Conscious Life:n,adj,adv,v, gerund, past-participle, future participle, particle participle, part-icicle- in fact without it there would not be any part of speech… so in a way, life is everything, including any darn part of speech you can think of, but anyway…. Harvey growls that I am digressing even here in my own dry little wordbook dictionary thingy, so I’ll try again…, (coughs) ahem, starts over…
Conscious Life: n.: that strange balance that occurs when there is a struggle between the feeling that there cannot really be an end to my existence and the pressing knowledge of my own eventual annihilation, in which is exposed the little blurry spots between the edges.
I had the chance to visit a beautifully realized vision of one of those little spots between the edges of coming and going when I arrived at Cica Ghost’s exhibit from 2015 entitled “Roots.” When arriving at Roots I immediately felt I was in a place that had passed from glory into decay. The tone, as in so many of Cica’s worlds, was set by the windlight atmosphere. I found a nearly dark sky, invoking that time when sunset had long passed, but there was enough fire in the horizon to lend a soft incandescence to everything I saw. I think it is rather ingenious that Cica had managed a beautiful windlight color to her sky that precisely captured a time of conflicted blending from day into night. The night was coming, really was already there, but there remained echoes of a vibrant day all around me. She, once again, had a perfect introduction to her exhibit with the following text:
“The people have gone… the village remains, and time and nature now live here …”
The remains of an uninhabited village stretched out before me between the brown hills and little valleys of this island. The more time I spent here, the more I discovered the multiple and complex details and imagined backstory of this place. The buildings curved and leaned in Cica’s somewhat Seussian style- the tops could be bulbously larger than the base and seemed to have been planted where they simply plopped down from the sky, but closer inspection showed the layout had not been haphazard. The people of this lost civilization had wanted their structures to live with and be part of the forest and soil around them. Buildings were placed to nestle closely among the trees. Machines of this city continued to function. Elevator platforms rose up and down between empty rooms and floors with the slow rhythm of breathing. Gondolas kept aloft by balloons drifted aimlessly around the island powered by the soft beat of ever turning propellers – giving the feeling of a true ghost town where the motion of the former dwellers’ machines continued to haunt the otherwise empty buildings.
This society had been advanced enough to produce perpetual motion machines that had outlived their designers, but certain details revealed that despite their technological prowess, they had retained an unusual unity with their natural surroundings. Large snails roamed the village with carriage compartments to carry passengers on their backs. These carriages were not simply implements saddling these beautiful creatures, but rather were the organic shell of the very snail itself tailored to accommodate the needs of the people. The villagers must have been here a long time, eons even, to allow such a mutual symbiosis between world, animals, and people to have evolved.
But nevertheless the people had eventually vanished. We don’t know if they were taken by war, storm, plague, or rapture. Perhaps they simply had felt an ambition that had outgrown their tiny island to seek a broader world beyond the encompassing waters. In any event the very nature they had once adored had now invaded their homes as manifest by the central character and namesake of this exhibit – the Roots. The buildings no longer housed their builders, but they were not empty – they were full of the roots and branches of the surrounding trees, which pressed powerful arms both small and large in, around and through everything I saw. They seemed to me a little bit like an omnipresent God, possessing even the power to crack the stone and mortar of now silent homes.
Inara Pey has done a wonderful video remembrance of this important exhibit. Here is the link:
Cica could be credited with having created an elegant and unified little world if she had included only what I have described so far. But being ever full of surprises, she had yet one more final living dynamic gift to offer us here – a gift with which she truly grabbed my heart and moved my experience from the merely dazzling into the overwhelmingly beautiful. I am talking about the flower petals. As I explored and drifted through this place I found patches of pretty orange poppies which were losing their petals.
But the petals did not fall to the ground, instead they floated softly upward, defying gravity and entropy, into the darkened twilight air. I would spend hours of time dancing or simply floating peacefully in these petals. They encapsulated for me a great feeling of hope and renewal. The villagers had indeed gone, their time had ended, only empty ruins remained. But the roots of the trees and flowers had invaded this world not to suck it dry, but rather to nourish the ongoing, and in this case upward reach of life. The art, trash, and bodies of the prior world had been returned to the loam and soil, to be drunk up by the pervasive flora, and had now been reshaped and focused into these gorgeous petals floating softly upward, seeking a new life in the surrounding heavens. The sorrow of passing and of loss had been softened by the beauty of new life arising from the old.
