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fire flowers

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

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

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

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

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

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

― Harvey Fierstein

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doing good time

“Jen, I cannot talk to you right now.  I was sabotaged today.  I have to go.” 

I hang up the phone and sit at the counter for a moment thinking about what’s unfolding all around me.  A good friend in the hospital for mental health issues and other friends who feel much like me and the waves affect us all.  Who can I call now?  I can write.  I can go into my mind and sort through what it feels like to be two inches tall.  I think to myself about how we all have those we love and how we all hold back to cradle them gently in a heartspace that keeps them around.  Listen.  Just listen.  Eventually they come to that very idea that’s been gnawed by bottom teeth on a bitten tongue and lip.   I didn’t say what burned in my throat because it had to come from the choked throat of the love object.  The times when the words don’t come, when the lip becomes raw and red, are the times I write.  Wondering the whole time how many red and raw lips I’ve created around me.

I’m embarrassed and ashamed and become aware of my own stigma and the mountain I climb as one of my best friends does a stint in ye ol mental health jail.  She’s locked away somewhere in Massachusetts pumped full of drugs and unable to hear me when I tell her about “good time.”  Good time is doing what they say, not putting your paper towels in tiny bags, reusing your towels, asking to talk to a lawyer every 5 minutes.  Good time is nodding, taking your meds, remaining as quiet as you can stand, reading a book. Saying thank you.  But, she knows this.  She coached me through my longest stint of sanity this year. I read an article at 3:16 am about how it takes 11 times to leave an abusive relationship.  How do I start and stop to count when, like the mental palace in Mass, I’m in my own crazy farm of relationships. Forever going back to the big house of love pumped full of drugs.  I’m certainly not doing good time.

Free now, and another loss of meaning.  Deconstruction and analyzing pretty useless at this point.  In this present moment I feel pretty clear and I’m clear on what really helps me feel good.  Doing yoga.  Being quiet.  Reading.  Writing.  Helping others by listening.  Hearing a kid say “you are SO LONG!” Running so early in the morning.  Running more than 10 miles in the morning.  Not worrying about who I choose as my friends—mental illness ain’t mean nuthin.  Appreciating the weirdness in tiny spaces.  My truck and all it’s memories.  Doing good time is reading books about travel, discontinuing the hate of everyone and everything that is assumed to have created despair, diving inside, writing letters, moving the body, playing cards.  I can choose what I might do right now because there are a few feelings with which I can empathize. This unfolding is its own imprisonment and I can relate to those four walls.

I have to go.  I have to go away from whatever mental space has brought me here.  I don’t want to live my life scared of what one silly man thinks of me. I can still be so vulnerable and say I get so, so, anxious and angry.  I play the ice queen.  My closest friends are very odd and eccentric.  I really mess up with money stuff.  I yell when I get angry.  I grab cell phones, I posture. I’m embarrassed that I’m not smarter on paper. Most of my lovers do not please me.  I don’t trust anyone.  I’m working so hard on that last one.  Trust and love just melts away that anxiety and anger (rooted in hurt and fear), when I trust I become a goofball that’s excited for any time together, I listen and empathize, seek to understand, remain curious, speak clearly and softly, love gently and loyally. I’m very odd and eccentric, living in poverty, have a hole in my wall from punching the drywall in frustration, am worried about writing these words, but I know I am not sabotaged.  I can talk.  Right now.

“Calling it lunacy makes it easier to explain away the things we don’t understand.”

― Megan Chance, The Spiritualist

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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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titanium spoons

I’ve been wanting to write lately but notice I speak of the same things over and over in blog posts.  Losing a friend and lover, creating meaning out of the loss.  Gardening as a metaphor.  I went to writing group the other evening and was excited for a friend who is really shining in her writing.  There’s a few older eccentric men that come to our group and harsh her for picking out a little tavern to host our writing.  Small talk deemed a distraction, people turning into mosquitos.  I found myself in tears in church on Sunday listening to her sermon about riding her bike across the country.  I don’t feel the need to compare us any other way other than we are both on a journey.  Both writers.  Both searching.

I want so much to go down the rabbit hole of analyzing my past cycle with the old flame.  I think awful theories of subconscious creation of pain through other women, attacks, lies.  I think what was different this time was giving in a bit more to the freeze reflex.  I laid first on a plastic mattress on the floor and then a futon mattress and kept whispering “light as a feather, stiff as a board” while hands pressed all over my body.  I told myself to be quiet, that this might make things better.  I did not touch back.  I did not kiss.  I let it all happen and felt my stomach curl into knots.  I remembered parties of my youth sleeping on a carpeted floor in a trailer while some stranger pressed against me.  Paralyzed.

