Jill Bolte Taylor's Stroke of Insight

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

To-Do List


I keep a to-do list to organize my head
but it strikes me very strangely
that the longer I live, the longer it gets
which seems like faulty math
though I never was good at numbers.

Here is a math word problem:
if you could put all the world's theoretical physicists
on a scale and add up their body weight then
take this number and multiply it by 3.14...etc
what would you get?

Here is my to-do list:
  • play nicely with others
  • continue not having cable
  • buy groceries and put them away
  • learn to talk intelligently about string theory
  • finish reading Infinite Jest*
  • fall in love
  • stay in love
  • live in a van for a year
  • write a poem about theoretical physics
  • be so joyful it feels like dying
  • die**
So far I've managed the groceries
and the lack of cable with admirable ease
but love and string theory remain mysteries
as does infinity and, of course, infinity's
unproven sense of humor.
Jest, like love, has no physical weight
and cannot be added to the scale and multiplied by pi
even if all those theoretical physicists moved over
(doubtful) to make room for it.

I dream of living in a van and one night
camping in a spot so quiet I could hear the stars hum,
so still I could feel the invisible atomic fibers of my being
vibrating at just the right frequency
and then all would become clear: this finite being
this theoretical physical body that is me
knows the recipe for joy so great it splits me in two.

Now I'm crossing items off the list
though it is out of order; playing nicely with others
almost always comes after joy breaks me open
and poking Infinity in the ribs with an elbow
gives me a sense of accomplishment on a par
with distilling physics down to words.
I do not jest about death; it's on the list, if nothing else
for punctuation.
We have to stop somewhere.



Notes:
*I know two people who have finished Infinite Jest, but they were unable to tell me what it was about. So maybe this is a loophole; I could just not finish it, and if anyone ever asks what it's about, I'll make something up.
**I thought this would be a good thing to put on the to-do list, because I know without a doubt that someday I will actually get it done.



KB© 4/2015















Monday, April 13, 2015

Optimist

Open your hands, if you want to be held.    --Rumi


I see you
seeing me
that little spiral in my belly
catching on a quick breath
rising with the sweet leap of faith
that shining thing, that light fantastic
being that takes on its own shape
and fills the space between us.

I didn't think there was room for faith in here
no food to sustain her and yet
she lives inside my mouth, a happy animal
dancing up to give you a toothy grin
and take a bite of this moment
(just a little bite)

She likes the taste of love;
she loves the taste of music and she hears
the soul that lives in your fingertips
and your hands that press and stretch
blind space into songs that catch the animal
and turn her upside-down, empty
her metaphysical pockets, leave her breathless
as a thing newly naked.

She's a good animal, faith.
She shows her teeth
to desire, scares off loneliness
and has no fear of fear.
For her there are no cages
nothing to cling to or let go of
only space between one glance and another
one note and the next
where possibilities live and everything is infinite;
such a sweet shining mess it all is
and this is where I live now
when I see you seeing me.


KB ©4/13/15

























Friday, April 3, 2015

Relationspaceship


"Universe I need some sort of healthy relashinspaship.....please!!!!"     
--drunken bar bathroom graffiti


I think there's been a misunderstanding between me and the universe.

It took me several minutes to stop laughing after I wrote that sentence, because when I read it out loud I realized that the possibility of an understanding between me and what is basically, as far as we know, infinity, is rather hilarious considering I reside in a ridiculously tiny percentage of said infinity. Also, I am a microscopic (scratch that--there are no words tiny enough) life form that is currently maxed out on its puny brain capacity. I mean "maxed out" in the sense that this limited capacity is divided between running a business, trying to balance a budget (fail), negotiating a social life (complicated), keeping a dog alive (win), REM sleep, and processing cat videos. Also, the universe is, according to string theorists, actually a multiverse; so any misunderstanding I had with the original universe is now plural. It's...overwhelming? Is there even a word for what it is?

