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afraid of mirrors

230. 180. 150.

Not an IP address but numbers that have shaped, comprised, manifested, haunted, clawed their way into my life.  I am especially aware of my shape now.  My body has become a source of shame yet indifference as I navigate an especially acute dark journey of the soul. I have given up most objects or possessions and am finally without roommates so now it’s just me, my thoughts, intrusive memories, and a whole pile of books consumed both aurally and through print.  I’ve finished one book regarding last weeks obsession of healing, starting new, spiritual health.  Now this weeks obsession has gone to physical health and I find myself at the doctors office for a wellness check and before I even arrive I stare in the bathroom mirror knowing I will have to be weighed.

230.  A nice time in the afternoon when there’s still the happy mellow from lunch and the light lingers to paint the grass bright green before the yellow haze of autumn late afternoon.  230.  A nice highway that runs though southeast Wyoming through the Medicine Bow Forest past the Boy Scout Camp and old railroad system that is now the Rail Trail.  8 miles from highway 130 full of dirt roads to take to the western slope of the Snowy Range.  A road I took as I packed my stuff once again to go from Vail, Colorado to Laramie, Wyoming in early September.  Highway 230 is now closed due to the Mullen fire starting in the Med Bow forest and lapping up trees, bushes, grass all the way to the state line where the road is now closed.  230.  My current weight.  The most ever in my life.  Maybe I wanted to feel big again.

I find myself curious and disgusted in yoga realizing my belly, my thighs, my arms—are no longer the 160 pound girl who taught yoga for 7 years with heavy weights, kombucha, coconut water, tanned limbs, regular facials, Lulu Lemon clothes, Manduka mat, private pilates sessions.  I can barely balance and the weight of my body is hard to support.  My equilibrium has changed and its like learning to do yoga all over again in this heavy frame.  Running has sluffed off to steep hiking but after Vail I can’t seem to find a mountain with a 800 ft gain 3 blocks from my house.  The high plains of Laramie now filled with smoke so the distant mountains cannot be seen through the thick tendrils of dead pine souls reaching to the sky.  I see half faces in yoga that I know, teachers that might know me.  I recognize folks at the store.  Bless this pandemic, bless this mask for my face.  Now how can I mask my body that plagues me so.

180.  A complete turnaround.  A complete reversal in attitude or opinion.  I made the decision to move to Colorado in 2016 after some sustained wellness (sobriety, running, yoga, Crossfit, etc.) when I wanted more mountain adventure and to be somewhere I had never been and to feel little in the fish bowl of the San Luis Valley.  I had fallen in love with trailrunning and hiking and thought I ought get to the big ones—the fourteeners that came with stories of lightening, starting out hikes in the middle of the night, holding a dumb cardboard sign with the elevation sharpied next to the name of the peak.  Peakbagging without the bagging part.  I didn’t really climb that high or that technical.  I got to Alamosa, Colorado stayed a few months and shoved off to Pagosa Springs where I completely changed my career trajectory and started child therapy.  I weighed 180 and felt fat.  Was told that I was packing a little extra weight.

After arriving in Pagosa Springs I watched a whole new self emerging from my new surroundings, new relationship, new job, new house.  I felt a bit out of control and very confused in a small town of 1,200 but so perfectly surrounded by trails, rivers, mountains, hot springs that sometimes now that I am gone I lust for the town like an old college lover who is somewhere working in a bank in an unhappy marriage raising who knows how many kids.  I sought control through my diet and exercise and find myself running further and further.  Maybe in the snow, maybe with friends, maybe up hill.  I took my lunch hour to run up Reservoir Hill pounding switchbacks and sprinting down the hill trying to break my own record.  I watched myself take up less and less space not knowing who I was.  Always heading to my spiritual place—outside.

150.  There are 150 psalms in most versions of the Bible, though the Eastern Orthodox Septuagint bible has 151 and other versions have up to 155.  Before I started my most recent blog I had 150 pages of writing.  The psalms and my blogs much the same, expressing individual emotion to God or about God.  The psalmists may have had a different concept than I.  My god is not sky daddy nor mother earth but the breath and stillness in between.  Different types of psalms and writing all written to communicate different feelings and thoughts.  Words of praise, admiration, thanksgiving, gratitude, and wisdom.  Those might be the psalms but my words also invoke sadness, distress, longing, anger, shame, darkness, anxiety, and pain.  The lowest weight of my adult (and teenage) life, I am at the rec center in Pagosa and am inquiring about scholarships and the answer is always no if it comes to an HOA such a common occurrence in Colorado I am confused in Wyoming that all is one city project.  I step on the scale and am secretly beaming.

