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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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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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why I run

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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the world famous buckhorn bar & grill

 

  1. 25 cent row at the vending machine maybe I’ll pull a Cheeto or maybe hold a single Lay potato chip that crumbles onto the beer soaked Vegas carpet
  2. Dead animals, on the wall and I ask are jack rabbits real, they feel real
  3. dark red buttons smashed into booth full of cowboys in faded Levi’s and pearl snaps
  4. I do homework here on Sunday nights and get up to dance feeling the meat of my thighs clap together while Charlie-the-drunk-Cherokee watches
  5. Bea is losing her hair and swaths of red-orange press into her head held by a plaid clip and she pours my drink strong
  6. I pay my electric bill at the tall stool all the way at the end of the bar pressing “4” on the rotary phone to keep my electric stove heating my water for chicory coffee
  7. I answer the phone “World Famous Buckhorn Bar & Grill and confuse customers who breathe loudly into the phone “Is Matt there?”
  8. Matt Mickelson, infamous local cowboy quoted in Vanity Fair after the murder of gay resident, Mathew Shepard “Now we’re the capital of gay bashing”
  9. foamy beer vomit next to the red booths and sprawled on the Vegas carpets after another failed attempt to seduce a man–I can shotgun a beer but not a wedding
  10. I sneak away to the back to roll my Drum tobacco and take shots of Jamison with the bartender as inwardly frazzled as me
  11. YOU!!! hugs, hugs, hugs.  I am welcome here.
  12. Here I do not write, here I pray for the muses to make this into something meaningful
  13. Sparky, Juby Hearts, Dillon, Colin, JR-so-angry, Page, Jeff, Mattie, Ramsey, Jessie
  14. Can we sleep here?
  15. But its really warm here…
  16. BIKE WRECK!!!!
  17. Trains whistling and shot glasses shaking–this is the Wild West these stories can’t be written
  18. I brought my statistics homework here to figure percentages knowing 100% of the time i will wake up with an Extra Gold on my headboard.  I am ALIVE.
  19. Can I write a check?
  20. World famous and you might not wanna get caught day drinking here in 2006
  21. And here I am.
  22. Caught

“One of the Buckhorn’s wildest moments left its mark in history. 45 years ago, one of the regulars flew into a mad fit of rage when a bartender ignored his advances. In a drunken stupor, he pulled his pistol.  One shot went through the ceiling, another into the alley and his final shot landed in the mirror behind the bar. If you look closely, you can still see the bullet hole to this day.”

 

Read More: The Legendary Tales of The Old Buckhorn Bar and Parlor in Laramie | http://kingfm.com/the-legendary-tales-of-the-old-buckhorn-bar-and-parlor-in-laramie/?trackback=tsmclip

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hair like falling rain

When I first moved to Pagosa, I was so curious.  Learning from everyone around me I truly wondered how things worked here.  I’ve always lived in some proximately to American Indian reservations and grew up knowing Blackfoot and Lakota people living near South Dakota.  I looked up information about Pagosa—first the trails, then old newspaper articles, editorial pieces by two gentlemen who maintain their own news sources.  Then, I looked up the word Pagosa itself and thought it was a Spanish word for “yellow pine” as Alamosa was the Spanish word for “little cottonwood.”

I moved here for the trails, for my job, and was able to explore last summer.  I took in the area bounded on the north—the Weminuche Wilderness.  Hiked up to meet the Contintental Divide from Four Mile, then later in fall hiked from Wolf Creek Pass on the divide down to Archuleta Trail to meet up at Big Meadows.  Drove to Platoro near the Colorado-New Mexico border, and spent days in the San Juan Wilderness running from the front porch of a friend’s house.  Haven’t made to Yellow Jacket Pass on the west but I live here now.  There is still time.

I’ve soaked in most commercial and hidden hot springs in the area, barring Rainbow Hot Springs which people will say is a 5 mile hike, but I’ve heard 8.  Yet, I still am a newbie, curious, wondering.  The skies here remind me of Wyoming and the clouds are wonderful right before the afternoon storm of the mountains that I grew accustomed to at 7200 feet in Laramie, WY.  Sometimes, the clouds reach down like fingers pouring rain on mountain meadows in the distance.  Turns out, American Indian (Navajo) men and women have their hair long because it symbolizes the falling rain bringing sustenance and watering plants, herbs, crops.