However, in the interest of keeping things simple (which they aren't, really, but let's pretend) the misunderstanding is mostly on my side. Although to be fair, I've had a lot of momentum from self-helpy, magical-thinking concepts like "you can have whatever you want, you just have to ask the universe for it" or "you don't have what you want yet? well then maybe you aren't wanting it hard enough/haven't asked in the right way/don't actually know what you want." These concepts didn't just come from self-help books (I don't think I've ever actually read an entire book of this genre; perhaps I am not interested in helping myself, and boom, there's clue #1 to the aforementioned misunderstanding). No, I got most of it from organized religion. Replace "universe" with "God" and that's the crux of my indoctrination into prayer. Except if I didn't get what I was praying for, the eventual logic was that God was just saying No. "Nope, sorry kid, I have decided that you will not be getting that stuffed bunny/new bike/other random kid thing that you wanted really really really badly." Or, as I got older and my requests became deeper, more desperate, more painfully urgent; "I am sorry my dear--your friend whom you love like crazy, the one with cancer? I will be taking him now." And thus was I introduced to heartbreak, that most painful, most personal yet most common human experience.

I took this to mean, and still do, that just like everybody else who has ever lived on this planet, I can't always get what I want. The Stones didn't invent this concept but they did a great job of hammering it home. And that whole bit about getting what you need? You can't always get that either, which is an irritatingly pervasive truth about being a human. Here in the USA we hate that idea; we want our needs met and our wants met, thanks very much, and when those things don't happen we go muttering back to the self-help realm and buy ourselves a new book that will teach us how to get stuff from god/the universe. Which is maybe a bit backwards. Because haven't we been taught by some very wise, very loving individuals throughout history that it's giving that leads to fulfillment? That love, in fact, comes to us when we give it away? And didn't I learn, in my most painful life lessons, that the things I lost hurt worse the harder I held on?

Which brings me to confession time: I still ask the universe for things. In fact I got so bold, awhile back, as to ask it for love, the romantic kind, because I figured it was time to "settle down" (everybody else was doing it). And I got specific. I made a list--not like, but not exactly unlike, a grocery list--of things I thought that love between me and another human being, who happened to be male, might include. I tried to be as specific as possible because I'd heard that the universe likes to be asked for things in specific ways. It had stuff on it such as: understanding, compassion, humor, social/political harmony, co-travelers, shared love of art and music and the outdoors and animals and quantum physics and hopefully he gets that I was raised by wolves and am on occasion a horrible person. Oh and sex. There should be lots of that. That doesn't cover everything I had on there--it was several pages long--but those are some of the less boring items. (I also asked for "chemistry," which apparently is a common thing to ask for but now that I think about it is a pretty bad idea, since chemistry can backfire and melt your face off in a hot second; just ask any high school chem lab teacher.)

So back to not getting what you want and not even always getting what you need...guess what? The universe pulled a fast one on me, and I DID get all the things on my list. No joke, the guy showed up not long after I made that list, and he was pretty much the whole package. Same sense of humor, liberal, loved my dog, loved hiking, didn't mind me being horrible on occasion, and there was some sex. I mean he just pretty much checked off the stuff on the grocery list. And do you know what happened? Everything was awesome. For a little while. And then it wasn't.

I missed the space. Not space to myself, necessarily, because I had that. I missed the space to dream. To travel in my mind to the "what if" and the "maybe" and the "possibly." I didn't know myself well enough, back then, to realize that the deep, elemental, raised-by-wolves part of me needed freedom to stargaze and wonder and run wild. And this man was lovely. He loved me. He wanted to marry me. Which completely flipped my shit and made me want to hop into a spaceship and leave earth for a distant galaxy. I did not have any way of doing this, so I just went crazy for a bit, until I realized I didn't have to settle down. And over the intervening years, despite refining my lists and aiming for perfection, I have come to realize that what I'd really prefer is not the "perfect relationship" with a perfect-checklist man, but a "relationspaceship." I never had the word for it till I saw it scrawled in drunken handwriting on a bathroom wall, a Bacchanalian typo, really; but a light went on in my head: this! is what I want! It is a vehicle that can accommodate two individuals if need be; but it's a vehicle, not a building. It doesn't stay in one place, it doesn't "settle." It's bound for adventure. It might travel to the Horsehead Nebula; it might fly by Alpha Centauri on its way to a new galaxy. A relationspaceship has a captain and a crew, but they can switch at any moment. Both people make decisions, and both of them acquiesce, from day to day. If somebody crashes the relationspaceship, well, both people work on fixing it till it can fly again, because they're committed cosmonauts. It's no picnic. But exploration rarely is.

