Ferguson, Madness and Healing

Operation 365, one painting a day for one year. Part of the “Joy Series”. http://www.carolineallen.com

My first novel EARTH has found a publisher (I will wait until I sign on the dotted line to say more), and it seems interesting to me that just as my literary efforts come to fruition, just as my story of the woes of growing up in brutal Missouri begin to reach a wider audience, Ferguson, Missouri explodes into protests and violence.

Earth describes how brutal and intractable Missouri is. The level of violence I witnessed – of both animals and people – was epic. I have found as an adult that the only people who truly get my experience are people from brutalized countries, the Baltic States, for example, Latin America and Russia.

Here’s an excerpt of EARTH:

Missouri was filled with peasants. They left the poverty of one country to settle into poverty of another. My kinfolk could barely read. They worked the land. They followed the seasons. They ate when they could. They didn’t have the time or the desire to ponder themselves. There was no space or time to wonder, to wander, to brood, to ruminate on the stars, on the mythology of their lives. Such luxury was for rich folk. They toiled. They fell back onto spring mattresses in dilapidated trailers on scrubby patches of exhausted land. They procreated.

No mountains or oceans existed anywhere near Missouri to impede the forces of air that barreled down, that blew upward, that slammed together in the heartland. Tornadoes whipped and pummeled, smacked the pulsing earth. Seasons thumped and walloped — livid heat, perishing cold. The landscape braced the soul, defined the flesh. Summer burned your soul, autumn sank your heart, winter froze the very core and spring was the only season of hope.

What does this say about Ferguson, Missouri? Why is the police force there so militaristic? Is it more fisted up in Ferguson than in other parts of the country? What the hell is going on?

Of course, I did not grow up in a St. Louis suburb. In rural Missouri, though, the people were as mean as the cops who are today randomly tear-gassing the average Ferguson citizen, as mean as the cop who shot that kid in the back. And as racist.

Is it because Missouri is landlocked and isolated? Does it have to do with the climate? Did the harsh summers and brutal winters define the European immigrants who ended up settling there? Did only the ornery and mean survive and evolve? Was the fear of survival so great when it was settled that anyone or anything that defied authority was crushed immediately?

Even when I was growing up in rural Missouri, about 3 hours from St. Louis, we all knew certain suburbs were dangerous. I explore this in Earth. We all knew that something was wrong with certain areas of St. Louis. I have lived in numerous big cities since, and still the intense fear and violence that St. Louis evoked seemed different from these other cities. Why?

In Earth (and in all four books), as in Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael books and Derrick Jensen’s books on the environment, I explore abuse of the earth as it relates to abuse in the family as it relates to global violence. How much does all of this global aggression have to do with our disconnect from the earth and therefore from our organic selves?

And then to maintain this unnatural existence we’ve created separate from the land, to maintain the grief and anger we feel from being told who we are organically is something to be killed, we must create a police presence and armies to protect the unnatural state of things. And as the population increases and resources are used up, as the poor grow poorer, the powers that be feel they HAVE to tighten their grip. And as a planet, we veer further and further into madness and fear, so that a cop in Ferguson who a few decades ago might have held himself back from shooting a boy in the back, now does so. As a planet, we are all losing our minds.

In Earth, Pearl is made to eat a calf she has been bottle feeding. This actually happened to me.

As I brought a fork heavy with steak to my lips, Mother said: “That’s Baby you’re eating. ”I pulled the cold tongs from between my lips, metal scraping teeth. I stared at her helpless. Toughen up, her glowing green irises said. Toughen up, Pearl. Get your head out of books. You got to survive the real world. 

I swallowed the bite nearly whole, and the meat made a hard lump in my throat Do not love the earth. Do not become attached to it. Do not bond. Do not think you are that hoof, that forehead, those deep pools. If you do, there is no room for you. You will be beaten as if you are a beast. Gutted. You will kicked in the gut again and again. You will be thrown off the land. You will find less and less of the earth to call your own.

I may not know how Ferguson became so profoundly militaristic, or why Missouri is such a violent place, but I am interested on how to heal it all.

To me the questions are: How do we evolve individually and as a society beyond such aggression, whether it happens in Syria or a suburb of St. Louis? How do we heal the aggression embedded in our own souls? How do we as a planet come from a more gentle place before it’s too late?

EARTH is one of a series of four novels – EARTH, AIR, FIRE, WATER. My female protagonist goes on a spiritual quest through the four novels to understand herself in a world gone awry. How do you “find” yourself when the very planet is lost – lost in violence, lost in ecological chaos? How do I know who I am when the very earth beneath my feet is quaking?

In EARTH, the protagonist must uproot, she must leave Missouri (as I did) to even begin to see the forest for the trees. She must separate from a life that is taken as a given, a way of seeing that is so entrenched that we buy it as if it were truth…she must separate herself to even begin to understand what the next steps are. Ultimately, Pearl’s journey leads to her own personal healing. I believe we MUST heal our own perceptions, heal the violence in our own psyches individually as a way to create a global shift in the current global paradigm.

The hope I can see in Ferguson is in this notion of “uprooting”. Perhaps this horrible event will finally uproot some of these issues so that they are aired out, nationally and globally. The only hope for change is first to be able to see and define the problem, to broaden our perspective. This is what my second novel AIR is all about.

I will be reading an excerpt from EARTH at a public reading in Seattle on September 14th. Please join me! Here are the details:

What: StringTown Reading. Editor and Writer Polly Buckingham will be hosting the event.

When: Sunday, September 14th, 2014, 7-9pm

Where: Naked City Brewery and Taphouse, 8564 Greenwood Ave N , Seattle, WA 98103, nakedcitybrewing.com

Read more about EARTH, AIR, FIRE, WATER on my website, www.carolineallen.com.

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