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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

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go off on them

I sat washing dishes wondering how to make the start of this blog different. The 4:00 am wake up time, the smell of coffee, sweeping my house, dragging in the dumpster.  But, maybe that’s the thing.  Life isn’t meant to be so gosh darn dramatic and I wonder why I create it that way so often.  I woke up prepared to peruse social media profiles and realized that trap—I’ve shown my insecurity in this area and it will always be attacked by the random human predators that exist all around us.  So, instead, I looked at pictures of the kiddos I work with.  Throwing rocks and sticks in the river, cutting trees, dragging said trees up a hill—this is what I live for.

Just ended a sentence with the word “for” forever feeling I’ve mastered grammar enough to start to be creative.  I find others using words in text “mebbe, afosho, fer, yer” and others that I use to enhance my communication hiding behind an accent that doesn’t exist—at least not here in the Rocky Mountain west.  I am told of a woman who has some crusty toward me because her partner took a “in a relationship” designation off of Facebook and started to like my posts.  Took me awhile to even figure out who this person was—all profile pictures cartoon characters and abstract drawings.  I didn’t even know.  I feel empathy at this point—I have plenty of men in my menagerie unknowingly causing strife.  I wonder if I would invite a man to my home even if I was in a relationship.  This is not what I live for.

I’m feeling especially at peace during my most recent break up cycle.  None of it matters anymore.  Screen shot my shit, hateful man club.  Try to get me fired.  I can save time by speaking of my poor behavior here on the electronic page.  Slamming my fist on the door like a cop threatening “if you don’t want a shit show on your front step you better answer your phone.”  The shit show starts with a fist and then escalates to me screaming the first and last name of the aggressor along with a date of birth.  Screaming like  mad woman, acting incredibly immature.  Back in April when I was in Laramie I woke up to my best friend screaming “fuuuuuuuuuuck you”  and I remember feeling such pain in his words.  No excuse for me but in my life sometimes it ends up I feel I need to scream to be noticed.  Go off on them.

Will I lose weight this time?  Will I become a better runner?  Will I start to see a local more or head to Flagstaff or Fort Collins to see others?  I’m so excited this time because the insecurities have melted away.  Can’t fire me.  Can’t intimidate me.  So some have a negative experience in my yoga class.  That’s not about me.  I can adventure now with the best of teachers who don’t have to describe their accomplishments—they live them.   And now I know the mountains and trails won’t change anyone.  The quiet soft heartbeat of the earth chugs along no matter where one may be.

“Those who travel to the mountain tops are half in love with themselves, half in love with oblivion. 

-Robert Macfarlane

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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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beyond a distant star

I woke up this morning at 3:00 am because I went to bed incredibly early last night.  And the night before.  I’ve had some interesting dreams recently and perhaps there is something I’m searching for in my subconscious.  I wake up anxious most Sunday mornings and then become irritable (irritability a symptom of anxiety as well).  I heard the expression the “worried well” the other day and this seems to be my fate.  I’ve been meaning to go work on my classroom every weekend and just don’t get around to it.  Tried to hike yesterday so proud of my new tires and promptly got stuck.  I started laughing and playing fetch with the dogs while my friend sat in the truck.  I feel I create getting stuck over and over to see the folly in it all.

I’m anxious for today as I’ve taken myself off the teaching schedule at the community center and will be teaching yoga at the school.  Teaching yoga used to give me the biggest shot of anxiety and I forever worry about teaching from the mat, using the same cues over and over, messing up my inhales and exhales, lefts and rights. I worry about who I will bother using essential oil at the end of class.  I was able to take a few yoga classes in Denver and felt a little better about teaching.  I teach from the heart, as authentic as I can be and I think I should give a little more space to myself and others to be perfectly flawed.  I feel I teach the same lessons over and over:  self-love, the impermanence of life, breathing as spirituality, non-violence.  I’m the last person you would think would teach yoga, trembling with anxiety and questions—this is probably why I teach.

I’ve reached all my goals again in too short of a time and feel my life has somehow gotten ahead of me.  I was able to get a space for an elementary school garden—bigger than I could have dreamed!  I check out the brown grass and wonder who can help me in this creation.  I’ll need all kinds of folks:  permaculture people, production garden people, landscapers, laborers, dreamers—I can see this garden in my mind’s eye as maybe a labyrinth surrounding a grow dome.  I’ve already got permission to use a grow dome space uptown and gently plop an apple core into the worm factory I inherited.  I’m trying to understand what I ought do with the community space and my own garden and find myself drilling holes into a plastic garbage bin for my own homemade compost bin.  That’s the best part about gardening—it’s all about slow, simple solutions.

