Archetypes, blue collar, Capitalism, character study, Colorado, Dharma, eccentric, Existentialism, Family, Fear, Mental Health, Micro Non-Fiction, Mindfulness, mountains, Non-Fiction, poverty, PTSD, Self Growth, Self Love, Self Reflection, Wyoming, Yoga

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 

 

Addiction, Archetypes, blue collar, character study, depression, eccentric, Existentialism, Laramie, Micro Non-Fiction, mountains, Non-Fiction, PTSD, Self Growth, Self Love, social class, Wyoming, Yoga

the world famous buckhorn bar & grill

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

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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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grandma with her cigarettes

I haven’t blogged in a hot minute and I just let it ride like the seasons, they will come and go and I will write or I won’t.  I never used to notice the seasons when I was younger.  Staring at brown leaves from an elementary classroom feeling the cold wind hiss between the cracks of the art room windows, soon the wind turned blowdyer warm.  Before I knew it I was collecting dusty white horny toads in the small canyons of the undeveloped land behind our subdivision.  Time moves slower and faster all at once paradoxical like the feeling of a dentist tool poking at gums, painful but just a little bit satisfying.

I watched my Grandma die last week.  The whole thing was like a dream.  We all called one another and met up in Littleton and there was no rush to see her.  We ate lunch.  We talked. My uncle whispered an aside to me that Mom might be avoiding going to hospice.  I think there was a collective sense of hesitancy, but no dread.  Grandma had been preparing us all for her death in small ways for years. She softened my heart towards the aging process.  She was so simple, so brilliant, I could write books and still not capture her dynamic personality.

I was struck by the yellow tinge of her skin.  Jarring–the same color as my dead father’s skin  when I sat with his body after he had died.  I poked his bicep to feel the stiffness of death and now here is Grandma, dying.  Stiff grief in the hospice room as my Mom grabbed some scented lotion to rub on her skin.  We used to go see my Granny Annie and my Mom would do the same thing–rub her papery skin with Lubriderm and I would watch the sagging flesh sway back and forth and mold into different shapes under caring fingers. Watching Grandma’s skin under the lotion feeling frustrated at its scent knowing its not the scent of the lotion but the scent of another death.  My Grandma.

My Mom looked so vulnerable watching her own Mom.  Her eyes flashing to my Uncle and she looked like she must have looked as a child, lifting a gaze to her older brother her eyes asking what do i do?  What do any of us do watching a loved one die?  Mom continued to rub her cheeks and her hair and my brother held her hand.  I stayed seated waiting for my turn to hold her, to love her, to be with her.  Holding my hand she said how she felt so shaky, so shaky.  And she said I’m okay.  I’m okay.  My brother started to talk to her and she told him you are such a big boy.  Tears come streaming.  Then her last words to my brother were “go easy on yourself.”

Go easy on yourself.  I am okay.  Grandma is okay.  Today another article came out in the paper about my efforts in recovery and I feel like a fraud–what do I know?  My recovery is not abstinence but my Grandma’s was and I come more and more towards wanting to honor that space where I no longer need substances to process my grief.  I started out this whole thing trying to write about how stupid I feel with article after article about some stuff that’s meaningless anymore–I’m no hero. The important stuff comes out instead.  The love for my grandma.  The complex process of grief.  The changing seasons.  The town in which I live.  The work I have left in the community.  The addictions I will work to overcome everyday.

My favorite memory of my Grandma is when she came down to see me at some kind of honors ceremony for my grades.  Always managed to keep the grades up despite the drugs and feeling the guilt creep in as I recollect leaving the ceremony early to come home and shoot up cocaine into my wrists.  We ended up at Jeffrey’s Bistro and at the end of the meal Grandma grabbed the votive candle from the table and lit the charcoaled end of a half smoked cigarette and shook her head with pursed lips as we hollered “you can’t smoke in here, Grandma!”  She knew.  We knew.  And we were just a little family.  Grandma with her cigarettes, Mom with her lotion, Uncle with his wisdom, brother just so big, and I with my addictions.  Today, I will go easy on myself.

“I have learned, that the person I have to ask for forgiveness from the most is: myself. You must love yourself. You have to forgive yourself, everyday, whenever you remember a shortcoming, a flaw, you have to tell yourself “That’s just fine”. You have to forgive yourself so much, until you don’t even see those things anymore. Because that’s what love is like.

C. JoyBell C.

 

 

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a letter everyday

I didn’t save the letters, but Grandpa sent us a letter every day for years.  Different topics, different pens, different paper, but always the same strangeness. Sometimes I would barely read them.  They came so often and just as often I could not understand them.  I would write a obligatory letter of small talk here and there.  The thoughts of letters I box up and add to the pile of subjects and folks in my family that give me unbearable guilt.

