Addiction, Archetypes, Asana, Death, Expansion, Faith, Fear, Health Issues, Mental Health, Micro Non-Fiction, Non-Fiction, PTSD, Relationships, Running, Self Growth, Self Love, Self Reflection, Yoga

thank you, india

I didn’t start doing yoga because it was trendy or I wanted to shame folks into being “mindful” or more in touch with the breath.  I started using yoga because I didn’t want to die.  I was suffering from horrible anxiety and had maintained sobriety for 2 years.  I did my first yoga class August 15th of 2012.  It was hot yoga and I had no idea what to expect.  I’ve written on this 1000 times before, but I cried that first class.  By October of that same year, I had quit cigarettes.  Sobriety sealed in.  Vices gone.  Stripped of any other cause for my struggles, I realized that my anxiety was apart of me.  Then, I upped the ante (I was fighting for my life) and I started running.  I started spending time in nature.

I moved to Colorado in 2016 to continue of this path.  I wanted to become more spiritual. I wanted to explore the mountains, find the rivers and trees that mimicked my breath and helped me get back into my body.  This was a move to continue to chip away at the anxiety.  Not to become a feathery light yoga teacher and drink kombucha, talk about chakras, and judge others who weren’t wearing LuLuLemon.  Yeah, I fell into those patterns at first, downing homemade kombucha with chia seeds, drinking rose-water flavored kefir, buying mats, straps, and blocks.  But it started to change me and change for me right away.

I started teaching yoga in May of 2013 and soon realized that I wasn’t quite like the other teachers.  I said “fuck” a lot in class.  I was really inflexible and was mostly embarrassed of my practice but I had to give it away. I encouraged folks to wear whatever pants they had on hand—we wouldn’t be trying to stand on our heads.  We would be trying to keep hold of our sanity, our lives, our precious time sober whether that be a day or years.  I had stiff men in blue jeans coming to my class hiding in the corner but happy to have an alternative to 12 step meetings.  One man, Brad, is now dead.  He took his own life.  Brad most likely didn’t want to die either.  This medicine was so important.

With a strong, steady, albeit unconventional yoga practice, I began to identify my true issues.  I was lapping up religious texts, reading BKS Iyengar’s “Light on Yoga” tediously moving through the Bhagavad Vita.  I no longer thought of myself as a cluster B type.  I didn’t think that I was crazy.  That was and is my truth.  I was a seeker, doing everything in my power to heal myself and give this healing away.   I was teaching yoga to folks in drug court, I was teaching myself about how we all face the battlefield of inner conflict like Arjuna in the Bhavagad Gita.  I was starting to learn how all religions, when stripped of the dogma, teach peace and self-work.   The anxiety was still there, but it was more of a friend.

Now, I’m feeling the overwhelming brevity of life again.  I do not want to die.  I find myself wanting to write again on what has happened this past year but realize its ego.  I’ve fallen into ego, I’ve fallen into some traps, and I will take accountability for my own actions.  The anxiety is back like a giant monster under my bed and now sometimes is expressed as depression.  I don’t think I have to convince anyone anymore what I experienced was real.  For over a year now, I’ve been taking in some bullshit that I’ve started to believe.  You suck at yoga.  You suck at running.  You suck at life.   But, I want to live…but I do yoga to live…please see that I run to live.  These hobbies are more than just trying to stay thin or flexible.  They are my medicine.

I think when one dives into the yogic texts the practice just becomes one limb of a life changing process.  Yama, the first limb of yoga, teaches us of Satya.  It encourages us to think about what is true for us and how we know that to be true.  Is this truth based in someone else’s belief or is this truth personal?  And then there’s Ahisma, or non-violence.  Showing compassion to oneself first before all others.  I have experienced my own truth in yoga, running, and life.  My truth tells me that I’m a human being with addictions, faults, and a lot of love to give.  Yet, I run away from love.  And so I do yoga.  I run.  I get down on my knees and cry.

All of these are such personal experiences for me that it would be like saying someone sucks at praying to say I suck at my own self-healing.  I do what I do to be better for the world, to be better for the people around me, to see my own ego in all this stuff.   Lets practice compassion with one another and let each other pray in a way that brings us closer to ourselves, to others, to God.  One doesn’t have to believe in God to see how violence separates us.  I will continue to seek truth, practice Svadhyaya (study of the ancient texts and one’s self) and Isvara Pranidhana–I will surrender to God, to gravity, to my own truth.

