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this is all just a ride

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

― Bill Hicks

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why I run

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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twenty six under three

286 marathons and we’ll call most of them sub 3 hour. When I ask how he was able to run that many marathons he says it was more than 300 and he runs them as fast as he can because he doesn’t like running. I don’t believe but sit and stare at the moon shining through my two sliding glass doors and wonder what goes through his mind. He likes to eat pizza and drink Mountain Dew–its like meeting an earlier version of myself but I have yet to run a marathon.  I am intrigued by the paradox as he eats an entire pepperoni pizza and his calf muscles pop out with each step. He’s not sponsored yet and I secretly think about helping because we wear the same shoe size and my Mizuno’s have gotten another hole in the left toe like clockwork. Enduance athletes are a safe zone of friendship–its guaranteed they don’t mind time alone and that they won’t ask questions when I say I just need to go on a run.

A little different this time–I don’t have to hear a laundry list of accomplishments but every once in awhile hear a story of sleeping in a car after winning a race or getting banned from a race in Wyoming because his 43 year old friend got with the race directors 23 year old niece.  I laugh having seen these situations play out in other ways in other circles. I ask if he lifts weights as I become fascinated with the human body–my own arms giving the deceiving suggestion of upper body strength when really I know the lengthened muscles start to pop out as I lose weight–you can start to tell a yoga body from the thinness and stomach and and arm muscle definition. I love course marshaling races to study the obliques of Boston marathon qualifiers and the quads of Tour De France qualifiers. Pushing the body to the brink confounds me and so I’m obsessed.

We talk about toenails falling off which is a thing–the shoes can be the best shoes in the world and after a certain amount of mileage in a week things just start breaking down. He’s the human version of my philosophy of running–to get better at running, just run. He explains he will do a longer, slower run one day and a short, fast run the next. He discusses using the treadmill (dreadmill) to crank up the speed and I think about this technique for myself learning to leap and glide to gain some speed. Seven minute miles for 32 miles impresses the heck outta me and while I might not ever do it, I like to deconstruct the feat in others. My marathon achievements are in the mind–26 miles of advanced degrees completing my coursework on time but hard to say if I qualify for the big race–the PhD. I’m fairly certain I want to go back and often muse on a dissertation topic revolving around rural areas and mental health care.

The pain in my shoulder that became so strong in March and April is coming back slightly and I wonder what this stress may be about–trying to fit in all my clients and doing good work, worrying about my next job and how to develop a program when I’m still working. Entering two metaphorical races, one right after the next, I will be digging deep to pace at both. School counseling different from clinical counseling I think about how much I will miss my sessions in the garden and outside but also excited to hold groups in a school setting and hear children singing and laughing. I’m intrigued by it all and just as I quiz my new runner friend I ask questions to the universe about how to be my best at this job.

Doing my best means being around others who are doing their best. A new friend who’s running inspires me and who speaks to me kindly will help me see my own assets. Course marshaling at races with world-class athletes inspires me to keep going in the race in my mind. I DNF’d my last relationship because it was becoming dangerous. Lightening on the peaks, mud on the trails, water alarmingly low. I have this tendency to try out a difficult hike knowing full well I may fail and then going back to understand where I messed up. But, I don’t need to go back to this race. I won’t improve my results because the whole thing was rigged. Like that crazy swamp in The Princess Bride, wild boars flopping all around–I’m gonna go ahead and leave the forest. And so I find the knights-of-running, some wearing shiny armor and some less obvious and soak in the bravery that will help me conquer this next dragon of life.