Dream of Lona – Temple White Dress
Unlike the first two offerings in this series, this section does not begin with a dream… that comes later. I will start with a clear conscious memory of feeling a dark pain in my heart and body. I was serving in our small local Latter-day Saint temple as an ordinance worker on a Saturday and was feeling terrible. This particular day was some weeks after I had nearly carried out a secret plan to slam my car into a cliff, but was several months before I eventually started taking female hormones to help ease my gender dysphoria (you can refer to an earlier post: BTT #10 – Miracles of Astounding Normalcy for sense of the timeline and setting). Prior to this day I had always loved being in the temple. My earliest childhood memory seems to be a visual memory of the New Zealand Temple. I also have an early memory of visiting the Provo Utah Temple when I was five, I don’t remember hardly any details, but I do recall walking with my father through long passages and feeling like we emerged together into rooms of spacious light. I think this must have been a pre-dedicatory tour. When I was first allowed to do some service in the temple when I turned twelve, I was quietly overwhelmed in my heart by the profound spiritual presence there. When I entered as a young man to receive the ordinance of the temple endowment (called the endowment because it is seen as a personal and empowering spiritual gift from God), I felt cleansed and enlightened and felt joyful bonds linking me in love to the entire family of God (ie: all of humanity) through our Savior reaching back through time and into the eternities. And finally when I knelt across a holy temple altar and took my gorgeous bride by the hand in the sealing/marriage ceremony, I felt that the two of us together with God’s help would have boundless joy and love as we started this new family together.
Now a couple of decades later on this particular afternoon, however, I had much different feelings as I served in the sealing room of our small local temple. The sealing room is the place for Mormons where eternal marriages are performed and families are sealed together through Christ for time and eternity. I was longing and praying for peace, but even here, in this most holy of all settings for me, God seemed far and distant. I gazed as I usually did into the infinitely receding reflections of the facing mirrored walls, but instead of bringing to mind an eternal family tree of roots and branches tied together in the joy of Christ, it seemed rather an endless mawing hole which opened to swallow me. As I went through the actions of each sacred ordinance I felt like I was in the ruins of a departed civilization rather than in a living vibrant temple. I felt like I was watching myself from inside the shell of a former life that had been invaded, crushed, dissolved, and then appropriated by the persistent press of my transgender self that seemed foreign, predatory and incompatible to my life in the temple. I was reverent and solemn, and on the outside I was quietly smiling, but the motions of sitting, standing, kneeling, and saying the words were done as if I were just a machinima that had been set in motion long ago only to be abandoned by its maker to perpetually drift silent, empty, and alone.
I was dressed in a white suit and tie participating in sacred ordinances, appearing to be the epitome of Latter-day Saint Priesthood Masculinity, but feeling in every way that I should have been a woman. I should have been sent to this earth as a daughter of God but had instead been trapped in the strange mortal pathology of having the wrong body. Decades of secret pain seemed to crush in on this one small point in time and space, making the need to transition to female in every possible way seem as necessary and desperate as gasping for breath would be if you were drowning. I knew such a move would cause me to lose my marriage and the love of my life, I feared that my children would reject me and I knew they would be pained at my change, I knew that I would not be able to practice my priesthood, or might even be excommunicated. As I served quietly in the sealing room that day, I felt that it would mean that I would leave the temples that I loved so much, never to return.
I did not know anyone else like me. I did not know any transgender person who had ever seemed like they wanted to stay in the Mormon church. Even simply being transgender seemed equivalent in my cultural consciousness with apostasy – which is no doubt a strong reason I had suppressed, hidden, buried, and denied it to myself over so many years. I wanted to stay in the church, I had felt God’s power in this church as surely as I felt that I had to be a woman, but I had no basis anywhere in my experience to counter this stark dichotomy. I drove the ninety minutes home after finishing in the temple with the thought coming back in to my head again and again in concert with the steady persistent hum of the engine. “You are going to become a woman, or you are going to die, your marriage is over, you have just served the last time in the temple.” Latter-day Saints who have received the temple endowment carry a sacred personal reminder with them every day. It is a simple reminder of the covenants and blessings that pertain to that ordinance. I won’t discuss or allow comment in this post regarding the specific details of this reminder or any other aspects of Latter-day Saint temple worship – those details are too sacred for this forum. Suffice it to say that this reminder is considered a personal outward expression of an inner commitment to follow the Savior Jesus Christ. That afternoon as I changed from my suit and tie to my usual Saturday casual jeans and shirt, I removed this reminder from me and laid it aside, thinking for all the world I would not have it with me again. And then I just sat on the edge of my bed and quietly wept.
