Death Benefits

I continue to meditate on death these days.  Seems it’s everywhere right now, and so it’s hard not to.  The Fall leaves, the Syrian refugees, the destruction of Harbin, Halloween, Women Who Run with the Wolves, and the release of old ways of being.  Maybe death has always been everywhere, and till now I’ve never allowed myself to focus on it.  But as the meditations deepen, they find unexpectedly powerful outlets.  A few weeks ago, for example, I was invited to a play.  I had no idea what the play was to be about besides a brief blurb online.  It ended up being a tragicomic examination of grief upon losing a loved one.  At the end the playwright and sole performer passed out cardboard coffins, blue pens, and yellow legal pads and invited us to write about something we were releasing through our grief–no joke, the universe is so committed to me getting the picture that I am being followed.  And what exactly is the picture, the message, the shooting star of insight that is being flung for me?  

Death is not that bad, and in fact, has unexpected benefits.

 Now, this is not to belittle or dismiss the vein shredding, tooth cracking pain that it brings.  I too have cried in the bathroom on my knees in the wee hours.  I spent the weekend after breaking up with the love of my life in a darkened apartment, watching the Hallmark Channel, and crying so hard I spilled sweet and sour sauce in my hair.  Years earlier I spent twelve months in San Francisco, the city of my first bit of awakening, hiding in my apartment eating burritos after work and cursing the unnatural cold.

But what if, by virtue of practice, soul, and community, we could embrace endings as a part of life?  Grieve our losses and settle back into softness?  Understand that life has cycles?  What would that type of person be like?  I don’t know yet, but I intend to find out.  Not because I want to be enlightened or give more back to the world (I had half a pizza for dinner tonight and a whole bag of unread student creative writing waiting for me).  I intend to do it because I’m fucking tired of fear, fear of anything, and have been on a relentless campaign of ‘understand and repurpose’ these last few years.

And to date, what I understand is that I am afraid of endings, of death, because it feels like I failed.  I wasn’t watchful enough, giving enough, creative enough, and so the things I loved ended.  And if they end, it only makes sense to me that everything else will follow shortly after in a mea culpa of dominos and I will never be happy again.  Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes says, “We have been taught that death is always followed by more death. It is simply not so, death is always in the process of incubating new life, even when one’s existence has been cut down to the bones.”

Whaaaat?  Death as the harbinger of life?  How can that be? It feels backwards, but many dead things are actually dead before we’re willing to admit it, at least in the beginning of forming this relationship with the Skeleton Woman.  Sweet and sour sauce in the hair guy?  I stayed for two and a half years when I should have stayed for one and a half.  My last school?  I stayed for five years when I should have stayed for three, maybe four.  As I start to develop a relationship with the life/death/life cycle, and ask it over tea what it would like to say about my past, I see very clearly what is already gone. Now I’m preparing to bury carcasses I’ve been propping up for a while (too long).  As I look up from building caskets the contrast between lived life and released death is clear in ways it has never been.  The energy spent in lying, grasping, and pretending that life is the same as stasis, can now be spent on seeing.  And the intrigue of that is mouth watering.  I’m asking questions in a way I have not in years.  I’m dreaming in electricity.  I’m feeling the truth of what hurts now instead of the gangrene of what hurt years ago.

Are you still scared of death? Well yeah..duh.  But it is first date scared and not trip-to-the dentist scared.  I’ve started building a series of caskets, one of which is pictured here. After I’m sure they say all that needs saying, I have a place picked out to leave each.






Where is my sickness?

Yes, after a full day home sick today, I should be asleep.  But maybe you’ll understand in a minute why I’m up writing instead, clicking away on the teeny phone screen.

I can’t be certain yet til the doctor’s on Monday, but I assume I have a classic case of strep.  Fire breathing, gravel burping throat dragons, and a neck that has swelled all day like an inflatable guest mattress.  And although I am not a regular disciple, I used Pinterest tonight to turn myself into a human science experiment.  My favorite?  4 garlic cloves minced–I put 6 because I have never once in my life thought, “Enough garlic!”–4 tablespoons of honey, and a teaspoon of cayenne pepper.  As disgusting things go, it wasn’t bad.  It may have even been better had my honey not been old and crusty.  I made a ridiculous mess scooping out the needed amount, and then floated the bottle in the tub with me where it politely avoided the narcissus oil I added to drug me to pain free sleep.  I hate when I find old things like that in the cupboard; it reminds me of the lives I wanted to jimmy my way into by owning the merchandise.

Anyways, as I floated there meditating on the honey, I realized that it has been years since a cold has taken up residence in my lungs.  As a child, I had operatic bronchitis, and so for years any time I was sick it went right back there to set up shop-angry, harking, barking, lung meat rattling coughs.  Coughs that laughed in the face of codeine and wouldn’t even return the calls of homeopathics.  When I found out maybe 5 years ago that Chinese medicine believes that grief is stored in the lungs, a great cosmic click went off in my head…but then I pretty much left the idea alone.  5 years later, I have cried more than I have in my whole life, and recently, I am making conscious attempts to welcome death and the wisdom of endings (believe me, not morbid, but you’d have to read Women Who Run With the Wolves to understand why it’s not morbid).  And now, whatever virus some precious middle school bastard has passed to me, is no longer interested in the lungs.

“So where is your sickness now Chelsea?”

