abuse, Addiction, Anorexia, Archetypes, Bulimia, character study, Christmas, Colorado, Death, depression, Existentialism, Expansion, Fear, Health Issues, Mental Health, Micro Non-Fiction, Mindfulness, Non-Fiction, Nostalgia, Relationships, Self Growth, Self Love, Self Reflection, Yoga

softening of the sap

I’m going to make up some of the piece for effect.  Sometimes, the metaphor unfolds from the writing but this one I’ve sort of planned out.  I use symbols and images to feel more real–to create something I can’t just vent over the phone while staring at refrigerated biscuits in the store after work.  Symbols and images creating the here-but-away glazed effect of the internet where one’s soul is felt in tiny comment bubbles but the vulnerability of immediate physical proximately can be easily avoided.  Instead of what I could say easily in person (and no one likes raw truths in person) I say elaborately through words, details, pictures, creations that ebb in and out of my control.  In these spaces I feel safe. In these spaces I am in the moment. There is one heartbeat, there is another—no need to coregulate.


My dog once got tree sap on the tuft of fur located on his back, towards the tail.  That spot where dogs love to be scratched and will saunter underneath two blue jean tree trunks to feel the finger-branches of their owners.  One paw up, another paw up, tongue dangling from mouth, breath heaving.  A rhythmic ritual caught short on this day as the sticky, nostalgic smelling sap wraps around my fingers with black wires of fur and deformed pine needles.  I examine the spot now a cow lick of small chunks of tree bark, shiny in the light of the kitchen.  I thought about the hike where this had happened and how hikes sometimes start to look the same not because of being jaded or well-adventured but because the breath remains the same.  The steps, just like the dogs, back and forth in rhythm and ritual.  But the sap—this sap.  It was stuck.  It was hard.  It was amassed in a dark forest, off a path, a break in the flow.

I got stuck about 3 years ago.  There were moments when the sap would loosen, when I could start to work on the problem, but then in the dark forest I would find more resin.  I would stop looking up and become so focused on one thing that my back too became sap covered.  Tree-glue painful to pick off my own skin and oozing from trees in suspension, like a still shot of puss from a wound.  I had career hopped then which always come with a new creation of meaning, a way to make sense of purpose out of current circumstances.  With each move from mountain town to mountain town I would lose confidence, I would become painfully aware of my own personality—able to be friendly one moment, withdrawn the next.  The sap would harden and crystallize.  I felt frozen.  I felt trapped.  I felt suffocated.  There was one winter when we cut down Christmas trees and I found one for my own home.  I hosted a Christmas party.  The sap was soft then, the heat of friendship had loosened the sap.

Our neighbors gave us a Christmas tree this year and it looks much like the one I had cut down a few years ago.  I took it down yesterday and put it in my truck and a little fish thought swam through my head—I’ve already been here.  I’ve done this.  I’ve cut a small tree and let it dry up and scratch around in the jumper cables and bottles of oil in the dark belly of the truck topper.  I wondered how long the tree would stay this time and remembered a few years ago riding in the back after dumping the tree, noticing yellow pine needles feeling them stick in my legs as I smiled and watched the boy I had a crush on.  Softening of the sap.  Like teenagers that day in our laughter and I wonder when I will tear down dirt roads again in my truck hardly noticing sap as I chase waterfalls and peaks.  This Christmas brought its own patch of sap—a new problem that brought old problems, a folding of time in which I felt smashed in the middle.

Because of time, because of my tendency to never give up—the sap came out of the dogs fur.  We got a hairdryer and the look on the dogs face said I was an evil torturer.  I was ready to ban bacon from his world, outlaw walks, throw all the balls into the sea.  I wonder if I get this same look too when someone is trying to help me through something really painful.    The dog had worked for the clump of sap, I had worked for my pervasive depression and abusive interpersonal relationships.  Don’t take it away so soon.  I live like a preserved mosquito within this resin–I can’t annoy you here.  The dog yelped when the sap finally became soft enough, olive oil was massaged through his fur and lots of pets and kisses followed.  Then a bath.  This time he looked a little more forgiving—he knew now I was helping him.  I feel my heart starting to soften in the soapy warm water, things are melting, the crust of a loaf of bread has been cut into revealing the stretchy puffiness below.  I am moving through, with, and into this depression.  I am moving through, with, and into this light.


“Maybe you have to know the darkness before you can appreciate the light.” — Madeleine L’Engle


ho, hey

What is love? Baby. Don’t hurt me. No more. The hurt still stings but I’m back to writing to process a few months of whirlwind romances and brief encounters. When it rains, it pours, and now monsoon season of the heart is over. One man still lingers from ol’ Lead Vegas (our term of endearment for Leadville, Colorado) and I think of him every morning taking an extremely long time to shit and my disdain for the strong funk of Colorado mountain man on my pillows, in my hair. I think of his disdain for my snoring and vaping.

He was one the of the favorites, dancing in the kitchen with me listening to hipster music I generally reserve for running, shooting his arm out parallel and twisting his wrists, shaking his hips while I danced right by. I felt to safe to be myself—maybe too safe buying Four Lokos at an Arizona gas station before 8 am while he mentioned “you know Jen I could go to yoga with Amanda or whoever at 9 am and wonder what we will do for the day or I can wonder if you got arrested.”

I always kept it together but feigned helplessness and tragedy as the real me creates a successful professional life. Heading to work, forming partnerships, creating groups, holding the infants, smiling at the pre-schoolers. I didn’t feel I had to lie to Lead Vegas boy because he was just as eccentric as me. Belly laughing as he drove the Cadillac Escalade he insisted on renting at the airport because he’s a car junkie but more professionally a motorcycle junkie. He drinks a fuzzy water here and there and tells me I’ve scared him a few times.

