Spectrum: Immersion, Transitions, and Executive Function

“I wish I could feel that,” my mom said to me a few winters ago when I visited her in Florida. We were standing near a willow thicket by a marsh at the Gulf Coast’s edge, and my ears were alert to a flycatcher’s chatter. It was a common state for me–my senses keen and my attention focused on finding and identifying the bird. I didn’t know what my mom was referring to. But it was the joy in being connected and engaged with the world around me through the gift of immersion.

My New Year’s resolution this year is to give myself permission to experience immersion.

Part of this project in exploring, identifying, and embracing my neurodivergence includes incorporating the gifts, as well as the challenges.

I’m realizing now that the capacity for immersion is a gift.

For decades, I’ve felt that I couldn’t afford to become immersed in an activity or hobby because it seemed to interfere with daily life, and, I wrongly suspected, with my mental health.

My maternal grandmother experienced manic-depression, and at one point, when I’d been blissfully high after becoming immersed in watching the sky, I began to suspect that this high led into hypo-mania, and that, by indulging in it, I was wiring my brain in a way that might leave me susceptible to full-blown mania. I decided the smart thing, the responsible thing, to do would be to reel it in, play it low-key, and keep myself as balanced as possible.

I’m realizing now that that’s, likely, nonsense.

I also put reins on the experience of immersion because, when I was a young adult, it interfered with my ability to manage the daily tasks of running a household: getting supper made, doing the dishes, cleaning house, washing laundry. It was too easy to get lost in a novel, a movie, a video game, painting, writing, gardening, bird-watching, or playing the guitar and forget everything else.

I sometimes found that my immersion in a project, activity, or novel would make me late for work, miss a buss, or skip an appointment. And sometimes, I would not be able to fully transition out of the immersed state, so I would move through the day with 60-80% of my attention and focus still within that novel, painting, or piece of music. This made functioning challenging, and, when we lived in the bustling city of Seattle, potentially dangerous.

So, I limited my experience of immersion in exchange for learning to manage daily life.

And somewhere along the way, I picked up the idea that immersion, in and of itself, was bad and dangerous and unhealthy: an indulgence I couldn’t afford.

I am now declaring that notion to have outlived its purpose!

Immersion has a place in my life, and it has the potential to bring joy, to facilitate the development of gifts, and to allow me to be fully, wholly, engagedly me.

For example: I’ve been playing cello for nearly nine years. This means that I can, sometimes, actually play in tune, and that I can play some pieces well enough that I can lose myself in them and allow the music itself to be expressed through me. Right now, I’m working through (for probably the fifth time) Bach’s first cello suite. There is something there! When I become immersed, it feels as if something external–this concept, this structure, this pattern that finds resonance within our own neurological patterns–enters through the music and I align with it. The intonation of my instrument becomes an intonation of myself. This experience is healthy, healing, invigorating, pure, and in alignment with something beyond the reaches of this universe. I would not trade this experience for anything. It is, to me, what life and what being a human being are all about.

I am learning that the way to handle immersion so that I can benefit from my gifts is to approach it, not in the hedonistic way I did as a young adult, but with maturity and planning.

The interference that my immersion caused in my daily life happened when I had trouble with the transition from the immersed experience into the next activity or when I became upset at interruptions.

So this year, I will approach transitions consciously and strategically. I am writing this half an hour before I need to head into the office. I know, then, that I will need to put a bookmark in these thoughts and ideas, especially if I don’t have time to complete this draft before I leave, so that my focus and attention is freed up to engage with (and immerse myself in) the projects I need to do at work today.

A few minutes before I leave, I’ll close out my browser, shut off my laptop, and fold down the lid, signalling to myself that this writing session is over. Then I have the routines of dressing in my office clothes, packing up my lunch, and saying goodbye to my boyfriend to close out those synapses that have been opened through this writing session.

On the drive into the office, I’ll listen to classical music to engage the busy part of my brain while immersing myself, with as much presence as I’m able to summon, in the act of driving, an activity which is challenging for me and my capacity for attention, information-processing, and physical coordination.

These transition activities, and the routines associated with them, should help me emerge from the immersion in writing so that I can engage fully with my responsibilities at the office.

With cello practice, it’s much simpler: The practice itself has clear boundaries. First, I take my cello out of its case and adjust the end-pin. Then, I rosin my bow. Next I sit with the cello, adjust my hold, and tune the instrument. By the time I begin scales, I am in it.

