“I live the poetry that I cannot write. The others write the poetry that they dare not realize.” - Oscar Wilde
“After it’s all said and done, don’t I still think that the world is scary? Don’t I go into it every day afraid? What would that world be like, the one where women don’t make bitter compromises for the illusion of safety? It’s a world I hope my children will see. Hopefully one they will help create. Maybe it’s one other women are living in, although not too many that I see.” – Marie Andreau
Today I saw a documentary I have heard about for years, and never come across. I find that the most pivotal moments in my life are the product of events that occur without my conscious effort. The Henry Miller book I was given (changed my writing life); the quotes my father gave me as a teen (changed my inner life); the idea to co-author a book on self-esteem (changed my work life); meeting Isaac (changed my life); becoming pregnant; losing it (changed my perspective on life.) All these moments snuck up on me, and yet they were instrumental moments in shifting that-which-had-to-be-shifted.
I have so much to say. Where to begin? I grew up watching Ace Ventura on repeat with my sister and brothers. Little did I know, the director went through a transformational shift in his consciousness which has deeply affected me today. Tom Shadyac won multiple awards and a lot of money for his films. At some point he had a bicycle accident which left him with a post concussion syndrome, a condition that involves severe headaches, depression, and potential suicide. After medicine and alternative therapies didn’t work, he asked himself, if this is the end, what do I want to say before I go? What he wanted to say, became this documentary, and it reached me today. In his documentary film I AM, Shadyac asks philosophers, scientists and authors two questions:
What’s wrong with the world?
What can we do about it?
I have been asked twice this week, the same question about death in different ways. “Assuming you had ten years to live, and were given ten million dollars, what would you need to do before you died?” My personal answer to this question is currently evolving. After seeing this film, I hold a firm conviction that there is more I am capable of. Not more in the way that we traditionally think of it (doing) but simply more than I was aware I had the power to change. I wept, remembering all the times I have walked past an outstretched hand, and not given the something I could spare. I wept knowing that nature doesn’t take more than it needs – the lion doesn’t kill ten or twenty gazelles, it kills one. Darwin mentioned survival of the fittest twice in On the Origin of Species (published in 1869.) He mentions the word LOVE on over ninety occasions.
Why have we chosen to believe that ‘the strongest survives’ and that we should take more than we need? Nature is not inherently destructive, not inherently warring, or greedy. There is nothing to support the presence of war or the remarkable discord in wealth between nations, even neighborhoods. I believed I was “awake” to the condition of the world, but am finding myself waking up more to the reality; in the descent stage of The Hero’s Journey. A sense of deep grief, concern and utter dread has flooded my heart, and effectively expanded it beyond where I thought its limits lay.
I read about the condition of the bee this week, which was a Time magazine cover story, and cried into my coffee about what we’ve done to this planet. How have we gotten to the point where in China, flowers are pollinated by humans with brushes by hand? How have we gotten to the point where colony collapse disorder and the absence of bees would result in a continued dependence on corn, rice, and potatoes, but the most nutritious foods such as almonds, blueberries, avocados, would be absent – unpollinated by bees? One supermarket removed every kind of produce that was pollinated by bees, which amounted to over 200 items, 52% of the regular array. I came face to face with the thought that perhaps my grandchildren won’t lay on the grass watching bees pollinate the clover so diligently, busily, flower by flower.
Are we headed toward a world where all food is packaged, made by machines, encased in plastic created by the oil reserves we’re warring over and sucking upon? Are we really creating a world devoid of wild spaces, devoid of natural diversity, devoid of a billion year old natural system which works very well without our interference? I believe that planet Earth has the capacity to survive longer than we do, but what kind of state will we leave it in for our future families? If we do survive her, how blindly will we murder this mother of ours? We have been given so much by this world. We have been born into a space of immense abundance, full of beauty and total life support. I have loved being alive. The air is good here. Would you rather not be here at all, than to have been given this chance at life? Isn’t it good to know love, to be fed and housed and warmed by the sun? Isn’t it great?
There are parts of the world full of wonder, and many elements that work. There are other parts of the world that I’m not happy with, and many elements that do not work. I cannot pretend I don’t see them anymore, not the stretched hand on the sidewalk, or the slums, the poverty and war. I can’t pretend it doesn’t exist any longer as I dwell in these spaces of abundance and peace. I walked through the forest at the onset of spring this year, and broke into tears knowing how blessed I am to live in such peace. I knew that at that moment there were women, men, children and animals in the line of fire, worried for their lives, living in state of anxiety and fear.
For whose sake? For what end? Why are we warring? I’m not okay believing that this is their karma, that they somehow asked for that experience. I’m not okay believing that war must exist to balance the scales. I used to think that there couldn’t be light without dark. Now I’m completely certain that we do NOT need to be at war with each other. Yes, my focus and energy grows greater (is that ‘light’?) when I’ve seen and understood the nature of the atrocities present in the world. But just like a house with a rotting beam, we cannot keep pretending we don’t see the holes if we want the house to stay up.