He scared me as I held on to his stomach while riding his motorcycle only to tip us over hopping on with too much gusto to his Africa Twin motorcycle. The XRV750 Africa Twin was a 742 cc (45.3 cu in) dual-sport based on the Honda NXR-750, which won the Paris-Dakar rally four times in the late 1980s. He liked to win. I find myself googling his top ten finishes at professional mountain biking and cyclocross races. I haven’t won much in my life, my only victories lie in the academic realm where I had become used to being the top 5% of any subject, any cohort. I try not to tell anyone about my masters degree anymore.

I had a dream last night that I was unloading a semi-truck with what seemed like my stuff for another move, to where, I don’t know. The semi was in neutral and it started to move forward and crashed into a neighboring house. I was so scared of the traffic ticket—sporting two speeding tickets in my own home in Chaffee county that I acquired long before I moved here. I was scared of who was with me. I walked into the house and found an old friend talking and flirting with a boy I thought I liked. My conscious and unconscious self always painfully aware that I’m not the one who gets hit on.

The dream seemed to say “no more dichotomies, no more binaries.” That man made it clear he liked me. I woke up one morning and watched him pace around until finally I asked if he wanted to stay and adventure. He called me beautiful. I asked to go steady. I find myself on a bus to Denver to take a plane to Arizona and string together more mishaps and free whiskey on the flight. staring at the quadrants of fields, roads, homes, and less planned mountains below. I landed, found the terminal. and there he was on a bench wearing his motorcycle boots and some Carhart hybrids.

He started to use the term “kangaroo pouch” to refer to my slightly swollen belly that has grown over the past year as I have manifested the other side of the binary self. Five years ago, teaching fitness and yoga classes, running everyday, eating low-carb, weighing myself everyday, sober as a church, turning down any request that might land me in a bar or with folks who weren’t as figuratively clean. Now, I have no problem with a whiskey or vodka drink on the weeknights and find myself walking downtown instead of running, scared of my own self and what might happen again. The motorcycle man, the hipster cowboy, tells me that I’m bad-ass but I’m too focused on my small town girl persona that I don’t even realize what he might mean.

It was all a gift, I suppose. Now I keenly eye motorcycles, looking for ground plates to protect from rocks etc. figuring out what kind of motorcycle rider I’ve encountered. Now, I notice the way the word “because” sounds as it would emit from his mouth like a nervous tick. I have to live in the gray because while he told me he wanted to work on something sustainable, told me I was dynamic, bought me a plane ticket to Arizona—he is gone. I anguish over what I did, knowing full well half of my actions were to push him or anyone away. If I can repulse you, its easier to repulse myself and stop trying so hard.

I was driving my truck to the mini Thai café near town, when the hipster cowboy broke out in song. He would often sing to me in a deep, booming voice and I’ve saved his voicemail messages. “Hello, Jen. This is ***** from the online dating app, Tinder. I thought I would shoot the shit with you and tell you about the glories of sleeping in a truck in the airport.” I wanted to tell him about the glories of taking risks in my life, becoming a star in my own right through yoga and writing. But, I didn’t. I kept secrets. I showed the underbelly of Jen, too fearful of manifesting my place in the world.

It was very hard to return from Arizona to Colorado, if nothing but for the weather. I went from 90 to 30 degrees wearing a thermal he had bought me, trudging through the airport in hiking boots. I sent a Mary Oliver poem to him in desperation trying to understand why he

r-u-n. o-f-t.

I will never know, and again I’m living in the gray of human emotion. Its possible he can see my beauty, my potential, my accomplishments and still see the ugliness that I project. I’m motivated once again to at least reach my own goals and come in first in the race against me. There is most likely no rhyme or reason to any of it. In a time of little meaning, a time of fuzz, there are the most beautiful sunsets and sunrises. Sunlight in the haze of smoke from my fire that will always burn.

“Ho Hey


I been trying to do it right
(Hey) I been living a lonely life
(Ho) I been sleepin’ here instead
(Hey) I been sleepin’ in my bed
(Ho) I been sleepin’ in my bed (hey ho)

so show me family
(Hey) all the blood that I will bleed
(Ho) I don’t know where I belong
(Hey) I don’t know where I went wrong
(Ho) but I can write a song (hey)

I belong with you, you belong with me, you’re my sweetheart
I belong with you, you belong with me, you’re my sweet’ (ho)

Hey (come on now)

I don’t think you’re right for him
(Hey) think of what it might have been if we
(Ho) took a bus to chinatown
(Hey) I’d be standin’ on canal (ho) and Bowery (hey)
(Ho) she’d be standin’ next to me (hey)

I belong with you, you belong with me, you’re my sweetheart
I belong with you, you belong with me, you’re my sweetheart

Love we, need it now
Let’s hope, for some
‘Cause oh, we’re bleedin’ out

I belong with you, you belong with me, you’re my sweetheart
I belong with you, you belong with me, you’re my sweet'(ho)


-The Lumineers


what i’m made for

Do you want what I have? What do I have? Who am I? Just got done reading a friend’s blog as she hikes the Pacific Crest Trail. Feelings of jealousy arise. I remember drinking with her one night when I invited some river rats from Canon City, CO to come to Pagosa Springs, CO with the sole purposes of getting out in the 10-foot raft. I may have misled them about my own river knowledge. Typical Jen. We drank whiskey the entire next afternoon and the friend became smitten with the rat. She traveled to see him, gave him books. He just wasn’t ready. I told her over and over she would love this boy I had met with a soithern drawl. They met. They shacked up. She speaks of him every other blog.

Do you want what I have? My best friend hiked the Appalachian Trail around 2004. She met a man on the trail and I picked her up in Rock Springs, WY after they had blown out her car traveling from Arcata, CA where she had gone to school at Humboldt State University. The man was impressed by the novelty of cows. He had never seen cattle on the bumpy dirt roads exclaiming private property. We spent months and months prepping for the trail as she was vegetarian and dehydrated food accordingly. My time in Humboldt was the first time encountering the faux hippie. The kid that doesn’t shower but also doesn’t have to work due to inheritances, trust funds, wealthy family. Dreadies and expensive shoes. The man my friend had met was just another stinky privileged jerk. That’s what she had.

