Miles to the Garden: Belonging to the World, Part 1

Miles to the Garden

My construction was very, very strong;

but I needed

ever a fallen mess,

way down.

Walked miles to the garden.

That was it.

I loved being.

I was like a demented person.


I made this blackout poem as an attempt to express a kind of tongue-in-cheek, humorous–but very real– celebration of aliveness: an experience of being whole while (not despite) there are times I struggle feeling OK in my own skin.

Complex trauma experiences in my past made it so that I was, most of my life, uncomfortable with needs of any kind– my own or others’. Hell, I wasn’t even aware I had needs. Needs implied vulnerability, and connecting with them put me in touch with wounded parts of myself. Yet over time, with dedication and support, I have built a platform of internal and social safety that allows me to be open. This, in turn, helped me detach the natural “neediness” of being a living, feeling, social, human being, from the trauma-based associations that made me experience needs as dangerous, threatening and distressing.

I truly feel as though I’ve walked miles to the garden– journeying far to a place where I can celebrate existing in this world, and no longer in the grips of the kind of shame that made me think of myself as “a fallen mess”.

Something I love about making blackouts is the serendipity aspect– the magical “odds” of finding a certain cluster of words near each other, that happens to carry meaning to me. In the case of this poem, I used to have a particular image associated with my experiences of alienation: I used to imagine that I had a very special, beautiful garden in my inner world, and I could rejoice in it alone, but no one else wanted to come and visit it with me. The garden in the poem feels like a reclaiming of that space, from a state of self that is more playful; less “high-stakes”. The line about walking miles to the garden, plus “ever a fallen mess”, made me think about the Fall from Eden as a metaphor for my process of trauma healing– as though the fall was open-ended, and not a punishment in the end.

As I think deeper on the process of trauma healing and the joy of my own aliveness, there’s an aspect that is far from individual (beyond the simple fact that I didn’t–couldn’t have–done my healing journey alone; it depended on others at every step). The collective aspect has to do with how much we suffer, not in dramatic ways (although certainly those count), but at an everyday, insidious level. How normalized low-grade suffering is for us, culturally, to the point that “loving being” might make you look “demented”.

While this might not seem intuitive at first, a big barrier I’ve noticed to feeling joyful in life, is feeling at home in life. In my mind I often refer to this as “being made for the world”. The thought of being made for the world– and the related idea of belonging to and with the world– surprised me when I first thought of them, and I come back to them over and over.

When I first considered the possibility that I might be made for the world, I began to explore that reality via contrast: by making an inventory of all the places in my life where I experienced myself as an outsider, misfit, or somehow essentially flawed, so that I needed to work hard, and apply control and discipline to be good enough to participate in life (rather than “just” feeling at home in life). As I took stock of those feelings, it became clear that they weren’t unique to me at all, and that many people carry the burden of feeling as though they don’t belong due to intrinsic flaws, and are striving just to “make the cut”. Knowing that painful feelings of unbelonging weren’t about me specifically after all felt like a huge relief– it was, in itself, a balm to know I was not alone in the experience.

I’ve since explored and studied this widespread phenomenon, from a big-picture, systemic view–at the collective, global, social, philosophical, ecological and historical levels. This exploration has happened in parallel to my trauma healing process, giving context to my own experiences of trauma, and clarifying the world-pain I see around me, wherever I look.

Because this is, clearly, a big theme, I plan to explore it, from multiple angles, over the next few posts (and who knows, perhaps as a recurring theme– it is certainly on my mind often!).

In the meantime, over to you:

I invite you to create a small piece of art or writing (you can try a blackout poem if you want to follow my lead) that connects you to your own aliveness. Take stock of your experience exactly as it is now– however flawed it may seem, however mundane and unspectacular, and use it as a jumping off point to see yourself as part of– being made for–the world (no matter how messy it may look right now). Share what you create in the comments on the Facebook thread, or by tagging #mermaidforest on Instagram.

Artist Austin Kleon inspired me to start making blackout poems a while back (you can see an archive of my blackouts on my Instagram @mermaid_forest). I owe him a debt of gratitude for spreading the word on this brilliantly simple creative practice! If you want to learn how to make blackouts, watch his tutorial video here

Mermaid Forest @mermaid_forest