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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Picture This: Bleeding Some Thoughts on Life and Death

Blink. Blink. Blink blink blinkblinkblink.... the cursor mocks my writer's block.

I feel it in me - the voice; but the words have jumbled and choked up at the door. If you're an innate writer, you know this agony. We have a need to write. It keeps us sane; connected. If I don't expel the thoughts they churn in my mind, creating more confusion and disorder in a space that is already infested by madness. I've waited too long and now all the thoughts and experiences have contaminated each other, bleeding out unintelligibly. So, forgive this rambling, as it is as much a practice in therapeutics as creative expression.

In March we moved to a neglected farmhouse perched on a christmas tree farm in Oregon. We were offered this opportunity through the workings of the ever-resourceful hands of my friend, Liz, who, upon our move, also became our neighbor. The entire experience has been surreal, and seemingly universe-directed. At the same time, the months since our arrival have been a near-constant tutorial in the rawness of life and death. I've read that many cutters cut themselves in an attempt to feel and know they are alive. Well, we have bled and felt that we are alive, and have been made excruciatingly aware that it is fleeting.

Since March:
  • Oliver, our pekepug, was kicked in the head by a horse, he survived (to the tune of $$$ that we didn't have, so we now owe our first born - sorry Kinsey). He lost an eye in the ordeal, so is now #piratedog. 
  • Annabelle, our Boston terrier, injured her eye and, due to her condition of congestive heart failure, had poor odds of surviving an eye-removal surgery. We chose to put her to sleep and end her pain.
  • Our beloved Frida, the hen, was taken by a hawk... I think. She just disappeared. I spent weeks looking for her. Her death was followed by that of about 12 others (honestly, I've lost count, there were numerous baby chick losses). 
  • Despite valiant efforts to predator-proof my animal enclosures, I've lost two beloved bunnies. A third, Moose, is now lonely and depressed. I'm looking to rehome him in a safer environment. Just can't sacrifice any more. 
And then there was the day that I was outside installing a fence in the rain (in attempt to keep my dog from sadistically visiting the neighbor's horses). Klee walked down to where I was working, speaking to someone on the phone. He covered the mouthpiece and said, "Cherie, Liz is in the hospital and they don't have any phone numbers for her family." I had just been talking to Liz a few hours earlier. She was comforting me about the loss of my dog, Annabelle, who I had put to sleep two days prior. I dropped my tools in the mud and drove my frazzled (and dirty) body to her side. I called her parents on my way. I texted her that I would be there soon. I didn't know we had already shared our last conversation. 

I have one picture of Liz and me together. It was taken while I held her in my arms and cried into her ear, trying with futility to tell her how grateful I was to her; that I loved her; that I would miss her. She moved her hand when I spoke. They said it was most likely just reflexes. I don't know. Maybe she heard me somewhere in her mind. Somewhere that was still aware. Who can know? Later, as she labored to take her last few breaths, I whispered that it was ok to let go. And, she let go.

I have one picture with my friend, Liz, because she had strict rules about not taking her picture. While she had made peace with who she was, flaws and triumphs, she was ashamed of her weight. She was heavy and it made her life difficult. I spent a lot of time with her in the months before her death, even lived with her for about a month, while trying to get our house to a livable condition. I never saw her overeat. In fact, I ate more than she did on more than one occasion. I'm not saying she had a great diet, just that it was not marked by unusually excessive caloric intake. She had dieted a lot over the years, which I'm sure impaired her metabolism. But really, her habits were not that atypical. I believe she was struggling with metabolic issues, making weight control unusually difficult for her. But, regardless of why she was obese, she hated the prison her body had become, and she didn't want photographic evidence of it. I miss my friend. I see her everywhere on this farm. I wish I had a picture I could look at to see that our friendship was real. That we shared space together at one time.

I'm 43. 40 seems to be the magic age for shutting the metabolism down. I eat well; not even eating the nightly ice-cream anymore. I'm pretty active, building fences, chasing chickens and dogs and a 5-year old. Doesn't matter. The combination of a slowing metabolism, a geriatric pregnancy (don't even get me started), and a medication (with a side of weight gain), has resulted in the addition of about 40 unwelcome pounds. I am very. unhappy. about this. It doesn't even feel like I'm looking at me in the mirror. I hate shopping for clothes. The self-loathing is at an all-time high. And, I am guilty of disallowing the taking of photos. (I mean, who really wants extra documentation of this shit?) 