Instead of trying to make my demise all about cheating and lying, I can just default to values once again.  I don’t have many possessions and call myself a minimalist but I think survivor is a more fitting term.  I spent money like crazy in college and will forever suffer the consequences of my need to feel good…right now.  I sit on the couch in anxiety and watch an Amazon cart fill up with materials for solar power, titanium spoons, objects.  I stop to put down a spoonful of hillbilly beef soup I had made and laugh.  Why on earth won’t a regular spoon work?  Why do things need purchased?  Why so much time spent trying to figure out what to buy?  I see the cycle of capitalism and consumerism played out right in front of me  under the guise of “my land, my tiny home.”  Ownership.  Possession.

Despite the new rebellion against materialism the consumer mentality it still very much alive.  Still worried about kind and quantity.  Two titanium spoons, one for the ex and one for his guests.  Security sought in numbers all motivated by the anxiety that there may be some missing out of what’s going on.  Someone else might build a better tiny home, be more sustainable, have the best batteries.  Researched  lifetime warranties a little more lying naked on the couch in the morning.  Throw away cactus plants, throw away male marijuana plants, throw away people.  I learned most about what’s important inside a concrete room for three months.  One spoon works great and takes on many uses.  A toothpaste box becomes storage, toothpaste becomes a whitening agent for v-neck tees.  Stripped of identity and objects, my thoughts become my only possessions.  A true shift from the inside.

I still am teetering on that rabbit hole wondering if I was used for sex, unbending like a 2×4, noiseless like a spider.  As I shower I feel my heart jump as I mistake the soap bubbles for a spider.  I remember a game I created called finger spider so I could crawl my veiny hand tendrils all over the body of that same dude.  Not frozen all the time.  But still scared, seeing paper tigers and toy guns.  The last nail in the coffin became a pair of skis.  I watch the crazy eyes emerge–the same ones contained in a video with all actors high on acid.  Folks sure do get crazy over the things that help them escape.  I’ve gotten pretty crazy, too.  The skis were traded back and forth until eventually they have ended up in my truck bed.  Its hard to bicker over possessions (skis) not giving a shit about skiing.  Its hard to admit I’ve been fooled again.  And so I write.  About the same things over and over with or without distraction in the tiny tavern of my heart.

“To live fully, we must learn to use things and love people, and not love things and use people.”

― John Powell

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each man kills the thing he loves

MERCUTIO And, to sink in it, should you burden love;

Too great oppression for a tender thing.

ROMEO Is love a tender thing? it is too rough,

Too rude, too boisterous, and it pricks like thorn.

MERCUTIO If love be rough with you, be rough with love;

Prick love for pricking, and you beat love down.

A tender thing, not I.  Let me detail the many ways I beat down the oppression of love.  I think my way out of everything but have a hunch that some events of childhood made me hyper aware of my surroundings.  How folks acted, what was important. What started out as survival turned into manipulation once there was no real threat to my person or environment.  I have this bad habit of having a possession war after some of my relationships because I feel so hurt I don’t know how else to take back what was mine–a chunk of my heart.

Too rude and boisterous, love sometimes feels like an infatuation with the harvest of fruits, flowers–shades of green and pastel sweaty in the morning dew shimmering by moonlight.  But there is much importance in the dried out brown stalks of fall droopy in meadows and hidden in pines.  In the wet, heavy snowpack of winter helping to smother and decay the grass below.  Death is only a part of the cycle.  And I have a hand in the creation and death of my own garden of love, sowing lies and pain.

It happened again the other night.  I flipped my lid (see Dan Siegal) and slammed a huge container of dogfood onto the table and went after my e-cigarette clutched in an angry hand.  Yelling, screaming, dog scared.  Like lungs being pierced, gut punched, splashed with boiled water, fingers numb and frozen, I cannot exist here.  Fight, flight, or freeze.  All happening in a cycle and I pray my wings can keep me far, far away from the tiny thorns on bushes all around my path never forgotten with teeth seething and biting.

Namaste.  Not just the light, truth, and beauty in me honor the same in you.  The anxiety, insecurity, darkness, pain, disappointment, vengeance that reside in me are also in you.  I know I have many shortcomings and give plenty of reasons to stay away.  I don’t quite know how to say I’m not into this, this isn’t working and so instead I create drama and pain and slip into that familiar pair of anxiety slippers, feeling the paranoia fuel my default mode of operation.  Even now as I type I start to worry about the fallout of my tactics this time.

I hope the pricking, I hope the beat down is enough this time.  I hope I’ve shoveled out so much space around my heart that it can weep and grow.  I hope that I have shown my most ugly side and that the darkness it brings can be protection.  A shroud of light and dark, all archetypes represented in this safe space.  Burning of sage and sweetgrass, sprinkling of elder berries, incense, meditation.  It’s all symbolic and perhaps self-manipulation as I convince myself its all right and remember to breathe in and breathe out.