“Originally, I heard that if you get 10 states done, you could join the 50 States Marathon Club. I didn’t have I time goal; I just wanted to do them all. As I kept going through them, I got better and faster. When I did get through them, I realized I had 30 of them under 3:00. So I went back and did the ones where I didn’t run sub-3:00. I had a couple real close calls. Utah was the hardest—I missed four times before I got the time I needed. Some of the western states are tough for people because it’s hot or the altitude gets to people.The dumbest thing I did was I did a marathon in Missoula, Montana, and I drove the 1,150 miles home afterward because I had to work the next day. I’m really proud of the spreadsheet where I keep my results. It’s obvious I’m a nerd.”
-Gary Krugger 

 

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lighting up the eastern horizon

“Yeah, you seem to do better alone.” Yes, this is probably true and what is truer still is I do better without the person behind those words. I’ve had snippets of what I want last spring with a very nice firefighter.  Making bacon in a cast iron skillet in the morning and basting eggs in salsa verde. Drinking French press coffee and talking about our plans for the day. I didn’t realize how much snowmobiles work the core and I think longingly of my grad school days of private Pilates lessons and facials. It feels good to take care of myself, it feels good to be taken care of, its feels good to be here with him.

I’ve planted a garden this year. I water and talk to the plants twice a day curious as to why that tomato plant in the eastern bed is a little yellow in the leaves at the bottom. Garden talks are every Tuesday night but I crave my couch smelling of lavender and lemon oil I squish a pillow under my knees and start to google my thoughts crawling around like a spider in a sink.  Search one: what do I do if my partner can’t get over their ex.  Checking all the boxes I wonder if maybe the depression of losing a best friend could cause such nasty behavior.  Search two: am I an emotional abuser.  First article to pop up explains how it might feel that way fight after fight.

It’s hard to know exactly what I want in life and I reserve space to change my mind and grow into the woman that is underneath mean and defensive statements. I start to think about fall and my new role as an elementary school counselor. This is what I went to school for. In 2009 I started working in an elementary school with a very special little person and I would glance into the play room and knew this was what I wanted to do. To be completely myself around these little kiddos who make me laugh and smile so, so big everyday. “Miss Banks, you look like a rockstar! Miss Banks you are pretty and ugly at the same time.”  There is no holding back in the fall months and everyone falls apart at least once. Maybe we ought let this happen for all of us and enjoy the coming apart.

I wonder what I should do with my next summer off. I start to google Kripalu and yoga ashrams dreaming of eating vegetarian food, swimming everyday, and going deep into myself, my practice. Then, the other side of me dreams finding the perfect dog. Walk him (her) twice a day at minimum, water my garden twice a day at minimum, ride and run twice a day to shake out the spider thoughts. And then, I sit back and decide I’ll know when the time comes. I’ve not given myself much space to let my dream job status sink in. It’s taken quite a bit to get here and I don’t know that I’ve really ever recounted the whole story maybe because its mine–you’ll have to search for my process if I’ve not nervous and vomiting stories everywhere.

I feel extremely guilty at work for resigning. I feel my eyes move to one side or the other as eye contact becomes extremely difficult because I’m ashamed. I’m embarrassed. I’ve not really been myself starting out with a huge learning curve and trying so hard to mesh my ideas and theories of counseling with social work. How can I investigate and ask questions but still be non-directive. I haven’t figured it out. I may have not given myself enough time but I shake with excitement and watch goosebumps bubble up on my fuzzy arms when I think about developing a counseling program and resource room for kiddos. It will be safe. Piano, gardening, art, walks, unconditional positive regard, on my toes. This job means I get to be more myself.

I don’t know exactly what I want but I know what I don’t want anymore. A partnership is not making dinner with the exact items requested “an energizing salad” but letting whoever needs the salad make the darn salad. I want to be supported in my career–lets not let these solliquies go into the early morning hours while being told how the actor has worked on five hours of sleep. Yeah, I’ve worked with five days of no sleep. I want to be well rested. I want to be my most authentic version of myself. That’s bed at 8:30, rising at 4:30. Reading books at night and on the weekend. Walking with no headphones and noticing each flower and brush oak bush grow and change with each 24 hour cycle. Eating chicken from a bag or maybe I’ll even roast a whole chicken. I’m ready.

