Response Crafting

What it’s like to drift through swamplands

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The highlands are built of marbles – a mouthful of semiprecious stones. And the lowlands are built of hardwood.

I am in swamp lands, moving slowly among the reeds, kneeling on a crude platform pieced together from broken fence posts, pulling myself out of and away from it and out into the sea.

I set out this morning, pushed away from soft shoreline and into shallow waters, the sound of seagulls sharp overhead; the smell of humidity heavy in the air. I could have pulled myself back out of the water and onto land, but I’ve gone too far and now I can’t.

I am in the heart of darkness.

They tell me there are hunters out here. And they say that I’m not really one of them.

But I look at these people they point to in the distance, watch them fumbling through the swamp, using their spears as walking sticks instead of weapons, and I think to myself: this is not the lot to fear. This is not how kills are made.

What we should really fear are the big cats stalking the reeds, moving silently alongside us, watching us and biding their time.

We slaughter over misconception. Our hands hot over mouths for words we wrongly hear, silence or suffocation for perception.

– – – – –

I now know what velvet tastes like.

I know what fire tastes like, too.

We could spend our whole lives like this, don’t you realize? Most people – many – do.

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.” That was Rowling, of course, who said that.

Rowling and probably many others, all of these people we admire from afar; people we make out to be others; to be people who are not ourselves.

But they are us, really. We’re all just a few steps away from our own personal excellence. One end-note decision to overturn unhappiness and try.

What do you do with this? What do you do in times like these?

We put these timestamps on our promises, but we let those things fall through. We make commitments to one another but add conditions; build out loopholes for ourselves and, frankly, others, leaving them a trap door through which to escape.

I’m not meant for towers. I’m meant to be close to the earth and free-flowing; meant to have the soil and salt between my toes. I probably wasn’t meant for pointy shoes, either, and it’s not that I don’t have skirts but rather don’t wear them. Because: in what situation? And why?

There are wolves in the Lincoln Park zoo. The keep them there in some enclosure and on some nights, when the air just right, you can hear them howling in reply to an ambulance or firetruck that goes by. You also hear reports sometimes of coyotes in the park. They wander in from god knows where, to join the wolves, or maybe they too already live there.

And neither of them are the big cats stalking swamplands.

There’s an exhaustion to it, an utter depletion of morale. And then there’s the laying against the floor and not in the good way, not in the way that’s earned, not the exhaustion of good work but rather the stumble-step of fatigue against an endless current in which the lighthouse has been lost.

But this is the way we might have it, and we have to have it in one. We can choose our exhaustion over time, death by stabling, death by stagnation and slow fatigue. Or we can choose our exhaustion in setting off into the night, hacking at darkness, our success defined by the face-off of fate; a weathering of wills.

And damn, what do you do?

This is honesty, right here. We are private people; we lead private lives. Some of us do not unfurl the carpet to showcase our trinkets for others’ eyes. Some others can hold that against us. But even those of us who live sheathed occasionally find themselves staring at the ceiling and wondering in real life, out loud ways:

what now?

It can feel like total devastation. But what’s more is that we could spend our whole lives doing nothing more than this. And that, to me, seems worse.

We choose for ourselves our own way to die.

Even unknowingly, we subscribe to the version of our death.

I’m not one to unfurl the carpet of everything I am or do.

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