Eve Ensler talks about sitting at a table in Africa, listening to woman after woman, girl after girl, who came to tell her their stories of being raped, maimed, tortured, and literally used as human ashtrays and garbage bins. She reflects that at a certain point, her heart completely broke. These stories ripped her wide open. In that space, grew the possibility of doing something, of truly feeling their pain, truly feeling the reality, and mobilizing whatever action she could take to assist in eradicating that. “I just want to end violence against women.” It’s very simple. I am simply not content to coddle myself into believing that these things are ‘meant to be’ or that we have no responsibility to change the way things are for people in other parts of the world or our own city. I am not happy to live a pampered life when there are living, loving human beings who need some of our love.
Here’s what I’m going to do and continue to do, my few drops in the ocean of change:
* Keep reducing our dependency on petroleum. It’s easy to forget that the dollar in your wallet supports the oil industry if it ends up purchasing anything plastic, which includes the plastic packaging of your organic kale chips, the plastic wrap over your home-cooked leftovers, the tupperware containers, the gas in your car, the heat in your home/ stove/ generator, the polyester or nylon in your clothing, the plastic bags we put our veggies in at the supermarket and the cups we are given at cafes. Instead, we can buy reusable glass containers and reusable cotton produce bags, we can walk, skate, scoot or cycle whenever possible, combine errands, stay local and share a car, if any.
* Reduce dependency on mass-produced items. If I need it, I’ll find it second-hand. Convenience has killed much of our sentience around what we actually need. We have two old bikes for example, which we took in to get fixed by the local bike shop. We were told it wasn’t worth fixing up and that we “could just buy two new bikes at Walmart for less.” This is the kind of thinking that supports an economy of more things, more mass-factory production, more energy use, and heavier leaning on the natural resources of our Earth. I don’t need to get those bikes fixed, so I’m not going to go to Walmart. Same goes for the X amount of other things I might ‘want’ but certainly do not need.
* Give whatever I can, every time I pass someone in need. No more excuses. We don’t know their story. We have more than them. Give something, even if a blessing is all you’ve got.
* Treat EVERYONE with love, respect, compassion and kindness. I met a woman in the market today who gave me a hug because she loved how tall I was. We were friends from then on and are now primed to help and support each other, and whomever we come into contact with. I will continue to give of myself generously, with love and joy and gratitude. As within, so without.
* Cut down on household waste. Keep re-using, recycling and composting. We started a compost bin this year which has reduced our contribution to the Earth’s landfills and in fact gives back to the Earth some of the nutrients we have taken from it. Be aware of what you throw in the garbage and where you think it ends up. Is it compostable or biodegradable? If you’re buying disposable diapers, Swiffer sweepers, anything styrofoam, disposable plates, paper napkins (which you can in fact compost, so long as they’re only paper) or anything in a container, learn whether it’s recyclable, compostable, or not, and make the right choice when you’re at the moment of disposal.
* Buy organic, local produce from non-gmo and non-animal sources. When I drove through Virginia, and even when I drive through the country near our house in Pennsylvania, I see countless fields of corn and soy beans. I used to think this was a romantic sight, all the abundance we have created. I’ve since learnt that these crops are grown to feed the animals we slaughter and consume. This feels barbaric to me now; fattening animals whose genes are over 90% similar to our own, to kill and eat (aka Speciesism.) “What a hungry country,” I once remarked, before correcting myself that it wasn’t hungry, but insatiable. Humans were not designed to eat as much meat as we eat, often more than once per day. It takes days to digest meat, if you pay attention to the movements of your bowels after eating a steak. We have erroneously believed that iron and b12 were best found in meat, but the reality is, if you’re eating sensibly and from a variety of plant foods, your nutrient intake will be far greater than that present in the majority of Western meals. (Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead is another great educational documentary on the impact of modern eating habits.)
*Keep growing produce in my vegetable garden. Having your own garden (whatever size, even a window box with herbs and tomatoes!) is a great way to cut down on a) dependency on stores b) dependency on packaging c) dependency on the car and d) dependency on long-haul shipping. Seeing what actually grows during which season connects you to the cycles of the Earth in a way that makes eating strawberries in summer seem unnatural and sacrosanct. It’s also a great place for all of your compostable material! Make sure you learn about composting first, there are many great resources online you can find by googling ‘composting.’ I believe Portland has introduced curb-side composting, which is excellent!
* Depend less on electronic appliances. Do we really need all these appliances plugged in at once? Use what you need. When we go away for a few days or longer, I’ve started unplugging the switch boards and appliances in our house. The TV, the washing machine & dryer, the printer, toaster, Kitchen Aid, etc. Electricity contributes to the greenhouse gases we emit into the atmosphere. Again, emulate nature and use only what you need. The less we take from the Earth, the more she will give us all, for longer.
* Educate others whenever I can, with the information I’ve come across. Knowledge is power. The old sayings “What we don’t know can’t hurt us,” and “Out of sight, out of mind,” are indicators that we have been keeping ourselves and each other in a state of ignorance. The goal is not to be comfortable. The goal is for everyone to be comfortable – which means having our basic needs met; enjoying freedom of body, speech, belief; living in a peaceful society free of war, torture, murder and abuse. We might feel discomfort along the way towards this goal (yes, we might downsize our homes and lose a few cars, and come face to face with our own avoidance of pain and sadness, our addiction to comfort!) but if we can remember that we do not exist separately of others, that there are humans just like us living in situations that do not work for them, and that we might have been born one of them, we might remember that we share this experience of life, and that we cannot rest until everyone has what they need. In tribal cultures, what was won on the hunt was shared equally, and nobody, not the sick or the weak, went hungry. What happened to that way of thinking? Why are we not feeding our own?
