Rockjaw, Leadbelly, Renewal, Decay • 27 October 2010

We’re over Kansas. Next to an electrical storm that's either humungus or riding up just alongside the plane and keeping pace. And I’m crying, in the dark, watching the light bounce around that stormcloud and occasionally strike down.

Turbulence. The pilot is diving and climbing all over to avoid it, so my ears, eyes and larynx are popping and collapsing with the pressure. How annoying. And odd that my crying would sooth the squishy recesses in my head. Good tears are silky like an Epsom bath. For some reason, I keep picturing the little caves in the lee of Haystack Rock, sloshing full of saltwater on Oregon’s high tide.

Riiiight. So some part of me feels that my head is an awkward, wave-beaten rock? Well, there is sort of a rock in the right jowl, twisted up in trijiminal nerves. Weird to know it’s been there without my awareness for many years. I’d call it a demon, but nah. It’s more a dead zone, old trauma. Inside, it feels like nothing and looks like blackness. To my hands, it feels like gristle. In photographs, it tilts my head to the right when I smile.

Now that I notice the unconscious head-tilt, I wonder how far this jaw-rock’s gravitational pull extends. Is there a relationship with the callus I have to scallop from the outer tip of the right big toe? Why does my car drift starboard when I stop controlling the wheel? Does it respond to weather, like rheumatism or headaches? Where does it fit in the feedback loops of my go-to negative emotions: agitation, remoteness, anger, despair?

The jaw-rock itself, or at least the emotions in which it’s looped up, was pretty active this trip. The annual reunion feels gutted by decay. I wanted renewal: on the surface, that’s the point of coming. Part of me expects year after year of renewal without equal parts of decay.

The last death was the most beautiful. I caught it on the way to the airport. Each year, we swing through the remains of early Denver, drop in to the old train station (now REI-ified as sporting goods store), and look in on the “family” brewery. This is the sentimental little pub named for the old brick building’s first occupant, my great-great grandfather Adoph. He crated his ale and made a frontier fortune in that building. At Prohibition, he cashed out and a second Adoph (Mr. Coors) took over the market. In recent years, the pub that used to brew its own deteriorated in a cultural sense: traded its gleaming microbrew barrels for sports décor and Coors on tap. This year, there are no remains at all. The building is now divided: one side a "Healing Center"—grand opening signs and new age drawings in the windows. The other half is Señor Sol (Mister Sun), a restaurant dedicated, I gather, to burritos and manipura.

It was beautiful when the brewmaster's mansion, where my mom spent early Christmases, was converted to a real estate office. And it's perfect that the last sign of my alternate history as a trust-fund beer princess has repolarized… in to carb-bombs and acupuncture. Dialectally speaking, what better way to to disappear?

The other endings this year are relatively horrible. I won’t say much.

But goddammit, the third weekend in October is engineered for predictability. Structured in dumb routines made precious by repetition, sealed up with positive emotions mixed in tasteful amounts. The generations between Adolf and us were epically demented—I won’t exploit their drama—but with this suffering in our DNA, we chose to choose. Marx taught me that humans make our own history! Ashtanga taught me the value of repetitions I can trust.  In creating this annual reunion, we just touched up the old materials with some trust and celebration. Created space. Came and went at the right times.

Why does doing the same thing, but on purpose, create this experience of renewal? Even as it measures decay?

Thursday, I learned that the half-cousin who saved up the vacation from his 15-year job as a night bellhop downtown has disappeared somewhere called the Superstition Mountains. He had nobody. In a sense, he did the greatest possible thing: chose not to decay like his uncles, alone, feared, and highly-medicated. Wards of the state, most of that line. Instead he found an alchemy myth in the most literal rendition: a story about a secret gold mine, forgotten since frontier days. The newspaper reassembled his obsession from the maps, old books, and years of journals left in his room. My belly wretches at my grandfather’s images of foul play. [Later the Editor offers that J was, in a sense, a legitimate grail seeker: he had seen, only too graphically, his few other options for life and death. And he seemed to want to transcend himself somehow. Also, Hiram Bingham’s biographer tells me he pictures my cousin in Baja with 24-carat rocks in his socks.]

Nobody will talk about it. So much less will they talk about my grandmother's suffering. I honestly did not understand until now how much energy denial requires.

I fear putting words on this. There must be skills around dying—skills consonant with my way of living—but I don’t have them yet. Her cognition is frayed and body mangled in pain. There is a shared thing… this feeling that as we wedged in together on her chair she was very intentionally giving me strength. I mean brute strength. 

No joke: I could not truly, inter-personally, sense her grief, and her love for me, until I relaxed my body. Some kind of resistance sat between until she finally calmed me down to her wavelength. But at first, I sat only feeling her (indescribable) hand in mine for an hour. During that time, the was so patient and warm that I didn’t get flighty. I just understood she had something to say, and stayed interested in breaking the code. Or maybe I just got desperate to connect. In any case, I gave in. That's when things happened.

My body is usually halfway-tense from the pelvic floor to manipura. “Keep the bandhas on when you’re just walking around” starts out as a project. It works like this: Take the deep muscles and the subtle energies in them, bring them across the liminal chasm, and wake it all up. Do some reading, everything from Gray's Anatomy to Sivananda, and spend hundreds or thousands of hours in close proximity to extremely refined teachers and colleagues. Practice every day. Let time pass.

But for me, even as the awareness deepens a decade along the line, the gross-level muscle contractions I initially used to wake up mulabandha still have not learned to release. They are the new unconscious. Meanwhile, my feet are usually cold; I’m intense about most everything; I sexualize flowers and lighthouses; and it takes me sixteen hours to digest a good lunch.

I dunno. But this experience is too bizarre to describe in specifics, and too foreign to come from my imagination. She's still sitting there now, so I wonder how horrible it is to have everyone else refuse intimacy and tell her she is fine. How do their fears reverberate? Sitting up here, I still feel shifted internally, and also sad, frustrated, weirdly fine. And, because of her, relaxed enough to get my first respectable cry in years.