What it feels like to shiver

Last night as I drove home from my writing class, there was a gentle, lackadaisical snow falling in Denver. The restaurant and microbrewery patios were empty. The homeless had taken shelter somewhere – at least I hope they did – as the temperature dropped. Less people roamed the sidewalks. It was quiet, in that beautiful but eerie way that only snowy nights can be.

I’d forgotten what it felt like to shiver. Suddenly I was reminded of winter, and it was jarring. Something about this past summer felt really long to me. Then September came, with its tidal waves of pumpkin spice, and I felt a dissonance – it *felt* like summer, even though people were embracing fall.

Now fall is here, and winter is creeping up behind it. I feel like I need to embrace every small moment of it, because it feels fleeting and malleable. I work in a field that deals with the effects of climate change, so I talk all day about ‘extreme weather events,’ even though sometimes none of us know for sure what that really means. Hurricanes, certainly. Extreme high temperatures, and extreme low temperatures. Increased precipitation.

I suppose I fear how we’re careening into a world where all of us will forget what it feels like to shiver. Perhaps not literally, but a world in which the changes aren’t slow, or subtle. A world that becomes drastically altered.

For now – there was some snow, and a shiver, and it felt gentle and safe and beautiful. And I want to hold on to that.

In the coffeehouse

Killing time before my writing class, perhaps waiting for something in the way one waits for Godot. A blue-haired girl with large, round rimmed glasses is to my left, Misfits sticker prominently placed on her laptop, studying for what I think is a chemistry exam with a raven-haired girl with thick-rimmed black glasses. To my right, a young man in torn pants typing away on his laptop, which is in his lap instead of on the table. Is he hiding something?

Old men sit and talk of people they know, or have known; their tenses shift as often as they do, clearly uncomfortable on the hard wooden chairs. On the patio, a group of colleagues has some beer after work, badges still hanging around their necks. Flies buzz around, tempted, I suppose, by the general stickiness of the place.

Beast of Burden plays loudly, drowning out the white noise of the traffic outside.

So meta.
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In which the writer is plagued by the supernatural

I don’t believe in magical thinking, and yet I find myself being careful what I say, in case my words somehow change the course of the physical or metaphysical world. I suppose that means that there’s a disconnect between what I think I should believe, and what I fear – I know I’m supposed to eschew the idea that my thoughts can influence events external to my own mind. However, I honestly fear that certain types of words or thoughts open doors to a mischievous universe that takes perverse delight in making us face what we most dread.

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An ode to untouched places

Beauty likes neglected places.”

John O’Donohue
Folly Beach, SC

One of the things I like about where I work is that it’s next to a protected natural area. We get to see a lot of wildlife that one normally only sees in large state parks or zoos or nature documentaries, which is just an amazing experience.

The thing that always strikes me the most is the silence. No cars, no human noise, none of the pulsating hum of civilization. The stillness is eerie when you first encounter it. You don’t realize just how accustomed you are to constant sound until there isn’t any.

I sat on the front steps of my office building the other day and just basked in that stillness. It’s meditative, in a way, to just stop, and be in a wide open, natural space that isn’t teeming with humans and all of our various turbulence. It’s really quite joyous…at first.

For me, the joyfulness of natural, still places is muddled by an unsettled feeling. Humans are herd animals – we like to cluster. A long, long time ago, we realized that we do better if we live in groups. Now there are so many of us that it’s kind of hard not to. So most humans alive today are used to a certain amount of background noise.

What a strange thing to have forgotten – the silence of true, natural stillness. Now, it’s a thing we escape to rather than a thing we escape from. It’s another one of those shifts in the world and in how we interact with it that we simply don’t think about anymore.

Stillness was not necessarily something valued by people who used to exist within or beside it – I delve from time to time into the world of faery stories and their origins, and it was often the fear of forests or other untamed areas combined with fears about things like diseases or natural phenomena that gave rise to stories of changelings and other meddling creatures. Humans are great Explainers of Things, even if the explanation is more imaginative or symbolic than factual.

If you have the ability, find a still place. Sit in it for a while. Just be. Think about a world filled with such stillness, how different it was.

We’ve lost something more than just our stillness, I think, in filling up the world with as much clutter as we have.

The faeries have disappeared

You can tell the difference between a dog and a coyote. I can’t explain how, exactly – but the first time you’re lying in bed on a warm spring night with the windows open, and you hear them in the distance – even though you didn’t grow up here, even though you’ve never heard the sound of coyotes howling on the plains – somehow, you know what you’re hearing.

It’s been more than a decade since I moved out here, and it still unnerves me.

A book I read said that faerie myths originated from fear. Fear of dark places. Fear of the woods, which were once wild and dangerous. Things that make no sense could be blamed on the small, dark creatures who crawled from the woods at night to poke about homes and peek in cradles.

When the world was wild and unknown, humans had to fear the night.

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“The closing walls and the ticking clocks”

Studies have shown that there’s a powerful link between scent and memory. I have personally found this to be profoundly true. One breath in and suddenly I’m transported into the past.

I have smell triggers. Lilies remind me of funerals. The smell of matches reminds me of burning candles late at night in my room as an angsty teen. The salty smell of the ocean reminds me of going to the shore during summers as a child, which was one of the few truly happy parts of my childhood.

Today as I was leaving a meeting at a local conference venue, I was greeted by the heavy scent of cigar smoke, courtesy of a sheepish-looking gentleman who was having a quick smoke in the parking garage of a smoke free property. He needn’t have worried – I’m the type who snitches on people trying to enjoy a simple vice.

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Constructing identities

I spent some time at the Denver Art Museum last week, and one of the current exhibits is a landscape exhibit which, according to the DAM, will show how various artists have blurred “the distinction between ‘observed’ and ‘constructed’ imagery.”

Observed vs. constructed is an interesting binary. Has the artist who took this simple (yet stunning) photograph below merely created something we can observe? Or is there an element of construction there?

One could certainly observe and move on. But I think the fact that the photo is in muted tones and that an image was chose that features an asymmetrical breaking wave is an element of construction. It makes me feel like I’m looking at a wild, stormy ocean. It’s beautiful, but fearsome. It should be admired, but also respected.

I would even argue that the color of the wall that the DAM chose to hung it on adds to/emphasizes that construction. Would the photo have felt different if it was hung on the beige wall instead of the gray one? What if it was hung on a red wall? Does that change the context?

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