“Yet each man kills the thing he loves,

By each let this be heard,

Some do it with a bitter look,

Some with a flattering word,

The coward does it with a kiss,

The brave man with a sword!

Some kill their love when they are young,

And some when they are old;

Some strangle with the hands of Lust,

Some with the hands of Gold:

The kindest use a knife, because

The dead so soon grow cold.

Some love too little, some too long,

Some sell, and others buy;

Some do the deed with many tears,

And some without a sigh:

For each man kills the thing he loves,

Yet each man does not die.”

 

–Oscar Wilde

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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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the law of the jungle

I am an intense person.  This has been pointed out to me.  In order to keep my whole person from shattering at the thought of all my faults I reframe these comments to think I’m passionate.  The other day I was on the phone and was trying so hard to explain why I felt a local organic farm was injected with privilege.  I couldn’t get my words out and sounded as if I was starting a war against young white farmers.  The friend helped me tease out my words and she said what was in my heart—“oh you want to make organic farming more accessible!”  YES!  All of my work in the social justice arena comes down to money.  Classism.  Poverty.  Social currency.

When I first came to Colorado, I was living in the San Luis Valley.  These were some great farmers markets.  Garlic, onions, potatoes, even some osha sprinkled into the mix.  When I was younger, I was involved with an apprenticeship in Laramie, WY at Elk Mountain Herbs.  I learned about herbs of the mountain west.  Herbs that grow in between 7,000 and 9,000 feet.  Yarrow, nettle, redroot, Oregon grape root, bedstraw, curlycup gumweed, plantain, black cohosh root, wormwood, elderberry.  I had a kitchen drawer full of dried herbs that I would combine into a daily tea or tonic as its called in the herb world.  Tonics are preventative medicine with tinctures serving for more acute illness.  I stopped at the farmers market in Alamosa, CO to talk a bit to a farmer about osha.  He realized its value and I felt as if I found someone who understood the distinct healing properties of whole plants.

The ranch in Elk Mountain had received a grant from the USDA to grow osha commercially and when I took my apprenticeship I was also in a magazine writing class.  I decided to write about the curative properties of osha, although the story was never published because osha has an endangered distinction due to being over-picked around herbs schools of the southwest.  In simple terms, osha helps regenerate the cilia within lungs.  Its best taken when you feel a cold or respiratory illness coming on.  A tincture can be made, or the roots can be chewed on.   Usually, the herb causes coughing right away and tastes of strong celery.  I interviewed Michael Moore, a very talented herbalist who has since passed, outside Reeds bar one night on the phone.  He talked about how osha was so special in the southwest it could be traded for money, gas, etc.  Since I’ve moved to Pagosa Springs, not quite as many folks know about the value of osha or more likely I’ve not met these folks yet.

During my apprenticeship learning about the medicinal aspects of herbs, we also learned about the magical properties.  Yarrow and dandelion were deemed “desert island” herbs that could be used for many purposes.  We learned catchphrases like “eat them, don’t weed them” or “research causes cancer in rats.”  I think what I liked best about this course is that I felt I was becoming more in charge of my own health.  I was noticing what herbs grew on my hikes around southeast Wyoming and collected nettles taller than my 6 foot frame at Elk Mountain Ranch in Wyoming. This stuff felt accessible and much of what we knew about these herbs was collected from indigenous cultures—American Indians, Latino/a’s.   During the course, a medicine bundle was found in Arizona assumed to be 500 years old containing osha.  Ligusticum porteri.  Strong enough medicine to be worn around the neck in a bundle for healing and good fortune.

What does all this mean for gardening, organic farming, foraging? For me, it meant I could learn to produce or find my own medicine and food.  It meant that I could take a hike and have even more purpose taking and giving from the forest diving into permaculture before I had even heard of the word.  I’ve only recently started growing plants and herbs and wonder why I haven’t tried this before.  But then I stop and remember that I’ve got to meet myself where I am.  The cost of organic gardening is more than just the $100 of seedlings in my garden.  Its learning how to grow, harvest, cook, having the mental energy to prepare a meal.  I’m a straddler of social classes, forever aware of my debt yet forever aware of my privilege.  I know about herbs.  I have space for a garden.  I can buy osha, or I can trade my goods and services.

To me, food justice means empowering folks through knowledge.  And the best part about this knowledge is that it can feed the mind, the body, the spirit.  I’ve sprinkled elderberries around my home for protection, picked yarrow in big open fields, hung bundles of nettle in sheds to dry.  I have cut up my cucumbers and ate them with yellow pungent sprigs of dill.  Growing my garden has rekindled my interest in herbalism.  And now I’m on a project to leverage folks in Pagosa Springs to start talking about how to reclaim our food, reclaim our plants, get out of the isles of the grocery store and into the isles of nature.  I’m just not sure yet how to do this—I’m weary of talking with folks who already have power.  I feel that some of these organic farms run by young privileged kids is another example of cultural appropriation.  But how do I explain this?  How do I both celebrate and challenge what we are doing?  I do what I know and I write a blog that goes in all directions and begin to name what I think helps—knowledge of herbs.  Knowledge of plants.  I can “Robin Hood” this information and start to share what I know, redistribute my social currency.  Food justice can start right here in my heart.