Do you want what I have? I moved to Colorado to be that stinky hippie. But I, too, was pretending. I still have no money, no expensive shoes, and have no stinking clue how to hike or camp for longer than a few days. I collect river rats like trophies and listen as they try to connect with me. I can’t bring myself to tell them I’m in love with old man river. I let myself stink a little but can’t let go of deodorant. I want to dye my hair. Get a pedicure. Wax my dang eyebrows. My hair grows long and gray and I find myself on a 288 mile trip on the Colorado river through the Grand Canyon last summer. I sleep on the boat and sob. For what, I don’t know. The deep sadness ebbs and flows just like the water I seek. I realize my friend may have started her hike with the man that I had, the man that still tries to mess with me. I ignore his messages and move my body like the leaves shaking in streetlights on my nightly walks.

Do you want what I have? I can go anywhere with my job and get paid well. I achieved the thru hike of degrees. Kids will always need help and folks will always project their problems onto the child. I find myself smiling at a small dark haired girl, seeing my own brown eyes in hers. She still has time. She wants so much to be noticed. I get it, girl. I’ve been listening to a Dispatch album over and over finally accepting who I’ve always known I am. A hippie. I regret my degrees but hear my sister say she wishes she had a masters. All I know is I know nothing. I will never mention the names of boys in my blog. They are all just as fleeting as the hike. Life changing, but they won’t stay. I won’t let them.

Do you want what I have? I realize now how hard it was to be in Colorado. I wanted so bad to be a professional and take showers. Live in a house. Scoff at the thru hikers hitching through town. And now I want so bad to be out of my obligations. To get back to that mountain town and wonderfully mess it all up again. To stop shaving my armpits. To let my long hair twirl and twist into dreadies so that I can stop with this shampoo game. I hiked double digits the other day and felt so determined to just keep going with no destination. I get the lure of the hike. I get the lure of the mountain. I headed to Salida to ease my pains and met another river rat who danced with me as old men stared at me in my long dress. Crawling out of the rivers and down from the mountains to ogle and stare. Looks of longing is what they have.

Do you want what I have? I have a cute little home way up north in Wyoming and read studies of children who are affected the long light of summer days in an area where the northern lights can be seen. I feel at home but in a foreign country. I’m nervous to drive my truck sporting stickers of ski resorts and river stuff. I might be stereotyped–they might find me out as an ex-pat-greenie. But as I hang out in Colorado for the weekend I feel safe to show my tattoos. To laugh like a gypsy. To talk conspiracy theories with the German and Argentinian men I meet at the hostel. The German becomes disappointed as I let the river rat into the hostel to shower. So much for the theories in action. I promise he won’t steal anything from the rich white folks with expensive bikes strapped to their Subarus. I would love a nice (nicer) bike and nice car that can drive me right up the mountain. Epic adventures is what they have.

Do you want what I have? Or to pity me for what I don’t? I have no man giving me advice on how to hike, what to pack. I have no man guiding me down a river. I have no nice shoes and blew out a sacred pair of Chacos. I get questioned on any hike in Northern Wyoming: do you have bear spray? Do you have a map? Do you know how far you are going? No. No. And yes. I’ve already come so far. I don’t need a trail name to be apart of a community that I’m observing–just watching and waiting for my time to travel, hike, take six months away from play therapy. Can I be one of you? Would you like to be one of me? Always in two worlds. Straddling states, straddling identities. Brave enough to invite river rats and foreigners into my home. Hosting wild parties on a Tuesday morning when I transition between jobs. Do you want what I have? I don’t have much. I have me. Maybe that’s all I need.

“Be yourself; no base imitator of another, but your best self. There is something which you can do better than another. Listen to the inward voice and bravely obey that. Do the things at which you are great, not what you were never made for.”

― Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance and Other Essays


jennifer banks, ms, ppc

I had to look up my counseling licensure number yesterday to fill out a form.  I found myself on the Wyoming Licensing Board website checking out the disciplinary actions against licenses in Wyoming.  I recognized two of those names:  one woman for sleeping with a teenage boy (resulting in sexual assault charges as well), one woman for letting her license expire (working in a school counseling setting).  The other actions I sifted through were much the same—counselors taking liberties with clients or letting their license lapse.

There was a time only just recently when I was told how much I sucked at counseling, how much I sucked at life.  The stars were aligned and my life seemed to reflect these ideas.  I worked in a state and school where I held both licenses—school counseling and licensed professional counselor candidate.  There were moments when I felt I was going crazy.  I questioned my coworker about her licensure and it forever affected our relationship.  She did not want to take the tests, pay the initial fee.  I was made to feel my ethical concerns were unwarranted in a charter school where “folks don’t need to be licensed.”  But—this is counseling?

First—do no harm.  To me, the harm caused was not necessarily to a client but to a profession.  My peer–and sometimes my mentor–did not have the qualifications to perform the job.  I had to take several national exams, complete 60 hours of graduate courses, pay hundreds of dollars.  I passed ethics and diagnosis with A’s.  I worked hard and my background always presents new hurdles and I will be made to never to forget my mistakes.  The harm was to me—I thought there was something wrong with me and I was nitpicking.  Sifting through the disciplinary actions made it clear that this was not the case.  Practicing without a license can be detrimental.

When I first arrived at my new counseling outfit, I was so happy to have our profession elevated.  I sign all documents with my letters: MS, PPC.  I have a nice corner office.  I send faxes.  I perform assessments, intakes, and evaluations each day.  When we were gearing up to train our staff for our summer day treatment program, there was a section in which we talked about appropriate touch.  Again, thoughts of the past bubbled back up and an interaction with my former director came to mind.  I had some knowledge of sexual abuse of some of our students, but this I kept to myself.  I just asked that staff not touch kiddos.  I provided alternatives (handshakes, rituals, proximity, etc.)

