Excerpt from Chapter 7, “Moon Over Flint”

Note: Sam is my brother with “schizophrenia.” The chapter refers to his first psychotic break, when he quit his job suddenly and took off for the coast believing his boss was out to kill him.

Note: The Wohler Madness is so named within our family for various “mental” afflictions passed through my father’s maternal line.

Moon Over Flint

The shine that spoke

The fact of Sam’s illness made anguish about a second divorce seem a bit overwrought. My brother was running from a murderer who didn’t exist, while I simply couldn’t keep a man. I knew my heartbreak wasn’t the Wohler Madness-I didn’t hear sinister voices, I wasn’t drawn to suicide. Just procrastinating, for example, about buckling down into therapy, the most reasonable option in a secular milieu. So it never occurred to me to call it crazy, delusional, or schizoid when everything changed at the edge of a fallow field. What happened with the moon over Flint Hills completely bypassed the Wohler way as far as I knew, either in madness or genius.

Because it went against all we stood for. It bucked the rebel-girl image of myself I clung to like a life raft. Revolution and fighting the good fight were my anchor. Shortly after trading seaside for farmland I found where the energy swirled-farmers and city radicals protesting a nuclear plant slated for nearby cornfields, a few short miles from Osage End. The specter of the nuke was immediate and I embraced the chance to do something concrete with groups from all walks of life. But in the end, they built the thing and fired it up. What next?

That night at the edge of a bare field I wondered about backtracking to Kansas, but I knew one thing about my mind: reason was intact. I shunned religion as the opiate of the masses; saw kneelers in churches as weaklings of will. Like my father I revered the written word and the creative process as it unfolded with method through novel, essay, and verse. Embracing art rather than science had to do with gender but also with unspoken doctrines in the Elton house.

Literature lifted up humanity; science leveled us all to formulae. The mystery of the human soul could be fostered by the arts, but manipulating variables and recording data defeated the sublime. We are deep and unknowable, but we are the highest, and all else is backdrop, for we can create endlessly with no two stories ever alike. And religion? A bastard son of the great minds, a lapse in judgment at best.

Then why did I commence talking to the moon as if it were a sentient, breathing, listening body? As if it was the face of God?

Sitting at the edge of the field, ridges in dirt no more comfortable than coarse hay, I looked at the moon and to that looming face I laid it all out. Every nook of the pain, how high were the stakes, and just how certain the dead-end. I talked to the moon like the moon was confessor but I was in no mind to do penance. I gave forth the bulk of sorrowful shame that was crowding me out and sent it over the light years even though I felt the moon was eye to eye. Driven, risking, gifting-I spread the air with grief and dread. But with a twist: I took a stab at another discomforting word. Faith. Faith that something vast was out there, able to turn the tide.

From within a soft and sneaky taunt began: Oh what desperation will drive a gal to do. That habitual cynic forever shut her trap when the moon answered back.

No lips formed on the moon’s surface, no crater fixed me with a terrible eye, no blaze of light filled the sky–that orb hung there the same as ever. No booming voice shattered the air, but there was a voice. It was outside, and seemed to come from the moon. It was inside, and seemed to come from the moon. You are neither insane nor about to kill yourself. Come back to me, She said.

The voice was female.

She! That was rich! I’d heard some feminists had extended affirmative action beyond the earth’s umbra, a useful “consciousness-raising device.” But I’d checked my politics back at the house. I leaped up and stumbled further into the field to see if I was dreaming, and a remarkable absence of doubt took shape in the moonlight. I didn’t question the voice or the gender donned by the moon–I was Saul struck down on the road to Damascus by a sweet face in the sky, and given no mission but to stop bashing my own mind. By God, it was She! I couldn’t sort out which astounded more: not only was something out-there/in-here, reassuring and revelatory, not only was this One speaking to me, but it was a woman!

Wrapped in Her presence and replies I spent until midnight sitting and basking, walking the harvest ruts and explaining, curling up and giving the soil tears. And letting it go. Being held in Her shine and hearing that life was never going to be the same. In torn topsoil harboring stalk and pesticide, I found out who I was supposed to be. Here. I was supposed to be here. I wasn’t soiling the planet, ruining minds, ruining myself, wasting potential or particularly hurting anyone. I wasn’t poison. I was here.

I still expected an entrance from the cynical viper I knew so well, scoffer from my own mind who would bust up and crate the whole experience away, sneering wide. But that smarmy critic was stumped. The moment stayed free of disparaging analysis.

The freedom, for once, not to force an event to undergo strip-search with the guards of rationality. The relief to know we are not Existential Man, all losers, scooting about trying to get more things, get laid more often, then go dead as a doornail. The permission to be more than my father’s daughter, but also to know that this transcended rebellion against him. Crazy? This madness was divine, and I wasn’t being told I was Jesus or to kill anyone or that the government was tapping my phone. That was the best thing She said: this is no Wohler’s malaise. Welcome home to your right mind.

