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blue-collar sensibility

My Dad and I often fought because unlike the other kids in the house I would argue tooth and nail on principals I upheld—like I should be able to go out late because how else will I learn to make choices?  There was one particularly heated fight and I went downstairs to my room to blast whatever awful music I listened to at the time and Dad came tearing down the stairs and ripped the entire door off its hinges.  I simply glared at him over my book of poetry by Jim Morrison and said, “it was unlocked, jeez.”

Dad was the archetypal blue collar worker.  He wore one of his 3 pairs of Wranglers 30 by 32, a pocket shirt of which he had about 7, a brown worn leather belt, and generally a ball cap with some fishing logo or maybe the name of the mine he at which he worked.  He changed positions a few times working in the coal mine after starting out in a uranium mine in Douglas, WY.  He did a stint in the oil field—his father and two uncles had started “Triple B Energy” in Gillette, WY where they had learned the trade after some semesters at Texas A&M.

Uncle Joe was a self-made chemical engineer or “mud mixer” as its called in the field creating a concoction of chemicals designed to keep the walls of hundreds feet deep drill site from collapsing. Grandpa Loy was more of the talker and business man of the group, in his later life selling cars for a living showing off that Southern sweet talk and charm.  My other Great Uncle, Doyle, was less involved living in New Mexico working for NASA for the latter part of his life.  I remember him clearly, he was in a wheelchair.  When he was younger, he got polio and used plastic straws he kept in his breast pocket to type out his notes on a computer he had configured to fit his shriveled body.  I would become so angry when folks looked at him as we tooled around the southwest—he’s smart, don’t you know?!

Some 13 million Americans have managed to move from their blue-collar upbringing to a while-collar world and while class mobility seems to hearken to the American Dream and is generally applauded in the symbolic way—there are lasting consequences.  It must have been summer of my sophomore year or so and Dad and I were once again arguing on principal.  I had become more proficient at this during my college experience.  Disagreements were now an area of growth—I saw these talks as ways to try to open his mind to what I was learning at college—how to think in the grey, how to listen to all sides of a thought and use my own skills of deduction to formulate my world.  Dad became more and more frustrated and then eventually said out loud “you are wasting your time, you’ll never make as much as me.”  I had to let that statement sink in.  He might be right. But is that really why I was getting my Bachelors of Arts in English?  To make money?

My parents were able to afford to pay for my room and board the first year of college.  I lived in the dorms, Orr Hall, and still look back fondly on those years.  I met many life-long friends at the smokers bench by McIntyre Hall where we would meet before meals walking out of the cafeteria smiling with ice cream cones we would feed to the fat, tame squirrels that lived in the tall pines by Fraternity and Sorority Row.  I had managed to get a scholarship for 4 years of tuition as one of the top 5% of scholars in the state.  I hadn’t hardly applied to any colleges, much less done any scholarships.  Senior year was a time of addictions and moving in and out of my house.  This scholarship seemed like a fluke but I thought I better try it out—if nothing else than to prove my Dad wrong.

I may or may not make more than my Dad in my life—I feel myself headed there and am painfully aware of being the 10% here in Pagosa Springs—most of my friends in small business or the service industry working 2 or 3 jobs to pay rent in a place they live with several other roommates.  Then, there are the white collar retirees who the blue collar folks cater to—a nice restaurant here, $70,000 for a nice new overlook structure painting a portrait of a town that appreciates finer architecture and place where Texans might buy your art.  But, mobility here is highly unlikely.  The college nearby, Fort Lewis, has gained the name “Fort Leisure” and doles out liberal arts and education degrees with the promise of Straddler status—rising from the woods of Southwest Colorado to get a corporate job on the Front Range.  I don’t know if that even happens.  The salary may increase with education, but us blue collar folks may never speak the language of the privileged.