“Thank u

How ’bout getting off these antibiotics
How ’bout stopping eating when I’m full up
How ’bout them transparent dangling carrots
How ’bout that ever elusive kudo
Thank you India
Thank you terror
Thank you disillusionment
Thank you frailty
Thank you consequence
Thank you thank you silence
How ’bout me not blaming you for everything
How ’bout me enjoying the moment for once
How ’bout how good it feels to finally forgive you
How ’bout grieving it all one at a time
Thank you India
Thank you terror
Thank you disillusionment
Thank you frailty
Thank you consequence
Thank you thank you silence
The moment I let go of it was the moment
I got more than I could handle
The moment I jumped off of it
Was the moment I touched down
How ’bout no longer being masochistic
How ’bout remembering your divinity
How ’bout unabashedly bawling your eyes out
How ’bout not equating death with stopping
Thank you India
Thank you providence
Thank you disillusionment
Thank you nothingness
Thank you clarity
Thank you thank you silence”
–Alanis Morissette

Addiction, Anorexia, Archetypes, Asana, Body Image, Bulimia, character study, Death, depression, Dharma, Dichotomies, eccentric, Existentialism, Faith, Family, Fear, Health Issues, introvert, Mental Health, Micro Non-Fiction, Mindfulness, mountains, Non-Fiction, PTSD, Relationships, Self Growth, Self Love, Self Reflection, Universiality, Yoga

dark soul forest

I won’t save you, and I’ve lost myself.  I draw attention to my own ticks over the weekend swirling my bottom teeth with the tip of my tongue and slamming back beer incessantly posting shitty pictures along with poetry.  Trying to capture what it feels like to have folks say they missed me so much—and to ask me to stay.

My sick motivation to write is to be noticed when I can’t go out into the world.  Even tonight, at writing group, I felt my eyebrows furrow parking close to a bush in the parking lot–too many cars. I want so bad to hide away but to still be seen.

Let my writing be greater than I am in real life.  Crying, brooding, salty.  I have no sword or staff, no moral superiority.  Right now, I’m a bit of a neurotic.  The feel of my bra against my skin is awful. I’ve hero’d my way through my own life so many times that I’ve run out of characters to play.

My niece scoots up to sit behind me on the couch and grips my arms to press my middle back into her tiny frame.  In the pressing she finds comfort, waddles off to return with a plaid wool blanket so I can wrap her up like a tiny burrito.  More and more blankets appear and she winds up a pile in my lap crushing against my knees and thighs.

I become a rocking chair always back and forth rocking myself into my own mother’s sweetness and breath in an extended hug.  My own blood strong with genes bearing pronounced cheeks. Teeth floating in a pink case tasting of mint and nostalgia as I plop them in my mouth to skip to the living room and grin at niece and sister.

I walk into mom’s bedroom to smell her perfume and take so much comfort in the body shape of both her and my sister.  Loving gaze.  The bodies of our tribe.  Family my own complexity of the hero and anti-hero, thesis and antithesis of a human tree.  Family the underbelly of why I write.   All their fault and not their fault at all.

My stomach screams at me in anxiety to go vomit.  My fists demand that I slam them into a ripe pillow case crumpled by last nights sweat-sleep.  I write because I cannot connect.  I write because I am selfish.  I write to trick myself into thinking I am good at something, and to find sick pleasure in my own voice-in-writing.  The anti-hero of okay.  The death of an anti-warrior with no corpse.

“Your soul is a dark forest. But the trees are of a particular species, they are genealogical trees.”

-Marcel Proust

Addiction, Anorexia, Archetypes, Asana, Biofeedback, blue collar, Body Image, Bulimia, character study, Colorado, Death, depression, Dharma, Dichotomies, eccentric, Existentialism, Expansion, Family, Fear, Gardening, Health Issues, introvert, Mental Health, Micro Non-Fiction, Mindfulness, mountains, Non-Fiction, Nostalgia, PTSD, Relationships, Self Growth, Self Love, Self Reflection, Uncategorized, Universiality, Wyoming, Yoga

so many different things

“Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow you may die.”

What does merry taste like?  The bitter defeat of watching an ex-lover drink and be merry with a new mistress—what else ought I call her?  I want this bitter taste out of my mouth and I ought stop festering, creating hardened plaque of the heart.  To be merry tastes like parsley and dill I just pulled from my garden.  It tastes like sweet and spicy tea I put in with coffee compressed in the French press in the darkness of pre-dawn.  It tastes like saliva I suck through gaps in the teeth of that same ex-lover I kiss in the upcycle of the lines of a heartbeat on a monitor.