Here's the thing; TAKE THE PICTURES. All the pictures. Wrinkles, fat, grey hairs... none of it matters. Not at all. We are so distracted by this temporary packaging of our souls. But these vessels we live in, they allow us this life. These bodies give us the opportunity to connect with everything around us. We touch, see, hear, feel, breath in and out; we experience love and life through the skin and bones we're in. And we are lucky enough to live at a point in history where we have the ability to record these experiences, and the beautiful bodies that carry us, with photographs. So, for those that love me, my new rule is, take the pictures. And, if someday you're holding the memory of me in your hands, and my body is no longer here, please know that it was real. I was there. I lived. I loved you. And, if at all possible, I love you still.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Adventure of Pain and the Pursuit of Happiness

I have a frown line. It slices my brow in half and renders me looking "bitchy" even when I'm feeling rather docile. It's a real condition, you know. I know because I've read about it on the internet. It's called 'Bitchy Resting Face'. You learn more about BRF HERE.

I have pondered several theories about how I developed this condition. Was it from squinting too much? Concentrating too hard? Do I pout a lot? Did squirrels descend upon me in my sleep and scratch my brow? Or, Am I a bitch? We may never know...

There is one theory that I've recently contemplated with some seriousness. Maybe, I have been unhappy. Unhappy, a lot. More than I've been happy. Enough to leave a permanent (at least without Botox) imprint on my face. A symbol to the world around me that I have been angry or sad or distressed... unhappy.

I watched a PBS movie a month or so ago, called 'Happy'. It discussed what makes people happy, presenting the very common philosophy that happiness is somewhat self-made. Happy people DO certain things that unhappy people don't do. The narrator introduced viewers to a variety of very happy people living in seemingly destitute surroundings, but, because of their community/generous spirits/positive outlooks they were untouched by their lack of comforts and conveniences. Of course the movie also touched on the merits of low-stress living and lots of good sleep.

The positive-thinking model for happiness has always disturbed me. Books like, 'The Secret', left me empty and unsettled, irritated even. It's not that I don't see value in optimism, or seeking out the silver linings; I just strongly disagree that a person can positive-think themselves out of legitimate trauma. The theory ignores the very natural and necessary stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I'll concede that everyone is impacted differently by the disappointments of life. Some seem to wear no evidence of hardship at all. I'm both happy for, and question the depth of, those people.

Then there's the, "it could be worse, you could be...." answer to adversity; or the, "but look at all that you still have," response to loss; or even the, "buck up, we all have bad days!" pat on the back in the midst of devastation. These statements come from a place of naivety; at least I choose to believe that people don't say these things with the intent of belittling a person's very real pain. (See, I can be positive!) I'll never forget receiving a card from a well-meaning friend, at a time when I (the mother of three small children) had just lost my home, my church, much of my social support, and was facing my husband's pending imprisonment. The card said the equivalent of "darn, I got a run in my stockings and hit all red lights today - time for chocolate!" Do I even need to explain why that sentiment came nowhere near to easing my pain at that time? A "bad day" does not equate to a devastating blow. And yet, even a bad day merits the stages of grief, if only mildly so.

Like every other being, I have experienced loss. Some of my losses have been disappointing, some have been heartbreaking, and some have left me in utter desolation. I have no need to compare my losses to those of others. Certainly, and sadly, others have experienced more loss than I have. But the tragedies in my own life have challenged the plans laid in my DNA, and changed my very form (evidenced by my BRF??); much like the scars left by falling off a bike, chicken pox, pregnancy/giving birth, or injuries from war.

Last night I sat in a group therapy session. I listened to the stories of others and the insights of the moderator and internalized what I could. The group is for codependency, a little habit I picked up (in truck loads) along my way. Essentially, the message is to love myself better, and to love others without destroying myself. It's teaching me to allow the grief, be kind to my heart, and take care of myself.

