Letter to Self: Your Place at the Table

The thing about now is that it instantly slips into the past the second you register it in your cornea and your brain. Now barely exists and yet it’s the most important fraction of time in our lives. What you feel now is going to change. Change is one of the few constants in life. Yeah, you want to shout out for change to fuck itself. You seem determined to undermine yourself just as soon as you understand on a cellular level how desperately you need to change. I understand. It’s really important that you know I’ve been there where you are now. I’m offering no judgement against you.

Your value isn’t contingent on being perfect, being wise, being healthy, or being happy. So push all that crap off the table and start over. Your value is contingent only on evolving into the best self you can be. Not as you’re tempted to compare yourself to others. Others don’t matter here. Here is where you build your own damn yardstick. You did this a long time ago. You did this when you first felt yourself slipping out of your own skin in shame and degradation. You sat up, you realized that the yardstick you’d been measuring yourself against was a fucking joke, a horsehair whip to make you bleed. A horsehair whip you took from trusted hands that told you you deserved it and you had no reason not to believe it.

You sat up and broke that horsehair whip in half and threw all the empty yardsticks in the trash and began to build your own. Remember how long it took you to do that? Years. It wasn’t overnight. It was like remaking yourself in a new image. In a new frame. You had to hammer yourself into it every day, remind yourself that you weren’t the worthless piece of shit you heard others say of you. You sat up and demanded your place at the table of life, with your own silverware, your own place card. And it took so much strength to make demands instead of accepting life as an invisible spirit.

Things feel as bad as they did back then but you got through that. You need to remember that you got through it stronger than you started off. It wasn’t because of anyone else. You wanted to die almost every day but you hung on because you had a wildflower’s roots clinging to the cosmos through the poorest soil. All of this is to say that you’re there again and the only way you’re going to move forward is if you sit up and demand your place at the table.

I Lie to Everyone Some of the Time

sky in my head

Don’t care where anyone else sleeps on their conscience. I can only ask myself how I got to this thought, this feeling, this judgement, and then ask myself if it’s who I am, if I died 60 seconds from now “Is this who I am, is this how memory will record me?” and cast my shadow against the wailing wall for all to pick at, discuss, and cruelly dissect. Because humans, no matter how evolved we become, are still creatures limited by our state of flesh and blood.

When I crumple in a heap of indigestible feelings and thoughts I would rather die than anyone see my face on which everything is writ in smudged chalk and ancient language. I would rather die than explain myself to other humans, but humans intrude cheerily and with love, so I lie to them with good cheer and equal love and everyone moves forward exactly one centimeter towards no gain.

I understand that this is how it will always be. Even if I were to tell all the secrets and expose all my arteries to the light – this is how it will always be. Hanging onto minutes like lifelines, waiting for the tide to turn, waiting for the waves to choke out idle curiosity. Can’t abide the casual eye on my aspirating valves, slowing to death under the weight of a nightlife I can’t control or escape. I’d sooner choke on the seaweed tangling around my feet than swim to the surface of this fight.

I lie all the time, every day. Whether it’s wrong or not depends entirely on how far into my world you’re entrenched. That I lie to everyone for my own protection is an incontrovertible fact. White or black is only one way of looking at it. Survival or death is another way. I lie to everyone. There is no one I don’t lie to about the core of my life experience. I parse out dark truths as much as those around me can handle them but never all at once, never more than a patchwork of truth. No matter what I say, there’s more I’m holding back.

We’re all masters at subterfuge, my spirit family. Almost everyone in my tribe knows better than to share whole truths. Our survival depends on the art of half truths and making other people feel good about our chances of survival. We spend most of our time making sure the people around us are as comfortable as they can be, we lure them into hope like mermaids calling sailors to cliffs that look like pillows of marshmallow gold.

I want to let the flesh fall and the bones talk. I want to walk the creeks with my veins open and my truth available to every curious mind. I want to share all this shit with everyone who thinks they’re ready for it, who wants to know, to understand, but –

I have a responsibility to tread lightly around humans more tender than myself, humans who still feel hope, who burst with spiritual optimism. I have a responsibility not to crush them with my darkness.

I have optimism too, but it’s darker and older and isn’t rainbows, unicorns, bunnies, innocence, mercy, or love.

My optimism is bloody survival. It’s war anthems being sung by the dead when there’s no one living left to rejoice in winning. My optimism is that the earth will reinvent itself without humans and be better and healthier for it. My optimism is that we will all be here forever as gasses and soil and sand.

This is good enough for me.

This is good enough for all of us.

 

Mental Health Awareness Day

the nails

I don’t know a time when I wasn’t different. I have always lived in a world slightly removed from everyone else’s world. I looked mostly normal when I was little. Except for the distinctly GoodWill flavor of my attire mixed with home-haircuts that distinctly marked me as the daughter of a hippie mom more than anything else could have done. Later I dressed like an 80 year old who just discovered T-shirts and black eyeliner. The older I got the less normal I looked.

That’s merely window dressing. It’s window dressing that got bottles and rocks thrown at me from cars, that got jocks to spit on and throw fire crackers at my locker while I was still standing next to it. But still, window dressing compared to the world inside of me that was like living inside one of those 3-D post cards of Jesus and kittens.

Any person who says “Isn’t everyone a little crazy?” is either in deep denial or aren’t at all out of the normal range of human behaviors. People who say “Everyone gets anxious and depressed sometimes” isn’t exactly wrong but clearly don’t understand what it is to be suicidal and unable to live next to super tall trees that have a slightly leaning appearance. No one who’s truly different suggests such “aren’t we all the same?” bullshit. Because when the chips are down it’s us different people who stand out like neon signs in a post apocalyptic landscape that say “VULNERABLE DISASTER THAT MIGHT BITE”. It’s us truly different people who get beat up by people who are supposed to love us because we don’t feel we matter enough to stand up against the abuse. It’s us truly different people who get crucified on the pillar of societal abnormalities to be feared because others know we’re running on a different operating system that unfortunately sparks their darkest fears.

Everyone’s “the same” until we’re not. And I’m not the same. I hear everyone in the world crying sometimes. I hear murders happen, I hear the lonely retching into the void. I crumple into a ball of unworthiness at moments others call triumphs. I’m tuned into the world on a different frequency than a lot of other people. I’m mentally ill.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say “Don’t let labels define you” or “Stop seeing yourself defined by illness” and I understand where people are coming from who say this shit. I do. They aren’t coming from a place where their brain has shaped their emotional landscape by not producing enough of the right chemicals to maintain balance or, as is often the case, their brain isn’t efficient at transmitting chemical signals to the nervous system so closely linked with our sense of well being. When your illness is connected to the heart, the spirit, and the mind simultaneously it throws all three into a maelstrom of  chaos. What I know is that they lack a full understanding of what it is to not only be ME, but to belong to the greater community of mentally ill people that make up my world, that make up my tribe.

Many of us are creative forces to be reckoned with. We see things the well regulated mind can’t see. We hear global music, music in the stars, music in the vascular systems of human beings. We understand the minutiae of life intimately and can tell you things you saw but didn’t understand because we’re seeing things from a different balcony. This is the gift in the illness. We hear, see, smell, feel, and empathize in ways other human beings generally aren’t capable of and when we’re able to apply it we create the world’s art, music, stories, and philosophy. We are formidable in this way.

But these gifts come with an intense price. In general we’re more vulnerable to abuse than most other groups of people. In addition to being more vulnerable to violence against us we’re vulnerable to self harm more than any other segment of the population on the planet. We are exponentially more likely to hurt or kill ourselves than we are to hurt or kill others. Mental illness has a death rate.

Most people have lost someone to suicide.

I struggle with suicidal ideation. No matter how good my life is at any point this is something I struggle with. I can’t imagine living life without this struggle. My attachment to life is less vigorous than my attachment to truth. I would rather tell the truth and die than lie and live. I live with a constant juxtaposition between loving the details of life, loving certain people I meet, and not wanting to feel the pain of hearing all the torture and death across the planet every day. I can’t shut the pain of the world out unless I die. Medication dulls it, mercifully, I might be dead already without it. But it can’t shut out all the world’s pain playing on my mental radio.

I have heard many people suggest mental illness is curable through will power, gut health, diet, plenty of exercise, positive thinking, and just getting the fuck over it. As though it was a bad boyfriend one can simply stop calling in the middle of the night. FUCK YOU ALL WHO THINK THAT.

FUCK YOU.

We’re the people who bring you your own hearts in the form of music, art, and dreams.

Some of my tribe are so severely affected that we can’t even understand what they’re seeing or feeling. And you know what? They need the rest of us to protect them and to continue to look for answers to unlock their voices, their dreams, their loves, and their spirits. It isn’t that they’re evil, it’s just that we don’t know enough to translate what worlds they’re seeing into without us. They’re reacting to stiumulae we can’t see but that’s real.

If you don’t believe that then I know you aren’t US. But you could, if you tried, learn to understand us and how much of a reflection we are of your deeper self.

Today was Mental Illness Awareness Day. Being mentally ill is many things, the only thing it isn’t is shameful. I neither glorify nor hate my mental illness. It is a part of me that I can never disengage from without dying. I treat my brain like any other organ and do what I can to maintain the best health possible – but I accept that my brain doesn’t function efficiently or normally. My life has become exponentially better accepting the limitations of my brain and my nervous system.

The most important thing I’ve learned is this:

MENTAL ILLNESS ISN’T A PERSONAL FAILING. NO ONE ASKS FOR OR DESERVES TO BE MENTALLY ILL. SOME OF US ARE LUCKY ENOUGH TO FIND GIFTS IN OUR ILLNESS AND SOME OF US ARE JUST LUCKY ENOUGH TO BE ALIVE AND TO  BE LOVED.

The best thing all of us can do is keep this conversation going. Those of us who can come out into the light must do so not only for ourselves but also for those who aren’t safe enough to do so.

When I got my official diagnosis in 2001, I was deeply relieved. I told a neighbor friend of mine how happy I was to finally have validation that I had serious mental illness and she said “Not everyone is as open minded as I am, you probably shouldn’t tell anyone else this”. I felt like a leper. It was a shock. It hadn’t occurred to  me that something I felt so good about could be looked on with such prejudice as this. I took me and my imaginary sores and flaking skin to my cave of solitude and wanted to die. Just a little bit. As I always do when someone points out my otherliness. But an unexpected pride rose in me. I always knew I was different. I always knew my brain was on a different track than others were on. I made a decision that I’ve stuck with ever since.

I decided that I would never hide my mental illness or feel ashamed of myself for it. I’ve never looked back.

I also stopped talking to that particular neighbor because: FUCK HER AND HER FUCKING IGNORANCE.

I didn’t choose to be mentally ill but I wouldn’t choose to be mentally average now if I could. I’ll take the torture with the enlightenment. I don’t know if I’ll last as long as a mentally normative person, but I’m not sorry for my challenge or my possibly shortened lifespan.

Please join me, tribe, in celebrating the gifts of our illness while simultaneously fighting for better treatments, understanding, and appreciation. YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL TO ME.

#MentalHealthAwarenessDay

This is Like That Scene in Spirited Away

peeling paint

You know that scene where the giant stinky spirit comes into the bathhouse and Chihiro has to clean him and she washes and washes and washes him and the stink is so bad but eventually she finds something stuck to him and pulls it out and all this human trash comes spilling out and it turns out he’s quite small once all the trash is cleaned from him? That’s my head right now.

In an effort to purge my head of some noise I will now let thoughts fall randomly from my head. There may or may not be a strong theme with what comes out.

SPOILER ALERT: THERE’S A STRONG THEME HERE

If I were to measure Trump using his own yardstick of beauty which he freely applies to women as thought they’re cattle up for auction, he would be a big fat toupeed ZERO.

I wonder if Trump inspects the gums and teeth of all the women he sleeps with?

Men who seek sex with virgins a) creep me the fuck out and b) are almost never virgins themselves and c) probably raised on religion and/or d) are pedophiles because finding virgin adults is rare.