Practice sessions have a clear beginning and ending: When I complete what I’ve set out to play and practice that day, I’m done. And then, the closing process: Put in the end-pin, wipe the cello, put the cello in the case, loosen the bow, set aside the music. These simple actions pull me back so that I can attend to what comes next.

Interruptions are challenging. I often don’t hear–or can’t comprehend–what’s been said, if it’s a spoken interruption, which, it seems, most interruptions are. I find that putting my attention into my body helps. First, I feel the soles of my feet. Then, if I’m sitting, I feel where the chair presses against me. Then I breathe and tell my mind that it is time to be verbal–time to think in words again. It sometimes takes a few moments, and I usually need to ask the person to repeat themselves.

This is, generally, an uncomfortable process, and I think this may part of the reason that I decided, years ago, to forgo the immersive experience, at least if there were danger of being interrupted, and, since I live with someone else and work in a busy office, there is, nearly always, that possibility.

So now, I’m going to take a different approach: I’m going to attempt to approach my response to interruptions mindfully and with kindness, towards myself and the other. I will realize that the interruptions from a state of immersion are a bit painful–or, at the very least, uncomfortable–so I’ll be gentle with myself as I make the transition into a verbal state again. And I’ll be kind and understanding of the other person–the one who caused the interruption–realizing that they are simply interacting with me in a normal manner. It’s not their fault that I experience some discomfort as I move out of my immersed or focused state and back into a state that allows me to respond to them.

Along the way, I’ll be watching to see if mindful compassion is enough. I may need to develop or learn some specific strategies to help me with interruptions.

With some projects, I need to realize that I have to stop them before they are finished, and so I am the one interrupting my immersion. For example, it’s now time for me to head to the office. But I want to stay and finish this post, and I can feel that my brain is longing to complete these thoughts.

And yet. My goal in allowing myself to become immersed is to do so in a way that I can manage with my responsibilities and the tasks of daily living.

So I am going to tell myself that these ideas will still be there when I return. I can put those bookmarks in, I can let my attention shift to writing HTML code, and when I return to complete this post, I will be able to re-immerse myself. (I will let you know how this goes!)


It is the next morning. Yesterday’s practice of immersing myself in writing, emerging from that state, and completing a productive day at the office went well, in part because it was a very busy day at the office, so I was able to move from one immersed state to another.

Overall, I feel that if I trust the structure of my life, the routines of work schedules and my own schedules for tasks, I will be able to engage successfully with the immersive experience. Each morning, I review for myself the few things that must get done and the things that I want to do. I identify options and times where I have flexibility: for example, I don’t have to practice cello after I do the dishes; I can do it in the afternoon, if I prefer, or even skip the practice altogether, if yoga, spending time in the garden, or simply daydreaming better suit the needs of the day.

In other words, within structure, I can give myself the freedom to become immersed. It doesn’t have to be one or the other–I can live responsibly while still living rich.

Author’s note: Many of the ideas in and the inspiration for this post were spurred by an amazing series of articles I found on “Hacking Your Executive Function” by autofspoons, one of my new favorite bloggers.

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Summer House: Ch. 6

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Shingo has been hanging out at the Summer House lately. We paint. We sit on the porch in the morning sunlight. We talk art, artifice, and verisimilitude.

I might Shingo a few weeks ago at the art gallery when I went to see if they might be interested in my paintings. Shingo was delivering some of his own canvases, oils painted with bold palettes, heavy, textured brush strokes, and off-balance compositions. I liked his work. I like his personal style, too, which seems another aspect of his artistic expression.

He dyes his hair–eyebrows and mustache, included–bright copper-penny red. He waxes his mustache, so he can curl it like Hercule Poirot.  He dresses in a cross between a left-bank artist and a K-pop idol: striped long-sleeve t’s under a blazer, baggy stone-washed jeans, and flamboyant, impractical shoes.

The contrast between his seemingly simple work and his careful appearance is opposite  my own personal contrast. My current paintings are carefully rendered and delicate, with flamboyant splashes of detail. And my appearance is natural and easy: no make-up on my face, my clothes all natural fibers and line-dried in the sun, my hair an honest gray.

But maybe that’s why we’ve become such fast friends–whether seemingly carefree or carefully tended, we put equal thought and intention into our styles.

I enjoy spending time with someone who, like me, notices beauty everywhere: the sable feather curls of fur on Dixie’s long tail; the hatched shadows traced by the railings on the porch floor when the butter sun shines; the slices of blue ocean, startling, no matter how often we see it; a dart of indigo as a Steller’s jay darts through pines.  We will be talking, and one of us will gasp–Ah! The other will look. We fall silent. We fall into the beauty, then we catch each other’s eye, and we laugh, and pick up where we left off.