I think I've struggled the most with letting go of the injustices and the hurts and accepting the reality of my life's picture. The death of my birth-father, painful break-ups and multiple divorces, betrayals, losses of homes, cars, income, beauty, and struggles with health; just typing the memories causes my throat to tighten. I've become disillusioned with so many of the desires of my youth. The canvass, which in the optimism of my childhood was soft and fluffy white, has over the years been slapped with abstract lines and harsh tones, portraying a scene that is drastically different from the hopeful visions of my prior self. Who is this painting of? Is she ok? Do I accept her, this ragged Picasso-like shadow with a frown line etched in her brow? I want to. I want to be proud of her. I want to LOVE her... me.

In our group, the moderator re-stated the ever cliche, "Life is not fair." She gave some impactful quote that more eloquently said that pain is a fact of life; the sooner we accept that truth, the sooner we can move on. Half of getting through the pain is just acknowledging that it could even happen to us. Hence, the 'denial' stage of grief. I guess many of us have a tendency to believe that we shouldn't have to feel pain.

Pain is the inevitable challenge of life. The irony in the acceptance of pain and the experience of loss, is that therein is the birth of empathy. It is in learning to cope with pain that we experience the rawness of compassion for the hurts of others and the beauty of our connection with humanity. Empathy is a powerful ingredient in the ability to love. It is in the adventure of pain that we find our courage, stamina, resilience, and our capacity to love, which, I suspect, is also the epicenter of genuine happiness.

In the words of Helen Keller, "Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all."

Monday, November 10, 2014

Please Come Visit Me at Potager Cottage!

HEY! I've started a new blog designed to follow my life at Potager Cottage. If I'm not here, I'm probably doodling around over there. Please, come visit! You can click the Potager Cottage link at the top of this page, or just click

Friday, September 19, 2014

For the Love of All That is Holy; Losing My Religion

I've mentioned before that my birth father left my mother for another woman. He left her the day before I was born. He was angry at her for getting pregnant. He was very narcissistic according to all accounts I've gathered from those who knew him.

Growing up without a father in the home those early years didn't phase me all that much. I mean, I missed my dad and I wanted my parents to be married like other kids' parents were, but my day-to-day life was relatively unhindered. One issue that did plague me, however, was that my parents were divorced. From what I'd picked up (from somewhere in our church-centered circle), divorce was a grievous sin, punishable by eternal damnation. This disturbed my impressionable five-year-old mind deeply. I'd learned that divorce was only permissible if infidelity had occurred, so I found some relief in learning that my father had been unfaithful. At least my mother, who was raising me, wasn't going to burn. Of course, I couldn't shake the guilt I felt over the recognition that I was glad that my mother would be saved, even if at the cost of my father's soul. It wasn't that I wanted him to be eternally damned, it's just that I knew her better. This notion that I chose my mother's salvation over my father's haunted me in my teenage years, following my father's early and torturous death from colon cancer.

I was a "Believer". From my earliest memories, I believed in God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. I believed the bible was the infallible word of God. I believed I was born into the one true church. And I wanted to be good. I couldn't wait to go to heaven. I was told that death would be over and in an instant I would open my eyes to the coming of Christ. I would get to go to heaven, where there was no pain or suffering; no fathers leaving pregnant mothers; no hardworking single mothers leaving their children in the care of babysitters for weeks at a time; no suffering from cancer. I have a vivid memory of standing in the kitchen one sunny afternoon, holding a knife I'd pulled from the kitchen drawer, contemplating the pros and cons of killing myself so that I could skip the living part and go directly to Heaven. I wasn't depressed or suicidal at all. I was just a believer. But, standing there, I realized that it might make my mother sad if I died, and I wasn't totally clear on the whole suicide thing - is it suicide if you're just trying to fast-track it to the streets of gold? So I decided to put the knife down and go out back and play. This is a true story.

I wavered in my faith at times, and tripped up quite a lot on following God's word, but I maintained my deep belief into my early years of motherhood. I wasn't just a blind believer either. I studied my bible. I learned of grace and attempted to practice love and forgiveness... acceptance of others. I become open to the possibility that mine wasn't the one true church, but that God was bigger than that and would make all things clear in the end.

