From the Walls of Your Mind

“If you are not learning, you have not been paying attention. / If you have nothing to say, it is because your heart is closed.”

-Tony Hoagland

I am leaning against the kitchen counter as Mom pours an afternoon pot of coffee, me gushing about the latest author I’ve been reading. We spend many days this way, and the best part of my coming home for the summer is having access to far more bookshelves than I can fit in a dorm room, stealing what Mom’s been reading, her listening to the essays and poetry I’ve been cramming into my mind in my freetime, on my lunch break, before I go to sleep. I’ve just finished an essay by Wendell Berry—one work out of hundreds of essays and poems and novels.

“Can you imagine having written that much in your lifetime?” I ask her. She pauses while she pours in her hazelnut creamer, quietly adding: “Or having that much to say.”

That notion has struck me and stuck to me closer than anything else, because if I am to contribute anything to this world, I would want it to be a voice. But it’s more than that. I want some way to scorch the world with meaning and purpose and beauty and whatever else actually matters. Or maybe I just want a name for myself—something that achieves the concept of legacy we all inwardly struggle for.  Either way, it’s days like these recent ones that have made me feel more silent, more powerless than ever.

Because in a culture where you’re expected to prove your opinions, experiences, morals, and political agenda through tweets and statuses, remaining silent isn’t even an option. But the irony, or course, is that though everyone has nearly unlimited opportunity to speak publically and influentially, fewer and fewer people actually have anything of substance to say. And when media controls the story and dictates what people perceive as truth, and when the media is controlled by the people who yell the loudest, all you’re left with is noise. This doesn’t make people any less determined to add to it.

~

Zora Neale Hurston asks “What do you hang on the walls of you mind?” And so I wrack the corners of mine, scraping through the cobwebs and dust, searching for the things I know to be true. Looking for what only I can say, wondering if my mind could ever be full enough to fill the pages of books with words people need to hear. Not words they will buy, not even words that will get me published, but words that will stir and churn up the surface of lives.

But I’d be foolish to assume that I have within me some entirely original thought that had never been thought or expressed before. And that’s part of the reason for the stack of books I cycle through on my bedside table, as I keep hoping to learn and soak in the methods of these people who all had something built up inside them, needing to emerge. I pray that by reading and memorizing and imitating the sentences that have survived the oblivions of the world, the words that have kept on breathing, I’ll be able to communicate the truths that are bigger than what I can carry. The truths that aren’t exclusively or uniquely mine, but real.

I spend quite a few of my lunch breaks in my town’s library, running my fingers along the spines of books pinched back to back on the rows of metal shelves. Books on every topic, attempting to answer every question imaginable. I’ve had trouble trying to write lately. I think it’s my idealist nature still questioning whether the things I think are the things I need to say. And every time I walk through these aisles breathing in old paper, a part of me doubts that I really have anything to possibly add. I try to remember how stories matter. How there are things that are worth being said over and over again.

~

To speak about meaningful things, I am pursuing the ability to think meaningfully—that uncomfortable process that most have no real interest in. It means wrestling with myself, with my views of the world, comparing them with those wiser than I, treading water exhausted when I can find no answers and no explanation to cling to. And only the most broken and hurting parts of the world can topple us into that kind of questioning. But the broken and hurting parts are also the ones that mean the most. Look for the parts that grieve us and tangle us and cause us to double over in sorrow, and you will find the truths that make us human. You will find the treads that connect us to every other soul.

Not everyone wants to hear those stories, those truths. But that doesn’t mean they don’t need to be said.

Advertisements

Riding Through Woods on a Snowy Evening

There were no mountains in that place, no waterfalls, no rocky gorges, no vistas. It was a country of low hills, cut over woods, scoured fields, villages that had lost their purpose, roads that had lost their way.                        -Kathleen Norris

 My grandpa bought the 160 acres behind my parents’ farmhouse so that when he came in the November he could hunt turkeys and shoot trophy bucks. But most of the year the land sits quiet under snow drifts. Subdued and still.

Much of it consists of thin woods, slender sprouts and silver-barked birch trees. Narrow deer trails wind like tunnels into the brush off the main trails that were cut and carved out years before I walked them, dark round droppings spilled like berries into the dips and tracks left by delicate hooves.