I am thin but am still crying all the time staying in hotel rooms because I’m in an 8 week training module for my new position as home based (child) therapist.  The man I move to Pagosa for has haggled me about my appearance so many times I figure if I eat less, run more, learn to ski, get the gear, learn all the mountains, make all the friends, teach all the yoga classes, find the right place to live with the best mountain view, clean the best, talk the least, I might measure up.  I become smaller and smaller and the other women at work tell me I am too thin or make fun of me for avoiding the cake, muffins, chocolates, chips, and other delights that find themselves on the counter.  I can only control this one thing.  I cannot control how my partner is treating me and can’t seem to psychoanalyze my way through it.  My weight getting lower and lower with my self esteem and ideas I could mean anything.  Still, I lift up my shirt to see my ribs and emerging six pack and am so secretly happy I’ve finally gotten this thin.

“…this beast dwells within whom many confuse with vanity.”

― The Raveness, Night Tide Musings

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walking through fire

It’s a little past 7, my dim flame of a soul awake compelled to compare that light to years ago waking up at 4 to write, running at 5:30, smoothies at 7:30, meetings and clients all day.  Yet, somehow, sleeping 8 hours mostly through the night and waking up before 11 has become my biggest accomplishment of summer.  It reveals how I’ve mistaken my schedule as me, my work as me, my good deeds as me.  Yesterday, the Mullen fire west of town turned the sky orange by noon and time became like resin holding everything captive and intact in town while beetle kill and brush woosh in flames out of town.  Some have become sentimental about the fires claiming environmentalists created the perfect kindling by not logging etc.  I am of the mind that it had to burn sometime.  The forest must burn to create. Perhaps the soul does, too. 

Forest fires release seeds and encourage growth creating fertile soil.  The flames clear dead trees, leaves, and other vegetation from the forest floor so new plants can grow.  Nutrients are broken down and return to the soil while disease-stricken trees leave space for stronger trees.  The thinning of trees increases sunlight which increases growth both of trees and wildlife habitat.  Soul fire releases new ideas of how to cope with life when old ways aren’t working.  The destruction of self and old patterns creates space for new wiring of the brain, synapses finding new paths with no former brain crispy leaves in the path.  Relationships are broken down to create room for new relationships and meaning.  While the smoke of the soul may be dark and ominous during the fire, the sunlight comes back in through new venues, new ways of seeing, new hope.

I find myself 6 hours into a 10 hour audio book wondering if I would have read it quicker through seeing instead of listening.  Then I remember, my sight isn’t getting better.  I’m getting older.  My body is changing and I find it sometimes hard to get out of the bathtub with shame thinking back on 6 hours of exercise a day.  Its hard to compare the two, both extremes of activity and while I feel like a crust of myself I have learned the lesson of moderation and realistic expectations.  This does not preclude goals of yoga, running, lifting weights, healthy diet.  This fire, however, is only 11% contained and the main objective is to save the structures of my life that are important.  A job, housing, working on the relationships I do have.  I’m setting the control line and holding boundaries and sometimes the fire may jump these lines.  Start over.  Dig, water, clear the brush again.

I wonder if this latest existential crisis has less to do with simple mental ailments and more to do with the shifting of my soul to accommodate who I am.  Am I a gypsy wandering every mountain town I encounter only to find while I’m compatible with the mountains I’m not compatible with its friends?  Or am I professional who realizes no one wants a former gypsy in shiny cubicles in surface talks about politics of service that are held up only in theory?  I seem to be emerging as both and I cherish my experiences in a boat, on a mountain, in a cubicle, speaking in front of a classroom.  In talks with my Uncle I realize that its not the achievements or the acquisition of a new position—its finding peace in the slow burning of the fire knowing that the terrain is too tough for me to fight and does not make sense for containment.  I wait then, and watch, and prepare the boundaries that I can knowing the fire may shift in any direction on the dovetails of the changing wind.