I ended up at dinner with a coworker and just like the other coworker, I started to feel so small.  I was flat out told by her I was wrong about touching kiddos.  She felt her actions (children on her lap, children with their heads on her lap, braiding hair, etc) were in line. Kids who have experienced sexual abuse often have indiscriminatory connections with adults, throwing hugs out like candy at a parade.  Yes, touch is so important which is why I teach parenting classes that foster attachment. Attachment of a child to their primary caregiver—not a teacher assistant.  I felt small, rigid, stupid.  In the midst of all of this, my former partner would tell me I had manipulated the system.  But—those 60 graduate hours?  The narrative was that I had fooled them.  I was just good at standardized tests—none of this reflection of my ability.

Well.  I’m bigger now.  I’ve gained some weight which really bugs me but I’m trying to survive in this first year of transition.  But—I’ve got respect.  I watch as others start to adopt my choice language with kiddos and watch me adapt and circle up the kids each step of the way.  I don’t need any verbalizations of my value because I see my leadership reflected right back.  Its not a battle to tell them not to touch kids—its just known.  I don’t have to explain why licensure is important.  I live and breathe by my license.  As I create healthy connections and boundaries with kids the relationship grows and grows and then arrives the corrective emotional experience.  For the child, and for me.

I hope to never have disciplinary action against my license and worry now that I’ve put it in this blog, somehow that former partner will mess that up.  But, I have nothing to worry about.  I don’t sleep with my clients.  I’m very mindful of my license, my supervision, the profession.  And I’m slowly starting to let it seep in that I’m a professional.  Those two years of grad school, of sobriety, of fighting for my life were an investment I’m banking on now.  Licensed in two states—really close to being fully licensed.  Gearing up to build up a child and family program where I am the expert.  Its okay if I’m reading into things—its my job.

While I’m not sure if this is the place for me, this is the profession for me.  I come home each night with paint stuck into the crevices of my fingers where I bite my nails when I get that feeling of dissonance.  The paint on my pants, on my finger pads, the sticks in my hair—I’m doing it!  I have clinical hunches that are validated and I always take the position of curiosity.  What does this behavior do for the client?  What did my behavior at the school do for me?  Lacking confidence, feeling beat down, forever trolling around with a bag of toys because I never had an office—this did nothing for me.  So I stopped.  I moved.  And I became more accepting of the child within me and of the young woman that is growing up.

“I am not all knowing.

Therefore, I will not even attempt to be.

I need to be loved.

Therefore, I will be open to loving children.

I want to be more accepting of the child in me.

Therefore, I will with wonder and awe allow children to illuminate my world.

I know so little about the complex intricacies of childhood.

Therefore, I will allow children to teach me.

I learn my best from and am impacted most by my personal struggles.

Therefore, I will join with children in their struggles.

I sometimes need a refuge.

Therefore, I will provide a refuge for children.

I like it when I am fully accepted for the person I am.

Therefore, I will strive to experience and appreciate the person of the child.

I make mistakes. They are a declaration of the way I am – human and fallible.

Therefore, I will be tolerant of the humanness of children.

I react with emotional internalization and expression to my world of reality.

Therefore, I will relinquish the grasp I have on reality and try to enter the world as experienced by the child.

It feels good to be an authority, to provide answers.

Therefore, I will need to work hard to protect children from me!

I am more fully me when I feel safe.

Therefore I will be consistent in my interactions with children.

I am the only person who can live my life.

Therefore, I will not attempt to rule a child’s life.

I have learned most of what I know from experiencing.

Therefore, I will allow children to experience.

The hope I experience and the will to live comes from within me.

Therefore, I will recognize and confirm the child’s will and selfhood.

I cannot make children’s hurts and fears and frustrations and disappointments go away.

Therefore, I will soften the blow.

I experience fear when I am vulnerable.

Therefore, I will with kindness, gentleness, and tenderness touch the inner world of the vulnerable child.


– Principles for Relationships with Children”

― Garry L. Landreth, Play Therapy: The Art of the Relationship


another sunday morning

Its almost July. The time of butterflies and wildflowers and memories of hiking in the lightning, getting hammered by graupel. The days growing hotter and windows forever open while the wind chimes, doves, and robins sing sweetly each morning. So goes the seasons of me. I haven’t written in awhile because I didn’t want anyone knowing where I was going, what I’m doing. Its still winter in my heart but working as a therapist I experience winter-hearts each day and it doesn’t scare me anymore. I remember watching a movie about an asteroid that was to hit earth and the most calm and stoic character was the female with depression. Her world had already ended. Each day waking up a ghost in a life she didn’t really want.

I want life. I want love. But I’ve gone north and hidden myself at the foot of a mountain range not necessarily known for its tall peaks but for its isolation. Hikes here aren’t harrowing in the climbing part but harrowing because there is no one else around. I can drive 10 minutes and be on a trail where my companions are sage and sorrow. But I’m not scared anymore. I’m not sure if I’m living in the past or the future but feel very foggy in the now. Before I left Colorado I started just letting myself be and take risks. With my heart, my body. I scooped up a few new lovers and one very ancient lover who just like an afternoon thunderstorm has came and went. I celebrate that I left as soon as he got nasty. Life might be fuzzy but I can still see.

I think about what I’m doing and where I want to go. My main objective is to transfer my hours from Colorado and try to expedite my counseling licensure in Wyoming. I have found a home in therapy but some days I dream of once again working on the river—hauling around drop bags and stoves, creaking open the Yeti cooler for an ice-cold beer. I start to notice and appreciate ice and wash my hands thinking of what a privilege this running water really is. I’m paying too much in rent and start to hatch plans of leaving the country. Giant thunderclouds form in my brain as I think about saving enough money to travel and looking up all the friends I made on Warmshowers and Couchsurfing. Take me in, send me on my way. Sitting with the heavy feeling of being lost and accepting that there is no destination.