“From the depth of need and despair, people can work together, can organize themselves to solve their own problems and fill their own needs with dignity and strength.”

Cesar Chavez

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the remaking of life

“How were you able to get over the fire?” She tells me that she took sage and ceremonial tobacco and cleansed the place of the fire and that it all just melted away–sugar in a hummingbird feeder. Twirls of smoke intertwined with the intention of hope after cleansing by fire mix with the hot, humid air of July while I think about these words in August. I speak of sweet grass which is not indigenous to this area but I know how to find the shiny long leaves in between 7,000 and 9,000 feet in Wyoming near a special ranch in Elk Mountain. The Latin word for sage, salvia, means “to heal” and the intent is for spiritual healing, wisdom, clarity. Sweetgrass represents positivity, strength, and connection to that which binds us together–God, Creator, the stars. And so I invoke sage and sweetgrass of the mind.

I wake up to another email citing my decision to create some really clear, healthy boundaries as a step in a feeling, non-logical, direction. Lots of feelings to be sure–pain, hurt, confusion, anger, nostalgia. I pick up a braided rope of sweetgrass in my mind and say the words “positive, persistence, patience” and feel the wisps of smoke surround my synapses. I’ve been practicing setting boundaries with the ACT method–acknowledge the feeling, communicate the limit, target alternatives. Before I speak to some folks, I write down exactly what I want to say. And then I prepare to communicate the limit over and over until its no longer a line in the sand. There is tons of anxiety in holding the limit–I want to be liked. Even better to be loved. But this can no longer come at the cost of my basic sense of self. I unraveled more fully this year than any other time I can remember.

When I was younger, I was in 4-H and learned all the trades that seemed manageable in my city slicker existence. I went to a crochet class and learned how to make tiny loops with fuzzy blue thread. I couldn’t figure out how to hook into the second row and so I just kept looping over and over and showed up the next week to class with one long chain as evidence of my efforts–I tried. I tried this year to loop into the second row of my heart creating a long chain of repetitive actions–the same fights, the same hurtful words. I don’t know if my anger is from anxiety or from pain. I rule out borderline because I miss the second diagnosis criteria in every section: stable identity and goals, plenty of empathy most of the time but lots of hostility towards one person. The teacher of the crochet workshop laughed at my long chain but I wasn’t upset–I did the best I could. I spent the remainder of the class pulling the thread, undoing each sweep of the hook and was left with a pile of blue yarn in a brain on the floor.

I used to be a projectionist–I thought I was a movie theater worker but realize years later there are only a few old school theaters left in the country. Spools of film would arrive in orange boxes inside the duct taped door of the Wyo Theater and I would pick up the boxes one by one to carry into the projection room. Spool one sits on a nail by the projection platters and I turn on the machine waiting until the tail of the first spool starts to spin and flap. The platter is turned off and I turn to the splicer grabbing the head of the second reel and press the splicing machine firmly into tail and head. Repeat until the platter contains the entirety of the film. The hardest part was turning on the machine–one wrong move and the film might spray everywhere. “Braining” happens when the projectionist isn’t quick enough to pick up on an error and the film piles up on the floor resembling a brain. These mistakes are always fixable but with one film in particular we had to splice out about 18 inches. It’s usually just a small blip in the film with bubbles on the screen where two sections are melted together. This blip was a big one.

A long chain of soft thread, a long line of film with each picture containing just a milisecond, lines of smoke lingering in the air. There may be a time when I regret my decision to set a boundary–but I don’t regret never learning how to crochet or entering a blanket into county fair. I don’t regret quitting my job at the theater and skipping the anxiety of the projector bulb burning out over and over and having to refund the $3 entry fee at the “cheap seats.” Sweetgrass smells so lovely and lingers in the air for days after its burned. Every once in a while I get a whiff of the smell here in Colorado where I havne’t met anyone that burns sweetgrass. Sage grows here but not like in Wyoming when after a rainstorm and entire field smells of the earthy, pungent plant that I pick and rub between my palms to smell as I run. I plan on heading back home sooner than later where I can reflect on my move to Colorado and the events of the past year. I don’t know why I was never that good at meticulous tasks and perhaps those are the tasks I missed in trying to create a relationship that was full of still pictures of lies and deceit. And so instead I act. Acknowledge the feelings of anger and pain, quit hurting myself, and choose to grow instead.

“Grief is in two parts. The first is loss. The second is the remaking of life.”
-Anne Roiphe