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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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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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this is all just a ride

I started the morning looking up how to make my 2WD work in winter. I know I should have bought 4WD but was smitten by the little rear wheel drive Ford Ranger truck. I’ve wanted a little truck for awhile now and remember my Dad’s 4WD Jeep Comanche truck. I learned to drive a manual in the high school parking lot in Gillette, WY and slowly solidified my skills delivering pizzas for Dominos. The truck did not handle well at all on ice and I was always surprised when my naive self pressed the gas and moved sideways instead of forward. Driving, for me, is like everything else. I’m good enough with the manual transmission but am careless at times and have slid across snow highways more than once somehow always finding a soft bank of snow in which to slam and land.

I’ve been rescued from my own follies in several cars and sometimes think I ought just ask after “What’s your name–do you have AWD and chains? I want to get to know you.” My first accident must have been about a week into getting my license. My first folly was probably the very next day after my 16th birthday. A friend and I were going between the two high school campus locations and I came barreling down a curved residential road and lost control, started to fishtail and watched a hub cap roll off into the yard of some poor citizen. They called the police and I was cited for wreckless driving. Shoulda been cited for a wreckless life then–smoking Marlboro Reds that I was always made to buy because I seemed older in my 6 foot frame. Next accident was a few days later and it was raining. The Mercury Marquis kept stalling out in the big drops and during a left turn I was hit. No one was cited but the girl I hit claimed injury. I liked her even less.

The Mercury saw its demise a few months later coming from the north high school campus. I gazed in my rear view mirror and saw a truck approaching quickly. I braced the steering wheel and was rear-ended by another truck at about 35 miles per hour. Had whip lash and a hurt ankle that had been slammed into the brakes but mostly I was sad that my car was jacked up. Another metaphor for my life–all my friends had to crawl into the passenger side door and we skipped school to drive around in the junker, hub caps flopping off whether or not I was driving too fast. I traded in the Mercury for a 1989 Cadillac Deville with Bose speakers. The car handled so well, accelerated quickly, and sounded bad ass jamming TuPac driving along country roads for extended roadies. I hopped on the interstate one night watching the electronic odometer blink going faster than 85. I drove to Village Inn one night to have coffee and wanted to change the Jimi Hendrix CD and missed a stop sign. I was T-boned at 35 mph and only remember the other driver screaming at me “There was a stop sign, you bitch!” Well, clearly.

I was careless for a bit after the Cadillac debacle and my Dad let me use the truck here and there. I liked the smell of old upholstry and oil. Rocks and the car smelled the same, full of hardened earth and the daily commute to the coal mines. I was eventually able to buy a 1986 Chevy Cavalier for $100 and was promptly pulled over for no insurance or tags. I didn’t even realize one needed these things to drive–always rolling around half clueless and not too worried about consequences. When I was younger I figured I didn’t wanna live much past the age of 29 anyway. The brown sedan had a bumper sticker on the back that said “Tweekers suck”and it made me laugh at the time a clear indication of my age and professionality. I used the little car to deliver pizzas and it actually handled incredibly well in the snow with a heavy metal frame from the 80’s before cars became hurling plastic rockets on wheels. It eventually just stopped working and I bought a 1999 Cavalier, blue, and tinted the windows and got a car “bra” as I called it to catch all the bugs. I think back to how I wrecked the car and can no longer remember just like the first year of college I owned the car.

I just remembered. I lived in a 3 story home and the neighbors on the very top floor had smoked a joint and dropped it in the couch. They caught the couch on fire and doused it with gallons of water and put it outside to sit like a charred dog who had eaten whatever was left on the counter shamed and looking longingly to be let back in. The couch reignited and caught my passenger car tire on fire. I didn’t hear it but the neighbors heard the oil pan blow up and I woke up to loud knocking “Laramie Fire Department–you need to get up and leave the house!” I stepped up out of my concrete basement stairs and saw the headlights of the car on eerily staring at me while flames licked the blue sides of the now totaled vehicle. The neighbors each gave me $2,500 (I didn’t not have full coverage–far too responsible and future oriented) and I bought another Cavalier. This time silver, I drove it back and forth from Gillette to Laramie dozens of time eventually selling it to have some extra cash when I started my life over in 2009. I bought another 1986 Cavalier and even drove the sucker to Cheyenne for training to work at Papa Johns. In the pizza biz again.

When I entered graduate school I had some extra cash and bought a 2004 Ford Focus. I had entered the 2000’s and felt super awesome about it purchasing a manual not necessarily on purpose but because the shoe fit. I drove the heck outta that car heading to Fort Collins every weekend to satisfy my hot yoga fix, parking in Whole Foods to eat salads and then to the theater to sit on the couches in back to watch movies that moved me to tears. The car came with me on my move to Colorado and I stepped outside of the Pilates studio in Pagosa one November evening and the thing wouldn’t start. Embarrassingly enough, I blew the engine from no oil. I had rescued a friend in 2004 for doing the same thing and while crushed I will still amused at my ability to be inept at simple tasks. I was rescued by one of my resident assistants and smiled as she described what she felt was a harrowing drive over the pass, sliding by “rock crumbles” that scared her enough to white knuckle the steering wheel. I was so thankful for her and every other person who had tied chains to my metaphorically stuck self and pulled me out of disaster.