I miss Colorado. I miss my friends. I miss whoever that wild and brave woman was who took a risk and tried her damndest to become an adventurer. I lack some skills—courage, bravery, grit. I lack some resources—adventure buddies, money, a trusty truck. Yet I can always reflect on times when I had all those things and how I was always trying. Maybe this lackluster writing is a new try. I want to go get lost in the rolling plains and jagged mountains. I want to play like the calves I see in the meadows on the trail. I want my love to grow as large as my grief. Perhaps now, life is like the calm after the last crack of lightning takes the storm with the wind. I see reflections in rain drops that have settled on the sweet grass and these reflections show me a person who is stuck in her head, stuck in a rut.

I haven’t gotten my truck stuck recently and maybe this is the litmus test of adventure. I would get myself stuck every few weeks in Pagosa—sometimes in the driveway and sometimes at the foot of a mountain. One time, I had a choice to either ride my bike back to town or climb a mountain to use my phone. I climbed the mountain. I didn’t go back. And all was well. Here I am again creating mountains in my mind and soft hills in my body as I become sedentary and less like a hummingbird, more like a human. I read a friends blog this morning as she hikes the PCT and remember dehydrating and vacuum sealing enough meals for six months with a friend hiking the AT. Some plan, some don’t, some call it quits, some won’t.

Its another Sunday morning and I’m waiting to hear from the loggers just outside of town down the mountain range I now call home. I know they love the gentle call of the trees and flowers. The rushing rivers and big sky. I will absorb their anxiety as well as mine and exist in the middle of a storm because there is so much energy in the crashing of my thoughts, in the wind of the blood swooping through my veins. They’ve been fly fishing and I made a comment that I don’t like fishing because its so still. My life is still right now, my body calm. I’m not violently in love, I’m not violently in sadness. I simply am.

“I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than trees.”

-Henry David Thoreau



I was so nervous for our first long hike.  I went to Subway the night before to order breakfast and lunch sammies and woke up early to make sausages with cheese grits.  I was heckled for shoving my backpack full of beer, light jackets, macaroons, water, and a Tupperware container full of that southern delight I had planned for.  We started out at Lobo Overlook in freezing temperatures of early October in Colorado.  I had my hiking poles, my Goretex, and some snowboots I had just bought because I spaced my hiking boots.

I was so nervous for my first summit of Pagosa Peak.  I had failed a few times by now and decided to set out early, by myself.  It was the summer of the solar eclipse and I had a fight with my boyfriend who was headed to Wyoming for the total eclipse.  I stayed for my total transformation.  I ended up meeting a new friend at the trail and I lent him my eclipse glasses at the top while he showed me his makeshift index card with a tiny pinhole in the middle.  We are still friends and the universe knew that day that I was ready to summit.

I was so nervous for my first boating trip down the Grand Canyon.  I still can’t tie a half hitch knot and there were a few harrowing moments when that skill set would have been of great use.  I didn’t quite know what to expect and found myself in complete peace as I slept on the giant Yeti cooler each night brushing my teeth with the sandy water of the Colorado.  I worked hard each day and found myself running out of tobacco towards the end of the trip.  I made friends with a wonderful unassuming boy who works on a horse ranch.  I will never forget that time.

I was so nervous for my first 20 mile run with a friend who was preparing to race the Leadville 100.  We had been building up for weeks and decided to run the Piedra River Trail.  I had run with this group before, leading negative splits fueled by fear and passion.  I started to PR and set records on local courses trying so hard to keep running, albeit slow, up any hill I could find.  I met amazing women runners, some of who wanted to be vulnerable and some who kept their cards close to their heart. I would run in raggedy shirts, pants, and shoes and hold my ground because running is free.  I am free.

I was so nervous to teach my first yoga class in Pagosa but I taught the only way I knew how.  From my heart and with my healing elements.  Folks would come and go but I would make a stupid joke and follow it with my shot-gun laugh and know that I was vulnerable.  I would hear disastrous news before a class and breathe to set it all aside.  I would tell of my knowledge of all the forms of yoga and relate my form of yoga to the class.  When a cat pukes on the floor—its yoga.  We started a little group after class where we would go sing the lyrics to vintage songs in the local bar and not care what anybody thinks.

I am so nervous to leave my home.  I’m a simple kind of woman (Lynrd Skynrd why didn’t you write that?) and value a home-base very much.  I think of any Everest climb and how home base is spiritually on the summit.  I’ve been climbing, climbing, scared and I think of the folks at base camp who put so much good energy into the summit.  A journey, an adventure, at the top of the world where your problems are in the valley below.  The descent lets all the tension go, the departure from the peak fills the void that exists in all of our hearts.

“Smile, breathe, and go slowly.”

– Thich Nhat Hanh


small town, big mistakes (Part 2)

The time has come again–I don’t know if I’ve messed up but I’m starting over again (and again and again…).  Its been almost 3 years since I moved to Colorado and I’ve learned a shit ton.  I’ve done things I may have never experienced—climbed mountains, rafted rivers, counseled children, fell in love.  I’ve been waking up between 3 and 4 everyday and go through periods of crying and smiling.  I look at the lives of others and wonder what is this life for—what is my purpose?

I’ve been doing this ritual each day where I pull a card from a deck of animal medicine.  I recently pulled the mountain lion and find some solace.  The book says “Mountain Lion can be a very difficult power totem for you to have, because it places you in a position to be a target for the problems of others.  You could be blamed for things going wrong, or for always taking charge when other cannot.  You could become the perfect justification for the insecurities of others.”  Is this true?  Is my animal medicine bringing out fear in others and then hate?

I drug up an old blog post about living in a small town and making big mistakes.  In my head, I have the negative comments and actions of myself and everyone around me playing like a record who’s needle never meets the end.  I think in list form of all the people I’ve pissed off, all the people I’ve come to realize aren’t for me and just the general state of my being.  I am not wrong, I am not right and I’m stuck in the limbo of my own identity.  I was a runner, I was a lover, I was a counselor, I was a hippie  And now I feel like a shell.  And this shell is my home.