“See? This is what I was trying to capture! Did I succeed? No!”

“But it’s a beautiful painting,” I assure him. We look again at his canvas on the easel.

“It is, isn’t it?” he says. A cloud passes over the sun, and we gasp again, for the sudden coolness descends just at the exact moment that the light shifts. “How would you paint this?” he asks.

“I tried to paint cold,” I tell him. “I’m so helpless as a painter.”

“Ah! No! But your work is lovely!”

“I could write it,” I say. “In my poems. I could have this moment when the breeze, and cloud, and sudden shadow stop a person’s thoughts. But in painting?”

He takes me downstairs where I have a coffee table book of Monet’s works.  He thumbs through until he finds The Woman With a Parasol. We both gasp.

“So this is why I have been doing the brush strokes I have been,” he says. “But I see now my composition is all off. What was I thinking, so off-center? It’s Fibonacci–perfectly balanced! But I wanted to catch you off-guard.”

“How does he do that?” I ask. “I am caught off-guard, but it is all balanced, like you say.”

We walk back out to the meadow, Turtle racing before us, Dixie trotting at our side, looking up at Shingo, as if she expects him to rub her ears, Crystal plodding behind.

We stand on the bluff and look at the ocean.

“It is the form that allows it,” he says. “The perfection of the form.”

“It’s the resonance,” I say, thinking of the prelude from Bach’s first cello suite.

We lie on our backs, Turtle leaping over us, Crystal lying against me, Dixie with her chin on Shingo’s thigh. We watch the clouds pass.

“In poetry, the perfect form provides a container,”  I say.

“But what of free form?”

“There is no such thing. There is form in everything.”

I turn to look at him as he studies the clouds. The symmetry of his hands, his face, his limbs.

“What makes us gasp, then?” he asks again.

I close my eyes as the breeze flows over the long grass, carrying the scent of green oats and cattails. Beneath me the earth, above me the sky, beside me my friends. The gasp carries the memory of what we might be, of what we are, of what inhabits the perfection of form.

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Summer House: Ch. 5

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“I hear somebody hasn’t accepted her contract yet.” Denny calls. “Patrice in the English office was worried it was because of me. Was it my MeToo moment?”

“You didn’t have a MeToo moment, Denny. You caused one. And it wasn’t a moment.” More like a lifetime, I think. I’m outside, grateful for the slice of ocean beyond the bluff. The breeze reminds me to keep my cool. “It wasn’t you,” I say.

As we talk, I realize that I’ve come to my decision. I won’t be signing my contract. I won’t be returning to teaching full-time, face-to-face. I’m moving onto something new.

I have options. I will sell the condo in the city. The duplex is paid for, the only expenses utilities, taxes, and insurance. I won’t need a car, living on the island, where everything is walking or biking distance. I can rent out the other half. I can pick up a few online classes from the county community college. I can sell some landscapes in the gallery. I’ve put in enough years to qualify for a pension, and if I hold off for another six years before drawing on it, I’ll have plenty to meet expenses then. Until then, I’ll stitch together this and that to make ends meet.

“Why aren’t you coming back, then?” Denny asks. “Burned out?”

“No. Too many eyes,” I say. “Take care, Den. Come visit anytime. I’ve got a spare couch in the music room.”

Turtle, the dalmatian, races towards me, her tail bent like a rudder. She tackles me, paws on my shoulders, and I rub her back. I’ve got three anachronisms now. The water spaniel, who I call Dixie, also let me coax her to come live with us.

I must have already made up my mind when I took in these three strays. Of course they’d never have a happy life back in the city. I must have decided I’d be staying, only I didn’t realize it yet.

I’ve been in the netherworld, moving without conscious thought, wading through memory, through dream, through feeling, waiting to see where I would emerge.

I’ve emerged. The call with Denny helped me see. I’m here, and here is where I’m staying.

Tomorrow, I’ll email Patrice and the department chair. No, better yet: I’ll call. I’ll tell them I won’t be returning. I’ll put in a good word for some of the part-time instructors to cover the classes already been assigned to me. I’ll let them know they can share my email with students who might ask after me.

And after the phone calls, I will have walked into this new life.

Crystal stretches and leans against my leg. Dixie races out the house, chasing Turtle. I pick up frisbee and follow the dogs to the meadow.