It looks like the smile on the face of a child when surprised and delighted by a hello or maybe a tube of chapstick.  It’s seen in the moment another human feels safe and heard and here comes the teeth of ecstasy again so bright and genuine—someone finally got them.  It looks like fog, like snow, like clouds that move like the breath to help me know I’m alive.  Let’s me see that even though I haven’t gotten it right yet, I see in my minds eye that I will.  It looks like that same lover’s profile from the side with one eye mischievous and the other wandering.

It feels like yoga in the morning, popping my back while sitting up or lying down flopping one leg this way or that and the release of tension like dropping a heavy pack on a hike.  It feels like my quadriceps in dancers pose, my back in camel pose, my hips in cobblers pose.  It feels like that sweet spot of muscle, tendon, and relief.  Happiness feels like the present moment finally letting go of the sadness of the past, the tenseness of the future.  It feels like a warm bear hug from the heart where I can soften and come to love, come to understand love hurts like a splinter underneath a fingernail.

To be merry sounds like laughter, humming, singing that vibrates from the lungs and lips of friends.  I always secretly hope those in my intimate circle like to whistle.  It sounds like the phrase “little buddy” and “I love  you, Jen.”  It’s a southern drawl of comfort, a biscuit of the heartspace smothered in the gravy of tiny moments heard in the beginning of gut laughter, and a good story.  It sounds like the breath inhaled right before the next in the ups and downs of contentment.

It smells like the very moment when a child hobbles in from recess smelling of metal, sand, asphalt, ketchup. It smells like dryer sheets and a simmered soup.  It smells like Jovan musk and coal, coffee and cinnamon, like compost in the middle of decay.  It smells like the gasoline of an old Ford truck.  Like hair and my grandpa’s pillow.  It smells like fish cleaned by my father, like garlic and antifreeze, like hot springs.

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,’ ” Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’ ”

“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument’,” Alice objected.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

― Lewis Carroll 

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doing the whole thing different

When I got to college I was so excited to become active in my beliefs that had started to crystallize. I started running with some self-identified anarchists and we organized Sunday lunches under the auspices of “Food Not Bombs” and dumpster dived to scoop up boxes of corn to make corn chowder. We took a shopping cart down the street full of cookies, discarded fruit and veggie trays–I still hold a strong belief that with a little utility one does not have to buy food. With even more utility one can rebel against capitalism altogether and avoid cash based purchases and contributing to the oppressive nature of capitalism. The one friend didn’t pay for food for a semester and I left bagels and apples at the stoop of his dorm door always eager to support someone in a difficult endeavor. Support crew for the fight against hunger.

Later that semester, Dick Cheney came to visit the University of Wyoming campus and it was during the heat of the Iraq war. I had put some flyers up that I collected from CrimeThinc essentially calling Bush a war monger. They were sometimes ripped off my door and I understood–this was Wyoming. This symbolic war for oil reached right into our own pocket books where I was attending college on a scholarship paid for by oil and gas profits. That was the thing–the state always poured these monies into education and I benefitted greatly from my education–arriving at college with almost 20 credits because I had told the high school counselor I would drop out or they could let me take dual credit courses at the local community college to finish up. We made huge banners that day and chanted our beliefs letting the world know that there were some Wyoming kids who did not support this war. My friend Paul would challenge me on my liberal politics and for the next few elections I registered as a libertarian.

I kept on with my social justice and in 2013/2014 I worked with another yoga instructor to develop my own non profit entity–Wyoming Mobile Yoga. The idea was that yoga had helped me heal so much I wanted to give this stuff away. It was very intentional–you don’t need a lot of stuff to do yoga. We even preached against fancy pants and used very simple language to teach avoiding that rich white woman vibe of the front range. No talk of expressing collarbones toward the sky but hey guys just friggin breathe–your probation officer can’t come in here. You are safe. Much of the work was teaching yoga to folks in the local drug court program and I managed to convince the senior management team to let yoga count as “self help” or an alternative to 12 step programs. Best believe that I had a captive audience of folks who would do anything to get away from the religion infused program created by upper middle class doctors in the 1930’s. I also taught at a suboxone unit in Cheyenne. In the basement of a church. Anywhere they would have me.

My next project was starting a food bank at the community college in Laramie. Over 50% of our students were living under the poverty line and I managed to get a program called Centsible Nutrition to come in and teach my freshman course how to cook nutritious meals on a dime.  Then, I hooked up with the College and University Food Bank Alliance and found a wonderful model for starting a simple food bank. There was already one developed in Cheyenne and students could come in anytime, no questions asked, and get a few food items and toiletries, too. I helped students to create resumes, find jobs. I served as a reference for a few students and helped them work towards whatever would help them become more self-reliant. Self efficacy is a magical thing. My politics at this point had become more quiet and I did not engage in the Clinton/Sanders war but tried to make the political personal. Helping women still feel valued in a time when I doubt I will ever see a female president. Trying to break down heirarchies in my own role as advisor.