On April 2, 2003, my pastor-husband returned home late from a church leadership meeting with news. I sat on the couch of our little Oxnard home as his words blew through me with a paralyzing chill. A betrayal had occurred. A confusing act of dishonesty, for which we would now stand trial.

I cannot overstate the profound devastation that I felt that night, and in the harrowing months that followed. I recognize that sensation now as shock. It's a feeling of surreality, a separation of your mind from your self. Denial, disbelief, panic, pain, bargaining... all the stages of grief hitting at once in an overwhelming wave of loss. Too much for the mind to process.

The church had their own reaction to the betrayal. They were hurt. They were hurt and exceedingly angry. In the wildfire of the news, they frothed with fury. They held meetings discussing the unforgivable sin, and the punishments they felt we deserved. The rumors grew into their own form of evil. We started getting threatening phone calls and letters. People that I had loved... the conclusions they drew, the hate they expressed, the absolute confidence they held in their actions against us. Group think. Burn him at the stake! Who cares what happens to his wife and children! They made callous statements, "I'd feel better if he lost everything," "Maybe if Cherie left him or if he went bankrupt or tried to kill himself, then I'd think he understood the magnitude of his sin." "We are warriors for the Lord, we need to break him at foot of the cross." They sent letters out to all of the churches on the west coast, exposing the allegations against us. They sent letters to all of the churches in Arizona (where we had moved to escape the hate) warning of our evils and telling church leaders that we should not be allowed to attend. I know of these letters because I saw them. At one point we were informed that private investigators had been hired to follow us and hack into our computers.

Nothing felt safe anymore.

A very precious few extended words of comfort to us during those days. I'll never forget those that did. One was the realtor that handled the sale of our home.

We sold our home in order to use equity to pay off debt to the church conference, but the conference leaders played dirty with the escrow and strong-armed the escrow officer into turning over funds that exceeded their due; funds that, by prior established contract, were the rightful property of my parents. Funds that exceeded $50,000.00. To be more clear, the conference leaders knowingly and effectively stole $50,000.00 from my parents while in the same breath publicly condemning us. And, while they had promised to drop the allegations against us if we repaid our debt to them, they withdrew that promise at the last minute.

It was our realtor that saved us. When he discovered the actions of the conference during the escrow process he was so disgusted that he contacted his friend at the LA Times who agreed to write up an expose of the conference leaders' underhandedness. Then our realtor informed the conference president that the expose would be published that Sunday and there would be picketers outside the conference offices Monday morning if he did not return the money to my parents and withdraw all allegations. The next day we received the call. The official statement from conference leadership was that they had decided to show us grace. I know otherwise.

We lost everything. I lost everything. I lost my home, most of my friends, my church, my denomination, my happy marriage, my sense of safety, my faith in people. I was suddenly more alone than I had ever imagined a person could be. I prayed. I cried. I worked my ass off to keep my children fed and housed. I sank in my soul-hollowing despair. I retreated from all relationships. I developed anxiety about answering the phone, checking the mail, or logging into the bank accounts.

In the years following our traumatic exit from the church, I sought answers to my questions about religion, God, the Bible, faith. How could a loving church, built on an act of grace, be so cruel and condemning? So quick to discard us?

Initially, I craved the familiar comfort of church. I found a grace-oriented non-denominational church to attend for a while. It was great. The people were so friendly, the praise music was inspiring, the women's fellowship group was very active, and they even had a cafe! The pastor knew of our history (thanks to a letter he had received) and accepted us anyway. I thought maybe I was safe. But, it was there, the spiritual comparisons and judgements being made. The homeschooling moms looking down on the traditional schoolers. The frequent attendees questioning the spirituality of the sporadic visitors. The awkward alter calls. It was subtle but I could still feel it, the sense that these people were just as likely to be in the crowd at the next heretic burning as those that were at ours.

Then there was the day at a women's breakfast event when the ladies passed around a petition to sign  for the preservation of the sanctity of marriage (i.e., the opposition of gay marriage). That little twinge of discomfort I had been feeling rushed to the surface. It was wrong. I knew this action was wrong. It wasn't what a loving God would want. But it was what the God of the Bible required; at least as I understood it. The conflict was so blaring and obvious that it could not be ignored. Not by me. Not anymore. That could not be my religion. If it meant my eternal damnation, then so be it. I could not turn my back on real, raw humans, who needed love, just because an ancient book seemed to tell me to.