* Remember that I AM part of the solution and I AM part of the problem. We all play our parts somehow, voting with our spending, voting with our actions, contributing with our beliefs of separation or connection. I am not perfect, but I AM connected, I AM feeling you everywhere. I AM here, there and everywhere. There is much more to say and this conversation will continue. I know we get overwhelmed. I know there is a lot to do, a lot of suffering. Don’t give up. Don’t let it go. Let your heart feel. Start there. Start right here. Start with your own household, your own wallet, your own choices and actions. When the fifty-first percentile of deer in a herd turns its head towards a watering hole, that’s where they will go. We’ll make the choice together. I need you and you need me. I love, and you love and they love. Love is all we need – to begin with. . .
Some links to explore:
I AM (aforementioned documentary, on Netflix Instant)
Thrive Movement (documentary on the way the systems we depend upon work)
Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead (aforementioned documentary, on Netflix Instant)
Food, Inc. (on factory farming)
Specieism (the next frontier)
Green Pages (informational source for eco-aware events near you)
Every Mother Counts (making pregnancy & childbirth safe for all moms)
THINX (underwear that gives back to women)
SuperSprowtz (educating kids about nutrition the fun way)
Feel free to share more! I will update with other links as I remember and come across them. . . knowledge is power!
“Women have long tended the gardens of others. While providing the context for others’ development, they have historically neglected their own. When a woman carries the virginal girl across the threshold into womanhood, when she speaks in her own idiom as naturally as she mouths the language of the patriarchy, when she hits on the deepest truth about who she is and tells her story of becoming whole, she gains access to a world that is as fertile and abundant as the most verdant gardens. Only when we wed girlhood autonomy to womanly fecundity and recognize the connection between germ and soil will we restore our generatively as a culture and thrive and flower.’*
A few weeks ago I spoke with a group of sixteen girls between the ages of 13 and 16 who had been awake for 28 hours dancing towards their last day of a Summer Enrichment Program in Virginia. We spent time together over Skype exploring beauty and how we view ourselves. They asked me some incredible questions (“Why is it important for young girls to think about beauty?”) which I answered as best I could from my dining room a few States away.
So, why is it important for young girls to think about beauty? I believe it is crucial for women of all ages to think about beauty and what it means to them, particularly how they apply this concept to their body and self-image. In the west, we are embedded within the multi-billion dollar industry of “looking-good” – a focus which plays out through the mediums of music, film, beauty, fashion, and advertizing. In order for these industries to sell something to us, they need us to believe that we need it. Your skin doesn’t look like this digital, airbrushed image? Never fear, _______ is here.
When we consider that these thoughts (“you’re not X enough”) were never originally our own, nor based in reality, we begin to see the conditioning that we’ve been raised in, something which I believe disempowers women in our society. It’s important for the next generation to think about beauty because we must start creating and affirming our own thoughts about ourselves, thoughts that instill self-confidence and a positive self-image.
It’s not an easy task and the road can be rocky. Often the most outwardly self-confident models are cripplingly insecure. I don’t believe we can sustain a dynamic of inflating our image to compensate for our hurt feelings. We’ll never see nor touch the wound that way. And if we don’t touch something, how can we begin to know how to heal it? If our self-esteem and confidence are important to us, then it is imperative that we begin to repair the wounds we may have inflicted upon ourselves by believing in thoughts that are not our own.
Another of the other questions the girls asked me was how I thought about beauty before I was a model, and how my understanding changed, which I thought was very interesting. I realized that as a young girl under the age of 15, beauty for me was not something to attain, nor something outside of me, but part of life which I was embedded within. As I thought about this question, I remembered a book I’d just read called To Be A Woman: The Birth of the Conscious Feminine. One particular passage expressed the incredible power and sense of possibility inherent in young girls before they reach adolescence.
“Who is this ‘girl within’? What deep truth does she possess? Poised between the make believe of preschool and the thrall of adolescence, a girl this age occupies an intermediate zone of childhood, an interim space between fantasy and reality that fosters creative self-ownership. Playful yet purposeful, she has opened the gate to the age of reason. Practically an old hand at school, she is already reading and calculating, playing group games, acquiring athletic skills, and absorbing the rules of her young society.’
“When she has the good fortune to grow up in a family that encourages independence and and celebrates achievements, a girl this age meets the world on her own terms. A soaring imagination combines with competence and adventurous longing to take her far from home, both in imagination and reality. The rapid development of the girls mind, the acceleration of her know-how , the shift in the way she thinks are acknowledged by cultures around the world. Nature and society conspire to allow a girl this age to flourish; harmony and integrity abound as she enjoys a wholeness of self, a unity with the cosmos, a natural radiance.”
Remembering this girl within, free from the formations impressed upon us, we may come into contact once again with the inherent beauty in life, living through our bodies. For me, beauty comes forth with laughter, love, or the wonder of a child, an animal, my intelligent body. When we can remember this feeling of being embedded in a world that is inherently perfect and more than ‘good enough,’ we stop ‘buying into’ what someone else says is beautiful, discover our own world and develop our own perception of beauty. We are our own stewardess, wholly self-contained and wholly powerful.