Yesterday, I got a call from Southwest Growing Partners of Colorado that I had been chosen to be a community organizer for Pagosa Springs. Yes!!! The idea behind community organizing is to support great social and economic equality, extend the social safety net, break-up concentrated corporate power, create worker ownership cooperatives, credit unions, extend full civil liberties and open discussion, encourage true democratic participation (not just representative democracy that preserves the illusion of participation and consent), and encourage greater political democracy in the country. It’s grass roots work–starting with neighborhood empowerment. The organizing starts with the idea that problems facing rural communities do not result from a lack of solutions but from a lack of power to implement these solutions. The major distinguishing factor in community organizing is thats its social justice focused on power. Those in positions of power often act in self-interest. The idea is to act in the interest of those who lack the most power.

The personal is political and I feel this is where I can practice some of these ideas and thoughts. I recently decided to disengage from an unbalanced relationship. I was perpetually put in my place by a very controlling man who I watch post liberal memes and videos but who lacks some foundational beliefs. The domination of women is related to the domination of our environment and land and as a white male of privilage there was no convincing him of his own inherited power and wealth. Trying to convey the low level stress of living in poverty has been lost on so many of my friends who attend private yoga lessons after paying for a latte. Or the purchase of land using retirements funds and no need to work due to amassed wealth. That’s the thing–you have to have capital to succeed in capitalism. And so while stupid and small I am partaking in a symbolic act of resistance and taking back my power. He might dominate and control another woman and might buy all the land in the world and post pro-gay memes but its the micro level where change happens. If I can redistribute my power and “Robin Hood” the crap out of all the privilage I have, I think things will change. They already have.

“Community organizing is all about building grassroots support. It’s about identifying the people around you with whom you can create a common, passionate cause. And it’s about ignoring the conventional wisdom of company politics and instead playing the game by very different rules.”
-Tom Peters

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lighting up the eastern horizon

“Yeah, you seem to do better alone.” Yes, this is probably true and what is truer still is I do better without the person behind those words. I’ve had snippets of what I want last spring with a very nice firefighter.  Making bacon in a cast iron skillet in the morning and basting eggs in salsa verde. Drinking French press coffee and talking about our plans for the day. I didn’t realize how much snowmobiles work the core and I think longingly of my grad school days of private Pilates lessons and facials. It feels good to take care of myself, it feels good to be taken care of, its feels good to be here with him.

I’ve planted a garden this year. I water and talk to the plants twice a day curious as to why that tomato plant in the eastern bed is a little yellow in the leaves at the bottom. Garden talks are every Tuesday night but I crave my couch smelling of lavender and lemon oil I squish a pillow under my knees and start to google my thoughts crawling around like a spider in a sink.  Search one: what do I do if my partner can’t get over their ex.  Checking all the boxes I wonder if maybe the depression of losing a best friend could cause such nasty behavior.  Search two: am I an emotional abuser.  First article to pop up explains how it might feel that way fight after fight.

It’s hard to know exactly what I want in life and I reserve space to change my mind and grow into the woman that is underneath mean and defensive statements. I start to think about fall and my new role as an elementary school counselor. This is what I went to school for. In 2009 I started working in an elementary school with a very special little person and I would glance into the play room and knew this was what I wanted to do. To be completely myself around these little kiddos who make me laugh and smile so, so big everyday. “Miss Banks, you look like a rockstar! Miss Banks you are pretty and ugly at the same time.”  There is no holding back in the fall months and everyone falls apart at least once. Maybe we ought let this happen for all of us and enjoy the coming apart.

I wonder what I should do with my next summer off. I start to google Kripalu and yoga ashrams dreaming of eating vegetarian food, swimming everyday, and going deep into myself, my practice. Then, the other side of me dreams finding the perfect dog. Walk him (her) twice a day at minimum, water my garden twice a day at minimum, ride and run twice a day to shake out the spider thoughts. And then, I sit back and decide I’ll know when the time comes. I’ve not given myself much space to let my dream job status sink in. It’s taken quite a bit to get here and I don’t know that I’ve really ever recounted the whole story maybe because its mine–you’ll have to search for my process if I’ve not nervous and vomiting stories everywhere.