The throat.  The last major and minor sicknesses I can remember had a throat component, or were all throat while the rest of me was weirdly fine.   The place my voice comes feels challenged these last few years, conflicted, not free to let things in or out with ease. Thank you for telling me body.  Part of it I understand, and now the part I don’t understand can receive a mixture of a) love and b) we can not stay here, we will not stay here when there is so much more to see, firm attention.  I know it is not a new thought, but it has rumpused my fevery brain tonight.  I know it sounds like a hippy dippy lala thought, but I have learned enough in the last year to know I can’t ignore my body anymore; simply treat it as a meat container to carry my sparkling intellect and childlike heart 🙂  My body is my partner, and it’s trying to tell me something.  It’s heartening really, to think that someone who writes and thinks as much as I do still has voice to find, ALLOW, and develop.

And that’s why I’m still up tonight.  So, dear ones, where is your sickness?  Does it have anything to say?

I know why we stop gazing…

and maybe it’s just common sense, but it really hit home to me in the last few mornings.  Sitting at my bus stop between 6:30 and 7, the clouds and the light have been insane.  It’s been like Kerouac and Michaelangelo had a baby, and they were these skies.  Now, in my grownup brain I know that it’s more due to this beastly hot weather and the fires ravaging the Middletown area.  But Friday morning was like cotton balls spilled out on your bathroom counter–if your bathroom counter was robin’s egg blue, the cotton balls were made of cotton candy, and the whole of it was lit with ten thousand dollar lights.  I spent the first half of the morning so confused that I was inside while that was happening outside.  Why were we willing to miss it?  Was it just me being hyperbolic as usual and hopped up on 5 Hour Energy?

And then this morning, same bus stop, different explosion of loveliness.  It was as if someone had taken a brush to the clouds and swished them around like the rays that usually come from a child’s picture of the sun.  The thing is, there was no sun visible yet, just these clouds gazing at the early emissaries of the light.  It reminded me of being with a lover in a new place, a hotel for vacation maybe.  As they wake up and roll over, sleep crusted, trusting, you notice the light hit them in a way you never do in your bedroom at home where the light has become mundane.  It rolls and it billows and you wonder how you’ve never seen this person before.  As I watched this morning, I had the same gratitude and awe.  I found myself, somewhat sheepishly, saying, “Good morning sister,” to the earth that was waking up right in front of me.  I hoped she wouldn’t mind me peeking in her room.

When I got to work it finally hit me: we stop gazing because when we gaze, when we see beyond the surface, it feels more and more impossible to go into boxes, either literal or metaphorical, and continue to follow expectations.  Illogically, but understandably, we picture a terrifying, downward hippie spiral in which we would never go to work again.  A Tom Robbins’esque world where we would have to “call in well” to work.  I definitely wasn’t ready to go inside the classroom this morning, but this time instead of relenting and souring in my confusion and resentment,  I stalked the reddening sunrise to the parking lot and just stared for a few minutes longer.  I may have freaked out the construction guys, already at work tearing up our parking lot, but I really didn’t care.  I don’t want to relegate my sense of curiosity to socially acceptable things like sex, celebrities, and politics.  As frightening as it can be, and is, I want to gaze until all the boxes melt, even if it means purple green spots in front of my overloaded eyes.  Because I think, once they melt, it won’t be as scary anymore.

I was oddly drawn to a Bible passage as I continued to stand there.  It was one I hadn’t considered in years, and furthermore, had always made me feel slightly bad about myself when a pastor spoke on it.  I’m gonna paraphrase here because I haven’t picked up a Bible in forever: “Consider the lilies of the field.  They neither spin nor toil.  They know they’re going to be taken care of.”  How do they know, I used to think?  Even the flowers are better Christians than me I would ultimately conclude…I need to get to work on being less worried.  But it clicked this morning–if I saw the sun rise and set every day, if I had nothing to do but gaze, I would worry less too.  Fires might burn down my field, greedy fingers might pluck me, but how could the possibilities for recovery and creation not be endless in a world that paints with the sun?

I have a blog now…weird.

Weird why?  Well, despite all you lovely folks out there who claim to like my writing, my own voyeuristic tendencies, and my appreciation for writing that calls to me–I still can’t believe that anyone but me will read this.  I don’t read any blogs (sorry blogger friends, I still love you but my secret is out), and my grasp of technology is tenuous at best (I spent five minutes trying to figure out how to tab this paragraph so it is properly indented, no go).  When I push the publish button, will this go to my Facebook, my fourth grade teacher, the IRS?

Most of all, I can’t guarantee an outcome of this new endeavor, and I do not have a plan.  Now, I know there are no guarantees, and holding too tightly to a plan is a rookie move.  I can’t even guarantee that I have spelled guarantee correctly.  I’m old enough now to know that ‘control’ is an illusion, even though I agree with one of my eighth graders who recently said to me, “It’s like this, we have feelings for each other, so we try and control stuff so the people we love will be okay.”  So, I’m stuck in the middle with me.  I want to protect you: friends, family, strangers, from bad writing which always makes me cranky, but the things I have which are beautiful, are more beautiful to me when shared.

The last five years have been a journey that shows no signs of abating, thankfully.  I’ve gone from San Franciscan with roughly one non-teacher friend and a slightly autistic boyfriend, to a single Mountain Viewian (totally not a word) who dances, performs my poetry, leaves when I need to, and has a plethora of odd and gorgeous people around me.  I’ve gone from leaping over the mess that is transition, to being able to bear it and grow from it with the help of my art, my friends, and the natural world.  If any of this calls to you, come with me.  I’d love to propel your journey like words have propelled me on mine.  Or maybe, as a more modest starting goal, just make you laugh as much as I love to laugh.  You’re right Phoebe, who am I to subtract something that might sing to someone’s soul?

So despite the weirdness, here’s my first blog post.  If my Social Security number is on it or my address somehow, please don’t steal my identity.  I only have 68$ in the bank anyways…68.14$ for those of you like accuracy.  Time to go back to grading papers.

Stay tuned,


(are you supposed to sign your name at the end of a blog post?)