“There is a “critical shift we need to restore the natural balance of those values: the shift from object to subject. By reclaiming the girl’s sense of self as subject, by countering woman’s position as object, by reaching back to catch hold of the girl who embodies a primary feminine identity, women can stay true to the potential of the fertile feminine world that survives apart from the sterility of patriarchal values. [...]‘
“In the alliance between the girl who possesses initiative and the woman who knows her generativity lies the creative force we need to become fully ourselves and to make of this culture what it so desperately needs. The fullness of human development depends on circling back to the girl within and carrying her into womanhood.”
* Excerpts from ‘The Girl Within: Touchstone for Women’s Identity’, by Emily Hancock, in To Be a Woman: The Birth of a Conscious Feminine (ed. Connie Zweig. 1990, GP Putnams’ Sons)
“It is now, when the whole jar of humidity has been poured on me like wet petals, and there is no question of dryness anywhere, that I am most close to everything alive. The wet breath that links leaves to sky to my lungs reaches deep inside my body and stirs the silent seeds of all I hold dear, and you, like the powerful muscle we call heart, grow stronger with me.”
– Joan Rohr Myers
Isaac has been away three weeks and six days exactly, with 13 days more to go. I didn’t think I’d be as strong as I have been. Not strong as in the strong that holds together, but strong as in resilient. Who knew!
I’ve been writing him a letter (via email) for every single night that he’s been away. I knew that with his tour schedule and early morning radio commitments, interviews, photo shoots, etc (his turn now) I might be lucky to speak with him for 10 minutes by phone.
Knowing me, I want to tell everyone everything, especially him. So I came up with a special tradition, a method for funneling everything I’ve seen, heard, done and felt into a personal email for Isaac. ”I love these fucking private blogs,” he confided. I highly recommend this tradition for all wives, lovers, friends and family who are far but near to your heart.
Here are some excerpts from my missives:
“I miss you already. It’s the tiny things that give me the twitchiest pangs. Your coffee grinds still in the pot, your papers on the table, your clothes on the chair upstairs. Soon I’ll tidy them all up and soon you will make more coffee and pile more papers and it won’t seem as long as we think.” (1/40)
“In the background is a strange sensation recognizing the absence of you here. I think my body is still adjusting. It’s good for me to be me and get back to a sense of individuation and self without other. It’s interesting.” (2/40)
“There are fireflies starting to dance all around me […] All is very still and yet intensely alive. It’s amazing being here by myself, seeing the empty fullness, the quietness amongst the noise. There are birds rustling in the branches, chirping, tweeting in the distance. There are ants crawling up the tree I’m leaning on. There are tiny insects the names of which I don’t know, who zoom past on their way somewhere […] Life is peaceful here on the river.” (6/38)
“There are so many fireflies out at this time. When it got darker we walked over to the field [...] and could hear the symphonic music happening. It was really wonderful. We put the blankets down and watched the fireworks through the trees and the fireflies in the trees, it was as if the stars were on earth, too.” (10/38)
“The number of birds seems to have doubled.” (11/38)
“The corn is about as high as my hip. Everything’s changing. I have felt so embedded in the world recently, so aware and awake to it all, knowing that this too shall pass. This summer time green, the superfluousness of leaves and liveliness, the humidity, the heat, the perfumes from the earth and flowers, that will all depart the atmosphere, and something else will come in. A new winter we’ve never experienced before. A new fall, a new spring, and endless new summers.” (13/38)
“I found the most stunning owl feather in the third forest this evening! Owl feathers are treasured by the Native Indians, they symbolize wisdom and knowing. I knew it was an owl feather because I hear the owl who lives in that forest. I call it the third forest because The Cathedral is the first forest, then there is another forest I haven’t named yet, and Owl’s Forest is the next one. It could also be called Thunder Hideout, because that’s also where we hid during the thunder storm.” (22/40)
“Everything has bust its seams in the last few days. I saw: Pears. Apples. Raspberries. Blackberries. Frogs. Peaches. Mother and baby deer drinking water. Butterflies. Flowers on trees. Flowers in gardens. Flowers above my head, soggy beneath my feet. Green leaves, grass, leaves, leaves. Blue sky and tiny flowers. Bright golden sun. I heard: Cicadas. Birds. Frogs. Deer. Planes. Bikes. Cars. Gravel. Leaves rustling. My breath.” (27/40)
(The countdown is on!)
“In order to converse with the wild feminine, a woman must temporarily leave the world and inhabit a state of aloneness in the oldest sense of the word. Long ago the word alone was treated as two words, all one. To be all one, meant to be wholly one, to be in oneness, either essentially or temporarily. That is precisely the goal of solitude, to be all one. It is the cure for the frazzled state so common to modern women…”
I can’t help but write to you. I am in a coffee shop, listening to Bob Dylan, putting my B.L.O.G into a file, piece by piece, which I will send it to a printer, before rocketing it into the stratosphere. Somewhere along the way, we start to gain and lose things, gain responsibility, a sense of adulthood, a sense of normalcy. (Gasp!) Productivity, skirt suits (never!), coiffed hair, earrings, proper underwear. I have missed this energy, this sensibility. I remember you, Bob. I remember you, Henry. What happened? Somewhere along the way I forgot that I was a witch. I forgot about living on the edge. What an edge it was. Such seems the melancholy of growing older.
