Mine Your Life From Every Angle
On the symbolism of spiders, 1,000 year old civilizations, cow crossings, keeping our beloved dead alive and, of course, flowers.
Big spiders straddle the ceiling. I read that they symbolize power, ancient wisdom, illusion, balance, and interconnection, and then feel a wash of guilt that we captured one to flush away. The next day, I sit with a large one as she chills on the wall beside the bed. I try to make friends, which means, to feel at peace in her presence.
In the dark, the crickets perform for us. A laugh from the living room offers comfort. Rumor has it the power cable on the street was stolen, and so, we shall continue to feel our way towards a glass of water, run our hands along the walls.
After the dictator posing as president was ousted, everyone and their mother rushed to touch the state house wall — a forbidden act. Even the soldiers stepped aside. “We are making history,” the chant went, as so many fingers brushed government stone. Contrast that scene with a twenty year old woman shaking with goosebumps at the country’s liberation. How much she believed. How circular history. How disappointing to be human.
To touch stone that was stacked with such vision and precision 1,000 years ago is a surreal feeling. The craftsmanship so rigorous that not even mortar was needed to bind and hold. The empire took something upwards of 150 years to complete, as many years as 400, hard to say.
We hike up plenty of steps until we are face to face with the giant boulders that have rested upon one another for centuries. The work of ancient aliens some say and we laugh, but aside from the possibility of the wind, the round corners of the architecture may have meant: no corners for spirits to hide in.
The work of ancient ancestors.
Our guide shouts into a small natural cave and the echo carries out for miles.
I ask the guide, a tender and knowledgeable (and very in shape) elder, how did you come to this job? He studied hospitality in university, but the urge to know this land was much deeper, and it lived in the stories of his great grandfather. Other people know the books, as our guide does, too, but what he has is special: the myths and stories passed down by family.
What I like about him is his readiness to say “I don’t know.” It makes all of the oral history feel more real, honest, possible, probable.
“My time is coming to the end,” he admits through a smile, “I need to record myself talking, then write a book. I want to leave something behind.”
There are reminders everywhere, if you stop to notice them, to just use what you have: arrange the flowers in a glass Coke bottle, intertwine them in stone sculptures. Make the fire place a set. Turn the black point all the way up and POW! Those proteas are drama queens, just like Amai who said, “I’ll get sick and die” when I didn’t hoist the umbrella fast enough in the rainstorm, and oh, how much we love them for it.
Earlier at the market, “buy from my garden, how about me?” The buckets full of flowers, so voluminous, seemed to smile. I took at least one stem from each of the men who tempted me with their bright children, holding them gently by the neck.
At a lunch, we could stay on the surface, sure. I am meeting a friend for the second time. There are plenty jokes —
“What will you name your son?”
“They say when you see the baby, you will know.”
A giant hand is held out as if cradling a tiny newborn: “DAMN!”
“Damn Johnson,” someone offers and the porch goes up in the laughs. The baby will be born into its fate of Blaxploitation star.
But we also make our way towards this: I learn about an old friend who no longer walks among us, the living. The bleach cutting fashion into the jeans, the letter to Mr. Wiggles all the way in the USA that brings fruits of a new dance crew named Beat Street, with homemade matching tees at that. Ahead of his time, out of place in this world. Singular. As singular as we all are.
There is mourning and upset, but there is also admiration, there is talk of creative genius and stories of incandescent youth. This is the way we keep our dead alive.
The highways to Masvingo are being redone so four times we detour through pockmarked roads of orange dust, white knuckled against a playlist of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. “It’s like a jungle sometimes…” the radio sings as we grind to a halt to allow the cows to meander past.
As we drive, I daydream in the backseat. What does the fruit seller think, standing alone on the side of an unpaved road, swallowing mouthfuls of dust the cars kick up on their bumpy journey? I wonder aloud and the answer is, “they are hoping for just one dollar.”
But surely that cannot be all that occupies the imagination through out day, even by someone who is struggling to provide. What is the inner life of each person we pass by? It is far richer than we can begin to guess is my guess.
“The moment we begin to see that there are infinitely many kinds of beautiful lives, we cease being captive to the myth of normalcy — the cultural tyranny that tells us there are a handful of valid ways to be human and demands of us to contort into these accepted forms of being.”
— Maria Popova in a recent Brainpickings newsletter
I catch life stories at the nail salon (one beautiful woman in a back room with her tools)— the manicurist is open hearted as she paints. She shares of leaving her marriage against all odds to make a life out of two steady and strong hands.
Now, her daughter is seventeen and wants to study animals.
I think of how many young children wish to be veterinarians before they realize the length of schooling, and the understanding dawns on them about all the places that human hands must go: buttholes and blood and bone.
I admire these women and their various strengths.
The bros and I stay up all night recounting the plots to our novels and screenplays in progress. Whomever is the author becomes very animated, and it is clear how important our characters have become to us.
Mine your life setting from every angle. The pressure to reinvent in art is overrated. Live outside that false sense of what should be and get comfy with what is. There are no boring stories if told right.
We offer gems of wisdom and no one becomes offended — feedback is investment and interest. It is respect. Sometimes, it evens shifts our perspective so profoundly it feels like the sheath has been lifted, revealing a whole new world of possibility.
The traffic lights have long gone black, so just feel your way into the intersection.
“This is a man of my own heart. Probably an old woman.” — said by The Jazz while driving behind a very slow car.
Another scene from the frightening traffic circle: who are these random kids directing traffic? They seem to just be stepping in for the officials as a public good. Obviously dollars are passed through windows. It’s a hustle but it’s also a dance. And hey! They did a pretty good job.
Daily life. I won’t pretend it’s not a challenge to capture on this side of the world without a tone of romanticism — “conducive to or characterized by the expression of love“ — after all, that is the lens through which I prefer to look as often as possible. Look at that pink sky!
Try not to flatten people to two dimensions, even in your own mind.
I do allow myself to look at the landscape through a gaze of awestruck love —as romantic as I want: the best way to look at any gift from nature, the termites propelling into the sunset, unearthed from the rain like so many fairies pouring out of anthills— and with that, I write.