I feel extremely guilty at work for resigning. I feel my eyes move to one side or the other as eye contact becomes extremely difficult because I’m ashamed. I’m embarrassed. I’ve not really been myself starting out with a huge learning curve and trying so hard to mesh my ideas and theories of counseling with social work. How can I investigate and ask questions but still be non-directive. I haven’t figured it out. I may have not given myself enough time but I shake with excitement and watch goosebumps bubble up on my fuzzy arms when I think about developing a counseling program and resource room for kiddos. It will be safe. Piano, gardening, art, walks, unconditional positive regard, on my toes. This job means I get to be more myself.

I don’t know exactly what I want but I know what I don’t want anymore. A partnership is not making dinner with the exact items requested “an energizing salad” but letting whoever needs the salad make the darn salad. I want to be supported in my career–lets not let these solliquies go into the early morning hours while being told how the actor has worked on five hours of sleep. Yeah, I’ve worked with five days of no sleep. I want to be well rested. I want to be my most authentic version of myself. That’s bed at 8:30, rising at 4:30. Reading books at night and on the weekend. Walking with no headphones and noticing each flower and brush oak bush grow and change with each 24 hour cycle. Eating chicken from a bag or maybe I’ll even roast a whole chicken. I’m ready.

This whole journey has been such a wonderful time. I never knew Pagosa Springs existed and now I’ve got a beautiful home with a yard that I will tend to just like my heart. I’ve got a job I’ve been working toward for almost 10 years and I have a strong desire to rise to the occasion and I’m fairly sure I will. I can’t wait to try out community organizing, to infuse my social justice work into yoga and counseling lesson plans. I dream about becoming better at skiing, biking, running. Teaching spirituality Wednesdays and Sundays at church. Honing in on my own spirituality. I may be selfish, I may be alone, but I am not cruel and I am not lonely. There is nothing wrong with me the exact way I am.  I know I will unfold my self petals soon enough for that right storm cloud where the thunder is loud, the pines release their scent, and the whole sky lights up. My whole life has lit up.

 

“I only go out to get me a fresh appetite for being alone.”
-Lord Byron

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what did yalom say?

Death.

Yesterday I had some fall-out in my heart and I knew it must be real as I ran my fastest mile yet at 6:33.  Not fast in the world of fasties but showing me my own propensity to run away from my problems.  I start to kick up my feet as fast as I can and reach my elbows out ready for the inevitable crash down a dirt road.  Forever trying to get back in my body I start yoga in savasana—corpse pose.  All of yoga is preparation to finish class in this same pose.  Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.  Death anxiety forces us to the place of business thinking.  The thinking that dictates if I just find that right person, that right job, that right mountain, that right adventure, I will be complete.  Completeness seems to lie in taking in life on life’s terms knowing we are all somehow failing horribly and also creating beauty beyond the ways that we can see and think about.

Finitude.

There are limits and bounds on life.  This life will end.  There are limits and bounds on the current state of how one is feeling as well.  The sun will set on the horizon of knowledge, there is no absolute trust and thinking in absolutes is pretentious.  The acknowledgement that we are finite and limited beings thrown into a time and place discredits that there is any ultimate truth.  What is truth now may not have been truth then and future truths are unknown.  There is no ultimate reality.  Objects in reality are relative to the subjects perceiving them. We comprehend with finite apprehension.  Chaos that is incomprehensible underlies every aspect of empirical constancy.  Chaos itself, rather than ideology, God, or even the visible world is the only determinable absolute.

Responsibility.

I’ve made poor choices in my life.  Recently, I made a few big ol’ poor ones.  I’ve made mistakes in shifting that responsibility to events out of my control and thusly I feel out of control.  Love did not make me do this or that, geography can only have so much bearing on my actions.  I am who I choose to be and no past or future event is responsible for that choice.  Bad faith is thinking my childhood made me a broken being and leads me to pretend that I have no option than to be who I have become.  This creates evasion from responsibility and a sense of loss.  I am just the product of the chaos around me.  Think of the discord of the Christian who has lost his faith.  Or the devoted wife who has lost her love for her husband.  The academic who thinks they must toil ten or twelve hours a day in research and publications.  The lawyer pleading his guilty client’s innocence.  The basic refusal to face the fact that all of these situations can be other than how they are.  There is responsibility in choice.

Loneliness.

The sacred path is a lonely one.  To embrace one’s true nature is scary like swimming upstream.  The chest can feel like one is drowning.  To feel unconnected and unlike others creates great anxiety.  It comes not from lacking people or objects but from truly facing what and who one is.  There is a myth that we can expand in our power to defeat life’s hurdles—death, disease, decay the entire time trying to hide our carefully tucked away loneliness. Embracing one’s full self will only serve to create loneliness which seems so shameful we choose not to share our pain, our deep fears, our deep crustiness that fuels us to do unspeakable things.  Our pursuit of love, companionship, marriage, denies the basic precept that we are born alone, we will die alone.

Suffering.

We can tolerate all sorts of suffering as long as we can create meaning.  That car wreck was chaos but there is choice in the response to stimulus.  My Dad died in a tragic manner but it set in motion a series of events that let me create meaning through becoming a counselor, examining deep and moving grief.  Some ways of making meaning can be positive and others terribly negative.  There will be no clear end to any suffering but there will be a clear end to becoming a victim of circumstance.  That happened because of this and this is how I will respond.  In suffering there is the uncomfortable motivation to change to move toward calm, peace, shed the pelt of anxiety.

Meaninglessness.

The ultimate nihilistic grappling.  Anxiety, apathy, alienation, nihilism, avoidance, shame, addiction, despair, depression, guilt, anger, rage, resentment, embitterment, purposelessness, madness (psychosis) and violence all create this sense of victimhood.  Why did this happen this way?  I experienced some extreme meaninglessness after changing careers and taking a trip down that road of the gypsy life.  Fun for now, depression and emptiness later.  This feeling that can a sense of being stuck in an ice tray ready to plop out into the next chaotic event.  Or, it can spur the need to create meaning in chaos, to choose how to fill up that ice tray again and use the cubes to quell that fire of the soul that will always evoke change.

Evil and demonic.

Some things, some folks, some events—are evil.  Not bad, just evil.  It is what it is.  Not an act or pattern, sin or crime, but rather what leads us to damage, be damaged, and suffer pain.  Social destructiveness.  Evil could be considered the thing that inhibits personal growth and expansion.  The acts that limit potentiality, curtails freedom, fragments the personality, diminishes interpersonal relationships.  But it is somehow needed to change.  Well that was certainly evil and I’ll not do that again.  Denying evil is denying one’s existence.  To embrace our own evil qualities is to embrace them in others not to fully eradicate that which is unpleasant but integrate into this ride of life.  Evil creates the angst that moves the train of change forward down never-ending tracks.

 

 “Life is a spark between two identical voids, the darkness before birth and the one after death.”

― Irvin D. Yalom, When Nietzsche Wept

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things i lost in the fire

I’ve been in this space more than once.  I created this place.  The desert.  The mountains.  Wherever, whoever, however it takes to learn what I need to learn.  I have learned so far that some things can orient me more than others—the smell of sagebrush after rain, the feel of cold wind on my cheeks, my own hands rubbing up and down the lengths of my quadriceps enveloped by the sound of my breath keeping me grounded.

I remember when I was younger trains gave me that grounding, that rhythmic breath that I craved, safe, so safe—depending on speed I could count by seconds the sounds of each car to the next crosswalk, long sighs and short whistles like sheep dipping one by one over the horizon and out of the ears of a small child wrapped tight in cotton blankets.  Sometimes, the cars of trains so pronounced that the ever-present paranoia of anxiety becomes overwhelming with the thought of derailment and destruction.

And the breath goes in and out and the train comes and goes and the chest heaves and caves.  I wonder if the body teaches lessons like work teaches lessons or if I can learn to tell the two to take it slow, let me integrate, or if that’s my own defense.   And the breath goes in and out and the lesson comes as it should it the smell of French pastries and the feel of dried tears on my cheeks orients me once again to the present moment.

With a wooden whistle, would it be known what it’s like to have an ear to the track and call up the train breathing heavy like a powerful dragon?  Does a penny feel the heat of the belly of a train before its flattened?  Does a train wreck happen slow from behind or are Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner really able to cling to the elastic sagebrush for that long before falling …just little questions with simple answers and the long low wail of the train lulls babies to sleep.

“I would like to visit the factory that makes train horns, and ask them how they are able to arrive at that chord of eternal mournfulness. Is it deliberately sad? Are the horns saying, Be careful, stay away from this train or it will run you over and then people will grieve, and their grief will be as the inconsolable wail of this horn through the night? The out-of-tuneness of the triad is part of its beauty.”
― Nicholson Baker

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grandma with her cigarettes

I haven’t blogged in a hot minute and I just let it ride like the seasons, they will come and go and I will write or I won’t.  I never used to notice the seasons when I was younger.  Staring at brown leaves from an elementary classroom feeling the cold wind hiss between the cracks of the art room windows, soon the wind turned blowdyer warm.  Before I knew it I was collecting dusty white horny toads in the small canyons of the undeveloped land behind our subdivision.  Time moves slower and faster all at once paradoxical like the feeling of a dentist tool poking at gums, painful but just a little bit satisfying.