The otters, with their dens in the marsh, the gulls, with their nests on the rock-islands, are safe now. The strays live with me, and I live on the island, here in my home, where I can lose myself and find myself and need never hide from watching eyes.

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Summer House: Ch. 1

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The first of June, and I’m back at the summer house on Woodrow Island. I guess I’ve spent around 35 of my 58 summers here. It’s our family home, passed from grandparents to my parents and now to me. I bought out the cousins’ shares a decade ago, when they were looking to raise tuition for college and music lessons for their kids, and now, both halves of the duplex are mine. Each summer, I rent out one side to vacationing families, while the other provides me with sanctuary.

I turn in my grades, close up my apartment, catch the ferry, and for three months, I am sheltered from the busyness, stress, and politics of being a lit professor at City College. Usually, I sign next year’s faculty contract before leaving. This year, I didn’t. I have until the end of the month. Of course I will, I’m sure. I just can’t think about it now. I couldn’t bring myself to click the “Accept” button on the digital form.

It was a tough year. A close friend, another faculty member, was accused of sexual harassment by one of my favorite students. I wasn’t surprised. It was a matter of time. I told Denny a few years ago, after he put his hand on my thigh during a committee meeting, that he had to change his ways.

“You can’t get away with that anymore, Denny! It’s not the 70’s.”

He kept it up, not with me, but with others.

“Denny,” I said to him early in the second semester, “You been following this #MeToo thing? These are different times. The culture has shifted, Denny.”

He laughed.

So I wasn’t surprised when, during office hours, Sasha came in to disclose what had happened. If it hadn’t been her, it would have been someone else.

“I know you’re friends with Professor Carrington,” she said. “This is hard for me. I respect you, I really do. But Professor Carrington–I’m sure you’re going to hear from someone. You might was well hear from me. I had to report him to the dean.”

I listened. Inappropriate touching. Inappropriate comments. Intrusion of personal space.

“Are you OK?” I asked.

“I’m embarrassed,” Sasha said. “And I feel guilty. Did I do the wrong thing? But I told him to stop. He didn’t, like, hurt me. And… I don’t even know if it was sexual. But it wasn’t wanted. It felt wrong.”

“You did the right thing, Sasha. You have the right to have your space, your boundaries, respected.”

“Nobody knows but you and the dean,” she said.

It stayed confidential. Even Denny never found out who’d lodged the complaint. He was put on administrative leave for the next two semesters, and he had to complete a series of trainings before returning to teach.

“I’m being ‘reprogrammed,'” he said.

“It’s a good thing,” I told him. “If you can’t change yourself, then you might as well participate in something that can help you change.”

He grumbled. “I like the freedom of being able to express how I feel.”

I remained friends with him–we went way back, and we’d shared more conversations about Thoreau and Fuller, Hawthorne and Melville, than conflict could erode. But it felt strange to be friends with someone blind to the ways words and touch, from a person in a position of authority, could feel like a transgression.

I’d been a teen in the 70’s. I remembered too clearly what it was like to be groped by the boys in the halls of high school, to have teachers, coaches, principals and fathers of the kids you babysat lean in too close, make crude jokes, leer and slap you on the rear when you walked by. That wasn’t “expressing how they felt.” That was abuse. And I was glad the culture was shifting. I was glad they didn’t have a free pass to do that anymore.

Sasha stopped coming to office hours. She switched majors to biology. She was friendly and respectful. But I could understand how she might expect me to turn from Denny after what he did. I could have shunned him. But I didn’t. I felt that it was important to give him support while he changed. Learning new behavior is hard work–examining one’s thoughts and attitudes is even harder. Denny’s not defined by this. It’s part of him, and a part he needs to change. But it’s not all of him. I wasn’t going to stop being his friend. But that didn’t keep me from feeling awkward, either.

I guess all of that colored this past year. There were a few cases of plagiarism, too, in some of my comp classes. Those are never fun to deal with. And it felt like we were fighting the perpetual battles of curriculum. I could make nearly any selection of readings work–but learning happened best when the readings were relevant to students, personally, culturally, historically. I was tired of the battle of getting our selections approved by the curriculum committee. It all felt old, and I was tired of it. I was weary.

All of that contributed to my procrastination in signing my contract.  And all of that was left behind when I stepped on the ferry.

It’s the start of summer, and just for a few weeks, I want to live under the illusion that I am totally free.