How do we return? Moment by moment. Edge by edge. It began when I sat outside under the tree my mother-in-law loves to be under when she smokes in the evening, tight pants, long hair, boots on. It began when I started to slow down, alone, quiet, peaceful. When I stop fully, my purest desires rise to the surface. It takes removing oneself. It takes being with all the edginess. With all the impulses to distract oneself, to remove oneself from that hot loneliness, the desires to go back, to be with people, any people. Being without my husband for five weeks is a new experience, and one I have welcomed with open arms. Welcome pure me! Welcome original me! Welcome fear! Welcome uncertainty! Walking through all of that, I have come to be still. Instead of running from all of my edginess, I stay still. I’ve heard that the Chinese say, “When in doubt, do nothing.” It’s a good move.
So, I sat under the tree. Everything was so quiet, so peaceful, and yet intensely alive. As I sit there, noticing the berries on the branches, the fireflies coming alight, even the young fireflies drifting by, I hear the birds cooing and tweeting, and I come to sense what I need in my life, at this time. That wild feminine energy is so ultimate, so essential, so uniquely ours. I start to feel the energy coming, regardless of how relaxed, resistant, or sleepy I feel. That issuance comes only in the quietest and stillest of moments, and it was incredibly refreshing.
These days, the weeks pass quickly without further ado. Much is said, much is done, and there are indeed more responsibilities than before, and my mantra is simplicity. “This too shall pass,” I tell myself often, knowing that not only will the tougher times slip by, but the beautiful moments too. In the quiet, all our urges, fears, tambourines and dreams sound louder. It’s the perfect time to look at all of those noises inside. I’ve found a few parts of myself that haven’t seen the light for some time, and they’re mad and angry and hot and wet and they want to talk to me desperately. They’re full of energy. Like holding a basketball underwater, when we release our grip, the ball rockets skyward. Thank goodness for the opportunity to release that energy, the energy it takes to hold the ball under the surface. Thank goodness for being so alive.
What follows is a passage from Cheryl Strayed’s phenomenal book Wild which tipped itself right into my heart. The book was a gift given to me by my mother-in-law. Thank goodness she did.
“My guidebook had been correct: my first sight of it was one of disbelief. The surface of the water sat 900 feet below where I stood on the rocky 7,100 foot-high rim. The jagged circle of the lake spread out beneath me in the most unspeakably pure ultramarine blue I’d ever seen. It was approximately six miles across, its blue interrupted only by the top of a small volcano, Wizard Island, that rose 700 feet above the water, forming a conical island upon which twisted foxtail pines grew. The mostly barren, undulating rim that surrounded the lake was dotted with these same pines and backed by distant mountains.
“Because the lake is so pure and deep, it absorbs every color of visible light except blue, so it reflects pure blue back to us,” said a stranger who stood beside me, answering the question I’d nearly uttered out loud in my amazement.
“Thanks,” I said to her. Because the water was so deep and pure it absorbed every color of visible light except blue seemed like a perfectly sound and scientific explanation, and yet there was still something about Crater Lake that remained inexplicable. The Klamath tribe still considered the lake a sacred site and I could see why. I wasn’t a skeptic about this. It didn’t matter that all around me there were tourist s taking pictures and driving slowly past in their cars. I could feel the lake’s power. It seemed a shock in the midst of this great land: inviolable, separate and alone, as if it had always been and would always be here, absorbing every color of visible light but blue.
I took a few photographs and walked along the lake’s rim near a small gathering of buildings that had been built to accommodate tourists. I had no choice but to spend the day because it was a Sunday and the park’s post office was closed; i couldn’t get my box until tomorrow. It was sunny and finally warm again, and as I walked, I thought that if I’d continued with the pregnancy I’d learned about in that motel room in Sioux Falls the night before I decided to hike the PCT, I’d be giving birth to a baby right about now. The week of my mother’s birthday would’ve been my due date. The crushing coalescence of those dates felt like a punch in the gut at the time, but it didn’t compel me to waver in my decision to end my pregnancy. It only made me beg the universe to give me another chance. To let me become who I needed to before I became a mother: a woman whose life was profoundly different than my mother’s had been.
Much as I loved and admired my mother, I’d spent my childhood planning not to become her. I knew why she’d married my father at nineteen, pregnant and only a tiny bit in love. It was one of the stories I’d made her tell when I’d asked and asked and she’d shaken her head and said, Why do you want to know? I’d asked so much that she finally gave in. When she’d learned she was pregnant, she’d pondered two options: an illegal abortion in Denver or hiding out in a distant city during her pregnancy, then handing over my sister to her mother, who’d offered to raise the baby as her own. But my mother hadn’t done either of those things. She decided to have her baby, so she’d married my dad instead. She’d become Karen’s mother and then mind and then Leif’s. Ours.
“I never got to be in the driver’s seat of my own life,” she’d wept to me once, in the days after she learned she was going to die. “I always did what someone else wanted me to do. I’ve always been someone’s daughter or mother or wife. I’ve never just been me.”
“Oh, Mom,” was all I could say as I stroked her hand.
I was too young to say anything else.
