The road

But to look from the stony plain along the road which led one to that place is not at all the same thing as walking on the road; the perspective, to say the very least, changes only with the journey; only when the road has, all abruptly and treacherously, and with an absoluteness that permits no argument, turned or dropped or risen is one able to see all that one could not have seen from any other place.”

-James Baldwin
Go Tell It on the Mountain

West

Three hundred years ago he moved from Bern and changed his name from Aebi to Avey to sound a bit more neutral, a bit more American. I’ve been thinking more about what it means to be American. Who, how, why. I have some reference points. It was easy to move to Germany. Music I know is everywhere I go. My Colombian father-in-law told me to hide my passport because it might get stolen. I underestimate that blue cover. The public schools and libraries. Hiding a heritage of human sorrow and potential. Somehow still allergic to this land. Poison oak forms a resistance on the trails we blaze. Oozing with red bumps, making me question the way. I’m the non-native species. Make it more American. But how? From the jazz to the mundane. Paint the spectrum black or white. The distance between what you know and want to know lies in what you create. Between places you’ve been and places you can’t imagine. How could it be so hard to write under your parents’ roof when they gave you every neuron? Drive north on the 1. A loud bed and breakfast might be awkward. Let’s take a quarter and go explore. Another pioneer couple walking on a boneyard of tree branches. Looks like beach cheese. Sitting halfway up a Monterey cypress. Staring at the setting sun with the moon to our back. This place makes me sleepless. I heard a man inside the wall with a pickaxe. Crumbling down the structure from the inside out. But then the mother of slumber blacked out my vision with her placement of fill-in-the-box. I’m home. Horace Greeley might have told you to “Go west, young man,” but I’m called by the wild poppies and cortaderia. Those here before us. Junipero Serra paved the way, killing with faith. Priests on a mission overlook young women. Left out of the literature. I’m pulled in by the Pacific, the way redwoods hold on to their neighbors’ roots. Prioritizing nourishment. A church turned grocery store. Looking at another “All Are Welcome Here” sign made Sam ask what that says about other places. A bold statement against a dark reality. But damn this place is hard to reach.

Away

It’s easier to establish a voice after leaving home. Surrounded by expression so foreign from my own makes me feel more alone. And there’s comfort in the solitude. Background voices merge into a mush of sounds. Hidden in a cafe, away on a train. Language becomes noise. Until I hear my own. That familiar accent pierces past and I distract. Mind deciphers meaning. “We sold two so far.” “She was so wasted she couldn’t stand.” “Should I be writing this all down?” The words of others crowd my mind and expel any I want to read or write. Familiarity pauses attention. Everything stops. I fall under a spell of the known, craving the strange again. Lips moving in silence. Everywhere I go, one language turns up the volume and pulls me back. Drowns out stream of thought. The others become a sea of sound I can sense, but not grasp. A loss of comprehension can liberate. Submerged in the unknown, searching for significance. An inner voice becomes more clear. More distinct. I can think.

Mountains melt

The delicately fantastic iconography of the fourteenth century, where castles are toppled like dice, where the Beast is always the traditional dragon held at bay by the Virgin, in short where the order of God and its imminent victory are always apparent, gives way to to a vision of the world where all wisdom is annihilated. This is the great witches’ Sabbath of nature: mountains melt and become plains, the earth vomits up the dead and bones tumble out of tombs; the stars fall, the earth catches fire, all life withers and comes to death. The end has no value as passage and promise; it is the advent of a night in which the old world’s reason is engulfed.”

-Michel Foucault
Madness and Civilization:
A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason