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softening of the sap

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

_______

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

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

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

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

 

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

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doing good time

“Jen, I cannot talk to you right now.  I was sabotaged today.  I have to go.” 

I hang up the phone and sit at the counter for a moment thinking about what’s unfolding all around me.  A good friend in the hospital for mental health issues and other friends who feel much like me and the waves affect us all.  Who can I call now?  I can write.  I can go into my mind and sort through what it feels like to be two inches tall.  I think to myself about how we all have those we love and how we all hold back to cradle them gently in a heartspace that keeps them around.  Listen.  Just listen.  Eventually they come to that very idea that’s been gnawed by bottom teeth on a bitten tongue and lip.   I didn’t say what burned in my throat because it had to come from the choked throat of the love object.  The times when the words don’t come, when the lip becomes raw and red, are the times I write.  Wondering the whole time how many red and raw lips I’ve created around me.

I’m embarrassed and ashamed and become aware of my own stigma and the mountain I climb as one of my best friends does a stint in ye ol mental health jail.  She’s locked away somewhere in Massachusetts pumped full of drugs and unable to hear me when I tell her about “good time.”  Good time is doing what they say, not putting your paper towels in tiny bags, reusing your towels, asking to talk to a lawyer every 5 minutes.  Good time is nodding, taking your meds, remaining as quiet as you can stand, reading a book. Saying thank you.  But, she knows this.  She coached me through my longest stint of sanity this year. I read an article at 3:16 am about how it takes 11 times to leave an abusive relationship.  How do I start and stop to count when, like the mental palace in Mass, I’m in my own crazy farm of relationships. Forever going back to the big house of love pumped full of drugs.  I’m certainly not doing good time.

Free now, and another loss of meaning.  Deconstruction and analyzing pretty useless at this point.  In this present moment I feel pretty clear and I’m clear on what really helps me feel good.  Doing yoga.  Being quiet.  Reading.  Writing.  Helping others by listening.  Hearing a kid say “you are SO LONG!” Running so early in the morning.  Running more than 10 miles in the morning.  Not worrying about who I choose as my friends—mental illness ain’t mean nuthin.  Appreciating the weirdness in tiny spaces.  My truck and all it’s memories.  Doing good time is reading books about travel, discontinuing the hate of everyone and everything that is assumed to have created despair, diving inside, writing letters, moving the body, playing cards.  I can choose what I might do right now because there are a few feelings with which I can empathize. This unfolding is its own imprisonment and I can relate to those four walls.

I have to go.  I have to go away from whatever mental space has brought me here.  I don’t want to live my life scared of what one silly man thinks of me. I can still be so vulnerable and say I get so, so, anxious and angry.  I play the ice queen.  My closest friends are very odd and eccentric.  I really mess up with money stuff.  I yell when I get angry.  I grab cell phones, I posture. I’m embarrassed that I’m not smarter on paper. Most of my lovers do not please me.  I don’t trust anyone.  I’m working so hard on that last one.  Trust and love just melts away that anxiety and anger (rooted in hurt and fear), when I trust I become a goofball that’s excited for any time together, I listen and empathize, seek to understand, remain curious, speak clearly and softly, love gently and loyally. I’m very odd and eccentric, living in poverty, have a hole in my wall from punching the drywall in frustration, am worried about writing these words, but I know I am not sabotaged.  I can talk.  Right now.

“Calling it lunacy makes it easier to explain away the things we don’t understand.”

― Megan Chance, The Spiritualist

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dark soul forest

I won’t save you, and I’ve lost myself.  I draw attention to my own ticks over the weekend swirling my bottom teeth with the tip of my tongue and slamming back beer incessantly posting shitty pictures along with poetry.  Trying to capture what it feels like to have folks say they missed me so much—and to ask me to stay.

My sick motivation to write is to be noticed when I can’t go out into the world.  Even tonight, at writing group, I felt my eyebrows furrow parking close to a bush in the parking lot–too many cars. I want so bad to hide away but to still be seen.

Let my writing be greater than I am in real life.  Crying, brooding, salty.  I have no sword or staff, no moral superiority.  Right now, I’m a bit of a neurotic.  The feel of my bra against my skin is awful. I’ve hero’d my way through my own life so many times that I’ve run out of characters to play.

My niece scoots up to sit behind me on the couch and grips my arms to press my middle back into her tiny frame.  In the pressing she finds comfort, waddles off to return with a plaid wool blanket so I can wrap her up like a tiny burrito.  More and more blankets appear and she winds up a pile in my lap crushing against my knees and thighs.

I become a rocking chair always back and forth rocking myself into my own mother’s sweetness and breath in an extended hug.  My own blood strong with genes bearing pronounced cheeks. Teeth floating in a pink case tasting of mint and nostalgia as I plop them in my mouth to skip to the living room and grin at niece and sister.

I walk into mom’s bedroom to smell her perfume and take so much comfort in the body shape of both her and my sister.  Loving gaze.  The bodies of our tribe.  Family my own complexity of the hero and anti-hero, thesis and antithesis of a human tree.  Family the underbelly of why I write.   All their fault and not their fault at all.

My stomach screams at me in anxiety to go vomit.  My fists demand that I slam them into a ripe pillow case crumpled by last nights sweat-sleep.  I write because I cannot connect.  I write because I am selfish.  I write to trick myself into thinking I am good at something, and to find sick pleasure in my own voice-in-writing.  The anti-hero of okay.  The death of an anti-warrior with no corpse.

“Your soul is a dark forest. But the trees are of a particular species, they are genealogical trees.”

-Marcel Proust

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dark intellect

I have always trusted my brain.  It’s the one thing I can always count on.  I know I’m smart.  My parents thought I was smart and sent a weird red-bearded man to test my IQ in fourth grade.  I would become agitated that I was pulled out of class to be with a man who generally gave me the creeps.  He was a specialist I think, not a familiar figure in school and any interruption to my routine would distress my system but I always did what I was told.  That’s how God wanted it to be.  He asked questions about how I knew water was boiling.  Well because it bubbles, bro.  At the end of the cryptic visits I was pulled into the principal’s office.  “Jennifer, would you like to skip to 7th grade?” I was in fourth grade, about 5’9″ inches, fluffy black hair, big hips, and gigantic purple glasses.  God, no.  I’m a social pariah as is–I know that.  Please, no.

I stayed in the same grade and some of teachers didn’t feel I was living up to my potential.  My first “B” came in work ethic. Straight A’s in every other subject but more was expected of me.  I still don’t know my IQ to this day but clearly I wasn’t meeting the expectations of whatever that number proposed.  One day, the white bearded librarian came to our classroom to play a rousing game of chess against me while the entire class watched.  I wasn’t worried–Dad had taught me well and my patience and strategy didn’t quite get me to victory that day but a stale-mate that must of somehow reflected my place in the world–I was moving around my chess pieces in simultaneous offense and defense.  Smart enough to win, smart enough to not care.

Being intellectual is a gift.  I can think my way out of so many problems.  I can create a safe world in my mind and write stories of how my mind works.  I can mimic trauma in non-fiction.  I can metaphorically write about the details of my life connecting them to the bigger picture.  I see the nuances and also the bird’ eye view of life and philosophy.  I can contemplate God.  Somehow, I thought my intellect was a much stronger defense than it panned out to be.  I still have a hard time understanding some of the events that have happened in my life.   My brain was wired well enough to forget most of the bullshit.  This year my mind has turned against me and memories have come back.  Painful.  I thought I was smarter than that.

I walked into work one day and asked my co-worker who was a boxer about what happens when you get hit. I hadn’t been able to hear out of my right ear for four days.  During sex, my boyfriend had punched me so hard in the face I stopped being able to hear.  “It’s called boxers ear, Jen.  You should be fine.” This boyfriend and I were into some obscure shit.  We liked to listen to heavy metal and muse in our anti-social tendencies.  One time I lit a marijuana pipe red hot and pressed it into my thigh.  I asked him to choke me until I would almost pass out.  In the world of sex–these were not off the beaten path.  Folks have kinky sex way more often than we want to admit.  This was, for the most part, normal sexual behavior.  But, I didn’t ask him to punch me.  I didn’t know he would punch me.  He hurt me on his terms.  Weeks or months later, who knows, I ran sprinting back to my house after he had dumped me on the side of the road.  I ran and ran to get back to safety and the door came swinging open.  He would always find me.

My Dad died in 2008 and it fucked me up really bad.  I choose the words I am saying and fucked up isn’t strong enough.  My world imploded.  My true north ceased to exist.  I shacked up with a guy who’s name I can’t even remember.  I didn’t even remember he existed until this year.  Back in the college days of drinking and debauchery bars would often make special glasses for mixed shots–i.e. like a Jager bomb.  Plastic shot contained within a glass where Jager would go and then surrounded by Red Bull.  I don’t know how it all went down but I remember my nose and mouth being covered by the giant hand of some strong iron-worker from Arkansas as he watched my eyes turn red.  Before I passed out I smashed the pink plastic cup into the side of his head and felt the small plastic bits crumble in my hand.  Goddamnit, I was going to survive. I fell asleep next to him on an air mattress that night waiting for my inevitable arrest because he had choked me out again while I was driving a few days before.  Third DUI, second violent relationship.  Where the fuck was my brain.  How could someone so smart be so stupid.

This summer I met a very nice guy with whom I felt very connected.  He was long and lean and didn’t mind my quirks and didn’t seem to want to humiliate me during sex or choke me for no reason.  I am so desperate for love that I crave any attention with someone who sees my brain.  He saw and appreciated my intelligence and I felt we could play chess and talk of our family dynamics forever.  I attach to folks so strongly, without a daddy.  Without any role-models of healthy relationships.  He became my world as I had moved from my home in Wyoming where folks didn’t care I was burned, kicked, punched, choked probably because I had forgotten any of it had happened.  I was called Crazy Jen for so long I figured that’s what bitches like me deserve.  Shit talking.  Dirty looks.  Sometimes, the crazy went in my favor and back in the day I would get free drugs as long as I did them intravenously in front of the dealer.  See me fucked up.  See me with no brain.