Now what?  I find myself nostalgic for hot yoga and good food in the big city and watch pictures of aspens breeze by my Facebook feed and I realize I miss Wyoming.  But—when I was there I wanted more.  I felt restless.  And now I feel restless again because my only job is to be.  To do my tasks with mindful actions and thoughts.  I want to continue my play therapy practice and learn so much from all the kiddos around me.  I want to follow through on my garden project and see how much more I can learn from horticulture therapy.  I’ve got my eyes on all kinds of masters level classes because my pay grade goes up with every 10 credits.  But, secretly, I don’t think it has anything to do with pay but everything to do with feeling proficient at something.  I’m good at school and it always helps to feel good at something to start to integrate the things that are slightly beyond me.

My new goals?  Dig up my utility and figure out a way to ski mostly free.  Get the plans and folks for the garden project written down.  Manifest it. Learn to communicate better with parents and teachers, teach some parenting groups, help my school to become trauma informed.  Get a handle on this anxiety.  Let go of the past, forgive those who have hurt me.  Try a running race that challenges me.  Quit drinking Michelob Ultra and start to see the world through sober shimmering eyes once again.  Get out in the woods.  Camp, hike, learn to read maps.  Take more classes, but only if they are free.  Save my money to spend it on my legacy.  Learn the ways of the river.  Dig deep for even more resourcefulness to this mostly free, as well.  And as always, love myself, practice non-violence.  And breathe.  Always breathe.

“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.”

― Amit Ray, Om Chanting and Meditation

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why I run

I run because it feels good. Even when it feels awful theres some kind of satisfaction in burning lungs, tightened hamstrings, twinges in the IT bands. I started running in 2012 as I tried to fill my time with more wholesome activities. I had these cut off sweatpants and a cotton short sleeve because it had been so long I didn’t even own workout clothes anymore. In my 1998 model New Balance (I stockpiled shoes back in the day like I would some wear those Nike basketball shoes again) I hopped on the treadmill at the gym shadowy like a garage and ran for an entire two minutes. This was progress as I recounted thirty minutes on the Eliptical freshman year making me feel like an Olympic athlete.

I ran my first trail race in 2013–it was my first time running on the trails–ever–and I entered an endurance race as part of the Crossfit team. I was intimidated but felt I had practiced some, maybe not enough, but I was gonna do it anyway. I counted my first lap as the course test run I had trotted the previous day with my boyfriend at the time. Things got tense when we lost the course and ran 10 miles instead of 6. We exchanged word but shared pizza later as I apologized that he had to go to work at the local bistro right after. The next day, I showed up for my first lap and started off. Promptly got lost again (I do this a lot) and ran in about 18 minutes over my target to the questioning of the Crossfit team. Sorry, guys. I’m having fun!

The next lap was at dusk and one runner came in saying she saw a moose after the second creek crossing before the meadow. Well, shoot. I put in one headphone and heard my breath heavy as I waited to either die in the mouth of a moose or the thud of lightening in a thunderstorm. I was passed by a female ultrarunner who was touring the nation to run as many long races as she could stand. I rolled in at about 9 or 10 and went to go get more pizza for another lap. I arrived back at about 1:30 am and this time I didn’t care so much about what nature might serve up. Pepperoni fueled and phone charged up–I came in at 3 am and my team was asleep. We DNF’d but I could have cared less. I was now a trail runner.

I don’t have fancy gear to run and use a sock to cover my iPhone 5c while I wear the same UWyo running shorts, Lulu Lemon shirt and bra, and a pair of Brooks I bought for $13 on EBay. I use Strava but secretly wish for a Garmin because I get too caught up in things I do and things other people do and maybe I wish to hide my average status. I don’t think i will ever be a fast runner. I was 6 feet tall at the age of 12 and was always very aware of my body and often would not take any risks. I’ve never done a cartwheel in my giraffe frame and I remember going back to a playground in my 20’s to hang upside down on the monkey bars–I had never done this before. Running became freedom to me and the trails became home. I started to run my favorite loop at Pole Mountain in Wyoming almost everyday and recognized each aspen stand in each version of light.

I don’t enter many races running as it amps up my anxiety into overdrive. Heart pumping I start obsessive rituals and apply about 70 billion layers of chopstick, tie and retie my shoes, rebraid my hair. I was sometimes good at physical activity, sometimes not. Never confident enough, never aggressively attacking hills or anything really–that was always the gripe as I played basketball–”Get mad, Jennifer! Get really angry and just rebound!” Sometimes I think about these words if I am trying to dig deep but more often than not I walk because I can. I don’t think I’ll win and maybe that’s why I don’t want to. I run Sheep Mountain with the High Plains Harriers in summer of 2014 and slow the entire group down by hours. Embarrassing to be the weakest link but also informing how I work with other new runners–hey at least we are out here. Release in the breath.