There is no greater turn-off than a man telling me how to behave so that he or other men will find me more “attractive” or more “pleasing” or – just go fuck your damn selves you giant syphilitic dicks!  This includes telling women to “smile more” or telling them when to open or shut their legs, or telling them to wear more skirts, or telling them how to behave so men won’t feel threatened, or – my god, this list is endless and it just gets worse and sicker.

(Purging is so important- I forget how much I need to do this)

I don’t tell men how to dress or act or behave. Except for my son. I do tell my son how to behave like a good human being. I don’t ever give him gender specific advice though. I never say stupid toxic shit like “Be a man about this!” or “Boys don’t cry” or “To attract women you should be Ryan Gosling”.

I think it’s best to follow this rule (it’s good for everyone): if the advice you’re giving to a woman isn’t advice you’d ever give to a man, then don’t give it. Men who tell women to “smile more”, have you ever in your life told another man to “smile more”? If you have, then you’re just a jerk all around. People don’t like being told to smile more. Makes them want to punch you. But in my life I can’t count how many times a man has told me to “smile more” and how many times I’ve heard the same advice being dished out to other women by men. Yet I have never once overheard a man telling another man to smile more. That right there is misogyny, for anyone who can’t recognize it.

The reverse is true. If the advice you’re giving a man isn’t advice you’d ever give to a woman, then don’t give it. Also, generally speaking, don’t give advice to people unless they ask you for it.

DON’T GIVE ADVICE TO PEOPLE UNLESS THEY ASK FOR IT.

For example, when writers talk about the difficulty they’re having with a project, more often than not they aren’t asking for advice from whoever’s randomly passing by on social media or in person, they’re hoping for commiseration. Most writers I know actually ask other writers for advice when that’s what they want. Why is that so hard to grasp?

I don’t understand how come so many atheists and non-Catholics are so riled up any time someone says they like Pope Francis. I’m seeing so many people pointing out that he isn’t perfect, disappointment that he’s met with conservative Christians during this trip to the United States. Why do people expect other people to be either all good or all bad? I like Pope Francis because he’s really saying some radical things for a Pope to say. Good things. Things I actually believe in. But just because I like him doesn’t mean I automatically think he’s above criticism or mistakes or that he’s ANYTHING OTHER THAN A RELIGIOUS LEADER AND A FALLIBLE HUMAN BEING. I’m an atheist, I don’t believe in the Papacy. What I understand is that he’s still a Catholic and still is leading millions of people who are also Catholic which means I don’t agree with a lot of what they believe in. There are things that not even the most liberal Pope is going to be able to change or even want to change about the church he leads because if he wanted to change the Catholic church that much HE WOULDN’T BE THE POPE.

Who the fuck cares if he met with Kim Davis? Do you all imagine his point in meeting with her was to congratulate her? I suspect that she represents a person in need of guidance. But even so, I really don’t give a fuck. The fact that he met with a person I think is horrible doesn’t invalidate the good things he HAS done and the good examples he HAS made through his own actions.

I don’t need reminding that all humans are human. All humans are capable of mad fuckery. I don’t even LIKE humans. Popes are people I usually dislike for their ridiculous pomposity and conservatism. Seeing a pope not wear those robes of state for every public gathering is refreshing. Hearing a Pope talking about not hating gay people and firing Bishops who have focused all their energies on anti-gay agendas – these are unheard of things for a Pope to say or do until now. So yeah, even I am impressed because compared to all the Popes that came before Francis, he’s pretty radical.

BUT HE’S STILL A CATHOLIC POPE WHO IS BEHOLDEN TO THE CATHOLIC CHURCH. So obviously you can’t expect him to remove the ban on contraception. It would be phenomenal if he did and I’d like him better if he did. But he’s the goddamn Pope, people.

Why is it that whenever a human does something noteworthy and people note it there is a huge inevitable wave of people crying out “BUT THEY DON’T HAVE A PERFECT RECORD AS A HUMAN BEING SO HOW CAN YOU ADMIRE THEM?!”?

Listen you little lump-nuggets, do YOU have a perfect record as a human being? I sure don’t. Don’t you sometimes think that when you do something that was challenging or new for you and positive it’s okay for people to admire you for it even though you don’t have a perfect record as a human being? I do. I think it’s okay to applaud people for improving on themselves or improving on an institution even if they haven’t done all the improving possible. It’s okay to note good actions by people who also do questionable things. It’s also okay to note when generally good people do bad things.

Positive feedback is very important to making a difference in the world. If all you do as a human being is point out what’s bad in the world and what you don’t like and what’s wrong, then you’re missing half the arsenal of change. Yes, the bad and the ugly must be pointed out and said out loud and addressed in order to bring light to the dark. But the other part of it is that when someone does something good or something good has happened – we also need to applaud it and say “YES! More of this!” and “I like this change!” and “This person did something admirable after being a total douche-pickle. Hey person I used to call a “douche-pickle”, I like this thing you did, maybe you’re not such a douche-pickle anymore” Why? Because encouraging behaviors and actions that you like and make you feel good or help the world in a positive way encourage people to do MORE good, not less. People need to know they’re going in a good direction. Nearly all species on earth respond to a positive feedback loop.

Humans have really gotten stuck in a negative feedback loop. You all can do whatever you want but I’m going to still praise imperfect human beings when they do good things for beings outside of themselves and/or the planet. I’m going to praise imperfect beings when they shed a little light somewhere. Even if it isn’t epic. It’s a given they’ve probably done things I don’t agree with. So I’m not going to listen to any of you when you point out to me that someone I’ve praised isn’t perfect. I’m going to point to myself and say “I’m imperfect too” and then I’m going to probably flip you off.

I’m still sick of this old (but active) chestnut: people who think logically aren’t emotional. Logic itself isn’t emotion, of course, but a language equation. But using logic doesn’t require one to be unemotional. You can be full of emotional outrage and still make a logical argument. Critical thinking is a skill that anyone can learn and apply regardless of their level of emotional involvement in a subject under debate.

Logic doesn’t belong more to one gender or another. It belongs to anyone who has critical thinking as part of their educational curriculum and who actively practice it. it’s a complete fallacy that men are generally (and naturally) more logical than women. It’s also a fallacy that men are generally (and naturally) less emotional than women.

Now I’m late getting going on my sewing projects but I feel much better for having purged so much bullshit that’s been accumulating in my head and heart. Things making me angry and itchy and depressed. This only dips in the surface of a deep well, but at least it’s a start.

Babushka Nation

happy babushka

Five years ago, wearing my favorite fashion accessory of all time – the Babushka. You’ve all seen this pic a thousand times but sometimes the only picture that will do for a post is an old favorite one.

I’ve always been a rustic old peasant lady at heart. I love simple food best. I need a strong connection to dirt* to feel whole. I love beets. I mean, I LOVE BEETS AND EVERY TIME PEOPLE MAKE SNARKY REFERENCES TO RUSSIANS SMELLING OF BEETS I EXPERIENCE THE FAMILIAR PANG I ALWAYS DO THAT I’M NOT AT ALL RUSSIAN AND ALSO THAT I DON’T EVER SMELL OF BEETS EVEN WHEN I’M ELBOW-DEEP PICKLING THEM.

toothy smile 2

My soul smells of beets, wet dirt, black wool, and rope soles.

Today it was almost 100 degrees Fahrenheit. I was covered shoulder to shoe in mostly black. Was I uncomfortable? Hell yes. But I could have been naked and I’d have been just as uncomfortable. My pants are long and drapey with an attached over-skirt. It has a Muslim or Indian feel to it. But mostly I felt like an old Greek woman today. An old Greek woman missing her babushka. A babushka is a brilliant accessory. It protects you from religious outrage against bare heads, against scalp sunburn, against the dreaded bad hair day, and it achieves membership in a non-exclusive club of super-gritty street smart women (and perhaps a few men?) who know how to pickle EVERYTHING and throw darts and get a mule to co-operate and other things way more important than world domination or gun ownership.

IMG_9882

Why fight it when you’re finally old enough to pull off the person you’ve always been? I’m fat, middle aged, and I haunt the local farm. I wear mostly black and yet I’ve become too lazy to apply makeup and arrange a babushka over my head? I’ve been an old lady out of context for my whole life UNTIL NOW.

stupid contrast

Many years now I’ve been most at home haunting my local farms. Breathing in the dust of hard dry tractor paths, collecting yellow tomato dust on my dry dirty fingers, saying ridiculous things only geeks or old ladies would say while my vegetables are being weighed. Uncomfortable with my Carson McCullers soul living in a Stephenie Meyer world, finding the farmer’s skull scars oddly attractive, crushing slightly on the farmer’s daughter slowly morphing into the farmer’s son.

Nowhere else am I more myself than in the middle of a mile long row of farm tomatoes. Nowhere else am I more myself than when I’m aproned, grimy with vegetable juice, hair covered in a scarf, and singing working class ballads into the hot summer breeze.

That’s a lie. The other time and place I’m most myself is during torrential downpours, out in the open, streaming with mountain water, laughing like a fucking loon and dancing like someone who knows hollow shadows. I AM rain. I AM snow. I AM bird.

I’ve been wearing a babushka since I was a teen. I’ve let it slide lately. Let it fall by the wayside. My national attire is a babushka, a fitted jacket, an ankle length voluminous skirt, Ghillie brogues, and red lipstick. Give me my office, I can rip your soul from your skin if you can’t give me room to breathe.

Just kidding. I don’t have power over you.

Much.

Knowing what you’re made of gives you power over the outcomes of your actions.

I’m not your cheerleader, I’m your grandmother. I tame kittens, make the best spinach pie, can stop your knee from bleeding faster than the ER, and I’ll shed my ghosts so they’ll only haunt you when you most need them. I come with a stick of butter in my spoon and olive oil in my pot.

 

*I’m sorry Dennis, it’s more satisfying sometimes to call it dirt than “soil”. I cringe in your honor every time I say it.

The Wrong Kind of Luminescence

Oakland

If I could live inside music I think I might be okay for always. I wish I could sleep in music, breathe in music, and dream in music. Why must I always sink in the cacophony of human voices instead? Hearing the scratching of souls against blank dark windows for someone to open them when no one answers. I hear the caterwauling of pain all the way through the milky way. Why can’t I snuff out the voices full of pain across the world and get lost in the joy of music?  Maybe the pain of it too, but in music human pain is more bearable because it’s being flung outward across plateaus where it careens into lush mountains or across molten plains of wheat and is sheathed in otherworldly light, baptized into something more holy and healing.

I wasn’t meant to live like this, in fragile skin, with breakable bones, and friable teeth. I was meant to be strong medicine, like retrograde Venus.

This is the wrong kind of luminescence. It’s kindred to the death-mask. The last thoughts and prayers that paralyze the dead under cover of arching oak trees.

What will I have left to say when my bullets are drawn? What will I have left to say when the spirits are dry and the party is over? What will I have left to say now that Mattis is dead and buried and his shadow isn’t even pressing into my nightmares with the calm cool gloves of the gentleman’s touch? What will I have left to say when all the smoke has drifted to the heavens and found I haven’t got a place higher than the short English daisies meeting the sea? What will I have left to say when the last of us is slit open in the bathtub of God’s hot water?

Tonight I can’t even put a dying fly out of its misery. And it hurts that its reached its end in my office. Slowly, covering the surfaces of my desk and skin with mirthless determination. It rests just left of my computer screen, gathering the strength to traverse just a little more wood until it can’t move through the light. So we stare at each other and we understand how alike we are in relation to our vulnerability. I’m careful not to set my beer bottle on its exoskeleton. Its not so careful it doesn’t climb my beer bottle.

I miss when I was more in my body, as much as I fear it. I liked the thrust of a sword to express my determination to keep taking up space. I liked the bees crowding the ivy in the light of the lowering sun. I liked when my foil flashed through semi-dark to cut down the last light. I liked when sleep was an exercise in hope instead of inevitability. I liked when I could meet the dawn with the vigor of a resuscitated hero. Now I slink behind my own shadow like there isn’t a better bigger shadow I can  twist into my excuse for everything.

Rise, motherfuckers, like you’re the breath of Christ and God is real. Rise, motherfuckers, like you’re what God hoped for all along.

I may have buried my voice a little so that I wouldn’t be discovered in time to hear the responses I don’t want to acknowledge. I want the fierce writing and self care habits of my past but with the wisdom of my present. I want for all those lessons to have not been in vain. I want for all of that blood-letting to have been constructive, or at least to have meant something. Anything.

Under the Bakelite weight of this phone I can hear the past recalling itself to order, planning its comeback in tight satin pants and spangles.

This slow poison is how I communicate with the devil of my disorder. You can fuck yourself.Whatever voice is shouting loudest in my head right now is the one I pray to. Fuck loyalty. It’s about who can out-maneuver me in my own head, every single time. I’m crippled by my own fear. I was lost before I hit double digits. Lost in the atmosphere of my own bile and quickened heartbeat. The nightmares were brutal and absolute. They swallowed everything before I knew what everything was. There are memories that require quashing. Memories that can never be unburied without complete annihilation of self. And yet, there they are. Like concrete statues of fact shimmering in the corners of recollection like ghosts.

 

Choosing the Open Ended Adventure: Swimming Towards the Ocean

selfies in the sun

I’ve been thinking about choice. The choices I make every day that lead to new choices to make. I’ve been busy listening to other people closely for the last couple of years, more than ever before. Listening to people so hard I can feel the blood pumping through their voices and feel their cells trembling with emotion. The exercise of listening to others has made me listen to myself more closely too. When I find myself criticizing other people’s choices, I look harder at my own. When the things they say make me angry, or terrified, or crushingly hopeless, I listen closer to the words I’m using every day and how they sound to others.

Whatever I find in others, both positive and negative, I always find some of it in myself too. Even if it’s just a weak shadow, I can always find some scrap of everything that lives in the hearts of others in my own. I believe this is because of the interconnectedness of all life on earth and the universality of human experience.

There are very few instances in which we don’t all have a choice in how we act and react to everything in our lives. One of the most important things I’ve learned in life (and I learned it a long time ago) is that not liking the choices you have isn’t the same thing as not having choices. When people say “I didn’t have a choice” what they mean is “I hated all the choices I had and I’m pissed off about it”. It means the choices they had were hard and unpleasant. Everyone is faced with hard choices in their lives at some point. Most of us will face hard choices at frequent intervals in our lives.

I hate it when people use the fact that we all have and make choices to shame those who’ve made what appear to be “poor” choices. I don’t look at choice like that. Who of us hasn’t made the easier choice knowing it might not be the best choice? Who of us hasn’t made choices out of fear or wishful thinking? Who of us hasn’t made choices we regretted? Anyone who claims they haven’t made choices they’ve paid hard for later and regretted, at least for a little while, is lying through their teeth.

Sometimes the choices we make that others criticize for being “poor” are the ones that lead us to the greatest personal growth.

What will help you (and me and everyone) grow the most and find the greatest satisfaction in life, is taking responsibility for the choices we make. This isn’t about being right or wrong. It isn’t about what you should or shouldn’t have done. It’s about acknowledging that you almost always have CHOICE and to make those choices consciously. It’s about forgiving yourself when you make choices you later regret while simultaneously giving yourself permission to make new and different choices every day. It’s about appreciating the rewards of choices you make as much as admitting responsibility for the choices that led you to more pain.

When you choose to do things to take care of yourself, like resting when you need to, like saying “no” to people when they’re asking more of you than you have to give, like spending the money for a good fucking pound of coffee because coffee makes facing every day sweeter even if it means you’ll be eating plain baked potatoes for dinner because you can’t afford both good coffee and a great dinner. Whatever taking care of yourself means, when you choose to take care of yourself, you’ve got to acknowledge that you did that for yourself. That YOU chose to give yourself something you really needed.

I’ve made a lot of hard choices in my life. I remember sometimes thinking “This is total bullshit! This is no choice at all!” and I remember the bitterness that comes with feeling I had no choice. I remember the feeling of powerlessness when faced with terrible and terrifying choices to make.

Feeling powerless isn’t the same as BEING powerless.

Finding the courage to use the power you have is sometimes the greatest challenge in life.

Choice is on my mind a lot this week especially as I near the departure day for a choice I haven’t wanted to make. A choice I’ve avoided making for a long time. I’ve taken steps close to it and retreated in fear. I’ve shared quite a bit of this journey here on this blog but I’ve kept plenty of it private too. I can’t and won’t allow other people’s opinions and prejudices and dogma to steer my ship.

That’s me choosing to protect myself and nurture my fragile courage.

People are scared to acknowledge that they always have choices. They’re scared it’s the same as saying that everything that ever happens to them is their own fault. But that’s not true at all. Other people are constantly making choices that affect our lives too. None of us can (or should be able to) control the choices others make. As our lives are constantly intersecting and overlapping, we create situations for others that they, then, have to decide how to react to or act on. And others create situations that we have to decide how to react or act on.

Acknowledging that you always have choices isn’t about laying blame on yourself for your unhappiness or sorrows or misfortune. It’s about empowering yourself to SEE those choices for what they are. It’s about empowering yourself to make choices more consciously because acknowledging all the choices before you when you’re in the trenches of misery allows you to see all the possible ways out of the trenches. Those choices might be really hard, they might suck, it might hurt your heart (or the hearts of others) to make them, but the person who’s hurt the most when you stumble blindly making decisions out of fear or choosing to NOT make any decisions* is yourself.

So this is what I’m practicing. I keep saying “you”, but I’m talking to myself and about myself most of all. Maybe “you” aren’t ready to hear this shit, or maybe “you” are way far ahead of me and are on to new lessons and meditations on life. That’s cool. But this is where I am right now.

Acknowledging choice is allowing me to be kinder to myself. I’m seeing that I’ve made a lot of crappy decisions that I truly believed were the best I could make at the time. I can look back, with the things I know now, and shake my head and say “you SHOULD have…” but instead I’m just looking back and seeing how I kept moving forward and kept fixing the broke shit with the tools I had. Sometimes I made horrible decisions because I was scared and ended up sacrificing more of myself than I ever thought I’d have to as a consequence. But there’s no shame in that. We all do that. I’m proud of myself for being able to face those decisions and take responsibility for them. Taking responsibility for them helped to set them free. I’m a fallible human being learning new tricks all the time. I don’t float in swamps, my friends. I seek the clean moving water. I seek the streams that lead to creeks that join rivers that rush onwards towards the sea.

