something like Burning Man, she said, after I explained it as best as I could to her.

“This is going to sound really strange, but… would you mind helping him realize his dream? Would you take his ashes with you? Take him to the Ocean?”

As Raven & I made our way across the country, we took the time to enjoy it, pulling off to sit in silence and look out over beautiful, expansive views – and I would leave some of Connie there. In kitschy tourist spots, I would leave Connie. Native American craft shops, roadside diners, places that felt, in their way, sacred. Connie was on the road with us, living his dream.

Well, not really “living” it, being as dehydrated as he was – but at least doing it.

That year at the Temple of Hope, I left two silk bags of ashes – and then finally, on a cold overcast afternoon in San Francisco, I again poured two different piles of ashes on the sand, just a little bit below the tide line.

One, of course, was Uncle Connie’s. The other ashes were of the best friend I have ever had.

I stood there for a while, alone and holding my coat tight around me and silently crying, as I watched Bean’s ashes being taken out into the heart of the Sea.
She had always loved running in the ocean.

Life, Death, Dogs. A Rooftop Contemplation

The occasional whisper of tires as a car drives by below, an unintelligible shout, the scattered songs of birds. The only sounds at this hour. Only the crackheads & I seem to be awake. Even the sirens are quiet, sleeping.

It’s 4am & I’m up on the roof of my apartment building with a fresh cup of coffee, a cigarette, & Ruby. The clouds above reflect the city lights giving a faint glow, just enough to see by. A cool breeze plays with my hair, blowing it in my face then away. I wrap my robe a little tighter around me.

I sit on the short wall of my building, look down at the weeds growing in our forbidden & neglected back yard. Near the far right corner calla lily’s bloom, defying the otherwise abandoned and unloved desolation. With their beauty inevitably comes a warm sorrow as I’m reminded of when Striggy brought a gift of bone-white lily’s to my tent in Austin. With love & reverence I placed them on top of the pale blonde box I had picked up earlier that day, already made into an altar surrounded with candles, a picture of Bean propped up against the box that now held the ashes of the most amazing dog & companion I’ve ever known. She was killed by a freight train a few days before, found by friends lying between the tracks, her favorite stuffed toy a few inches from her head. Nearly 13 years later & the tears still fall for her.

I turn back facing the roof top, close my eyes, take in a few deep breaths as I find a strange comfort in this sadness. Now, it’s filled with love and warm memories instead of the anguish I carried inside for years, holding it tight, afraid that if the pain wasn’t there I would somehow be betraying her memory.

I know better now. I understand death better now.

I think of how exquisite this life is, how fortunate I am. Occasionally I still let the weight of it all get to me and forget these things, but not now. Not today.

I open my eyes and catch Ruby briefly chasing her tail. I chuckle silently to myself and somehow love her even more.

I think of the time I spent in Hospice. Months on end so close to giving up, so desperately wanting to stop being strong, and each morning having to somehow find just one reason to keep fighting. One reason to stay alive.

As impossible it seemed to be able to imagine at times, I needed to believe that I would somehow get better.

I had to know, with as little doubt as possible, that there would be mornings like this one to look forward to.

I need to believe.

 

And life, as painful as it is, painful as we allow it to be, still goes on. Still goes on for some of us, those who aren’t ready yet, haven’t fulfilled our quota in this one, having not lived their full purpose.

I see it every single day in this neighborhood, bodies wasted away to nothing, skeletal faces, some hunched over in impossible angles but still somehow making it down the street. I can’t help but wonder how they are still alive, what their lives must be like, and – how blessed I am. How blessed we all are.

Lost, another dear friend today, so very full of love and laughter, of wisdom, of pain, perhaps – but in all the times I saw him, he never let on that he might have been. He stood straight, he laughed from his soul, his smile could make even the darkest days brighter – even the memory of it.

Lord had a certain adolescence to him, he had found a way to remember the wonder and love for life of a child, where everything, as old as it may have been, was new. In my experience he seemed to love everyone with the same conviction, and knowing.

He lived his full purpose, and then some. I need to believe this. I need to believe this for everyone I have watched die.
I am tempted to say there have been to many, but just perhaps – there have been just enough.

Tonight I again opened a bottle that has been sitting for many days, poured a three finger glass, and opened my kitchen window at the back of my building to pour a sip, O.G. style, on the ground for the brilliant fucking people that have blessed me with their knowledge, wisdom and love. It filtered through the flat grey steel bars of the fire escape, but found its way to the dirt three floors below.