I feel a real sense of fragmentation sometimes.  Here I am, with my Masters of Science, which means something to me and meant something in higher education—the industry I recently vacated to try my hand at professional counseling.  I try to avoid the inevitable “when did you get to Pagosa, what do you do” talks because I feel hyper-aware of my self-imposed status.  I can hardly speak the nuances of a while collar existence but my blue collar roots seems to create suspicion as well.  I usually rely on the old geographical class mobility—oh I’m from Wyoming I’m a good ol’ boy (girl).  But I know secretly that if I comment on politics in a way that is non-polarizing—I might be shunned.  I’m not quite the liberal retiree speaking of Trumps evil, but I’m also not the conservative leaning fishing guide still obsessed with land ownership as another vehicle of hopping social classes.  An imposter in both worlds.

I didn’t walk in graduation for either my bachelors or my masters.  I didn’t know if my family would come.  And I certainly didn’t feel that they knew what I had accomplished.  From the outside, it may have looked like I spent 4 years drinking and reading poetry and then 2 years in my masters learning the language of empathy which I’m sure most homemakers like my Mom would attest is something that can be done in child-rearing.  I was the first in the family (in this generation) to achieve both degrees with a first cousin obtaining her law degree from Tulane.  We had done it.  But there are still certain things I won’t talk about if I ever were to visit Texas again and hit up the family reunion.  I won’t share my postmodern theories of classism, I won’t speak at length about racism, hegemony, or eco-feminism which I still use as a framework to view the world.  But these are the topics that set me apart and let me mingle with the white collar folks of academia. They just want brilliance and it can come from many different roots.

I think my Dad and I could argue because of the blue-collar existence.  We weren’t too worried about keeping up appearances.  I never remember one BBQ or dinner party hosted at my parents house.  My Dad has the same 3 piece suit he wore to church, weddings, funerals.  My Dad worked 12 hours shifts at the coal mine toward the end of his life, added to a 3 hour commute to get the mine 70 miles away.  When I was younger he would come home with black-coal eyeliner and his fingers dirty making me think he actually dug coal for a living.  Later, he would shower at the mine and the only evidence of hard labor was his pink-red eyes, slanted from the tiring physical work he had been doing his whole life.  A damn hard worker.  And so I still continue to work hard and grapple with my straddle status.  I have retirement, insurance, benefits.  But I still try to remember my roots and bear the load of paying for most of my education.  In theory I may have crossed social classes but in reality I will pay for my status forever.

“Social class counts at the office, even though nobody likes to admit it. Ultimately, corporate norms are based on middle- and upper-class values, business types say. From an early age, middle-class people learn how to get along, using diplomacy, nuance, and politics to grab what they need. It is as though they are following a set of rules laid out in a manual that blue-collar families never have the chance to read.”

-Alfre Lubrano, Limbo: Blue Collar Roots, White Collar Dreams

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positive regard

I woke up sweaty and feeling pieces of pork in my belly from my emotional eating fest that I sometimes take to late at night. Shoving rigid, burnt, pieces of dry chops into my mouth to fill my empty belly hoping somehow the nourishing chunks will reach my heart. I smell the scent of my own sweat happy now that it doesn’t bug me. I pick up my sweatshirt lying curled on the floor and take a whiff of faint perfume and dryer sheets still hanging around even though I quit my practice of using like fifty every drying cycle. Maybe I am growing.

I felt like myself, writing again about the larger world not just my soul in and out of love. I stepped out of my house so thankful for a space with two floors still feeling guilty I don’t use my yoga studio as much as I’d like. Then, I glance at my plants in the corner feeling warm at the metaphor for growth–long vines curing sideways and up, pink green leaves and primary color pots. If these plants can grow without my knowing anything about good soil, Latin names, lighting–then I can grow in an environment where I try mountain biking for the first time, skiing, boating. A little droopy at first, I’ve taken root and no longer worry about how I’ll do in a small town. Turns out I’ll be just fine.

Fine as frog hair I can hear the chirping of crickets and croaks of frogs outside my back deck lips tilting into a smile because I have created exactly what I want. I’m on the trails everyday–exploring my inner and outer worlds. There are a few things, though, that have been pointed out that I would like to change. I check on Strava and see that one of my running partners has gone back to improve on my special loop. I start the cycle of run anxiety–I need to beat them! These thoughts are self-defeating as I’ve never done to well in the physical arena at competition. I remember the summer of 15,000 basketball shots–I improve through repetition and tiny little shifts in my thought process.

