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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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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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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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no mistakes, just experiments

This morning my friend is running another marathon. LIke his 300th or something like that with about 70 wins. He calls himself a weekend runner and works 40+ hours a week and eats almost exclusively pizza, fries, and bacon. He tries to get about 100 miles a week and I watch his Strava as he endulates between 8 slow miles to work and then sprinkles the pattern with sub 5 minute/mile sprints that defy my logic. He’s stacked and doesn’t do much cross training. He’s one of those–the 1% that just has an affinity for running. I worry about his obsession but am also highly impressed and probably a little jealous. We all have our gifts and talents and how neat he found out about his.

I’ve started gardening this year and its changed the way I look at my goals. Everything has become cyclical. I’m already working on amending the soil for next year’s plot trying to figure out how to build a deer fence and researching “off season” gardening. I’ve got a worm farm saved in my ever growing shopping cart on Amazon but try and temper those impulses–I haven’t bought a thing yet for this garden. Someone described my approach as a slinky, I’m going round and round in circles but going up. That’s how a garden works–whatever isn’t consumed is still used. I start thinking differently about food and get excited about watermelon rinds, banana peels, coffee grounds. I start to say things like “healthy soil, healthy food, healthy people” and “slow, simple, solutions.” The garden has become a metaphor for my life.

There is no winning the gardening. I’m very inspired by the huge bushy bunches of tomatos and kale at the community garden but am not too worried–I will get there! Any flower or growth is a victory to me and I start to realize more and more I’m a process oriented person. Even if something won’t grow–its food for other plants. Even if I have no yield–the soil has been worked by worms and roots and is only becoming a better home for next years plants. I start to relate the whole thing to adventure running. There is no destination, no need to go fast, and the best part is the journey. Of course I’m super pumped to eat a home grown tomato raw with salt but I also love smelling the pungent spiky leaves and stalks of each plant. They don’t like their leaves wet and I can relate hoping my feet don’t get too wet today on a hike I’ve got planned.

Plants are like people. They don’t want a shower in cold water and so I have a black bucket that I fill each time I water and let it rise to temperature. Plants like their space and grow nice and tall when they’ve got room. They want to stay warm so I stack a thick layer of straw around each plant and notice someone has done the same with the potato plants in the community garden. Plants won’t be rushed–they grow just how they know how each day and yet it does happen rapidly–the kale and arugula have taken off and grow back with fury each time I pinch off the thick green leaves. I feed them stinky compost but bread and meat are no good for the compost tea and I start to wonder how good either of those are for me.

What will my friend do when he wins all the races? When he nabs his 2 hour 30 minute win in Washington? Stop and go, stop and go, medals, t-shirts, pint glasses. I keep hounding him to start ultras with me hoping that he will start to garden with me too. I think I’ve reached all my goals. I can’t think of anything else I want to win, to achieve, I’m so ready to just be. I’ve got my dream job, my dream house, my dream town. It’s all simple and little and perhaps narrow but each time I pour water at the base of my little plants I feel connected to the larger world. Each time I pray I feel the energy of other human beings. My yoga practice is now running, gardening, play therapy. I’m healing through planting, growing right along with my garden. I don’t know if its fair to try to bring my friend with me but simply become aware of how we are approaching it differently. But, I still hope he wins if thats what he wants. And what I want is to enjoy it all and bask in the sun of all those small little things that create this big, big, life.

“There are no gardening mistakes, only experiments.”

— Janet Kilburn Phillips