Gray, gritty brush surrounding the miles of open meadow that spreads itself below the crest of the tree line, opening itself so wide you have to turn your head both ways to take in it all. Rolling in a waving sea of gray-brown prairie grass poking like stubble through the white, the shallow frozen creek cutting through the bottom of the open field, a grove of pines blocking the northwest wind that burrows under coats and into your skin, sharpens the inside of your nose.

It’s a threatening beauty that impresses through intimidation. The starkness of it is enough to knock you back, its sheer endlessness enough to shrink you into humble awe.

I’ve always considered the land best witnessed on horseback, the smell of leather and animal sweat and alfalfa under your seat. I’ve been riding the same horse since I was nine, and when I was home in January, after months of being away at school, I heaved the worn saddle onto his warm black body, thick with staticy fuzz he’d been growing all winter. He is stomping the frozen, hollow-sounding ground and bobbing his high head, eager to be out, to have a purpose again.

When we are on the end of the trail and the meadow is framed between the two oaks that mark its beginning, my right hand is holding the reins under the curl of my fingers, the other is on the horse’s taught neck, his ears spring-coiled forward, twitching at every rustle of wood, every bird and gust of wind. Paused, but charged with the air that tastes deeper and fuller in the bottom of my chest. He can taste it too, and when I lean into him, my hand giving him the full length of his head, he bolts forward in voiceless, touchless obedience, pure willingness; the power in his legs pounding with a terrifying force, striding longer and faster until tears whip the outside corners of my eyes.

I don’t bother faking control, the thought of such only makes me want to cling on for dear life, knowing an animal this wild can’t be held back any more than the wind or the movement in the trees. So I move my body with his, raw energy pulsing into me until control’s no longer the point. We are the ground and we are the air and we are the gruesome aliveness that just simply is. And while the familiar, hear-racing fear spills into me and grips like the abruptness of stepping into January air, it is this that reminds me of how shockingly good and costly it is to feel.

Coming Home

Here’s the conclusion I’ve come to. My college, my dorm room, even the beautiful city surrounding me is not my home. Because my college, as wonderful as it usually is, will only be my college another year. My room that holds my homemade quilt and desk full of sticky notes will be empty by May. My roommates who share that room with me, the girls I call two of my closest friends, will eventually move out, get married, live their own lives just as I hope to.

Ultimately, I refuse to refer to my current address as my home because I refuse to let my home be temporary or conditional. And I don’t think I understood that until I realized how much I ached for the rest and stability that only comes with the place that my family is.

Here’s what my home looks like.

My home looks like my mother driving an eight hour round trip to bring me back with her. Me crying thinking of the Winne the Pooh quotes and yellow balloons she mailed me last week. Her taking me back to a green-roofed farm house with a dog and cat waiting between the white columns of the front porch she’s always wanted.

It looks little sisters jumping out from behind the couch to surprise me when I walk through the front door, the rough glitter from their cards collecting under my fingernails, my brother letting loose the comebacks and witty insults he’s been saving up for this exact opportunity.

It looks like pushing me and my sister’s twin beds together so we can watch Netflix under her flannel blanket and me rolling on top of her in her Batman onesie to wake her up in the morning, her groaning and whining and laughing all at the same time.

It looks like me riding shotgun in my dad’s pickup, the two of us driving through the trails behind the house, searching bare, blurring trees through the open windows, not even minding the country air hushing in. He parks the truck when he reaches the back corner of our 60 acre, snow-sodden meadow. When he slides out, I follow. He is walking, studying the slender dips in the snow left by deer, and I am close behind. Carefully placing my own boots to echo the manure stained prints his have left.

We don’t speak. There is only the rough scratching of his carhartt coat and the crinkle of wild grass being crushed further beneath our feet. The pine and January air making breaths sharper in my nose. We don’t hurry. We just take in the openness that, for now, is our own. The uninterrupted sky that’s started to dim, this overlooked landscape that has kept its stillness for decades.

This here is our moment. This land is our land. And in this place, in this time–everything about it is my home.

12631516_944450355634635_2359720033789523473_n
Photo: Emma Sweere