At noon I went to the cafeteria in one of the nearby buildings and ate lunch. Afterwards, I walked through the parking lot to the Crater Lake Lodge and strolled through the elegantly rustic lobby with Monster on my back, pausing to peer into the dining room. There was a smattering of people sitting at tables, handsome groups holding glasses of chardonnay and pinot gris like pale yellow jewels. I went outside to the long porch that overlooked the lake, made my way along a line of grand rocking chairs, and found one that was set off by itself.
I sat in it for the rest of the afternoon, staring at the lake. I still had 334 miles to hike before I reached the Bridge of the Gods, but something made me feel as if I’d arrived. Like that blue water was telling me something I’d walked all this way to know.
This was once Mazama, I kept reminding myself. This was once a mountain that stood nearly 12,000 feet tall and then had its heart removed. This was once a wasteland of lava and pumice and ash. This was once an empty bowl that took hundreds of years to fill. But hard as I tried, I couldn’t see them in my mind’s eye. Not the mountain or the wasteland or the empty bowl. They simply were not there anymore. There was only the stillness and silence of that water: what a mountain and a wasteland and an empty bowl turned into after the healing began.”
“Fear is a universal experience. Even the smallest insect feels it. We wade in the tidal pools and put our finger near the soft, open bodies of sea anemones and they close up. Everything spontaneously does that. It’s not a terrible thing that we feel fear when faced with the unknown. It is part of being alive, something we all share. We react against the possibility of loneliness, of death, of not having anything to hold on to. Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth.”
Excerpt from When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron, image via Inez & Vinoodh.
And I am here in this place between waking and sleep, and all I can think of is my future, the future as round as a new mother, as worn as lace, and holding me fast to its murmurings. Am I to write? For whom? It is always for me, in the end.
In this place of unexpected beginnings and inexplicable sorrows, insurmountable joys, I am whole and halved. I yearn for the next ending, though endings are always beginnings. I want to finish things I have begun, though I know this drive towards completion, beginning, completion, beginning, will always leave me bereft of satisfaction. I (desire) – see there is only a turning, turning, turning. I (desire) – know that none may ever be satiated. Where do we go from here?
I think of the times I’ve created something and completed something, and I yearn for that satisfaction of DONE. Whether it’s a pregnancy or a manuscript. I am in the half-light, for now. I know that these things will happen in my life and they will be unlike what I’ve expected them to be. It’s always that way. I will shave myself of my expectations, as I see that is the only way forward – through the darkness. No light can illuminate the future that is mine, I’ve learnt, at least no light I can cast now. The light comes from beyond, comes from the boomerang arc of my dreams sent out in the sky, completing themselves in my hands.
I wake sometimes, even in the day from strange dreams, and it dawns on me, “oh yes. That’s right. I’m in this body. And this life. And this time. Oh yes. That’s what I’m doing. I’m doing this,” as if returning to my body after being completely elsewhere, perhaps everywhere. Then there are the dreams where I’m walking in heels that are too high, too small, or too broken. In these dreams I can’t walk properly and I’m always being watched. At first I wondered what this dream meant; I’d had it four times. Then I realized that of course, in every sequence I’m having trouble moving forward in shoes that don’t fit me. There’s also the fact that most of the time, all eyes are on me.
Expectations. Others’ and our own. We are but human, and perhaps the dim light cast by our expectations shines some path ahead for us, perhaps only a few steps, in reality. There is longing and waiting and hoping, surely, in all living creatures. I saw a large bird propped up on long legs in the water today, waiting for something, perhaps a small turtle, perhaps a fish. This was the first time that it didn’t fly away as I approached. We were maybe 8 feet from each other, and the bird watched me, still and resolute as the clock in Grand Central. Does it not have expectations? Does it not have hope?
I tell myself, ‘One day, you’ll have everything in order,’ knowing how strange that sounds. ‘One day, you’ll have completed everything you wanted to,’ – though I can only imagine that would be at the time of death? (one hopes!) What comes next, great being of Life? In so many ways I am quite content watching the sun come up and over our house on the river, performing my meditative morning routines before breakfast, making bread and love, fending off ants. But there must be more than this. No, I don’t necessarily want to hike the PCT trail as Cheryl Strayed did, and no, I don’t necessarily want to give up money. There is something, a little something that I’m looking for, and yes, I do consider myself a spiritual (or might I say cosmic) person tapped into the great cosmos of dark and light.
Is this something the ominous ‘that which can never be attained’? I’ve heard it said before, that we go through life thinking: ‘College. I’ll just get a degree and graduate and then I’ll be happy. Marriage! I’ll meet the man of my dreams and we’ll be married and then I’ll be happy…. Kids! We’ll have beautiful babies and life will be complete. Then I’ll be happy. A different job. That’s what I need. A change of pace. A change of scenery. We’ll move cities. Get a new couch. That will make me happy. Retirement! Oh that’s definitely the answer. I’ll retire and never have to work again, that will be bliss. Hold on, where did life go and why am I not yet happy?’
It seems we’re not happy for some inner reason: perhaps that we just can’t seem to find ourselves. Tricky task that, in this dimension, when everything is changing at deceptive and varied speeds, when cycles of birth, decay and death repeat themselves over and over. How do we find this thing called ourself when everything outside is fluxing and fluctuating? This very essay is a meditation on life itself. I know there is an unchanging thing within that is the core of me. I can’t always know it, though. I can’t always touch it. Where did I bury it, again? Did I leave a treasure map somewhere? I wish someone could tell me, but only I have the key and I’ve forgotten again where I put it tonight.