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Eight Pieces: Yellow Bike

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On her twelfth birthday, Kristal’s father gave her a yellow bike. It was a boy’s mountain bike, and she felt so proud when she straddled the bar. She was tough enough for this bike, and her dad thought so.

It brought freedom. All summer she rode, sometimes with her gang of neighborhood friends, sometimes alone. She was reckless, daring, and must have been watched over by a meticulous angel, for she escaped close calls that less careful guardians would not have been able to prevent.

But she loved it. Even the afternoon when she raced down the steep driveway of her friend’s country house and onto twisting Redwood Drive. The brakes of a blue Mustang squealed.

“Watch where you’re eff-ing going, little girl!” yelled the man in the vest who got out the driver’s side of the car.

“We almost hit you!” yelled his boyfriend through the open window.

Her ears burned through the lecture the couple gave her.

“You really need to be careful, darling,” said the driver, after all the yelling wound down their adrenaline. “We don’t mean to be mad at you. It’s just. That was a really, really close call, girl.”

“If you’re gonna ride that mean bicycle like a wild thing,” said the boyfriend, “at least ride it like a wild thing that knows the rules!”

She rode slowly, carefully, around the blind corners after the car pulled off, and when she got home, and her mom asked how her visit with her friend had been, she said, “Fine,” and left it at that.

But the next day, and every day thereafter, she always looked twice before riding into the road.

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Maybe she could find a place to rent a bike in the plaza. She imagined she had one as she ran down the dirt road the led past the chapel.

No one was around. She could still play. Her hands gripped the steering wheel, she ran faster than the could, she leapt over mudholes, and steered around boulders, and nearly twisted her ankle, and when, too soon, she arrived at the plaza, she was out of breath and had to stop for a moment outside the gate to let her pulse settle down and to smooth out her hair.

It was so much fun to be young, even when one wasn’t.

“Do you know where I can rent a bike?” she asked the food stall vendor.

“Eh, no. A burro, yes! Would you like a burro?”

“No. I was hoping a yellow mountain bike.”

“Ah, no. Maybe the tourists. Out at the camp. But here, in the village, no.”

“Kristal!”

She turned to see who was calling her name.

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“Kristal Kraft!” It was Rodrigo Mellon, a colleague of her husband’s–her ex’s–from the university back home.

“What are you doing here?” she asked him. And then she remembered, in her work at the bursar’s office, before she took her six-month leave for this trip, the budget for his grant crossed her desk. “That’s right! Your project!”

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“Yes! Yes! Community development!” he said, launching into more details about the project than she could keep straight. He was from a neighboring village which had been culturally, economically, and environmentally destroyed when the loggers came through ten years before. The government, thanks in part to Rodrigo’s efforts, had put a hold on further clear-cutting. But that left this region without many opportunities for economic growth, and, as the theorists were discovering, sustainable lifestyles weren’t sustainable anymore. The youth moved out, and the villages withered.

“It’s a noble idea,” she said, after he’d explained about developing cultural centers here for traditional arts, music, crafts, herbalism and natural healing, theater, dance, and folklore.

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“I am not satisfied with noble,” he replied. “I demand practical. Tell me it is a practical idea.”

She considered for a moment. It was practical. “It’s also sustainable,” she said.

That satisfied him. “I think so, too.”

Some of her new acquaintances, Victoria and Patricia, whom she’d been spending more time with over the past few weeks, arrived.

“There you are, Krisal!” Victoria said. “We hoped we’d run into you today. You’ve been scarce lately!”

She’d been painting. It was hard to make it into the plaza every day when her walls were stacked with blank canvases and the colors in her mind beckoned her to bring them out to play.

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“Evening ladies,” said a man with a Southwestern accent. “Where are your escorts, might I ask?”

“Escorts?” laughed Victoria. “What do you think this is? The 1890s?”

“Now you don’t have to bite off my head,” yelled the cowboy. “I was just being polite! You’re probably one of them dang–I won’t even say it. Dang bitches.”

“Go find your time portal, jerk!” Victoria snapped back. “Make like a second and split!”

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Kristal laughed out of nervousness. When she got back home, so was too unsettled to work. She picked up a volume of Robert Hass’s poems and opened randomly, hoping to find a translation of something by Neruda, and she came, instead, upon this:

All the new thinking is about loss.
In this it resembles all the old thinking.

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The poem was almost too much to bear.

Longing, we say, because desire is full
of endless distances

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When the tea finished steeping, after she’d sipped two glasses, remembering words and silences, letting herself find the distance that waited between her and every person she had ever met, she remembered the last thing the boyfriend had said, that afternoon when she was twelve and had recklessly ridden in front of the blue Mustang.