A relationspaceship is a hard, wondrous, awkward, dangerous thing. It can feel wobbly as hell. I tried it once, with the wrong person, and it nearly killed me; but also it gave me a taste of what it might be like to explore the cosmos of love, all its strange and lovely and weird and mundane bits and pieces, with the right person. Not only with the right person--but with me being the right person, for that right person. Captain and crew, fitting one another, finally. What would it be like to bump into that person? Wild guess here, but probably sort of like waking up in the middle of the night and finding John Cusack on my lawn with a boom box held aloft, blasting Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" to wake the neighbors--and just knowing. There's my crew, there's my captain. This is it. I am going to board a relationspaceship with this person and we are going on the biggest. Fucking. Trip.

And so I have to ask. Universe, god, God, multiverse, whatever or whomever you are: I don't care if he shows up in the middle of the night with a boom box, I don't care if he plays Peter Gabriel or his own guitar. But I want the drums to beat so loudly in my chest that he can hear them when he looks into my eyes; I want the bangs and flashes to go off in both of our heads; I want Cape Canaveral to register a rocket launch and Houston to have a problem. I know I'm not supposed to ask for stuff without being willing to give in return, and believe me I am willing. I am loving the crap out of my life and dancing all over the shitty stuff that happens and being grateful as hell for all of the good, beautiful, incredible amazingness which is so much more than I ever imagined would be in my world. So thank you....for all of that.

But in case you didn't get that broadcast, universe...I would really love for you to send me a relationspaceship. Please.





Monday, March 30, 2015

Ripstop


I'm only an hour into the morning but already it's coming up storm-driven. Woke with thoughts lumbering around in my brain, dyspeptic thunderheads all bellying into one another so that I couldn't track any of them. I got out of bed to write them down, and when I opened the drawer to my writing table I dropped its entire contents on the dog, who was just, at that point, about to catch the dream-rabbit he was chasing. Pens, notepads, phone cords, Travels With Charley, some stray lip gloss, and last year's novel ideas, along with the drawer itself, crashed into his peaceful sleep and he levitated off the Pergot, eyes wild, already hating me. I served him apologies along with his breakfast but forgiveness takes time, and I get that. I'm still forgiving (present tense) myself for things I did (past tense) yesterday; I will be forgiving (future tense) myself for a long time to come.

Anyhow those thunderous ideas that woke me are long-gone, having disappeared through an obscure vent in the side of the universe, and I am on the couch where I spent most of last evening, only this time surrounded by a swirl of half-written ideas from past efforts, hidden in the back of that dog-hating drawer. Writers' detritus, tossed up on the waves of an uneasy mind, beached and forgotten. I stare at it, sip my coffee, set adrift. Most of them are fits and starts of book ideas and scraps of poetry born from outpourings of grief, joy, love, despair; both the lightness and the incredible weight of the human condition entrusted to paper, which hardly seems made to bear it. Sometimes I wonder if it would be better to inscribe my passions on something more durable; ripstop nylon, or the sails of a tall ship. Then the breath of my dreams and desires could carry me literally, to someplace more useful than this damned couch. But here I sit. It seems, this morning, that there is a hurricane in my coffee mug. Something is stirring in there. Every time I take a sip, a weather system passes through the mug's ecosystem; it must be highly disturbing for any microscopic individuals who call it home. I imagine the "severe alert" posted on the weather channel: "Hurricane Possible! Scratch that--Hurricane Definitely Happening! Shit--Tsunami!"