The letters were a bit like Grandpa as he began to age. Often incoherent. Full of receipts from the Co-Op in Burns, Wyoming where Grandpa had lived since he was a little boy.  The family homesteaded there and bought up 146,000 acres of land while running a cattle company.  Wyoming roots.  In the roots of the Wyoming tree were also roots of the eccentric side I recognize all through branches manifesting in my own mannerisms.

Grandpa had his own workshop down in the basement of the huge house my sister is still convinced is haunted.  The new tenants that are renting are convinced of this too.  Perhaps a little of the madness of my Gpa has stayed there lingering in fumes of paint and metal.  I never felt the ghosts my sister claims, but I was eccentric like Gpa.  A quiet connection I found in his pillow when I realized it contained the same smell as mine.

Sometimes the letters contained dead bugs.  A spider smashed by the manual typewriter.  A dead bee scotch taped to a yellow paper of a legal pad.  Brown juice of flies in corners of cartoons he would draw shakey and small protruding from the margins. The cartoons always of someone running or the laughable folly of a heavy object falling.  Gpa and myself not aware of any falling, falling, although others might see the eccentric slip as a painful one.

My uncle commented perhaps his eccentricity compromised his career and that may be the case for us all but instead my Uncle meditates everyday, I blog everyday, Grandpa wrote a letter everyday, my sister parents everyday.  Sanity and strangeness just perceptions, socially coded, dynamic, changing, different everyday.

In Eccentrics: A Study of Sanity and Strangenesspsychiatrist David Weeks explains that eccentrics are physically healthier and significantly happier than “normal” people. He notes that eccentrics are wildly diverse yet share common characteristics. Here are his 25 descriptors of eccentricity, listed in descending order of importance. (Dr. Weeks says the first five are the most significant characteristics.)

  • Enduring non-conformity
  • Creativity
  • Strongly motivated by an exceedingly powerful curiosity and related exploratory behavior
  • An enduring and distinct feeling of differentness from others
  • Idealism
  • Happily obsessed with a number of long-lasting preoccupations (usually about five or six)
  • Intelligent, in the upper fifteen per cent of the population on tests of intelligence
  • Opinionated and outspoken, convinced of being right and that the rest of the of the world is out of step with them
  • Non-competitive
  • Not necessarily in need of reassurance or reinforcement from the rest of society
  • Unusual eating habits and living arrangements
  • Not particularly interested in the opinions or company of other people, except perhaps in order to persuade them to their contrary point of view
  • Possessed of a mischievous sense of humor, charm, whimsy, and wit
  • More frequently an eldest or an only child
  • Eccentricity observed in at least 36% of detailed family histories, usually a grandparent, aunt, or uncle. (It should be noted that the family history method of estimating hereditary similarities and resemblances usually provides rather conservative estimates.)
  • Eccentrics prefer to talk about their thoughts rather than their feelings. There is a frequent use of the psychological defense mechanisms of rationalization and intellectualization.
  • Slightly abrasive
  • Midlife changes in career or lifestyle
  • Feelings of “invisibility” which means that they believe other people did not seem to hear them or see them, or take their ideas seriously
  • Feel that others can only take them in small doses
  • Feel that others have stolen, or would like to steal, their ideas. In some cases, this is well-founded.
  • Dislike small talk or other apparently inconsequential conversation
  • A degree of social awkwardness
  • More likely to be single, separated, or divorced, or multiply separated or divorced
  • A poor speller, in relation to their above average general intellectual functioning

Eccentric doesn’t bother me. ‘Eccentric’ being a poetic interpretation of a mathematical term meaning something that doesn’t follow the lines – that’s okay.”

-Crispin Glover

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state of solitude

Picture summer. Those movies set in the dog days of August where the kids are out of school and have found an empty swimming pool to slide around, maybe skateboard, whatever kids in movies do. That empty pool stark white, maybe with dripping rusty tears around portholes and some brown branches scattered here and there. This empty pool is dating in Laramie, Wyoming. This empty pool is dating for me.

I’ve picked up every stick from the pool trying to make it a tree that will grow, blossom in spring, sing to me in the wind like tall trees of the mountains. That all happens, for about three months. Sometimes more rapid fire depending on the seasons and the ebb and flow of my passion and anger. With each potential love and each break up the white cement pool turns into a horror movie scene filling with brackish water and foul smells.

Underneath the dark waters of this dating pool and are the hidden stuff that has been tucked away neatly in the bliss of a new lover, the pain of all the others who rejected me, insecurities drip dripping like water from the garden hose that filled this place. And I dive right into the pool at the conclusion of each person to find myself suffocating. Each break up like a heart attack. Each attempt at love a nose dive into the shallow end.