The blog I wrote was only 9 months into my tenure in a small town and now as I roll up on several years I look back at my writing.  This will be a recycled blog, or perhaps just edited as I continue to edit my experience.  It is most likely I won’t stay here but I’m hardly running away.  I’m writing this in the first place because I stopped writing for a moment because it was just becoming another way I was deemed to be unworthy of ski bum status, unworthy of being a girl with flowers in her hair.  I want to add all to this list, make amends, find closure in my own heart but nothing will ever be wrapped up neat like a package although life is always a gift.

Every other time I’ve written of the past 9 months (now 29 months) its been romanticized, dramatized, creatively approached, over-analyzed.  And now, I will tell the story of how I made enemies in a small town.  I moved to Alamosa in July to work at a college where I thought I might be able to make a difference.  I left home, and arrived in Colorado ready to make friends with anything that breathed.  I was in a job that I was pretty awful at, as a dorm director.  I have no idea how to supervise and I’m no good at giving directives.  I did not do a good job at managing people or a dorm.

In the midst of feeling sad about losing my dog of 16 years, my Grandma, and my home state I made some pretty out of character moves that I’d spent the last 7 years of my life trying to absolve.  I was Tindering like crazy and that was my first sign.  I went on a few dates with men I wouldn’t look at twice.  Some dates turned into overnights and I started manifesting behaviors of college.  It didn’t matter though–here I was in Colorado and had taken a demotion to come here.  I was ready to be open to that identity stage of life.  Who was I?  A woman who Tindered, clearly.

(New Content)  I took a demotion.  I took a risk.  I gave up health care, I gave up retirement, I gave up stability.  And now it seems I’m moving another direction.  I’m going to get pension.  I’m going to work a lot.  I’m going to delve into my dharma, my life’s work which I’m still unsure of.  Was it my life’s work to be a sparkly eyed gypsy?  Or is my life’s work to be a helper, a healer, a confident woman?  I’ve done the litmus test of “will this matter in 5 years?”  Fuck yes it will.  I will never forget this time.  I will never forget who I met here—at least those who saw my soul.  I am still a woman who Tinders, a woman who frustrates herself and everyone around her.  I don’t know if I’m ready for this new identity, this new stage of life.  As the story goes, life has put me right where I need to be and I guess I don’t need to understand.

I deleted a paragraph in which I detailed the man I dated since I got here.  The man I moved to Pagosa Springs for.  He did not ruin my life.  He said a lot of mean shit, but I’m Mountain Lion.  I will balance power, intuition, physical strength, and grace.  Grace says that man lived the only life he knew.  While it hurt to be called names or to fight, it was nice to explore my full self and to understand that I am inclined towards a different world that him.  I didn’t mean to get here with my masters and I have regrets (forever in debt) but there is nothing wrong with me.  Everything is already alright, always alright.  I fell back in my sobriety and lived the ski town life.  Everything is always alright, and maybe it was right for that moment for that time.

Another paragraph deleted in which I gave that lover so much power.  But that is the totem of the mountain lion—to stand in my own convictions and lead myself where my heart takes me.  My heart took me to Colorado and I fell lost in love following the dreams that might not have been mine but that I still attach to.  My heart is a little hurt and it needs to heal.  I recount the quote saying something about how adventure isn’t always going to new places but seeing old places with new eyes.  Other quotes about how I have the entire universe within me.  It looks like I’ll be heading home on another odyssey to find the hero within.  To a space about 100 miles where I was born–the genesis of me.  Going back to the womb to fester a bit more, to be reborn yet again.

I couldn’t quite figure out how to mesh the new and old blog but next I previously started talking about some awful landlords I had who still haunt my life.  The female is now teaching a yoga class I started and held space for.  My gift to her.  I’ve been teaching for years and now its her time.  The male just wrote a book and now its his time to stand in his own strength in words.  I could recount how awful shit was but its buried. I’ve found that these rural areas, mountain towns, transient places all bring people who are looking for something, too.  Usually after being shaken up.  Who am I to describe how the dirt settles.  Another saying goes folks come to Pagosa Springs to heal, hide, or take a hike.  I healed in many ways, I hid for months, and now I’m taking a giant hike back home.

As I continue I delete more and more paragraphs to rewrite my life.  The paragraphs recounted all the ways they thought I was less than, stupid, a pawn of capitalism.  There’s my shit, there is other shit, and there is our shit.  What will be said to the next young professional female that tries to make her way?   She will encounter the same folks.  They make like her.  They may not.  It no longer matters to me anymore because I’ve rebuilt who I know I am.  I explored dual identities and I’m okay with what’s going on in my heart.  The tears and deep breaths help me know I’m alive.  If you don’t like my fire, then don’t come around.  I may burn you or myself to the ground.

Turns out, I’ve kept maybe one paragraph of the old blog.  But I’ve kept my old enemies.  The old landlords became friends with the old boyfriend.  The folks I let live in my home are in this camp as well, probably some old employers, some folks from around town.  What can I say, he was a nice man and he is on his own journey heading north on the Pacific Crest Trail while I head north toward wide open spaces.  They may speak of me, of the Mountain Lion, but she has once again retreated and will be elusive.  Leadership is the main lesson of Mountain Lion and due to that leadership quality, others try to knock you off the proverbial mountain.  I’ve been knocked off these San Juan Mountains and now I head to the Big Horns to heal, hide, and hike again.