I’ve been working the same hill here in Pagosa Springs of about 400 or so feet and have accomplished a few small goals of running the entire hill, snagging a PR on the way down–but these are all below average times on sections of trail that a handful of folks are recording on Strava. But, this is not why I run. I run because its mostly free–I haven’t bought a new pair of shoes in a few years and while a new pair would be nice my holed up Mizuno’s wont’ stop me. I run because its meditative. I love the rhythm of breath and feet slapping the trail or pavement. I slap my feel not on purpose but I don’t have any real technique or knowledge about how to carry my body better. I just run. I get some advice: lean forward, pick up your knees. Bomb the hills and run the flats. If you can walk or run, run. Run all the flats. So, I just keep running.

I run because it keeps me well. As a therapist, I keep many secrets and sufferings of the world locked inside my mind and heart and let them all shake out into my toes and heels on the hot pavement of an 80 degree day. I run to listen to music–sometimes I wake up with a tune in my head and add it a playlist and feel the rhythm enter my pace and every once in a while I stop to dance or grapevine–whatever bodily gratitude feels right. Running just feels right. I sometimes worry about the runners around me who have running streaks lasting 1000’s of days or put in 100’s of miles a week. But I try to step back and know that running is doing for them what it’s doing for me–we are healing with each step. Sometimes I will practice a loop 30, maybe 50 times, to understand each hill and switchback and think of this as practice for a relationship. Waking up everyday and trying again, running again, loving again. This, this is why I run.

“The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.”
― John Bingham, No Need for Speed: A Beginner’s Guide to the Joy of Running

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twenty six under three

286 marathons and we’ll call most of them sub 3 hour. When I ask how he was able to run that many marathons he says it was more than 300 and he runs them as fast as he can because he doesn’t like running. I don’t believe but sit and stare at the moon shining through my two sliding glass doors and wonder what goes through his mind. He likes to eat pizza and drink Mountain Dew–its like meeting an earlier version of myself but I have yet to run a marathon.  I am intrigued by the paradox as he eats an entire pepperoni pizza and his calf muscles pop out with each step. He’s not sponsored yet and I secretly think about helping because we wear the same shoe size and my Mizuno’s have gotten another hole in the left toe like clockwork. Enduance athletes are a safe zone of friendship–its guaranteed they don’t mind time alone and that they won’t ask questions when I say I just need to go on a run.

A little different this time–I don’t have to hear a laundry list of accomplishments but every once in awhile hear a story of sleeping in a car after winning a race or getting banned from a race in Wyoming because his 43 year old friend got with the race directors 23 year old niece.  I laugh having seen these situations play out in other ways in other circles. I ask if he lifts weights as I become fascinated with the human body–my own arms giving the deceiving suggestion of upper body strength when really I know the lengthened muscles start to pop out as I lose weight–you can start to tell a yoga body from the thinness and stomach and and arm muscle definition. I love course marshaling races to study the obliques of Boston marathon qualifiers and the quads of Tour De France qualifiers. Pushing the body to the brink confounds me and so I’m obsessed.

We talk about toenails falling off which is a thing–the shoes can be the best shoes in the world and after a certain amount of mileage in a week things just start breaking down. He’s the human version of my philosophy of running–to get better at running, just run. He explains he will do a longer, slower run one day and a short, fast run the next. He discusses using the treadmill (dreadmill) to crank up the speed and I think about this technique for myself learning to leap and glide to gain some speed. Seven minute miles for 32 miles impresses the heck outta me and while I might not ever do it, I like to deconstruct the feat in others. My marathon achievements are in the mind–26 miles of advanced degrees completing my coursework on time but hard to say if I qualify for the big race–the PhD. I’m fairly certain I want to go back and often muse on a dissertation topic revolving around rural areas and mental health care.

The pain in my shoulder that became so strong in March and April is coming back slightly and I wonder what this stress may be about–trying to fit in all my clients and doing good work, worrying about my next job and how to develop a program when I’m still working. Entering two metaphorical races, one right after the next, I will be digging deep to pace at both. School counseling different from clinical counseling I think about how much I will miss my sessions in the garden and outside but also excited to hold groups in a school setting and hear children singing and laughing. I’m intrigued by it all and just as I quiz my new runner friend I ask questions to the universe about how to be my best at this job.

Doing my best means being around others who are doing their best. A new friend who’s running inspires me and who speaks to me kindly will help me see my own assets. Course marshaling at races with world-class athletes inspires me to keep going in the race in my mind. I DNF’d my last relationship because it was becoming dangerous. Lightening on the peaks, mud on the trails, water alarmingly low. I have this tendency to try out a difficult hike knowing full well I may fail and then going back to understand where I messed up. But, I don’t need to go back to this race. I won’t improve my results because the whole thing was rigged. Like that crazy swamp in The Princess Bride, wild boars flopping all around–I’m gonna go ahead and leave the forest. And so I find the knights-of-running, some wearing shiny armor and some less obvious and soak in the bravery that will help me conquer this next dragon of life.

“Originally, I heard that if you get 10 states done, you could join the 50 States Marathon Club. I didn’t have I time goal; I just wanted to do them all. As I kept going through them, I got better and faster. When I did get through them, I realized I had 30 of them under 3:00. So I went back and did the ones where I didn’t run sub-3:00. I had a couple real close calls. Utah was the hardest—I missed four times before I got the time I needed. Some of the western states are tough for people because it’s hot or the altitude gets to people.The dumbest thing I did was I did a marathon in Missoula, Montana, and I drove the 1,150 miles home afterward because I had to work the next day. I’m really proud of the spreadsheet where I keep my results. It’s obvious I’m a nerd.”
-Gary Krugger 

 

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lasagna love: a letter to your ex

I’ve waited a long time to do this. I think about you a lot. I want to know what you think, what you felt, what you experienced. He told me on his birthday that you both made fun of me for missing key points of persona in a blog but when I went back to read the blog, I only mentioned your big brown eyes and southern charm. I’m sure this could be true, my ENFJ. I used to be you. I watch you cook wonderful meals remembering when, I, too gave a shit about the chemistry of baking. Cinnamon rolls at high altitude were a thing I just never mastered. But, I bet you would.

Why did you leave? Are my hunches right? More importantly, why did you stay? I’ve never encountered a more controlling person although I have a tendency to pick those who will create the pain I sometimes can’t muster in my thoughts. I talk to vets, PTSD sufferers…we all say the same thing. We crave the pain. We crave the fast heartbeat, the impending doom of death, a hand in ice water turning red, so red like blood that comes from my knees when I fall uphill. I know you can climb uphill, I know you climbed a mountain everyday waking up with such a volatile person.

Am I obsessed with you? Depends on how you look at it. I want validation so bad because I’ve been going crazy the past year trying to understand what the eff is wrong with me that I can’t seem to hang on. I’m told that I’m more passionate, my kisses tell him I’m into the whole thing. But, I’m forever compared to you in day to day activities. I can’t pack his shit or know what he needs for a bike ride. Your diet chart still hangs in the kitchen with a Venn diagram comparing the regiments I’m sure you supplied through constant complicated cooking and domestic endeavors. Did you get him addicted to salads? Cuz I got over that kick in my own diet adventures but slowly want to come back realizing the value of compost. If I don’t eat these greens, the worms will.

Did worms take the hard clay of your heart and make it soft? How did you soften toward him after he threatened to beat the shit out of your new boyfriend? Why do you taunt him with constant phone calls, home ownership, talk of “healthy” relationships? I don’t think that’s ever happened for either of you. That’s not a judgement but a wish that I, too, could just put up with the idiosyncrasies. The statements that make no sense at all. Whatever partnership you cultivated after marrying only 4 months into dating confounds me. What I know of healthy doesn’t fit in between the layers of the story. Did you just put straw on the top of the garden of your heart to keep warm?

It feels like triangulation and “y’all” continue to talk and talk of your new lovers, I’m sure dissecting our faults like you had to have ignored in your marriage. He talks of a friend who says you were perfect for each other and I listen suspiciously as this friends cultivates dislike for others around him and speaks of his last failed relationship in terms of nostalgia. I want to know the tiny moments that were strung together to create peace. Because, with him, my peace comes second. I hide myself from him just as I hide from you. He texts me your number and I know I will never press that 505 area code into the buttons of my too-often-checked phone. I don’t know what to say–but here at a safe distance I offer up my heart.

If I can’t leave either of you be, I’m sure you can’t leave each other be. I often wonder if marriages are feigned to avoid the ever exhausting task of keeping others interested. Well, if this friendship doesn’t work out I have something to come home to. But, why did you allow his put downs? He speaks of you as an idol and as garbage. He says he spent a year crying over the whole thing but claims he planted the seed talking of divorce. How do you keep quiet? What am I missing? I know the way I am won’t work with the way he is but can we really be that different? Are you like me and recognize your own power in the whole thing and tease him as he teases you? I’ve ended unhealthy friendships to move forward. When will you get off the sinking ship, clinging like barnacles on a boat?

