Introduction: Over Over Over shares some of the characters from a previous novel, Shankus & Kitto: A Saga, and might even be its sequel but that’s still unclear. Ja is the heroine’s name and this particular story’s title.
From Over Over Over, a novel-in-progress
To hunt (something) up "search for until found
To hunt (something) up "search for until found
About a year after my husband Nick passes I attend a retreat located on a bay north of our city. Its website shows woods, rivers, canoes and saunas. Its offerings include poetry, fiddling, hikes, and sonic meditation. User reviews are positive, one saying the setting and program reference/ riff on American settler traditions.
I sit back, close my eyes and build graphic, scenaric pictures: Skillets, pews, banjos. Spurs, ropes, toothaches. Rowboats, boots. Children, posts, auctions. Vests, harmonicas, shovels. Ships. Pies, hymns, burnings. Dances, hungry people, bad breath. I sit straight open my eyes, fill out the form and click submit. I want a retreat but not one too far away.
The first night there I join a sharing circle. My contribution is a line I came across years ago and recite to myself daily but had never spoken out loud, “We are stuck in these rhythms of life, like a sailor in a tiny boat on an infinite ocean.” The words are Anna Freud’s. They are what help most when Nick passes. More than family and friends, more than thoughts and prayers. Because they offer a directive not to eradicate, or even overcome, sadness but to hold it close and absorb its specific rhythms, rhythms belonging to me, to Nick and to us together.
After the circle I head over to the first night reception. Wood bowls brimming with vegetable chips and spiced almonds sit on tall tables. Servers pass out micro brews and spring water in jam jars. I recognize one person, our family friend Ted, but because it is crowded and everyone is so friendly we wave at each other from different sides of the room but do not get a chance to speak. Dinner is made and presented by faculty from an urban art/ design program. They serve venison Carpaccio and a quinoa, sprout, pepper dish, sprinkled with hazelnuts. We are invited to help ourselves, family style, from little red wagons used as serving dishes. I look at the sturdy carts, remember wheeling our children to the park and to school in vessels just like them. Missing those days I stand up, leave the hall, walk outside, sit on a tree stump and long for that past.
A hand gently but firmly presses my upper back. It is our family friend, Ted, dressed in a fitted long sleeved t-shirt and athletic pants with deep pockets and ankle clinging bottoms. His hair, usually dark, is now blond, pulled back and streaked with henna. I am so happy to see him but nip that softness and say, “Nice hair.”
“Whoa,” he replies, holding his hands up.
“No, I mean it. I like it,” I say.
He explains it is for a performance.
I tear up, look at the ground.
“Do you still do hugs?” he asks.
I explain I enjoyed the reception but left before dinner because I am grieving and I need, now, to be alone in this forest with this night, these stars and this moon.
“No problem,” he says, squeezing my shoulders “You take care of you.”
I nod and, with gratitude, cry. Tears, for me, are always functional. I walk through the woods, absorb its sounds, smells, reach a field, crouch down and look up at the sky. Remember Nick saying, “You have to know how to look even if you don’t know what you’re looking for.”
Remember him sitting in his armchair, thumbing through our insect encyclopedia, marveling at butterfly wings, calling me to sit next to him so we could together examine their structure.
I leave my cabin for the dining hall. Fill a tray with a cup of coffee, bowl of fruit, plate of toast and sit at a long table near the kitchen where staff listen, and move to, Ska playing on a radio. Until someone switches the channel to a news station long enough for me to hear a portion of a report (I still remember this sentence), “Stepping in front of a train is becoming a common way our citizens kill themselves these days, especially if they are heartbroken or in debt.” But because someone in the kitchen switches, immediately back to the station playing Ska, I never hear more. I never hear who these people are, or what country they are citizens of, but it does remind me of my great uncle dismantling his pistol and oiling its metal jigsaw pieces, and his stories about parachuting from Bohemia to England.
After breakfast I plan to walk resort grounds but only go a few hundred feet when I see a bench. I sit, deep breathe, hear fiddling come from a nearby barn where there is scheduled instruction in quick movement dance steps. I plan to watch, maybe even join in this event, but am distracted by other sounds coming not from the barn but from the sky. I look up, turn in small circles until I spot four figures in white shirts and shorts straddling tree branches. They are chanting. The sound is absorbing, atonal. They finish, look down at me, and wave in unison.
I wave back.
“Come help us save the world,” one says.
I want to join in. But would my presence help or hinder them? At least I should rinse my mouth and get this coffee taste out if we are going to chant from this tree and sit on its branches so closely together. I give a thumbs up but head first to a hygiene station. Its toilet bowls are filled with cedar-scented water, towels are made of bamboo, its mirrors are floor to ceiling and there are bottles of spearmint mouth cleanser.
I pour some into a cup, sip, swirl, spit, rinse and return outside and back to the tree and the group in it.
“Come help us save our world,” one calls out again. I stand on tip toes and raise my arms, expecting for them to drop a climbing rope or even to pull me up. But they close their eyes and start chanting, so I put my arms down, press my palms on the tree, close my eyes, breathe and sway with their sounds.
We finish, place our hands, prayer position, on our chests, lightly bow. Me on the ground, them up in the tree. We smile, wave goodbye. I walk. But stop, turn, head back to the tree. Put my hands and forehead on its trunk, press my heart and both cheeks (first my left, then my right) against it. Breathe gratitude. Then continue my walk, feeling light. A space, once stuffed with content, is now airy.
Back to my graphic scenaric pictures.
Skillets, pews, banjos. Spurs, ropes, toothaches. Rowboats, boots. Children, posts, auctions. Vests, harmonicas, shovels. Ships. Pies, hymns, burnings. Dances, hungry people, breath.
They do not come to me as pop up visions or because of scenes I witness through a time portal or vessel, or from my exchange with the deep rooted tree. I’ve heard and read stories from people who have had these experiences. Who move between points in spaces, space and time. I believe them, I believe in them. It just has not happened to me.
My pictures come from things I hunt, gather, map and build. Why? To find possible links to a past, to several pasts.
I focus best in chilly temperatures which is why I came to these grounds on the bay now, in late fall, expecting cold nights, morning frosts and bracing days. But weather is warm, glaring, and there are bugs. However, poor conditions don’t stop a true hunter. An achiever, maybe, but not a hunter.
Fiction and arts writer Lynn Crawford is a founding board member of Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD), a 2010 Kresge Literary Arts Fellow, and a 2016 Rauschenberg Writing Fellow. Her work appears in various anthologies (Oulipo Compendium, Fetish, Detroit Research, Brooklyn Rail, Fence) and journals (Art in America, Infinite Mile, Hyperallergic, Tema, Celeste, McSweeney’s, Lilies and Cannonballs, Parkett, Bookforum, Metro Times). Most recently she contributed a story, “TNW and Me” to The-N-Word, a monograph on African-American painter Peter Williams, and an essay to Detroit, The Dream is now, a collection of photographs of art food and design by Michael Arnaud (Abrams Books). Her books include, Solow, Blow, Fortification Resort, a series of art-related sestinas, Simply Separate People, Simply Separate People, Two and Shankus & Kitto: A Saga. Her newest novel, Paula Regossy, was published in May, 2020 by Trinosophes, Detroit. Lynn earned a MSW from New York University and has worked in various psychiatric, community, hospital, museum and school settings. She lives with her family north of Detroit.