It seems I find myself anew every day, every week, and through every hour that I change, I find myself. I discovered today that something within me wants to purchase a bow and arrow set and practice shooting at trees. It wants to ride horses again and again, learn their ways and spend time with their souls. It does want to buy a new couch, and move cities sometimes.
But then I see the light out the window as it hits the small flowers, bending low through the trunks of trees towards the wide meadow. Then I take a deep sigh and remember that I am of this earth and this earth is of me, and that to spend time in nature and with those that I love, connecting, is all that matters to me, really. I’m giving myself away, but that is what I do. I give it away. All I want is honesty, and authenticity, and a shot at understanding myself and this life. This fragmented window in time which cannot see all, but sees much.
I am what I am, and have no idea what comes next. In this story, my life, the next page is unwritten.
I AM ANGRY.
Please life, free me from this pain.
What wants to speak? Who wants to speak?
The new me wants to say a few things and she wants to say:
FUCK THE WORLD
LISTEN TO ME
HEAR ME NOW
HEAR ME FUCKING ROAR
I WILL NOT BE SILENCED
I WILL NOT BE STEPPED ON OR BELITTLED
I AM MIGHTY AND POWERFUL AND
NO ONE CAN HURT ME NOW
I AM IMPERVIOUS
I CAN DO WHAT I WANT
I CAN DO WHAT I LOVE
I CAN LIVE A FULL AND RICH LIFE
I CAN LET GO OF MY FAMILY
I CAN FOLLOW MY HEART
I CAN LISTEN TO MY WORDS
I CAN LISTEN TO MY GUIDANCE
SCREW WHAT OTHER PEOPLE SAY
ALL I HAVE IS THIS MOMENT, THIS BREATH,
THIS BODY, THIS TIME.
I CAN LEAVE IT ALL BEHIND.
I CAN LET IT ALL GO
I CAN SWIM ACROSS THE RIVER
I CAN RIDE HORSES
I CAN MAKE FRIENDS
I CAN BE MEAN
I CAN BE NASTY
I CAN PROTECT MYSELF
I CAN EXPRESS MYSELF FULLY
I CAN LIVE A BEAUTIFUL LIFE
I CAN STAY UP ALL NIGHT
I CAN COVER MYSELF IN TATTOOS
I CAN DYE MY HAIR WHATEVER COLOUR I WANT
I CAN EAT WHAT I WANT
I CAN SWEAR AND CUSS
I CAN TEACH OTHERS
I CAN LEAD OTHERS
I CAN START A REVOLUTION
I CAN BE ANGRY
I CAN BE INDIGNANT
I CAN BE RIGHTEOUS
I CAN BE MAD AT MY SISTER
I CAN BE ANGRY WITH MY MOTHER
I CAN CHANGE MY NAME
I CAN CHANGE MY PERSONA
I CAN CHANGE MY LIFE
I CAN CHOOSE WHAT I DO
I CAN CHOOSE WHAT I LOVE
I CAN CHOOSE HOW I LIVE
I CAN HELP SAVE THE EARTH
I CAN QUIT MY JOB WHENEVER I WANT
I CAN HAVE ALL OF MY DESIRES MET
I CAN FUCK EVERYTHING
I CAN EMPOWER MYSELF
I CAN BE THE BEST
I CAN BE THE GREATEST ME I’VE EVER KNOWN
I CAN BE THE BEST ME IMAGINABLE
I CAN HAVE MORE FUN THAN I THOUGHT POSSIBLE
I CAN MANAGE MY LIFE POWERFULLY
I I CAN GROW VEGETABLES
I CAN MAKE MONEY
I CAN HAVE HEALTHY KIDS
I CAN GET PREGNANT
I CAN BE THE BEST MOTHER I CAN BE
I CAN BE
I CAN BE ME
I CAN BE ME
I CAN BE
I CAN LIVE LIFE TO THE MAX
I CAN LIVE LIFE FULLY
I CAN LOVE AGAIN
I CAN FORGIVE OTHERS OF THEIR SHORTCOMINGS
AND MY OWN
I CAN TRAVEL THE WORLD
I CAN HOST SALONS
I CAN CREATE A GREAT BUSINESS
I CAN COMPLETE MY WORK
I CAN HAVE A GREAT BODY OF WORK
I CAN DO GREAT WORK
I CAN WORK WITH GREAT PEOPLE
I AM GREAT. I AM GREATNESS
I AM BOLD. I AM JOYFUL
I AM BIGGER THAN YOU’VE EVER KNOWN ME TO BE.
I AM HUGELY FUN
I AM HUGELY INTIMIDATING
I AM POWERFUL
I AM LOVING
I AM UNFORGIVING
I AM FORGIVENESS
I AM WHOLE
I AM PERFECTION
I AM THE SOUND
I AM SILENCE
I AM PEACE
I AM LOVE
I AM GRATITUDE
I AM CAPABLE
I AM HEALING
I AM HEALED
I AM RIGHTEOUS
I AM INDIGNANT
I AM MAD
I AM BIGGER THAN YOU
I AM GETING COMFORTABLE
I AM GETTING TO KNOW YOU
I AM YOU. I AM YOU.