I wanted to major in chemistry just like you and so I know you are intelligent. As and ENFJ I know you feel the world deeply and want to help. I wish you could have helped me by setting boundaries that let him let go of control of you. It would have been transferred to me but at least the supply would dwindle. He could just bring his Texas/Utah Instagram mirage here to get back at you but you wouldn’t keep that unhealthy tether going. Cut it off. Cut him out. Let him have his tattooed girls with words that sound pretty but a reality that would drive him crazy. You and her must like to please people a lot more than me because I think I may be despised. And, I’ll take it.

What do I really want to say? I admire your courage for staying so long. I admire you for keeping quiet about your innermost thoughts. And you both can say I’ve gotten it all wrong but I will never know. So, I make guesses. I create characters. I string together meaning through what little I know of what happened. I see that you both have stopped cycling like you used to. I have some running partners, too, and I know the connection. There’s very few who can go the brink of physical exertion and not fall off. But, that’s the thing. You fell off. Stay off. Give yourselves a fighting chance at peace and compassion so that others can fit into the layers, too.

“You can love someone so much…But you can never love people as much as you can miss them.”
― John Green

 

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blue-collar sensibility

My Dad and I often fought because unlike the other kids in the house I would argue tooth and nail on principals I upheld—like I should be able to go out late because how else will I learn to make choices?  There was one particularly heated fight and I went downstairs to my room to blast whatever awful music I listened to at the time and Dad came tearing down the stairs and ripped the entire door off its hinges.  I simply glared at him over my book of poetry by Jim Morrison and said, “it was unlocked, jeez.”

Dad was the archetypal blue collar worker.  He wore one of his 3 pairs of Wranglers 30 by 32, a pocket shirt of which he had about 7, a brown worn leather belt, and generally a ball cap with some fishing logo or maybe the name of the mine he at which he worked.  He changed positions a few times working in the coal mine after starting out in a uranium mine in Douglas, WY.  He did a stint in the oil field—his father and two uncles had started “Triple B Energy” in Gillette, WY where they had learned the trade after some semesters at Texas A&M.

Uncle Joe was a self-made chemical engineer or “mud mixer” as its called in the field creating a concoction of chemicals designed to keep the walls of hundreds feet deep drill site from collapsing. Grandpa Loy was more of the talker and business man of the group, in his later life selling cars for a living showing off that Southern sweet talk and charm.  My other Great Uncle, Doyle, was less involved living in New Mexico working for NASA for the latter part of his life.  I remember him clearly, he was in a wheelchair.  When he was younger, he got polio and used plastic straws he kept in his breast pocket to type out his notes on a computer he had configured to fit his shriveled body.  I would become so angry when folks looked at him as we tooled around the southwest—he’s smart, don’t you know?!

Some 13 million Americans have managed to move from their blue-collar upbringing to a while-collar world and while class mobility seems to hearken to the American Dream and is generally applauded in the symbolic way—there are lasting consequences.  It must have been summer of my sophomore year or so and Dad and I were once again arguing on principal.  I had become more proficient at this during my college experience.  Disagreements were now an area of growth—I saw these talks as ways to try to open his mind to what I was learning at college—how to think in the grey, how to listen to all sides of a thought and use my own skills of deduction to formulate my world.  Dad became more and more frustrated and then eventually said out loud “you are wasting your time, you’ll never make as much as me.”  I had to let that statement sink in.  He might be right. But is that really why I was getting my Bachelors of Arts in English?  To make money?

My parents were able to afford to pay for my room and board the first year of college.  I lived in the dorms, Orr Hall, and still look back fondly on those years.  I met many life-long friends at the smokers bench by McIntyre Hall where we would meet before meals walking out of the cafeteria smiling with ice cream cones we would feed to the fat, tame squirrels that lived in the tall pines by Fraternity and Sorority Row.  I had managed to get a scholarship for 4 years of tuition as one of the top 5% of scholars in the state.  I hadn’t hardly applied to any colleges, much less done any scholarships.  Senior year was a time of addictions and moving in and out of my house.  This scholarship seemed like a fluke but I thought I better try it out—if nothing else than to prove my Dad wrong.

I may or may not make more than my Dad in my life—I feel myself headed there and am painfully aware of being the 10% here in Pagosa Springs—most of my friends in small business or the service industry working 2 or 3 jobs to pay rent in a place they live with several other roommates.  Then, there are the white collar retirees who the blue collar folks cater to—a nice restaurant here, $70,000 for a nice new overlook structure painting a portrait of a town that appreciates finer architecture and place where Texans might buy your art.  But, mobility here is highly unlikely.  The college nearby, Fort Lewis, has gained the name “Fort Leisure” and doles out liberal arts and education degrees with the promise of Straddler status—rising from the woods of Southwest Colorado to get a corporate job on the Front Range.  I don’t know if that even happens.  The salary may increase with education, but us blue collar folks may never speak the language of the privileged.

