Cycles and Recycling
Seasons of Life
Last night, I was startled out of sleep. The moon was a faint sliver waning away. Just after the moon turned for an instant to black, it filled again—was there some moment between? An open space? A meadow to roam? The moon is born again, new, under the sign of the virgin, forever fresh and unblemished. Perhaps 2,000 years ago, when they traced the arc of this moon with a wheel and compass as it dovetailed the starry night, they too felt the same pattern, and it made them brand new.
If you are like many others, you set your intentions and “manifest”—it is the word our generation loves the most. I, too, like to set intentions for the month on the night of the new moon. This month, under the constellation Virgo, I wish for purity, cleanliness, self-containment, and the ability to serve others. Nothing glamorous, but vitally important skills. I think of all the Virgos who have touched my life—my daughter’s mom just had her birthday two days ago.
Later that night, I lay awake, startled from a terrible dream. Fear rides on my chest into the night as I cling tight for dear life. I talk myself out of it and calm and deepen my breath. Those moments of fear and comforting oneself are windows into a clear view of how to love oneself.
I can’t use another’s metaphor to describe how I live or how this season has come around again and again, leaving me in wonder and amazement every time. I can offer only what I know.
Write What You Know
I think the best writing advice I’ve ever received is “write what you know.” Easy to give—hard to do. What I know is my day so far. I was excited to get onto paper everything that’s been swirling around, pacing and talking to myself about this next project. I woke up and did my daily routine: go up the street to the local coffee shop for an iced jasmine green tea, and have a morning walk up Whitney Mesa to get my blood flowing.
I stopped to get a couple items at Sprouts, because I wanted to start cooking something before I began writing. I drank a protein shake with turmeric called “Golden Mind.” I sat outside thinking of the one hundred other things on my mind—Should I get a hotel room today to concentrate? They’re only twelve-bucks after the holiday weekend. I keep arguing with myself—pacing around my apartment filled with sparse furniture.
The fear of self-doubt is a different breed—what if I’m misunderstood? What if I can’t write what I would like to convey? Don't I need to clean up my space? I started a load of laundry. Perhaps that will get my energy flowing. Do I need to burn some sage to clear out the space?
I started chopping up the ingredients I needed for vegan-style red beans and rice: vegetables—onion, celery, and bell pepper, thyme, oregano, parsley, and shiitakes (it’s all about the shiitakes!). The main ingredients for cooking anything are heat and time. It takes a long time, four hours at the least. Simmering slowly, taking time. Without the heat of emotion and time to let it simmer, transformation is not possible. Like the pot of gumbo, parts of me simmer together inside: memories, the pressure cooker of deadlines, self-doubts, fear, and the voice telling myself to be gentle with me and simmer down. This is my own soul food, home-cooked self-love.
I walked outside my front door, and I sat down on the steps. A hummingbird flew by a couple inches in front of my face. I thought it must be a good sign. I thought of all the hummingbirds and what they symbolized to Indigenous Americans and how they are another living being, a winged angel, a message telling me it’s time. The mess can wait.
The Mess Will Be Waiting
How do you nourish yourself?
The way you take time, care, focus, skill, patience and love with daily life and yourself—these practices are where it’s at. There’s nothing more simple, yet harder to do.
Maybe today you won’t be as hard on yourself, but take care of yourself, gently. It is slow alchemy, transformation, change from raw ingredients to a silky stew. The raw emotions of anger, fear, doubt and shame are not to be thrown out. It’s understandable to run or hide from these messy emotions, but they’re the raw materials used to create.
Ask these unannounced guests what it is that they need. Set the table and serve a bowl of nourishment to those parts of you so hungry to be heard. Lend your ear to their perspective like lunch with an old friend. The time together and the soul food you share of any kind—art, communing with nature, writing, laughing, music, movement, or breath—were what you both needed the whole time.
An Institute of Higher Learning
I don’t like to throw things out—I recycle as much as I can. I take my recycling every Saturday to the UNLV recycling center: tomato cans, wine bottles, empty cases of Guinness. One of the greatest friends I’ve ever had has worked at the recycling center for almost fifteen years. We pick up Indian food from the market on Trop, and go back to the recycling center to eat and talk. We are surrounded by all the refuse: books about art history, an old edition of Plato’s dialogues, a box of old photos, a list of notes and family diaries, posters for events that have passed—all are recycled.
We sometimes ride over to the Barrick Museum on a golf cart to look at art. This summer I saw work curated by Ashanti McGee. One of the artists showcased was Adrianna Chavez. Their work inspired me so much. I cannot do justice to the art with my words, but they use materials like containers, plastic bags, Trader Joe’s bags, scraps of notes and letters, and so on, all woven together into a tapestry. I was inspired to do my own “trash art.”
Like compost provides material to grow something new, I reduced, reused and recycled things I considered trash. Notes I kept from an ex, a sign my daughter had painted on our door, old journal entries, spice packets from meals we made, new moon intentions written together—I put them in plastic bags from Sprouts, hung them by red yarn, and observed the beauty and the pain. When I was ready, I took them off the wall and into my recycling pile. My old memories and memorabilia was now something new, and this gave me peace.
After my first try, I decided to give it another go. I went to the recycling pile and grabbed some things: bags of burnt sage, herbs I took for anxiety, boxes of beers I drank, food I ate, black out poetry made from a Trader Joe’s newsletter. I mixed it all into a collage. Recycle and reuse—make the old new.
I faced fears yet again: I am not an artist, can I not create this? Will anyone get it? Am I being unoriginal and taking ideas I didn’t come up with? Does doing this make me close to crazy?
Yet, I did it anyway. Fear was along for my ride. I held the reins this time.
Coda: Fear, My Dear Friend (Five Days Later)
We wake up every day. We don’t have to work towards any transcendent experience or epiphanies. The simple everyday things are the awakening. I continue to grow to love the trash and messes in my life.The breakups, set-backs, illnesses, lost friends, career changes, and dreams that dissolved. All of these are recycled and reused into something poetic and full of beauty.
I treat fear as my best friend. Fear is not the opposite of love. Fear is a companion who will not be ignored. I hold fear’s hand and talk with her intimately: what are you trying to say? What do you want to tell me?
I woke up thinking maybe something was wrong with me. I can’t figure out why I do some of the things I do. I put pressure on myself to be such a wonderful teacher, dad, friend.
There’s no shame in thinking you don’t live up to expectations or societal standards.
Instead, listen and reply, “That’s not for me. I accept myself as I am.”
I drove off to UNLV, hungry for lunch and company. I dropped the recycling in the bins, and my friend jumped in. The cycle begins all over again.
About the Author:
Paul Stoddard is a poet and teacher in Las Vegas. He loves his daughter, Pittman Wash, and cooking vegetarian meals for friends and family. He posts art and writing on IG @oh_thatpaul