Just who She was

When I finally slipped into my wide bed, smiling for the first time since the man cleared out, I did what any Elton would do to plug reason into  experience: get some references. Bolting upright I went to pillage for an unopened gift from some boyfriend between marriages, carted move after move for sentimental reasons. I never cracked the book, it seemed…too weird? Uninteresting? Esoteric? It was about the moon.

Moon, Moon by Anne Kent Rush is a rush for the senses, a book that skips over coffee-table pretense and goes for the heart of art. Besides text there are photographs, drawings, prints and many shots of the moon assembled as if Ms. Rush wants to take your delight higher with each page. The author loved the moon more than I ever knew I could, and went looking for all things lunar in countless cultures. She found The Goddess. Which was more than I’d bargained for. But, I figured, the voice had to be Someone. I couldn’t call Her “God” without wincing.

In the weeks that followed, between the day job and nightdreams of Goddess temples I sank into that book and went to the field or the hay bale—and kept talking to the prairie. Waiting for the upshot, waiting to start acting really stupid, megalomaniacal. Or schizophrenic. Waiting to hear: they’re out to get you! They have your phone tapped! They will kill you! Then it would really be true: whack job, the Wohler Madness.

Instead I slowly put myself together. It was more than the moon, it was all that was around me, these old Flints and their ways. Or maybe the moon directed me to regard Her treasures anew, that landscape She watched over all night.

Goddess as prairie.

Here were the worn low hills and their wild occupants as I’d never seen them before. Husband number two was an artist-though he claimed our marriage halted his craft, he taught me a thing or two about Kansas. I looked with his eyes-from pastures to photographs to sketches and back-but stilled longed for sand and madrone. With the face over flint to guide me, I got it: all of Her body is beautiful.

The soft speak of tallgrass in a wind, the subtlety of its rust tones. The deer ambling up to the edge of the yard, standing and looking. The great blue heron at the pond that let me come close. The moon said, take note of quail flying toward you in the river’s small woods, listen to the scratch of mice in your walls. We know Each Other. I learned to drop the story that I was monumentally alone with my own mind and precious self-pity. The whole world was saying and singing.

And in a cache of books that made it into few history classrooms, The Goddess emerged. Life-giver, holy pregnant Mom, rainmaker and crop giver, moon moon. What she meant to people was unmistakably more compassionate than the Yahweh story. She meant for them to dance, love, make story, grow and get stoned on Her beauty. Was it such a coincidence that there was a match in antiquity between Her worship and the high status of women?

Could you really do religion this way? No “true believer” status required, no lock-step rituals without explanation, no regulation peer group assigned, no dictum to stay inside a cavernous “house of God” for spirit to fly? And I could trust Her, for she was no Distant Man.

The first section of Rush’s book details space flights and “scientific mysteries.” No line drawn between science and the humanities, either. Though science seemed dry, I wouldn’t dump reason into the garbage can. It was a relief to see astronomy and religion juggled amiably by the women who would “re-mythologize” the moon. It was good to see a Goddess rising who could still have smarts as well as stand sacred for Her cyclic bloods, Her mystic womb, the song of Her vulva.

This changes everything

Agitating in the streets, in the boardrooms and bedrooms for women’s’ rights was one thing. As if before the suffrage push women had no history but knew they could make a future. In essence, they were knocking on a door and asking for a chance to prove ourselves.

But it took courage to dig and deliver that history/herstory out of the archaic past and I was grateful to the feminists who made the leap. To grasp that for most of humanity’s lifespan in diverse places, God was a woman and women were the natural leaders–it changed the way I looked at men.

Some feared that Goddess women wished to do away with the same-old hierarchy crafted by patriarchs, and substitute a change of personnel with the title of matriarchs. Inside the heart of the Goddess, where lying on Her earth formed my nights after days spent looking into Her past, the thought was laughable. What had Goddess women ever done to men by force? Men were the force experts, the war, rape, and poverty experts. Which of these power-over ploys could be laid at any matriarchy’s door?

No doubt about it, the sweep of Goddess culture and the effect of its revival minimized my fear and disgust of men. Especially when I reflected that for millennia they were on board the Goddess’ gravy train. Archaeological finds attest to Her embrace of divine sons, consorts, and brothers. No evidence that women raped, tortured, brutalized, quashed the rights of men in that time. Maybe Nature made it obvious: female to male makes creation spin new tales. Aren’t we a pair?

But heterosexual love wasn’t dogma, I realized as I read how lesbians among feminists embraced the Goddess too. As in traditional Native American culture, many contemporary Goddess-lovers accept that same-sex beloveds possessed a spiritual edge, a secret calling to mysteries beyond the ordinary. As opposed to the Old Testament, Her ancient stories don’t state fear and loathing, legislation against homoerotic love, nor invocation of cosmic lightning bolts to smite the gay lover. It looked like when there’s no need to hold one-half of humanity down, the urge to pair was allowed freer forms.

This changed everything. I stopped driving by the ex’s house so much. I went over to see my parents more, and quit interrupting my father with haste to interject my views. It may have been that my priorities were elsewhere. I was being spoken to by wind, sun, water, earth. And The Moon.

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