All these memories came back in a hotel room in Canon City, Colorado.  “You are so fucking damaged, Jen.  I feel sorry for you.”  Ahh shit.  He was right.  I was damaged.  I didn’t remember those events that had happened.  But I deserved them, right?  I lashed out in anger when I was attacked.  When I was told that I wasn’t going to be in someone’s life because they didn’t want to have a “crazy girlfriend” I knew they were right.  I made someone burn me.  Punch me.  Choke me.  My crazy brought about violence in others.  I was playing this game of chess to the best of my ability and I was letting folks down. That fourth grade class of blank eyes stared at me and watched me falter with every move.   My work ethic was a “C” at best.  I wasn’t trying hard enough.  I was being lazy and smart and should be in the 9039320th grade of relationships, not the second grade running away every time I was called a stupid bitch.

This is what is so hard.  I’m smart.  I’m kind.  I’m a counselor.  I was a victim’s advocate for years.  But, these things still happened.  I still let into my life 3 very violent men who intimidated me.  Who physically abused me.  Who emotionally degraded me.  Yet I still see this as my fault.  I know I’m mean and cruel but I know what has happened to me.  I didn’t make it up but that’s also shady to me as well.  How could someone forget being punched, burned, kicked, and choked?  How could someone with so much sense end up in hotel room after hotel room being told what a horrible piece of shit I am?  How could someone who had been to the emergency room several times with sexually assaulted women end up in the snow one snowy night in February 2017 shaky and scared calling the police to please, please don’t come out because in Colorado in domestic violence calls, an arrest is mandatory?

I am doing the very best I can.  I just submitted a $960 bill for therapy starting in January before that cold February night when I remembered some childhood beatings that I still doubt. Because I trust my brain.  This brain has gotten me scholarships, offers to skip grade levels, exemplary marks on standardized tests, its reasoned its ways out of these places.  I still don’t know if I believe any of this was abuse.  I’m just a strong-headed, weird, negative, and perhaps hard-to-love person.  If I was sweet and kind in spirit as I feel in my mind then I would stop this cycle.  The only thing I want today is to call any one of these men to come over and embrace me and then tell me what a fuck up I am.  Yes, yes, second in words what I feel in thought.  I am fucking retarded, I am too much to handle, I am not worthy of a faithful man or of someone to sleep next to at night.  My brain has been hard-wired for torture.  Whether it be self-torture of this entire blog or of the words of any man who I’ve held dear telling me of my inherent worthlessness.  I think, I feel, my brain can no longer be trusted.  That knot in my stomach was right.  My sweaty palms, my hunched back.  My body knew what was about to happen.  But how could I leave the very thing that helped me to survive?  I can leave these men but how can I leave my mind?

I played chess the other day and struggled hard to explain how it’s played.  It’s through tact.  Foresight.  Observation.  Strategy.  Patience.  Willingness.  I think I can say I have been a victim of abuse.  But I won’t leave that statement at just that.  I have been a victim of my own mind thinking I was exempt from shitty relationships.  I am a strong woman with strong trauma and these two do not want to tango.  I received minimal support in this last abusive relationship and am pretty sure I was seen as the problem.  I get nasty in intimacy because intimacy means I will get fucked up.  So I give myself some grace.  But I have very little grace for how I acted in defense of my well-being.  I am still trying to live down some ruined relationships as I existed in months being told how I was the cause of any problem that happened in my life or in his life. So, I write this shit down to let it go.

I think I can trust my brain again.  Its thinking in terms of case conceptualization and in clinical terms to help my clients.  If I look to my own case I see many trauma responses.  I see a childhood of dysregulated emotions and an adolescence of numbing and substance abuse that stunted my emotional growth.  I see a 7th grader who really should be in 4th grade and is doing her best to fake it until she makes it.  Those things did happen.  And this time I will not let my mind forget.  I will nurture my mind to connect to my body and feel the violence before it happens.  I might not ever say out loud I was abused.  But I will write it down and think on what could be different.  Who I can choose next.  And eventually I will find the peace I need to once again feel proud of my brain.  The body part that just might save me, the organ that fires even when I’m asleep.  I am smart.  I am alive.  I have survived.

“Has he ever trapped you in a room and not let you out?
Has he ever raised a fist as if he were going to hit you?
Has he ever thrown an object that hit you or nearly did?
Has he ever held you down or grabbed you to restrain you?
Has he ever shoved, poked, or grabbed you?
Has he ever threatened to hurt you?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then we can stop wondering whether he’ll ever be violent; he already has been.”

― Lundy Bancroft, Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men

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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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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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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

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spiritual vomit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-James Baldwin

 

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cracks and stripes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Unknown