I AM YOU. I AM YOU.
I AM HERE. I AM HERE.
I AM I AM I AM
It’s almost summer and I can feel it in the flowers, from the river. I have been tired, overworked and unsure of my next big steps. There are too many to choose from, I can only take small ones. So, as often happens at times of radical growth and change, my Big Long Open Gash is recalibrating.
I do miss the simpler times, times when I was younger, freer and with less responsibility. I feel a great pull to take things away, off my plate, to calm myself and my environment. Though we live in such a lush place right on the river, the city of New York sits right over the hill, beckoning, pulsing, shining.
Meanwhile, it’s Sunday, and I just want to stop everything in my life and melt into these endless hours. I don’t want to work on anything, and yet I have commitments I’ve made, meetings to take, many emails to send and multiple projects to move forward.
All I want is to live here in my home, writing my books, bringing people together, creating beauty and community and family and life. Beautiful life. It aches, at this time. My heart aches thinking of all that I’ve been through and from whence I have just come. I haven’t told you this explicitly. I was pregnant over Christmas. I went to Australia and lost a little beating heart there. Part of me wishes I never saw that little flicker on a dark monitor in Mount Gambier. Part of me wishes I never left the green hills of Pennsylvania for my first home.
But my family were there, and I had to go. It had been two years since I’d been back. It’s getting easier now to see my childhood home. I used to be sad that the color of the walls kept changing, that the furniture kept shifting, that my bedroom wasn’t mine anymore, that I slept in the room where I once learnt piano. I broke down in tears once in the kitchen late after a long haul flight because the clock wasn’t on the wall where it used to be, and my eyes couldn’t find it. Small things. Big things.
I try to find time to write, but so many other things fill my time now. I sneak hours in the morning and at night, and my eyes well with water when I admit that I don’t write as much as I want, that I feel disconnected from my truth, from my honesty, from who I am. I haven’t told you that I was pregnant, because to be honest I could hardly believe that I had lost something so precious. I have dreamt of being a mother for many years, perhaps for as long as I can remember. It’s in our bones, we women, little or tall.
I don’t know what else to tell you, except that this experience has been one of the most challenging times in my entire life, condensed into a series of months. I’ve never known grief like that. I’ve never known loss like that. I’ve never known the blunt hand of death, and life, like that. I learnt a lot about letting go, about letting things be, about recalibrating, realigning, recreating. “It wasn’t the right time.” “I’m glad we have these extra months.” “Nature knows best,” people tell me.
All I could tell myself was Go through the forest. Do not turn back. Do not stop. Keep moving. You are safe. You are loved. You are protected. The grieving process was sly and surprising. The first week I went up and down, repelled by anything to do with babies, the next moment talking about sweet names again. The weeks following I could speak about the experience as if I had perspective, as if it was done and I was through. Little did I know that the mass of dark trees would suddenly appear one Monday night in the early hours across the horizon of my consciousness.
Oh, I have arrived.
I went through that forest and out the other side, having felt all of the pain, all of the hurt, all of the sense of injustice, and all of the shame. Life is perfect, how could this have happened? I had to come to terms with a voice inside me that said yes, you too are mortal and subject to the forces of life and death. I started reading the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying amongst countless books on pregnancy, birth, motherhood and parenting. In dealing with the great death of a tiny being, I filled myself with knowledge of life. I never knew the valleys of human existence could dip so deep.
What now? I am stronger. I am still healing, and hurting. Every month when I bleed it seems a new facet of sadness expresses itself. The well goes deep. I cry as I write this. I can’t stop the water, nor do I want to. My love is out at the store, wearing his hat with the feathers in it, finding food for dinner. Our ‘best being’ Joseph Peter is here for a day or so. We sit at the kitchen table sharing the small loaf of bread I baked this morning, dipping it in oil and salt, slathering it with coconut oil and raw honey, and drinking the beetroot juice that Isaac has made.
He cooks for me whenever he is here, and it’s such nourishment he gives to me. I can’t explain the love we share, it’s not even ‘his’ love, nor ‘my’ love, just an all encompassing love that floats us on an ocean of grace, gratitude, peace and security. I want to tell you more about him, and us, as time passes. It’s true that across the five year span that has passed since I moved to this country, since I began this blog, since I co-created Paper Castle Press, much has happened: so much that my life and myself have changed dramatically, and I have to check in with myself, and you, every so often, to make sure I’m still telling the truth. My truth.
It’s easy to pretend that everything’s okay, that one can keep spinning plates without smashing one, even though your arms are getting heavy and you’re not sure you’re meant for that job. I am not a CEO, nor am I anything much else but she who writes, loves, lives lovingly and shares her view from this particular crux of life. I don’t want a lot. In fact, I want to rewind and retune, go back to the simpler things, slow down and savor more of this nowness called life.
This is what I’ll continue to be, and strive to keep doing. Baking bread, being the woman that I am, and sharing myself freely. You know me well enough now that I can’t keep things bottled in. I’ll die somewhere if I do. Here’s to honesty, freedom, simplicity and beauty. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you my secret sooner. It feels so good to open up in that place of the heart.