How do people change? I don’t think they change by making promises regarding past or future situations. Expectations can kill the change process and I believe only when a person can be their complete, crusty, loving, stinky, gorgeous selves can they start to make changes towards who they want to be. I sometimes get muscles cramps in my feet and legs and instead of curling up and moaning about the tenseness I step right into the pain. Pull back toes, step back on the calf, go right into the tenseness. It takes a lot to rebuild trust like peeling a mango and trying to find the giant seed-nut inside and trusting that while some of the tender sweet flesh will remain on the rind and seed what’s inside is worth the work.

I change my mind a lot about what I want in love. I have gained so much insight this year. I need humor, I need long talks and discourse that helps me to challenge or accept my position on any number of issues. And I am allowed to change my mind–to uphold some liberal ideas and still cling to my Wyoming cord with rights and liberties guaranteed to the individual.  And I can choose to completely disengage knowing that the personal is political and the way I live my life is the most convincing evidence of what I believe.  I want passion–not just passion between two mounds of flesh but passion to grow one another like wilted plants, hard mangoes, fatigued quad muscles ready to mend into stronger versions of trees clomping up a mountain. I want to change in the gray tick tocking until I slow down in the middle space that fits my soul in the present moment.

We all encounter our mirrors in life, sometimes in nature, sometimes in objects, sometimes in others. I can make a choice to see my positive aspects in the mirror–still aware of my black and white thinking, my strong nose, my horse teeth, my bird nest hair. What I have found in others is my humor, my pragmatism, my ability to see past behaviors that are really just a mask. I feel some friction in my life like wearing running shoes with no socks, tiny rocks of incongruence press into the tender fleshy part of my foot and I have the tools to end the friction, to find a new pair of shoes I can wear for the next 500 miles.   And with a tender foot, I can take one step at a time.

“I am increasingly an architect of self. I am free to will and choose. I can, through accepting my individuality… become more of my uniqueness, more of my potentiality.”

-Carl Rogers

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soul standing cool

I sat down to look for a writing prompt on the internet sick of my stories of the same guy, the same feelings, the same place. But, maybe thats what writing is all about–dissecting events through details to make sense of things that evade my understanding. I used to write in a style that I adopted from the Beats–journalistic, shocking, filled with the iconic hobo character who I found so fascinating. In college, obtaining my English degree, enamoured by Medieval literature and freshman colloquium examining great Western works.

My favorite authors did not turn out to be the Beats and I became disillusioned with tales of acid trips and anti-government articles that only seemed to birth a generation of folks who read the works to recreate the dissonance of following rules and partying in secret. I’ve never met a true anarchist or many others who take politicking out of the two houses–right or left. This year, I’ve decided not even to follow politics. I understand that acts being performed anger folks, but why not try to take that passion to a micro-level. This is how my favorite author emerged in my life–Marcel Proust. Master of non fiction and detail.  In writing group the other night a very long sentence in my writing was pointed out and I lit up inside–writing like Proust.

I wake up at around 4:30 am and open my whispy white curtains and collect empty Powerade bottles gulped from in between dreams of nature scapes that return to me over and over and as I drive down the curvy road to town I wonder if I have been here before surrounded by tall pine trees and sun beating down through thin mountain air. I fill the tea kettle with faucet water and make my bed, wash dishes while the stainless steel pot starts to giggle with hot bubbling water and pour over grounds watching foamy brown water give off a rainbow sheen glistening like an oil patch in a drive-in parking lot. I pour hot, thick liquid into my only coffee cup–red, black, and chipped and tilt the carton of almond milk for a small pour always sighing at that first drink.

