Death and the city

I set off on a journey and lost my way.

(Don’t get me wrong – that’s kinda what I came for.)

I came for tarot, and connections, friendships old and new, to see incredible cities and mile upon hundred mile of landscape flying past. I came to find you. And I came to find me.

When I set out I drew Death.

When I explored Death I found a breaking down and a rebuilding, a deconstruction, a stripping-away, a breathing space. A refocusing.

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I thought ‘yeah yeah. Girl goes backpacking, discovers self. But I am neither 18 nor Cheryl Strayed. So what.’

In New York City, Death finally came.

She had been on my shoulder since I set off from Portland, waiting quietly for her moment, waiting for me to stop moving. I asked her what was coming – she said ‘earth’.

I knew she was right, but it’s hard to ground in the city that never shuts up.

I searched for earth in the Lower East Side, in Mornington Heights, Harlem, Soho, Bushwick. I went to the Cloisters and saw a woven unicorn captured and killed. I fought for tiny coffee shop tables underdressed on freezing afternoons and went back and forth and back and forth on the subway. I climbed a rock in Central Park and smoked on a rooftop in Brooklyn and sent parcels and drank red wine.

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I drew the Four of Pentacles, not once but twice. And I felt the weight of all that is important to me, all of the earth in my life, my lover, my love, my home, my work. My boat, my food, my writing, my cats, my lover. All that was so far away from me, right then, in the moment. And something died. And I knew it was time to come home.

Things I didn’t know before:

1. Earth is where I am. I thought I was all air and fire, I thought I was thinking and acting and feeling later, grounding maybe sometime, sort-of, maybe. But earth – that need to ground – has swollen and split like an acorn in my gut and I want home. I want to go home and build and love and grow and work.

These things are my rocks and my foundations. Things I left behind.

2. Earth is not where I am. On a fast-moving bus, in a wonderful stranger’s wonderful home, in a coffee shop, a bar, a park, a station. Grabbing a tree, stooping to brush the floor, a rock, a fallen branch. Searching for earth within me. Clenching my fists, grabbing my own hips. Anything to feel those rocks, those foundations. I know that right now, I need home. I came away to get travel out of my system, but I wonder now why I needed that. Fear of the future, fear of the tying myself down, and proof that I couldn’t be,

perhaps.

3. I am no longer 18. Or 25. Or godforsaken 28 Jesus Christ what a year that was. 33 is scary and good.

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4. Motion is thrilling. Tiring. Educational. Often passive. Superficial and deep at once. Necessary and unnecessary at once. Nine months ago I was beating myself up for my stillness. The 21-year-old in me wanted to set off with a backpack and a camera. I saved up and I did it. There is such a thing as too much motion and I’m sure I’m nowhere near that point in 40 days but at the same time I truly am. Still I move. Subway rattle, Staten Island ferry, concrete-pounding, gallery walkways, restrooms, staircase,

This city is thick with grime and nobody smiles. Down in the dank strip-lit dark I look around at unfamiliar faces as the train rattles in. Many going home. Beds they can get into. I think of my tiny floating home and the woman who isn’t there but might be soon and the cats that are and how I want to go there. How I want to climb into that lopsided bed and sleep and sleep.

And then I’m on the move again and it’s amazing and fast and achy and beautiful. And people and places amaze me.

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5. Control is a tenuous thing, a fragile thing. Holographic, it changes with the slightest tilt. One moment I’m as free as a bird – the next I’m grappling for a a plan.

In a workshop in Portland, we were asked our least favourite cards. I chose the Emperor. Always with the control, that one. Always in charge. And who needs that.

Control is deciding when I go to bed and when I get up.
Control is cooking my own food.
Control is deciding if I will stay in or go out, if I will write or watch Netflix.
Control is having a key. Control is having a door.
Control is a coffee pot. Control is skincare. Control is clean knickers.
Control is the confidence to make a promise. Control is the ability to make a living.
Control is knowing which ciders are the dirty ones.
Control is changing my mind.

Who owns this body? Who owns these choices?

I do, of course.

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I remind myself: 1. Earth is where I am. For perhaps the first time in my life, I am earthed. Home. Work. Emma. Her hands, her face, her body, her love. These things are my rocks and my foundations.

I found earth in a caravan in Durham, gritty dried-out mud, laughter, a porch swing in warm evening air. Friendship and local bars, brunch, wandering quiet streets in the sunshine.

A private room for one blissful night between dorms in New Orleans. How carefully I unpacked and packed again. How I made my own bed. How I aired my towel and my thin sleeping bag. How I was as tidy as I pleased.

That was control, in a tiny way. It meant a lot in a journey of Greyhound schedules and 3am layovers and sleeping pills that don’t work and never knowing who or what is next until the moment comes.

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The Four of Pentacles again. And yet again.

Got in a bus bound for a cabin in the woods to find some earth for myself. Today, death is coming through. I am allowing that process to happen.

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7 comments

  1. Ellen says:

    Wow Beth What a beautiful written post. Thank you for sharing your experiences and insights this journey has brought you so far. Traveling on your own can be so life changing.

  2. Danielle says:

    this is a beautiful post, beth!

    also: “Or godforsaken 28 Jesus Christ what a year that was.”
    saturn return, i guess? 😉 (i am going through that now, WHEEEEE)

  3. Celia says:

    This post hit me really hard– absolutely beautifully written and there’s so much I can relate to right now.
    This is my ninth month of travel and I’m starting to search to Earth now, too.

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