I thrash around in the pool for a while trying to survive on what I tell myself are my redeeming qualities “you are good person.” And like a struggling drowning victim it only gets worse. Positive affirmations are junk from the eighties that I can’t always jive with. No, I’m not always a good person. In fact, I think some pretty shitty stuff about some folks.  And in that pathetically human way, I think worse things about myself. I positively and negatively affirm that yes I’m in this human experience suffering in this mound of flesh right along with others.

In all these dating stories the narrative is the same—he stopped talking to me, she ghosted me, what could I have done differently, I’m a nice engaging person why can’t I land a keeper? People are fickle. Sometimes it turns out they are gay. Sometimes it turns out they are in love with their former spouse. Sometimes they don’t find you sexually attractive. Sometimes they are too deep in drugs and alcohol to chill.

This cement pool, this space, full or empty is just a perception. There’s no reason to stay and skateboard with these kids and let this empty place take up space in the head. There is nothing for rent in the human heart, especially a place for disturbing thoughts that stop the divinity from shining through. There is choice in dating and while the suffering is great there are things that keep us all in Laramie. We are Wyoming tough.  We are ready to be in isolation for just a minute.  It don’t bother us none.  Do what has to be done. Live each day with courage. Especially this Valentine’s Day single or in love–human worth does not change.

“Recognize that you are enough, and that all external gifts are simply extra blessings.”
― Bryant McGill

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greenbelt lunch

Driving, showering, running. Epiphany times.  I think sometimes the blog I have created paints a picture that is not necessarily accurate.  I don’t feel my life is tragic.  I don’t regret anything I have done.  Do I question myself and pray to gawd e’r day to send me a friend? Well, heck yes.  But there is so much to admire in this world.  Things to take in, then let go, and prepare for death and the next transient experience.  These are the things I believe.  These are the things I feel.  Things are the things I want to be with.

I’ve started running five miles at lunch, sometimes it’s timed, but mostly it’s to take in these windy Wyoming high plains I have called home for 13 years.   I run from my house to cross the train bridge downtown to get to the green belt. On the west end there is a little garden area that is watered by the same woman every day.  She wears a floppy hat and khaki pants and we are like two hands of a clock passing each other at different tempos.  She a pendulum, I a metronome beating to the glorious rhythm of life.  Her hose sprays from patches of grass to hollyhocks as she takes care of this tiny pseudo-garden juxtaposed by trains and a tall cigar shaped Union Pacific landmark that would be too much trouble to take down.  She has surrounded three sunflowers with a small enclosure and each living thing has become its own landscape its own piece of art.  We never talk but I appreciate her so much for what she does and how she takes care of a corner of the world that I have come to love.

As I continue my run along the dark gray paved green belt I’ve started to see another wonderful woman whose beauty strikes me.  She has a curious gait and bends her elbows at ninety degrees swinging back and forth like the tin man yet so fluid she floats.  Animated yet subtle.  A wonderful paradox, a metaphor for running, for life.  She is so beautiful and smiles at me every day and I wave and smile back under my salt and sweat soaked ball cap.  I think as I reflect and remember she is some kind of temporary angel whose human beauty matches the beauty of the land.  Her smile becomes like golden leaves in fall and her eyes reveal the blue that is lost in the green gray of the Laramie River.  I want to see myself as I see this woman and how she takes care of that corner of myself that I will come to love.

The locusts are everywhere in August and September and they flutter and hop and greet me while I wonder how much frost it will take for them to become dormant and spawn again.  I occasionally mistake them for butterflies and who is to say they can’t be butterflies with short spurts of flight zipping across the path yellow, cream, gold, black, brown.  I mistook a frog for a locust friend the other day as he sat with his nature-green-paisley back to me and I wondered why this locust wasn’t zipping and then he hopped like a tiny surprise, an expected yet anticipated phone call.  Just a bit up the path there is a grove of trees like an inviting painted alley welcoming whistling, trotting, and other hidden street activities.

And then there are those things not as conventionally beautiful—the freezer company across the field, the row of billboards to the east, the college apartments around the bend.  The river goes down and down in the dry August days and in parts it has become filled with bacteria and algae and I look over a bridge and spit into the water thinking how I would never bathe there.  Its color a light stony green like the eyes of a ex-lover when he was stoned.  But it is the home of other living things that need that space to live.  I stop under the bridge too and see the “lover” graffiti that I see all over town—it’s not elaborate and I create a picture of an annoying seventeen year old in my head who things lovers are worth using graffiti tags.  While all isn’t pleasant it’s all there to observe, to witness, and then to let go.  And when I smell the whiff of a cigarette from a loud truck I remember it is often those things that are the hardest to love that we need to come love.

“Our minds influence the key activity of the brain, which then influences everything; perception, cognition, thoughts and feelings, personal relationships; they’re all a projection of you.”

-Deepak Chopra