This whole journey has been such a wonderful time. I never knew Pagosa Springs existed and now I’ve got a beautiful home with a yard that I will tend to just like my heart. I’ve got a job I’ve been working toward for almost 10 years and I have a strong desire to rise to the occasion and I’m fairly sure I will. I can’t wait to try out community organizing, to infuse my social justice work into yoga and counseling lesson plans. I dream about becoming better at skiing, biking, running. Teaching spirituality Wednesdays and Sundays at church. Honing in on my own spirituality. I may be selfish, I may be alone, but I am not cruel and I am not lonely. There is nothing wrong with me the exact way I am.  I know I will unfold my self petals soon enough for that right storm cloud where the thunder is loud, the pines release their scent, and the whole sky lights up. My whole life has lit up.

 

“I only go out to get me a fresh appetite for being alone.”
-Lord Byron

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what did yalom say?

Death.

Yesterday I had some fall-out in my heart and I knew it must be real as I ran my fastest mile yet at 6:33.  Not fast in the world of fasties but showing me my own propensity to run away from my problems.  I start to kick up my feet as fast as I can and reach my elbows out ready for the inevitable crash down a dirt road.  Forever trying to get back in my body I start yoga in savasana—corpse pose.  All of yoga is preparation to finish class in this same pose.  Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.  Death anxiety forces us to the place of business thinking.  The thinking that dictates if I just find that right person, that right job, that right mountain, that right adventure, I will be complete.  Completeness seems to lie in taking in life on life’s terms knowing we are all somehow failing horribly and also creating beauty beyond the ways that we can see and think about.

Finitude.

There are limits and bounds on life.  This life will end.  There are limits and bounds on the current state of how one is feeling as well.  The sun will set on the horizon of knowledge, there is no absolute trust and thinking in absolutes is pretentious.  The acknowledgement that we are finite and limited beings thrown into a time and place discredits that there is any ultimate truth.  What is truth now may not have been truth then and future truths are unknown.  There is no ultimate reality.  Objects in reality are relative to the subjects perceiving them. We comprehend with finite apprehension.  Chaos that is incomprehensible underlies every aspect of empirical constancy.  Chaos itself, rather than ideology, God, or even the visible world is the only determinable absolute.

Responsibility.

I’ve made poor choices in my life.  Recently, I made a few big ol’ poor ones.  I’ve made mistakes in shifting that responsibility to events out of my control and thusly I feel out of control.  Love did not make me do this or that, geography can only have so much bearing on my actions.  I am who I choose to be and no past or future event is responsible for that choice.  Bad faith is thinking my childhood made me a broken being and leads me to pretend that I have no option than to be who I have become.  This creates evasion from responsibility and a sense of loss.  I am just the product of the chaos around me.  Think of the discord of the Christian who has lost his faith.  Or the devoted wife who has lost her love for her husband.  The academic who thinks they must toil ten or twelve hours a day in research and publications.  The lawyer pleading his guilty client’s innocence.  The basic refusal to face the fact that all of these situations can be other than how they are.  There is responsibility in choice.

Loneliness.

The sacred path is a lonely one.  To embrace one’s true nature is scary like swimming upstream.  The chest can feel like one is drowning.  To feel unconnected and unlike others creates great anxiety.  It comes not from lacking people or objects but from truly facing what and who one is.  There is a myth that we can expand in our power to defeat life’s hurdles—death, disease, decay the entire time trying to hide our carefully tucked away loneliness. Embracing one’s full self will only serve to create loneliness which seems so shameful we choose not to share our pain, our deep fears, our deep crustiness that fuels us to do unspeakable things.  Our pursuit of love, companionship, marriage, denies the basic precept that we are born alone, we will die alone.

Suffering.

