For When You Don't Know What You're Doing
welcome 2 fall; embrace the dark night sea journey
Suddenly the cold is here and I’m ripping up tomatoes; I’m sleeping in and I’m waking up already tired. Gray’s brother Alec came to stay with us and we painted the bedroom dark purple, a cave perfect for wintering.
I wanted to start fall seeds in a methodical way, but I only had enough energy to chaos sow, and chaos is better than nothing, I think. Alec helped me chop up the overgrowth for compost, and we scattered lettuce, carrot, and chive seeds in cleared patches of dirt. We met a beautiful praying mantis, who always silently appears in the fall, reminding us to be still.
I’ve been thinking there are two kinds of gardeners: those who plan and organize, space everything perfectly, who anticipate end results, and those of us who throw everything out there, scatter our seeds through the dirt when it rains, and edit whatever comes up later. I try to be the first kind of gardener, the executive, but I overplan and run out of energy, leaving all my half-finished things to rot.
It’s okay, though. I’m pretty sure that every executive who seems to know what they’re doing is really just a very good actor falling apart between scenes backstage. I don’t ever want to sell you the illusion of order, so I keep repeating this in different ways: no matter what it looks like, I am always just splashing around in the dark.
“We’ll fix it in post,” filmmakers joke, but this is how I work — start rolling, see what I get, and cut the pieces of it into something good later. Wait, watch, and catch, like a praying mantis. “We live everything as it comes, without warning, like an actor going on cold,” Milan Kundera wrote, and I try to remember this when I lean into the wind, the executive in my head screaming.
Sometimes I miss God’s certainty; believing that even though I’ve been swallowed by the whale, He’s guiding her to spit me out somewhere brighter. I was taught that the world was black and white, that all the lines were clearly drawn around good and evil. Queerness forced me to rearrange those lines for myself — ex-vangelicals call it deconstructing, a nice big word for a terrible psychic crisis that rips down the fabric of your reality. But deconstructing is not just pulling apart, because no one can live in a meaningless void. You have to build something else.
Once you’ve stepped outside the structure of your own belief, it’s hard to unsee the rest of them. I guess that’s why I can’t stop peering around the corners of institutions and the DSM, of gender and capitalism and time, too aware of their artifice and reality all at once. Deconstructing did not make me an angry atheist. It showed me the importance of myth.
I bring up the story of Jonah and the whale because it’s an allegory about running from a terrifying truth about yourself. Jonah knows he has to go to Ninevah and tell them something they don’t want to hear, so he flees on a ship, the ship hits a storm, and he asks to be tossed overboard. He doesn’t die, though. God sends a whale to deliver him to Ninevah anyway, where he finally accepts that he has to be a prophet, even though everyone is going to hate him for it.
Rollo May thought that the artist and the prophet had a lot in common, both insurgents against the status quo. “Recall how often in human history the saint and the rebel have been the same person,” he writes in The Courage to Create, a book I run back to when The Fear gets too loud. Jonah the Saint rebels against his call to rebellion, and must grapple with this in a “dark night sea journey,” as Jungians would say, a myth of death and rebirth.
Literary scholar Joy Ladin reads the Jonah story through a lens of trans theology:
“the crisis it dramatizes is one that many of us will face at one time or another: the crisis of realizing that either we live what makes us different or we cannot live at all.”
Maybe the whale’s belly can be a kind of sanctum. As fall comes and I find myself thrashing around in the dark again, the executive in my head starts to panic. What are we doing here in this whale again? he screams. Where is our plan?
I try to tell him to shut up, shake it out and breathe, pour a drink in his screaming mouth, but maybe he needs a hug instead, I don’t know. Maybe he just needs to be heard and then gently put to bed. We’re going to fail, I tell him. We’re going to fuck it up.
We’ve already fallen short, and isn’t that beautiful? We have so much more to learn, and isn’t that the point?