of Other Solstice
Story + Photographs Copyright 2004 by JR Compton
I like this guy because of his long neck
and his two-tone Indian whistle sound,
but it still seems odd that one has to blow
into his butt to make the music happen.
Mr. Reality called me on my claim
to be "Reinventing Myself."
Instead, he assigned me a much easier task, involving the same skin, the same bones, fingernails, nose, toes, mind and soul.
Instead of Manufacturing a Whole New Self, I need to let go of the useless husk I've used to protect me from getting close to anyone.
Like C said in her letter, when I start getting rid of all that useless physical clutter in my garage and house, the emotional baggage will start to go, too.
A red, lumpy turtle in my front window —
I'm spreading these guys around my
house and bringing in the dragons.
"The character I'm letting go of," Mr. Reality explained, "was all about defenses, fear — even paranoia. It was about [me] protecting my inner creature, so frightened about connecting in a meaningful and deep way with other people."
Near his and my beginnings, lots of good reasons contributed to Turtle Man adopting that thick, protective shell. Our justifications were based on hard-knock experiences in real life — but from my long ago childhood.
Unfortunately, the hull stayed on long after all its real causes disappeared.
Over time, my Turtle Man hard, enclosing case grew thicker and heavier till it blocked all approaches — not just attacks. It got between me and getting closer to friends and others. It kept me always on guard, always too ready to battle when often, something softer, gentler was more appropriate.
I thought I was creating a whole new self, but I am not.
Turtle with indoor garden rainbow. I've been pulling
dragons all over my house and putting up turtles.
No more fires; only the thumpity thump of little feet.
Since my quiet little talk with Mr. Reality, I know I am not the Whole New JR I'd been proselytizing to anyone who'd listen over Christmas and New Years 2003.
I am — as anyone can plainly see — the same old JR — albeit better dressed, weighing less, quieter, gentler and better behaved.
I am getting rid of more, useless junk.
The thick, invisible shell — that industrial strength Guard-All Shield— is down and fading. Far from inventing a new JR, I am — at long last — revealing the old one, and letting my better me shine through
My defenses are down, and in my new, more vulnerable but more confident state, I am getting closer to trusted old and new friends. I am allowing myself, finally, to be the me I have long longed to be — less uptight, less argumentative, less sniping, less negative, less the shell-shocked, shelled monster and more real.
The sweet guy I'd let me be to only a precious few, life-long, long-term people in my life.
Turtle on the edge
I started identifying with turtles back in the 80s when I'd make long trips out into America and Canada — in three-week forays (about as long as I could stand to be away from home alone) I drove around Lake Superior; up into the Badlands of Dakota; all the way out to my birth city of Boise, Idaho; all over Wyoming; to Bryce; and The Grand Canyons; and my long-time favorite, Chaco Canyon out on the desert; and in and around the mountains of New Mexico, where I feel most at home of all the places I've seen and been.
On those trips, I camped out in my truck, inside its camper shell, usually off, alone in National Forests — often with the tailgate down and my head stuck out like a long-necked turtle under a vast canopy of stars.
I called that white '86 Mazda truck "Turtle." Because it and I carried our shell on our back all along the ways to all those places. Gradually, I identified not only my truck but myself, too, with turtles.
I was a turtle, and I believed deeply in turtle magic.
Turtle with baby on board in the pot with all the
broken plant babies. T suggested I document
The Transition Pot's progress. This is #1 in that series.
I learned a little about totems in books in trading posts in Indian country, and I bought a tiny turtle fetish in New Mexico, that I had sifting back and forth across the dashboard for thousands of miles before it lost itself in the aether.
Informally and without much intention, I've been collecting turtles ever since. I was wondering where to put them during this Transition, and Margie suggested in with my plants.
Later, I named the Volvo station wagon that kept me from getting completely smushed in the crash that broke 5-6 ribs, lacerated my liver, punctured my lungs and splattered my spleen in spring of 1999, "Tortuga, The White Rhino." (Which ya gotta say loud, with lots of basso profundo and gutteral oomph.)
I slept in the back of it, sometimes, too, but it wasn't as turtlish as the Mazda.
Mr. Big-Eyed, Goofy looking Yellow Shell plant pot
I am a turtle — they are my totem, and knowing that they are gives me power. Having turtles as my totem resonates deeply. It feels right. It feels safe.
And it may be why I've been stowing most of my dragons in that deep dark closet lately.
My dear sister, Mary Ann Who,
gave this softy to me, way back when
Beanie Babies were at the height
of their popularity.
Dealing with the Overprotective Shell is The Next Step in my transition.
When dealing with Major Life Metaphors, it is important to get the visualizations worked out. It's all very nice to be talking about getting rid of my damned, overprotective shell.
Oh, I like the idea that a shell-less turtle might be more like a chameleon. That's a compelling symbol, much like the butterfly that Carol Wilder suggested.
A turtle without his shell is not heroic, it's stupid. A shelled turtle is not long for this world. Hardly a potent symbol of change or transition. Much as I'd like to get rid of the whole, heavy mass of over-protection, I cannot simply delete all of it.
Those bony things are anchored into our skeletons. Their underpinnings are in our physical selves. They are attached deep.
Despite what turtles do in cartoons sometimes, shells are not something that can be quickly or easily removed. Shells are part of us. We all need them sometimes.
Margie suggests that, instead of deleting the shell altogether — which would expose me to debilitating skeletal and muscle issues, I should get rid of all the gradoo and fungi that has grown there over the last 59 years.