I’m terrified of the open ocean even as I’m drawn to it with the pull of the river currents and the moon.

The choice I’ve just made scares me because I don’t know how long this trip is going to be. I don’t know how to pack for it mentally or spiritually. It’s an open-ended adventure. I only know what I’m going to do on Monday.

To all of you who are facing tough situations and having to make tough choices:

Have courage!

Swim for the ocean and let the horizon be your anchor!

I’ll be there too.

*That’s an actual choice people make constantly, to do nothing, to say nothing, to change nothing IS a choice.

 

My Champion is a Hundred Pints

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This post was updated to reflect that I thought this weekend was February 1st, but I’m a whole week off! So this new adventure doesn’t start until the Monday after this one.

On February 2nd I’m going to pop a new pill. One that will make me vomit if I drink even the tiniest drop of alcohol. I’m fighting the thought that this represents a door being boarded shut forever. Last year I promised myself I would do this if I couldn’t learn to keep my alcohol consumption within healthy bounds. I made a point of not promising anything to anyone else. I didn’t drink for the first three months of 2014. It was pretty easy, except for Fridays, which made me want to rip brick walls down with my teeth.

But when the three months was up I quickly returned to my previous habits.

I have a happy relationship with alcohol. I haven’t got the darkness that comes with black outs, risky behaviors, alcohol-fueled abusiveness, or terrible regret. I rarely experience drunkenness at all because I loathe the feeling.

I’ve said all this before. I’m not sure I need to repeat it. I’m not really talking to anyone but myself. I answer to no one but myself. This is my autonomy as a human being. The human being I am requires that I consider the people I love and care about in all the decisions I make, of course. But what I write here is, ultimately, between me, myself, and I.

One of the truths I keep half buried, always, is that alcohol has made me a better mother. That’s not something anyone is supposed to ever say. Motherhood should be pure and unadulterated. For me, motherhood has been one long conversation with a breaking heart. This has nothing to do with who my son is, because as challenging as he’s been and may continue to be, he’s a beautiful and wonderful person. I experience so much pleasure in knowing him, in having the privilege of rearing him. This has everything to do with how ill-equipped I was to steer a tiny human being through all the awful challenges of childhood. This has everything to do with how I didn’t know that having a child meant reliving every fucking tiny little shitty minute of my own childhood again, but with the added weight of wanting to protect my own baby from everything I know about life that ever made me want to die. Every rejection my son experiences, I experience with a magnified pain, every set back, every rage, every disappointment he experiences is a little death in my own heart.

Those times I haven’t got any comforting answers for his worries, his pains, his sorrow, I feel myself fall apart just a little bit more.

Motherhood has gutted me.

Alcohol has smoothed the road. It’s administered calm, reason, and respite. It has given me constant courage and forced my fences down, again and again. Alcohol has mellowed me, allowed me to function, and to rejoice. It has kept me open to laughter and joy. It has prevented me from reacting with panic and anger when patience and love are required.

But I require more of it all the time to maintain my equilibrium. The price is my health. My alcohol consumption has hurt no one but me and my budget. But I can’t keep paying the price of my health. My body is tired. I’m only 45 but I feel like I’m 80. I guess that’s better than when I was 15 years old and felt like I was 150 years old.

All of this is nobody’s business, but, as usual, I share it because all the relief and non-alcohol-related courage I’ve ever gotten has been from others being honest, telling their stories even when it made them look bad, even when it turned the world against them, just so other people like them could feel less alone.

Not feeling alone is a powerful weapon against a poverty of safety.

I want to live a life in which I can hang out with friends and enjoy drinking a couple of pints of ale or sharing a bottle of wine. I want to live a life in which this is an occasional, even a frequent enjoyment. I would like to live a life in which it’s part of the dinner table, not part of the whole night.

Alcohol tames my insomnia. Though I may never know regular good sleep, alcohol keeps me up later and through its magical chemistry it bypasses my dreadful insomnia so that I can get right to sleep. Yeah, I still wake up several times a night and am still plagued with bad dreams, but at least I have the sensation of being able to nod off easily at first. I take what I can get when it comes to sleep.

Alcohol enables most of my socializing. The only people I genuinely don’t need alcohol to hang out with are my closest and oldest friends. My family (possibly just my mom) thinks I’m a super social creature. I do seem that way, I suppose. Most of my socializing is online, for one thing, and for the rest, I prefer social gatherings where alcohol is a feature. I don’t know how to be comfortable around people without the calming smoothing effects of booze. I don’t know how to socialize without beverages. Without alcohol I’m pretty much limited to socializing over coffee between the hours of 10am and 12pm.

Without alcohol I want to tell everyone how much I hate their hair and their air of casual rapture. Without alcohol I want to ask everyone why they’re so fucking human, as though I’m not, which I am. Without alcohol I struggle hard not to pull people’s hair and stare hard at their camel-toes like a village idiot fixated on a parade of naked clowns.

It’s not that alcohol makes me better at socializing, it just makes me feel better about being the person who asks every couple I’ve just met to reassure me they aren’t about to get divorced.

I don’t know how long I’m going to take Disulfiram. I’m on a journey of reparation with unmapped boundaries, uncharted obstacles.

I’ll tell you this, though, the first person who calls me an alcoholic gets a fucking hemlock milkshake. Maybe I am, but I prefer to keep the stigma-sticker off my back for a while longer.

 

Secret Messages on Pancakes

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The last thing I did before waking up was write a plea on a pancake to be broken out of prison. I signed my pancake note with spun sugar. Right before that there was a strip of desert and a bunch of people hunting snakes but the last pair of people who galloped after a snake ended up killing a deer. Before that there was an epic terrible time in a small Scandinavian town in the mountains that was also connected with the ocean. I was there to visit a friend and hide out from some bad people looking for me and I sat on a bench in her shallow pool surrounded by artwork trying not to be pulled over the edge of the pool into the ocean or the abyss or some sort of death related scenario. I returned to her living room, a cramped (cozy) little bridge of a room under which you could see her garage. Which was on fire. We couldn’t put it out. It seemed certain she was going to have to relocate and I knew she wasn’t going to. There was a point where I wandered into town for some shopping but it turns out the shopping center was in Australia or New Zealand.