Usually, I sweep the floors and find the swooshing of the broom bristles comforting as tiny piles of mountain dust and crusty chicken collect in little cairnes of my kitchen.  I cannot stand the feel of crumbs beneath my feet and become aware of my own idiosyncacies as others don’t seem to mind the tiny particles and remark on my affinity for sweeping. Archaetypes and metaphors come to mind–the Disney princess sweeping looking forlorn by the fireplace, the giant michevious broom splintering into a thousand tiny ominous brooms filling the alchemist’s basement with water. I remember last year and so many years when the piles of dust were filled with bundles of Lou Dog fur and I muse on another pet taking morning and evening walks that give me the swept earth feeling I crave.

I think on who would not mind my sweeping, who would take in my anxiety like an old cup of bitter micowaved coffee–still thankful for the symbol of morning elixir.  Still thankful to be awake with me.  Who would hardly ever tell me to slow down or speak up or talk about my intensity as if I can control the way I don’t seem to filter myself or the world. One who would be chill rather than telling me to chill letting my mirror neurons kick in and find peace in teaching yoga and meditation–meditation not cooling my fired up personality right away but invoking the cold waters of my soul shaking away the need to be clear and dirty palms up in offering of the person that I am exactly in this moment.

My favorite poets are from the Romantic era along with my favorite pianists. Chopin pieces filled with trills that I used to practice over and over at the piano bench my fingers like a broom, pinky sweeping over high notes and right hand jumping octaves to create the sweet sad sound of a nocturne. Whitman speaks of the human flesh becoming a poem and I see my spindly arms at the top of the page creating the metaphor of a storm swirling on a high prairie lighting up the big sky full of stars.  Stars I see every morning and night as I open and close the white curtains to my deck facing the world. And so I face the world in my poem-body and Proustian mind getting lost in the details yet feeling the glimmer of light in one thousand mirrors becoming one shining beam of energy, one focused point of my life.

“I exist as I am, that is enough,
If no other in the world be aware I sit content,
And if each and all be aware I sit content.
One world is aware, and by the far the largest to me, and that is myself,
And whether I come to my own today or in ten thousand or ten million years,
I can cheerfully take it now, or with equal cheerfulness, I can wait.”
― Walt Whitman

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with or without wings

I fly in my dreams over brown fields spotted with blue lakes and grey rivers that become synapses of the brain. Trees in the wind standing strong and bushes firing up green chemicals changing to spiders send the message through the amygdala.  Emotional response.  Right brain feathers plume up in terror to make the edges of my mind just a little bigger to outsmart disassociation.  I fly at the words “negative bitch” and feel my hamstrings and quadriceps curl up like burning newspaper and unfold from my body peeling away from sturdy, strong, like-a-lamppost femur bone.   The air becomes thin and I become the air, dirt and old leaves spin around in my chest cavity as ribs crack apart from strong breath and lament.  Flapping, panicked, wings emerge from my hunched shoulder bones worn like a sweater to protect my heart from the cold of the altitude from being so high, so high up.

Taking off.  Ascending.  Soaring.

May I never learned to fly.  But I have learned how to get so, so high up, body numb, head warm and light as my grey brain turns to dryer lint fuzzy and floating in the wind.  Puffs of lint coil into slow moving sliding snakes twirling and busting out into tiny fires bringing me back to the coal mines of Wyoming where tiny piles of coal spontaneously combust like my lint-brain.  Smoking piles morph into the breath of a dragon swinging his spiky tail to take out tiny cottages of the heartspace dotting the safe space of my soul.  Maybe the dragon never learned to fly.

Back to a hospital room at age four getting yet another asthma treatment feeling my head float like hair ready to meet the lightning strike seen in the high valleys and plains of an early evening thunderstorm.  I fly right before sleep when I psychoanalyze my clients and my own life scared of my own narcissism jealous of the bird that flies high with no regard or thought of consequence about who might be flying lower.  Tearing down a county road on my heavy mountain bike at thirty miles per hour—fast to me—and wings spread wide, shoulders open up, chest pounding strong but no cracks no mistakes in these headwinds.  Rattling of the back tire keeps me on the ground thinking about that five hour flight to Alaska all the way up on the promise of the inside passage and Alaskan highway.