I started attending town council and remember one meeting where low-income housing was struck down but a $70,000 overlook structure was approved near the bridge at the center of town.  Perfect for the tourists to stand under jutting over the San Juan River and The Springs—the largest resort in town with over 25 pools.  Nice move for tourism, Pagosa.  I was a little upset that there is a slight housing crisis here caused by rentiers and lack of funds for subsidized housing but yesterday heard a bit more of the story.  Many of the lands are owned or homesteaded by Spanish and American Indian people  To develop some lands or put in easements for trails would displace peoples who have been displaced so many times.  I am still learning.

There’s many story on the websites highlighting Pagosa but it seems that only the Anglo (French, English) stories are told bringing the forefront stories of mountain men highlighting the tales of the military expeditions and beaver trapping.  I heard these same stories in Wyoming fourth grade social studies, gnawing on pemmican probably watching “Dances With Wolves” so we could all feel good about the interactions between pale face (white people) and American Indians.  There are two main tribes in the area—Navajo and Southern Ute.  I found a story about the warring between the two tribes.  The story that goes into museums dotting the main highway 160 and highlights the towns cash cow—hot springs.

This is the story that they want you to hear:

There’s a tale of a fight to the death between the Utes and the Navajo to determine the ownership of the springs. Confrontation had marked these two tribes relationship for many years. Both recognized the San Juan River as a dividing line between their nations, but the springs was still a source of contention.

They decided each tribe would select one man to represent each side. The dispute would be settled by whoever emerged victorious, and the winner would win the possession of the Great Pagosa Hot Spring.

The Navajos selected a huge man who was famous for his fighting ability. Colonel Albert Pfeiffer volunteered to fight for the Utes. He was an Indian agent, and a friend of Col. Kit Carson, as well as an enemy of the Navajo and an adopted member of the Utes (having married into the tribe). His one request was that he could elect the weapons they would use, and he were chose Bowie knives.

They met unclothed, except for their breechcloths, and fought with one hand tied behind their backs. The Indian had the advantage in size, and the Colonel knew it. Suddenly, however, when the Colonel was some feet from his adversary, he made a very quick movement with his arm, his knife left his hand and was buried in the enemy’s heart.  The Utes were victorious, the Navajo withdrew, and never more did they lay claim to the “Great Pahgosa.”

But, there’s another story.

The war was not occurring so much between the Southern Utes and Navajo but the Navajo and white settlers.  The Utes and Navajo were ancient enemies, from what I’ve heard, but I can’t find much information on the internet other than the story above.  According the Southern Ute tribe website, the Ute people are the oldest residents of Colorado, inhabiting the mountains and vast areas of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Eastern Nevada, Northern New Mexico and Arizona.  According to tribal history handed down from generation to generation, the people lived here since the beginning of time.

Navajo is pronounced “NAH-vuh-ho.” This spelling came from Spanish– you can sometimes see the same name spelled “Navaho” instead. It comes from a Pueblo Indian word for “planted fields” or “farmlands.”  Think about the clouds and the long hair—these were people who cultivated crops in a place not known for the best growing season. The Pueblo Indians probably gave them this name because unlike their relatives the Apaches, the Navajos were farmers who lived in settled villages. Traditionally the Navajos called themselves Dine’é or just Diné (which means “the people”), but today most Navajo people also use the word “Navajo” themselves, especially when they are speaking English.

From the stories I heard, the Navajo were here long ago, and Pagosa does not mean healing or boiling waters but rather comes from the Navajo word “Pagosah” (although other accounts say it’s a Southern Ute word—depends on who you talk to) which means stinky waters.  The Navajo considered these lands sacred and white settlers kinda liked it, too.  The account I’ve heard is not that each tribe sent a representative but rather the military men transplanted the Southern Ute here, knowing full well they were considered an enemy of the Navajo.  Make it easier on the American government by letting them kill each other off.  Cultural warfare.  Scorched earth on sacred land.

Folks seem to believe that white supremacy is a modern day myth and racist ideology of hatred promoted by marginal extremist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan or the Aryan Nations. Often overlooked and neglected in this view are the structural inequalities that ensure the continued supremacy of whites over non-whites in all facets of social life.  Like putting two warring tribes in the same place.  Only advertising the stories that bring more white folks from the south to enjoy the land and dump dollars in a community that does have its issues with poverty.

I still stare at the clouds every day from my back porch thinking about hair like rain.  I haven’t cut my hair in years and now I will look at town council a bit differently.  Seek out the old families of color who have been here forever to hear the stories, to protect traditions that aren’t necessarily mine, but that I still hold in my heart and I learn about my new home.  This year I’m trying to grow a garden like I’ve grown my hair using the rain that forms over the San Juan mountains and recollect the adage that folks come to Pagosa to “heal, hide, or take a hike.”  I’m here to heal.  I’m here to learn.  I’m here to be.