I watched my Grandma die last week.  The whole thing was like a dream.  We all called one another and met up in Littleton and there was no rush to see her.  We ate lunch.  We talked. My uncle whispered an aside to me that Mom might be avoiding going to hospice.  I think there was a collective sense of hesitancy, but no dread.  Grandma had been preparing us all for her death in small ways for years. She softened my heart towards the aging process.  She was so simple, so brilliant, I could write books and still not capture her dynamic personality.

I was struck by the yellow tinge of her skin.  Jarring–the same color as my dead father’s skin  when I sat with his body after he had died.  I poked his bicep to feel the stiffness of death and now here is Grandma, dying.  Stiff grief in the hospice room as my Mom grabbed some scented lotion to rub on her skin.  We used to go see my Granny Annie and my Mom would do the same thing–rub her papery skin with Lubriderm and I would watch the sagging flesh sway back and forth and mold into different shapes under caring fingers. Watching Grandma’s skin under the lotion feeling frustrated at its scent knowing its not the scent of the lotion but the scent of another death.  My Grandma.

My Mom looked so vulnerable watching her own Mom.  Her eyes flashing to my Uncle and she looked like she must have looked as a child, lifting a gaze to her older brother her eyes asking what do i do?  What do any of us do watching a loved one die?  Mom continued to rub her cheeks and her hair and my brother held her hand.  I stayed seated waiting for my turn to hold her, to love her, to be with her.  Holding my hand she said how she felt so shaky, so shaky.  And she said I’m okay.  I’m okay.  My brother started to talk to her and she told him you are such a big boy.  Tears come streaming.  Then her last words to my brother were “go easy on yourself.”

Go easy on yourself.  I am okay.  Grandma is okay.  Today another article came out in the paper about my efforts in recovery and I feel like a fraud–what do I know?  My recovery is not abstinence but my Grandma’s was and I come more and more towards wanting to honor that space where I no longer need substances to process my grief.  I started out this whole thing trying to write about how stupid I feel with article after article about some stuff that’s meaningless anymore–I’m no hero. The important stuff comes out instead.  The love for my grandma.  The complex process of grief.  The changing seasons.  The town in which I live.  The work I have left in the community.  The addictions I will work to overcome everyday.

My favorite memory of my Grandma is when she came down to see me at some kind of honors ceremony for my grades.  Always managed to keep the grades up despite the drugs and feeling the guilt creep in as I recollect leaving the ceremony early to come home and shoot up cocaine into my wrists.  We ended up at Jeffrey’s Bistro and at the end of the meal Grandma grabbed the votive candle from the table and lit the charcoaled end of a half smoked cigarette and shook her head with pursed lips as we hollered “you can’t smoke in here, Grandma!”  She knew.  We knew.  And we were just a little family.  Grandma with her cigarettes, Mom with her lotion, Uncle with his wisdom, brother just so big, and I with my addictions.  Today, I will go easy on myself.

“I have learned, that the person I have to ask for forgiveness from the most is: myself. You must love yourself. You have to forgive yourself, everyday, whenever you remember a shortcoming, a flaw, you have to tell yourself “That’s just fine”. You have to forgive yourself so much, until you don’t even see those things anymore. Because that’s what love is like.

C. JoyBell C.

 

 

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chicken wings 

My blogs have been scarce lately which usually means I’m doing super okay just chugging along with no existential strife to whine about, or I’ve given up on something I know I’m good at to head into survival mode. I’m surviving, baby. 

I’ve been researching my personality type like crazy (even though the research shows its often flawed) because it’s the best validation I can get for being the person I am. It’s so silly how I internalize things with such gusto I feel like the negative thoughts become a knot in my tummy, a cloud over my head, a tightness in my chest. I’m scared of this little anxiety baby gestating inside of me. I often try to name this red-faced feeling that comes over me like I’m in 3rd grade and I’ve peed in my plastic school chair. I feel so little. 

Lately, I can’t identify anything I’m good with or at, or anything I feel good about. In writing this sentence I’m like welp that’s a classic depression diagnosis if I’ve ever heard one. But, it’s not that, or I don’t want it to be that. I have meaning. I exercise. I meet goals. I eat healthy. I engage in service work. I think it’s the experience of growing up and seeing my own insignificance in the world, the ever present existential crisis that takes up much of my critical thought. I am not a student services professional. I’m not an adjunct college professor. I’m not a yogi. I’m a grain of sand, a speck of dust, a mound of flesh.

