“I have cherries by command.” – Mary, The Cherry Tree Carol circa 1500
It’s a metaphor tied to a pseudo gospel unendorsed by any formal church; meaning mostly white men in positions of power held since the dawn of time. Mary was excited because she got Joseph to give her something she asked for. Cherries, figs, apples, pomegranates, dates all meaning sex, new life, celebration, harvest, wisdom, moral character; the achievement of peak biopsychosocial fulfillment. If you can afford it perfection can be found in organic kale, extreme sports and anything Gwenyth Paltrow blogs about on Goop. Yet for seemingly mysterious reasons we suck at fruit. The painting made me laugh and feel furious. Was the artist trying to say enlightenment is like taking candy from a baby? Or is more that god’s playing with us? If he’s the only sweetness what the hell are we doing here? There’s almost nothing of the world we’re allowed to enjoy. Everything seems to trace back to exploitation of humans, animals or both. Self-sustainability. It’s hard, hungry work tilling soil, planting seeds and waiting around in some field for seven to ten years for one dessert? Now imagine waiting patiently for your sweet treat while random people come along kick dirt in your face, point, laugh, pull your hair, throw their fruit at you, call you names, burn down your house and attempt to entice you with a host of indecencies. These are called ads, systemic oppression, family, trauma, coworkers, processed food and people who cut us off in traffic. After the virus of people comes natural disasters and bugs. When my mother was in college she used to tell us about the micro-organisms that lived on cheese and our eyeballs. It made her excited, filled with awe and wonder. I added it to my growing list of neurosis. Let’s say you have a trust-fund, Miracle Grow for days, a good-vibes only tribe and not an aphid in sight for a decade. The tree grows, cherries appear. Easy prosperity is yours because you’re in the vortex. They turn out to be so good you can’t stop eating them and Oompa Loompas write a song about you. It’s as if we’re designed to fail while living under increasing pressure to achieve a perpetually moving target of idealism.
Success and failure have different definitions depending on who you’re asking. The western world has a standard script: Be born of parents. Look stylish and adorable in school photos. Win the science fair. Just say no. Go to college. Get married. Have careers. Make healthy babies. Build a deck. Eat burgers. Attend parades. Salute. We’ve been conditioned to silently perceive everything outside the patriarchal script as failure. No one, not even the patriarchs, have managed to successfully live it. Hint: slavery is a real problem, has taken on many shapes and we’re not stupid. Many of us have been trying to point this out for years, saying make room for reality, equity, diversity, now. How bout now? The script they wrote is still the measuring stick. Grandma gets it and calls deviations from the stick nice. As in: Hey gram, I’m gay. This is my girlfriend. She makes goat cheese. We’re opening a farm to table restaurant. Oh, that’s niiiiice. God says: Do not under any circumstances participate in being human. I made humans and you do all the wrong things but I love you because I have infinite wisdom. So be humble and holy at all times you flawed and helpless creature. Now figure it out under these awful circumstances called The Social Contract which is not on me. Also showers won’t be invented for like a thousand years. And we said: Hi God. Question. You said be fruitful and multiple but here in The Social Contract it costs $200,000.00 to raise a kid, which I didn’t know before that happened and I’m a carpenter. Not a fancy carpenter like the ones in those magazines at doctor’s offices, just a guy who makes shelves. My boss hates me but I can’t afford to quit my job or go back to school. Also I think my wife is cheating on me, the school said our son has ADD and I might be addicted to porn. Help? So God sent Jesus. Jesus makes it sound easy: Just love. How do I love when the alarm is going off at 5:30 Monday morning? How do we love and read headlines, recover from addictions, restock the fridge, reheat the leftovers and refold the same towel over and over without losing our minds? I’ve basically figured out how to do that part. Gandhi said to imagine humanity as an endless ocean and to imagine bad things as one drop of poison incapable of spoiling all the water. It’s an image which has sustained my entire career in human service; each abuse report is a single drop in a self cleaning, self-healing body of ever expanding, never ending water. I said basically. Sometimes I fail.