I know how they feel. The past few weeks, or years; oh hell, the past lifetime, has required a constant adjustment to the weather. Some of it comes from the outside, like it does for everyone; parents splitting up, losing people I love, having to do stuff I hate (taxes, small talk at parties, adulting in general). But mostly it's this irritatingly high capacity for internal drama, in which I turn inward and start gleefully ripping myself apart: "Self! You are THEE worst! Nobody wants to be around you." I do this because, internally, I've committed the crime of having (sshhh, don't tell) feelings. Or sometimes, Feelings. And when I have those, it scares other people. Somewhat like a hurricane. But the scared people don't broadcast their fear out loud ("Shit--Feelings!"); they just...disappear. Confirming the idea that nobody wants to be around me, a scary feelings-haver, who meanly drops drawers of things on top of innocently sleeping animals. I would take the luxury of wallowing in self-pity here, but I don't think I'm alone. A lot of us, being human and thus deeply emotional, limbic-centered beings, feel things very deeply; and many others of us, being human and thus out of touch with our deeper emotional lives, run away at the first sign of "weather."

Which, when I stop to take a breath and think about it, is just kind of fucked up on the part of the people who run away. Because feeelings, lalalala feeeelings.... are not a hurricane, unless I have a terrible misunderstanding regarding meteorology. They aren't generally life-threatening, unless the feeler is extremely enraged with the feelee, and has an axe, and is expressing an immediate and unrelenting desire to use it in gory and horrible ways, ala Walking Dead. In which case, yes, by all means, run away very quickly from this person. But if someone reaches out to you--in an honest, brave, vulnerable way--and hands you a tiny piece of their heart; then for the love of humanity, do not disappear, either physically (by hiding behind whatever object you find handy, because I can still see you and you look ridiculous, you little bastard) or emotionally, which is infinitely more painful. If you don't want that fragile bit of heart, pretend you're an adult for a second and politely, sweetly, kindly, give it back to the person. 

As for myself, here on the couch in the middle of all these half-written love poems and unfinished books; these bold ideas and shining moments of a heart-mind that I love, emotional undertow and all--I think I'll invest in some ripstop canvas and make a shelter, a sail, a sanctuary, for my heart.


KB ©3/2015























Thursday, March 19, 2015

Chappie and the Neighbour

"I like the fact that Austin's the first place I've ever lived where there's a real sense of community. People care about their neighbors."   --Ian McLagan

I have a story to tell--or actually Benson, my shaggy beast of a dog, has a story to tell. He is lying now on the floor near my feet, so that if I move to get up, he can track me around the house. It must get tiring for him, middle-aged man that he has become this past year, to keep constant watch on me. His curly strawberry-blond coat has grown over his eyes, and he peers upward at me through thickets of brows that twitch and tremble. When we walk down the street he casts sidewise glances at my feet, then up at my face, then back down at my feet, so that if I turn one direction or the other, he can anticipate and get out of my way. He's always anticipating my actions, moods, reactions, etc, as well as those of others; that's his job.

Benson is a therapy dog--a nebulous term, and hotly contested these days. I bought and trained him from the age of 10 weeks, desensitizing him to loud noises, crowds, department stores, restaurants, bars, children, pushy adults, other dogs, bicycles (I carried him on mine in a backpack everywhere we went), cars, motorcycles, wheelchairs, hospitals, nursing homes, horses, chickens, and anything else life might throw our way. Then I bought him a vest that proclaims "Therapy Animal," and with a letter from a psychologist he became legal in any place I might choose to go. He's slept under bar stools, shopped at Target, been through airport security, ridden in cars, trucks, airplanes big and small, boats, kayaks, canoes, and balances on my stand-up paddle board when we play in the lake. He's traveled through four states and two countries, and weathered it all with cool, trusting, friendly aplomb. There was a time when I genuinely needed Benson's services--thanks to PTSD, and life in Africa--but that is my story, not his. These days he's more or less retired, just in time for the therapy dog shit-storm that's hitting now, thanks to abuse from people slapping vests on untrained animals and hauling them into swanky restaurants, where they dine straight from the table.