We can tolerate all sorts of suffering as long as we can create meaning.  That car wreck was chaos but there is choice in the response to stimulus.  My Dad died in a tragic manner but it set in motion a series of events that let me create meaning through becoming a counselor, examining deep and moving grief.  Some ways of making meaning can be positive and others terribly negative.  There will be no clear end to any suffering but there will be a clear end to becoming a victim of circumstance.  That happened because of this and this is how I will respond.  In suffering there is the uncomfortable motivation to change to move toward calm, peace, shed the pelt of anxiety.

Meaninglessness.

The ultimate nihilistic grappling.  Anxiety, apathy, alienation, nihilism, avoidance, shame, addiction, despair, depression, guilt, anger, rage, resentment, embitterment, purposelessness, madness (psychosis) and violence all create this sense of victimhood.  Why did this happen this way?  I experienced some extreme meaninglessness after changing careers and taking a trip down that road of the gypsy life.  Fun for now, depression and emptiness later.  This feeling that can a sense of being stuck in an ice tray ready to plop out into the next chaotic event.  Or, it can spur the need to create meaning in chaos, to choose how to fill up that ice tray again and use the cubes to quell that fire of the soul that will always evoke change.

Evil and demonic.

Some things, some folks, some events—are evil.  Not bad, just evil.  It is what it is.  Not an act or pattern, sin or crime, but rather what leads us to damage, be damaged, and suffer pain.  Social destructiveness.  Evil could be considered the thing that inhibits personal growth and expansion.  The acts that limit potentiality, curtails freedom, fragments the personality, diminishes interpersonal relationships.  But it is somehow needed to change.  Well that was certainly evil and I’ll not do that again.  Denying evil is denying one’s existence.  To embrace our own evil qualities is to embrace them in others not to fully eradicate that which is unpleasant but integrate into this ride of life.  Evil creates the angst that moves the train of change forward down never-ending tracks.

 

 “Life is a spark between two identical voids, the darkness before birth and the one after death.”

― Irvin D. Yalom, When Nietzsche Wept

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small town, big mistakes

Every other time I’ve written of the past 9 months its been romanticized, dramatized, creatively approached, over-analyzed.  And now, I will tell the story of how I made enemies in a small town.  I moved to Alamosa in July to work at a college where I thought I might be able to make a difference.  I left home, and arrived in Colorado ready to make friends with anything that breathed.  I was in a job that I was pretty awful at, as a dorm director.  I have no idea how to supervise and I’m no good at giving directives.  I did not do a good job at managing people or a dorm.

In the midst of feeling sad about losing my dog of 16 years, my Grandma, and my home state I made some pretty out of character moves that I’d spent the last 7 years of my life trying to absolve.  I was Tindering like crazy and that was my first sign.  I went on a few dates with men I wouldn’t look at twice.  Some dates turned into overnights and I started manifesting behaviors of college.  It didn’t matter though–here I was in Colorado and had taken a demotion to come here.  I was ready to be open to that identity stage of life.  Who was I?  A woman who Tindered, clearly.

That’s how I met the person who I can comfortably say has tried to ruin my life. More signs of careless behavior.  I drank my first road beer in his car in 7 years.  Over the summer, I manifested some behaviors that were extremely alarming but freeing.  Living out that college experience on steroids trying to create intimacy through false connections.  I made decisions that were out of character and I dated man who I constantly fought with, had panic attacks over, and who treated me like I was less than.  I finally deleted his last messages today in which he says I’m a fucked up piece of shit who is leaving the children of this town worse off.  Those words are burned into my brain.

In the midst of substance use and an extreme loss of meaning I started to make moves to come live in the place where this man lived in Pagosa Springs.  I didn’t know much about the town or the people only that I was miserable in my job and wanted the intense relief that came with this man.  He was nothing less than an addiction and came with all the fallout.  The dishonesty began early and he cheated on me only to wait until we were at the bottom of South Zapata Lake Trail to tell me after driving up a back breaking road.  I wasn’t as upset about the act but the way in which it was revealed–we could turn around and drive the road back down or I could suck it up.  Only the beginning.