I am told by some mentors to keep certain information off of my resume and others tell me to hold true to myself.  As I drive by Fox park and some areas in the San Juans its obvious the forest has burned.  I wonder if my own fire leaves the scars just as visible and suppose it may be foolish to think I can hide the fires that molded the projection of myself.  I am told to keep a plant for a year, a dog for a year, then try a relationship.  The rebel in me says I’ll do things in anyway I want, I’ll start a fire in a stage 3 ban and watch my resources wasted on another preventable course.  I’ve been hiding very well this summer only letting a few folks know my whereabouts as I flit around from the San Isabel forest, to Holy Cross, and Medicine Bow, to end up at Roosevelt and Arapaho.  If I name where I am going maybe I can tame the outcome.  I dream of yoga in the morning, running in the afternoon, weights at night then swaddled in the tiny belly of my studio apartment to read, write, and reflect. 

Fall has always been my favorite time and is now the time of fires.  I anticipate the neon red sun in fall and the soft blanketing of snow that puts the fires out.  Snow is an insulator and when sound hit the small pockets of air on the outer surface the sound is absorbed reducing volume and reverberation.  All becomes a bit more quiet, the tongue of the flames finally put to rest with steam rising from the forest floor as the cycle begins again.  Cycle meaning circle—perhaps I circle in and out of the “good” and “bad” times in my life to learn something new each time I’m on fire.  This cycle I learned that I am a flake.  I set my lines and I hop them.  I create a strategy and the fire changes.  I’m not sure if I set goals around this tendency or I take the process as the goal itself—saying no one day at a time.  Apologizing or forgiving one situation in its own way despite the time it may take.  The fires are still burning and I’m still using all I’ve got to put them out, until they come again.

“What matters most is how well you walk through the fire.”    

-Charles Bukowski

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softening of the sap

I’m going to make up some of the piece for effect.  Sometimes, the metaphor unfolds from the writing but this one I’ve sort of planned out.  I use symbols and images to feel more real–to create something I can’t just vent over the phone while staring at refrigerated biscuits in the store after work.  Symbols and images creating the here-but-away glazed effect of the internet where one’s soul is felt in tiny comment bubbles but the vulnerability of immediate physical proximately can be easily avoided.  Instead of what I could say easily in person (and no one likes raw truths in person) I say elaborately through words, details, pictures, creations that ebb in and out of my control.  In these spaces I feel safe. In these spaces I am in the moment. There is one heartbeat, there is another—no need to coregulate.

_______

My dog once got tree sap on the tuft of fur located on his back, towards the tail.  That spot where dogs love to be scratched and will saunter underneath two blue jean tree trunks to feel the finger-branches of their owners.  One paw up, another paw up, tongue dangling from mouth, breath heaving.  A rhythmic ritual caught short on this day as the sticky, nostalgic smelling sap wraps around my fingers with black wires of fur and deformed pine needles.  I examine the spot now a cow lick of small chunks of tree bark, shiny in the light of the kitchen.  I thought about the hike where this had happened and how hikes sometimes start to look the same not because of being jaded or well-adventured but because the breath remains the same.  The steps, just like the dogs, back and forth in rhythm and ritual.  But the sap—this sap.  It was stuck.  It was hard.  It was amassed in a dark forest, off a path, a break in the flow.

I got stuck about 3 years ago.  There were moments when the sap would loosen, when I could start to work on the problem, but then in the dark forest I would find more resin.  I would stop looking up and become so focused on one thing that my back too became sap covered.  Tree-glue painful to pick off my own skin and oozing from trees in suspension, like a still shot of puss from a wound.  I had career hopped then which always come with a new creation of meaning, a way to make sense of purpose out of current circumstances.  With each move from mountain town to mountain town I would lose confidence, I would become painfully aware of my own personality—able to be friendly one moment, withdrawn the next.  The sap would harden and crystallize.  I felt frozen.  I felt trapped.  I felt suffocated.  There was one winter when we cut down Christmas trees and I found one for my own home.  I hosted a Christmas party.  The sap was soft then, the heat of friendship had loosened the sap.

Our neighbors gave us a Christmas tree this year and it looks much like the one I had cut down a few years ago.  I took it down yesterday and put it in my truck and a little fish thought swam through my head—I’ve already been here.  I’ve done this.  I’ve cut a small tree and let it dry up and scratch around in the jumper cables and bottles of oil in the dark belly of the truck topper.  I wondered how long the tree would stay this time and remembered a few years ago riding in the back after dumping the tree, noticing yellow pine needles feeling them stick in my legs as I smiled and watched the boy I had a crush on.  Softening of the sap.  Like teenagers that day in our laughter and I wonder when I will tear down dirt roads again in my truck hardly noticing sap as I chase waterfalls and peaks.  This Christmas brought its own patch of sap—a new problem that brought old problems, a folding of time in which I felt smashed in the middle.