So now that you know Benson, you'll understand why I took him on a date with me one night to La Mancha, a Tex-Mex restaurant in my north Austin neighborhood. The date was my good friend Dave, a talented punk-rocker who is also sight-impaired. Dave loves having Benson along, so I snapped on the therapy vest and he accompanied us into the restaurant and took his characteristic place halfway under the table. He loves to lie with his long snout poking out in case anybody wants to pay him attention. Which someone did. It didn't take long for the place to fill up, and the table next to us was sat with a white-haired gent and his date, a lovely quiet woman who returned my smile but never said a word. The gent, however, was all enthusiasm. Dave and I were in the midst of a conversation about who-knows-what when a bright, Brit voice interrupted, "Oh, my, wot a luvly little chappie!" Benson, who is not "little" by any standard, immediately began army-crawling across the floor to this delightful person who might, possibly, have a dog biscuit about him. The gent reached out, then hesitated--"Can I pet 'im?" But Benson was already answering the question, having reached the proffered hand and shoved his nose into it. "Yep," I replied. I forewent the usual awkward "Erm, no, he's a working dog" conversation and turned back to Dave, who was becoming annoyed (he can't see who's addressing us, and he hates when people approach Benson because he's anticipating the inevitable question which always follows.....)

...And here it came. "So wot's the vest for? 'Ow did you get it?" Dave started to growl out a retort but I patted his hand rather firmly. This was a nice person, and he looked familiar; I wondered if I'd seen him around the neighborhood. I didn't want Dave snapping at any of my neighbors. More questions bubbled up: "D'you think I could get one for my dog? Can any dog get it?"--and piles more after that, all delivered in this lovely Cockney accent that was so viscerally familiar from my childhood (born in Scotland, partly raised in England). I was beguiled in spite of myself; what a warm soul, genuinely curious, and "the luvly chappie" by now had rolled over on his back, eyes closed and tongue lolling in bliss. It wasn't long, though, before I had to break off the conversation--our food arrived, and Dave was truly bristling (he has a thing about people bothering too long with Benson; a dog is an assistance animal, after all. To Dave, that's equivalent to messing about with his cane--you just don't do that). Benson, who is no dummy, remained within reach of the Brit, and I let him. Obviously dogs were high on this man's list, and there was a lot of love going around over at that table. Besides, a sudden thought came: that is what therapy dogs are for--and in Benson's mind, were he to have a conscious thought, that is what he's on the planet for--to spread as much love as possible. Also I was pretty sure I knew the guy from somewhere. Neighbor, I decided, definitely a neighbor.

Or rather, as it turned out, neighbour. It wasn't until later that evening, when I couldn't get that Brit's face and crazy Cockney accent out of my mind, that it clicked. It was Ian McLagan I'd been talking to, or more rightly, who'd been talking to Benson. This bright, curious soul, this pesty asker of questions, was Mac of the Faces and the Small Faces and the Bump Band: British transplant and lover of all things Austin. Unknowingly, as with so many things, I owed him a debt for influencing my musical taste from the time I was old enough to appreciate rock n' roll. I was forced into piano lessons, and hated them madly, for ten years; but Mac did magic on the keyboard and I loved it. He wrote and riffed and sang songs with bands I grooved to; I once accidentally imitated Rod Stewart's hairstyle (not a good period of my adolescence) and I still hold The Faces partly responsible for my ongoing adoration of men with fantastic hair and tight shiny pants.

And now? I wish I'd said more to Mac while I had the chance, sitting there in the warm restaurant bathed in a haze of margaritas and connected by the love of a friendly dog. I wish I'd been a little quicker in recognizing an icon from my teenaged angst, but that's the way it is with these things; you never expect to brush up against someone extraordinary while you're pushing pinto beans around on your plate, eyes shut to anything but the mundane.

There won't be another chance. Mac took his leave a bit early and I never did get to finish that interrupted conversation. But I went last night to the Austin Music Awards, where he was memorialized with a stunning tribute; so many hall-of-famers played their hearts out for Mac that the place was nearly set ablaze with love. Patty Griffin, Gary Clark Junior, Charlie Sexton, Alejandro Escovedo, Scrappy Jud Newcomb, Tameca Jones, Shakey Graves, so many more--all beautiful and bittersweet. I don't doubt Mac was there too, both onstage and in the audience, getting a big thrill while we boogied and swayed and cried and laughed.