“Be careful, darling. You need your bicycle if you’re gonna be a free woman in this world! Just claim your freedom with care.”

As she worked on the yellow bike painting, she remembered a slogan on a red T-shirt worn by her college room-mate, Carolyn: “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.”

It was worn as a joke, for Carolyn, a self-acknowledged sex and romance addict, had no tolerance for the droughts between boyfriends. But it was a joke with bite, for Carolyn longed to be free of her addictions.

They had a fish, actually, a calico goldfish who lived in a spacious bowl with crystals and delicate feather plants. One afternoon, to tease her room-mate, Kristal bought a four-inch model bicycle.

“Well I’ll be dog-danged,” said Carolyn, after they placed the bike in with the crystals, and the fish swam around and over it. “Look how it loves that thing!”

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Kristal laughed when she finished the painting.

She wasn’t sure she loved men anymore, with their endless distances, but she appreciated their beauty–that graceful curve above the hip. And eyelashes. And a sudden, exposed look, when a man is caught unawares, and his eyes light up in the crashing moment before he smiles.

“Would you date again?” she asked Victoria when they met in the plaza the next morning.

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“I’m not sure,” Victoria said. “It’s kind of antiquated, isn’t it? The whole courtship thing? But would I hook up? Now that’s another question entirely!”

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Kristal thought she’d do neither. It was too soon, she knew that. At the same time, any hasty resolution she’d make would only be one she’d eventually regret. But at the moment, she relished her freedom. She was going to claim it with care.

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Author’s note: When I was in grad school, I heard Robert Hass read “Meditation at Lagunitas.” I suppose that any poem with the word “blackberry” in it would stay with me–this one certainly did!

Lighthouse: Too Early Spring

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I had some trouble finding my way in the back country, in spite of my self-professed talent with topographical maps.

I had to follow deer trails up there, generally not a problem, but I hadn’t counted on them criss-crossing quite so much.

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When the ranger had stopped by the night before, he’d warned me about this.

“I can take you up there myself,” he said, “but not until Saturday. Can’t leave my post before then.”

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His connection with Ritu and the refugee program was personal, not professional, and he didn’t want to risk alerting anyone to the transfers that had been happening across federal property.

“I’m not sure I should wait that long,” I said. We’d heard reports of AAC riots planned for the weekend, so we wanted to be home well before then.

“All right,” he said. “Just use common sense, then. Don’t get hurt. Don’t get injured.”

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I gained confidence when I spotted Finger Rock. Below it was a crevice through the granite, and if I could climb through it, I’d come out in the high meadow where Ritu’s friend lived, just beyond the national park border.

This was the first winterless year we had. It was February, and already, what little snow had fallen in late December and early January had melted from all but the highest peaks. Bird song broadcast an early breeding season, and wildflowers bloomed two months too early.

In spite of my better wisdom, I got caught up in the excitement of early spring—-the sun, the songs, the blooms, the whispers of warmth, it was hard not to feel alive and vibrant, though I knew that this disruption of normal patterns signaled nothing good to come, even for those very chickadees and warblers now celebrating spring.

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The significance hit me when I arrived in the high country to see the shrubs already in leaf.

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A tidy cabin with a well-cared-for alpine garden stood at the far end of the meadow, across from the sign marking the park border.

This was where Ritu’s friend lived. This was where I’d meet the refugee.

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There was no one home.

Tired from the trek, I lay down in the meadow, near the cabin. I’d hear them when they came back.

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A peregrine flew overhead. It was early for them to be in their high country range.

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I heard a child’s laughter. When I looked, there stood a little girl, who looked like a fairy dressed for a camping trip. She must be the daughter of Ritu’s friend, I figured. She ran off through the meadow and behind the trees before I could ask her where her mother was.

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I walked until I came to a circle of boulders enclosing a mountain herb garden. Tending the wild mustard was an older woman, dressed in well-patched clothes. This was Rachel.

Sometimes you can tell when you first see someone that they will become your friend. That’s how I felt with Rachel.

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I didn’t even have to explain myself. She knew who I was and why I’d come. Ritu had left word once Sept and I made our plans.

“They usually don’t stay,” she said, “when they’re arrive here. This is a good landing place, you see. No one to notice the distant lights, no one to see them being dropped off, except maybe the back country ranger, but then, he’s one of us, isn’t he?”