I could recount all the terrible shit in paragraphs but I’ve already done that as I prepared to face this man in court because I felt the courts had to intervene by the end.  But back up.  Moving to be with a pretty unhealthy person I found a place to live on Craigslist.  The landlords were very nice, did yoga, had a beautiful child.  Graciously enough, they let me borrow their Jeep in one of my fights with that man. Then, it started to feel a lot like what was happening with that man.  I didn’t set clear boundaries at first and hearing them fight reminded me so much of my fights.

I took care of the child occasionally and watched the home while they were gone to various destinations.  I didn’t understand the rentier economy until I came here where folks purchase properties to rent out as income.  A complex system of ownership that usually indicates some privilege inherently.  The landlords and that man owned property and a big piece of me didn’t understand how no matter how hard I worked I was perpetually bleeding out money.  This was pointed out and used against me often and I just become more and more resigned to folks despising me for any real or imagined faults.

In January, after a particularly nasty fight where I was terrorized in a vehicle for four hours in silence and left out in the snow, I had enough.  I sought counseling, still not ready to call what was happening abuse.  I was always thankful for the female landlord as she seemed sympathetic to what was happening.  But she became pretty nasty, pretty fast.  As I began to set healthy boundaries in my life, I finally stood up (via Facebook–I hate phone calls because I can’t say no) and said hey guys I won’t be taking care of your cat or home anymore unless I’m compensated.  I’ve been on call for your guests, cleaning up cat shit, and am generally over living in a dorm room.  To say it did not go well would be an understatement.  Within minutes, I received nasty voicemails and shitty messages on Facebook.  I became defensive and tried to outline how much I was doing which was met which how much I wasn’t doing.

I had written a rent check and some monies had been withdrawn that I didn’t account for.  I asked if they could hold off on depositing the check but they had already done so.  The interactions prior to this sometimes had a sting to them and I chalked it off to the couple being unhappy, arguing constantly, and even asking for marriage counseling from myself.   I just figured things would be gray in a small town and smiled and nodded that we could try that out.  There was perpetual defensiveness about the kiddo as well and my role in child welfare as if I was going to come knocking down the door and claim child abuse.  In the midst of all the interactions I was still using substances to deal with the pain.  I had not gotten into fights like this with folks in years.

After I tried to set a boundary with the landlords I was met with more texts about how as a “Wyoming girl” I should be able to get my truck out of an icy driveway.  Two men helped me pull my truck out and I started looking for another place.  I felt so unsafe living above a garage with two folks who, like that man, pointed out any faults and warned me that I would never survive acting like this in a small town.  I figured I’d eat it. I found a new place–the nicest of my life.  A yoga studio on the second floor, mountain views, it was a dream.  In the meantime, the check they had deposited did not clear and I walked out of my office one day to see the sheriff.  They had filed criminal charges which were quickly dismissed when I explained that I had forfeited my deposit and moved in and out late and early equaling a month of paying for an unoccupied space.

This was all in the midst of going back and forth with that man who always answered my texts after months-long absences and always started in on the same kick.  You have no friends, no one likes you, you use substances like crazy, you are a piece of shit.  There are things that are true and things that are untrue.  I did my landlords dirty by moving out suddenly but never at any point do I feel I monetarily effed them over.  I’ve bounced checks to my landlord before with the same poor planning, and made it right.  My prior  landlord for the past 7 years in Wyoming gave me a glowing reference to get me into the place I’m at now despite having a few checks that turned sour.  My behaviors were indicative of someone in a really unhealthy place. But I know I had intended no harm.