I once told someone my life was a string of second chances, and I’m fairly sure I’ve written about it. “That means you can’t get anything right the first time.” That is exactly what it means. I have to solicit help from the folks I’ve managed to create friendships with and if I’m stuck in the one patch of ice left in the driveway in March, I’ll find some fellows from Louisiana with nothing better to do to pull me out and buy me dinner. It feels less like manipulation and more like utility–I know someday the wrecked and stuck vehicles of my life will turn into careful, mindful, and safe driving in a car with electronic windows and all wheel drive. But, I’m still getting my kicks buying all my cars through private parties–negotiating the price and rarely paying more than $1000. I plan on putting snow tires on this truck and loading up the back with sandbags to put weight over the tires. The advice is to start in 2nd or 3rd to avoid the torque of 1st and to find an empty parking to tear around and see how the vehicle handles. Maybe that’s what this is all about–tooling around in the empty parking of my life to see how I handle. Pump the brakes of my personality and feather the gas of my need to do everything at once. After all, it’s all just a ride.

“The world is like a ride in an amusement park, and when you choose to go on it you think it’s real because that’s how powerful our minds are. The ride goes up and down, around and around, it has thrills and chills, and it’s very brightly colored, and it’s very loud, and it’s fun for a while. Many people have been on the ride a long time, and they begin to wonder, “Hey, is this real, or is this just a ride?” And other people have remembered, and they come back to us and say, “Hey, don’t worry; don’t be afraid, ever, because this is just a ride.” And we … kill those people. “Shut him up! I’ve got a lot invested in this ride, shut him up! Look at my furrows of worry, look at my big bank account, and my family. This has to be real.” It’s just a ride. But we always kill the good guys who try and tell us that, you ever notice that? And let the demons run amok … But it doesn’t matter, because it’s just a ride. And we can change it any time we want. It’s only a choice. No effort, no work, no job, no savings of money. Just a simple choice, right now, between fear and love. The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your doors, buy guns, close yourself off. The eyes of love instead see all of us as one. Here’s what we can do to change the world, right now, to a better ride. Take all that money we spend on weapons and defenses each year and instead spend it feeding and clothing and educating the poor of the world, which it would pay for many times over, not one human being excluded, and we could explore space, together, both inner and outer, forever, in peace.”

― Bill Hicks

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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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a boy’s values

I had a dream last night–I was so hurt and frustrated in the dream taking my conscious feelings into subconscious dream world. I have been in Colorado a year and one day now and it’s been a year of much karmic growth and soul turmoil. My ideas of people have been challenged this year more than any other year and I’ve indavertantly pushed lots of folks out of my life to try and please one person. Last week, I started spinning out and got in a few text wars and its always the same sentiment, “Shut up about him. You are so selfish.” Cheeks red, heart racing I try to stay vulnerable but feel the callous words rise and hiss out of my mouth.

I think I am selfish and I think that’s a choice I have made. I’ve always been frightened to have children because I don’t want to repeat trans generational patterns that I uncovered in my family and marriage counseling class. I think children have an excellent way of curing any selfish tendencies. Especially in women. That child is a part of a woman’s body for months and then apart of a woman’s life for years. I take so much time sitting and thinking on my couch, laying in my bed and thinking, thinking at work. Sometimes distracted, my world is small. It’s hard for me to engage in friendships because I get bored easily, I don’t give away trust readily.

Yesterday I went to go see waterfalls and found myself nostalgic and missing last summer when I passionately kissed the man I thought I might love underneath a waterfall. The trails, the rain, the snow, the town I live in–all memories of a person and time that defied me. We stood in Wal-Mart to shop for a camping trip where I refused to apologize. He had grabbed some reusable bags from the back of his car and a boat part came bouncing out. He immediately began to lecture me on how I need to take care of his stuff. But–you dropped it. But–I don’t know your equipment. I never stay in the car or his life for more than a few days at a time and have no idea what is packed where.

“I hate your flaws, and if you don’t tell me right now that you do, too, we are done.” Ahh constant threats of abandonment triggering childhood fears and I play along and find myself wanting to be berated as I squeeze ice cubes out of a tray and watch a few dissolve in the sink. Maybe I can let it all melt away. The first panic attack happened when he brought me around his friends. Even now, as I’m ready to understand what happened I’m self-conscious because all around me are so sick of it. I am, too. But, this has become my life. I wanted to try so hard to maintain a relationship that it became my sole focus. And I want to heal. After the tightening in my chest I made the comment “your last relationship only lasted because of your stupid Christian dogma.” How does one shift their values? How does one lose faith and gain peace?