I followed my questions. I read. I studied. I read, 'If Grace is True: Why God Will Save Every Person,' by Philip Gulley and James Mulholland, and 'End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation,' by Sam Harris. I read parenting books like, 'Kids are Worth It,' by Barbara Coloroso. I researched homosexuality. I researched the origins of the Bible, how it came together at the hands of both religious and political powers-that-be, motivated by agendas of manipulating the masses. I considered the findings of modern science and its inability to support biblical accounts. The more I read, the more I let go of the belief. The more I learned, the more I understood how little I knew; that there was no religion, no human, that had the whole truth. No perfect book. I let go of my understanding of God and faith. I concluded that if a truly loving God did exist, he would not punish and condemn; rather, he would love and restore. I decided that, as a human, I was gifted with life, and with that gift I was given the ability to choose how I wanted to live among the rest of humanity. I concluded that, if my actions or beliefs failed to reflect love, they should be questioned. I realized that the only way to grow and learn was to be open to new information and willing to adjust my beliefs accordingly.

And I concluded that the only thing I truly believed in was love. True, blazingly honest, empathetic, selfless, restorative LOVE.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Milton, Myrthful, and Potager Cottage

My grandpa, Milton, was a watermelon farmer. 

He grew other melons too, but watermelons were his big crop.  I remember loading up his truck to drive the melons into town to sell, just like they're doing in the photo below.

Grandpa Milton, Grandma Myrthful, and helper.

 When we were young, my brother and I would spend summers with my grandparents on their Arizona farm, and later, on their Idaho farm (pictured to the left).  My grandparents (the Mundalls) were extremely conservative, hard-working folks. No TV; not a lot of toys; no shopping days or restaurants; no parties; no air conditioning; just farm.

On Saturdays they took us to a tiny church that smelled like old hymnals and dentures.  And, during the week, if we worked enough rows of melons, grandpa would take us into the Weiser town pool to go swimming.

I remember missing my mom immensely during these long summer visits.  But, I also remember all the smells sounds and feels of the farm.  It was always hot, even at night.  We left the windows open, turned on the loud square fans and stood in the cold shower with our pjs on just before bed in hopes that the wet clothes would keep us cool enough to fall asleep before they dried.  Mornings came early and were cool enough to be comfortable for a millisecond.

The house smelled like comfort, like fresh-baked wheat sticks.  I don't ever remember going to a grocery store.  Grandma, Myrthful, made everything we ate from scratch, mostly from ingredients grown in her gardens.  She had a large deep freezer in the garage, the kind you had to use an ice-pick to dig the food out of, where she froze fruits and veggies for the winter; and a large canning pantry filled with jars of peaches, applesauce, apricots, green beans, and any other garden treasure you might imagine.  She grew everything.  And I had the privilege (not that I appreciated it) of working right along side her from dawn to dusk.

Myrthful in her garden.  Notice the stick-made bean poles.

We took scraps to the hens and cleared the boxes of the fresh eggs. We milked the cows and carried the buckets to the mud room, where they sat to be skimmed (seems like there was always a bucket or two of milk in there).  We climbed the ladders to collect fruit from her many fruit trees.  She would send me into the towering tomato plants with a metal-handled bucket and a mission to pluck off every last pudgy green tomato worm.  We sat on the porch and snapped beans, shucked peas, and husked corn (which I liked to make dolls out of).  In the kitchen I had a stool in front of the sink where I would wash and halve apricots, carefully removing the worms form the center.  I set the table, cleared the table, washed the dishes, and collapsed into a cozy chair when the day came to a close.

I don't ever remember hearing a radio, just the crickets, toads, mosquitos, train whistles, chicken clucks, cow moans, tires rolling on rugged dirt paths, and the whispery whistles my grandma would compose while sewing or crocheting in the evening.