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Rachel had helped about half a dozen refugees by that point. Usually, she kept them for a few days, long enough to acclimatize to the atmosphere, to help them adjust their disguises, to brush up on their language skills, and to review a few safety points and cultural conventions. Then, she walked them back to the park to where the ranger met them, and he arranged their transport back to one of Ritu’s pick-ups.

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“But this one’s different,” she said. “This one needs a special touch.”

The little fairy girl joined us. I decided she must be Rachel’s granddaughter or great niece, not child, after all.

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Rachel turned to her and began speaking Vingihoplo. I caught the word gotukoda, home, and sanghi, safe.

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“This is Santi,” Rachel said, and I understood then why this refugee could not travel alone.

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Sintuliyu dastaliyu!” Santi said, using the traditional rebel greeting: peaceful day.

Sintu!” I said back.

The concept of sintu doesn’t directly translate to what we think of as “peace.” If peace were active–the making of peace, the partaking of peace, peace as the condition for life and energy and harmony, then it would come closer. I thought of the old hippie Super 8 films I’d seen shot at peace rallies, with “Peace,” as a greeting, shouted like a call to action. That was closer to what sintu expressed.

Santi raced off again.

“She’s happy here,” Rachel said, “but she knows she can’t stay.”

We walked slowly back to Rachel’s cabin.

“What do you know of the girl?” she asked.

I admitted I knew nothing, only that she needed safe escort to a sanctuary. We didn’t know then where she was headed, only that we’d bring her to our home, and from there, Ritu and Xirra could arrange for her to get to where she’d be staying.

“Do you know why she’s here?” Rachel asked. “Why she had to leave?”

I repeated that I knew nothing about her.

“She was a minstrel–in the medieval sense, not the Vaudeville sense–a court musician. She’s a clone of a type of extra-terrestrial that’s almost preternaturally talented at music, and she was created to provide a form of living entertainment for the elite.”

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“Was she treated alright?” I asked.

“Oh, yes!” said Rachel. “Like one would treat a high-tech stereo. A valuable piece of property.”

“She had no freedom, then?” I asked.

“She was bizoo,” said Rachel. “You know what that means to the Mainstreamers, don’t you?”

I know now. Most of my life has been spent in the cause of bringing freedom to bizoobi, and I’ve heard more stories than I’ve let myself remember. But at the time, though Sept had told me what fate would have awaited him if Situ hadn’t taken action, I hadn’t yet integrated what I’d heard with my construct of reality.

“She was found to be dangerous,” Rachel said, “subversive. So she was scheduled to be decommissioned–slaughtered, with others no longer fit to serve.”

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“What is subversive about that little girl?” I asked.

“Her music.”

Santi had begun to play on a small white violin. The beauty of the violin is that it’s not inherently diatonic–it’s not bound to fixed tones or scales. Santi played music like I’d never heard before, dancing in between tones, sliding up and down pitch. The music followed its own sense and pattern, and as I listened it unwound feelings and emotions within me.

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“But it’s beautiful!” I said.

“Exactly,” said Rachel.

“It’s soulful.”

“Precisely,” Rachel replied. “And you know what Mainstreamers believe about bizoobi.”

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“That they have no soul,” I answered.

“Exactly,” said Rachel. “And so how could music like that come from a being without a soul?”

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Author’s note: Who is this child and what tribe does she come from? You’ll have to keep reading to find out more, but to catch all the harmonies, you might want to also be sure that you’re reading SuperKyle’s We Belong to the Song. Many thanks to Kyle for the Sim that Santi comes from and for the ideas that she embodies.

Lighthouse: Not my Parents

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I decided to inform my parents that I was engaged. I wasn’t sure they’d care. We’d become so distant, and they made up their minds during my last few years of college that I was “unreachable,” meaning, I wasn’t going to give up my ideals or politics to move back home for a job in real estate or a marriage to somebody sponsored by my dad.

I’d emailed them once since moving here, to let them know that I was happy in my new town. My mom had emailed back, “That’s nice, dear. Your dad found a great job you’d like. He can send details when you’re ready.” I never replied.

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I wasn’t sure how to start this message.

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Eventually, I just dove in:

Hey, Mom and Dad!

Hope you’re both well. I am really well, and I have big news.

I kept it short. I told them I’d met a good man, and I was engaged to be married. I told them he wasn’t from around here. In fact, he was an extraterrestrial. I told them that “extraterrestrial” was the preferred term, not “alien,” which was a species slur. I said he’d been part of a government program, placed for adoption as a young child, raised by a good and loving father, and that he was now registered with the government. He was legal. I said they would like him, if they gave him a chance, for he was deeply good, wise beyond years, and cared for everything they cared for, especially family, commitment, and loyalty.