I was alone in the house. My son was in another country serving a mission for the Church. My wife and daughter were somewhere else, I recall it had to do with a soccer tournament for my daughter that I had to miss because I could not swap out my temple shift. In any event I was home alone that weekend. I moved through mundane tasks of dishes, laundry, yard work empty and tearful. I sat down at one point at the table and my eyes found a paper that had been set aside for later reading. My wife had found an article and suggested I might find it useful, but I had not yet had time to engage with it. It was titled “A Christ-centered Gender Identity” by John Alden. This was literally the first thing I had ever read by a transgender person who was wanting to remain Mormon. A quick google led me to Northstarlds.org and I spent the next several hours reading stories from other Latter-day Saints who were like me in at least some degree, they were transgender, they were Mormon, and they loved the church and wanted to keep their family and their covenants intact. Suddenly I did not feel quite as lonely. I knelt down on the hardwood floor between the computer desk and the pool table and prayed and thanked God for his blessings, and asked God if he could love me as his daughter, even if all the world thought I was a man. Words came to mind accompanied by that ever recognizable peace that had seemed to have been gone for so long: “Lona come back – come home.” These were the exact words and I will never forget them. They were then followed by a paraphrased remembrance of a scripture from Isaiah about awaking and clothing oneself in the strength of the Lord and becoming free. Now whenever I go back and read the exact passage (Isaiah 52: 1-2) it brings me back to that evening with powerful resonance.
“Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Zion; put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city: for henceforth there shall no more come into thee the uncircumcised and the unclean.
Shake thyself from the dust; arise, and sit down, O Jerusalem: loose thyself from the bands of thy neck, O captive daughter of Zion.”
I stood up and went back into my room and returned my personal temple reminder back to my person and now shed tears of joy and reconciliation. That night I dreamed I was standing in the anteroom of the temple waiting to approach the recommend desk. I was my real self in the dream, a woman dressed in a white temple dress. Beyond the desk were a group of my fellow temple worker friends chatting and visiting joyfully together in quiet voices. I looked toward them with trepidation wishing to be with them but unsure if I should approach now that they saw me as I truly was. The temple president at the time was a cheerful and ebullient individual who always carried a glint of mirth in his eye, in my dream he had his back turned to me as he was visiting and instructing the temple workers. He turned and saw me there in my dress and my long straight hair and his face broke out in an unrestrained smile as he enthusiastically waved his arms in large circles to get on in there and join them. My heart swelled with joy as I passed the recommend desk and was immediately surrounded by my friends as the president and other workers hugged me and told me they were so glad to have me there. My heart seemed to float endlessly upward as we then moved down the temple hallway to prepare for a day’s service in the living, powerful, and joyful work of the House of the Lord. I lay for a long time after I had awakened, feeling and being in the joy of this dream to make sure I would never forget every moment.
In my waking moments since this dream I have never hazarded going to the temple in a dress, I go and serve in the male role that seems to have been appointed me. But I do go, and serve joyfully, fully acknowledging the transgender woman who I am inside my private heart without shame or misgivings. I know that God knows me, and understands me, and I have never felt out-of-place in that holy place since that wonderful night. I carry the hope that someday in His own way and in His own time (to steal a phrase from a Stevie Wonder song – maybe not in time for you or me), he will allow all the wonderful friends and family to know, love, understand and accept me there as I really am. I can sense the sorrows and biases of our present time passing away, preparing the way for us all to share in a more loving and compassionate world rising up softly on the invisible wings of countless desperate prayers. Stevie’s song seems appropriate again here:
“One Shining Moment my heart ran away
From the world that we live in today…”
Closing Jumble – I’ll Fly Away
There is a certain space, or perhaps it is a time – or perhaps it is in the tenuous borderlands between those implacable guardians, where one feels wrapped in the patient lassitude of eternity. These times – or perhaps they are spaces – can seem at turns both confused and perfectly lucid, terrifying and reassuringly peaceful, irrelevant and movingly profound. Experience seems to show merely that things that now are will pass away, persisting for a time in the multiverse of each conscious memory only to swaddle and bend like Dali’s melting clocks, and then eventually diffuse into the surrounding dust. If words happen to get preserved on a page or in a culture, that will also one day burn and dissolve as the star that has fed us for so long says “so long” and explodes taking our remains and our descendants out into an open hungry void. Since we have the ability to think such thoughts, we can feel as if we are merely stuck in between a randomness from whence we sprang and the dissipation which awaits us. No wonder we may choose,at times, to stay busy and fill our time with distractions and temporizing measures in order to close our eyes, at least to some degree, to worlds around us and the fact that our grasp is fragile and our time is fleeting. It is this knowledge of death, however, that endues life with the exciting giddiness of a high-stakes game. In the words of Laura Jane Grace’s song entitled 12:03 –
“… Well you’ll only ever really know you’re living
If you’re totally sure that you’re dying,
Maybe we get where we want to go,
I don’t know,…
Maybe the earth opens up and swallows us whole.”