I feel a real sense of fragmentation sometimes.  Here I am, with my Masters of Science, which means something to me and meant something in higher education—the industry I recently vacated to try my hand at professional counseling.  I try to avoid the inevitable “when did you get to Pagosa, what do you do” talks because I feel hyper-aware of my self-imposed status.  I can hardly speak the nuances of a while collar existence but my blue collar roots seems to create suspicion as well.  I usually rely on the old geographical class mobility—oh I’m from Wyoming I’m a good ol’ boy (girl).  But I know secretly that if I comment on politics in a way that is non-polarizing—I might be shunned.  I’m not quite the liberal retiree speaking of Trumps evil, but I’m also not the conservative leaning fishing guide still obsessed with land ownership as another vehicle of hopping social classes.  An imposter in both worlds.

I didn’t walk in graduation for either my bachelors or my masters.  I didn’t know if my family would come.  And I certainly didn’t feel that they knew what I had accomplished.  From the outside, it may have looked like I spent 4 years drinking and reading poetry and then 2 years in my masters learning the language of empathy which I’m sure most homemakers like my Mom would attest is something that can be done in child-rearing.  I was the first in the family (in this generation) to achieve both degrees with a first cousin obtaining her law degree from Tulane.  We had done it.  But there are still certain things I won’t talk about if I ever were to visit Texas again and hit up the family reunion.  I won’t share my postmodern theories of classism, I won’t speak at length about racism, hegemony, or eco-feminism which I still use as a framework to view the world.  But these are the topics that set me apart and let me mingle with the white collar folks of academia. They just want brilliance and it can come from many different roots.

I think my Dad and I could argue because of the blue-collar existence.  We weren’t too worried about keeping up appearances.  I never remember one BBQ or dinner party hosted at my parents house.  My Dad has the same 3 piece suit he wore to church, weddings, funerals.  My Dad worked 12 hours shifts at the coal mine toward the end of his life, added to a 3 hour commute to get the mine 70 miles away.  When I was younger he would come home with black-coal eyeliner and his fingers dirty making me think he actually dug coal for a living.  Later, he would shower at the mine and the only evidence of hard labor was his pink-red eyes, slanted from the tiring physical work he had been doing his whole life.  A damn hard worker.  And so I still continue to work hard and grapple with my straddle status.  I have retirement, insurance, benefits.  But I still try to remember my roots and bear the load of paying for most of my education.  In theory I may have crossed social classes but in reality I will pay for my status forever.

“Social class counts at the office, even though nobody likes to admit it. Ultimately, corporate norms are based on middle- and upper-class values, business types say. From an early age, middle-class people learn how to get along, using diplomacy, nuance, and politics to grab what they need. It is as though they are following a set of rules laid out in a manual that blue-collar families never have the chance to read.”

-Alfre Lubrano, Limbo: Blue Collar Roots, White Collar Dreams

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positive regard

I woke up sweaty and feeling pieces of pork in my belly from my emotional eating fest that I sometimes take to late at night. Shoving rigid, burnt, pieces of dry chops into my mouth to fill my empty belly hoping somehow the nourishing chunks will reach my heart. I smell the scent of my own sweat happy now that it doesn’t bug me. I pick up my sweatshirt lying curled on the floor and take a whiff of faint perfume and dryer sheets still hanging around even though I quit my practice of using like fifty every drying cycle. Maybe I am growing.

I felt like myself, writing again about the larger world not just my soul in and out of love. I stepped out of my house so thankful for a space with two floors still feeling guilty I don’t use my yoga studio as much as I’d like. Then, I glance at my plants in the corner feeling warm at the metaphor for growth–long vines curing sideways and up, pink green leaves and primary color pots. If these plants can grow without my knowing anything about good soil, Latin names, lighting–then I can grow in an environment where I try mountain biking for the first time, skiing, boating. A little droopy at first, I’ve taken root and no longer worry about how I’ll do in a small town. Turns out I’ll be just fine.

Fine as frog hair I can hear the chirping of crickets and croaks of frogs outside my back deck lips tilting into a smile because I have created exactly what I want. I’m on the trails everyday–exploring my inner and outer worlds. There are a few things, though, that have been pointed out that I would like to change. I check on Strava and see that one of my running partners has gone back to improve on my special loop. I start the cycle of run anxiety–I need to beat them! These thoughts are self-defeating as I’ve never done to well in the physical arena at competition. I remember the summer of 15,000 basketball shots–I improve through repetition and tiny little shifts in my thought process.