I didn’t say that his dad was a liberal black artist, that he himself was a panromantic pansexual (not that they’d know what that meant), that he was a clone, or that he was a rebel in an intergalactic resistance movement. Some details, they could learn once they discovered for themselves what a good person he was.

I closed the message affectionately, inviting them to come visit at their convenience, and hit “send” before I had a chance to rethink.

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During the next few days, as I waited for their reply, dreading a phone call, time fell into a lull.

When I didn’t know their response, I could imagine the best.

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What if this was the universe’s way of providing an opportunity for my dad to, finally, work through some of his entrenched biases?

What if it opened up moments that we might actually converse?

What if they fell in love with him, too, and we could actually be a family?

What if my mom wanted to help me choose my wedding gown? Or, maybe not.

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Before bed one night, I checked my inbox one last time.

The message from Mom waited for me.

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I read it quickly.

“I’ve been disowned!” I said.

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“What’s that, byu?” Sept asked from the kitchen.

“It’s from my mom, and I’ve been disowned!”

My mom wrote that she was glad to hear that I sounded well and happy. She and my father were not surprised I was getting married–they had expected it. And they had expected it would be someone “utterly unsuitable.” She wrote that she knew, by now, not to even attempt to change my mind, and they both wished me well. My father deposited $20,000 in the Ko-Fi account I used in college. And this was the last I should ever expect from them. Ever.

“If you ever leave him, dear, you are of course welcome to come back home,” Mom wrote. “I will find a way to persuade your father to let you back into the family. But please understand that while you are married to an alien, we can have no further connection. This is not how we raised you.”

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Sept and I talked long into the night. He couldn’t comprehend it.

“It’s been a long time coming,” I explained. “They’ve been looking for a reason to do this for years.”

I wanted to give the money back.

“You could,” Sept said. “Or you could use it for something worthy–turn bad money into good.” He said that Xirra, Octy’s mom, had dozens of uses for funds of that scale. “That would burn your dad!” He laughed. “Use his buy-off money to support the rebellion!”

Sept finally fell asleep. I must have slept sometime during the night, but I woke restless before dawn.

I took a long walk.

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I had no doubts. If my parents had wanted to ensure I’d go through with my engagement, they couldn’t have found a better way. My commitment was fueled by anger now.

I didn’t want to be the daughter of people who would disown their daughter for marrying an extraterrestrial. If that was their response, if they couldn’t look beyond species to see individual, then I was glad to be disowned! I was relieved! Good riddance.

I was better off without them.

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When I stopped running, my throat ached. Ice settled in my chest. Five tears. That’s all I would allow myself.

“I won’t waste any more energy on them!”

Then I wept a hundred tears or more.

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When the shaking stopped, I pulled my knees towards me and leaned against an aspen trunk.

The tenth truth: When everything else has been stripped away, what remains is who I am.

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Something in this world is bigger than my role as a daughter, than my identity as Mallory Kraft.

Something exists that is still there when that identity has sheared off.

I dried my tears and walked toward the rising sun.

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In this wide earth, in this vast universe, in this expanding galaxy, my identity as a daughter means nothing.

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Being, living, existing true to myself, that is everything.

Woolly mammoths grazed the tundra in mother-daughter tribes, the males solitary. The bulls weren’t less from being cast-out from the herd. The young cows weren’t less from not having a father close by. If my mother left my father, she would seek me out. We would take her into our tribe. But she would never leave my father. I shook my head and let her go.

There are many ways to make a family.

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I set my troubles under the universe and watched them fade. My life is so insignificant–what purpose is there in grieving that which must be lost?

I never spoke to my parents again.

In recent years, I wished that I had made some attempt. Called them. Invited them again to visit. Sought a reconciliation. Taken our least alien-looking child to meet them, the grandparents. But I never did any of that.

They died a few years ago, and now a reconciliation can never take place.

I smile to think that my father is not his conditioning. What remains after everything else has been stripped away, that is who he is. And I can’t help but think that that-which-remains would smile to see me, fulfilled, happy, loved. I can’t help but think that essence, if an essence can feel, would feel joy and gratitude, that my life, this life which he gave me, has been lived in service to something greater, something meaningful. To love.

I will never know, not while I walk this earth. But I like to imagine.

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