This goes out to all of you. Lord, English Don, Ron, Ernesto, Ruby (not my dog, not named after her) Alisun and Alison, so very many others that I watched die horribly slowly, and the two dogs that have passed, Bear, in 9th grade – and of course Bean. Far, far too many others, enough to almost consider myself immune.

I understand death, or at least I thought to enough to not have this effect me in any way, but… I still have a heart, and still have shitloads of fight inside o me. Lord reminded me of that. You all did.

“If you live to be 100, I hope I live to be 100 minus one day, so I will never be without you.” ~ Winnie the Pooh

All those who passed, I’ll see you again – that is certain – but fuck, really… stop that leaving is shit – though I know you must go. Just don’t really dig it, at all.
We will meet again.

To be a Dog

 

 

I strip naked to crawl into bed. It is an uncommonly warm night in The City, the few weeks of summer in the fall, and I prefer a slight bit of chill at the very least. Ruby has a tendency to snuggle, and by snuggle I mean to attempt to push me off of our bed.  She doesn’t just slowly slide up – she essentially falls down on me and expects me to slide out from under her. It is still my damned bed, to a certain degree. She has learned that when it’s time for me to get in, she gets off. I make myself comfortable, avoiding the edge that I know she will push me to (a head start) and when allowed, she then hops back on to claim her side/middle/the whole damn thing. Her simplicity is just one of the things I love about her. Primal, no bullshit.

She tests me. She pushes, I push harder, and very shortly after we both find sleep, my arm outside of the covers caressing her, in adoration listening to her breathe, feeling her puppy belly rise and fall, the occasional sigh. If only she could know I would do anything for her. I think that she’s learning this.

When we walk around the neighborhood there are many loud noises, many people, many things that she is still unsure of which cause pause for her. “It’s okay, Rube.” She looks at me, her leash goes slack as she walks next to my leg until we pass, then she’s off to exploring again in her zig-zag roundabout way, from one side of the sidewalk to the other, exploring everything. I walk behind her in more or less a straight line, but we both get everywhere we are going, just the same.

Though I love all animals, there is an exquisite pureness, faith, and loyalty in dogs that can’t be refused. In their innocence they trust that we know best, even when we don’t. When they look at us and their eyes shine in a big goofy smile, we realize that life really is beautiful, and even in our lowest times, there is hope.

They don’t care if we come home late, they are always thrilled to see us. When we drink a bit too much they don’t judge. When we pass gas, “HEY! New smell! WOOHOO! They don’t care what we look like, are excited about everything, don’t mind the garbage on the streets in the slightest. With Ruby I have free reign to behave like a complete fool without any concern about what other people think, though that has never been much difficulty for me. They don’t care what we act like, how much money we make, even if they live in a tiny apartment that they consider home. And have a bed that they can take over. All it requires is love and caring.

“A bone to the dog is not charity. Charity is the bone shared with the dog, when you are just as hungry as the dog.” ~ Jack London

Yes, I will do anything for her. It is the very least for what she gives me.

This is something I read quite a while ago, in between Bean and Ruby, and it stays with me.

Being a veterinarian, I had been called to examine a ten-year-old Irish wolfhound named Belker. The dog’s owners, Ron, his wife, Lisa, and their little boy, Shane, were all very attached to Belker, and they were hoping for a miracle.

I examined Belker and found he was dying of cancer. I told the family we couldn’t do anything for Belker, and offered to perform the euthanasia procedure for the old dog in their home.

As we made arrangements, Ron and Lisa told me they thought it would be good for six-year-old Shane to observe the procedure. They felt as though Shane might learn something from the experience.

The next day, I felt the familiar catch in my throat as Belker’s family surrounded him. Shane seemed so calm, petting the old dog for the last time, that I wondered if he understood what was going on. Within a few minutes, Belker slipped peacefully away.

The little boy seemed to accept Belker’s transition without any difficulty or confusion. We sat together for a while after Belker’s death, wondering aloud about the sad fact that animal lives are shorter than human lives.

Shane, who had been listening quietly, piped up, “I know why.”

Startled, we all turned to him. What came out of his mouth next stunned me.  I’d never heard a more comforting explanation.  He said, “People are born so that they can learn how to live a good life – like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right?”

The six-year-old continued, “Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don’t have to stay as long.”