Grandpa was a smallish man, I think about 5 foot 7 inches tall, but he was huge in my eyes.  He always donned a woven cowboy hat the smelled of straw, sweat, and shampooed hair.  When he came in for the night he scrubbed his hands with irish spring (or a soap that smelt of that).  He laughed in bellows and told "true" stories of his many adventures with bears and lions and caves, that only seemed possible in the world of fiction.  He worked his fields with fierce determination.  If I was lucky, I got to ride in his tractor, or beside him in his farm trucks (known to be missing doors) over the dirt roads when he took his melons into town.  He called milk "cow juice" and soy sauce "bug juice".  And he was my favorite.  I would begrudge my brother who got to run off to do chores with grandpa while grandma made me stay in and learn to sew.

We got to play sometimes too.  My brother and I would sit at the irrigation ditch and use the mud to make bricks for houses.  We would spend hours there.  To this day I love the smell of the irrigation ditches when I drive on old farm roads.  I roll the windows down and inhale the cool air and childhood memories.  We would climb the hay bales in the barn and jump from great heights to piles of hay below.  We would put milk bowls out for the random farm kitties that were always skittering about.  We would catch grasshoppers and toads.  And, we always enjoyed spinning around in the tire swing hanging from the tree out front.

Those years were a gift.  They rooted a love within me for playing in the dirt and living a simple, organic, sustainable life.  I feel my heritage when I'm digging in our cottage garden now.  I sense their  love for the farm and nature, a love that they passed on to their five daughters and beyond.  This little corner house surrounded in untamed dirt and weeds feeds that love in me.

It has been 4 months since we moved into this cottage in Benicia.  These have not been easy months. Our home has demanded patience, creative organization, and hard labor from us, nearly breaking us.  I have always named my homes, a practice I picked up from a short time at school in England.  I love how English homes are named.  Home is so personal to me that a name seems more appropriate than a sterile number.  We have debated names for this home since before we moved in, but have struggled to settle on anything.  We decided to just sit with it.  Live in the house and wait for her name to present itself.  At last, it has!  As I was wandering through the land of Pinterest the other day I came across the name for a vegetable garden that sits just outside your door; it's called a potager.  Perfect!  We have vegetable gardens just outside our front and back doors.  So we have dubbed our sweet little home 'Potager Cottage'.  She's not a farm but she has revived my sweet memories from those summer days and the two beautiful souls who instilled this home-grown love in me.

Potager Cottage

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Crossing the Bridge

Roughly six weeks ago our family moved from a lovely 2000 square foot home in the trees of Castro Valley, California, to a tiny 1940's cottage in the small water-side town of Benicia, California. It was a daring move.  While both towns are technically within the "Bay Area", or greater San Francisco metropolis, Benicia requires the crossing of a toll-bridge, which, to many Bay Areans, means it doesn't exist.  This explains how I managed to overlook this quaint town for the first 6 years of my Bay Area residence.

It's not the bridge-crossing alone that makes this move a daring one, however.  The house we signed up for is a cottage that was built in the 1940's; giving it ample time for a speckled history of being loved and nurtured, as well as abused and neglected, as evidenced by uniquely executed additions, mismatched fencing, questionable plumbing and wiring, a variety of flooring types, and a well-earned, 70-year-old-house scent.

In general, I welcome this type of "character" in a home.  I prefer it to the modern comforts found in many tract homes, actually.  But, it can be a challenge to take on as a renter. Particularly if the contractor in charge of renovating the well-aged home fails to complete the renovations prior to the move-in date.  When we arrived on moving day, with two truck-loads of way too much stuff, our new little cottage was missing a few necessities (any appliances, useable closets, finished floors, functioning gas, electricity, plumbing, sinks and showers).


Well, for the first month of living with strange hammer-weilding men traipsing through our personal space, drilling holes in our walls, holding cock-fights on our roof (or so we suspect), and shoveling shit (yes literally) in our backyard, we weren't sure we had a good answer to that question.  But, there was an answer.  We came here on purpose.  We were following our soul-fire.  That unquenchable inner light that haunts you with visions of the life you're meant to be living.  I have always felt it - since I was a child drawing pictures of my dream home.

We saw the potential for that life in this old home, in this small town.  And, while the initial weeks were flooded with the dread that maybe we had made a horrible mistake, Benicia gently whispered to us that we were home.  She whispered in the distant lullaby of the train whistle and passing boat horns.  She presented us with gifts of sea glass and beach wood.  And she embraced us with the warm smiles and genuine "hello's" of her community.