Fast forward to my last interaction with the man I moved to the small town for–I engaged him one last time with the hope that it would be a fun night and like my other ex’s I would leave in the morning to say goodbye until we were done with the cycle.  Instead, it turned into one of the most dramatic upsetting interactions of my life.  I had been seeing a therapist for a while now and just wasn’t convinced that my smart, beautiful self would become involved in an abusive relationship.  No way would a man threaten and intimidate me.  Yes, way.  This man went to my job and recounted every instance of poor conduct I had exhibited in the past 9 months. All conduct related to my time with him.

I went to the domestic violence shelter and prepared to file a stalking protection order.  Only in looking at the examples of abuse did it really start to hit home.  But, he never hit me.  But, he was actively trying to destroy my life.  In 12 hours it went from “I love you so much Jen” to “I want you out of my town.”  He is powerful.  He is smart.  And in his retaliatory fashion, filed an order against me.  Said I broke into his home and called him a dickbag on Instagram.  Sure did call him names but sure didn’t break into his home.  It almost worked, but thankfully I am in charge of destroying or building my life back up.  And so it ended on a Friday afternoon in court as I watched a woman and man argue over a protection order and I saw the archetypes of my life.  Woman crying, preaching about her degree in psychology calling the man a narcissist.  Man with mental illness, with some used car salesman lawyer and a bench full of friends, preaching about how a gentle banjo player would never attack a woman.  I filed for dismissal, he followed suit and I caught the eyes of the man as he left the courtroom.  It was over.

And now I am left with a handful of enemies.  The landlords and that man have since become friends, I’m sure recounting what a piece of shit I am.  “Oh she didn’t pay rent.  Oh she was all fucked up all the time.  You’d think a counselor would be a little better in relationships.”  There are also others who are in the haters club.  A man who makes it his business to cheat on his wife.  A couple who drink in what I would describe a violent fashion.  I’ve agonized so many nights over who I became trying to get away from that man.  I became my 17 year old self trying to survive trailer parks and felons being sneaky to avoid any interactions.  Looking up folks on the internet to prove to myself that I had encountered a huge abusers club.  Researching mental health in rural areas to prove to myself that they collect poor, uneducated folks with a clan mentality.

But, now, I don’t know if it matters.  I don’t think anyone is right.  I don’t think anyone is wrong.  All I know is at the end of the day I have a handful of folks in the world who think I’m the worst person they have ever met.  And that might be their experience but this is not how I experience myself.  I saw myself as someone who will forever struggle with addictions.  I became addicted to the same old stuff and I became addicted to an abusive man.  I watched “Big Little Lies” over the weekend where the main character is in a horribly abusive situation and I became eerily frightened by the man’s behaviors that were so familiar.  Everything but the actual physical violence like watching a movie of my life flash in front of me.

And so, now, I’m getting better.  I’m in therapy and have rolled back the addictive behaviors across the board, quitting most everything except for margaritas and e-cigarettes.  A work in progress.  I’m a licensed counselor in Colorado now, and folks with far healthier boundaries than I’ve cultivated yet are watching my every move.  This means no illegal activity no matter if its legal in certain states.  And here’s what my counselor training has taught me:  healthy people do not respond to a boundary by sending cruel and threatening text messages.  Healthy people do not take time out of their day to talk shit on a woman they knew less than 3 months.  Healthy people do not find any excuse to party to the detriment of their relationships and family.  And so I will be a healthy person.  I will understand that my behaviors got me here.  Going back and forth with that man enraged him.  Refusing to pay rent enraged the landlords. But, in no case will rage set anything right.

I would still sit down in a room and apologize to all of them for any pain I’ve caused.  Lets all get some couples counseling cuz this ain’t working.  Get some individual therapy because there’s some serious mental health issues at hand here.  Set boundaries out the gate–I can’t take care of your cat or kid.  I won’t be in a relationship with someone who seeks to destroy me at any assertion of my power.  I’ve done wrong.  I’ve hurt some folks who I thought I would love.  I’ve done right.  I’ve loved the person who I will spend the rest of my life with–myself.  And so, I stay here in this small town and I find wonderful people who model healthy interactions.  I think about my life and what I want.  I want to be free of substances, free of poor boundaries, free of the drama that comes with being a big turd in a small toilet.  I will do better, I will be better, and I hope to meet you to prove it.