What goes up must come down, down, down, before ever clawing its way back to dry land through the dark caves and rivers of primordial times.  Down the dark veins of the jungle-river, deep in the dark sea journey of the psyche.  Heart trapped inside the hard, brittle shell—the womb of growth where I will grow a beak to tap, tap at my surroundings.  Tap, tap, woosh, woosh.  Feathers covered in mucus and the snot of life lubricating the tiny feathers.  Little strands of bird-hair poking out from meaty thighs wondering if I’ll be a bird of primary color or mixed yellow-green to blue growing my ideas of existence out of pink-white, unfinished skin.  I didn’t know I could crack open and escape this place.

Out in space and I’m not alone.  I don’t know if I flew here or if I went through the portal of the bedroom again and this is the revelation of flying—I am here with the bones of my past and the thoughts of my future.  In dark space always looking for the v-shape of the river, the v-shape of birds as they fly above knowing exactly where to go using intuition and tiny feathers like stabilizer muscles holding up the larger muscle groups that never fatigue in flying.  This migration is hundreds of miles and I’ve already come thousands.  I run faster and faster down the mountain and feel legs kick and heels strike as I start to move faster not worried about falling, not worried if I catch up, not worried if I win.  I am flying.

Maybe I never learned how to come down.  Learning to fly young flopping off safe branches of tiny trees, losing a feather that takes its time swinging back and forth landing on the ground to be blown and blown to somewhere—not here.  High up in the whispy clouds of undecorated thoughts where I wonder if anyone can see me.  A dot in the sky, a shadow on trees and buttes, a screech in the wind.  Heard at dusk and dawn and screeching sometimes piercing into early afternoon in the middle of a nap.  Even when unheard, the song goes on.

 

“The only true voyage, the only bath in the Fountain of Youth, would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to see the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to see the hundred universes that each of them sees, that each of them is; and this we do [with great artists]; with artists like these we do really fly from star to star. ”

― Marcel Proust, The Prisoner [and] The Fugitive : In search of lost time, vol. 5

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60 degrees

I sat outside my therapist’s office today and for the first time I realized that the brown shapes and figures on the wall were not construction on the building but were mountains.   Light brown mountains with a silhouette of tan and then a final layer of dark brown mountains.  I sat breathing and thinking about the mountains and why I had come to Colorado.  I came for the gorgeous outdoors.  I came for my spirituality and to further my career.  I didn’t expect to walk away from higher education and move to be a play therapist in a tiny town called Pagosa.  But here I am with mountains on the wall, mountains outside, and mountains in my heart.

I think about my life right now—in construction.  I’m framing out my neck, trunk, arms, legs, head, heart, and soul to become able to withstand the weight of the trauma and shitstorm that will always come.  There will always be a mountain to climb.  I can’t stop the storm that may happen on the mountain but I can stop aligning with the weather.  I can stop running into an open field or climbing higher and higher when I see lightening.  But right now, things are exposed to the elements.  There’s a cold breeze in my heart from all the times I’ve loved and lost. From grief and death.  Suicide.  There’s a dark storm of my thoughts beating down from the pain I create in my borderline states.  The waves of my insults to myself and others come crashing down the minute I cannot self-regulate.

I order a heart monitor thingy online suggested in my therapy session that measures my heartbeat as I move through different states.  Eventually, when the cat pukes on the floor or my lover threatens to hurt me because my crazy shit provoked anger, I just remember that pleasant green light I created with my calm heartbeat and exactly how I got there.  I’ve gotten there before—in yoga, in pilates, in the mountains, on the trails.  These things aren’t just my hobbies–they are my screwdriver, saw, drill, hammer, level, square, wrench.  I came to Colorado to access more tools, bigger tools, the mountains, the trails, the community of people who know how to use the metaphorical hammer of the outdoors.

And so here I am building the a-frame of Jen.  Something I have always wanted to do—build an a-frame.  And now I am the carpenter of my own life.  I can assemble the tools and materials with help from all those who already accept the shitty trailer house of my heart going on faith that I want to get better. The rafters of calm and contentment in equal measure will be set at angles of 60 degrees to one another.  Leaning on each other and the foundation of safety I have created from my core being.   I can then frame the doors and windows to let others see my home, see my heart, and let others enter here.  It will no longer be a place filled with sorrow and sadness.  Those things no longer have a place in the a-frame of my being.