When we are gone something else will remain. Roots, trees, snails, blossom petals. Perhaps… perhaps… even we will remain. My reading of my faith and theology teaches that God does not really exist outside of the Universe – he did not exactly create it per se, but survives as God because he perfectly and lovingly understands the rules of the Universe, and that the ultimate expression of His love for us is to order things so that we can choose to enjoy, essentially, family life with him and our Heavenly Mother and humankind for the eternities. The central essence of his perfection and power lie in his knowledge and his love. Love can only be chosen and not created – if love were programmed into us, then we would be mere machines and not agents. In order to fix this conundrum, therefore, we came, under His direction, to this little spot for a time where we have to walk somewhat blindly by faith in order to learn to choose love. Because we have to walk blindly, we stumble and sin and sometimes choose hate instead of love, and sometimes we choose hateful actions even though we intended them to be loving in some measure. God is more concerned with our intents while we are here rather than with our specific choices – if he put us here with the same pure overwhelming knowledge that He has, then we wouldn’t really have the choice to love, it would be inevitably stamped on us, then it wouldn’t really be a choice then would it? And it also wouldn’t really be love. Without having learned to some degree what it is to love, how can we then be expected to live that same life that God lives – that life that he envisions for us?
But our death feels so final. We may get whispers of an afterlife, and some have felt definite life after life experiences, but there is no proof. Such experiences can be explained by neuroscientists as anoxic or hypnagogic hallucinations, so it still requires faith to stand before death’s door and imagine a world opening instead of just an end. But that is ok, cuz as I rambled out in the preceding paragraph, without walking by faith it is impossible to learn to love. First we need to free ourselves from the prisons of a closed mind, and the even more impenetrable shackles of a mind that is free to leave its prison but desires to remain in chains (See BTT #15 Three Dreams, Part 1 – Prisons). Then we must learn to love mercy and to eschew violence, whether directed against others or against our own heart. The whole point of religion if we look at the etymology after all, is to bind (lig – ligature) ourselves again (re- ) to God. Re-ligature… get it? And the parable of the goats and the sheep (Matthew 25: 31-46) teaches that the best way to do that is to take care of what God cares about, namely his children – which includes all of you and also me. 😉 We can’t take care of each other or ourselves if we are constantly warring. (See BTT #17 Three Dreams, Part 2 – Fade Away). Finally we need to see that a new world can arise in ways that we never even imagined to meet God’s purpose to bring us under his joy and his protection, but we need to be prepared to see aspects of an older imperfect world pass away in order to be free (See this here BTT #19).
I have outlined in this small trilogy three different dreams that seem to cascade upward (like the petals) in the stepwise emotional tasks of abandoning the prison of shame, abandoning the violence of intrinsic transphobia, and finding a reconciliation of faith and identity. The reality, however, is that our lives seldom march out in sensible progressive timelines unless they have been boxed into a narrative such as the one I have given here. That is where the sequence of these pieces may be misleading. I did have the Part 1 dream more than a decade ago when my struggle with gender dysphoria was intensely suppressed, foreign and shameful to me, I was in a prison. And I had the Part 3 temple dress dream more than three years ago some months before I started hormone treatments for the dysphoria. At that time I was starting to feel like I had a path to become free from, or at least diminish the painful incongruity between myself and my body (this has in large measure been the case, two very auspicious authorities: my highly trained therapist AND my fictional SL kitty cat both assure me that I am doing sooo much better than I was before starting the little purtyness-pills). But the terrifying dream in Part 2 in which I beat the hell out of myself occurred just a few short months ago and it still weighs heavy on my heart. It has not been a neat little march forward for me, but the hope in the temple dream and the associated answers to my prayers are still always with me, and helps me get through every single day with some measure of purpose and joy. And thus we see… (Some Mormons will catch that little joke)… that when our thoughts get scattered, we might try to gather them and in so doing might instead make them just a little more random than they already were.
Okie dokies, my GOODNESS, I have gone on and on and on in endless tautologies. I think that half of you are asleep and most of the rest of you have clicked on over and are cheating on me with that other website because you thought it was more interesting (doooon’t deny it! I saw you there, I can prove that I saw you there because I have the website! In fact here it is.)
But some of you are still right there with me the whole way, you have stuck in there with rapt attention because you get me. To you select few I just want to say with all of the tender emotion that I can muster just that I am so sorry, I can only imagine how hard that might be for you.
Annywayz… so I am just going to stop. (did you know that “stop” is “post:” misspelled backwards? hmmm kinda makes you think)…. anyway….
I am going to stop the post with that hymn that I just always knew would be at the end of these three posts. Seems revelant.
When the shadows of this life have gone
I’ll fly away
Like a bird from these prison walls I’ll fly
I’ll fly away
I’ll fly away, oh glory
I’ll fly away in the morning
When I die, Hallelujah by and by
I’ll fly away
2. Someday at Christmas is the Stevie Wonder song I was referring to in the post. It was first released by Stevie in the 60’s. Here is a link to a nice duet of the song with him and Andra Day: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MaA7B9cu4kU
Finally, Three Dreams is Dedicated to the wonderful Artist Cica Ghost who has brought so much beauty to my life with the poignant worlds she has created. I hope she will keep at it, the world would be poorer without her.
All Rights for text Reserved for Lona Gynt November 2017. 😀