Alchemy, and the Mist

misty lake morning :: dustin scarpitti

Returning. Re-entering. Reviving.

From the heat and swamp humidity of New Orleans to the dry chill of October in Wisconsin. It's a rough transition, the shift from shorts and sandals to sweaters and wool socks. My own body resists the layers, barriers between my flesh and the world around me, both a protection and a defense mechanism. Autumn in the Midwest has always been my favorite season, and this year is no different. And yet, it is different. In ways inexplicable and tangible at once.

October mornings in Northern Minnesota were spent at a picnic table on the lake shore. Always an early riser, racing far from the terrors of night, I would wake before sunrise and bundle up with a mug of tea and my notebook. It might mean driving the 20 minutes into town, or later walking across the street from my dorm, but it was always the same: mug of tea, sweater, notebook, lake. Watching the mist rise in the breaking light was church for me. In that space, between the memory and the dreams, lives the inspiration.

I don't live near a lake anymore, at least not near enough to watch the morning mist rise between getting kids out the door for school and sitting down to write. It's been nine years since I walked to a picnic table near the shore, nine years since I woke in the dark and carried my weary heart to the muse on the water. This year, I miss it like oxygen.

I dove into writing this book with a bit of blind faith. Telling myself I was writing an account, just one story, out of a million or more that live in these bones. Aching to believe that the approach I chose, the non-traditional format and the influence of others, would mean that I could sit and write a chapter at a time, a section, a paragraph even, without drowning. That writing this book would be a reclamation, a returning, a resuscitation. I created a timeline, gave myself deadlines and projected reading dates and the space to sit with the words.

And yet, still the words slaughter me, my veins open to the page like that time I was 15 and I intentionally slit my wrist the "wrong way" so I wouldn't die but still see myself leak. I remember that day, the moon blood-red behind the summer clouds, my body too full of the fluids of others to contain it all. I longed for transfusion, for the complete exchange of my blood for the blood of another: someone pure, someone vibrant, someone without the dark secrets I hold. And so I bled, just enough to remember how much life one vein can carry. Just enough. And then, with surgical precision and a lot of practice, I stitched shut the vein and carefully wrapped my wrist, my place of offering, and walked through the forest back to my home.

I remember this day as I sit down to write, my fingers the place of offering and my heart and mind the vein bleeding onto the page. Somehow, my illusion of trust in the story itself made me blind to the reality of memory and the vicious ache of just one vein. It seems not to matter if one is cut through by a knife or remembering, the swell of blood and the longing to exchange secrets for pure memory still exists. I still long for transfusion.

I choose alchemy in place of transfusion. Even when my heart longs to be empty if only just once. The string of symbols across the screen turns the clay of my bones into pure silver stories. Incantation: the reading aloud, the whisper of fingertips across photographs to excavate memories from the fertile earth of my body. I choose alchemy in the way a child chooses a favorite color or word: with absolute certainty and simultaneously the acceptance, without question, that it may change tomorrow. I choose alchemy because the complete transfusion of memory is impossible. And because memory is that thing which makes us us.

Tenderness for my heart and the memories in each vein. This is how I sit to write this book, forgetting timelines and deadlines and every project management skill I know. Unlike those tools, this book has no timeline, no deadline. This book cannot be forced from veins just to see itself written. This book must be loved. It must be asked to dinner and perhaps even dessert before uttering the secrets of memory and dreams. Once, I thought this book needed to be drunk-fucked out of my body, like so many nights and so many memories. But the closer I get to the story inside, the closer I step toward my heart like a feral cat, the more I recognize that milk and honey and a soft place to land are worth more to the process than hot and raw and fleeting.

And so each day I arrive, in the same gentle way, and listen. I open my notebook and I make a silent prayer to the alchemical process of turning memories into truths into the story of this book. And then I wait, patient, with coffee and chocolate and the warmth of October sweaters, to see who appears at the doorway of my heart.