I’ve agonized so many nights over who I became trying to be who I’m not.  I became my 17 year old self trying to survive trailer parks hanging out with felons, looking for escape and comfort.   I became paranoid, researching folks on the internet to prove to myself that I had encountered a huge abusers club.  Researching mental health in rural areas to prove to myself that they collect poor, uneducated folks with a clan mentality.  I know at the end of the day I have a handful of folks in the world who think I’m the worst person they have ever met.  And that might be their experience but this is not how I experience myself.  I see myself as someone who will forever struggle with addictions.  I became addicted to the same old stuff and I became addicted to abusive people.  I feel like the world has become inverted and anyone who has lived in a ski town could say this may be true.

And so, now, I’m getting better.  (Add on:  I’m learning I want to be better).  I’ve been offered a few jobs with sweet ass benefits because my paychecks can’t always come in sunsets, and sunsets are everywhere.  I’m still a licensed therapist in Colorado and Wyoming.  I still have a skill set. Far healthier people with excellent boundaries are watching my every move.  And here’s what my counselor training has taught me:  healthy people do not respond to a boundary by sending cruel and threatening text messages.  Healthy people do not take time out of their day to talk shit on a woman they knew less than 3 months.  Healthy people do not find any excuse to party to the detriment of their relationships and family.  And so I will be a healthy person.  I will understand that my behaviors got me here.  Going back and forth with that man enraged him.  Refusing to stay in a home with enraged landlords. But, in no case will rage set anything right.

I kept this last paragraph of the original post.  These mistakes have turned into grand opportunities.  I can shame myself for feeling warm fuzzies from a pension.  I can shame myself for deciding to help my family.  But I am denying a part of who I am.  That’s why I came here in the first place.  I wanted to have a conversation with that ol’ hippie, that college girl who knew what she wanted and didn’t give a shit what people think.  And I can be both.  I care if I hurt someone.  I care if I’m hurt.  I want to travel both the world and my soul.  I can do both.  I’ve looked up climbing gyms, ski areas, yoga studios, unitarian churches.  I’m looking up exhibition training plans and areas where I can gain over 1000 vertical feet—I’m still Jen.

I would still sit down in a room and apologize to all in this small town who I have caused pain. Lets all get some couples counseling cuz this ain’t working.  It takes us so much energy to hate.  Let’s all get some individual therapy because there’s some serious mental health issues at hand here—mine included.  Set boundaries out the gate—we can all survive together and still be sweet souls.  I’ve done wrong.  I’ve hurt some folks who I thought I would love.  I’ve done right.  I’ve loved the person who I will spend the rest of my life with–myself.  And so, I will leave this small town and I will find wonderful people who model healthy interactions.  I will think about my life and what I want.  I want to be free of poor boundaries, free of the drama that comes with being a big turd in a small toilet.  I will do better, I will be better, and I hope to meet you in my next destination to prove it.

“You left and the world didn’t crumble.  I owe the universe a dollar.”

-Rudy Francisco

Addiction, Archetypes, character study, Colorado, Community organizing, eccentric, Existentialism, Expansion, Family, Gardening, individualism, introvert, Mental Health, Micro Non-Fiction, Mindfulness, mountains, Non-Fiction, poetry, privilage, PTSD, Relationships, Self Growth, Self Love, Self Reflection, Wyoming, Yoga

fire flowers

I’m back! I set my site to private back in October after realizing I may have a few folks watching my every move not hoping for the best outcome. Screw those folks. I always undulate back and forth between being discrete, quiet, and professional or loud, boisterous, and flashy. Perhaps I can be all these things but also be myself. I read a review on Couchsurfing describing me as a firecracker. Bang, bang—I’m here to make you feel all the feels!

Life has been tough and tender lately. I’m sitting in my home wondering if we will get another foot of snow and hoping that I can maybe not eat pizza—just for today. Belly full, mind starved of the interactions that I thrive off of—interactions having to do with politics, stars, recipes. I made my site private because while my thoughts are my own, they became ammunition against me. The fireworks started becoming roman candles shooting directly for my heart. And in matters of the heart, I’m still learning and growing.

I went home last week to Wyoming and met up with a old (new?) flame. I wish I could stand all of my flames in a line in the same place and write a poem about each of these former lovers. All these flames, sparking into a huge fire of words and thoughts about how I experienced them all. Ahh yes, that is J, he really loved metal music just like me. Oh there is T, he was so handsome that I would mistake him for a James Dean lookalike in the corner store. And then B. He was his own worst enemy too far in his own head to climb into my brain. And the infamous S. If he could string together just a few days without calling me names or shaming my body, perhaps I would try to be what he wanted.

But the snow, the pizza, the boys—they seem like such distractions compared to my life’s work. To be outside. To learn about the snow. To learn how to eat food that I grow and food that grows me. To learn to be less reactive. I’m always so affected by my time with my family. We are from the same tree. Nervously sweeping the floor and picking up empty water bottles from last night’s conversations. Becoming sullen and sleepy on the couch thinking of life. Shutting the doors to our dreams to take another nap because damn this life is a lot to take on.

So, here I am. In words, in fluffy flesh, in transition. I know I will shed the pizza belly as soon as I resolve to do something—it is in stone. I’ve written some words in sand and now they are gone and I can begin to carve out who I really am. I don’t need to spend time with stinky boys who are lost in the trees, lost in the snow, lost in their own ego. I need to spend time with the freshman girl who walked into her first writing class not knowing she would be the best freshman writer that professor had instructed. And now, its not about being the best. Its about being me. Being real. Being here. Now.

“Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life, but define yourself.”

― Harvey Fierstein


road kill and panty hose

Inversions. I don’t do them much in yoga mostly because I can’t. I have not put in the effort to suspend myself upside down balancing on my neck bones, picturing each vertebrae smash into the base of my school while blood rushes to my head on the horizon of my mat. My life has felt a bit inverted but as of late I’m starting to see everything come together even after it has crumbled. Sand moves and changes, ancient in the wisdom of the winds of change and in the powerful force of water and fluidity.