Slowly, this cottage is accepting our many treasures (and helping us to identify the less keep-worthy items).  Goodwill and Craigslist have been well supplied by our loosening grip of 'stuff'.  It feels good to trim back again.  I have always felt at home in a cottage.  It makes sense in my entropic mind to live in a smaller space with less to manage.

Not everything is smaller though.  We have a lot of dirt to play with here, and I'm giddy about it.  This weekend, Klee and I tore down the old picket fence surrounding our large front yard.  We have been carefully pulling out old rusted screws and sifting out the rotted lumbar (not a small task) in order to reclaim the old wood to build a new fence.  We are building a "hog-fence" (also called a welded wire, or no-climbe fence).  We have already re-set all of the posts in cement and are almost ready to start assembling.  I can't wait!  Once we have it up we can start our garden.  We are planning to plant a large vegetable garden in our front yard and another in our backyard.

This is it!  The beginning of the answer.  A small piece of the WHY that moved us here.  We are living in a 1940's cottage (at substantially less rent than before) surrounded by the promise of vegetables and flowers (and chickens?), on a quiet street with friendly, and perfectly quirky neighbors. We are just a short bike-ride away from the beach and a fabulous downtown community that embraces art and music.  This is the vision.  We are here and my heart feels at home.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Finding My Words

Last night I sat in a room, surrounded by other damaged people; a support group of sorts.  The moderator posed a question for us to consider.  Where is your healing place? While my comrades seemed to ponder their answers with a twinge of uncertainty, I knew my answer without hesitation.  Writing.  Writing is where I bleed and where I heal.  I have other healing places, such as the beach, rain, trees, creative projects and solitude, but writing is where my real medicine is. 

I think this may be the reason for my long bouts of literary silence.  Sometimes I can’t find words.  Other times, I don’t want to.  I don’t want to spill my soul out.  It’s a mess that I rarely feel I have the time or the fortitude to deal with.  Reliving my thoughts, penning (or typing) them down, means I have to think them.  I have to give them life.  

It’s foolish for me to think they don’t have a life already, regardless of my acknowledgement.  Those wounds exist with or without my permission.  But, what if I can’t contain the emotional deluge that inevitably accompanies their exposure?  If I start; if I unlock those gates, I might just fall to pieces.  Truly.  So, I leave the space.  The void.  The blinking cursor on the empty screen. 

Time passes, and the blankness remains, and I function.  I do the stuff of life.  Kids to school.  Dinner.  Bath-time, diapers, dogs, toilets, mail.  I write my nutrition papers – the ones that pay the bills.  I watch my shows, and laugh, and cry.  But, when you’re a writer, you’re always writing.  It’s there in your head.  ALWAYS. Words float around and bump about, occasionally forming clarity, but usually they tease.  It’s an internal conversation that persists regardless of the stuff.

A good portion of the time, writers are introverts.  We live in our heads.  We relish our solitude, despite a very clear need for social interaction, support, and friendship.  We prefer to present ourselves from a distance; from behind our pens.  Those who know me well, know that I struggle with social interaction, even talking on the phone.  I’d much rather text, email, or write snail-mail.  It’s a quirk, and I’m aware that it alienates me more than I want it to.   It’s a social anxiety, I’m sure.  It just is. 

So, when a writer doesn’t write, the words can become overwhelming.  And that’s when the fear of writing them down becomes real.  And their release, necessary.  Like letting the steam out of a pressure cooker.  In her song, 'Breathe', Anna Nalick has a line that describes this experience well:
“2 AM and I’m still awake, writing a song
If I get it all down on paper, it’s no longer
Inside of me threatening the life it belongs to”

It is a torturous and honest… and beautiful necessity.  It is medicine.  When I let them out, my words, my closest companions; the pain seeps out with them.  I am suddenly aware of my heart pulsing; my cheeks are wet with tears; my soul exposed.  It is the truth inside of me, and it is rarely pretty; but it is my truth.  And as the pain filters out, the space that remains begins to expand.  And, in that space, I heal.

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