“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.” -Margaret Atwood
Fatigue and sarcasm creep in when, despite my best efforts to maintain boundaries, life chomps bites out of down time like a predatory cat. Then I want to eat pizza, yell at people, post rants on Facebook, swear viciously and uncontrollably just like everyone else. If I were or ever become completely unhinged I believe I’m capable of launching obscene tongue lashings that could make at least one person cry; me. Which is why I only rant silently in my head while washing the floor, talking myself out of anger and back into peace. I’ve played unhinged characters in theater. They’re so much fun but none of their bills get paid. Speaking of fun, what’s fun about oat bran and self control? Amish people think they’re having fun when they’re churning butter but that might be because they’ve never seen a Carnival commercial. No one’s ever had as much fun as the kids in those commercials. Smiling heads choked by orange life vests stuffed with lobster, petite fours and pirate hats. Glamour shots, family bonding, whacky staff, pretend cultural experiences and back-flipping dolphins crammed into a seven day floating adventure. Their parents explode into confetti over a sunset beach. Great butter Eli. Point being, society is a petri dish, bacteria got in and somehow we’re all supposed to coexist along a mystical, circular path back to our intended state of wholeness, which is pure love. If Life were more accurate the game pieces would be a bike, a thumb, BMW, Toyota, Subaru and something held together with duct tape and wishes. Roll the dice and try avoiding pitfalls like: Oops you married a crack head, go back 5 squares and miss ten turns. Oops you got prego. Pick a card to see what you decide. Hooray! Your cousin made it home safe from Iraq. Go to Busch Gardens and celebrate. That last one was a real thing.
The bible calls bad habits sin. I found it hard to find a satisfactory root meaning but essentially the definitions range from forgetfulness to missing the mark in target practice. One theory said it meant to miss the gold or bulls-eye. So am I forgetting to eat, battling an eating disorder, missing where the fork goes or am I big fat, faithless, weak, worthless, useless, hopeless, lying sinner? The past few weeks I’ve been studying the book of Hosea; a story about god telling a priest to marry a former prostitute to be an example of redemption for Israel. Old Testament Pretty Woman-ish. Israel is kind of like Hollywood; everyone worships fame and rapes a lot. Throughout the book God vacillates between hostile rage and merciful compassion, like parents of a toddler. Gomer plays Vivian and Hosea plays Edward. At first, the church treats Gomer like crap; nice to her face but drowning in judgement, just like real church. Gomer deals with it for a while, playing house with her holy man and trying to fit into a new life. I imagine it felt like wearing designer shoes with old sweatpants and a dirty t-shirt. She’s expected to feel loved, accepted and complete but she still feels like the woman everyone paid for sex. According to the study, she’s a red letter sinner. Gomer ends up cheating on her husband and fulfilling the couple’s symbolism of prophetic warning to the people. Keep eating Cheetos, buying flat screens and getting boob jobs and this is it. They have son. God tells them to name him Shame. It’s a miserable, awful study. I’m struggling with how the author keeps referring to me as a girl and oversimplifying the recovery of a woman sold into sex work. I’m struggling with the notion that deconstructing capitalism and healing generational trauma is this easy problem we can solve with infantilizing euphemisms. I’m struggling with the fact that I’m 40, still sorting dirty laundry and heard this morning in church that god wants to take us all camping. I’ve been camping. I get it and I’m over it. Where’s the cabin?The hardest message I used to give my clients when they asked, was no, life never gets easier or safer but recovery makes it so we get better at navigating the wild ride. I can take my own advice but get sick of it sometimes; the energy it takes to block out negativity from the world, from my own head and even from within the people and places I go when I realize I don’t have all the answers. I painted her last weekend; my husband says she looks like she’s got the weight of the world on her shoulders. Yes and she’s tented in a Marni dress I found in Vogue, probably worth more than my student loan debt. On the outside it looks like she has nice things. At her feet are cherries. Survivors endure the frustration of arriving at good moments in life while nightmares are alive in our skin. A nightmare is story we can transform. I like nap dreams best. xo