I try to find the special life glitter, the allure, the feeling of a kiss with someone who’s energy is like liquor to the soul. But those special moments aren’t there. They come fleeting in the completion of a ten mile run, or a smile from a child, maybe a really good meal or the way the sky looks in Wyoming. Perhaps because I cannot see it I can talk of it and I seek out folks who I know will go there in deep conversation and the universe keeps sending the message—it doesn’t matter. None of this matters. Stop dreaming of glitter and rip up some tin foil. Life is what you make it. 

I feel like a burden to folks around me and set up this awful cycle where I need so badly to be alone and with myself during the times I’m not at work where I’m constantly around people. I need some time to seep in the people, let the people tea leaves steep in the water of my mind before I can slowly consume the tea. This is meaning, this is how I process life. But when the time comes to be social or let someone into my life—I am all alone. I marvel at folks with roommates or in volleyball leagues or those who go shopping or camping in more than groups of two. I feel my mind go into a tiny world war at the thought of being more social and yet the war continues at the thought of feeling so very alone.

This blog won’t end with some shit about how it will all get better or pray to gawd and receive solace because I know both these things to be true. They will help. I also know that shit might not get better and I could turn my back on gawd and wouldn’t matter. This is the critical mass, the point, where I can choose to create meaning or choose to know whatever meaning I create is inherently meaningless. Fuck it. I’m eating chicken wings. 

“No matter how many years you sit doing zazen, you will never become anything special.” ~ Sawaki

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spiritual vomit

I spiritually vomited all over myself last week.  I felt the panic and fear come on Monday and I ran out of my house to get away from my trembly dog who shows me my own anxiety through ear flapping and panting.  Running away in shame knowing that my frantic energy has affected him but these are the moments I spin out and cannot take any outside stimulation.  I feel out of control, triggered, scared, like a child.

I joke about this workbook I scribble in here and there designed to help me with my self-esteem.  Shit gets better every day but I still feel my cheeks burn when I’m told—you’re intense, you are too much, you intimidate me, you are loud.  I internalize all these things but I’ve always been big and loud and would come tramping up the stairs in my childhood home singing or speaking languages that might have been just of our family clan.  We would yell, giggle, the neighbors commented on our loudness.

We all sang and had rituals like most families I’m sure.  Some of my favorite memories are the songs we made for our pets. Our three legged dog: “Tripod—no bipod, he is a friend of mine.”  Or our black sleek lab mix Albert: “Ali-berto gentille Aliberto, je te plumerai.”  Then there was our sheep dog Buddy who we would provoke by making the letter O with our mouths and wailing up and down, up and down so he would sing with us.

These things did not seem weird or intense or intimidating as a child.  As I find myself interacting with children, much more rarely than I wished, I find that they are the most accepting of me.  They even appreciate my weirdness, my intensity.  They know my intentions without my having to say so they know I still speak the language of un-nuance, of simplicity, of utter straight forwardness. And they speak straight forward to me, sometimes in a cheek burning way—Miss Jen you are sometimes pretty but sometimes not pretty at all.  And I say thank you because all I see is not pretty at all.  And so I scratch in the self-esteem workbook.

I don’t understand some of the unspoken rules of the adult world and have professionally crippled myself numerous times—in school, at work.  Anxiety is supposedly rooted in low self-esteem and in my tradition of receiving high marks, I’ve got A’s in both.  I think every day how I know I’m intelligent but if folks are too intimidated to listen, let go of that achievement.  I can listen to NPR but I still sing nursery rhymes in the shower.

I used to get pretty stinkin’ drunk to deal with who I was because in drunk world, Crazy Jen (the name I obtained for myself in my asshole years) was accepted that way.  People found it fun.  I was a pretend extrovert, the life of the party sliding around drinking fellahs under the table watching them vomit beer as I challenged them to shotgun contests.  Slamming my car keys into aluminum, drinking, drinking, hoping someone would stay until the sun came up and I became my true introvert self so we could talk about books and God.

I will vomit again I’m sure.  Maybe beer, maybe this confusing stream of spirituality but sometimes it’s not too bad to have the warm insides come rushing out, to feel the relief and release of pressure that builds constantly in a world that isn’t ready for my vibration.  Lou Dog, who has many songs and phrases, will continue to show me when I’m off the ol’ rocker and then the choice Is mine to act on the fear or to laugh at myself and use the mantra I heard a child say this week–I am what I am.

“All art is a kind of confession, more or less oblique. All artists, if they are to survive, are forced, at last, to tell the whole story; to vomit the anguish up.” 

-James Baldwin