But there was one soul missing from the celebration. No dogs allowed, and I didn't push the therapy dog thing because I figured it would be too much. Too many people, too loud, too many heels for his big soft paws to dodge. I told the chappie about it when I got home, though. It's hard to explain to a dog about rock n' roll. Hard to tell him what it means to feel your pulse roar with something bigger than just your one heart beating; about how a swift-fingered blues riff can make your whole self grin so wide you could swallow the moon. He pressed his head against mine and waved his tail and sighed. I don't know what that means in dogspeak--maybe he was telling me something dogs try to tell humans all the time and we just don't get it. Or maybe he knows something I can only guess at; that Mac is still out there, whispering and roaring, rocking down the stars, joyriding past Jupiter on a sweet, soulful song he's just now beginning to write.


KB ©3/19/2015
www.kbimle.blogspot.com





We Die Little Deaths

 "This is love....First to let go of life. Finally, to take a step without feet. 
--Rumi

We die little deaths every day
of which we are unaware
our eyes are focussed inward
gaze pulled down the rabbit-hole
of a 2-dimensional existence that fools us
into swapping life for videos of life.

We miss Authenticity rearing back
on her hind legs howling in our faces
we miss her rapturous roar
her sweet-sad murmurs, her music
crooning in spring showers and sidewalks
and the distant clatter of trains.

Little deaths come along to slap down our hearts
wreck our souls in the loveliest of ways
Anything can be a little death:
watching sunlight blow through a field of grass
crying your lover goodbye at the airport
slipping a few bucks into somebody's jar.

It sounds mundane, and it is;
we've been dying since the beginning
and since then there has been sunlight
and human tears, and human need.
There has been music and rapture and rain
and the sound of distant trains.

And all of these things have tugged, and teased
and stirred the human soul
as wind plays with a sail. Come and die,
life urges. It is only a little death.
Push away from the shore of lies and go deep
write your songs, dance your dances, dream, believe.

We die little deaths every day
which begin to teach us, if we pay attention
how to hurt, heal, fall down, grieve, grow.
We learn to laugh. Rain comes and then sun; we greet it
in a warm field, where we are lying on our backs
eyes closed, listening for our parents to call us home.


KB © 3/19/2015








Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Star Route 3



I grew up on a Star Route. Most people have probably forgotten what this means, unless you're from the middle of nowhere, like my town. Kenai is off the beaten path a ways--it's in Alaska for starters, and it's small. We did have a road, unlike many Alaskan towns, so we developed eventually; but this was in the late 70's/early 80's, back when we didn't have any clothing stores, or any stores, really. We ordered everything out of a Sears catalog, which doubled as my high chair until I was big enough to reach my dinner at the table. I think we were fewer than 5,000 back then. No stop lights in town, no fast food, one or two restaurants (three items available: burgers, pasta, pizza), a few schools and a grocery store. If Whole Foods is the triumphant flag of first-world food shopping, ours was more like third-world camping rations. It had canned goods, boxed cereals, potatoes and carrots, frozen cuts of gray mystery meat, and in the summer, bruised apples and bananas. When I was a kid I thought bananas came in two flavors: green or brown. I hated both.

But living on a Star Route was pretty cool, for no other reason than the ones that existed in my imagination. In actuality, all it meant was we were too remote for the USPS to deliver our mail, so they contracted the job to the lowest bidder. In some places, that meant the trucks that were delivering boxes of cereal and brown bananas also brought the mail (probably what happened in our case); in others, guys on snowshoes hiked into the backcountry to bring people their Christmas letters and Sears catalogs. And they used anything in between--horses, dog teams, pickup trucks, semis, trains, ferries, rowboats, snowmachines--whatever it took to deliver the mail to the inhabitants of rural USA. Those who won the bids to run these contracted routes were sworn to faithfulness in providing "celerity, certainty and security of transportation" (a sketchy promise in the face of unmapped mountains and rivers and trailless wilderness, not to mention human deception and laziness). Eventually, postal clerks tired of writing out these same three words time and time again, and began putting asterisks (***) in their place--thus was born the Star Route.