How do people change? I don’t think they change by making promises regarding past or future situations. Expectations can kill the change process and I believe only when a person can be their complete, crusty, loving, stinky, gorgeous selves can they start to make changes towards who they want to be. I sometimes get muscles cramps in my feet and legs and instead of curling up and moaning about the tenseness I step right into the pain. Pull back toes, step back on the calf, go right into the tenseness. It takes a lot to rebuild trust like peeling a mango and trying to find the giant seed-nut inside and trusting that while some of the tender sweet flesh will remain on the rind and seed what’s inside is worth the work.

I change my mind a lot about what I want in love. I have gained so much insight this year. I need humor, I need long talks and discourse that helps me to challenge or accept my position on any number of issues. And I am allowed to change my mind–to uphold some liberal ideas and still cling to my Wyoming cord with rights and liberties guaranteed to the individual.  And I can choose to completely disengage knowing that the personal is political and the way I live my life is the most convincing evidence of what I believe.  I want passion–not just passion between two mounds of flesh but passion to grow one another like wilted plants, hard mangoes, fatigued quad muscles ready to mend into stronger versions of trees clomping up a mountain. I want to change in the gray tick tocking until I slow down in the middle space that fits my soul in the present moment.

We all encounter our mirrors in life, sometimes in nature, sometimes in objects, sometimes in others. I can make a choice to see my positive aspects in the mirror–still aware of my black and white thinking, my strong nose, my horse teeth, my bird nest hair. What I have found in others is my humor, my pragmatism, my ability to see past behaviors that are really just a mask. I feel some friction in my life like wearing running shoes with no socks, tiny rocks of incongruence press into the tender fleshy part of my foot and I have the tools to end the friction, to find a new pair of shoes I can wear for the next 500 miles.   And with a tender foot, I can take one step at a time.

“I am increasingly an architect of self. I am free to will and choose. I can, through accepting my individuality… become more of my uniqueness, more of my potentiality.”

-Carl Rogers

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the other way around

I walked away from her because she was too busy finding faults in me while I was too busy overlooking hers.  Constant negativity, blogging, arguing.  I remember the day I met her in South Fork.  I was running late, I’m on my own time really, like snow I come and go.  I picked up a hitchhiker because I’ve got the view that my heart is as big as a man-made reservoir in the desert, over-fished and filled with swimming teenagers.  I remember when I was a gangly teenager busy worshipping and preaching on the pulpit singing the promises of eternal life.  I still feel those steel beams that framed out my tall body and supported how I would treat women for years to come.

She got out of the car right away and didn’t make eye contact but started to pet the hitchhikers dog right away.  Dogs seemed to like her but I can’t help but want to pour out the words “dogs are ignorant, that’s how you fool them”  and now I know she fooled me.  I had read part of her blog and she had mentioned she has a past with addictions.  I was fascinated having just ended my 10 plus year relationship with a nice southern girl who sometimes drank too much, embarrassed me at parties “I’m just being myself” she would say but I was very focused on her behaviors that affected my image.  That self she created started to unravel as we saw other people and I made my theories of polyamory.  We reserved the right to love many people at once, to have so many princes and princesses to give all the love we had.

That love unraveling, this new girl finally looked up at me with big soft brown eyes but they just reminded me of my southern girl.  They both had the same personality type but I seemed to like this INFJ better than my ENFJ.  She was rare.  A new addition to my life of collected people, collected ideas, pieces of a puzzle of understanding put together in a way only I can see.  She stepped over to her trunk and grabbed some beers.  I felt a little shiver of surprise as I unpack my own thoughts on addiction.  Why can’t you just stop? Why can’t you just work harder?  I’ve always known myself to get what I want, to quit what I can.  A tinge of frustration crosses my furrowed brow when I think about the addiction of my ex-wife.  Cut off like flask of brown cheap whiskey from the hands of an old, trembling cowboy.  I still needed her to steady myself.

And here was this woman–she talked so fast and quiet I felt myself nodding and smiling half the time to carry on the conversation.  She had so much to say.  We drove up to a campsite and the hosts bumbled up on a golf cart and I kicked in the charm and grabbed on to the sweater string of my southern accent, unraveling a story about not knowing there was a fee in this area, and then asking questions about the weather, whatever cordial human conventions I have learned and studied over the years.  And she hopped right in, grabbing the threads of manipulation right along with me turning the thin cords into reigns of a chariot of lies with horses I would hear clomping into my life so many more times.  I was glad to have someone to hike with, glad for the distraction, I had no real intentions of real or genuine love.  I was already courting another woman in Texas.  I was carrying on with polyamory.  She fascinated me initially–a bit negative a bit intense but those wild, wild, horses didn’t scare me.  I would tame her.