“You left and the world didn’t crumble.  I owe the universe a dollar.”

-Rudy Francisco

Anorexia, Archetypes, Biofeedback, Body Image, Bulimia, Capitalism, character study, Colorado, Construction, depression, desert, Dharma, eccentric, Existentialism, Expansion, Faith, Fear, Framing, Health Issues, Higher Education, Mental Health, Micro Non-Fiction, Mindfulness, mountains, Non-Fiction, Nostalgia, PTSD, Self Growth, Self Love, Self Reflection, Trailrunning, Universiality, Yoga

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

character study, Christianity, Colorado, Death, depression, desert, Dharma, Dichotomies, Divorce, eccentric, Existentialism, Expansion, Facebook, Faith, Fear, Mental Health, Micro Non-Fiction, Mindfulness, mountains, Non-Fiction, Nostalgia, Self Growth, Self Love, Self Reflection, Trailrunning, Universiality, Yoga

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

Existentialism, Universiality

loss of meaning

I don’t know when it started.  I feel like I always create problems for myself and everyone around me.  I hate myself when I am down and that’s all that is expressed.  Hate for my universe, the universe that is me.  And so I hide.  Not good enough child.  Typical pathology.  Neurosis.  I listen to self-help books as I drive to Canon City wondering what the fuck I’m doing and how I’ve ended up in rural southwestern Colorado.  When I ask my best friend when I became so miserable he says at my last job.  I knew the community college was taxing on me—working each day and teaching adjunct every night.  It felt like grad school and grad school drove me bonkers.

Before I started my graduate program I had issues but I had made so many leaps and strides.  I had a relationship lasting longer than a year, a job with insurance, I had paid off all my bills, I had the trust of the drug court system.  In my relationship, the positive effects on my partner were called the “Jen effect” because we became so supportive of one another.  And our ultimate demise helped me to love myself in new ways. But, by the end of my masters program I had relapsed, gone into debt once again, my eating disorders more aggravated than ever, and my arms covered in bruises from hitting the walls, steering wheel, closet doors, anything to help feel the pressure release.

I try to track what got me to this point right now, sitting in a hotel room with the heat at 90 so thankful that I can have the heat however I need but remembering my last conference in a hotel in Indianapolis and I become regretful I’ve left higher education.  I remember in May scheduling an interview at Adams State University in Alamosa, Colorado.  On the way down, my grandmother died.  I’ve written about her, but I’ve not unpacked that loss.  It was such an emotionally corrective death that I leave it be.  I don’t want to touch loss just yet.  I feel it in my warm tears and hunched shoulders.  Grandma died, I interviewed.  I got the job and I moved.  Then, my dog died.  The whole summer was loss of meaning and I watched my twenties flash in front of my eyes as I joined dating websites just to make friends.  Just to find folks to take me on hikes and tell me the secrets of the San Juan mountains and valleys.

I’ve deleted the past few blogs that mention the short-lived romance or what caused me to pluck apart my life once again.  I was in a job that was showing all my weaknesses in a place where I felt I had become stuck in the mud.  And so I dated a man who listened to me.  Who showed me the mountains.  He, too, had lost some things in his life and so we found meaning in each other.  We found meaning in connecting physically way too fast.  We found meaning by talking all day and unpacking our beliefs.  I still want to know so much more about him.  I want to call him right now and ask about faith.  I want to scream that please, please, stop loving your ex wife because what we have might not be found again in the desert, mountains, rivers.  But that time is gone.  And what we had will fold back into the landscape and inspire other lovers.  He is gone.  And I want to do anything to help feel the pressure release.

