Canary in the Crosswalk

[I wrote this essay in February 2014, when I still lived in New York.]

According to the New York Police Department, motorists killed 178 pedestrians, and injured more than 12,000, in New York City in 2013. These numbers are tragic enough. But they don’t tell the whole story. They don’t count how often motorists terrorize pedestrians by speeding, or running lights, or failing to yield. They don’t count how many citizens have curtailed walking activity out of fear.

I am one such citizen. I suffer from Pedestrian Terror Stress Disorder. The symptoms? Let me walk you through them. Continue reading

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My Cult and Infinite Growth: A Tale of Two Stories

[I wrote this essay in June 2014. A month later, a man I met at the Northeast Permaculture Convergence became the first to respond to my admission of cult involvement with a version of, “Yeah, me too.”]

I spent most of my twenties trapped in a story. The story, roughly, was this:

The mass of humanity, also known as “the DeathKultur,” is destroying itself, its fellow creatures, our precious web of life. We few dozen Zendiks (heretics, outlaws, revolutionaries), homesteading on a hundred acres in the backwoods of Western North Carolina, are creating a new culture that forsakes competition and lying for cooperation and honesty. Continue reading

These Wounds Won’t Seem to Heal

[This is a snapshot from the summer of 2005, when I was on my way around the world. Hunter is not the truck driver’s real name.]

These wounds won’t seem to heal/This pain is just too real/There’s just too much that time cannot erase….

I hear a woman’s cutting soprano keening these words, as I stride past the back entrance of a dull brown building just off the main quadrangle of the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Inside a concrete-and-cinderblock utility room is a thirty-something Hispanic man, lounging against the wall, smoking a cigarette, listening to the music. Or perhaps not listening—perhaps counting the hours left in his shift, perhaps wishing the radio would switch to a tune not quite so bloody with heartbreak.

I met Hunter when I was hitch-hiking from West Virginia to Arizona, in the fall of 2004. Continue reading

Trapped in a Forest of Little Chairs

[In spring 2006 – back when I was Helen Newman – I worked for a semester as an English teacher at a Korean cram school in Bayside, Queens. This is a record of a moment from that spring.]

Trapped in a forest of little chairs, I turn gingerly from Salina to Seule. I monitor my movements as I maneuver between the two rows of students, so as to avoid collision with heads or eyes or desktops, which all lurk far below eye level. The seven ten-year-olds in my Monday-afternoon English class insist on cramming their desks into the front half of the drab but spacious classroom. Which means that I must practice grace and agility, as I sidle from one desk to the next, checking written answers on worksheets.

As I pivot from Salina’s desk to Seule’s. Henry twists back and upwards to catch my attention. Continue reading

Zendiks vs. Christians in New Orleans

[Mardi Gras was one Zendik’s biggest money-makers. Each year, a passel of us descended on New Orleans and sold ourselves silly. Fanatics of other stripes also saw opportunity. In early 2000, after I’d been at the Farm for a few months and sold a handful of far tamer scenes, I begged a chance at the big time.]

New Orleans doesn’t eat me alive, as Rayel predicted, but it does present me with new forces to be reckoned with. Here we are not the only ones vying for the attention of passersby. The other sellers warn me not to crowd the copper-coated cowboy, or the frozen ghost bride, as they won’t take kindly to my diverting eyes – or dollars – from their enterprises. Same goes for the quick, slight men using spray paint and dinner plates to concoct lurid, streaked cityscapes. But at least these two classes of street hustler are easy to avoid – not so the Christians. They’re almost as pushy, self-righteous, and in-your-face…as we are. Continue reading

Stuffed Station Wagon Man (or, The Trouble with Hitching in the Yukon)

[In the summer of 2002, about halfway through my five years at Zendik, I went on an “out.” Since I had next to no money, I traveled mostly by thumb. My desire to excise my Deathculture fantasies – and return, purified, to the Farm – spurred me to break my neck for The Land of the Midnight Sun.]

Halfway between Anchorage and Fairbanks, just short of Denali, I stand shivering, with my thumb out, in freezing rain. Fuck this, I mutter, I’m going home. I’m about to cross the road to the southbound side when an overloaded station wagon pulls up in front of me. The driver is a thin, bright-eyed, middle-aged man; his passenger, squeezed into one corner of the back seat, is a very large husky. Continue reading