She always harped on me for calling her a bitch.  I am soft-spoken, gentle, supportive.  I love the language of feelings and I openly share my insecurities, my fears, my emotional injuries.  My words are sprinkled with my thoughts of developing closeness, working out our issues and facing up to hard things about myself.  But, I don’t need therapy.  I’m not weak like that.  I don’t want to pay money–I’ve learned a lot in my life and I’m certain I know more than any shrink.  I feel like she made it her business to hurt my feelings constantly like a summer hail storm that just won’t stop, tearing the flaps of the tent of my heart beating down on the poles of my existence.  She was forever saying unfair and insensitive remarks.  Like how I stayed in my marriage because of Christianity or that my friends were ski-bums.  I love my friends and I love my ex wife.  They do what I need them to do.  She, she treated me with profound cruelty blaming me as if I was some kind of abuser.  You just can’t control me–that’s the thing.

She sometimes gave sincere apologies and would accept responsibility for being anxious.  Mentally ill.  Negative.  Explosive.  Always yelling.   I’ve learned her language though, that pop-psychology and I knew what she needed to let go.  Why can women call us assholes but I can’t call her a retarded bitch?  She really was, sometimes.  Seemed to lose her mind when I was just trying to help her understand.  I would tell her how the world works as she cooked, as she showered.  I just know about the world a little more.  I’ve gone through so much, I’ve achieved so many goals.  I grew her burden of guilt because so many things really were her fault.  She picked me apart showing me my rough edges that I kept rough on purpose.  I can threaten and intimidate to save my view of the world.  There are facts, there is science and I will not exist in the grey thunderstorm of her theories.  I found the trailhead of her self-destruction and went up, up not looking down at the swatch of destruction I left behind or her wounded at the bottom of the hill.

I’m against the macho men, so I couldn’t be abusive.  As long as I use a lot of psychobabble, no one is going to believe that I am mistreating her.  As long as I post memes about my innocence and find other mentally ill women to mentally and sexually validate me–I’m not in the wrong.  She said its not a good idea to dismantle the defense mechanisms of a client if they are working.  Well, hers weren’t working, nothing about her really worked.  I pointed that out.  I can control her by analyzing how her mind and emotions work, and what her issues are from childhood.  I don’t know much about her dad but I imagine her dead daddy issues kept her leaving with her push-pull like a carnival ride blasting classic rock and smelling of corn dogs and smokes.  I can get inside her head whether she wants me there or not.  Its important to be inside her head to dissect her irrational thoughts.  I am a critical thinker.  She just believes in horoscopes and energy. Nothing in the world is more important than my feelings.  She should be grateful to me for not being like those other men.

I am not like those other men.  I’ve done so many amazing things.  How can you limit it to one: Climbing the active Arenal volcano in La Fortuna Costa Rica. Snorkeling the blue hole in Belize on a multi day dive boat trip. Mountain biking the Leadville Mountain Biking Marathon in 10 hours and 13 minutes. Skiing 65mph and hucking big fast jumps at Wolf Creek Ski Area on my first season learning. Inflatable kayaking the exploratory run of the Weminuche Creek with less than 5 days on a ducky ever. Rowing a 14′ Custom Cataraft down the Class IV Piedra river, upper and lower box, with less than 5 days of rowing experience.  Don’t you see how special I am?  I’m an outdoor geek. I love boating, biking, camping, traveling, and techy stuff. I like tweaking stuff to be better than intended.   Just like I tried to tweak her.  I was just trying to make her better–she was not yet my equal.  When store-bought stuff often doesn’t fit me or my needs I love the challenge and reward of tackling and overcoming these issues by building my own custom solutions. I love pushing my equipment and my body toward their limits and analyzing the results later, usually over a beer and a bowl.

She wouldn’t let me push her to be a better version of herself.  I’m self-taught.  I can see through her six years of college.  I know more than her with just my associates in Welding/Fabrication at community college.  I don’t need professors or boards to tell me how very brilliant I really am.  I can see through her counseling license.  I’m just smarter.  Just better.  Her soft voice–just manipulation.  And so as she penned another letter to me about how much I had changed her life–I scoffed.  Words mean nothing and actions are everything and watching her shaking and wide eyed just made me laugh.  Negative bitch.  Creating her own drama exploding everywhere like a bloated bird eating any morsel of rice that validated her crazy behaviors.  I knocked on her door for twenty minutes because I am a caring man.  I went to her job to get her fired because I really care about the kids of Pagosa.  She should have apologized to all my friends for pointing out alcoholism, dangerous behaviors, mental illness, domestic violence charges, child developmental delays.   She needs to look at herself.  I never was, and I never will be, the problem.

 

“Immodest creature, you do not want a woman who will accept your faults, you want the one who pretends you are faultless – one who will caress the hand that strikes her and kiss the lips that lie to her.”

― George Sand, The Intimate Journal