My work inversion practice has become such that now I am a leader. I feel that I can plant some heirloom seeds of my learnings at the elementary school. As I look back, I know feel a sense of pride for the things that I felt mattered to me, to the kids. I wrote and was awarded grants for Osprey packs so we could saunter down those crooked, winding trails. I left that legacy. I took the kiddos to volunteer at the Humane Society, down Piedra River Trail, up Chimney Rock. Children are a powerful force, fluid, wise, ever changing.

It feels like so much pressure to have kids eyeball me as I move around the classroom to pick up some of my special buddies. I see eyes peering through door cracks, smiles flashing atop tip toes skipping across the commons, feel little hands grip my thighs in hugs and touch my long braid. They so want to be seen and as I uncover feelings and thoughts I realize how alike we all are. We all want to be seen, just seems adults do it in even more sneaky ways, eyes peering from doors that were shut a long time ago.

I miss teaching yoga but have been watching videos, collecting cues, deciding how I will once again get my steady practice at a steady time. I miss crawling into the womb of a 6:00 am heated class, feeling safe and strong in the motherland of my soul. Lots of pressure there, too, folks thinking that I may know more about their personal practice. Cleaning up cat vomit is yoga. Snapping a child is yoga. Getting into a violent fight is yoga. Yoga that will cause immense self-reflection and change. Sometimes things have to be upside down to come up right.

I’ve been touring farms and spending more time around farm folk, simple folk, or really folks who have decided to make a living the best way they know how—minimalistically and cheaply. I know not to guzzle down the kool-aid too quick after our first hard frost and getting messages about the cold becoming a mean ol ex, frigid, thick and heavy. Then I watch shows about living mortgage and rent free, watch contractors frame out tiny spaces and remember I have friendships with many carpenters. Electricians. Van-home builders. I can barter my dreams.

As hard as life has been here in Pagosa Springs, I can’t let the fuzz of my own sadness cover the lens of life. Life becoming a movie with the camera covered in soft panty-hose—the kind used in filming Gone With the Wind. Out of focus pink and ominous horizon and sharp image of Clark Gable not giving a damn. I’ve channeled some of my own Clark-ness not giving a damn about the old crotchedy landlords, the mentally ill friend, the narcissistic ex. They are all just archetypes of folks I will encounter over and over. Love me or hate me, it has nothing to do with me.

I was at a friends farm talking with my best Old Timer buddy when the owner comes whipping up the drive and yells out “road kill!!!!” We are now in a Bronco, back hinge door flapping and creaking over every rock as we tear down the dirt road. We find the slick patch of fresh blood on the road and pull over. I try to shut the eyes of the deer and let it go. I am directed to grab the leg by the tendon and give one heave and warm pile of red chunky stuff falls out her mouth. Blood on boots, hands, pants. She is still warm and I’m worried of breaking her limbs. Then I realize—its doesn’t matter. She is dead. And so it the old version of me.

“With enough courage, you can do without a reputation.”

-Rhett Butler, Gone With the Wind


learning all the way

I need to write, I need to do yoga, I need to meditate. Each day, I make choices about what will get my time. So writing, here’s your 15 minutes. I decided I needed to write something vulnerable to explain where I’m at in space—my soul temperature. Then I thought don’tyoudaredothatJen because your weakness will be used against you. Sure. If I invite that crap into my life. So there’s a temperature check. I’m growing.

I’m so tired but so on top of my game that I suppose I can do this another year. I made a decision to stay in a ski town when I’m an awful skier. But then, everyday at lunch, when I’m running around the uptown neighborhood I get to look up and see what I’m doing. Mountain living. I’ve already done so much I wouldn’t have. This year, I’ve summited peaks that scared me, floated rivers that humbled me, watched vegetables grow that defy me.

I’m 8 days into some real nice changes. I worry about my weight at 6’2” and 170 but I will let that fall into place after I take care of business. This is a deep worry that I might not ever rectify but I invite healing. I’ve been doing yoga and running every day. Eating mountain spinach green smoothies for breakfast and salads with all local ingredients for lunch. Dinner is in process but maybe I’m proving that I can lived off cured meats and cheeses. It will work out.

I’ve started thinking about the RV life for no other reason than to not have to work so much. I’m at about 55-60 hours each week but have finagled myself a lunch again. I run as a reset and think about how to help myself, how to help others. The best part of my day is spent trying to chase down my fast running times of last summer feeling my muscles and bones groan with each crouch to the ground. I feel useful, worthwhile.

I don’t know if I’ve made a huge mistake staying in a town where I fear I may not have a place. Risking getting back with a person who I let rob me of my center. But, there are some thoughts that arise. I’m best with a schedule. I’m best like nature, rising, unfolding my petals, shaking off my leaves, always changing but to a pattern. I like to write in the morning. I like to do chores on Sunday. I like to unpack my bags first thing upon a return from a trip.

So here I am. I am, I am, I am. I am scared. I’m not sure what I’m doing. I’m good with kids, I know my field. I’ve learned not to care what folks think or if they don’t see my value. I was listening to a radio story about Burt Reynolds being an abusive dude. I wonder if his partner got her power back as well. To be compelled to hurt when hurt is a pretty normal pathology. Just gotta find different ways to handle the rage or to dry it off like this crispy summer.

I handle the rage with yoga. With running. With working too much. Meditating. Thinking about who I really am. And when I’m at my jobs with kids—I’m truly in my dharma. When I’m at my other job, I do my best to cultivate mindful intentions. Make food with love. Sweep floors with joy. All the while smiling thinking about a comment yesterday. I left the kids unattended with a hose for a moment and I get back and talk to a little girl. She says “Well, Miss Jen, we probably learned a halfway lesson but you learned all the way!” Learning all the way, what might be the way.

“There is a certain animal vitality in most of us which carries us through any trouble but the absolutely overwhelming. Only a fool has no sorrow, only an idiot has no grief – but then only a fool and an idiot will let grief and sorrow ride him down into the grave.”

― Edward Abbey, Postcards from Ed: Dispatches and Salvos from an American Iconoclast