I’ve lost my meaning.  I’ve lost my meaning in so many different ways and I feel myself dark and critical.  I cry because I don’t know what else to do in my corner of the world.  The self help tapes only tell me what I already know of the change process.  There is nothing wrong with me.  Never was.  I am loveable.  Always will be.  I used some old coping skills in the summer as I went away to college for a second time and over a mountain pass I found a new little town that I will make my home.  Of course I’m still frustrated as fuck I gave up so much for love.  But, I gave up so much for love.  That’s the thing—I let myself go into the deep dark jungle where I hate going on black waters that stirred my tummy.  I felt panic in intimacy, I let my studies go.  What I found is people and people are what I want.  Talk to me, love me, let’s build something together.  Because I know now I am not alone. Even in rural southwestern Colorado.

“One makes mistakes; that is life. But it is never a mistake to have loved.” – Romain Rolland

Colorado, Wyoming, Yoga

an unintentional shift

Today is the day I met the students who I will support for the next academic year.  I’m so stinkin excited to be in this new role in higher education because I feel my true calling, values, dharma, that sort of thing—have been put on the cheese grater of life to sort themselves into little shreds of knowledge about the world, about myself.  What I know now is that some roles help me play out the most authentic version of myself.  A person who is seasonal in the bliss of summer sunshine and the reigns of the blue winter of discontent.

I had lived in Wyoming for 32 years and what I find about Colorado is that things are just so big.  The mountains more ominous requiring more meticulous planning, the folks around me just a little more intense.  Things here begin to intimidate where the river-blood beats fast in the jugular of the Rockies, the main vein of the American arm of the west.  So many have come to seek something and to put their ear to the chest of mama mountain, some hoping for solace and some knowing its already there.

And here I am, in all of it, drumming through my own intensity and spiritual seeking in the mountains.  I keep getting speeding tickets in Colorado and watch as heads shake around me mouthing the words—get Colorado plates.  And I know, and still I hold onto a few things Wyoming secretly wondering about these big mountains, these big people, this diverse place.  This is how I felt coming to college and so I bow to the parallel process of students as they, too, wonder of the seasons of their heart, of the rivers and synapses in their minds.

I sit trying to wrap up whatever poetic stuff I am aiming for and find that within the narrow lies the vast aww of detail.  The paradox of my country bumpkin life becomes so small like the detail professed from a single cork-lined room written about so beautifully by Proust who took the same walk around his estate in such ecstasy and humility that it became volumes of work.   And other writers of the time captured the magnificence of the wide, wide, world documenting expeditions up mountains and travels to places where folks can only visit and leave understanding it is not their home, humans can’t live here.

And now I live in between homes, undulating in two Rocky Mountain West states eyeballing New Mexico and dreaming of building tiny homes in Alaska and Canada knowing that I’ve got a long way to go, such a long way, why not put on some sunglasses and turn up the music taking turns to drive being careful to not get too complacent on the switchback.  Start paying attention a little more to the trees and sky around me that I have finally created the space to explore.

“Colorado and Wyoming are America’s highest states, averaging 6,800 feet and 6,700 feet above sea level. Utah comes in third at 6,100 feet, New Mexico, Nevada, and Idaho each break 5,000 feet, and the rest of the field is hardly worth mentioning. At 3,400 feet, Montana is only half as high as Colorado, and Alaska, despite having the highest peaks, is even further down the list at 1,900 feet. Colorado has more fourteeners than all the other U.S. states combined, and more than all of Canada too. Colorado’s lowest point (3,315 feet along the Kansas border) is higher than the highest  point in twenty other states. Rivers begin here and flow away to all the points of the compass. Colorado receives no rivers from another state (unless you count the Green River’s’ brief in and out from Utah).Wyoming’s Wind River Range is the only mountain in North America that supplies water to all three master streams of the American West: Missouri, Colorado, and Columbia rivers.”

 ― Keith Meldahl, Rough-Hewn Land: A Geologic Journey from California to the Rocky Mountains