“As an artist do I need constant flux to create? How will I find words in the woods surrounded by trees and rotten cornfields? How will I find anything besides dying, wet leaves?
I cannot escape the volume in my head, the constant churning. The Jesus fucking Christ, turn it down chatter. I have been told to be patient. Wait for the drugs, the quieting veil, and the lavender calm to smooth out the ringing. My mind is full of death and black spots I’m sure, much like a stroke patient after a spell.
“The chaos comes with you,” simply stated my friend. He was right. I am here, here am I. Sick and tired, tired and bullshit sick.
The blank paper waits and my hands navigate the keys and the thoughts go where they may.”
Boots and a bag, sherbet sunrise, an extended furlough at the beach, the Cove, side-trip to the bayou and the self-confinement of four walls inside a nowhere home (a whole lot of love, shock and awe, bizarre happens, heartbreak, joy, birth, rebirth, gritty life stuff). Dual realities co-existing in parallel space and time.
It’s funny how life thrusts you forward, ready or not. Every single thing has changed, and yet I feel very much the same.
You do the work, plan your days, look ahead with the hope you might find happy waiting. Happy is the illusion like gyre currents in perpetual movement.
I wrote The Red Bench half a decade ago churning in my brain trying to comprehend the mystery of living. The story evolved into The Vast Landscape, Georgia Pine and now I begin again, with Ever Green. Curious,all the titles have to do with nature, double entendres. Maybe the quiet, self-mandated daily walk, clean air, gravel crunching underfoot, allows the mind silence, and oxygen from constricted, over crowded spaces. The walkabout leaves a lasting effect. Tales of a familial girl in perpetual spin-cycle. An ordinary, average girl trying to comprehend the mysteries that are human emotion, loss, love and family. Strength and resilience are there too, squashed by fear and hidden below the dirt. Uncovering sparkling, dazzling quartz minerals right beneath the surface. We are the mistake happening by chance, moving along as best we can. Silly it seems, plans change, variables, decisions made, much like the secure future once envisioned.
I return to the red bench to find my footing, the New Year’s mantra 365 days long.
The Red Bench by Jacqueline Cioffa
“It all comes back to a red metal bench in the woods, on a small hill by a nothing special pond. The air is sweet and wet and fall is here for now. Ducks sleep near the brisk, damp water waiting to take flight to sunnier places, offering no solution. I shiver and squirm in my own discomfort, clenching the bench, determined to will myself better. I’ll sit there god damn it, you fucking God cocksucker, I’m as stubborn as you, until there is something to look forward to. I’m not pretending rosy and cheery just maybe a hint of curiosity.
With one foot planted on the ground, the other dancing with parasol queens and subway kings, I’m off whenever the mood suits. I’m not sure I can keep up this charade of good health. My mind is winning you see, disappearing each day into the void, gray matter dying piece by piece. I say take it all, so that I no longer remember the unnerving beauty here on earth. They tell me I must fight harder, but I don’t see from where or how. The choice has never been up to me, no matter how heavy I wear the armor.
Instead of despair on these sub-zero days, in parades of endless succession. I hate gray the color, the boring winter blank sky. I hate the cold, the incessant bitter freeze I can’t shake off. They say ECT may be the only way back, my mind resistant to the drugs they shove down my throat. I don’t care, zap my brain, shock it, and bring back hope. Where is this God they talk so highly about? He’s a slacker, watching tsunamis, disease and earthquakes swallow babies and their families whole. How could I think for one second he might take pity on me? When the rest of the blue planet has gone haywire. Killing for nothing, stealing, lying, cheating, concerned for number one. There is no honor and trust amongst new millennium thieves. We are a nation consumed with stuff, ego and greed. Hey, look at me, how fabulous the façade. Maybe by spring, the hatred and contempt will be gone. Some warmth and compassion brought back into these cold-hearted bones. If I can hang on until then, I might have a shot.
I hope the world my predecessor lives in is a kinder place to dwell. I pray the blue people have learned compassion towards the ill, the weak and the mind sick. I hope that time has made her world a softer, more humane place to visit. Shame and fear have been obliterated from her planet, coloring her life with only happy minutes. She will grow up to be a healthy woman, headstrong, a great healer, fearless traveler, and the gypsy traveling the globe on her sacred walkabout. She is me, only better, the direct descendant of all that I was not. She will do everything I hoped to accomplish in life. She will not fall short, cut down by a disease more than complicated than life itself. She will grow up brave and strong, a clearheaded, fine woman. I get to watch, dust particles in heaven floating over her head, living out the perfect life. We have come full circle, my limitations never mattered, disease didn’t win. The spirit guides that went before me showed the easier, less complicated route.