I can see my home now.  Tucked away in southwest Colorado built on the dreams of play therapy and healing.  You will know it’s my home because it will shine in the night and beckon in the day.  The light of the peace and contentment that I cultivate will draw in wild animals, good weather, help to grow a garden, nourish my domestic animals, keep the stove warm.  You will see flowers growing all around for medicine, water flowing for healing. In that home will be me full of love and light breathing through any more pain that comes up.  I will know that this home is strong, sturdy, and that I built this serene space with my own two hands and with my own one heart.

Whatever good things we build end up building us.

-Jim Rohn

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things i lost in the fire

I’ve been in this space more than once.  I created this place.  The desert.  The mountains.  Wherever, whoever, however it takes to learn what I need to learn.  I have learned so far that some things can orient me more than others—the smell of sagebrush after rain, the feel of cold wind on my cheeks, my own hands rubbing up and down the lengths of my quadriceps enveloped by the sound of my breath keeping me grounded.

I remember when I was younger trains gave me that grounding, that rhythmic breath that I craved, safe, so safe—depending on speed I could count by seconds the sounds of each car to the next crosswalk, long sighs and short whistles like sheep dipping one by one over the horizon and out of the ears of a small child wrapped tight in cotton blankets.  Sometimes, the cars of trains so pronounced that the ever-present paranoia of anxiety becomes overwhelming with the thought of derailment and destruction.

And the breath goes in and out and the train comes and goes and the chest heaves and caves.  I wonder if the body teaches lessons like work teaches lessons or if I can learn to tell the two to take it slow, let me integrate, or if that’s my own defense.   And the breath goes in and out and the lesson comes as it should it the smell of French pastries and the feel of dried tears on my cheeks orients me once again to the present moment.

With a wooden whistle, would it be known what it’s like to have an ear to the track and call up the train breathing heavy like a powerful dragon?  Does a penny feel the heat of the belly of a train before its flattened?  Does a train wreck happen slow from behind or are Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner really able to cling to the elastic sagebrush for that long before falling …just little questions with simple answers and the long low wail of the train lulls babies to sleep.

“I would like to visit the factory that makes train horns, and ask them how they are able to arrive at that chord of eternal mournfulness. Is it deliberately sad? Are the horns saying, Be careful, stay away from this train or it will run you over and then people will grieve, and their grief will be as the inconsolable wail of this horn through the night? The out-of-tuneness of the triad is part of its beauty.”
― Nicholson Baker

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in the middle of the night

I was going to blog about Lou Dog but I’ve written so many stories about him as the protagonist, all nonfiction because that damn dog saved my life.  I’m falling asleep early lately and waking up in the early morning/very late night and liking the pattern of observing others from afar while I know they sleep and heal and dream of whatever needs integrated, whatever needs attention.  While they sleep, I reflect.  I sink into sadness, I sink into playfulness, I write, I dance, I social media like a bad habit, I take baths.  In my watching from afar and in my folding back into myself I’m starting to feel more clear, confident, concise.  I’m starting to understand, at least for myself, the unraveling of me and maybe how to approach intimacy next time.  The edge, the place I seek, is where I individuate, stand in myself, keep a clear confident head, even in the arms and heart of another, the canyons and peaks of a new geographical area, the thick air of my dark thoughts.

I’ve been quietly studying for the National Counselor Exam, experiencing significant distress in the section on children and attachment.  I make comments here and there in my new office where I share a space with two other child welfare case workers and while they work on active cases I feel my eyes blur and stomach hurt as I move through childhood trauma in reading and memory. Replicating a feeling in graduate school, in the fraternity and sorority life office in the basement of the University of Wyoming where so much change occurred, so many memories and emotions sifted through like cake flour.  I would sit listening to conversations about Greek Week, reading and taking in concepts of moving toward and away and fearful-avoidant attachments.  Oh my god its me.  But I need to remember now as then, we were all secretly diagnosing ourselves and each other.  I know now—humanistic, client-centered, and existential—I don’t have to diagnose clients in a way that will harm them and I can collaboratively diagnose, if I diagnose at all.