Because of time, because of my tendency to never give up—the sap came out of the dogs fur.  We got a hairdryer and the look on the dogs face said I was an evil torturer.  I was ready to ban bacon from his world, outlaw walks, throw all the balls into the sea.  I wonder if I get this same look too when someone is trying to help me through something really painful.    The dog had worked for the clump of sap, I had worked for my pervasive depression and abusive interpersonal relationships.  Don’t take it away so soon.  I live like a preserved mosquito within this resin–I can’t annoy you here.  The dog yelped when the sap finally became soft enough, olive oil was massaged through his fur and lots of pets and kisses followed.  Then a bath.  This time he looked a little more forgiving—he knew now I was helping him.  I feel my heart starting to soften in the soapy warm water, things are melting, the crust of a loaf of bread has been cut into revealing the stretchy puffiness below.  I am moving through, with, and into this depression.  I am moving through, with, and into this light.

 

“Maybe you have to know the darkness before you can appreciate the light.” — Madeleine L’Engle

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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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each man kills the thing he loves

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

Too great oppression for a tender thing.

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

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

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

Prick love for pricking, and you beat love down.

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

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

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

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

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

“Yet each man kills the thing he loves,

By each let this be heard,

Some do it with a bitter look,

Some with a flattering word,

The coward does it with a kiss,

The brave man with a sword!

Some kill their love when they are young,

And some when they are old;

Some strangle with the hands of Lust,

Some with the hands of Gold:

The kindest use a knife, because

The dead so soon grow cold.

Some love too little, some too long,

Some sell, and others buy;

Some do the deed with many tears,

And some without a sigh:

For each man kills the thing he loves,

Yet each man does not die.”

 

–Oscar Wilde

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so many different things

“Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow you may die.”

What does merry taste like?  The bitter defeat of watching an ex-lover drink and be merry with a new mistress—what else ought I call her?  I want this bitter taste out of my mouth and I ought stop festering, creating hardened plaque of the heart.  To be merry tastes like parsley and dill I just pulled from my garden.  It tastes like sweet and spicy tea I put in with coffee compressed in the French press in the darkness of pre-dawn.  It tastes like saliva I suck through gaps in the teeth of that same ex-lover I kiss in the upcycle of the lines of a heartbeat on a monitor.

It looks like the smile on the face of a child when surprised and delighted by a hello or maybe a tube of chapstick.  It’s seen in the moment another human feels safe and heard and here comes the teeth of ecstasy again so bright and genuine—someone finally got them.  It looks like fog, like snow, like clouds that move like the breath to help me know I’m alive.  Let’s me see that even though I haven’t gotten it right yet, I see in my minds eye that I will.  It looks like that same lover’s profile from the side with one eye mischievous and the other wandering.

It feels like yoga in the morning, popping my back while sitting up or lying down flopping one leg this way or that and the release of tension like dropping a heavy pack on a hike.  It feels like my quadriceps in dancers pose, my back in camel pose, my hips in cobblers pose.  It feels like that sweet spot of muscle, tendon, and relief.  Happiness feels like the present moment finally letting go of the sadness of the past, the tenseness of the future.  It feels like a warm bear hug from the heart where I can soften and come to love, come to understand love hurts like a splinter underneath a fingernail.

To be merry sounds like laughter, humming, singing that vibrates from the lungs and lips of friends.  I always secretly hope those in my intimate circle like to whistle.  It sounds like the phrase “little buddy” and “I love  you, Jen.”  It’s a southern drawl of comfort, a biscuit of the heartspace smothered in the gravy of tiny moments heard in the beginning of gut laughter, and a good story.  It sounds like the breath inhaled right before the next in the ups and downs of contentment.

It smells like the very moment when a child hobbles in from recess smelling of metal, sand, asphalt, ketchup. It smells like dryer sheets and a simmered soup.  It smells like Jovan musk and coal, coffee and cinnamon, like compost in the middle of decay.  It smells like the gasoline of an old Ford truck.  Like hair and my grandpa’s pillow.  It smells like fish cleaned by my father, like garlic and antifreeze, like hot springs.

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,’ ” Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’ ”

“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument’,” Alice objected.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

― Lewis Carroll 

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beyond a distant star

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

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

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

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

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

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

― Amit Ray, Om Chanting and Meditation

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the law of the jungle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cesar Chavez

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the remaking of life

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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