I've grown much more than just calluses and husks, I have jutting spears and thick, hardened armor. Mine is an ugly shell, dark, gloomy, vicious looking, with crenellations, mortars and high caliber canonry. I am over protected — especially over my heart and mind.
My friend Margie suggests that I "just lighten and streamline it. Keep it polished, gleaming and useful," ready for use, if necessary, but out of the way when I need to get close to fellow human beings.
Bring it back to its natural, youthful, pliant state of cellular growth.
What's called for, as has been often the case during this transition, is to pare it down. Thin it of barnacles and battlements, but don't cut so deep as to gouge or scar the quick below.
I've had a lot of experience in the last five weeks paring things down. I'm getting better at it, and I'm getting more subtle with the editing. Just in time for my most subtle surgery yet.
A similar condition exists in the Nature Spirit Room, where I have not got rid of everything unnecessary to my future life yet — it's a room of memories stacked almost as high as I am. Subtle entities like stories I wrote, photographs I've published and personal and professional letters.
I've been at odds this last week, just how to approach those piles. At least I can now walk among them. It took more than an hour, when it turned cold this week, just to get the door closed, so the office could be warm.
A couple days later, the Roo came into the Nature Spirit Room, whirled around some and threatened to start taking stuff from there and put it into the Truck Stop, which right now is my only mostly empty room.
That scared me enough I went into action. In a few hours one end of the room was open, with lots of stuff still in piles, but much more obvious piles that were stuck back next to the walls and the windows.
Maybe another full day, and I'll have it open and manageable. Roo says he has some closed shelf units that will act like file cabinets, so I will have access, identification and security about the stuff that's now in open boxes.
The NSR is the only room in the house whose exterior is all windows. It is also the only room with no storm glass or double insulation. When it's cold outside, it's really cold back there. But warm in here in my office.
On warmer days, I open the door and stand at the light table, sifting through slides and negatives, filling the trash bins with tiny, extraneous pieces of my life.
I knew the paring metaphor would continue into the more metaphysical aspects of my being.
But de-shelling will be the most delicate of all.
This guy looks like he's made of pewter
stainless steel. He is heavy enough to hold down
papers and guard the sacred yarn. Not a bad shell to
symbolize My Newly Revealed Old Shell. But I do not know yet
how to polish him till he gleams.
De-shelling, An Extended Metaphor
I thought for awhile about having a team of shamans do the shell shucking and shining, but I settled on one old Indian who looks a lot like me. Dark skin, a little overweight, dark hair, deep brown eyes.
His hair has less gray, and his shoulders and arms are stronger. That will help. He looks taller, too.
He's smarter than me — wiser, too. His tribe looks up to him. He knows what he is doing, and he has the right tools. Turtle Man is my natural choice for this demanding and delicate job.
In the beginning he uses something that looks like a horizontal, flat axe, to chunk off the top of the rugged scars and crenellations. Later, he'll use planes, blades, files, sanders and polishing stones — maybe even some comfrey salve after all that hacking.
Everything he does is by hand and with lots of sweat. There is a rhythm in his work I envy.
I set him to work at every stop sign or light, every on or off ramp, and on the long, serene passages through life we often ignore. Whenever my mind wanders, Turtle Man is at work, shucking my shell.
This afternoon at Aquatics Exercize Class, most of our movements coincided with chopping, slicing and smoothing motions, so we were busy for that energetic hour, also.
He's busy chopping and rasping today. Rough cuts first. Later, he'll get down to polishing the whole shell, and we'll all find out what color it really is.
Right now it's a dreadful, greenish, brownish char — with big chunks missing. As my shaman gets into his heavy task, other colors will appear as the carapace pares away.
More Brasso, a lot more rubbing and a year
I finally got this Hawaiian's shell to shine in latest 2004.
Mr. Reality suggested I write a story — this is the first one — wherein I work out the issues. He warned me to be gentle with the parts I surgically remove — they've done their duty, after all.
I am also channeling the Universe for an heroic Robert Service — he wrote the Cremation of Sam McGee, which I had fully memorized through the first half of my life — ish, narrative poem about Turtle Man and His Shell that I might eventually post on one of these pages.
Now that I can actually previsualize my new, lighter weight, higher tech, shell that will be so brilliantly polished others can almost see themselves in it, I can more realistically imagine paring down all the barnacles and caked-on gunk I've been hauling around all these years — and all the pointy and sharp things poking out.
This is something that's needed doing for decades. Nice that the Universe has chosen this post-trauma moment when I am well into the mode of change — after I've learned that all it takes is a little leaning into, and well after I discovered that fighting it was a waste of time.
Thanks to everybody who's made it necessary — and to all those who are helping. I do, as JC has noted, have "an awesome group of friends."
Brasso is what it took — and ignoring the instructions
— to bring the shine way up on My Marty Turtle
As I started writing this, it was one of my favorite holidays. Epiphany. Supposedly when the wise guys found Jesus. January 6, 2003.
Epiphanies are the little discoveries that make the wholes of systems and systems of systems make sense. In literature, it's when the hero figures out why she's where she is and what he's doing and maybe even why.
And what he hopes to do with the rest of his life.
Epiphany is also when JR sends — or hands — out his End-of-Year Greeting and Thank-you cards. If I didn't send you one, this is to let you know I really appreciate you for reading these essays.
By doing so, you are helping me change. And I appreciate your efforts.
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