“Don’t be ashamed to weep; ’tis right to grieve. Tears are only water, and flowers, trees, and fruit cannot grow without water. But there must be sunlight also. A wounded heart will heal in time, and when it does, the memory and love of our lost ones is sealed inside to comfort us.”

― Brian Jacques, Taggerung

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high plains, high desert

The sky here in Alamosa, Colorado can sometimes feel so incredibly close yet so large, a giant glass fishbowl full of bushy desert plants and fine sand swirling around, piling at the bottom of a mountain.  Mountains are in all directions, optical illusions creating some to appear small as they curl their bottom lip of switchbacks and raise high eyebrows full of summits and passes treacherous in winter as snow that never sees the valley beats down on the chest of the high places.

 

The bowl of the San Luis Valley becomes soaked as irrigation and veins of water fed by the Rio Grande collect snow of mountain tops becoming all but dry in summer.  Rain becomes a welcome sign that miracles can happen in the desert and rainbows can form amidst the backdrop of peaks and valleys of Mount Blanca. The landscape and sense of place could keep me here for years as I begin to understand weather patterns and hear from the folks how the weather fits into their lives.

 

I don’t really know why I left Wyoming.  I know why I left Gillette–to go to college.  And I supposed I left Laramie for the same reason–to go to a different college.  I went looking for opportunity and here I found diversity in the short time I have been here. I become aware of myself as I observe my surroundings to try to understand how to be serve, really how to best empower those around me to serve themselves. I do not know what is best for those in the valley and it’s nice to become learner once again.

 

Some things change and some remain the same.  I travel with lavender oil and rub it on the foreheads of Coloradoans now and I teach yoga to students at this college campus.  I wonder about the prospect of taking the mobile model of yoga I started in Wyoming and try it out here.  How can I weave in the fabric of place through the stories of the people?  I suppose I can start by leaving the house.  I plan trips to trails and dream of backpacking trips up fourteeners but feel some tiny bit of flesh and bone is terrified while the spirit is bold and so I remain cautious.

 

I heard someone talk about the religious or spiritual connotations of the San Luis Valley.  Every religious figure or prophet spent some amount of time thinking about stuff in the desert.  The mountains provide a prompt to think about stuff in the desert and to slow down.  The fishbowl of the valley allows for integration in twenty minute intervals toward towns spreading out like petals from the Alamosa center.  I have arrived.  And will be here now in the high desert of Colorado nodding my head to the high plains of Wyoming.

 

“Night poured over the desert. It came suddenly, in purple. In the clear air, the stars drilled down out of the sky, reminding any thoughtful watcher that it is in the deserts and high places that religions are generated. When men see nothing but bottomless infinity over their heads they have always had a driving and desperate urge to find someone to put in the way.”

 

-Terry Pratchett, Jingo

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spiritual vomit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-James Baldwin

 

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wal-mart yoga

I ran into a friend last night and a few folks knew me from my work teaching yoga. I was able to talk out loud a bit about how I see western yoga as cultural appropriation and perpetuating classism, racism, ableism, extroversion, hegemony, and all other sorts of atrocities that we silently ignore in the modern American caste system.

Let me clear this up before I dive into an opinion piece: I do teach yoga. I do teach meditation. I call myself the “Wal-Mart of Meditation” for a reason. Yeah Wal-Mart is messed up, but I don’t have the privilege NOT to shop there. Most folks I know don’t. I didn’t plan it this way, but I am very particular about where I teach, who I teach for, and how I teach. In the 4 years I’ve dived into this spiritual realm, I’ve learned a few things about myself and yoga.

The first is—I doubt I will ever teach at a boutique brick and mortar studio again. I’m not a business person, hardly a capitalist, and would not ask others to do what I cannot do myself. I cannot afford an $18 yoga class. In 2009 when I got out of jail after several DUI’s, I had nothing. Some fellah at the soup kitchen gave me $20. The last thing I was going to do with that money was walk over to a studio to be confused by Sanskrit, incense, and a person who is trying to tell me everything is love and light. Bullshit. I just got out of jail and have no home. Life will never be all love and light so we can all surrender that fantasy.

Secondly, I hope to always teach at a community college. In my years of teaching I have NEVER encountered a person of color in a brick and mortar studio outside of one instructor and one teacher in training—both privileged socioeconomically. In my classes at the community college, I’ve had men and women of color, non-english speaking folks, folks with disabilities, folks struggling with obesity, children, teenagers, deaf and hard of hearing folks, folks who I let in because they could not pay, felons, drug-users—you name the area of marginalization and I’ve been able to recruit at least one person to try it out.