I didn't care about this boring piece of information, however. To me, "Star Route" meant just that...a celestial pathway that led to and from my little spot on the planet. Many were the long, cold Alaskan evenings that I spent lying on my back in the snow, or high up a tree someplace, contemplating the stars. Among the hours spent trying to locate Leo, Ursus, Orion, and various made-up dragons and unicorns and tigers, I strained to see my Star Route. All the envelopes that came to our house were addressed to us at Star Route 3, or SR3. It seemed like this should be pretty easy to locate: it wasn't SR3,752,028, for example. I felt bad for those people; how would anyone ever find them, let alone how would whatever child who lived there find their own star map? I was sure mine would be easy, but I didn't know what it would look like. I knew I needed a map, though. The sky is an enormous place, and it gets more enormous the longer you sit up a tree on a winter night, gazing at it. So while I felt pretty damn special that I had a nice low (front of the line!) Star Route number, I began to feel very small and not so special the longer I looked at a cosmos that apparently had no clue I existed.

Maps are important. We need routes to figure out not only where we're going, but where we are starting from. As a kid I wasn't sure of either one. My church taught that we were made of earth, shaped from clay by the fingers of God. Carl Sagan, on the other hand, said we were made of starstuff. He was a blasphemer though, and I was discouraged from listening to his sacrilege regarding how our planet came to be, and the wider implications for the solar system and the universe at large. Still, it seemed to me that if God was all that, he or she could make us, the planet, the solar system, etc out of whatever he or she wanted--earthstuff, starstuff, unicorn farts, whatever. The "how" didn't matter as much to me as the "what"--what was I supposed to do now? Where did the route lead, and what did I do once I found it?

It takes a long time to find your place among the stars. When I finally left that little town, after Star Routes had become pretty much obsolete, I wandered for years--a peregrine, wearing my newfound adulthood like a cloak of uneasy feathers. I lived on the far side of the planet, under a whole different blanket of stars; I sought my star map on a rooftop one night in the heart of Guinea, a tiny West African nation, drinking warm beer and seeking something, anything, familiar. I found my old friend Orion, or part of him at least, hunkered low on the horizon, upside-down; I wondered wildly if his coat of mail was bunched up around his armpits, exposing his navel. I felt an empathy for him, looking so strangely out of his element, as was I in my feathery darkness, striving to stay hidden, nightbound, far from my northern pole and estranged from all my familiar stars. But that's how it is sometimes. You leave home and you expect to feel like the odd one out--thousands of miles away, strange culture, too hot, so many things that bite and burn, your heart torn between what you've left behind and what you've come to embrace.

The truly weird thing, the unexpected slap in the face, is what happens when your map leads you back to a home that suddenly isn't home anymore. All the familiar places, the roads, the new stoplight in town, the people who welcome you and whom you love, so much it hurts--that same tree you climbed to seek your path--they are there, but you aren't. That kid is gone. The cloak of feathers that you thought would protect you; it flew up off your shoulders at some point, without your noticing. Gone. You're on your own now, truly. Now it's just you and your path. Your Star Route. And that's when the true journey begins. When I was a kid dreaming about Star Routes and celestial maps and starstuff and the cosmos, when I was imagining the hand of God reaching down and stirring the earthen pot to throw the clay that formed human beings, I never imagined this path. The one that would take me far from home, take the concept of home from my mind and reshape it, broaden it, stretch it, pull it so large it would never be the same again.

Home is the cosmos. Home is the universe. Home is the Northern Lights, the Southern Cross, it is Orion upside-down or right-side up, it is Leo roaring out his own name across the light years to another galaxy; it is a child sitting high in a tree, reaching for her star map, straining to look forward through time to a moment when she'd be striding through a field in a remote country, wearing her years like a flowing gown.

I grew up on a Star Route. Not many people remember what that is anymore, but I do. I remember who I was, and who I am. It remains to be seen who I will become. I trust the stars to guide me as they always have, as they guided the Magi on the night they found God. Just a tiny thing he was then; far from home, his own star map shining out for those who knew where to look.