Through texts, traditions, teachings, and doctrine, religious communities and institutions convey values and belief systems to their members. These are the teachings that he had brought to Colorado and walked away from in 2012. I, too, had lost my faith but it was back in 1998 when I was so, so mad at God. It’s only been in the past five years that I’ve returned to these teachings and let these values mesh with what I learned in courses on feminism, multicultural studies, being around environmentalists, philosophers, people who see the human connection outside of the tethers of religion. I couldn’t figure out why he would treat me the way he did. Sometimes, I would go along with all of it seeing him as a strong hero in my life–my only friend who I could talk about my deep ideas with. But, it was manifested as manipulation and as I was made fun of for a trauma response I felt helpless.

Religious doctrine contains many texts and teachings that encourage domination over women. “Wives be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands” (Ephesians 5.22-24 NRSV). Either by its silence or its instruction, the church has too often communicated to battered women that they should stay in abusive relationships, try to be better wives, and “forgive and forget.” To batterers, it has communicated that their efforts to control their wives or girlfriends are justified because women are to be subject to men in all things. They have been permitted to “discipline” their wives and their children all for the “good of the family.” Christian history is filled with examples of church leaders justifying abuse of women by men. Church fathers like Martin Luther unapologetically described their own physical violence towards their wives (http://www.nhcadsv.org/uploads/vaw-rolereligion.pdf)

I’ve tried to make sense and find validation through friendships but the sentiment is always “well you keep going back to him.” Yes, I do have lots of fault in the unraveling and I’ve become this nasty, negative person suspicious of anyone that exhibits passive aggressive behaviors or talks to me in a way that triggers all the insults that have been lodged at me. I have this basic belief that folks are good, that they can move toward change. I read scholarly articles on mental health and abuse and had a shift last week in which I uncover in Bancroft’s writings that abuse is not a problem of psychology but of values and beliefs. And while not overtly said each fight came back to me–I’m the problem, I’m lacking humility, my thinking and reality are altered. These are all true within the context of the relationship. I know I’m risking a lot by trying to project my views of goodness and purity onto a world that is neither all the time.

Lots of domestic violence treatment programs last up to two years. It takes so much time to shift values and beliefs. I still cling to some of my outdated beliefs perhaps surreptitiously pushed into my head as Fox News played almost constantly in my childhood home. I start to google how to change ones values and it goes back to the awareness of values in the first place. I remember a car ride in which I stopped an insult in process and asked “Why do you think its okay to say that?” It stopped the meanness in the moment but was then brought up again later after peer consultation about how its okay for women to call men <insert name here> but men don’t have the same privilege. What I took away is that as long as the peers support the subordinance of women–its okay in the belief system.

I’m planting a garden today and took a run yesterday musing on how I would plant and then I saw some deer in a yard munching on grass and suddenly realized they might eat my garden. I have little shade so the little seedlings may get sunburnt. I feel that this first experiment might clarify my values. I anticipate a successful garden but don’t want to fall apart at its failure. I’ve decided to keep the whole thing as organic as possible and wonder how hard that might be. I will layer the mulch using the “lasagna garden” technique but wonder if I ought mix up the soil instead. So many fine details pass through my mind that I start to slow down to walk as I’m running to process all the factors. This garden is a process over years, over time, to hone awareness of my own growth process. I’ve made the choice to walk away from a man whose values I don’t admire and grow what I can instead.

Do people change? Yes–they do. It’s hard work that takes practice everyday and changing a core belief can change identity. You are no less of a person if you don’t raft all the rivers, climb all the mountains, bike all the downhills, ski all the slopes, earn all your turns. But folks sure do think less of you when you are self-centered, paranoid, indecisive, a complete loadie hidden beneath the fallacy of legal disassociation. I’m apprehensive to have written again on the subject but it gives me freedom to redefine my blame. Our values are very different. Living in the same culture we’ve clung to different ideas. I embrace my faults because I’ve come to understand that integration means letting myself acknowledge dark and light in my personality. Carl Rogers has taught me only when I fully accept myself in this present moment can I move toward change. I’m not sure if I’ve already said all these things, and I very deeply want off the merry-go-round. Until then, I will love, apologize, redefine, and make sure my beliefs create the peace I crave in my life.

“As I have explained in earlier chapters, abusiveness has little to do with psychological problems and everything to do with values and beliefs. Where do a boy’s values about partner relationships come from? The sources are many. The most important ones include the family he grows up in, his neighborhood, the television he watches and books he reads, jokes he hears, messages that he receives from the toys he is given, and his most influential adult role models. His role models are important not just for which behaviors they exhibit to the boy but also for which values they teach him in words and what expectations they instill in him for the future. In sum, a boy’s values develop from the full range of his experiences within his culture.”
― Lundy Bancroft, Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men

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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