Before I prepare my speech for social justice lady-face of the year, let me relate that I, too, am a part of the appropriation of yoga. I am in the space of privilege. I am the subject that relates to the object of yoga. I’ve bastardized the heck out of yoga (i.e. Walmart Meditation) I’ve copied elements from a minority culture and these elements are used outside of their original cultural context—sometimes even against the expressed, stated wishes of representatives of the originating culture.

I do not take communion in a Catholic church. I do not attend Mormon seminary. I do not pray with Muslims. Why do I think it’s okay to teach yoga when I know nothing of Hinduism? Because—it’s all I’ve got. I want to show folks that the light exists so they can choose their lamp. I know I do not know the right way to do anything because the only right way is the authentic way in one’s own skin. That will look different for everyone.

I can reduce the harm be being aware of the roots of the practice, and giving credit where credit is due. I can respect and honor the religion of Hindu and the Eight-Limbed Path by shutting the fuck up when I enter a sacred space. I can become more sensitive to myself and others through intentional practice. I will have to practice my whole life because it will not end with a headstand, heck, it won’t even end in this life. It is important we understand what yoga is and why it was created so we can honor the practice, others, and ourselves.

“Do your practice and all is coming.”

― Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

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cracks and stripes

Sitting in the plush couch across from Asian decorations staring at large red plates and sticks of bamboo creating geometrical patterns and shadows creating the backdrop as I relate the geometrical patterns of my life. I blandly tell my counselor how life is a dream, a projection, a fuzzy version of reality. A veil has dropped. Maybe it dropped a long time ago. I watch the plot, the characters, the scene, the story line with only mild interest. Mostly apathetic.

A familiar story for the thinkers, the depressed, the analyzers. Life a dream. Waves of light, color, emotion, people. A familiar story for those in trauma. Unable to fully open up to life undulating between numbness and extreme pain. I’ve told my story a hundred times and it’s really nothing special as folks die and individuals reinvent themselves over and over again, purifying in the fire. In each reinvention, the dreams, the disassociation becomes greater and greater and I go to matching lengths to ground down, to find the soil of my existence once again.

April 25th, 2014 a friend hung herself and I once again sank down, went deep, and struggled to decide on the appropriate response, the appropriate way to be with myself, to be with the world. And so I ran. I went into the physical body and the breath for stability, balance, to let the power of my thoughts dull in the burning light of my physical being. On Pole Mountain every day, moving slowly over rolling hills stopping to smell, take pictures, dance, stare at the sky, stare at the ground, and sit in the mud. I would bring friends, we would bring drink, I would bring drink alone. Playing with that point when the substance can enhance physical awareness and open up the senses to deep experiences while dulling the mind just enough to justify the tall bullets of barely pop.

I let go of expectations for myself. I walked away from the holistic practice of yoga doing only what felt good—run, lift, stretch, drink, sleep. I would push myself at times but found in the letting go of the practice of yoga I was able to truly practice yoga through direct experience, an opening up to the trails of life, the trails of my own veins. I felt like a crucible with ashes in my belly, appearing like clay but red hot on the inside. And so I buried myself in the cool ground to recalibrate what this all might mean and how to find my meaning.

On the trails, during the runs in forward motion and in the tiny catches of slowing down, I begin to see the patterns of nature. The times, ways, and slopes where the wildflowers grow. The ripple of the snow from the way the wind blows, the creak of the trees, the sound of thunder near and far. I begin to feel the sunrise and sunset and anticipate in some familiar way what to expect in this place and on these runs. The weather becomes a part of my system the breeze my own breath.

It becomes harder and harder to come back and to see the patterns in others’ behavior, the same patterns of nature. Only to know the patterns will not be seen. They are obstructed, fuzzy, blended with lies on the part of the person who has not yet accepted his or her own behaviors. They do not see what I see, and this is just perception, this is just human nature. They are not who they think they are. I am not who I think I am.

On the hikes of the human mind, I feel the wind of thoughts, the dark clouds of brooding, and the creak of the heart. Anticipating the seasons of the soul from unspoken words and intense observation I feel the sunset coming knowing that it may go unnoticed, go unfelt. It does not matter. All experience, good or bad is grist for the mill. Fuzzy, painful, manufactured, in nature, all a path to spiritual growth, a way to God.

“Sometimes I reason my life is a hideous illusion, and I dream of disappearing into the wilderness, leaving behind my past, my present, and all plans for my future, the hustle and bustle for a materialism I care little for, propaganda, politics, phonies, and all the patterns I’ve encountered from their words unspoken, that alert and alienate me to believe that this surely wasn’t meant to be my playground.”

-Unknown