Now, as then, I move through my feelings on attachment disorders, my potential attachment disorder, and its bearing on my last relationship.  And then I smile quietly because I know if this is the case, I’ve made relationships with secure individuals and sometimes to tell the truth to others doesn’t keep things easy and brings about more bitter truth I’m not keen on hearing, either.  I feel especially aware of anything I’ve failed at in my life and even stop writing to think of my best friend in Texas and how I’m missing out on the life of her child because I feel I can’t get well.  I create this unwell person around her because she has always been the sage and my substance abuse affected her and others.  I’ve apologized, maybe its time for action.  I can only do so much to make it right and then we have a leap of faith.  And I keep working or we grow apart.  We grow apart as I grow further and further from any suburban lifestyle whether I like it or not, and whether she does either—I do not know. I feel all the separation and loss of my father, my best friend, my lover, my dog.  It’s important to move through the negativity, the loss, the grief.  Branches can only grow as high as roots grow deep.  Nothing is ever good or bad, only thinking makes it so.

I pass the National Counselor Exam, and complete week one of my training.  I knew I would pass the exam because it’s my life’s work.  I’ve been taking standardized tests and studying my entire life.  I’m proficient. To be in that place of mastery feels good.  In the training I become heated during a discussion and find myself vindicated when I’m right.  Here’s where the work lies—I’ve got some good shit to say but I can be kind, confident, and clear when I say it. I can read the books, and remember my theory of change and conceptualize all my relationships and my own mental illness or lack thereof, and unpack how I create all my own problems.  We have a choice in any moment how we will respond to ourselves and others.  Breathe in, breathe out, and in that tiny catch in between I have time to cultivate my awareness to be mindful of my language—say only that which will truly help the other person or myself.   I know the pendulum still swings back and forth in the realm of attachment but I do not apologize for feeling things deeply but do feel regret for clinging to the deepness longer than the present moment.  Sometimes, there are lessons and goals to be pulled from experiences, but who I am doesn’t give a shit about lessons or goals, but cares:  how are we?  how am I?   how is this universe?  Right here, right now.

“We must exist right here, right now!”

–Shunryu Suzuki

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deity in blue jeans

I’m finally starting to feel myself coming out of the steel-brillo-fuzz of my mind these past few months—the unscheduled deep haze of summer never went away and routine as elusive as a sunset in a snowstorm. I’m embracing the instability and calling it creativity instead. Even though I feel my chest may collapse and I can’t eat—I wonder if I purposely sit in this juicy space longer than I should. My writing gets better, I hone in on the artist. Sorrow is not the enemy—it is the seed. I’m letting go of what I think others might think and doing work from my soul space. Do I still cry so much my eye skin feels like a poor toddlers chapped ass—you know it! But I let myself cry and sob and wail remembering an entire life void of tears. Remembering getting made fun of in jail for crying when I saw my best friend. You stupid pussy, Jennifer. Why don’t you just go cry about it. Stupid bitch. You are fucking retarded. Nope. This ain’t my narrative no mo’.

I’ve been training and delving back into the world of psychology and counseling and remembering what brought me here—the desire to show folks their own ability to change. To show them their worth. To show them they don’t need helping at all but just a reminder of their own divine nature. I’ve been steeped in solution-focused, brief methods as social work has a hard on for anything quick with an immediate result. I don’t mind stopping the bleeding so a family can assess the wound, but sometimes band aids won’t work. I’ve been seeing my own counselor and pretended to have a bad connection via phone as we started our session and she asks “what do you want to be different.” Well, shit, lady. That’s the thing. Nothing. I don’t want anything different, I want acceptance of what is. I want you to sit here and hold space for me as we enter this shadow together. Let me talk about abuse. Let me talk about addiction. Let me talk about love, dead daddy, my anxiety, my successes, my day. I will tell you what I need to. Trust me. I want to trust you.