I know my time with Ruby is shorter than I would prefer.  It was with Bean, with Bear, even with Happy, the Sheep Dog who I was raised with who almost ripped my cheek off when I was a very young child… but it is never long enough, and I can’t ever do enough for them.

http://igg.me/p/534079/x/451145

 

 

 

 

To Live for Those Who Give Life

And just like that, something clicked. Or… perhaps it wasn’t instantaneous in becoming, only how quickly it happened. I’ve been working for this day in meditation and reading, but only listening to my conscious mind instead of my heart and subconscious knowledge.

Every year for seven years, before the anniversary of the closest friend and companion I have ever had getting killed, a being that was so incredibly full of light and love that she taught me more every day, I went to the store, got enough alcohol to let me escape in sorrow and feel every ounce of pain for a few days, and drank.

It is the anniversary of my beautiful dog, Bean, getting killed by a freight train, and being found on the tracks.

Something changed this year though. I had been drinking more and more as the years progressed, with the exception of the couple of years I spent in hospitals, and lately it had been getting much worse. Not every day, but whenever I had a little bit of money to spare – or just had money whether I could spare it or not, quite often I would drink, and drink to excess.

This year started out no differently. Early on the 25th, I went to the store, got a bottle of the cheapest whiskey, and began in abandoned earnest.

When I awoke on the 27th, the anniversary of her death, I, as usual, poured myself a large tumbler of whiskey to begin the day… but I couldn’t bring myself to begin. It sat on my night stand,, nearly full, for hours. Finally, later that evening, I looked at the photo you see above, placed my hand in the wax-dripped wooden box that her ashes, some of her teeth and jaw bone and some dried white lilies are in, and took a small shot – then poured the rest into the bottle where it still sits in my cupboard.

I tried drinking more a couple days after, but the same result – a shot, but no more. Believe me, I tried!

I have been slowly killing myself with alcohol, drinking more and more as time passed, but – now I have a new pup, Ruby, and I cannot do this to myself, or her.  Or, to my friends.

I cannot die before I meet my birth mother, who I searched for essentially all of my life and finally found and contacted, almost exactly a year ago.

I honestly don’t know what transformed inside of me, but what happened doesn’t matter.

Things are changing for the better, and I like it. I feel alive again. I feel like me again, and I feel good. Now, it’s time to take Ruby out for a walk.

On that note, a reminder. In order to give Ruby (my rescue pup) the life she deserves until I get my feet all the way on the ground, I have started a campaign to help be the father I promised I would be, and give her the life she deserves.

Please take a moment to look at this – more things from this post might be answered, and there are wonderful photos and video of Ruby.

http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/help-a-rescue-puppy-live-the-life-she-deserves/x/451145

If you can, please help by contributing in any way you are able, and thank you!

Almost easier

I listen to classical, have something calming in the background to write, something so that I don’t have to hear the whistle of the train. It seems that no matter where I am, regardless of how faint it is, I always hear the train now, and take notice.

I repair the necklace that I made out of her teeth, the smile she always wore that now, I do.
Five years. It doesn’t so much get easier – there are still triggers; but it has found  a different place in my heart, one of warmth and fondness instead of pain. Now, a subtle smile crosses my face as I recall her beauty, an we again smile together.
Her ashes still rest by my bed, and the memories of those days in The Enchanted Forest, both extraordinarily beautiful and full of anguish, will remain in my heart.

I miss you, Bean.


five years & healing

Last night, I had a dog, in a dream
and although for the first time
the dog wasn’t Bean…
it was still good.

I didn’t look around, wondering where Bean was,
because I know that she is still here with me.
I didn’t look at this new dog, and compare
because I know how unfair to her and impossible
that would be.

I’ve been thinking about a new girl* a lot these days
of everything I could think of to think of
and yes, I am no less than terrified,
and yes, I believe that I should be
but there have been signs that I know were meant for me to see, from the incredibly subtle to even tips on how to work the shelter paperwork while living in a motorhome…

And then, as if it were meant to be (& without question it was) Miss Boop swings by to check it out. She didn’t say much of course, but it seemed to meet with her approval.

So, I guess that’s it. I’m not actively searching yet, but after almost five years, my heart is opening to the possibility.

*or maybe  a boy dawggy, but I prefer girlzes  I just seem to meet them on a higher level – whatever that means. Come to think of it, the same goes with human girlzes.

*~* (And now the bitch session)

Besides – after over two & a half years of the magazine & a huge part of that being the need to trust in humans to do what they say they will do in order for it to simply exist, I’ve found one of the incredibly unfortunate realizations to be that tragically few people’s words are worth the shit that I will happily pick up and throw away.

[Posted using those tiny little buttons on my phone.]