Things always seem brighter, warmer, kinder, and less drastic under the beautiful rays of a golden sun.
My death never mattered one bit, only the courage, grace, and strength of how I lived carries on. In the face of adversity, I hope I was remembered as kind.”
Authenticity. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the word, gargling, swishing it around in my mouth and spitting it out.
If I only show you the photoshopped, concealed, makeup pretty me you’ll never understand the underbelly. The crunchy grit, rawness hidden beneath. The really good stuff, the honest kind that matters. Most days I can only see how my illness defines me. Every single piece that’s been stolen, the immeasurable, inexplicable loss of self. The shame, self-hatred, feelings of worthlessness, doubt, insecurities, paranoia, fear, inappropriate remarks, irrational behavior and the myriad of negatives that live inside my broken, chaotic mind. Not to mention the physical excruciating pain, dizziness, anxiety, numbness, sweats, chills. Or the forty-ish pounds of added weight, the personal fuck you reminder of the crazy scales. Matters of life and death, I stopped counting the pounds. There are the ‘friends’ who conveniently vanished, stopped calling, texting. I admit, I’ve cried, hid my face in shame, lived with resentment and assumed the worst. It must be my fault.
That’s not what this day or this post is about. Today is about threading the needle and the incredible luck I’ve been dealt. Yes, luck.
Somewhere in-between psychosis, wanting to die and twelve years of psyche meds, twelve years of disappointment, fight, agony, fear, mania, depression and feeling sorry for myself, I forgot. The crucial element. Luck.
My therapist, whom I adore talks it out with me. She said something that kinda’ stuck, “you’re not the norm.” I didn’t quite get it. “Most of my patients (mentally ill) don’t have anyONE. You have more than one, you are not alone.” It’s so true, I am never alone while living with this solitary, suck-ass, fuck-off, bite-me disease. It’s authentic no doubt, there is no room for false illusion.
I am lucky. I’m lucky I have a home, a comfortable safe haven. I’m lucky to have a kindred spirit animal, Lupita lovely who comforts me when I am buried inside the madness, teaches me patience, moral responsibility and makes me smile more times than I can count.
I’m lucky no one asks too much of me, no conventional job, financial stress triggers. Don’t worry, I own that guilt. Guilt is a wasted emotion I excel at. I am lucky I still have the capacity to have a clear thought, battle the bad ones. I’m lucky I live with someone who does not let me wallow and knows when I am not wallowing at all. I’m lucky I have the one who puts her aches, pains and disappointments under her tongue and bites down hard dealing with the crazy that is her daughter. I am well aware even when I’m not gracious, nice, and pretty goddamn awful. I’m lucky there is more than one person checking in, wishing me well. I’m lucky for the ones I didn’t expect with the kindest hearts.
I’m lucky my heart is the bigger muscle and my mind the smaller one. I’m lucky I have a wicked imagination. I’m lucky I can still lose myself in the words, writing and dreaming on the page. I’m lucky god, buddha whoever sent me and gave me some gifts to share. There is something beautiful in the ethers, beyond our fixed expiration date. I’m lucky I believe in that. I’m lucky I’m sensitive enough, intuitive enough, aware enough and kind enough.
I’m lucky I have a stubborn, ugly mean streak too. It keeps me alive.
I could go on and on but that might seem manic, crazy, mad. Stirring up all the uncomfortable feelings, words and foreign adjectives that swirl inside your mind. Forget it, I didn’t write this for you.
I’m lucky if my experience helps the solitaire, lonely person struggling like me feel less alone.
I’m lucky I choose authentic however scary it may be, I am the lucky in-between.
I’m learning luck is not a state of mind but one of heart.
My love of prose runs deep, and flows freely. I never try to push or guide her, I simply wait. She comes to me in thought, letting words steer the course. 100,000 keystrokes, always grateful for the ride. Slippery, sliced, bruised and banged up, the rocks show me the how. Pointing towards the unsettling, eery calm waters, and guaranteed ease of crystal blue, crisp, sun storm light beautiful. A new day. Possibility runs amok, wild like the raging currents I am bound to.