I truly don’t have restful dreams. Maybe no one does. At least it ended with a note on a pancake, you know?

During this week of not writing much at all, again, I did come to the realization that I need to change a few details that mean going back and making a lot of adjustments. It means more rewriting when I haven’t even gotten past chapter 11 yet. I will be working on that today so I can move on to chapter 12. The changes are good and will make the story much better. Designing a post apocalyptic prison life is harder than you’d think.

I have been doing some serious thinking on so many things these days my head hurts.

Yesterday afternoon I started having sharp chest pains and joked about my end of days, as I always do, but after a couple people tried to convince me it was either gas or heartburn, other people were more alarmed and suggested going to the doctor immediately. This fed my initial irrational fears of having a heart attack and made me question my decision to not take it seriously. I’ve had this happen before and I was fine. As a person with clinical anxiety I have to constantly find the line between hypochondria and medical neglect due to fear of just being a hypochondria. When your very first thought with every single pain or weird body thing is: IT’S PROBABLY A TUMOR THAT’S TOO ADVANCED TO OPERATE ON AND I’M GOING TO DIE, or I’M PROBABLY HAVING A HEART ATTACK AND AM GOING TO BE DEAD BY TOMORROW MORNING, or THIS IS THE DAY I FIND OUT THAT WEIRD PATCH OF SKIN IS THE BEGINNING OF MY SLOW PAINFUL DEATH BY SCLERODERMA , you learn to stop and discuss with yourself the vast unlikeliness of any of those dire reasons for the little headache or the weird rough patch of skin.

I can’t afford to go to the emergency room unless I’m so obviously sick or bleeding out that the biggest medical skeptic in the world would be scared for my life too. In my big effort not to give in to hypochondria I am sometimes at greater risk of not going to the doctor when there’s a good reason to do it. Going to the doctor and being gently laughed at for what turn out to be nothings makes a hypochondriac feel like total and utter garbage.

I’m still having the small stabby pains in my chest this morning. I don’t really know what to make of it but since there are zero other signs of problem I’m still telling myself it’s just some kind of anxiety thing. I am simultaneously considering calling the doctor on Monday to see if I should be worried for real.*

The season of artificial cheer has already filled me with the desire to rip down all Christmas decorations I come across and blast Laibach’s “Let It Be” cover album in every place I hear horrible Christmas music.

Every time Philip tells the dog to be “Calm” and repeats it over and over I get increasingly less calm.

I sold 7 salves in the last couple of days thanks to being included in The Kitchn’s list of stocking stuffers.

15 Stocking Stuffers That Don’t Suck

I’ve sold out and am making a new batch. This reminds me how much I love making potions. Doing apothecary work is deeply satisfying. This fresh batch includes some of my home grown comfrey so that’s an extra level of excitement! Oh, and some of the plantain was wild harvested by me and Max. I’m finally going to make my lip balm this weekend too. The oil infusion has been ready for weeks but I couldn’t decide on a couple of other ingredients until now. I’m going to do a peppermint and a chocolate version.

In my wildest dreams I make an actual living selling my herbal remedies and my novels. This week the fantasy is pretty healthy. It frequently dies in my heart during bouts of uncertainty and depression caused by lack of sales or interest from others. But I always bounce back. Been bouncing back from crippling bouts of self doubt since 1980.

My mom goes into surgery again on Monday. They need to fix a hernia and also move her insides around to pull her abdominal muscles back together because they have separated. I’m not scared this time around. This is a much less risky surgery than the previous ones and it’s semi-elective. The hernia isn’t hurting her now nor causing any problems – but if she doesn’t get it taken care of, it’s a time bomb.

It’s been raining a lot in the last two weeks and I love it. I LOVE IT! I hope we get a lot more. I’m greedy for rain. GIVE ME ALL THE RAIN.

It’s time for me to sign off and prepare to get some writing done before switching gears to make potions. I hope you all are having a great Saturday!

Know someone with a bad case of book ennui? I have the solution! Get them a copy of Winter; Cricket and Grey:

Need a great wound salve on hand? Winters Apothecary 3x strength wound salve is the best one you can buy!

3x Wound Salve

*Do NOT attempt to diagnose me, or alarm me, or in any way interfere with the delicate balance I’m trying to achieve between my mental illness and my body.

This Post Apocalyptic World

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The last two weeks have been heavy, strange, and emotional. I feel like I’ve been slowly returning to the wild.

Quite aside from everything else I’ve experienced the unexpected adventure in cooking bacon. BACON. I have put my hands on sliced dead pig and baked it and then later dealt with the solidified pig fat when cleaning the baking sheet. I’m not kidding when I tell you that I nearly throw up every time I face that stuff. I can’t divorce myself from my love for living pigs and when I see that weird yellow sluggish stinky viscous fat I always wonder if it’s anything like human fat would be. I think I do this to apologize to the pig who lost. I am making bacon for Max. I invented a mini-baked potato dish he loves that involves crumbled bacon. I’ve made it every single day of this week. This I do for my son  but wouldn’t do for anyone else unless they were on their death bed. One of the things that makes it okay is that I know how much he appreciates how tough it is for me to handle meat.

I have a serious carnivore for a son and I’m determined his needs be met.

But , BACON?! Seriously, I’m making BACON?!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Ferguson is still happening. Because it’s always happening for black Americans every day of the year.

Max is settling into his new school routine.

And then there’s the fact that money is super tight. I haven’t gone on a vacation for years and had a wonderful one planned for this November to meet up with some writer friends in Colorado. I haven’t cancelled my hotel reservation because some part of me refuses to give up hope yet. What has become clear is that I either have to get a part time job outside the home or I have to make money on my own stuff. The same old situation I’ve been facing for years off and on. Well, I decided I don’t want to get a job outside my home because nothing sounds more depressing than that.

The difficulty is that I am bored to tears making my old apron pattern and pot holders and if I have to make things for a living I want to be making things I can get excited about. First off I listed my triple strength wound salve inspired by Cricket’s work as an apothecary. I have first aid kits I’m working on too. I listed my salves and sold 4 in one day to friends.