I wonder if I will continue on in this counseling relationship and begin to reflect on the friends I have sought out during this real dark depression bullshit that came on strong April 2014 after my best friend hung herself.  Some avoid my phone calls and I know they need space. They call back when they are ready and they hear my soul. Some say I’m impaired. These are the ones who are in the field as well, but I wonder if perhaps they have not dealt with their own wounds. Please don’t be fearful of my despair. It is part of me. But because despair is bad, under, dark, other–a power differential is created where because I’m on the struggle bus, I must be less than. I don’t think so but I can’t explain what I need because it isn’t words. Its being. Its silence. Its my dark bowing to your dark. I let my emotions seep out like uncontrolled sweat and some folks really don’t like that body odor. This is where my work lies—feel the things but know we all feel the things. We’ve all been devastated in love. We’ve all lost everything we love in one way or another. We are more together than separate.

I know I like what I do when I think to myself—I want me as a counselor. Not in some weird twisted way, but I like the way I think without judgement or think in the big picture. I want someone smart enough to have my case conceptualization. Someone who is not me and can say “Dude, Jen. This is abuse. You know this. Think about Safe Project. Think about power and control.” Then when I say “if I wasn’t so anxious, clumsy, stupid, slow, mean, ugly, smart, mentally-ill, etc. then he would have loved me” that counselor won’t correct those statements but honor that person who thinks that and figure out how to rewrite that story. Those are some strong words. Those are some deep feelings. Let’s stay in this moment and feel where that comes from. Maybe from being just a little baby girl and not knowing. Maybe from being a big girl and knowing too much. Sit in this space with me until the other words and feelings come. “Dude, Jen. You are amazing. You are all those things you think but more so, you are love. You are loved. You love. This is all, this is everything, this is the end game.” Turns out, we are all our own counselors if we just listen to that tiny yet expansive voice inside.

 

“You are one thing only. You are a Divine Being. An all-powerful Creator. You are a Deity in jeans and a t-shirt, and within you dwells the infinite wisdom of the ages and the sacred creative force of All that is, will be and ever was.”
― Anthon St. Maarten

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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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turning of the canyon walls

I’ve been waiting to write in my blog about all the things I’ve felt as I move to Colorado after 32 years in Wyoming.  16 in Gillette and 16 in Laramie, half grown up in the belly of coal country, half deconstructed in the belly of precambrian granite and feldspar crystals.  Every part of the journey brought huge questioning and regret.  I said goodbye to my best friends—the few friends I had let in during the 16 years of trying to reinvent myself.  And now I reinvent myself in the San Luis Valley.

I moved here for many reasons which bring about all the reasons I had stayed in Laramie.  I’ve run into a few folks here and they always say the same type of stuff—oh it’s not for everyone here.  They say its isolated.  Nothing to do.  I’ve become the patriotic Wyomingite, talking about how Alamosa is Laramie moved south six hours.  Yes, Laramie was three times as big but I make my life very small.  I hear I may get bored in winter and I think of my writing, reading, or yoga—I know I won’t get bored just cold in the arid winters of the high desert.

I climbed part of Mount Blanca yesterday and am starting to realize what Colorado might mean.  Mountains are bigger.  Instead of my hour jaunt around Pole Mountain in the Medicine Bow National Forest, I now embark on hours long journeys I stop in the middle because it’s becoming clear I will not make these 18 miles.  Plans begin to be made—have I become the lusty adventurer going after 14’ers?  They are just where we all start—I want to become immersed in the microsystems as well. I want to find the desert parts of this place, to run in the greasewood and think about spiritual shit.

I think that’s why I came here—spiritual shit.  Not to seek the Ram Dass ashram just down the way in New Mexico or attend the Course in Miracles group I found in the local gazette—but to take a leap of faith.  To let go of the narrative that I’m a fifth generation Wyomingite, that my blood runs with the buffalo, that my soulmate is in the aspens of Happy Jack.   Turns out aspens are here, too. I’ve not felt that connection yet but I know the petals of my heart will peel and shake away as I uncross my hands from my heart and let the wind of the valley sweep things clean.

“Life is too short for grief. Or regret. Or bullshit.”

-Ed Abbey