I’m working with a post apocalyptic theme. It interests me enough that I wrote a whole novel about it. A favorite family game is planning for a zombie apocalypse. Some of the greatest joys in my life are skills that everyone will need to survive an apocalypse.

I have been re-designing my Etsy shop to be a post apocalyptic shop inspired by my novel “Winter; Cricket and Grey”. I’ve gotten so excited that I’ve even gone back to working on book 2 of Cricket and Grey.

I’ve been working on some recycled smock/sundress projects and designing entire wardrobes to go with them and all of this led up to a revelation I had today.

I have had only two professional ambitions in my life. Writing novels and being a fashion designer.

I have, as discussed endlessly in other posts, failed at making a living doing either. My experience in fashion design is solid, however. In all the ways I tackled the field I succeeded. I was an excellent shipping manager at Weston Wear. I was a great design assistant and swatcher at Mulberry Neckwear. I made incredible quality costumes when I was Autumn Adamme’s partner.  Then I made beautiful quality aprons and charged completely reasonable prices for them and got paid about $3.00 an hour for my work.

But I have never designed and sold my own clothing designs.

I am designing a micro Post Apocalyptic wardrobe.  I’m excited about it. I don’t believe this is going to become my new career. I want to be writing books – but I’m excited because doing this exercises skills and passions I have had for as long as I’ve had the passion and love for writing. I do believe that I can make enough to help us out of financial holes for a while with this work. But most of all I’m excited to do both of the things I was born to do at the same time.

My mom needs surgery to fix a hernia and rectus abdominis separation. It’s elective but it seems the preferable choice to waiting to see if her hernia gets stuck and creates an emergency surgery situation. I’m not scared like I was the last time because the surgeon called her young and healthy enough for this to be her best option. Risks that this surgery will end up causing a need for other surgeries is very real, but he called her young and healthy not more than 20 minutes after she commented on how watching Max mature so quickly reminded her of her imminent death.

I can’t emphasize enough how weird it is to see my baby develop a shadow mustache.

My sister is about to leave for Vermont for two years. I just went to La Rosa happy hour with her and as always find myself amazed at what she’s shown herself to be capable of and laughing with her is such a high point in my life. When cleaning my office the other day I found this wonderful little booklet she made me just when I started realizing how lucky I was to have her in my life (I was 17) instead of resentful of her because she is the most wonderful baby girl two parents can have together and I never was that wonderful child. I will never take that book she hand wrote off my shelf to live in a box of scruffy memories because every time I see it it reminds me how much I love this woman who has the same(ish)  blood running in her veins and wears so many of the same family wounds that I do. We may have always experienced the same things differently, but I’ve known Tara since I was 5 1/2 years old and I spent a lot of time caring for her like a mother before I rejected her as a sister like the asshole I am.

Fuck, I’m getting maudlin now.

Depression and anxiety are fucking bitches.

Nigel Lythgoe called suicide “stupid” in the last So You Think You Can Dance episode. On behalf of all my people – fuck you Nigel! Try to understand, try just a little harder to understand that there isn’t a better tomorrow for everyone. Try to understand the demons that haunt some people and that suicide is sometimes the most honorable way to lose battle with depression because sometimes sticking around is more humiliating and torturous and painful than leaving with some scrap of dignity and power.

Thinking today about my own capacity to maintain an open mind. Thinking about how much harder that was when I lived in McMinnville. Thinking about how I crossed the line into religious bigotry – something I didn’t know I was capable of until I moved there and my son was bullied for being unreligious. Thinking about the friends I made online while living there who have ended up being great lights to me spiritually, helping me to see how loving and open minded Christians can be and who have, without intending it (I believe) made me such a better person for their faith and their kindness and open heartedness. Robin and Elizabeth particularly come to mind. Always challenging me to think hard about what I say and believe about religious people, not because they actually challenge me but because who they are inspires me to be a better version of myself.

Robin has been a great support to me for so long, she loves Jesus and it allows her to love fellow human beings who swear like motherfuckers but who are otherwise trying to live by very similar moral rules that Jesus would like us all to live by. There is no moment I joke about religion or criticize it that I don’t first think about her and ask myself – is this crossing a line that Robin would feel pain over? She knows I’m an atheist and that I make fun of religion and take the lord’s name in vain and she’s okay with those things (none of them have shaken her from my side, at least) but she is in my mind every single time I propose to say something expansive about religion or politics that might include her. Because I love Robin so much.

Elizabeth is the same – (close friend to my beloved Pam Kitty Morning) – a woman who has somehow followed my online life for years and there have been times when she’s spoken up to say how harsh I sound in my political passion – she calls me on being mean and being unfair – which I certainly am sometimes. I listen to her because she is another woman who loves Jesus but never pushes him on others and uses that love to direct her own actions rather than to judge others with it. But she isn’t afraid to call people on their shit sometimes and I deeply respect that. Been thinking a lot about Elizabeth in the last few days, but especially today.

Then there’s Diane L. too. A long time reader of my blog who is kind and supportive who took some exception to my most recent post about the Ferguson situation. Completely fair commentary with a different view than I presented.

All of these women who have such different perspectives than I do keep sticking to me, my atheist swearing self, my challenging thoughts and all. I feel rich with great women in my life. So many women holding me up high when I feel myself sinking low. So many great women to keep my ego in check so that I can become the person I really want to be.

I have so many other incredible women supporting me too. Writers, my three IRL friends I’ve been hanging with for 8, 14, and 22 years, and BlogHer ladies.

I am rich. Not with money, but with supportive incredible friends.

There’s no denying I’m not much of a catch of a relative or friend in some ways – deeply flawed, broken, funky, fat,  but I’ll tell you all this: I make the best fucking garlic pickles. My sister will confirm this. I make great food. I’ll feed you. I write really well and I write the truths I know even when they’re ugly, scary, or shameful. I’ll say what everyone else is afraid to say. I do this for me, for you, for everyone. But mostly for me.

Mostly for me.

I once buried a cigarette with mint jelly.

That proves everything you ever needed to prove about me.